Friday, August 31, 2007

A Tale of Two (Potential) Bishops

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind has gained the media's attention as being an openly lesbian, partnered nominee for bishop of the Diocese of Chicago. But her beliefs about staying in the Anglican Communion bear some examination.

In a 2004 essay in the progressive publication The Witness, Lind argued that if the Anglican Communion were to stand against the "full inclusion" of gays and lesbians, then faithfulness to Jesus might require leaving the Communion:

"My sisters and brothers in this enterprise we call Anglicanism ... if the conversation does not shift to the real issues [and, from Lind's perspective, away from the "scapegoating" of gays and lesbians], then perhaps the words of Jesus about leaving house, fields and families behind might even come to include the Anglican Communion. For in the end, it's not about the church; it's about the Gospel."

Let's see here. Lind at minimum foresaw the possibility of, and arguably advocated for, people leaving the Anglican Communion if the Communion ultimately proved rejecting of the Episcopal Church's stance in favor of "full inclusion."

That leads me to a question: How is Lind's view concerning leaving the Anglican Communion substantially different from the view concerning leaving the Episcopal Church allegedly held by Mark Lawrence at the time of his first election as Bishop of South Carolina -- the view that lead to the smear campaign against Lawrence?

Because at worst, progressives could claim that Lawrence at minimum foresaw the possibility of, and arguably advocated for, people leaving the Episcopal Church if TEC rejected the orthodoxy of the Anglican Communion.

Lawrence, to whom consent was not granted this last spring and who has now been elected by South Carolina a second time, was pilloried for, among other reasons, the supposed threat of leading that diocese out of the Episcopal Church. His greatest "sin," to Episcopal progressives, seemingly consisted of statements like this one: "I shall commit myself to work at least as hard at keeping the Diocese of South Carolina in The Episcopal Church, as my sister and brother bishops work at keeping The Episcopal Church in covenanted relationship with the worldwide Anglican Communion."

Is that any more radical a statement of potential leave-taking than what Lind said? Of course not, particularly when your consider that Lawrence said the following just one paragraph prior: "I would ask you to consider the fact that many of us want to remain in the Anglican Communion as well as The Episcopal Church."

Compare that last statement with how Lind ended her essay: "For now, I'm going to stay at the table [in the Anglican Communion] with walking shoes on my feet."

If Lind made her comments today, would they lead to strong opposition to her candidacy -- or election, if Chicago chooses her -- the way that Lawrence's statements did? Would the Episcopal Church's much proclaimed desire to stay in the Anglican Communion lead individuals, groups, or diocesan standing committees to raise a major brouhaha concerning Lind or any other potential bishop with a similar viewpoint -- to the point of seriously waylaying the potential bishop's consecration?

I think we all know the answers to those questions.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Choosing What We Believe

A few years ago, I sat down at a computer keyboard and typed a short letter to the congregation of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia.

It was not a letter intended to express my sentiments. Rather, it was a note from the Rev. Richard Crocker to the rest of the congregation about our latest adult education classes.

Yep, I was a ghostwriter for Richard on that occasion, attempting to write something that conveyed the heart and the mind of our overworked, beloved associate rector. I went back and looked over what Richard had said in sermons he'd written about adult education, and even included a phrase or two that Richard commonly utters. I did my best to sound like Richard, yet most of the words were my own.

I fully expected Richard to revise portions of my letter, but he didn't. He reviewed it, and he let it stand as is. It was printed in our adult education brochure.

Did I write the letter exactly the way Richard would have? Of course not. But did what I write agree with (at least some of) Richard's thoughts? It must have, or he never would have let it pass.

If I remember correctly, I composed the letter on Richard's work computer.


Given my experience, and having just come back this evening from a few days away from the Anglican conflict (I was on vacation with my wife, and that will resume tomorrow), I'm feeling both bemused and disgusted with the Episcopal progressive spin on the "ghostwriting" incident involving the Rt. Rev. Canon Martyn Minns and Archbishop Peter Akinola.

Because when you have Susan Russell, Father Jake, Jim Naughton, Mark Harris, and others essentially saying, "Oh, it's not a ghostwriter that bothers us -- it's that we're not hearing the true voice of Nigerian Anglicans, but rather western conservatives who have been trying to destroy the church," it's time to join Baby Blue and sound a tin-foil hat alert.

Progressive Anglicans seem to have an awfully tough time with this. Many are absolutely convinced that there is some Grand Master Conspiracy behind all of the troubles associated with the Anglican Communion. Unfortunately for them, they have to keep reinventing their theories to fit ever-evolving "facts."

It wasn't too long ago that many of them considered Minns to be a puppet of Akinola -- and delighted in insulting Minns as a consequence. Now, they're jumping up and down, proclaiming the CANA bishop and other western evangelicals to be the real power behind Akinola's supposed bluster.

Which is it? It never seems to bother them that they have to change their "facts" -- and they have done so repeatedly -- at a moment's notice. That just confirms to them the intricacy of the Grand Master Conspiracy.

Are the details of the supposed Network/CANA/AAC/IRD/AMiA/(fill in the blank) conspiracy coming to pass? Of course, progressives say -- until things go badly (or at least seem to go badly) for one or more of the groups or individuals supposedly in on this great conspiracy. Then they chuckle that any conspiratorial attempts are failing, and it's game over for those whom they oppose. A few days later, the Network (or fill in the blank) seems to be on the ascendancy again, and guess what? Now the impossible-to-stop Grand Master Conspiracy is right on track. (And, of course, their views seemingly shift whenever it appears politically expedient for them to do so. )

The specter of slandering godly church leaders and other individuals never seems to haunt progressives' minds, either. That doesn't stop some progressives from penning incredibly broad, one-dimensional statements like this one from the Rev. Susan Russell: "So forgive us ... our moment of glee at the rest of the world glimpsing for a moment the truth we've known for years: this 'schism' has been designed, initiated and implemented by those committed to splitting apart the church they have been unsuccessful in recreating in their own image."

Does it ever trouble progressives that orthodox Anglicans even might be (for have no doubt, they certainly are) working for the unity of the church and to keep it faithful to the Lord God who made us all? Do they ever stop and consider that issues such as (but by no means limited to) same-sex blessings and whether Jesus actually died for our sins (as opposed to because of our sins) are not just areas of "disagreement" (a term that unfortunately trivializes the seriousness of the issues), but essential matters of church teaching that not only may harm the unity of the church, but compromise its holiness and the holiness of its members?

Sadly, they apparently cannot be concerned about slander when they are evidently convinced they know the inner hearts, minds, activities, and whereabouts of those whom they so strongly oppose. They express certainty that Minns made the revisions to Akinola's letter, even though none of them were there. They act convinced that Akinola could not have been in conversation with Minns about the document even if Minns did type the revisions himself.

And they do not think twice about grounding their arguments in suppositions. To cite just one example, Father Jake, in critiquing Akinola's letter, made this astonishing statement about a man whom he has never met: "I do not believe his pretense of sadness [concerning the current lower-than-expected number of acceptances to the 2008 Lambeth Conference]. I think he is voicing his wishful thinking."

This type of argument is about as effective as me saying, "I do not believe Father Jake's pretense of conviction in Jesus Christ as the way to God. I think he is voicing an argument to make points with orthodox Christians."

Now, I have never uttered (or even thought, before constructing this hypothetical example) such a statement and do not believe it. There are many reasons why I do not hold that position, the most fundamental one being that I do not know Jake personally at all. Do I have any ground on which to argue that Jake does not hold such a conviction? No. Even if I could point out and criticize statements or actions that seem to (or even actually) contradict Jake's stated belief, I could not call Jake's statement a "pretense." I could believe all I wanted that it was a pretense, but I couldn't state it as a fact that Jake was lying about his conviction.

Similarly, does Jake have any ground on which to argue that Akinola is not sad about the Anglican Communion situation? No. Jake unquestionably doubts Akinola's sincerity, but he cannot assign a motive to Akinola with any first-hand knowledge. He has no grounding whatsoever to call any statement of Akinola's a "pretense."

But this type of overreaching pervades writings of progressives all the time. So a statement like the following one on the part of the Rev. Mark Harris incredibly gets cited by other progressives as if it proved anything:

"It is common scuttlebutt that Bishop Minns in his former capacity as general managerial lackey for the Archbishop was in constant contact with him throughout the Dar Es Salaam meeting. Some thought Minns put the words in the Archbishop's mouth. Well, perhaps he was not lackey but more like the party whip. Now perhaps he is more than whip. Now he appears as the voice behind the throne... "(emphasis added)

Look at the words: "common scuttlebutt" (among progressives, of course), "thought," "perhaps." Are any of these words the grounds on which a solid case can be argued? They're valuable in terms of revealing different progressive viewpoints, but they remain speculation. Even "appears" is a questionable assertion. (And let's not even talk about the offensiveness of terms like "lackey.")

If progressives want to know why so many orthodox Anglicans feel that they cannot remain in the Episcopal Church, they should look to a large degree at their own words and actions. The attribution of speculated, and damaging, motives to orthodox Anglican leaders; "glee" at seeming progressive victories; insults and statements that the departures are inconsequential -- all of these things, and many more, contribute to orthodox Anglicans feeling that they cannot stay in the Episcopal Church.

The view of orthodox Anglican leaders is so negative and one-sided on the progressive end that people are left with a stark choice. Given that all of us, including godly leaders, struggle with sin daily and have our own weaknesses, are orthodox Christian leaders such as (but not limited to) Minns and Duncan to be respected and trusted? Do they have good ends in mind for the church of God, and for the body of Christ? Or are they nefarious leaders who have been plotting the destruction of one segment of the body of Christ for a decade?

This is not the same question as whether to leave the Episcopal Church. Orthodox Anglicans hold different convictions on that matter, and some are still working through that issue. Rather, the question concerns whether we essentially trust orthodox Christian leaders to have the good of the body of Christ in mind, even if we are not going to follow certain ones in either leaving or staying in (as the case may be) the Episcopal Church. To allude to a choice that Harry Potter must make in J.K. Rowling's latest bestseller, this is a question of choosing what we believe amid competing voices. The times demand this when orthodox Christian leaders are slandered with abandon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Can in Our Lawsuits God Be Glorified?

The property issue in TEC continues to make news headlines. On Friday, August 10, a preliminary hearing on the Virginia parishes' case resulted in both the diocese and the national church agreeing to dismiss the vestry members and clergy members as defendants in the suit.

In itself, that is wonderful news -- cause for thankfulness to both TEC and the Diocese of Virginia for this action. At the same time, it is extremely disappointing that it evidently took the possibility of a court ruling that would have taken the individuals off of the lawsuit to get this response. The court apparently had to suggest to the diocese and the national church that they should strike a deal with the district.

So if the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia can find it in some deep recesses of their beings to take even that step, why can't they just end the lawsuits against parishes, wherever they may be? There really is no reason why the diocese, the national church, and the departing Anglicans cannot sit together at the same table and come to some agreement that addresses all three groups' concerns. Certainly such an outcome would require sacrifice on the part of each group. No group would get exactly what it wanted. But isn't a peaceful settlement one way to make the "hope of [one type of] reconciliation," which Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori says motivates her, a reality? And wouldn't that be worth any sacrifices?

Because what we're dealing with here is not property, essentially, but people -- people and their ministries, their acts of service to God. The clergy and vestry listed on the lawsuit had dedicated their time, energy, money, and service to Christ. The parishioners leaving the denomination have invested the same. And, yes, parishioners who want to be buried in a graveyard on Episcopal Church property, and all those distressed by a parish's departure from the denomination, matter greatly.

I addressed these issues a while back. Sometimes, being out of the office for a lengthy period of time inevitably means that you may not find time to respond to posts that beg for a followup. The Episcopal News Service's (ENS') Rev. Jan Nunley responded to my piece "When Is a Church Building Like a National Park?", which was my personal reaction to some thoughts that she expressed over at EpiScope. Unfortunately, Rev. Nunley's rejoinder essentially missed the point that I outlined above. In fact, she claimed that the use of the church buildings by parishioners, as well as the money that they give, is "irrelevant ... in the civil courts."

And that points to part of the problem here. For as much as the Episcopal Church may want to keep things at an impartial legal level, it cannot escape the fact that its legal actions affect people at a heart level. Because whether you're staying within the Episcopal Church or leaving it, church property is a place of ministry where lives are impacted deeply.

A side note: When people start going several times a week to a (presumably at least relatively local) national park; send their kids there a few times a week to youth activities; hold weekly meetings there involving dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people; get married there; go to weddings regularly there; have their family members' funerals there -- then I'll give some credit to the Rev. Nunley's comparison of a church with a national park. But I, for one, have never heard of such regular use of a park by a large group of people -- much less regular religious use, despite the fact that some Americans find more solace in a national park than a church building. (Rev. Nunley is right on that last point.)

The diocese and the national church do offer some words of balm to those who they consider to be "faithful," "loyal," or (to cite Rev. Nunley) "[t]rue" Episcopalians. They sometimes speak of perserving their heritage for future generations of Episcopalians. Those are important concerns. But where is concern for those who are departing? Where are the concerns for existing ministries, including preschools and youth ministries, that will end when the majority (or, perhaps in some cases, all members) of a parish leaves?

It's also worth noting that some parishioners who voted "no" to leaving TEC stand strongly against the direction in which the denomination is heading. People in this group voted "no" because they disagreed on the timing of the departures, the group with which the parishes affiliated, and/or any number of other issues. Diocesan and national church claims to the contrary, they are no more "loyal" to the Episcopal Church than those who voted "yes."

Is there any way in which the needs and concerns of both those leaving the Episcopal Church and those staying within the denomination could be met? If the diocese and the denomination don't come to the table, we'll never know.

I'm no lawyer or property expert, so I'm not speaking from knowledge of all the legal ins and outs of this situation. Additionally, I'm only giving my own personal views on this issue here; I am not speaking for anyone else. But clearly a decision that takes into account all of the needs of parishioners -- both those leaving and those staying within the Episcopal Church -- requires Solomonic wisdom. And it can best be accomplished, in each case where it is occurring, by the diocese, the national church, and the departing Anglicans sitting down together and working out some solution that works to the benefit of all three groups. Such an approach would be glorifying to God.


A side note about the Rev. Nunley's depiction of the IRD as an organization dedicated to "erod[ing]" the separation of church and state: There are many problems with this characterization, not the least of which is that no one here at the IRD holds that goal. Progressive beliefs to the contrary, we're not fond of theocracies. (We do believe in "the naked public square," the open discussion of religious beliefs in the marketplace of ideas. That's a principle and a freedom that applies to progressives as much as conservatives.) But since it would take a lengthy essay (or even a book!) to address the extensive paranoia about the IRD evidenced among many progressives, I'll leave the responses to those already made by different IRD staffers.