Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Main Thing (Currin)

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing Is the Main Thing
by the Rev. Canon B. Madison Currin

The Rev. Canon B. Madison Currin, Ph.D., is Rector Emeritus of Christ Episcopal Church (Pensacola, Florida). He is also Honorary Canon and former Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul in Charleston, South Carolina. The Rev. Currin ("Matt" to many who know him) submitted this piece as a "Letter to the Editor" of Charleston's
The Post and Courier, and we print it here with his permission.

I have read with interest and some amusement the many articles and Letters to the Editor in The Post and Courier of late regarding the Episcopal Church. My reaction to so many of them is a feeling of deep sadness. I have noticed that many of them lack the real thing: Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I see a lot of things that indicate that if you do not agree with the author then you are not a Christian. You are a heretic and therefore excluded from the True Church. I see little about love and forgiveness and understanding of one another. I see very little about the crucial thing in Christianity which is the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is sad indeed. This obsession with heresy and who is and who is not orthodox is sheer idolatry. In the Epistle to James we find this: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1: 27).

In the days of the early church it was said that the "world" looked at the Christians and said, "See how they love one another." People then and now are converted to Jesus Christ not by theology and creeds and "orthodox" statements but by the Risen and Triumphant Lord of all Life. This is what matters and that is all that really matters. How we interpret the Holy Scriptures is not as important as meeting Jesus and letting Him into our lives and then going out to proclaim by word and deed the saving Gospel that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

One of the reasons I became an Episcopalian in 1956 was our liturgy. The liturgy is where our theology is found. Our Book of Common Prayer is our interpretation. And the Episcopal Church makes clear in the Baptismal service that we renounce Satan and the evil powers of this world and that we renounce all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God. Then we turn to Jesus and accept Him as our Lord and Savior and put our whole trust in His grace and love and then we promise to follow and obey Him as our Lord. Again this is reaffirmed in Confirmation and ordination. How much more "orthodox" can you get?!

I became an Episcopalian because of the diversity of interpretation of Holy Scripture that we might come together believing the Holy Scriptures to be the Word of God and that God has given us minds to "work out our salvation in fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). I became an Episcopalian while working on my Ph.D. in Reformation Church History of the Church of England during the 16th and 17th centuries. I read myself into the Episcopal Church. I became an Episcopalian also because of the community of faith I found in St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. There I found a "colony of heaven" as Paul described the Church. These people welcomed me, loved me, and even though there were controversies at the time we all worked together even though we sometimes disagreed with one another. At one annual parish meeting, however, things did get out of hand and there was unexpected shouting at one another. A little old lady, God bless her, rose to her feet and banged on the pew with her cane until the place fell silent. Then she said in a very clear voice, "If we cannot behave like Christians let us at least remember we are Virginians." The place broke up in laughter. That settled that. Humor, warmth, love and grace, things which seem to be missing in the current controversies.

My rector in Pensacola, Florida preaches Jesus Christ and Him crucified for our salvation, and one of his sermons on this was entitled, "Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing is the Main Thing." And so it is. I would hope this can be reborn in the Diocese of South Carolina. I am sure those who are not Episcopalians wonder what is going on as do many people in the pews who are looking for Jesus and salvation not theological discourses. Perhaps getting back to basics and not having heresy and apostasy as the Main Thing but Jesus as Lord and Savior as the Main Thing will help calm the troubled waters. I fear we are concentrating on the wrong thing. Beloved let us love one another as God has loved us. Let us forgive one another knowing that unless we forgive we will not be forgiven. Let us listen with respect to one another. Let us cease being judgmental and leave that up to God, remembering that our Blessed Lord clearly said, "Judge not that you be not judged" (Matthew 7:1).

What is the Archbishop Thinking?! (Gritter)

by Gordon W. Gritter

Gordon W. Gritter has participated actively in the Dioceses of California, Michigan, and El Camino Real. He served four terms as President of the Standing Committee of El Camino Real, has been a Deputy to each General Convention since 1994, and has recently been involved in Anglican Communion activities in London and Rome. He is a retired psychiatrist who lives near San Luis Obispo, California.

We should all be grateful that Bishop Marshall has clearly and forcefully articulated the discontent which the bishops of the Episcopal Church (in the United States) have with the Archbishop of Canterbury's failure to appear in person in the United States to discuss the Anglican Communion situation.

Clearly, the Archbishop of Canterbury is not antagonistic toward, nor dismissive of, the Episcopal Church. He is strongly inclined to regard us as friends and esteemed colleagues. Why, then, has he been so aloof?

It seems to me that in order to understand his present position – certainly an extremely difficult one – it is necessary to take note of several things.

The first is that his stance reflects his deep concern for the proper structure and function of the worldwide Anglican Communion and his dismay that the Episcopal Church has taken an essentially rogue action within the Anglican Communion in the matter of approval of a bishop who is in a same-sex relationship. It is not that he personally disapproves of homosexuality or of inclusion of same-sex people in all areas of the Church. His personal position, stated before he became Archbishop, has not changed. But now he is Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Anglican Communion is still officially opposed to homosexuality, and it seems obvious that a substantial majority of the Anglican Communion still supports that position. Thus, the action of the Episcopal Church lacks the "consensus" which is necessary in order to make a big change [that consensus need not be absolute, but in his view it should be substantial] and thereby weakens the organizational integrity and witness of the Anglican Communion.

Second, he is keenly aware of the fear and hatred with which the United States is regarded in much of the developing world. That fear and hatred infects the attitudes and behaviors of many of our Anglican colleagues within those "formerly colonial" areas. Although he is grieved by those attitudes, he is essentially powerless to change them, and he is perplexed that the Episcopal Church seems determined to ignore and deny that component of the current strife in the Anglican Communion.

Third, he is horrified by the obviously un-Christian behavior of some of the Southern Primates who refuse to share Communion or even to attend meetings with representatives of the Episcopal Church.

Fourth, he is worried about the increasing evidence that some of the Southern Primates have formed an alliance with the conservative wing of the Episcopal Church. They show every intention of planning to take control of the worldwide Anglican Communion or, failing that, to form a rump version of their own Communion.

How, then, should the Archbishop proceed? Obviously, one can only say: "very carefully." But no matter how careful and circumspect his words and actions may be, they will immediately be seized upon, distorted, and denounced by one faction or another. Should he now come to the USA for a meeting with the bishops of the Episcopal Church? Such a meeting would create an irrational uproar at a time when there is already too much mischief and uproar afoot. Are people within the Episcopal Church therefore entitled to call him "inept" and "cowardly"?

In my opinion, Archbishop Rowan has every reason to expect that the Episcopal Church will continue to be his ally, even though he hears our indignation at having been snubbed. He can rely on us to understand his dilemma and to behave rationally in the long run. There are other people within the Anglican Communion about whom he can have no such confidence. Indeed, some of them are capable of planting "bombs" and behaving very destructively. He sees the urgent need to try to maintain constructive communication with them lest the entire Anglican Communion go up in flames because of disastrous sectarian leadership.

I applaud Bishop Marshall for his honesty, candor, and insistence upon accountability, while at the same time maintaining respect and dignity. I do not applaud those others who are being partisan, rude, and insulting, thus confirming the worst stereotypes about Americans.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Bishop Marshall on the Archbishop

This letter was written by the Right Reverend Paul Marshall (Bishop of Bethlehem) to other bishops in the Episcopal Church in anticipation of the next House of Bishops meeting. Initially written for limited circulation among Bishop Marshall's colleagues in the House of Bishops, it has been distributed in wider circles. We reprint it here in full with Bishop Marshall's permission.

Update Jan. 18: The piece has now also been posted on the website of the Diocese of Bethlehem.

Background: For more on Bishop Marshall's writing, see "A Note on the Role of North American in the Evolution of Anglicanism by Paul V. Marshall, Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2005." In her introduction to this special issue on The Windsor Report, Ellen Wondra writes the following about Bishop Marshall's article:

The challenges set by the Windsor Report are not new. Nor do they seem susceptible to any permanent resolution. Paul Marshall notes “the curious vocation of the churches in Canada and the United States to forge paths for the evolution of the Anglican heritage.” From North America have come the beginnings of Anglicanism’s synodical structure with its strong lay voice; the missionary focus of episcopacy; the first efforts for formal establishment of full communion among Anglicans; and the first experience of church as separate from state. Such precedents cast a different light on the current Anglican crisis than does the Windsor Report. Losing sight of these contributions, as Marshall suggests the Report does, can cost the Communion dearly in times that creativity is needed--times such as these.

For further background, see "Ten Years with Bishop Paul," in the July/August 2006 edition of the diocesan newspaper.

If the Pope can go to Turkey, Can the ABC go to Texas?

A Motion From The Rustbelt As Our Meeting Approaches

I have always been captivated by the realism about human interaction found in the seven undoubtedly Pauline Epistles, our earliest testimony to Christianity: for Paul, the living out of the gospel is always a matter of imperfect personalities and events, redeemed and being redeemed, giving and embracing comment and correction on the way. Spirits are to be tested, and behavior in the Body addressed. Compare Paul's own report of his conflict with Peter over the latter's suspension of eating with Gentiles, and his report of what went on at the Jerusalem summit with Luke's much smoother and curial account of relations at a "council," and we begin to see more clearly the apostle's consistency behavior and his point of view about leadership. For good or ill, most people acknowledge that Paul led the formation of the Christianity we know. It is wise to consider on the meta level his operational principles of directness in truth-telling. Let us also consider his directness in truth-acting: circumcision decisions on Timothy and Titus are radically different because how those decisions related to Gospel truth at certain places in certain times.

With St. Paul, we must dare to look at and respond to the vessels and the circumstances, all of which struggle to bear the Gospel. Being more modestly gifted than my apostolic namesake, I will limit my theological observations while trying not to avoid naming the issue and person that concerns me in the Church as much as President George Bush does in the orbis terrarum, and I assure you that do I write to him often.

The most un-biblical part of traditional Anglicanism is its politeness, its charm, its unwillingness to confront and hold accountable those who have sought and accepted positions of supreme leadership. We in the Episcopal Church often brag about our Church's failure to address slavery as though that were a virtue and not a disgrace. The Church held together while humans died in chains and even bishops (both north and south in the beginning) traded in human flesh. We now have put the British emancipator William Wilberforce in our calendar but do not make his commemoration one of fasting and lament for our heritage of cowardice in the name of togetherness. The words and deeds of Paul and even more certainly of our utterly tactless Lord Jesus suggest that charm is less important than candor or provocative questioning, that real love in times of disagreement is often something quite uncomfortable. It seems no accident that historically we are enthralled by John, whom we cannot understand, rather than Paul, whom we can but would prefer not to.

That said, my subject, with both regret and trembling, is the Archbishop of Canterbury, but only in the very limited sense of his functioning toward our house and to some extent our Church. That is a tiny and limited subject and I do not intend it for a discussion of the content of the myriad ministries in which he is engaged. As one too old to have anything to gain or lose, I will try to say what may be obvious to others but risky for them to voice. I hasten to add that this is not a matter of condemnation: he needs no witness from me to his reputation as a pious and good man, great in so many ways, and someone whom I overall admire as writer, teacher, and moral voice in the UK. I believe with all my heart that his intentions are at least a good as any of ours. I write of a perceived chain of mistakes in policy and deed – mistakes, not evil. I have made perhaps more than my share of system mistakes, so I know one when I see one.

It will, however, not do to say, as one persistent soul on HOBD frequently does, that because Rowan is so smart and knows things we do not, he must be right in his approach to us. I stopped believing that about leaders during Vietnam, which this is not, of course.

A Gestalt bouquet: I am sadly impressed that my friend and neighbor Bob Duncan, peace be to him, and a few of his supporters, have had more time with Rowan Williams than has our entire House, or even our Church gathered in Convention. The long-distance intervention in our process during the last moments of the Columbus convention has made us a laughing-stock. (Katharine wonderfully rolled with that without losing her integrity, a marvelous first inning.) The public words of welcome he gave to our new primate would have made a Laodicean proud for their restrained enthusiasm. The widely-publicized Lambeth Palace photograph of Rowan, Frank, and Katharine all standing as far away from each other as the camera lens would allow has not been without its effect on many among us. A dismal icon of formal communion without a hint of affection or connection has been sent to the entire inhabited world.

The perceived distancing did not begin with Gene Robinson. My neuralgia on the question of the ABC's witness and function has been growing since his disastrously insensitive comments on 9/11 - made in New York! - which were alone nearly communion-breaking for lay people in grief, and which have never been effectually mended. People in my own diocese who lost loved ones in that attack have never recovered from the insensitive academic speculation of their galactic leader asking those covered in blood, ashes, and strewn body parts to reflect on the bombers and "why they hate" the U.S. It is an important question, but one painfully misplaced in time and space. It would have been pastorally wise, if the relationship in Christ were really valued, for Lambeth to work endlessly to overcome that perfectly valid but tragically inept obiter dictum, but no. Curates know that moments of grief are to be ministered to for what they are and save the dazzle for much later in the process.

This situation of alienation was regrettably worsened by his remarkable distancing of himself from a church that has followed his own carefully thought-through teachings on sexuality, teaching that he only last year suddenly dismissed as a sin of his academic youth. The appointment to the Windsor drafters of North American representatives wonderfully devout but historically disinclined to advocate vigorously for the position of their church was not his sole responsibility, but the buck sure stops there. Like many of you, I have submitted to all, not some, of the demands of the Windsor report as a reluctant gesture of good will to the Communion and sacrifice of principle for the sake of those who may be weaker brethren. Cannot that be reciprocated? And so on and so on. By Rowan's subsequent actions and inactions the situation has for me now reached a proportion manageable only by the combination of prayer and surrender to the belief that God will work this out through the usual means - crucifixion and resurrection. But before we get ready for life alone, we deserve to hear from him, in the room with us, an explanation of his distance and intentions. We are all busy, and we show up where we believe it is important to go. Let's hope we become important. [An oddly parallel situation on the other side: just recently the Bishop of Durham has roundly attacked evangelical bishops in the UK for acting on doctrinal points of view he has abundantly fueled for years. If we dare to teach, we must accept the possibility that we will be heard and believed by those for whom the life of the church is more concrete and less speculative than academics ever imagine.]

The situation of the shunning of North American bishops would be painful under any circumstances. The pain is more intense here because it comes from the withdrawal of a human who was friend, teacher, and colleague to many in this church - with no notice that either his opinions or commitments were in flux. The archbishop has appeared to my knowledge only once in the U.S. since 2003, and that was the briefest of visits to raise money for a function of the Communion. He cancelled a date for a joint meeting with Canadian and U.S. bishops with no real excuse, and has made no effort to reschedule what could have been a fellowship-redeeming encounter. Our relationship to the one who is expected to be first in a world-wide college of bishops is distant, confused, and multiply-triangulated. We are ceaselessly told by those who would destroy our church that the ABC endorses this or that crudely divisive action or position. Questions to Lambeth on these occasions are sometimes met with silence and sometimes with stunning equivocation. This distance, confusion, and triangulation ought not to be. One of the basics of episcopal - or parish - pastoral care is that one gets with and stays as close as possible to those who may be seen to be problematic. The Pope went to Turkey. Can the Archbishop of Canterbury not come to meet us just once at a regular or special meeting in any city he would care to name?

A very highly-placed Church of England figure told me personally last September that he thinks Rowan has been "badly advised" in what this person admitted was callous treatment of the U.S. and Canadian churches. I rejoice in the hint that Rowan may wish [to] have an authentic connection with us, but I cannot accept that report of bad advice as sufficient mitigation: as a bishop I alone am responsible for my actions. I connect with my churches not with my words as much as by being among them. Leaders are leaders because they show up when it is not pleasant to do so.

All of this said, it seems necessary to report my perception that the nadir in Rowan's overall relationship to the U.S., Canada and perhaps South Africa has been the appointment of a virtual lynch mob to draft the Covenant that will by all reports attempt [to] turn a fellowship into a curial bureaucracy in which the worst elements of the great and oppressive Colonizer and of the Resentful Colonized will meet as a scissors to the denigration of significant number of God's people who were almost equal in Christ for one brief shining moment. Are North America, South Africa and many other parts of the Communion (not to mention "much cattle") of such little value in the grand scheme? Does anyone think that the COE itself will not split if a continent and a half are among those permitted to be set adrift?

So we must always talk about him, not to or with him. Like so many of you, I have been disheartened by the succession of "second gentlemen" from the COE who have addressed our House in Rowan's stead while over-insisting that that they were not at all doing so. No bishop of the left, right, or center, was taken in, and our colleague from Missouri pointed this out on one occasion with deft words that the Sage of Hannibal, MO, himself would envy. Even our steadfastly bucolic local papers here in rustic Pennsylvania would not be deceived by such over-wrought protestations of mere coincidence or fortuitous invitation. By these speakers, one of whom just happened to have a specific list of a dozen or so things we had to do, all but the most anxious of us have been inevitably alienated. How can it help bonds of affection for Communion leadership to so overtly and maladroitly play us for chumps? There is a kind of contempt for our intellect there whose sting almost matches the pain of the overall strategy of isolation.

Having now had three successive messages delivered to us by what some UK friends describe as "fully accredited members of the British Olympic Patronizing Team," I take this (perhaps not entirely welcome to her) opportunity to thank Katharine for her outstanding integrity and clarity of focus since her election, and accordingly to urge her that no foreign bishop whatsoever be given the privilege of addressing the House of Bishops of this Church until the ABC can personally enter this country and speak to the House himself and deign to entertain the level of frank questioning that his counterpart the Prime Minister might have to endure among those he leads and serves. We all do get cable news and know what the wonderful British tradition of questioning in the house can helpfully add to common life.

As I began, I end. My text is Paul's reminder to Peter that he used to eat with Gentiles until he found it unhelpful to his plan for the church. After decades of close fellowship, Rowan has steadfastly chosen the comfortable path of being Peter when we need Paul, and unless he can make an overwhelming Gospel case for it, I cannot help but anticipate that he will be remembered as having chosen a path that was not courageous or well-defined and actually fostered schism. I cannot now imagine what it will take for him in the long run to re-create good relations with the U.S. and Canadian houses, but hope that the effort will be made should we somehow be allowed to remain in communion.

For now, I call on our own amazingly composed and delightful Leader to require heightened integrity on ABC's part and to remind him that without pares there is no primus inter which he may by any significant sense claim to preside.

I do not, cannot, ask the ABC to agree with us: we are a body of bishops who hold many views and we could be wrong about any number of our positions and actions. I do not ask that he endorse the actions of this Church, even if they can claim that they were to some extent his idea. He doesn't have to receive communion. He doesn't have to eat or hang out with us. He certainly ought to meet us face to face and accept accountability for his breath-taking words and actions us-wards. He needs above all to square what he has said and done in terms of congruence with what we can know of the ministry of the fleshly Messiah.

No more messengers; no more cellphone calls to defeat the integrity of this Church's polity. If Rowan really believes what the Lambeth press office says he believes about us, it is past time for him to say it to our faces, and have the goodness to listen to the response of those who have to live with the results of his choices. This would be, I believe, fair play and look very more like the New Testament.

Reluctantly yours,
Paul Marshall
Bishop of Bethlehem, The Episcopal Church

Because It Is Right (Woodrum)

by the Reverend Paul Woodrum

The Rev. Paul Woodrum is a retired priest, most recently at the Church of St. Alban the Martyr in St. Albans, New York, and canonically resident in the Diocese of Newark. He is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and General Theological Seminary. He is now in the business of designing and fabricating contemporary vestments with his partner Victor Challenor at Challwood Studio. Those worn by Presiding Bishop Katharine at her investiture were their creation, as were those of Barbara Harris and Gene Robinson at their consecrations. Some of their vestments and other liturgical creations are on display at the Episcopal Church and Visual Arts pages.

He posted this reflection yesterday to the Integrity listserv, and it is reprinted here (in lightly edited form) with his permission.

Yesterday we had the order for the Burial of the Dead, Mass of the Resurrection, and shelved Victor's mother, Gwen, in the columbarium in St. Ansgar's chapel at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. For those interested, I followed Ron Miller's suggestion and used the "Into your hands..." from the Commendation in place of the Lord's Prayer after the Committal. Beautiful!

Being at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, two thirds of which was built under Bishop Manning's leadership during the Great Depression, providing hundreds of jobs as well as erecting a great edifice, I once again told the story of how Gwen's mother took the family to All Souls, Manhattan, and how the ensuing flood of West Indian Anglicans to the neighborhood and parish so frightened the then all white, male vestry, they declared a moratorium on any more people of color joining the parish.

Bishop Manning called the New York press to meet him at All Souls where, in his episcopal regalia, after knocking with his crosier, he took an ax brought by his chaplain and broke the locks on the front gates, flung them open and dramatically declared that no Episcopal Church in his jurisdiction was free to practice discrimination or segregation, both still de facto in the north and de jure in the south in the '30s, and that all Episcopal churches were open to all regardless of race.

Manning did this without consulting any diocesan convention, General Convention, special commission, the Mayor of New York City or the Archbishop of Canterbury. He did it because it was right, long before it was the accepted much less popular thing, and he challenged the church to live into what he had done.

This is what I long for in our present leadership when it comes to discrimination against women and LGBT people: for the Presiding Bishop and other bishops to say simply that we will not tolerate any more discrimination and bigotry and challenge the church to live into this, not because it is politic or impolitic, acceptable to some but not to others, but because it is right. No more of this namby pamby hiding behind commissions, committees, conventions and policy directives. No more tolerating seasons, years, decades or centuries of waiting for justice.

Heaven knows Bishops Akinola and Iker and Duncan and their ilk are not shy about making pronouncements that are wrong, immoral, and unjust. Presiding Bishop Browning called for no more outcasts but took six of his nine years to begin to live into that himself where gay people were concerned. Presiding Bishop Griswold was genetically too nuanced to make a direct statement. It's a new day. I hope we will hear loud and clear the old prophetic call for justice to run down like rivers and integrity like an everlasting stream. Shalom. Shalom.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Gracious Words from Southern Africa

Archbishop Ndungane on the Primates Meeting
(from Episcopal News Service)

The Anglican Archbishop of Southern Africa, the Most Rev. Njongonkulu Ndungane, has responded to a recent threat made by some African Primates who say that they will not attend the forthcoming Primates Meeting in Tanzania in February because of the presence of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of the Anglican Church of Uganda said in a December pastoral letter to his church that he and other Global South Primates had informed the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, that they "cannot sit together with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the upcoming Primates Meeting in February," citing her position on the Bible's teachings about "faith and morality."

In a January 11 statement, Ndungane decried the reports of a boycott "because of the presence of a woman, who has been legitimately elected by the church in her country," saying it "is like fiddling while Rome burns."

Most importantly, he added, "it goes against God's fundamental call for unity and reconciliation."

"I hope it is not the case that Bishop Jefferts Schori's presence is objectionable to some because she is a woman," he said. "Women have always been the backbone of Africa and, as an African, I am honored to welcome her to our great continent."

Jefferts Schori will be the first woman ever to sit among the leaders, or Primates, of the Anglican Communion when they next convene in Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, but in his pastoral letter Orombi insisted that his "problem" with the Episcopal Church is "not that they have enthroned a woman as their Presiding Bishop."

In his statement, Ndungane noted that "Africa is on fire with conflict in places like Darfur and Somalia" and cited the "life and death struggle against HIV and AIDS, malaria, famine and unimaginable poverty, all of which are creating a continent of orphans."

"There is also climate change which threatens to bring untold devastation to our continent," he added. "What we need is a united front to bring the needs of the people of Africa to center stage at every international forum."

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Settled Question (Gerns)

A Settled Question (by the Rev. Andrew Gerns)

[Andrew Gerns is a priest in the Diocese of Bethlehem and rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Easton, Pennsylvania. He is a clerical deputy to General Convention, and he blogs at Andrew Plus.]

For the benefit of the Panel of Reference, let me clarify what seems to have eluded them about the teaching of the Episcopal Church regarding the ordination of women: a priest is a priest is a priest.

What language would you like to use? We believe that the priestly (or diaconal or episopal) personality is found in both women and men.

We believe that women are not immune to the grace of ordination. We believe that the ordination of women and men is consistent with the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. And in our practice our ideal is that a priest is a priest is a priest.

And over thirty years we have found that it not only works, but that the Gospel is forwarded and the Church has benefited.

I cannot see how one could call the Dallas Plan a success or a model worthy of repetition in the Church. The Dallas Plan is a short term solution to a deeper problem: it proposes (and practices) a separate but equal approach to ordination that is incompatible with our theology on two grounds.

The Church has taught for thirty years (nearly forty if, as certain folks are wont to do, you count Lambeth Conferences) that there is no theological barrier to opening the ordained offices to women. There is nothing about gender per se that blocks that charism of the sacrament of ordination from one sex but not the other.

The Church has also taught that the practice of setting up parallel jurisdictions for purposes of discrimination is incompatible with the Gospel. The Episcopal Church had to learn that one the hard way.

In our history, to salve the threatened and wounded consciences of white people, we set up in many dioceses parallel but separate ministries for blacks and for whites. We had "colored" bishops so a white bishop would not have to go to "colored" congregations. We had "colored" camps so white children would not have to share summer camp with "colored" children. This was both the law of the land and the culture of the time. But both the law and the culture were backed up by terrorism (buttressed by the Ku Klux Klan and "Jim Crow" laws) that we may have disapproved of, but did damn little to stop.

The Dallas Plan is a sorry admission that not only is Fort Worth willfully refusing even to consider the doctrine of this church that the charism of priesthood is not immune to femininity, but is a salve to wounded and threatened conscience by avoiding a deep engagement with the teaching of the Episcopal Church. Instead, Fort Worth chooses to send women called to ministry away to another land never to return. It is a concession not to theology, but to feelings.

The arrangement between the dioceses of Dallas and Fort Worth is nothing more than a private arrangement between two bishops and two standing committees. We should in no way confuse this private arrangement with the teaching and discipline of this church as a whole.

Does the Panel of Reference seek clarification? Let’s save the floor time at the next General Convention. The teaching of this church is that a priest is a priest is a priest. And for clarity's sake, we should name the Dallas Plan—and Fort Worth’s continued refusal to engage the ministry of ordained women—for what it is: a concession to sin and human pride.

Update (Jan. 14): The Reverend Gerns offers additional comments at his own blog. Click here to read them.

The Panel of Reference & Fort Worth

Background Information

As Episcopal News Service reports, the Diocese of Fort Worth has long been at odds with the Episcopal Church and was the first of seven dioceses to ask for a relationship with an Anglican primate other than Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori, who had been elected the day before Iker and the diocese made its request.

Some background on this matter seems warranted, as this issue is very much "back in the news" this week.

We have not posted about the Panel of Reference, appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury following the February 2005 primates' meeting in Dromantine in the aftermath of the Windsor Report. The Panel of Reference was charged to consider and report on situations where there is serious dispute involving "parishes which find it impossible in all conscience to accept the direct ministry of their own diocesan bishop or for dioceses in dispute with their provincial authorities." [The complete mandate of the POR is published here, and members of the POR are listed here.]

During the General Convention in Columbus, the day after Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the diocese of Fort Worth lodged an appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury, which was forwarded to the Panel of Reference. A June 19, 2006, report from ENS reported on the events of the day:

Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth read a short statement on the floor of the House of Bishops, saying the election of Jefferts Schori prompted him to fax a letter to [Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan] Williams, requesting that the Fort Worth diocese be placed under the oversight of another Anglican leader.

At about the same time, a member of the Forth Worth deputation was recognized at the beginning of the June 19 session of the House of Deputies and she read the following statement:

"The bishop and the standing committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth appeal in good faith to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the primates of the Anglican Communion and the Panel of Reference for immediate alternative primatial oversight and pastoral care following the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. This action is taken as a cooperative member of the Anglican Communion Network in light of the Windsor Report and its recommendations."

Fort Worth's appeal stated that the diocese and its bishop, Jack Iker, "are concerned that the action of the General Convention of ECUSA in passing Canons which makes women's ordination mandatory makes it impossible for the Diocese at some future date to receive confirmation of the election as their bishop of a man who disapproves of the ordination of women to the presbyterate [sic] and/or episcopate." The diocese had put in place a procedure known as the Dallas Plan to provide women access to the ordination process and to provide for parishes that want to call a woman priest.

Considerably more information about the "Dallas Plan" and the Episcopal Church canons and resolutions (dating back to 1997) regarding the ordination of women is available in this story from ENS. The story notes that, after the 1997 General Convention, Iker instituted the plan under which any woman seeking ordination would (after review in Fort Worth) be sent to the Bishop of Dallas; likewise, the Bishop of Dallas would serve as the alternative ecclesiastical authority for any parish wishing to engage the services of a woman as its parish priest.

Archbishop Williams sent the Fort Worth appeal to the Panel of Reference. On January 8, the panel's report was posted on the Anglican Communion Office's website.

The panel's recommendations are that

1. use of the Dallas Plan continue;

2. "it be made clear that it is legitimate for a diocese to ask of candidates for election as bishop that they abide by the particular policy of the diocese in relation to the ministry of women, and that theological views on the ordination or consecration of women should not be a ground on which consent might be withheld by the Province/House of Bishops;"

3. "the Archbishop of Canterbury should discuss with the Presiding Bishop the possibility of the clarification of the ambiguous wording of the 1997 amendment to the relevant canon so as to ensure that the permissive nature of the ordination of women is maintained in any diocese" while underscoring the "apparent intention of the amendment to defend the interests of women candidates for postulancy, candidacy and ordination in a diocese that does not ordain women;" and

4. "the Archbishop of Canterbury continue discussions with the Diocese of Fort Worth and with the Episcopal Church with the aim of securing the place of Fort Worth in the Communion."

This story from Episcopal News Service provides useful background and summarizes the report of the Panel of Reference. It includes the following:

The Anglican Communion's Panel of Reference has recommended that the Archbishop of Canterbury discuss with the Presiding Bishop the possibility of clarifying what it called the ambiguous wording of a 1997 amendment to the Episcopal Church's ordination canon "so as to ensure that the permissive nature of the ordination of women is maintained in any diocese."

"At the same time the apparent intention of the amendment to defend the interests of women candidates for postulancy, candidacy and ordination in a diocese that does not ordain women would be underscored," the panel's recommendation said.

The Panel of Reference report seems to assume that the "Dallas Plan" is working and supports its continuation. Many commentators within the Episcopal Church have challenged that conclusion and have noted the extraordinary suggestion that an outside jurisdiction should guide the canons of the Episcopal Church. Certainly, the Episcopal Church has never suggested it should influence the constitutions or canons of any other Anglican province.

As always, Thinking Anglicans is gathering news from a wide variety of sources. Click on this page to get news about the Panel of Reference report, and click back to Thinking Anglicans regularly to stay abreast of all the significant news in the Anglican Communion.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

TEC on YouTube

Tom Woodward calls our attention to a video on YouTube, in which leaders of the Episcopal Church during the June 2005 Executive Council meeting answered the question, "What is the good news that the Episcopal Church has to share?" It's quite uplifting. Go and watch, if you have a high-speed Internet connection. It's a little dated now, but you'll have a chance to see and hear some people whom maybe you only know as squiggles in e-mails, blogs, and websites.

Thanks to Ann, in the comments below, for explaining the source of the video. It was posted by its creator, the Very Rev. Cynthia Black. She was a member of Executive Council and active in Episcopal Women's Caucus.

Sex, Religion, and the Culture Wars

[Editor's Note: We have noted the newspaper ad published by Incarnation Episcopal Church. We have now obtained the text of that advertisement, and it is reprinted here.]

Sex, Religion, and the Culture Wars
An Open Letter to the Community

by the Rev. Matthew Lawrence
Rector, Incarnation Episcopal Church, Santa Rosa

Nothing sells newspapers faster than sex; so when St. John’s Episcopal Church in Petaluma decided last week to leave the Episcopal Church because we allow a gay man to serve as the Bishop of New Hampshire – that made headlines.

This letter is one local pastor’s attempt to shed some light on this overheated topic. I do not claim to speak for every member of my church – one thing we love about our church is its diversity of opinions. But as the senior pastor of one of our diocese’s largest parishes, I can say with confidence that this letter is consistent with the views of the majority of Episcopalians as well as our national church leadership.

Too Boring for the Culture Wars?
Sometimes the only Christians who receive media attention are those who make the most noise with their extreme views. Granted, they do provide entertainment value – extremists are fascinating. By contrast, most Episcopalians tend toward the boring mainstream.

For example, the vast majority of Episcopalians do not believe that the theory of evolution is an atheistic conspiracy designed to destroy the faith of their children. We are proud of our new Presiding Bishop, Katherine [sic] Jefferts Schiori, who happens to also be a microbiologist. We embrace science and reason as essential ingredients to faith.

Nor do we believe that the Bible was auto-dictated by means of an infallible process that cannot be questioned. When we read the Bible, we employ God’s gift of critical reasoning as well as faith. Those who believe that life would be meaningless if the Bible were found to be imperfect would do well, in our opinion, to summon a bit of existential courage.

As Episcopalians, we see with the eyes of faith, but we are not blind. By faith we find a reason to live beyond ourselves. We enjoy people who are different from us; we seek to serve the world’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens and to build a more just society. It breaks our heart when fellow Christians act as agents of oppression.

As an expression of our faith, my parish founded a day shelter for homeless and at-risk women and children called The Living Room. We devote enormous energy to ministries of compassion, fueled by an ancient Christian belief in a universe created and ordered by love. We believe that love and compassion draws us into the heart of the human-divine nexus. This is known as the way of the cross. For us it is the way of truth – but we tend to avoid telling others what their truth must be. This is known as respect, and is another reason why we don’t get much time on TV. We are boring in this way.

Homosexuals in the Church
Episcopalians do not tend to believe in homosexuality as a moral or psychological disorder. We accept the well-researched findings of boring experts like the American Psychiatric Association, which sees homosexuality as a “normal variant of human sexuality.” An important question, then, is not the gender of your partner but rather the quality of your intimate relationship. Are you committed, monogamous, and nurturing? Most of us have come to know homosexuals who are involved in healthy, life-giving and sustaining partnerships. We see that there is no essential difference between gay and straight: we all long for love; we all fail to love perfectly; and as we deepen our spiritual journey, we seek to live in forgiveness and harmony with the Source of love. Episcopalians humbly follow Jesus as One who shows us how this is done, and for that reason our worship centers around Christ.

And yet, a handful of Christian leaders lead the charge that would deprive homosexuals of their civil and human rights. Many who call themselves Christians routinely link homosexuality with pedophilia and incest. If we did not know better, we would dismiss this position as sadly ignorant; but if this is ignorance, it appears to be of the willful variety, and it is dangerous.

It is no coincidence that the few Episcopalians who have left our church must travel to Africa, Asia, and South America to find their support. Their sentiments do not fit well with an American constitution that protects the rights of minorities against a tyranny of the majority. Episcopalians tend to accept as a “given” the open-hearted sensibilities of American democracy. We are proud that Gerald Ford, eulogized last week for his rare decency, was also a very committed Episcopalian.

But still, across our land, the drumbeat of religious intolerance grows louder, as more and more extremists succeed in winning media attention for their views. When, we wonder, will it end?

Just over sixty years ago, a Christian pastor who was also a decorated Nazi officer witnessed the atrocities of an intolerant society. Ultimately, he found the courage to speak out, and was imprisoned in Dachau as a result. His words have been immortalized:

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
-- Martin Niemoller

Niemoller’s courage is not inspired by a complicated idea. It is simply the Golden Rule, affirmed by every major religion and most of the minor ones too: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We think that’s good advice. Let’s not meekly stand by while yet another movement of intolerance seeks to deprive good people of their common humanity.

This coming Sunday, January 14th, on the eve of Martin Luther King Day, we will hold a special candlelight evening gathering of prayers and songs with theme: “Seeking the courage to speak against oppression.” The service will be held at 7:00 pm, and will feature contemplative chant, silent meditation, and interfaith readings. If you agree with the sentiments expressed in this letter, we invite you and your loved ones to attend.

The following local Episcopal parishes support the direction taken by our church to affirm gays and lesbians as equal partners in the spiritual journey: St. Patrick’s in Kenwood; St. Andrew’s in Monte Rio; Holy Family in Rohnert Park; St. Stephen’s in Sebastopol; and Incarnation in Santa Rosa.

We welcome your comments to this letter. Please drop us a line at, or contact your nearest welcoming Episcopal Church.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Solid Ground

(by Tom Fitzhugh)

[About the Author: Tom Fitzhugh is a maritime attorney and adjunct college professor in the Diocese of Texas. He is also a member of Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, where he served on the vestry, has been a Lay Reader/Worship Leader for 30 years, and a LEM/EM since that was first allowed in his diocese. He served two terms on the Executive Board of the Diocese of Texas and has been elected six times as a lay alternate deputy to General Convention. His wife volunteers in the Cathedral Bookstore and sang with the magnificent choir for nearly 20 years. Tom and his wife have two wonderfully grown children who also live in Houston, where one is a corporate litigator and the other teaches world geography and coaches volleyball and soccer in high school.]

In the early '80s one Sunday I noticed a new face at the 11 am service. Introducing myself, I invited him to the coffee hour, where I lingered waiting for Jan to change after choir practice. He was a young banker from Tennessee who regularly attended St. John the Divine. Though I'm not sure what prompted Larry Benfield to come that Sunday, everything clicked, and soon he had transferred to the Cathedral. He got involved as a lay reader and LEM, and soon was a regular of a weekly morning Bible study that included five regulars – two priests, two men, and one remarkable retired school teacher, Eleanor Munger.

Eleanor, a grandmother, deserves her own post. After she retired from teaching Montessori for nearly 50 years, she became concerned about the loneliness and suffering of the young men dying then of AIDS (this was the early '80s). With encouragement from then-dean Pittman McGehee, at age 76 she started Omega House, which has provided compassionate care for people in the final stages of AIDS. This was the first public outreach to these suffering and hopeless ones by any organization in Houston, and Eleanor was its shining light until her death. Her efforts show just how much impact one dedicated person can have. She had absolutely nothing but time and love to give, but her passion and ministry drew others with resources to support her and this wonderful project which is now in its 20th year. The Cathedral’s website provides this description: “Originally founded in 1986 by Eleanor Munger, a then retired 76-year-old Montessori schoolteacher, Omega House opened its doors to respond to the devastation of terminally ill AIDS patients discharged from the hospital with nowhere else to go. Christ Church Cathedral provided the initial resources to create this residential hospice that has been the final home to over 800 men and women who have lost their life to HIV/AIDS-related illness. Today Omega House continues Ms. Munger's original mission of providing a safe and loving home to people who need compassionate care as they complete their life's journey.”

As Larry worked his way into parish life, he was "rewarded" with chairmanship of the Every Member Canvas, and then was elected to the vestry. Then suddenly he resigned from the vestry and enrolled in Virginia seminary. Larry, originally from Kingston, Tennessee, thrived in seminary and graduated towards the top of his class. He was ordained at the Cathedral in 1990 and assigned as chaplain at A&M. Two years later, as Ben Benitez's blackshirts were at the height of their power, Bishop Maze of Arkansas stole Larry away to Arkansas.

Last fall, I was surprised to see his name included on a list of four nominees to be considered for diocesan bishop in Arkansas. A few days before the vote, Larry sent me an incredible e-mail telling me that I was the primary reason he was introduced to and made to feel at home in the Cathedral, which was a turning point in his life. On November 11th, on the third ballot, he was elected bishop, and I got one of the first e-mails from him after that, inviting me to the consecration in Little Rock, which happened yesterday.

There's not much maritime work in Little Rock, though there is a river, and it's not a very big town. My schedule only allowed a day trip, although Larry invited me to a whole weekend of activities surrounding the trip. I haven't been there in decades, but it's still a small town. No church was big enough for the crowd, so the gym at the spiffy Episcopal Collegiate School was turned into a church for the consecration.

The night before the event I found a website description of the whole affair, and it said tickets were needed. I didn't have one, so I was a bit worried about having a seat. Larry asked me to find him when I arrived, so I did. After a bear hug, he told me he had a special seat on the 2nd row with my name on it, so I didn't need a ticket. Turns out I was next to two of Larry's long-time friends, both readers (i.e., graders) of the General Ordination Exams (GOE).

By my estimate, about 2,000 folks were at this service, which absolutely filled the gym to overflowing. Click here to see tne Episcopal News Service story and photographs. It was a moving experience with a lot of music quite appropriate to the Bible Belt setting. A couple of the spirituals had everyone, including our Presiding Bishop, tapping or nodding to the beat – that music just amplified the wonderful spirit in that place. My seat was about 10 feet away from the Presiding Bishop and other consecrators, and Larry asked me to be one of the oblationers. The sermon was preached by Larry's younger assistant at his current church, and it was truly excellent, focusing on Epiphany and the ability of God to use us where we are to reach other to others. The sermon had a lot of good humor in it, and the Presiding Bishop laughed heartily with everyone else. The whole service lasted about two hours, after which I got to visit with our new Presiding Bishop, whom I found to be very intelligent with a great personality too. She's got a really big job to do, and from all I've heard about her, she is well-qualified to do so.

Larry is the first person I've known from laity all the way to bishop, which my adult son says must make me feel real old. In a way I do, but I feel even more grateful for the experience. And it just shows how important a Sunday morning greeting may be to a newcomer.

How I wish those folks in Falls Church or Plano could have been there - not a single word about sex; the gymnasium of the Episcopal Collegiate School was overflowing, and the good will and love was abundant.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori showed a really wonderful side to her personality – laughing, smiling, leading – and of the thousands present, I heard nothing but compliments about her, and these aren't exactly the Upper East Side types. In the heartland this part of our church seems vibrant, with a highly-regarded young bishop. I thought of so many of my Episcopalian brothers and sisters as I visited with ++Katharine after the service and told her that we were all praying for her and especially for her trip to Tanzania next month. She was genuinely appreciative, and I felt really lucky to have the chance to meet her in this setting.

Each morning I awake with a grateful heart that so many of us across the land - from Hawaii to Vermont - are joined in an earnest effort to enact the Great Commission, weak vessels though we are.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Episcopal Church Still Strong

The Reverend Marya DeCarlen wrote this essay (published in the January 5 issue of the Salem News of Massachusetts) in response to a Scripps-Howard syndicated column by Jay Ambrose. [Update: The Ambrose column is now available in the "comments" below, thanks to one of our readers.] The Rev. DeCarlen's comment is a powerful statement from the strong, healthy heart of the Episcopal Church.

The Rev. DeCarlen is rector of
St. James Episcopal Church in Groveland, Massachusetts. She lives in Boxford with her husband and their two young sons.

Episcopal Church Still Strong, Despite Divisive Minority
(the Reverend Marya DeCarlen)

As a member of the Episcopal majority, I take issue with columnist Jay Ambrose and his repetitive rant ("Church schism here has wide impact") published with unfortunate timing in The Salem News the day after Christmas.

As we enter into a new secular year, please allow me to provide some needed perspective.

The vast majority of Episcopalians in the United States - 95 percent - have formed a grassroots organization committed to the values and vitality of our church. They are working to neutralize the negative influence of the American Anglican Council (AAC), the Anglican Communion Network (ACN), and related groups that seek to tear our communion apart.

Millions of faithful Episcopalians, clergy and laity alike, are looking for ways to counteract the damage done by splinter groups. In a century in which we have focused on Christian unity, it is painful to experience division in our church.

The latest episode in the minority rebellion against equality features two schismatic churches in Virginia, Truro Church and Falls Church, that voted to sever ties with the U.S. church. They have joined the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, known by the acronym CANA.

Why did they do this? Because a gay man was consecrated bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 and a woman was consecrated as their presiding bishop in 2006.

These two churches have a combined membership of 3,000 parishioners. They will form the core of what is being envisioned as a new Fairfax, Virginia-based mission of the conservative Episcopal Church of Nigeria.

It is important to note that the head of the Nigerian church, Archbishop Peter Akinola, has voiced support for pending legislation in that country that includes prison sentences for gay sexual activity.

In justifying their actions, the Virginia parishes falsely claim that they predate the establishment of the Episcopal Church of the USA in 1789. They use this, as well as another false claim that George Washington was a leader in both parishes, as an excuse to affirm the equality of some and discount the equality others.

They fail to take into account the fact that the Episcopal Church of the USA owes its existence to the American Revolution. Like our patriot fathers and mothers, we broke away from the Church of England and were reborn as a modern American entity that sought equality, rather than lordship from England.

The founders of the Episcopal Church believed, within the context of their time, that all men were created equal.

Schismatic Episcopal renegades, like those who broke away recently in Virginia, have decided that equality is not something to value in our faith tradition - even though it has been a valued commodity throughout our precious American history.

So why did the schismatic churches in Virginia falsely claim that George Washington was once a member of their vestry, the church's board of directors?

Dr. Joan Gunderson, a celebrated historian with a specialty in Virginia history, points out that neither parish is the direct descendant of a colonial parish, nor can they claim George Washington as a member of their vestries or congregations. Both parishes are "new" church plants from the 1830s and 1840s.

So why would they claim a connection to George Washington if it isn't so? I believe that this is simply a ploy for legal and financial gain within the Diocese of Virginia, one that shows how desperate they are to advance their cause.

The minority faction of the Episcopal Church says it stands for "scriptural authority" and stands against the ordination of women, gays and lesbians. These touchstone points reveal doctrinaire minds that need clear instructions about what to believe, say and do.

Quite simply, these brothers and sisters in Christ are afraid of uncertainty. They want everything spelled out, laid down in black and white so there is less chance they will "make a mistake." They seek clear, dogmatic direction rather than relying on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide them.

I agree that Holy Scripture speaks with authority and we are called to understand what it means. But when we translate terms and concepts that meant one thing in the cultural context of biblical times and another thing now, this can lead to grave misunderstandings.

Faithful discernment requires attention to many biblical voices. We must look at individual passages in the light of all scripture, not in isolation. We can learn by setting passages within a larger biblical context.

This is faithful to the Episcopal tradition and respectful to biblical authority. Including the whole story of biblical covenant and redemption, not just the parts that please us, will bring more people to our faith.

The recent sad, divisive episode by the minority's self-appointed gatekeepers will not help any of us to reconcile, love, and heal those who are in disagreement with their rebellion. Challenging times are ahead for Christians in American denominations, as we weigh in with scriptural authority, equality and moral values.

While I was writing this response, the daughter of an Episcopal priest I grew to love before he died last year, sent me a poem written in 1850 by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Entitled "Ring Out, Wild Bells," here is Tennyson's final stanza:

Ring in the valiant man and free,
the larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
Let's ring out these dark divisions and ring in the loving Christ that is to be.

Changing the Context

The Episcopal News Service today posted this story about a Northern California parish's ad, designed to "change the context" of media coverage that has focused on the dissidents and debates in the Episcopal Church.

The story begins:

A full-page newspaper advertisement "meant to change the context" of media coverage of the Episcopal Church appears to be meeting its goal, according to the priest who wrote the ad's text.

The ad, titled "Sex, Religion, and the Culture Wars: An Open Letter to the Community," ran on the back page of the local news section of the January 7 issue of the Santa Rosa, California Press Democrat newspaper.

In the ad, under the sub-headline "Too Boring for the Culture Wars," the Rev. Matthew Lawrence, rector of Church of the Incarnation ( in Santa Rosa, wrote that "sometimes the only Christians who receive media attention are those who make the most noise with their extreme views. Granted, they do provide entertainment value – extremists are fascinating. By contrast, most Episcopalians tend toward the boring mainstream."

The ad is due to be posted on Church of the Incarnation's website soon.

Click here to read the full ENS story.

The vast, broad majority of the Episcopal Church is doing well, proclaiming the Gospel, and carrying out the work of Christ. We're proud of Father Lawrence and the people of the Church of the Incarnation for saying so.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

"All or Nothing"?

Will It Be "All or Nothing" or the Wholeness of Christian Revelation? (by The Reverend Thomas B. Woodward)

An old friend, now a member of The Episcopal Majority, reminded me that one of the Episcopal Church's noted canon lawyers (who taught canon law at the Philadelphia Divinity School), writing some 40 years ago, noted that the Episcopal Church had kept regulations to the “minimum required for fellowship and faith ... [with much left] deliberately unspecified."

He went on to say:

We insist on the indispensability – and hence, in some sense, the theological importance – of the Bible, the creeds, the sacraments, and the episcopate. Yet, we have no official interpretation of biblical inspiration, of sacramental theology, of episcopacy, and no single, binding dogmatic system.... The ‘all or nothing’ … alternative has seemed superficial. The wholeness of the Christian revelation and of the life of man has always seemed bigger than any of the tidy, complete formulations available. Thus, largely due to historical circumstance, Anglicanism (and Episcopalians … have) ... avoided ... becoming doctrinaire or rigid.” [Stevick, Canon Law]

Why would anyone want to sacrifice the wholeness of Christian revelation to an "all or nothing" religion which hacks away the ambiguity, the mystery and the fullness of our tradition? Why would anyone want to attack such comprehensiveness which alone can preserve the whole? Over the centuries we have been willing to let others press the fundamentalist and literalist claims for an "All or Nothing" religion – and they, by and large, have been happy for us to be who we are. This phenomenon of reductionism and neo-puritanism is not new in the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion. What is new is its sudden claim that it, alone, has the truth.

This is not a fight we need to fight. We can give our best wishes to those who wish to leave the Episcopal Church with their certainty and rigidity and become a part of another movement within the wider church in their quest for authenticity. What we cannot do is to allow them to use the name or the property of the church described by Father Stevick.

Our situation is similar to the religious landscape of Jesus' time. There were many expressions of the Judaism of his time. One group was the Pharisees, perhaps the group which took its religious duties and responsibilities more seriously than any other. There was much to admire in the Pharisees – in their moral seriousness, in the ways they stood up against secularism, and in the seriousness of their study. In the end, though, they claimed to be the only "orthodox" among the various expressions of Judaism –much as is happening with their spiritual counterparts in the Episcopal Church today. What began, in both instances, was an attempt at renewal of a religious tradition through the imposition of a stricter and more restrictive morality. Both attempts, however, ended in an increase of moralism, often cut off from our religious roots and attached primarily to the fears and judgmentalism of their followers.

My first prayer is that we all will find a way of living together and benefiting from the strengths of one another. That, however, can only happen when neither group is demonizing the other. My second prayer is that we will allow those who cannot affirm themselves within the Episcopal Church as we have been from our beginning to leave with our prayers and well wishing. May we do so with grace and with an absence of any form of the rigidity we have resisted for so long.

Another Akinola Profile

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola continues to attract worldwide attention. The January 8 edition of the The Christian Science Monitor includes a profile of Akinola with some biography that we have not seen before.

The article begins:

Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria Peter Akinola says it's no accident that he, an African, has become the outspoken leader of Anglican traditionalists worldwide. God has always looked to Africa to save his church, he says.

When Christ sought safety from Herod, he found it in Egypt, in Africa, and when he was completely worn out, an African carried his cross, according to Akinola.

"God is consistent: He has always used Africans to build his church, to save his church from error. Right from the very beginning," says Mr. Akinola, dressed in the traditional garb of his Yoruba ethnic group, a large wooden cross hanging from his neck. "Africans are always there to do it!"

Best known for his vocal opposition to homosexuality, Akinola has found support among US Anglicans, or Episcopalians, who opposed the 2003 consecration of a gay bishop and the church's move to allow dioceses to bless same-sex unions.

Last month, two of America's oldest Episcopalian churches - both in Virginia - voted to break with the US branch of Anglicanism over the issue and concerns about church leaders' adherence to biblical authority. These churches, and several other smaller churches, joined the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, which is connected to Akinola.

"Homosexuality seeks to destroy marriage as we know it, unity as we know it, family life as we know it, so how can we endorse that?" asks Akinola. "That is completely outside what God planned for humanity. When God created man, he saw man was alone and added a female mate for him. Why didn't he pick one of the baboons, one of the lions to make his partner? He could have done so. He didn't," he says. "Homosexuality is nothing short of sinning against God with impunity as you are going against his will."

Akinola says his views are not controversial, he is simply a traditionalist adhering to God's scripture with the full support of his bishops and congregation. He says he "abhors" what he describes as the "extreme liberalism of the Western world." The debate on homosexual bishops is a symptom of that extreme liberalism and is contrary to biblical teachings, he says.
Click here to read the entire article.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Reading between the Lines of Compliance

(by the Reverend James V. Stockton)

[Editor's Note: The Reverend James V. Stockton is Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Austin (Diocese of Texas). This essay was submitted on January 4.]

I believe it is a mistake to read the current controversy in the Episcopal Church with the template of the past. The dissidents on the Hard Right have learned well from the past, and have done so more quickly and thoroughly than have the rest of us. Due to this, the Hard Right has successfully adapted its tactics to gain ground ceded to it by the Pliant Left and which it has captured from the Broad Middle.

Most of the dissenting bishops have declared their intention not to ask their respective dioceses to leave the Episcopal Church. And they mean it. It is important, though, to recognize that their dissent makes it logically impossible for them to be loyal to the same Episcopal Church whose constitution and canons they dismiss in their dissent. Thus, it is important to discern what these bishops and their dioceses are saying to avoid being trapped by the skewed logic of their claims.

They leave the threat of overt schism to those overseas primates who are promising their support for the American dissenters, in blatant violation of the recommendations of the very Windsor Report they claim to revere. Meanwhile, some, though not all, of the American dissenters avoid open talk of schism, merely disrespecting and disavowing the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and claiming to relieve their dioceses of the obligation to comply with the legislation of the Church’s General Convention. They claim to be "Windsor compliant," even as they invite and engage in non-compliance with the Church’s constitution and canon law.

A few observations are due.

First, the Windsor Report is an advisory document. In the words of its own foreword, “This Report is not a judgment. It is part of a process.” It is without legislative, juridical, or punitive authority.

Second, the Windsor Report took a very long path in making its way for official action by the Episcopal Church. The Windsor Report came to the Archbishop of Canterbury in October of 2004, then to the primates of the Anglican Communion (including our own Presiding Bishop) in 2005 and then to our House of Bishops. However, it did not make its way to the entire Episcopal Church in any formal way until General Convention 2006. This left the lay and clergy orders of the Episcopal Church scandalously little time officially and legislatively to address the recommendations of the report.

Third, because it was not prepared for the derivative jurisdictions of bishops, dioceses, parishes, and clergy, neither the Windsor Report itself nor the Archbishop of Canterbury is able to grant "Windsor-compliant" status to bishops and dioceses.

Fourth, the Windsor Report was prepared with the hope of helping the Communion keep its cohesion. It was not offered as a way to give primates, bishops, dioceses, clergy, or parishes a way to declare subcategories of "impaired" or "compliant" relationships with their fellow Anglican Christians.

Fifth, then, for a bishop and/or a diocese to claim to be "Windsor compliant" is exactly antithetical to the very report they claim to hold so dearly.

Surely no one imagines that the drafters of the Windsor Report believe that anyone can be "Windsor compliant" on the one hand, while on the other failing to be compliant with the constitution and canons of his or her respective province of the Anglican Communion. Of all people, surely the primates themselves assume that non-compliance with a province's constitution and canons means non-compliance with the spirit behind the Windsor Report.

I believe that the bishops and dioceses who have absolved themselves from their vows to abide by the Episcopal Church's constitution and canons have exposed their nuanced use of a terminology familiar to us all. They claim membership in this Church but simultaneously disavow or renounce its governance.

Certainly, one cannot presume to know God's inclusion or exclusion of anyone in the Church Catholic. However, when someone claims membership in the Episcopal Church (or in the Anglican Communion) but exhibits a simultaneous disregard for or violation of the governance of that institution, it becomes incumbent upon the rest of us to suspect the sincerity of that claim. Only through the use of a particularized definition of the term "church" can such a claim be regarded as truthful. Unspoken in this convoluted claim is their belief that that "church" of which they intend to remain a part is a "church" different from the one to which the rest of us belong.

For this reason, the self-absolving bishops and/or dioceses for whom compliance with the Episcopal Church's constitution and canons has become an inconvenience probably really do believe that their claims are genuine when they say that all are welcome. The rest of us need to recognize, however, that it would be more accurate for them to say that all are welcome only if all ascribe to their particular definition of "orthodoxy" and thus to their particular definition of "church."

When the self-absolving bishops and non-compliant dioceses say they have no intention of leaving the Episcopal Church, they mean it. Evidently, though, what they further mean is that they intend to compel the Episcopal Church to create for them an extraordinary exception to its constitution and canons that will allow them a non-geographic jurisdiction from which they shall continue to push their agenda. The rest of us need to recognize that this agenda will, if successful, make this Church inhospitable to those of us who do not wish to comply with their narrow revision of the Episcopal Church.

One hopes that the Episcopal Church will soon cease trying to mollify these dissenters as they continue negotiating for more of Anglicanism's once broad, once populous, and still sacred middle ground. The Church will do well to challenge their use of nuance, and call them to be "constitutionally and canonically compliant." To do this will be to begin effectively addressing the complexities of the current reality, and to own our own responsibility to defend that very breadth of the Gospel in which God has found us, claimed us, and set us free.

Another Take on Windsor

(by the Reverend Bill Coats)

[Editor's note: This essay was submitted while the Camp Allen meeting was still in progress. No effort has been made to revise the verb tenses now that the meeting has adjourned.]

Much of protest politics has always involved a heavy dose of theater. This is because in the absence of real power one turns to ceremony and symbol as a kind of latent hope for the future.

So it is with the meeting called by Bishop Wimberly of Texas to whom an assortment of "protest" figures have been invited. Among those attending is Bishop Mtetemela of Tanzania, one of the hardliners who won't meet with our Presiding Bishop; Bishop Wimberly characterizes him as a moderate in that wonderful world of Alice in which words can mean anything you want.

Many of the bishops in attendance refer to themselves as "Windsor Bishops." This refers to the report now almost two years old which, in nuanced language, asked the Episcopal Church to apologize for its consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, encouraged listening throughout the Communion, and cautioned against cross-provincial interventions by bishops. The "Windsor Bishops" characteristically and predictably will not consider the latter features of Windsor; in true cherry-picking style, they will concentrate on the Episcopal Church and its response to the call for expressions of regret. They have already found this wanting, which makes the meeting redundant; but meetings among conservatives have become de rigueur, a kind of bi-monthly round-up which makes up for the reality that, in fact, nothing is happening to their liking. So why not meet and denounce somebody? And we know who that "somebody" is.

The meeting will be held with one of those slightly wobbly blessings that the Archbishop of Canterbury customarily gives whenever one or more of our disenchanted bishops want to have a meeting. What else can he do? They are bishops, after all, and it is a free county and a free church (unless Bishops Akinola and Duncan get their way). Of course Canterbury’s cordial message is immediately translated by our friends as a kind of imprimatur. This elevation of every word from Canterbury into approval of not only meetings but outcomes has been standard fare for some time among our conservative friends, for whom simple or nuanced language is no barrier to ideological construction.

The claim is made that Windsor and those who sign on to it constitute "the way forward" for the Communion. In reality, nothing of the sort is true. The main ingredient of Windsor was its suggestion of an Anglican Covenant which, it is hoped, would be something around which the Communion could rally and which would offer a way for the Communion to function. The Covenant process has been underway for over a year; a committee is at work on its construction. In that sense, Windsor has done its work and is now a thing of the past.

Why, then, keep naming and claiming it? Well, it serves a number of purposes other than those for which it was designed.

First, it allows all those unhappy with the Episcopal Church to continue to excoriate and vilify us.

Second, for those who have not yet made up their minds whether or not to leave, it allows them to continue the fantasy that their "compliance" to Windsor will truly affect matters. This, of course, is ludicrous. There is no chance whatsoever the Episcopal Church somehow (through another General Convention? by a statement from Bishop Schori?) is going to "repent in sackcloth and ashes" over the consecration of Robinson. To continue to beat this drum has now become absurd. But still there seems to be a perception that if you stamp your feet and say "Windsor" … somehow you are still in the church even if in time you may leave. In this sense you have here a fictional construct.

Third, and either more ominously or more hopefully, "Windsor" has become a call word of the secessionists. They have acted precipitously in forming another jurisdiction in the United States and have a good deal of support overseas. They have become impatient with the Covenant process and hence with the real substance of the Windsor Report. They are in full withdrawal mode and want to keep the momentum up. So they call to their friends like Bishop Wimberly, "Windsor!" – and in this call they are really saying "Come with us."

So whatever is said about Windsor, let there be no mistake: it no longer has anything to do with Windsor. It is, as I said, theater.

"Archbishop Fears Church Schism"

From today's Telegraph: Archbishop fears Church schism in gay row (by Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent)

The Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted that he fears losing control of the worldwide Anglican Church, which is on the brink of schism over homosexuality.

In a surprisingly frank assessment of the crisis, Dr Rowan Williams said that he feared anything that set Christians more deeply at odds with each other.

"And because I am an ordinary, sinful human being, I fear the situation slipping out of my control, such as it is," he said.

"I fear schism, not because I think it's the worst thing in the world but because, at this particular juncture, it's going to be bad for us. It's going to drive people into recrimination and bitterness."

In a documentary on Canterbury Cathedral to be broadcast on ITV tomorrow, the archbishop added: "We can't take it for granted that the Anglican Communion will go on as it always has been.

"Of course that's unsettling, of course that's painful for everybody, but there's no way of moving on without asking the hard questions."

His comments, which will be leapt on by critics who accuse him of weak leadership, come at a highly sensitive time for the worldwide Church, which is being pulled apart by warring factions.

Next month, Dr Williams will chair a make-or-break summit in Africa with his fellow primates, the archbishops who head the 38 self-governing Churches or provinces that make up the 70 million-strong Communion.

The archbishop is hoping that a compromise will emerge, allowing conservatives and liberals to co-exist relatively peacefully until a more formal split can be worked out over the next decade.

Click here to read the full story.

Update: Jim Naughton (of the Daily Episcopalian) has useful insights in a new column today. He's a serious journalist and keen observer of the Episcopal Church. Click here to read his analysis and commentary.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Bishops Leave Camp Allen Quietly

The Living Church reports that the so-called "Windsor compliant" bishops have left Camp Allen today without issuing a public statement. The article begins:

An estimated group of some two dozen bishops of The Episcopal Church concluded a much-publicized Jan. 3-5 meeting at Camp Allen agreeing not to make a common statement public. Unlike the first meeting last September (also held at Camp Allen near Houston) there was no one present on the final day to help prepare a draft statement, according to a source who wished to remain anonymous.
Read the brief report at The Living Church website.

The Beat Goes On . . .

(by the Rev. Liz Zivanov)

[Editor's Note: The Reverend Liz Zivanov is Rector of The Parish of St. Clement, President of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Hawai'i, a Deputy to General Convention, and companion to Richard Hooker and Thomas Cranmer of the feline persuasion. This essay was accepted for publication on January 3.]

One of the more interesting developments this week is the news that Bishop Don Wimberly has called another Camp Allen meeting for so-called Windsor-compliant bishops, those who are willing to sign a statement that they support the Windsor Report as the vehicle to maintain the unity of the Anglican Communion. A corollary to that news is a statement by the Reverend James Stockton, a priest in Wimberly’s diocese, giving us some insight into the bishop’s communications with his clergy.

Camp Allen Meeting #2 is apparently like Camp Allen Meeting #1: only those who sign a particular statement are welcome to participate. This is the same technique used by the Anglican Communion Network (ACN) since their initial Plano meeting in 2003. Sign a statement of agreement with the sponsors of the meeting, and you’re welcome to come to the table. Don’t want to sign the statement? You’re not welcome. The Bishop of Texas has invited another African bishop to attend -- Tanzanian Archbishop Mtetemela, supposedly a moderate. But statements from the Diocese of Tanzania tell us otherwise. Mtetemela has broken communion with the Episcopal Church. Moderates don’t do that.

We haven’t heard that any progressive bishops have been invited. Maybe the Primate of Canada would be a good person to include, or perhaps the Primate of Scotland. If we’re looking for a balanced, moderate discussion, it would make sense to include those who might not fully agree with Bishop Wimberly. On the other hand, it’s his meeting and he can invite whomever he wants. Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth certainly is pleased with the Camp Allen gatherings, as he says in his statement to his own diocese. And since Iker has no use for the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori nor for discussions about reconciliation, what does his happiness with the Camp Allen meetings tell us? Let’s remember that Iker, along with Bishop Robert Duncan, stated that a second meeting with our Presiding Bishop and a representative from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, among others, would be fruitless. It’s been quite clear that nothing short of a complete reversal of GC2003 will be acceptable to the ACN crew.

So the Bishop of Texas calls his meetings with his guest list, and tries to maneuver himself as a moderate [there’s that word again] leader who is interested only in maintaining the union of the Communion. The guest list and the requirements for participation demonstrate otherwise.

Where does the Archbishop of Canterbury fit into this little drama? From Bishop Wimberly’s press release, it sounds like the Archbishop of Canterbury is aware of and approves of this meeting. From Jim Stockton’s perception as one of Bishop Wimberly's clergy, the report of Archbishop Williams' support for this meeting is a little misleading. It's hard to tell. The Archbishop disavowed supporting the first Camp Allen meeting. Will he do the same with the second?

Perhaps the most unfortunate dimension to the current situation is Archbishop Williams' apparent lack of balanced and strong leadership. He has not called primates to account when they have violated provincial boundaries. He has not called for primates to cease uttering condemnations against one another. Nor has he exhibited a willingness to stand up to threats, either within the Church of England or in the wider sphere of the Anglican Communion. Of course the Archbishop of Canterbury does not have any legal authority over any province in the Communion, but he does have the power and authority of an office that is charged with guarding the integrity of 500 years of Anglican tradition and evolution. What he says matters throughout the Communion; his position and moral suasion can carry a great deal of weight. His unwillingness to use the authority of his position is as much a contributor to the current crisis as are the actions of the ACN, some of the Global South primates, and those who continue to work outside the polity of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop is a strong academic, but does not appear to be a particularly strong leader. His gifts are in the context of academia rather than in the leadership of a culturally and theologically diverse tradition.

One can certainly be gracious and give Archbishop Williams the benefit of the doubt. One can acknowledge and even admire his desire to see everyone come together at the table. One can commend his stated support for ongoing conversation. One might even wish to give him the title of reconciler or mediator. But those approaches beg the question of who’s really steering this ship. There are acceptable and unacceptable rules of behavior that have been honored in this Communion (as we have seen in the issues of divorce and the ordination of women) and have, to this point, kept the ship afloat despite profound theological differences. But when primates start making up their own rules, chaos ensues. That is what is happening now.

This has not so much to do with authority of scripture or sexuality or the ordination of women or any of the other excuses that the dissidents give for breaking communion. This has to do with relating within a particular framework of behavior and relationship that is modeled on the teachings and ministry of Jesus Christ, and on the traditions of the Anglican Communion.

Unlike the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop, who is now calling various bishops accountable to the polity of the church that they vowed to protect and obey, the Archbishop of Canterbury says very little when lines are crossed, nor does he call into accountability those who are crossing the lines.

And so it goes. Camp Allen 2, Nigeria's Convocation for Anglicans in North America (CANA) with its puppet bishop Minns, ACN bishops pleading for ALPO (Alternative Primatial Oversight) so they don’t have to work with a sister in Christ, total disrespect for constitutionally elected leadership, accusations of heresy, apostasy, and paganism, and a leader of the Worldwide Anglican Communion who is a really nice guy and a great academic but who seems to have little concept of what strong leadership means – all contribute to the chaos we are experiencing today.

Camp Allen #2 with its restricted guest list is not about healing or reconciliation. Ironically, the only strong voice in leadership who has been speaking often and forcefully about the Gospel imperative of reconciliation is Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori. And she appears to be most notably excluded from the Camp Allen guest list and is publicly shunned by the conservative bishops within and beyond the Episcopal Church. The latest Camp Allen meeting is clearly not about healing or reconciliation. Rather, it’s another little fiefdom in the making that will further muddy the troubled waters of what was once a great and unique tradition among all other Christian traditions.

How sad for all of us.