Friday, October 26, 2007

Thoughts on the Howe-Williams Exchange

by the Rev. Dr. George C. Bedell

John Howe, Bishop of Central Florida, recently wrote a letter to Archbishop Rowan Williams, requesting the Archbishop to “clearly differentiate between those Bishops and Dioceses that are Windsor-compliant and those that are not.” [Editor's Note: Some background materials and citations are provided here.]

In response, the Archbishop said [as quoted here] that he could say only two things:

“The first is that I have committed myself very clearly to awaiting the views of the Primates before making any statement purporting to settle the question of The Episcopal Church’s status, and I cannot easily short circuit that procedure.”

He goes on to say: “The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such.”

Until Rowan Williams (and those who might agree with him) come to terms with the incontrovertible fact that what he calls “ the organ of union” for the American church is our General Convention, we’re going to get nowhere in solving our worldwide dilemma together.

I was also struck by the fact that the Archbishop goes on to say: “Those who are rushing into separatist solutions are . . . treating the provincial structure of The Episcopal Church as if were the most important thing – which is why I continue to hope and pray for the strengthening of the bonds of mutual support among those Episcopal Church Bishops who want to be clearly loyal to Windsor.”

Amazing! He just doesn’t get it, does he? Those who are rushing into “separatist solutions” in the United States are the very ones who want to ignore the primacy of the General Convention altogether, because, among other things, they say its decision is out of sync with some distorted and intellectually suffocating reading of Scripture.

Moreover, I’d like to ask why the Windsor Report becomes the measure of faithfulness. I readily admit that a lot of my friends think the Windsor Report was wonderful when it was issued and continue to think so. I, by contrast, found it one of the most condescending and patronizing documents I’d read in a long time and found it wanting in several important ways.

The real issue here – one that Howe and Williams don’t even address – is how the church is going to find a way fully to include lesbians and gays in the life of the Church. I gather Howe has already made up his mind on the issue, but, much to everyone’s consternation, the Archbishop, who at one time apparently had a progressive attitude about the question, seems to want to find a way not to offend anyone. One longs for him to take a stand, and not worry about the consequences.

I think of Our Lord’s attitude toward the outcasts of his day. One would hope and pray that the leaders of His Church would do the same thing now, though I hate to think that anyone in her or his right mind would call gays and lesbians “outcasts.” Unfortunately, that’s what some seem to be saying: “Oh, we’ll stand up for your legal rights, and we’d like for you to come to church, but don’t even think about marrying your partner or seeking holy orders.”

I wish the Archbishop would climb down out of the clouds or wherever he is and lead the Anglican Communion to take seriously the admonition to love others as we love ourselves, no strings attached.

About the Author: George Bedell is an ordained priest of the Episcopal Church and a member of the Board of Directors of The Episcopal Majority. In his early career, the Rev. Dr. Bedell served parishes in the Diocese of Florida, then he joined the faculty of the Department of Religion at the Florida State University in Tallahassee. Before his retirement, he served as Director of the University Press of Florida and in several positions on the staff of the Florida Board of Regents, most recently as Vice Chancellor for Administration. He is the author of Kierkegaard and Faulkner: Modalities of Existence (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1972), co-author of Religion in America (New York: Macmillan, 1975 & 1982), along with many articles. He earned a B.A. in English with honors at the University of the South (Sewanee), an M.Div. at Virginia Theological Seminary, an M.A. in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D. in Religion at Duke University. He is married to Elizabeth Reed Bedell, and they have three sons. They now live and worship in Gainesville, in the Diocese of Florida.

What About Canterbury?

by Lisa Fox

Much has been said in the blogosphere about the missives between Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury) and John Howe (Bishop of Central Florida) over the past week. Episcopal News Service published a summary here of the Archbishop's initial letter and his clarification. Thinking Anglicans published the background here, then offered a summary of reactions here, here, and here . The good folks at the Episcopal Café also did a fine job with the Archbishop's initial message and his "clarification," as did Mark Harris in his essay, "The Archbishop Makes a Mess," andFather Jake in his "More Confusion from Canterbury."

In his statements, the Archbishop seems to state that the fundamental connection to the Anglican Communion is through bishops – not through the national/provincial churches of the Communion. He wrote to the embattled Bishop Howe:

… any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such.
Also in that letter, Archbishop Williams repeats the "primacy" of the diocese as the primary unit, while also discouraging the dissidents in "Windsor-compliant" dioceses:

I should feel a great deal happier, I must say, if those who are most eloquent for a traditionalist view in the United States showed a fuller understanding of the need to regard the Bishop and the Diocese as the primary locus of ecclesial identity rather than the abstract reality of the ‘national church’.
The Archbishop made a similar statement from New Orleans, which I noted here.

His clarification did little to clarify, as Father Andrew Gerns piquantly observed.

I must confess, I do not understand what the Archbishop of Canterbury is trying to say, much less why he responded so swiftly to the Bishop of Central Florida. Trustworthy, published reports say that the Archbishop of Canterbury responded to the Bishop of Central Florida in 12 hours. By contrast, the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to attend the 2006 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, and it took years – literally years – for our House of Bishops to persuade him to meet with them.

I am but a lowly Episcopal layperson. But I read the news every week of the Archbishop circling the globe to meet with this or that body within or very far outside the Anglican Communion. I do not understand why he would shun the Episcopal Church, while meeting with other, wildly diverse churches.

I have some sense of what the Archbishop of Canterbury is doing, and of the weakness he is exercising in his office. As the House of Bishops meeting ended, I received a message from Douglas Theuner, the retired Bishop of New Hampshire, who wrote in part:

Despite the long-awaited visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the hopes of many, if not all, the bishops present that he might help to show us a new way forward (I had specifically and publicly asked him for that on Thursday morning but my request, like most others, went unanswered), he offered nothing other than to encourage us to seek "common discernment"; something which most of us feel we have been trying to do since long before he became Archbishop of Canterbury.

To top ("bottom") that off, on Friday morning he left without even giving us his blessing! Now, some might say, "So what? What's the big deal?" But that is to misunderstand the power of Anglican iconography. That's what we do, we bishops. We bless. No matter how much time and energy we put into teaching, preaching, administration or anything else, what we do primarily is bless God's people in God's Name. Isn't that what the current "crisis" in the Anglican Communion is all about?
Bishop Theuner's reflections make me wonder how Archbishop Williams understands his role as a bishop – much less as the archbishop and "first among equals."

To me, it appears that the Archbishop of Canterbury has already written off the Episcopal Church. It appears that he attended the House of Bishops meeting as a passive presence, not as one who was actively engaged in seeking a solution or in the vaunted role of reconciliation of which he speaks.

Is the Archbishop of Canterbury actually, actively working for reconciliation in the Anglican Communion? Has he given up? Does he hope the Episcopal Church remains within the Communion, or is he with those who want to boot us out? For the life of me, I cannot tell.

About the Author: Lisa Fox, webmaster and Board member of The Episcopal Majority, is a layperson, vestry member, crucifer, and Eucharistic Minister at Grace Episcopal Church in Jefferson City, Missouri.

A Sign

by the Rev. Thomas B. Woodward

A couple of weeks ago, while attending Trinity Episcopal Church in Meredith, New Hampshire, with my brother, Pete, a man sitting a couple of pews in front of us went to the front of the small church to present the week’s “Ministry Minute.” He said:

In nearly every community in the United States there is the same sign. The sign is significant in its simplicity and in its message. What it says is “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.” That is what it says wherever you find it, in New Hampshire, California or Texas.

There are two words that are conspicuously absent from the sign. The two words are "except" and "unless." You will not find either of those words on the front or on the back of the sign or even in tiny fine print. You will not find, after the words "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" the words "unless you interpret the Bible differently than we do" or "except if you are a gay or lesbian person who has been elected bishop." The sign says simply and in a way God intends us all to understand, "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You – No Exceptions, No Unless."
Ron Kiesel, who spoke those words with such simplicity and such power in this rural New England parish, had left the church for nearly two years over being upset by the consecration of a partnered gay man as his bishop. In the coffee hour after the service he told me, “One morning I woke up and heard God’s voice: ‘Who are you to judge that man?’ That was all. And that was all I needed. Now I am back, and Gene Robinson is my bishop, and I am a very, very happy Episcopalian.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Anglican Covenant?

Much has been said about the move for the Anglican Communion to adopt a "covenant."

In a sermon this weekend, Archbishop Ndungane (of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa) condemned the move for an Anglican covenant as "a mechanism for exclusion." Read his entire sermon here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Media Misunderstandings

Media Frame Distorts Anglican-Episcopal Dispute
by Lezley McDouall

There's a delicious irony in the historically hide-bound, elite Episcopalians suddenly becoming known for taking a radical stance on any issue whatsoever. How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is, and always has been, a blank look and a wary question, "Change?" And yet, every time I see Episcopalians in the news these days, we are being cast as wild-eyed liberals.

How did America's painstakingly unadventurous Church of the Gentry suddenly become a free-for-all GLBT haven? When did this miraculous transformation occur? To be quite honest, it didn't. Episcopalians haven’t actually changed any more than donkeys have flown. I might personally long for the day that my parish is known throughout the land for its integration and inclusiveness, but that day is still a shining speck on the horizon. However the news media may spin it, changes in the Episcopal Church take place more slowly than glaciers advance.

Still, the general misconception of what's going on with the Anglicans is perfectly understandable. Heaven knows, if I were a journalist reporting on this brouhaha, it would be easy to make the same category errors as every article I've read. Because, let's face it, phrases like "imminent schism" and "practicing homosexual" will always sell more papers than lead balloons like "church polity" and "canon law."

So, an ambitious reporter coveting a by-line naturally frames the story as a pitched battle between "conservative Bible-adherent traditionalists" and "left-leaning gay-friendly liberals." That frame allows one to use a dichotomy that is already familiar to American readers, and it spares everyone the tedium of explanations that can make even Episcopalian eyes glaze over. The problem is that, while this is the easy, sexy, profitable way, it is not the accurate, fair, or truthful way.

The breathless coverage doesn't make clear that the Episcopal Church has been deliberating about issues of sexuality at diocesan, provincial, and national levels for well over twenty years now. When I say the pace of change is glacial, I'm not joking. It requires true grit, persistence, a super-majority, and the Holy Ghost to pass any change whatsoever.

The changes being portrayed as sudden are actually the end result of a dreadfully deliberate process undertaken by the least wild-eyed members of any parish. By the time the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson was consecrated as bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire, the mind of the national church had been mulling over the idea of such an event for decades.

Potentially dry digression into Episcopal Church structure and tradition overcome, an accurate article on the brouhaha could quickly regain effervescence, highlighting the delicious irony of supposedly "radical" Episcopalians standing firmly on the bedrock of canon law and traditional Anglican ecclesiastical structure. Irony might be piled upon irony by examining the novelties being promulgated by those who cast themselves as "orthodox traditionalists."

Far from inventive, the so-called "liberals" are digging in their heels to defend the historical prerogative of every Episcopal diocese to elect its own bishops without coercive interference from other quarters. Many of these parishioners, to be honest, aren't as gay-friendly as our GLBT brethren and sistren would wish, but they know in their hearts that once the bishops of other dioceses begin meddling in their prayerful deliberations concerning leadership, a vital aspect of Episcopalian identity has been corrupted.

Such meddling goes against what, for your truly traditional Episcopalian, is as foundational as the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps it is even more foundational, for the Church is a "Body" in a way a nation is not and constitutionally cannot be. The seemly separation of Church and State rightly prevents legislators from making theological statements about the nature of what "Unum" the "Pluribus" become in America, but the Body of Christ is an identity that goes deeper, for many, than nationality. Meddling with denominational ecclesiology is meddling with our understanding of our very selves.

The "orthodox" innovators only get away with calling themselves "traditionalists" because most folks don't know what makes Anglicans Anglican. Church polity discussions may cure insomnia, but there is as much reason that Anglicans are not Baptists as vice versa. Different denominations have different enough theologies of sacrament, salvation, and church to create different denominations. Reporters thus far have pretended these important differences don't exist, rather than making them clear. This insults both the reader and those misrepresented.

It's truly galling to watch the innovators call themselves the orthodox and get away with it because reporters can't be bothered to learn what makes Episcopalians different from Lutherans or Roman Catholics. If the differences were trivial, or easily ignored, the Body of Christ would be a unitary behemoth (for better or for worse).

Three glaring novelties might be discussed in a well-researched article. First, neo-fundamentalists make a mockery of the "three-legged stool" every Episcopalian learns about in Sunday School, insisting that their interpretation of Scripture takes primacy over both ecclesial Tradition and Reason. In Anglicanism, these three fundamental resources are meant to balance one another; we have not, historically, been the sola scriptura crowd.

Secondly, the ostensibly "orthodox" schismatics discard the cherished independence of national churches in the Anglican Communion and assert that a gathering of bishops from across the Communion may dictate church policy to one church within the Communion. If the "orthodox" folks want a foreign bishop to have sovereignty over their spiritual lives, they might easily join another, older church I could name.

Instead, the so-called "traditionalists" threw a third tradition out the window when they ordained history's first bishops without any geographical boundaries. These go traipsing about, ministering to the inclusion-challenged wherever they find them, and preaching a gospel of Biblically-mandated intolerance.

I am a peace-loving person, cautioned by my rector to avoid inflaming an already tense situation, so I will say little about the slippery nature of biblical inerrancy. I will say this: even the Amish make some exceptions. The neo-fundamentalist Anglicans leaning so hard upon selected passages of the Epistles display no angst about the epidemic flouting of the letter of certain other passages of Scripture.

Where is their sustained outrage and political pressure to end usury, concentrated wealth, or the exploitation and mistreatment of foreign workers? If they want to rely solely on scripture for an argument, I dare any rational adult, having read all four Gospels, to make a case that the Savior portrayed there ever takes the side of the proudly pure against a social outcast.

Episcopalians love tradition, and we can be pretty stubborn when someone messes with the way we've always done things. If keeping our Church traditions makes us gay-friendly, I say, so be it.

About the Author: Lezley McDouall is a graduate of Church Divinity School of the Pacific, with graduate degrees in Church History and Ministry from the Graduate Theological Union and Oxford University. She is a licensed lay preacher, Christian Formation teacher, and chorister at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Durham, North Carolina. Lezley’s husband, Ken, works at the Chapel Hill Public Library. Her step-son, Alex, is active in two choirs and in Habitat for Humanity. The McDoualls have three cats who patiently teach them the art of living well.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Gospel of Both/And, Not Either/Or

by the Rev. Matthew Dutton-Gillett

[Editor's Note: Matthew Dutton-Gillett has previously written for The Episcopal Majority here and here. This essay was accepted for publication on October 11.]

The other day, I heard an interview with an Episcopalian who was of draft age during World War II. He told some of his story about registering as a conscientious objector. He said that as he thought about Jesus, he simply could not imagine Jesus wearing the uniform of an American soldier – or of any soldier, for that matter – and picking up a gun and killing other people. Being unable to conceive of Jesus fulfilling this kind of role, this man could not conceive of himself fulfilling such a role. And so he registered as a conscientious objector, and undertook an alternative form of service – a form of service more in keeping with his understanding of Jesus and of the Gospel that Jesus proclaimed.

One of the things that most struck me about this man’s story was how much courage it must have taken to choose that particular path. World War II was probably the last unambiguous war in which the United States was involved. As Hitler’s forces overran Europe and beyond, and as the world began to learn the horrific truth of the Holocaust, the evil that Hitler represented became more and more clear. Imagine the kind of personal courage and conviction it must have taken to decline to join that fight, to refuse to take up arms even against such manifest evil. It was not a popular choice. Many people of that time, if not most, did not understand conscientious objection. It seemed unpatriotic, unmanly. The government even produced propaganda films that cast conscientious objectors in a negative light. No matter what your feelings about making such a choice, you have to admire the principled courage required to make it.

I think that present-day Episcopalians could learn something from this man’s example. What is at stake for our church today is nothing compared to what was at stake then, but the principle exemplified by this Episcopalian is instructive. When faced with a moral dilemma, he tried to imagine how Jesus would respond in the same situation. Such an imaginative undertaking is, in reality, a creative application of the Gospel, for it requires one to integrate everything one knows about Jesus from Scripture, and seek to discern a way forward. Such an act of discernment surely involves not only the application of Scripture, but also an openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.

What would happen in our church, in our communion, if we were to engage in a similar act of discernment? When I do so, I find myself being drawn into a painful tension that cannot really be resolved. It is, I think, a place very close to the place where the bishops chose to stand in the statement they issued at the end of their New Orleans meeting.

The bishops’ statement, if examined carefully, seems to be attempting to do two things that are almost impossible to do at the same time. On the one hand, the bishops are attempting to preserve some kind of unity within the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church. In their clarification of B033 and in the position they took with respect to the blessing of same-sex unions, the bishops are attempting to say, “Let’s not walk away from each other just yet.” On the other hand, the bishops are also attempting to take a just stand with respect to gay and lesbian people, and to insist that their dignity as human beings and baptized Christians be respected. And this is where that place of painful tension is found: in the attempt to value unity and relationship while at the same time valuing and insisting on justice and dignity toward a marginalized people.

This tension is, I think, precisely the tension of the Gospel, the tension in which Jesus himself lived and from which he carried out his ministry. As we look at the teaching of Jesus, it is clear that he refuses to abandon relationships for the sake of justice, nor does he abandon justice for the sake of relationship. He will, it is true, allow people to walk away from him if they choose to do so. But he never chooses to walk away from anyone. He certainly challenges people, and is even directly and indirectly critical of people about the choices they make. But he does not refuse to be in relationship with them or to sit at their table.

In Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes clear that those whom we define as our “enemies” are not, on the basis of that definition, to be excluded from our sphere of concern. Indeed, he tells us that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us. When we are stung, we are to turn the other cheek. When someone seeks to take something from us at law, we are to give them even more than they are asking for. There is no conceivable situation in the teaching of Jesus in which we are permitted to classify anyone as expendable.

At the same time, Jesus spends much of his life among those who were the marginalized and outcast of his time. In that same Sermon on the Mount, he raises the bar on divorce in part to emphasize the sacredness of the married relationship but also – and perhaps primarily – to defend women against the unjust whims of their husbands. He goes among lepers, he talks with Samaritans, he heals Gentiles, he respects the dignity of children and reaches out to the poor and the sinful. By word and action, he makes it clear that these marginalized people are also to be included in our sphere of concern, and perhaps even are to be the primary focus of our God-given mission. And part of that concern is about justice.

We all know what happened to Jesus as a result of living in this tension. Living in this tension is a crucifying place to stand. It requires something to die in each of us. But it is also the path that leads to a larger and more abundant life.

If Anglicanism falls apart, with “conservatives” going their way and “liberals” going their way, the world will not be surprised. Because that is exactly what human beings do and have done over and over again throughout history. They choose sides, they throw rocks at their enemies and they ultimately split up – or else destroy one party to the conflict. Most of the world will not see the break up of the Anglican Communion as a great heroic defense of Truth. They will see it as a failure even among Christian people to live any better with each other than the rest of humanity. The falling apart of the Anglican Communion will not be an evangelistic triumph for the True Faith. It will be a conspicuous example of the inability of the followers of Jesus to actually follow him.

It seems that the further we proceed down this pot-holed, twisting road, the more we have begun to think of our situation as a choice between unity and justice, between orthodoxy and heresy. But a close reading of the gospels reveals quite clearly that these are false choices. Jesus does not ask us to make these choices. The only choice Jesus asks us to make is this: will we take up our cross and follow him, or will we not? And if we choose to take up our cross, then we are choosing to live in the painful, seemingly impossible place where there is no “either/or,” but rather “both/and.” And, surprisingly, we are also choosing to live in a place where there is no orthodoxy or heresy, but only faithfulness.

Let none of us forget that God makes the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust, on both the righteous and the unrighteous. And, simply invoking the name of Jesus and crying out “Lord, Lord” will not guarantee that our faithfulness is recognizable to the Christ.

The bishops are asking for space to be made in which we might come to terms with both unity and justice. And that reflects both the courage and call of the Gospel. What would Jesus do? Let us answer very carefully.

The Conscience of a Conservative

by Christopher L. Webber

[Editor's Note: This essay was accepted for submission on October 6. Biographical information about the author is available here, where we published his earlier essay.]

Traditional Anglican Catholicism is hardly a “liberal” system. We shape our pattern of worship by a centuries old Prayer Book and, when questioned about our faith, we refer the questioner to fourth- and fifth-century creeds. How then have I, who bristles at the word “Protestant,” come to be identified with those called “liberals” in the current Anglican imbroglio?

I think I have found some answers in a recent essay (October 5) by New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Brooks makes a distinction between “creedal” and “temperamental” conservatism and notes that the conservatism articulated by Edmund Burke, the 18th-century father of modern conservatism, was not an ideology or creed, but rather “a reverence for tradition, a suspicion of radical change.”

But conservatism in America, Brooks writes, has become creedal. Worse yet, in recent years, “conservative ideologies have been magnified” while “the temperamental conservatism of Burke has been abandoned.” Thus the present administration has attempted to create an instant democracy in the Middle East although Burke had cautioned that “pleasing commencements” often have “lamentable conclusions.”

More significant for Anglicans is the Burkean analysis of society as an organism within which “custom, tradition and habit” are the prime movers. The traditional catholic understanding of the church is exactly that: an organism in which custom and tradition are to be valued rather than rapid change and doctrinal statements. “Temperamental conservatives,” Brooks writes, “are suspicious of the idea of settling issues on the basis of abstract truth.”

This makes very good sense to me. Those who style themselves “traditionalists” in the Anglican Communion would seem to be not temperamental conservatives but Creedalists who seek to define the church by new creedal statements that are raised up above the old. Suddenly also new “instruments of unity” have appeared although no province of the Anglican Communion has either officially adopted them nor empowered the Lambeth Conference, not a legislative body, to create them.

Brooks suggests that many Americans care more about order and prudence than “transformational leadership.” Amen to that! So do many Episcopalians. Hard cases, it has often been noted, make bad law. So, too, the issue of sexuality is not as likely to be resolved by radical changes in the structure of Anglicanism as by a patient listening process such as the last Lambeth Conference called for and the Episcopal House of Bishops has repeatedly requested.

As a “temperamental conservative,” I am offended by the suggestion that I am some sort of “liberal,” wildly trashing the Anglican tradition and intent on blazing new paths to the future. My appeal is, and has always been, for order and prudence and that “comprehension for the sake of truth” that Richard Hooker in the 16th century suggested was the essence of the Anglican way.

Author's Postscript: Readers may also wish to consult J. Robert Wright's essay on the proposed Anglican covenant in the latest issue of The Anglican. He says he thinks a covenant is a good idea but the questions he raises about the proposed one raise some fundamental issues that need to be pondered. Wright's essay is in the April 2007 edition of The Anglican, Vol. 36, No. 2.


Postings to this site have been delayed due to some difficulties for the blogmaster. Over the next day or two, we will publish the essays that have been received and accepted since October 5. We apologize for the delay.