Saturday, March 29, 2008

Brian McLaren at Lambeth

My piece(s) on McLaren's Everything Must Change tour should get posted either here or on the IRD website in the next week or so. In the meantime, for those of us interested in the Emerging Church's impact on mainline denominations, I found it fascinating that McLaren has been invited to Lambeth by Rowan Williams. He'll be speaking on evangelism and discipleship.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Where Is the Easter Hope?

My wife Sharon and I were distressed recently to learn that a 12-year-old son of a leader of the Christian campus ministry I was a part of in college two decades ago is fighting for his life. Ian is battling cancer—and, sadly, Sharon and I know quite a few other people with life-threatening health difficulties these days. One of them, Ed, a very active lay leader with the local Fellowship of Christian Atheletes (FCA) ministry for several decades, is battling leukemia. (Sharon, a teacher, is one of two faculty sponsers of her high school's FCA chapter.) While both Ian and Ed struggle with their respective illnesses, they take hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead—the central message of Easter.

It's partly with Ian and Ed in mind that I respond to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's Easter message. If you're looking for a ringing affirmation of that central message of Easter, you'll be extremely disappointed. She only mentions the resurrection once, in the opening paragraph. Instead, she focuses on environmentalism, a topic that she repeatedly has proven concerned about in her nearly year-and-a-half tenure as presiding bishop.

Jefferts Schori uses the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a means of bringing up "the new life" that Christians live, and the importance of living "for other creatures." She then turns to the subject of how both Judaism and Christianity have been "blame[d] for much of the current environmental crisis." Lest anyone doubt whether she (at least in general) agrees with the critics, she immediately charges that Jews and Christians have historically misinterpreted and misapplied Genesis 1:28. The presiding bishop argues that "[o]ur forebears were so eager to distinguish their faith from the surrounding Canaanite religion and its concern for fertility that some of them worked overtime to separate us from an awareness of 'the hand of God in the world about us,' especially in a reverence for creation."

This statement may give readers a false impression: Did some of "our forebears" really want to keep people from caring for the Earth? Yes, the Israelites certainly worked (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) to not only "distinguish" but separate themselves from Canaanite religious practices out of obedience to God, as evidenced throughout the Pentateuch and other parts of the Old Testament. Such separation, however, is not the same thing as "work[ing] overtime" to prevent caring for the Earth. It's hard to read the Old Testament without seeing "an awareness of 'the hand of God in the world about us'" in many different ways!

The presiding bishop goes on to lament that the Episcopal Church's baptismal covenant was written too early to include a promise by Christians to care for the Earth. She then lists ways in which she believes the environment is being harmed: pollution, garbage, and cow methane that supposedly results in global warming that in turn causes floodwaters in the South Pacific. She asks that given such global warming, "are we truly sharing good news?"

And there's the rub. While Jefferts Schori may have provided herself an out by not saying "the good news," it's difficult to see "good news" as referring to anything except the Christian gospel. But the Christian gospel is not one of stopping global warming. Where in Jefferts Schori's Easter message is the understanding of the gospel as bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ and helping them grow as disciples? Where is the sense that the gospel offers hope beyond—and not limited by—perceived global crises of the day? The gospel is not handcuffed or bound by any crisis, but by God's grace speaks powerfully to the human heart in the midst of any situation.

And so where is the hope for Ian and Ed in the presiding bishop's Easter message? Jefferts Schori seemingly has bound the gospel to humanity's response to global warming, and that is a travesty. While she said at the Episcopal Urban Caucus' 2007 assembly that it is wrong to set evangelism and social action against each other, she now has written an Easter message that limits the message of the gospel by a perceived lack of one possible Christian response to the gospel. The gospel itself, however, can not only give hope to people like Ian and Ed, but to people all over the world in any circumstance of life—whether they live in plenty or want, and whether they live in relative security or struggle for survival against hostile elements.

Yes, Christians are responsible to be loving, wise stewards of the Earth over which God has appointed them as caretakers, guardians, and (rightly understood) rulers.* And Christians cannot love God without serving others, a point that Jefferts Schori makes throughout her message. But the "good news" of the gospel, and of Easter, would never be that we are consuming fewer hamburgers, thereby enabling people in the South Pacific to live with less fear of floodwaters. Rather, it is the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. That resurrection shows him to be the savior of humanity, which is desperately in need of reconciliation with God. Without that reconciliation, and the lordship of Christ over all things in heaven and on earth, it would be impossible for any human being to be a faithful steward of the environment, and a servant of the people, for which Bishop Jefferts Schori is so concerned.

*The term "rule" or "dominion" in Genesis 1 should not be casually dismissed. The meaning of it and reasons for its importance are discussed in the IRD's forthcoming Mount Nebo paper, "What Is the Most Important Environmental Task Facing Christians Today?" by Dr. E. Calvin Beisner. More details soon will be available on the IRD's website.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Catching Up

After being out of the office for way too much of late January and February (thanks primarily to two very long-lasting battles with high-fever flues, the first caught in the DC area and the second in California when covering the Episcopal Urban Caucus), not to mention a lot of end-of-the-year/beginning-of-the-year busyness from November through January, I'm just getting back to posting here. (There's been way too much to catch up on that takes higher priority here than blogging, and I'm still doing that!) Consequently, if some of the material I soon post seems a bit late, and if posting remains spotty for a while longer, you'll know why.

Right now, I'm leaving to cover Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change tour here in the DC area, which runs tonight and tomorrow.

God bless, and peace of Christ to all who visit this site.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pray for Bishop Yamoyam

I was deeply distressed, along with the members of the Executive Council, when Bishop Yamoyam of the Philippines apparently (it was later confirmed) suffered a stroke and had to be rushed to the local Dearborn/Detroit hospital. As the ambulance workers carried the bishop away, I was grateful for the attention being given to him by the Executive Council members present. Many prayers were lifted up on his behalf, and I called people back home to let them know of the situation.

Consequently, I was deeply saddened to read this morning that Bishop Yamoyam is still in very serious condition and may not survive. Let us all continually remember him in prayer to the one who made us and gives us life and breath.

Hat tip: Kendall Harmon

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Now You See It, Now You Don't: Disappearing ENS Text concerning Bishop Salmon

Late Monday, I noticed an Episcopal News Service story that struck me as extremely negative toward Bishop Edward Salmon of the Diocese of South Carolina. A few hours later, the two offending paragraphs had been removed from the article. To set those paragraphs in context, they followed comments from Salmon that made it into the revised piece now available at Episcopal Life Online (the text that survived both versions starts the excerpt, while the paragraphs originally on the web but later removed are in bold below):


Salmon, who described himself as trying to live "graciously" as an Episcopalian "on the short end of the stick," acknowledged that there is "profound disagreement" in the Episcopal Church and in his diocese, and predicted that no solution will make everyone happy.

He said he is convinced that the Episcopal Church will not change its stance and that people on all sides of the issues are "deeply convicted about the Gospel upon which they stand.

""What we need to do is deal with each other on that basis," Salmon said.

During the question-and-answer period, he denied that he had ordered diocesan clergy to refrain from praying for Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori during the Prayers of the People, despite more than one participant saying their rectors had told them he had.

After Salmon left to go to another appointment, one participant, to murmurs of assent, said that Salmon's statement was part of a pattern in which "we're told all sorts of things and then the bishop denies that it's true."


So Salmon was quoted in the original article as recognizing "profound disagreement" in his diocese and commending everyone honestly "deal[ing] with each other on that basis." But the two paragraphs that originally directly followed that section of text suggested that he apparently at minimum badly communicated with his diocese and at worst lied to the flock over which he still shepherds.

Those are serious and (to put it mildly) offensive inferences to make, and they were conveyed through the viewpoints of anonymous Episcopalians. Did ENS want to suggest that Salmon is not, or at least may not be, trustworthy? Apparently not in the end, as those two paragraphs were removed -- but they somehow made it into the earliest web version of the story.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Executive Council Responds to HOB Statement

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church passed resolution NAC 026, "Response to House of Bishops Statement on Resolution B033," this afternoon without any amendments.

Resolution NAC 026 raises sharp questions concerning the House of Bishops’ mind of the house statement, declaring that the statement “may inappropriately suggest that an additional qualification for the episcopacy has been imposed beyond those contained in the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church.”

The resolution praises the House of Bishops “for undertaking the monumental task of trying to clarify the conflict between the canons of the Episcopal Church and the demands raised by the Dar es Salaam communiqué.”

Nonetheless, it criticizes the statement for “exacerbate[ing] feelings of exclusion felt by many of the lesbian and gay members of our church by defining Resolution B033 … to include lesbian and gay people.” It also claims that both B033 (and implicitly, by extension, the HOB statement) “discourage[s] the full participation by lesbians and gay persons in the life of the church and enshrine[s] discrimination in the policies of the Episcopal Church.”
The resolution also endorses the “listening process.”


Resolved, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Dearborn, Michigan, expresses its appreciation to the House of Bishops for undertaking the monumental task of trying to clarify the conflict between the canons of the Episcopal Church and the demands raised by the Dar E [sic] Salaam communiqué, and be it further

Resolved, the Executive Council affirms with the House of Bishops the essential and renewed study of human sexuality as noted in the “listening process” of the Lambeth Conference of 1998, and be it further

Resolved, that the House of Bishops’ statement exacerbated feelings of exclusion felt by many of the lesbian and gay members of our church by defining Resolution B033 from the 75th General Convention to include lesbian and gay people, and be it further

Resolved, that by calling particular attention to the application of B033 to lesbian and gay person [sic], it may inappropriately suggest that an additional qualification for the episcopacy has been imposed beyond those contained in the constitutions and canons of the church, and be it further

Resolved, that while B033 focuses on the consent process for bishops, the broader impact is to discourage the full participation by lesbians and gay persons in the life of the church and enshrine discrimination in the policies of the Episcopal Church, and be it further

Resolved, that the Executive Council acknowledge with regret the additional pain and estrangement inflicted on lesbian and gay members of the church, and we pledge to work toward a time when our church will fully respect the dignity of every human being in all aspects of the life of our church.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

When Episcopal Church Struggles Hit Your Father's Home Town

Even in small-town New England, Episcopal Church issues are hitting home.

My wife Sharon and I spent an extended Columbus Day weekend in the Northeast, largely in Newburyport, MA. My father was born there over 80 years ago and grew up during the depression. His family attended a Congregational church that now is a member of the United Church of Christ. We were blessed to visit family there, but we found that even in small town New England, Episcopal Church issues were having an impact.

Because when I picked up Saturday's local paper, I couldn't help notice a front-page article detailing the local Episcopal Church's (one town over) struggle to survive after the majority of its congregants left for the Anglican Church of Kenya. Only 10 families remained to keep the original Episcopal Church afloat. In contrast, according to congregational statistics from the Episcopal Church, average worship attendance had been at over 300 in 2006.

That's a huge drop. If we apply the U.S. 2006 average family size of 3.20 persons to the families that remain (and that seems to be close to the mark, given year 2000 census figures for both the town and the county), we're looking at roughly 32 members left in the Episcopal congregation. That means that at most roughly 11 percent of the congregation did not break away to form the new All Saints Anglican Church in a nearby community and remained with the Episcopal Church.

I can't imagine the pain that those who remain with the local congregation must feel to see their congregation shrink by roughly 90 percent. And while the article mentioned that 40 families are now involved with the Episcopal parish, it also noted that "[t]he group of Episcopalians in West Newbury was left with so little money, it will now be recognized as a mission, not a church. ... All Saints West Newbury no longer has the legal status of a church due to its financial state and does not have an ordained priest to lead them."

This congregation provides just one example of the type of pain that Episcopal Church parishes around the country are experiencing due to the denomination's departure from Christian orthodoxy. Long-time friends become strangers and perhaps even enemies to one another as parishes split apart. Financial concerns become an albatross around the neck of parishes. In some locations, priests are unavailable to lead parishes suffering from a split. And as the recent House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans demonstrated, the Episcopal Church continues to downplay the effects of the departures.

All Saints West Newbury says that it does not want to merge with another Episcopal parish. Instead, members are hoping to raise enough money to get the congregation back to church status within a year. If it is not able to rebuild, will it be able to survive? Or might it end up like my father's church, a United Church of Christ congregation now obviously progressive both theologically and in its social witness, with apparently only a few dozen people in average Sunday attendance? (Sharon and I went there on Sunday.)

Even in very secular New England, neither the possibility of closure nor the prospect of a small remnant can be desirable for the Episcopal Church. But as long as the denomination continues on its present trajectory (and the recent House of Bishops statement did absolutely nothing to suggest that the Episcopal Church is changing direction), it doesn't take rocket science to see the continuing effect: more alienated parishioners and more departures. And when it hits everywhere from small-town New England to Chicago, IL ; from Broomfield, CO, to Savannah, GA -- Houston, the Episcopal Church has a huge problem.