Tuesday, February 28, 2006

An Analysis of the Presiding Bishop Nominees

The Witness has an article up that some of you might find of interest; Slated for Justice?: What the Nominating Committee's Report Says about the Church:

...The slate announced may indicate something that many have posited to be the case: that the strategy of the American Anglican Council and the Anglican Communion Network as outlined in the leaked 2004 Chapman memo -- a strategy of "a faithful disobedience of canon law on a widespread basis" while seeking to become "a 'replacement' jurisdiction with confessional standards" -- has backfired, with such free moving "beyond or within the canons" being widely interpreted as indicating a breach not only of the canons, but of the collegial trust required for a Presiding Bishop to function. While one of the nominees, Henry Parsley, voted against consent to Gene Robinson's election, when the slate was announced he was quickly condemned by an American Anglican Council press release for having "strongly criticized the efforts of the American Anglican Council (AAC) and the Anglican Communion Network (ACN)," and the press release noted disapprovingly that "he continues to increase financial support given by the Diocese of Alabama to the national Episcopal Church." Clearly, the American Anglican Council suspects that their leaked strategy of disregard for both the canons of the church and principles of episcopal jurisdiction held since Nicea may have pushed them to the margins of serious discussions about the direction of the church -- and on that point they may be right. At the same time, it's worth noting that none of those nominated laid hands on Bishop Robinson at his consecration, leading many to conclude that the committee was taking seriously into account the continued sensitivity of Robinson's consecration amongst the Primates in particular -- although the nomination of a woman for the position at a point at which the recognition of women as bishops is less than assured in some quarters within even the Church of England indicates that the committee was willing to assert the importance of nominating highly qualified candidates and the tradition of provincial autonomy as well as independence...
Also provided are four presentations of direct quotes from each of the nominees:

In Their Own Words: Edwin F.Gulick
In Their Own Words: Henry N. Parsley
In Their Own Words: Katherine Jefferts Schori
In Their Own Words: J. Neil Alexander

You may want to point your deputies to General Convention towards this series of articles. The selection of our next Presiding Bishop needs to emerge from a time of careful study and continuous prayer.

Almighty God, giver of every good gift: Look graciously on your Church, and so guide the minds of those who shall choose our Presiding Bishop, that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Monday, February 27, 2006

Do Justice and Love Mercy

Obadiah, an Anglican in Australia, recently left this comment:

...I will offer the testimony of a devout anglo catholic and liberal anglican friend of mine who has spent extended periods of time in the states, and had an long time as a member of a leading TEC church in NYC. He feels that TEC in some places has become overly politicised and acts more like a political action group than it should...
There's been a few responses to this, specifically one from Paul suggesting we need to define "politics" before we can weigh the merit of this critique.

In response, Obadiah offered a link to a thoughtful post from AKMA, Unsatisfactorily Superficial Prescript on Justice. Here's part of it:

...The matter of justice must not be minimized in dogmatic or doxological theology. When we address “justice,” however, the reflexive recitation of the apotropaic formula “justice” neither absolves a theologian of the obligation to work out the meaning of that topic in conjunction with Scripture and the church’s inherited wisdom — not solely in terms of a liberal progressive nostalgia for “the good causes”...

...My considered intuition suggests that many of the hymns and prayers that tag “justice” into a laundry list of things “we” support, or that compel congregations into implicit endorsements of policies from which they may be inclined to dissent, do not advance the gospel. In such cases, “justice” no longer bespeaks the love, equity, and mercy of God, but only serves the cause of partisan cheerleading; it makes of “justice” a fetish, a keyword which, if cited often enough, absolves speakers from critical reflection and practice...
So, what do you think? Does TEC engage in too much politics based on "a liberal progressive nostalgia for good causes"?

To prime the pump, here's a couple of thoughts that come to mind. When I'm new to an area, which seems to have been the case much too often over the last decade, there are two criteria I use to select a community of faith; worship and acts of mercy.

My experience of TEC is that we embrace the concept of "lex orandi, lex credendi", the law of prayer is the law of belief. The way that we worship expresses what we believe, and, to some extent, can form our beliefs. If the worship is at least from the BCP (you'd be surprised how often this is not the case!) I then want to see evidence that their worship is not simply lip service. Do they live what they profess? I want to see the fruit.

There's another tension involved here that I want to mention, between orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxis (right action). Especially among Protestants, it seems that orthodoxy is the primary focus, while orthopraxis almost seems, in some places, to be an afterthought.

To approach this tension from a more objective perspective, it might be helpful to recall the five pillars of Islam: Shahadah, the profession of faith in Allah; Salāt, prayer; Sawm, fasting; Zakāh, the paying of alms and Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. Note that only the first is concerned with "right belief". The rest are focused on "right action".

There is no question that right belief is the essential starting point if we are to engage in right action. But it seems to me that often we get stuck on that first step.

Personally, I find my "marching orders" in Matthew 25:

“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
But maybe I'm just engaging in "a liberal progressive nostalgia for good causes"?

The other thought that comes to mind is the illustrated manuscript I have hanging on the wall in my living room; the text from Micah 6:8...

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
When we speak of the justice of God, it is usually a harsh term. Justice is balanced by mercy. The goal of engaging in "justice issues" is to reestablish balance, not to "win", and thus create new victims.

Are we too "political"? Is "justice" a term that has lost it's meaning today?


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Nigeria Today May Be the Christian Right of Tomorrow

The Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane, Bishop of Washington, has written an editorial that will appear in tomorrow's Washington Post entitled A Gospel of Intolerance. The issue the bishop addresses is Nigeria's outlawing of same sex relationships, which we have previously discussed here. Bishop Chane identifies Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola as a prominent leader behind the passage of this new law:

...Meeting last February, the primates who lead our 38 member provinces issued a unanimous statement that said in part: "The victimization or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us."

We now have reason to doubt those words.

Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, primate of the Church of Nigeria and leader of the conservative wing of the communion, recently threw his prestige and resources behind a new law that criminalizes same-sex marriage in his country and denies gay citizens the freedoms to assemble and petition their government. The law also infringes upon press and religious freedom by authorizing Nigeria's government to prosecute newspapers that publicize same-sex associations and religious organizations that permit same-sex unions.

Were Archbishop Akinola a solitary figure and Nigeria an isolated church, his support for institutionalized bigotry would be significant only within his own country. But the archbishop is perhaps the most powerful member of a global alliance of conservative bishops and theologians, generously supported by foundations and individual donors in the United States, who seek to dominate the Anglican Communion and expel those who oppose them, particularly the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Failing that, the archbishop and his allies have talked of forming their own purified communion -- possibly with Archbishop Akinola at its head...
Bishop Chane then identifies one of these supporting foundations, the Institue on Religion and Democracy:

...Because the conflict over homosexuality is not unique to Anglicanism, civil libertarians in this country, and other people as well, should also be aware of the archbishop and his movement. Gifts from such wealthy donors as Howard Ahmanson Jr. and the Bradley, Coors and Scaife families, or their foundations, allow the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy to sponsor so-called "renewal" movements that fight the inclusion of gays and lesbians within the Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches and in the United Church of Christ. Should the institute succeed in "renewing" these churches, what we see in Nigeria today may well be on the agenda of the Christian right tomorrow...
The IRD is an organization that most Episcopalians should be familiar with by now. If you need to refresh your memory, here is some background info. To summarize, the IRD began as an anti-communist organization that was involved in clandestine operations in Central America during the Reagan era. When they ran out of communists, they turned on the mainline churches. Just a taste of their involvement in the current tensions within the Episcopal Church can be seen here. When the American Anglican Council was first organized, they shared office space, the same mailing address, board members and wealthy contributers with the IRD. Some background on the IRD's attack on the Methodist Church can be found here. An example of their work within the United Church of Christ can be seen here.

Bishop Chane returns to his focus on Archbishop Akinola, and asks his supporters an important question:

...The archbishop's support for this law violates numerous Anglican Communion documents that call for a "listening process" involving gay Christians and their leaders. But his contempt for international agreements also extends to Articles 18-20 of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which articulates the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, association and assembly.

Surprisingly, few voices -- Anglican or otherwise -- have been raised in opposition to the archbishop. When I compare this silence with the cacophony that followed the Episcopal Church's decision to consecrate the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, a gay man who lives openly with his partner, as the bishop of New Hampshire, I am compelled to ask whether the global Christian community has lost not only its backbone but its moral bearings. Have we become so cowed by the periodic eruptions about the decadent West that Archbishop Akinola and his allies issue that we are no longer willing to name an injustice when we see one?

I also feel compelled to ask the archbishop's many high-profile supporters in this country why they have not publicly dissociated themselves from his attack on the human rights of a vulnerable population. Is it because they support this sort of legislation, or because the rights of gay men and women are not worth the risk of tangling with an important alliance?
I'd like to hear an answer to that final question as well, but I won't be holding my breath.

Bishop Chane did not address another reason why we should be holding Archbishop Akinola accountable; his role in the recent violence in Nigeria. In a recent statement, Abp. Akinola had these words to offer:

...May we at this stage remind our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation. Nigeria belongs to all of us – Christians, Muslims and members of other faiths. No amount of intimidation can Change this time-honoured arrangement in this nation. C.A.N. may no longer be able to contain our restive youths should this ugly trend continue...
That sounds to me like a threat of violence. Some news reports are suggesting that the Abp.'s statement was simply stating that reprisals are now inevitable. Ok. Then how about, as a christian leader, a word of condemnation regarding such violence? Without such a condemnation, it certainly sounds like an implied threat.

Those who study such things have suggested that the center of Christianity is shifting from the West towards the South. Does Archbishop Akinola represents the future of Christendom? If so, do we really want to be part of it?


Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Clarification of Terms

The comments at Jake's place have greatly increased lately. They've ranged from an expansion of the topic introduced by the post to alerts regarding other news items. Some have been prolonged conversations. As I've stated previously, I have no problem with tangential comments, as I think that's how conversations in 3D tend to unfold.

However, one of the drawbacks of long comment threads is that sometimes a particularly helpful statement can get lost. For instance, in response to a recent post, Bill Carroll made this comment:

...I think that there is hope for communion with anyone who is not hellbent on schism.

In a typology that is surely inadequate to describe the real complexities, I distinguish between

(1) those who are temperamentally conservative and do not yet see the reasons for these changes;

(2) those who have what they take to be doctrinal/biblical reservations;

(3) those who are obsessed with "gay sex" (almost always gay male sex) and their revulsion about the details that the Presiding Bishop asked us to be spared; and

(4) ideological conservatives who see this as a good wedge issue.

In some cases a person may be acting out of some combination of (1)-(4).

I have the least sympathy for (4). (3) requires therapy, in my view, but I have sympathy for people who suffer from it, because they seem to be in genuine psychic distress. I myself don't think about what my lgbtq friends do in the bedroom, anymore than I do about my "straight" friends. I don't have much hope of remaining in communion with most of the folks who are acting from (3) or (4), at least in the short run.

(1) and (2) include a lot of other people that I know and care a great deal about, with whom I hope to remain in communion. It's much easier to deal with people that we know and can put a face on, isn't it? I am required by my baptismal and ordination vows to love and to care for people who are acting from (1), (2), (3), (4), anything my typology leaves out, or any combination thereof. I am also required, as far as I can see, to oppose with all my might any attempt to closet or marginalize--not to mention beat or imprison or kill-- any human being...
I found this typology very helpful, as it is true to my experience. It is one I will be attempting to keep in mind, in an effort to avoid making the kind of generalized statements I've been inclined to make in the past (ALL conservatives are homphobic bigots, etc.), as they are not any more true than the same kind of generalized condemnations that I hear being tossed in my direction (ALL progressives are apostate heretics, etc.)

It would be interesting to develop a similar typology regarding progressives. There are certainly variations among us.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Signs of Healing at St. John's, Bristol

Most likely you recall the story from last July of the inhibition of Mark Hansen, rector of St. John's, Bristol, by the Rt. Rev. Andrew Smith, Bishop of Connecticut. At the time there was quite a bit of outrage and many ugly words aimed at the bishop because he not only inhibited the rector, but also made a personal visit to the parish, installed a new priest and changed the locks. My understanding is that there is still a court case pending against the bishop and the diocese for those actions. The Rev. Susan McCone remains priest in charge as the parish seeks an interim.

According to a recent article in the Hartford Courant, there are signs of new life at St. John's:

...Over the weeks and months, after the TV cameras left and the church's troubles faded from the headlines, members began to trickle back. The services grew larger little by little, and by late fall there finally were enough people to hold two services on Sundays.

"There had been all kinds of rumors circulating about what kind of a priest I was," McCone recalled. "It took those 39 people to come and say, `She's a traditional priest who preaches the Gospel and says the Mass and gives communion.' And gradually, it just started to increase."
There are some troubling parts of this article, however:

...That Sunday morning, McCone spoke of her fears. She said she had been called by the bishop to lead the church temporarily, "but I also believe I was called by God. And during this week, at times when I was alone, I asked, `Why, God, why me?"'

In the days that followed, she realized those fears were warranted. One day someone threw rocks at the church. McCone also had to cope with telephoned death threats, both at her home and at the church.

"I know there is evil. But I felt it close to me in a personal way that had never happened to me before," McCone said. "And it really does seem to have a physical and a certain mental toll that you're not even aware of. It's a kind of exhaustion."
Multiple death threats. And she stayed anyway. An amazing priest.

Seven months later, how do the members of the parish view the events of last Summer?

...Looking back, some members of the church say their church was irresistibly pulled along by forces inside and outside. One of the first actions of the newly elected church vestry was to withdraw from the Anglican Communion Network, a national organization of conservative parishes that consider themselves more "biblically orthodox" than the U.S. Episcopal Church.

"That was a point of dissension with a lot of people," Demarais said, adding that many members were actually relieved when the diocese took over the church. "There are folks who are conservative, but there are just as many who don't feel that way. We were never unanimous about that. A lot of people just kept their mouths shut. We're relieved to have sermons on the lesson that are not related to the gay bishop in New Hampshire."
Pray for this parish, and pray for their courageous priest, Susan McCone.

This is but one example of why parishes must be required to attempt, for a prolonged period of time, to be reconciled with their bishop through some process, instead of being given the option of realignment with a foreign bishop. So much of the current tension is initiated by the clergy, who use the pulpit to fan the flames.

Death threats. Unbelievable. I think I'll be making a visit to the local Army/Navy store. As a Christian, I don't fear death, but have an aversion to pain, so here's some helpful advice to any extremists who might want to hunt down Jake; I'll be wearing body armor under my alb, so aim for the head.

We live in bizarre times.


Monday, February 20, 2006

Schism; Natural Evolution?

Maury Johnston, author of the previous essay, has left a comment that I wanted to highlight, as I believe it will further our discussion:

I must say that reading the posts here is quite an education in the labyrinth of Anglican politics. I do not say that disparagingly--every church must have some coherent system of self-goverance--and I am part of the Episcopal Church for better or for worse. But ironically, as the author of the "offending" article, there is little for me to add to many of these posts since I do not have an expertise in the interior mechanizations of Anglican hierarchical and legislative intrigue. I came into the church only a number of years ago because of my affinity for its eucharistic centeredness and the liturgical aesthetics which it has admirably preserved. But reading the posts here, I am impressed by the general tenor of openness and an honest wrestling with the issues in an atmosphere of utmost sincerity and civility, even to the extent that many have bared their own pilgrimage through a personal sense of conflictedness on some of these explosive issues. I respect that, for it speaks to the presence of spiritual genuineness.

By contrast, I wish to draw your attention to another website which many of you are no doubt only too familiar: David Virtue Online, www.virtueonline.org. And no, this is not some personal attack on David Virtue. Acutally, before a few days ago, I was not even aware of who he was. I soon found out! He called me as a courtesy to get permission to use my article on his website, and we had a most amiable conversation, all the while respecting and acknowleging our deep differences. Apparently, he received a copy of my article from someone and has proceeded to quote extensively from it in a piece entitled "The Great Divide: Schism is a Reality Says Liberal Leader." (No, I am not the leader to whom he refers). I have read it and found his "take" on things quite interesting, for though he is theologically an "arch-enemy", his treatment of what I had to say was done with respect and considerable fairness (though we disagree on practically everything--well, almost). But what so negatively impressed me were the comments of his readers. It was not that they were ultra-orthodox, or even that they were anti-gay, it was the sense of mean-spirited, doctrinal rigidity which would have made the Pharisees feel proud. We were not gay people, we were the dreaded "sodomites." There was no sense that they had ever done any serious reflection about the possibility they could be wrong, or even slightly misinformed on any issue. No flexibility. In contrast, here I have seen an unspoken tendency to entertain moments of theological elasticity in order to try and accommodate differences, and a willingness to dialogue, but I think that the Virtue website underscores the futility of expending all our energies in trying to keep them happy under an ECUSA umbrella. I just don't think it will work. Their mind is made up: They are right, liberals are wrong; even moderates are suspect. Perhaps that is why I speak out for a solidifying of the stance for affirmation and inclusiveness at GC06 which strives for full acceptance of the GLBT agenda (yes, I admit it is an agenda--for first class church citizenship).

Just thinking out loud (I know that can be dangeous, since such thoughts do not always lend themselves to consistency), but I believe that the most danger lies with the centrists who may wish to compromise what the GLBT community of faith deems essential in order to placate the conservatives like those on Virtue's website. But they have an intolerant streak which will not be placated. And many of them have no intention of staying in ECUSA, anyway. On the other hand, I fully acknowledge that there are legitimate theological conservatives who are not uncaring or homophobic, but who simply feel constrained by their literal understanding of scripture to oppose our stance. But will they be willing to live under the same church rafters with a sexually-affirming GLBT community? I doubt it, in the end. The problem is that the conservative extremists consider the ECUSA, to the extent it is under the sway of forces for inclusivity, to be schismatic. Many of us would in turn accuse them of leaving in a huff. So maybe instead of pointng fingers of blame for schism, we should just accept it as a natural evolution of things, and let it become what it will become, in faith that God can sort out the differences and make of them some kind of coherent pattern within Anglicanism which has yet to be seen by the spiritually discerning.
Would it be better if we quit pointing fingers and accept that schism is inevitable? Could it be possible that it might even be the way that God is moving through all of this, making all things new?


Thursday, February 16, 2006

"Come On, Church! Get a Backbone!"

This excellent essay was recently sent to me. I reprint it here with the author’s permission.

© 2006 by Maury Johnston

The "moment of truth" is fast approaching for the ECUSA, and this summer Columbus, Ohio, will have an opportunity to become as theologically significant as Nicaea or Chalcedon for American Anglicanism. One of the most bitter and divisive controversies of the last century may very well be put to rest with the embracing of an inclusive theological stance that stands unequivocally for justice and equality in Christ for the GLBT worshipping community. However, some centrists in the hierarchy of the ECUSA seem to believe that liberal theological apologists in our church should tone things down. To aggressively engage in heated controversy over doctrinal and moral issues is somehow seen by some as negatively divisive, and something to be avoided at all costs. Instead, they prefer to "kiss and make nice" and indefinitely prolong this dance of disagreement by endlessly proposing further studies and waiting periods before finally tackling the inevitable. This seems to be the essence of the most recent resolution passed by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in late January, 2006, where we are being implored to "continue listening to one another" in our contentious controversy regarding full GLBT acceptance (including same-sex blessings and the continuing ordination of gay and lesbian candidates) in the ECUSA. Such efforts are like trying to smooth out the ripples in a pond after a stone has been thrown into its center. We are simply expending too much energy trying to keep factions in a feigned appearance of unity when in reality we have what divorce courts so often hear as the underlying cause of most relational demises--irreconcilable differences.

What seems to be forgotten in this pressing desire to placate Canterbury's Windsor Report and the homophobic, African ecclesiastical contingency, is that the "unity" of the Church at the expense of justice for the GLBT faithful is a compromise which will temporarily apply a cosmetic veneer of congenial cooperation but can only weaken the internal integrity of the message and mission of this church.

I am writing this missive to promulgate what may be perceived by many in our ranks as a scandalous and divisive proposition: That the time for conversation and compromise is over; we have had over thirty years of discussions, dialogue, debate, conflicting biblical exegesis (as well as eisegesis), and ecclesiastical haggling over whether those within the GLBT community warrant total acceptance and inclusion as full-fledged members of the Episcopal Church with all concomitant privileges of membership in the Community of Christ, including the right to fully participate in all its sacramental rites of passage, including marriage and/or same-sex blessings. There is nothing more to be said that has not already been said or studied. It is time for "Yea" or "Nay." We are being confronted with the command which echoes down the centuries from the legendary challenge of Elijah: "Choose you this day!" The Episcopal Church has a choice set before it: To fully incorporate gays and lesbians at every level of its common life with full sacramental and liturgical equality of access to its rites and ceremonies, or to grant only a limited toleration of their presence, carefully circumscribed by a curtailment of access to matrimonial rites and privileges in order to satisfy the demands of the self-proclaimed defenders of "orthodoxy."

The ultimate irony regarding anti-gay, Anglican contingents who tout their doctrinal orthodoxy is that they are actually heretical. They have substituted an idolatrous regard for scripture as statically inerrant for a balanced view of the biblical documents as time-caught records of human striving for divine insight which should only be interpreted in the light of reason, and by the dynamic of living tradition which enables us to apply its guidelines with a sense of cultural relevance and spiritual continuity. Scripture, Reason, and Tradition: These triple pillars of Anglican theology have unfortunately been trumped by what I call the Nigerian Heresy (in honor of its most vocal and belligerent spokesperson) emanating from that infamous cabal of Third World primates who have suddenly discovered Sola Scriptura to be their theological stance of choice, even as they vociferously proclaim an adherence to apostolic Catholicity.

It is interesting to note that in the early Church, Paul's most adversarial opponents loudly proclaimed themselves as defenders of orthodoxy--in their case, Mosaic orthodoxy, complete with its rules, regulations, and strictures dictating social and moral propriety. But it is important to bear in mind that these opponents of Paul were not Jews by faith; they were Hebrew Christians with another point of view who considered Paul to be both a religious subversive and an antinomian heretic for his gospel of inclusion and his proclamation of the superceding of Mosaic Law with a lifestyle of grace and acceptance.

Things have not changed much in 2000 years. Conservative Anglican blowhards who never miss an opportunity to demonize the GLBT community, portray our Christianity as a posturing of Satan in the sanctuary, a subversion of social, moral, and "family" values. We are seen, like Paul, as antinomian heretics intent on minimizing the relevancy of scripture and destroying the good witness of the Church, and conservative Episcopalians in the USA are now threatening schism as a result of our strides towards full acceptance in the denomination.

So what should be our reaction? More conversations? Not! More dialogue? Not! More tabling of resolutions at the General Convention aimed at bringing gays and lesbians full inclusion at every level in the common life of the People of God? Not! Do I seem harsh? Do I seem uncharitable? Do I seem assertively intolerant? I am, absolutely! And what justification could I possibly use for such a stance? The example set by the apostle Paul.

The epistles of Paul reveal that he didn't think much of the Episcopal approach of compromise and endless conversing when it came to what he considered the essentials of his gospel of inclusiveness and grace. He went so far as to say that if even an angel were to appear contradicting his message, it was to be considered accursed (Galatians 1:8-9). Nor did he hesitate to call his opponents the most uncivil of names: dogs, mutilators, enemies of the Cross, false apostles, and sons of Satan, to name a few (Philippians 3:2; 2 Corinthians 11:12-15). Keep in mind that these objects of Paul's vitriol were not Jesus-rejecting Jews or God-ignorant pagans; they were fellow Christians. They were Hebrew Christians, to be sure, who held to very Judaic forms of "traditional family/social values." Yet he did not hesitate to strike out viciously against those who would insist he compromise his gospel of full acceptance for the Gentiles and his liberation theology of freedom from the Law.

The GLBT community in the Episcopal Church can no longer afford the luxury of cowering in timidity waiting for yet another General Convention after 2006 to validate them. It is time to stand up and speak. It is time to accept no compromise with the forces that oppose us. This is a "do or die" situation coming up in the summer of 2006. The world will be watching the ECUSA to see if they have the intestinal fortitude to "put their money where their mouth is" and buck the conservative pressures of the contemporary Anglican "party of the circumcision." Will this American church have the prophetic foresight to risk schism for the implementation of justice for all of its baptized believers? Putting off till tomorrow what can be done today is no longer an option reflecting spiritual wisdom: "Now is the day of salvation," and the GLBT community within the Episcopal Church should no longer be willing to wait until the proverbial Parousia to receive its full panoply of rights (including appropriate rites) and protections as first-class citizens in the family of God! What the General Convention will be dealing with in Columbus, Ohio, this summer is not a mere peripheral issue, it is a prophetic imperative to gather up the sexually marginalized in the welcoming embrace of the Church in order that what was begun with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) may come to its completion in us as a fulfillment of Isaiah 56:3-8, where those who were previously discriminated against for perceived sexual irregularities were promised a place of full acceptance in the midst of God's people.

Schism--whether within the Episcopal Church itself, or between the ECUSA and the wider Anglican Communion--is a word that makes most Episcopalians shudder, as if it is a visible sign of the failure of God's people to solve their problems, or worse yet, from an Episcopalian perspective, an unsightly "airing of dirty laundry." To which I readily respond: There has never been a time when the Church Universal--despite its talk of unity and one Lord--was not in some kind of schism. From the circumcision controversy of the first century to the Arian Christologies of the third and fourth centuries, and the Great Schism between Rome and Constantinople, (not to mention the splintering effect of the Protestant Reformation), the Church has always been a waiting Bride with blemishes, a virtual sanctified "Sybil" with split personalities, and so it will be till the fullness of time erases the ugliness of its internal dissonance. What we need to realize is that there are times when schism should not be avoided, for as Paul himself said, "There must be schisms among you in order that those who are approved among you [by God] may be made obvious" (1 Corinthians 11:19). Only in contrast with error is the truth allowed to shine for all to see.

Division is not always a dirty word. In times past, it was often encouraged by the frenzied bellowing of a prophet whose words seared a crowd's complacency, demanding, "Come out from among them and be ye separate!" It was Jesus who frankly declared, "Think not that I am come to send peace upon the earth. I am not come to send peace, but a sword [of division]." He went on to say that his message would cause the break up of family relations and close friendships (Matthew 10:34-36). He further instructed his disciples to "shake off the dust from their feet" as they separated from those who rejected his words.

We further find that the fledgling Church had its share of squabbles. Even Paul and Barnabas found it necessary to part ways because of their strong disagreement over John Mark and whether or not he met the ecclesiastical qualifications to go with them on their missionary journey. Their only solution was division: Paul taking another companion while Barnabas took John Mark, creating two separate missionary ventures instead of the initial one envisioned (Acts 15:36-41), all because of an inability to achieve agreement on issues important to the propagation of the Gospel. What makes us believe that we will necessarily be able to avoid the sticky quagmire of what amounts to a religious divorce between the contemporary combatants in our current controversy about the relationship between sexuality and the Spirit-led life? In cases like this, schism is sometimes the only sensible alternative. Just as Abram and Lot had to agree to separate in order to avoid further conflict between their families and servants (Genesis 13:5-13), so it is at times both the only realistic and peace-producing solution. Yet in this less-than-desirable situation, an essential unity is still preserved, for both contending parties still give allegiance to a common Christ, even if such unity can no longer be expressed in congenial fellowship with one another.

It is also time for the ECUSA to take a good look around at the religious landscape; they will notice that others have already run ahead of them to lift up the prophetic banner of justice for gays, lesbians, and all God's marginalized children, foremost among them being the United Church of Christ (UCC) which has recently fully embraced the GLBT community and same-sex blessings. Far from being a disaster for the denomination, it has resulted in only a small number of congregational defections, while in the process, a significant number of new applications by churches for affiliation with the UCC have been received, including the Cathedral of Hope, one of the largest GLBT churches in the nation. By contrast, the ECUSA has given us a token gay bishop, but instead of fearlessly pressing on for full participation of gays and lesbians in every aspect of the church's common life, some are now wringing their hands over whether or not to refrain from ordaining any more GLBT bishops or even allowing official sanction for same-sex blessings for fear of further offending conservative Anglican sensitivities. Come on, Church! Get a backbone! It is time to stand up and say to those whitewashed, conservative apparitions of self-righteousness still haunting our denomination, "By the way that you call 'heresy' worship we the God of our ancestors! (Acts 24:14) Here we stand! We will not back down!" These rigid, religious iconoclasts are attempting to change directions for the good ship Grace, pointing it backwards into the stagnant moorings of religio-social anachronism, rather than allowing it to chart a new course carrying God's message of hope and acceptance to the marginalized and misunderstood. Put simply, we cannot allow them to commandeer the ship. If they do, we will have no choice but to put out in a lifeboat, and like St. Brendan of old, chart a course of faith into new territories, confident that God goes before us.

Maury Johnston is the author of Gays Under Grace: A Gay Christian's Response to the Moral Majority (Winston-Derek Publishers, 1984), and a member of the Church of the Holy Comforter (Episcopal) in Richmond, Virginia.


… The world will be watching the ECUSA to see if they have the intestinal fortitude to "put their money where their mouth is" and buck the conservative pressures of the contemporary Anglican "party of the circumcision." Will this American church have the prophetic foresight to risk schism for the implementation of justice for all of its baptized believers?
There it is, folks, plain and simple. No time left for fence sitting. Here we stand. We will not back down.


Monday, February 13, 2006

A Cloud Over Albany

Some recent reports have appeared regarding the Episcopal Diocese of Albany. The first one is entitled Spiritual Shift Splits Diocese. Here's part of it:

...For months, internal debate has revolved around outgoing Bishop Daniel Herzog, who is accused by some in his flock of concealing church finances, short-circuiting the election of his successor and sidelining those who clash with his theological beliefs.

The climate in the diocese has added significance because of the high-profile battle Herzog has waged as a national leader in the Episcopal Church's internal fight over the ordination of gay clergy, which Herzog vociferously opposes...

...Clergy who don't share Herzog's theological bent, critics complain, have also been frozen out of leadership positions within the diocese.

And some feel his plan to fast-track his succession, approved when Herzog announced his impending retirement at last year's diocesan convention, short-circuits the lengthy stock-taking crucial to picking a leader who will guide the diocese for years to come...
The article goes on to delve into questions being raised regarding diocesan finances, and specifically the funding of Bishop Herzog's pet project, the Spiritual Life Center, which includes a healing ministry. The diocese sold the Children's Hospital of Albany and placed the proceeds in a charitable foundation, designating those funds for "health care services and health care-related educational and religious programs." Hundreds of thousands of dollars from this foundation have been poured into the new "healing ministry".

A follow-up report can be found here.

The process of the election of a coadjutor for Albany is also worth noting. Here is how Bishop Herzog explained it at the Diocesan Convention of June, 2005:

...As you know in the wake of New Hampshire the House of Bishops decided to withhold all consents to the election of new bishops until the General Convention meets in Columbus a year from this month. A lot of nominees will be piled up.

I believe that an environment of graciousness regarding consents to the election of new bishops now prevails in the Episcopal Church. How that will stand after the General Convention of next year is less certain. Giving this Diocese the option of electing a bishop coadjutor and securing consent at the next general convention would more likely assure the Diocese of Albany having a bishop into the 21st century who accurately reflects our commitment to the apostolic faith and to evangelical mission...
The "environment of graciousness" seems to point to the idea that since consents for bishops will be backed up due to the moratorium, there will be some move at General Convention to approve them all quickly. In other words, now is the window of opportunity to slip a bishop who will "reflect our commitment to the apostolic faith" easily through the consent process.

The diocesan canons had to be changed, to allow the election process reserved for a suffragan to be used to elect a coadjutor. Once on the fast-track, the nominations commenced. Even though I disagreed with some of his answers, I was pleased to see Bill Love nominated. He was a year behind me at the House. A gentle man, and a devoted father and husband. I know another candidate as well, and wouldn't vote for him as dogcatcher. I have too much respect for dogs.

What is fascinating is the questions these candidates were asked. Here's a few:

...4. Are there any articles of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds with which you are in anything but full personal and theological agreement? If so, which and why? In your response, please address the following questions: Was Jesus raised bodily from the dead, such that the tomb was empty of his physical being, and in his body he appeared unto his disciples until his Ascension into heaven? Do you believe Jesus was virginally conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary? Do you agree that the Persons of the Trinity are only the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and no other expression or naming may be substituted? For example, do you believe that a person baptized in the name of “Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier” is validly baptized...

...6. Under what circumstances would you authorize the use of rites for or any practice of same-sex blessing, union, or marriage in this diocese or support such rites or practices anywhere in the Church? Under what circumstances would you permit or approve the ordination or licensing of a person who is sexually active outside the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman?

7. In John 14:6, Jesus stated, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (NIV) What is your understanding of this passage, and what does it say about Christianity’s relationship with other world religions...
Does one sense a possible agenda here?

Albany Via Media has some suggestions for additional questions that might be asked of these candidates. One of my own springs to mind:

"Do you believe it is wise for the Diocese of Albany to be affiliated with the Network, in light of the evidence that it is the goal of that organization to destroy the Episcopal Church?"

May God have mercy on the faithful of Albany.


UPDATE: The Rt. Rev. David Bena, Bishop Suffragan of Albany, responds to the Times Union articles.

FURTHER UPDATE: Anglicans Online points us two of the documents mentioned in the article and refuted by Bp. Bena; the letter from a trustee and one from Dean Kris.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pillagers in Purple

We occasionally hear of some Episcopal parish that is upset with the Episcopal Church over one thing or another deciding to break with the Church. These sad stories are nothing new. There's never been a time in the history of the Church when one group or another didn't attempt to sever the ties that bound the body together. So it goes when frail and flawed humans seek purity. As we all know, the Church could be a wonderful and holy place, if it wasn't for all those damn people! The only pure Church would be an empty one; but of course then it wouldn't be the Church, would it?

The latest form of this quest for purity has a new twist to it. Churches are leaving the Episcopal Church, but attempting to remain Anglican by affiliating themselves with a foreign Anglican bishop.

Some might suggest that they have every right to do this. No, they don't. The smallest division within the Church is the Diocese. There's a name for the perspective of my parish being the only thing that matters; it's called congregationalism, and is quite dominant among Protestant denominations in the U.S., a nation that places high value on individualism. But it has never been considered a vision of the Church that is acceptable within Anglicanism.

Simply put, one cannot just abandon their diocese and pick a new bishop. There cannot be more than one bishop with jurisdiction in a diocese, for valid practical as well as theological reasons.

There's an invasion of pastoral boundaries going on in these situations as well. Proposed plans for alternative oversight in situations in which the relationship between the bishop and a congregation becomes strained always includes in their goals some form of reconciliation. With most of the congregations that have recently left, there was no opportunity given for such reconciliation to occur. Why? Because a foreign bishop was waiting in the wings, promising them the moon.

It is towards these bishops, who show a blatant disregard for Anglican polity, the Windsor Report, The Episcopal Church, or the well-being of those who they gobble up, that I direct my outrage. They claim they are doing it "to protect the Orthodox." When I hear such pronouncements, I start pulling on my boots, as the smell of bull is getting strong. Every one of these foreign bishops comes from a diocese that is struggling financially. They are scooping up American churches so they can gain nice, fat annual assessments.

This is theft; specifically grand larceny. Here are the names of some of the suspects that should be charged with this crime:


The Rt. Rev. Frank Lyon, Bishop of Bolivia, for the theft of St. Luke's, Fairlawn, Ohio; Holy Spirit, Akron, Ohio; and St. Barnabas in Bay Village and St. Anne's in the Fields, Madison, Ohio.

The Rt. Rev. Benezeri Kisembo, Bishop of Ruwenzori, for the theft of South Riding, Virginia and Holy Spirit, Ashburn, Virginia.

Mr. Robinson Cavalcanti, former Bishop of Recife, for the theft of St. Stephen’s, Oak Harbor, Washington and St. Charles', Poulsbo, Washington.

The Rt. Rev. Evans Mukasa Kisekka, Bishop of Luweero, for the theft of All Saints, Long Beach, California, St. James, Newport Beach, California and St. David's, North Hollywood, California.

The Rt. Rev. Joel Obetia, Bishop of Madi/West Nile, for the theft of All Souls, Jacksonville and Redeemer, Jacksonville.

The Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi, Archbishop of Uganda, for the theft of Christ Church, Overland Park, Kansas, and as an accomplice in the thefts carried out by Bps. Obieta, Kisekka and Kisembo listed above.
There's more, but that's a start. What other Pillagers in Purple need to be added to this Wanted List?


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Can Christians Affirm the Use of Torture?

Please forgive my lack of posts of late. My notebook's screen suddenly went dark, requiring me to ship it off to the 'puter doc. So, for the next few weeks, my access to the net will be limited.

A friend of ours has been loaning us complete seasons of the show 24 on DVD. It is an addictive program, with storylines that sometimes literally keep us on the edge of our seats. We're on season four now, and look forward to our evening installments of the adventures of Jack "Trust Me" Bauer.

One of the ethical dilemmas that reoccur throughout this show is when is it appropriate to use torture. As a Christian, I find myself wondering if torture is ever an option for us.

At last year's diocesan convention, a resolution on torture was defeated, primarily because of some of the wording within the resolution, but also because one member of convention stood up and testified that, as one who had formerly worked in government intelligence, the hard truth is that sometimes torture is necessary. Then, before anyone could respond to this statement (a statement that one could imagine Jack Bauer making through clenched teeth), someone who had become bored with the discussion called the question, and the resolution was defeated.

There will be another resolution against torture presented this year at convention. It would seem appropriate, if this resolution is challenged, to ask of convention the question; "Who would Jesus torture?"

Here's a resolution that was recently passed at the Annual Convention of the Diocese of Central New York:

RESOLVED, that the 137th Convention of the Diocese of Central New York submit the following resolution to the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church:

Resolved, the House of Bishops and House of Deputies concur that the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church condemns the use of torture and the practice of extraordinary rendition, and calls upon the United States government to condemn its use in compliance with the Geneva Conventions and United Nations’ declarations regarding human rights and the administration of justice, and to enact policies to prevent its use both domestically and abroad.

RESOLVED, that the 137th Convention of the Diocese of Central New York affirm the resolution above, and direct the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) network to implement the above as appropriate in its work in our congregations, as well as our state and local governments.
Are you aware of similar resolutions that have been passed by other dioceses?

Update: I've recently been asked to call attention to the new National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Please consider endorsing their statement and, if possible, contributing financially to the campaign.

This group grew out of a recent conference Dr. George Hunsinger organized in Princeton on "Theology, International Law, and Torture."

An article written by Dr. Hunsinger might be of interest; Why the Torture Abuse Scandal Matters.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Trinity Institute Webcasts

Trtinity Institute's 36th National Conference, entitled The Anatomy of Reconciliation; From Violence to Healing, concluded today. Webcasts of the keynote speakers and some of the panel discussions are now available. Here's some info on the speakers:

Author-theologian James Alison advocates a vision of non-violence based on an understanding of a theology of resurrection and the transformation of human desire. Yale Divinity School’s Miroslav Volf, a native of Croatia, works in a theological context shaped largely from his experience of Serbian-Croatian violence and the struggle toward peace. Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, the author of Dead Man Walking, is a passionate advocate for restorative, rather than retributive, justice. After working in the thick of the struggle for civil rights, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons is now an american Muslim and a professor of religion who specializes in gender issues. Bishop Michael B. Curry, a powerful preacher whose leadership on a number of important fronts has combined the best of the prophetic and the pastoral will set the tone at the opening liturgy of reconciliation.

Trinity also has a virtual treasure trove of videos archived here.