Friday, March 31, 2006

Civil Rights and the Church

I want to commend to you a blog started by a fairly new Episcopalian; ePiscoSours, which is subtitled, "Searching for spirituality in the Episcopal Church while still enjoying pisco sours in this world."

Specifically, I wanted to highlight this post, which I reprint here with the author's permission:


Support for LGBT rights are growing faster than churches’ ability or desire to address these issues.

As much as I gripe sometime about the Anglican Communion’s shilly-shallying on the issue, I have to admit that my parish has welcomed me like a—well, I was about to say like a long-lost son, but it’s more like the son they never knew they had, isn’t it? In any event, I noticed in the parking lot yesterday that there were a few cars with rainbow stickers on them, so… it’s not just me. At my parish at least, there’s the recognition that we are members of the Body of Christ.

(As an aside, at yesterday’s service we had to fill out a major survey by the ECUSA about every aspect of our church life. One of the questions asked whether the parish had dealt with homosexuality. I haven’t been here long enough to know, but I’ll eagerly await the results of that question, believe you me.)

And yet, there’s the sense that the Communion ought to be at the forefront of civil-rights issues. I wouldn’t mind so much, I guess, if the church refused to bless same-sex marriages so long as it fought for our civil rights in the world. It’s a bit like my stance on abortion: while I believe it’s a grievous sin and I wouldn’t counsel anybody to get one, ultimately and civilly there’s an actual woman whose body will be forced into service as an incubator. (See the Judith Jarvis Thomson’s violin-player analogy.)

My point is, civil rights and Christian morality are not the same thing and were never meant to be. I could deal with being gay, and being a sinner because I’m gay, so long as that issue is kept between me and my priest and my parish and the Body of which I am a part. But I just can’t see how, for example, my providing health-care benefits to someone else is an issue of morality; if anything, the church should be actively encouraging me to support and provide for another human being, even if it deems the sexual part of our relationship to be sinful.

So yes, to the extent that the church avoids taking a stand on civil rights, and insists on keeping the Communion whole by building that unity on top of my body and flesh, yes, I’m quite disappointed. I think the church is redeemable or else I would never have joined; I look for ways to testify about being openly Christian and openly gay. But do you see now just why I am so frustrated at times?



Keeping in mind the premise that we meet people where they are in their spiritual lives, and avoid the temptation of dragging them to where we think they should be, I ask that we set aside our current frustations, hurts and weariness, and recall the times in our lives when we were compelled to draw closer to the living God; to enter into a relationship rooted in healing love. From that gentle perspective, respond to this post.

I'll start. Advocating for civil rights for all God's people (which, imo, includes everyone, if they know it or not) is taking a moral position. Unfortunately, it seems that today the term "morality" has come to stand for "personal sin", with no new term developed for "corporate sin." The denial of civil rights is symptomatic of a societal sickness; evidence of submission to a power (to use Walter Wink's term) that attempts to block the flow of God's grace intended for all of creation.

I suspect that our preoccupation with personal sins has much to do with the way in which we can fairly easily address this symptom of spiritual illness by repenting and amending our lives. We have a large degree of control over the situation. Corporate sins are much more difficult to confront, but confront them we must.

Your turn. And please, once again, be gentle, kind readers.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Playing the Numbers Game

Maury Johnston recently sent me the following essay. I reprint it here with his permission.



(c) 2006 by Maury Johnston

Recently, we have heard an ever-increasing refrain from our conservative detractors in the Episcopal Church that the denomination is losing--and will continue to lose in even greater numbers--a substantive portion of its membership due to its progressive (conservatives read that as "permissive") vision affirming the ordination of a GLBT bishop and the possible theological legitimacy of same-sex blessings. Inherent in this dire accusation of "doom through dwindling" is the assumption that God is where the numbers are. By this logic, the ultimate sign of apostasy is a shrinking church. After all, it is often said that contemporary mega-churches are signs that growth is the result of good Gospel preaching (i.e., a "Word"-centered church). By these spurious standards, however, the ultimate Word (you know, the One made flesh) was an evangelical failure.

At the beginning of his ministry it seemed as if the religious numbers game was turning out to be a stunning success. Whenever the crowds thought there was going to be the possibility of healings and holy handouts, they were at the feet of Jesus in a nanosecond, their minds filled with marquee fantasies reflecting hopes and expectations for improvement in the mediocre moment: "Christ, the Main Attraction!" "Thousands Fed with Five Loaves and Two Fish!" "Future King of Israel with Foolproof Welfare Program!" "Gravy Train from God!" (not unlike those spiritually thrill-seeking evangelicals trucking to their stadium churches for Sunday morning concerts with sunrise smiles, scripture choruses, and prosperity affirmations which would make even old Jabez blush.)

Jesus' church crowds were getting so large he had to flee in order to hide from his hungry, fickle flock. (Can we see in this an example of the unexpected down-side of success?) But he knew how to get the upper hand on the situation by preaching a dose of truth that hit too close to home, making them run like roaches for the corner crevices in the floor: telling stories about treating Samaritans with respect, preaching sermons on a mount that took all the hate-filled satisfaction out of resisting the Romans; he even legitimized Caesar's claims on their money. "This guy a messiah? Forget it! Give us Barabbas! At least he will put up a good fight against Roman Gentile scum!"

The Johannine Jesus is reputed to have gone even more against the grain, preaching sermons advocating the violation of levitical law by encouraging his followers to drink his blood and feast on his body in some sort of ritual cannibalism which none of his listeners quite understood. Talk about a shrinking congregation! The only ones left were a few of the most loyal disciples who reluctantly admitted, "To whom else shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life!" (John 6:68). The gospel narrator implied that there was a spontaneous resistance to these sayings of Jesus, even on the part of his closest followers; suddenly, "unpopular" as a description of Jesus was an understatement.

The Cross was the eventual price Jesus paid for saying the wrong things and siding with the wrong folks. Needless to say, the conservative Pharisaical establishment was quite pleased with the prospect of a dead Carpenter as the butt of upcoming cocktail party conversations. Now things could get back to normal, their orthodoxy unimpaired by a heretical Galilean who ignored Sabbath piety, liturgical ablutions, and questionably catered to women groupies.

Time machine fast-forward from 31CE to 2006CE: Same Jesus, different religion. Same Cross, different creed. Same divisions, different squabbles. Instead of Judaism, read Episcopalians, all prim and proper. Instead of the Shema and the practice of polygamy, it's Nicaean orthodoxy with straight-laced sex and moralistic sensibilities. Instead of Pharisees extolling the pleasurable virtues of sex on the Sabbath, we see Anglican conservatives crusading for "family values" and no sex on Sunday.

General Convention, 2006: The die is cast, the battle lines are drawn between the spectacle of mutually Christian combatants in a dysfunctional denomination. Conservatives see themselves as white knights riding to the rescue of orthodoxy and keeping at bay the salacious hordes of gay barbarians at the gates of Canterbury. Progressives prefer to forego such chivalric fantasies, keeping one foot in reality and a good grasp on their Kingdom invitation to the most riotous party ever thrown (being otherwise known as a Christian lifestyle lived not under religious legalism, but under grace, while loving one another with reckless abandon).

Episcopalian/Anglican homophobes (as well as some non-homophobic, but crusty conservatives) would no doubt like to crucify the whole lot of liberal "revisionists" for ruining the stately reputation of their church, but they have been fortunately checked by their Christian conscience to pray for us instead, in between attacking us through toxic tirades and verbal assaults on David Virtue Online. These denominational die-hards of theological reactionism sit smugly in front of their cyberscreens quietly congratulating themselves on the effectiveness of their internet expertise, having as they do, the most furious fingers in the blog-o-sphere; but make no mistake about it: as many of them suspect, perhaps Old Cloven Hoof himself IS on our side with false signs and wonders waiting in the wings for the General Convention; and you just never know what kind of magical rabbits will emerge from the hats of liberals who have willingly sold their souls for sexual justice, honesty over hypocrisy, and the radical egalitarianism of inclusivity.

Theologically neolithic Episcopalians are genuinely horrified by the prospect of a progressive power play at this summer's General Convention. They see in that possibility the Mystery of Iniquity even now insidiously at work throughout our church to pave the way for its takeover by apostate forces and the realization of their most lurid imaginations: Gay "fashionistas" using vestmental caricatures of High Church for high coutere; perverted priests recruiting Ganymedian acolytes for "extra-curricular" activities; diversity-friendly rectories discretely hosting the hedonistic revels of raunchy circuit parties. And last but not least, they envision the resurrection of the Beast Whose Deadly Wound Was Healed: TV's aborted "Book of Daniel" as cinematic blueprint for future parish activities and administration, not to mention other abominations of desolation. Yes, it is certain from a conservative perspective that the "righteous remnant" must flee from Sodom's Episcopal Ecclesia before its structure implodes upon itself, the size of its sheepfold a shrunken shade of its former self due to its dalliance with the devilish deceptions of heresy and homosexuality. (In all probability a good percentage of the piously outraged are leaving the church because prophetic commitment to sexual and gender justice can cause a few too many behinds to squirm in pews accustomed to the snores of the spiritually sedated.)

Now, just when we were beginning to dwindle so well, divesting ourselves of self-righteous trouble-making contingents, we hear dark rumours of planned capitulation on the part of a Carolina committee of pointy, mitered heads seemingly set on the preservation of their plump paychecks and pension potentials, willing to pay any price for continued communion with Canterbury and high tea with the queen. In what could be wildly stretched exaggerations, we are given to understand through bits and pieces of bloggish information on the internet that expressions of collective "repentance" for our actions at the 2003 General Convention, a temporary "deep freeze" on all GLBT bishops, and a continued moratorium on same-sex blessings, are all in the offing as probable resolutions for General Convention, 2006, from a House of Bishops determined to publicly present themselves to the world as a bunch of cowardly, jelly-quivering, ecclesiastical caricatures who haven't a resistant backbone between them; and who will do anything to staunch the flow of the "frozen chosen," the moneyed membership, and the remaining conservative "true believers" from the ranks of the Episcopal redeemed--and not even a word of censure for the African Anglican Antichrist who, like his ancient predecessor (Daniel 7:25), continues to harass the frightened GLBT saints cowering under his churchly jurisdiction.

These disturbing smoke signals indicate that this summer's Moment of Decision may indeed be an Armageddon or sorts to determine whether the Episcopal Church will continue to be the safe haven for Mammonites and the landed gentry willing to sacrifice the GLBT community of faith upon the altar of financial, cultural, and religious expediency. The irony seems to be that Old Cloven Hoof is alive and well indeed, but working within the ranks of the other side who seems to be so fondly addicted to his paralyzing vices of the need for acclaim from superiors, community approval, and the "unity-at-all-costs" mentality.

For those of us who cast our lot with the dwindling numbers of the "deceived," there is still a message of encouragement from the God who likes to throw parties for the non-kosher, the sexually questionable, and all the other previously uninvited (Luke 14:15-24), "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom" (Luke 12:32). We should all strive to remember the old axiom: quality over quantity. The Kingdom is inherited by the few thousand who have not bowed the knee, not the multitudes prostrate before the idols of rigid, religious traditionalism.

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.


Monday, March 27, 2006

Why Peter Akinola Must be Challenged

Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria is a man who I challenge quite often here. Having never met him, my challenge is not based on any personal knowledge. If Akinola had not decided to stride onto the global stage and claim to speak for Anglican Christians, I'd probably never mention the man. But, since he has chosen the limelight, he must be held accountable for his most unChristian pronouncements. His words do not fall into a vacuum. They effect all Anglicans.

As an example, consider a segment from this article by Andrew Sullivan entitled World War on Gays:

...Meanwhile, in Nigeria, Anglican archbishop Peter Akinola has put his full support behind a new proposal that not only makes gay sex a crime but also criminalizes speech in favor of gay equality.

It will soon be a crime to petition the government to change the laws against homosexuality, and for churches to allow same-sex unions. Akinola is part of a global communion that includes Episcopalians in the United States.

Gays around the world right now are up against many terrifying forces of religious fundamentalism. Gay teens are hanged in Iran; Islamist terrorists are trying to destroy the fragile posttotalitarian society in Iraq. The virulently antigay Taliban and al-Qaeda keep up the pressure in Pakistan. Radical Muslims suppress free speech in Denmark and intimidate freedom of expression everywhere. In Holland, defenders of gay rights and women’s equality now live in fear of Muslim violence: One gay man who stood up to Islamist homophobia and one straight film director who backed our freedom were murdered in the streets. You may not even recognize the names Theo van Gogh and Pim Fortuyn, the two most recent martyrs in this war against religious brownshirts. And if you don’t, you should feel ashamed for your ignorance...
In case you missed it, the implication here is that Episcopalians are marching with the "religious brownshirts".

Anyone who had done a little background research regarding the Episcopal Church would know that that is an unfair and quite erroneous implication. Yet, I am not surprised by it. It is exactly what I thought would eventually happen; Episcopalians would be lumped together with the rest of the religious fanatics.

How can I stay "in communion" with such a leader as Peter Akinola and those who defend such bigotry? I'm not sure I can.

If we sell out our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ for the "sake of unity" (which it appears the House of Bishops is preparing to do), we will have bowed to the threats of the brownshirts, and joined their ranks. We will have also abandoned the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We will have ceased to be the Church.

I will conclude with an excerpt from an essay written by the Rev. Marilyn McCord Adams, Regius Professor of Divinity and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford:

...Certainly, conservatives have been "wise as serpents" in setting up the dilemma. But in trying for the "innocence of doves", liberal leaders have betrayed their own cause. Liberal beliefs - that conservative positions on gender and sexuality evidence the grip of oppressive taboos - are also conscientious. Sacrificing such beliefs in order to hang on to already impaired communion with those who will remain only if you do what they tell you sends the message that dividing the church is more sinful than misogyny and homophobia, and more important than first-class ecclesial citizenship for women and for homosexual Christians. Conservatives thereby win a double victory: not only do they co-opt the church's institutional structures; they confirm the widespread suspicion that liberals do not have enough backbone to be conscientious at all.

There is no health in this, because "going along to get along" is not the gospel. The synoptics virtually guarantee: because the reign of God stands in judgment over any and every human social system, its coming by successive approximations is sure to violate our socially constructed identities repeatedly. Our part is to discern for all we're worth and to live up to the light that is in us. Because we are fallible, we are not entitled to make undermining other people's lifestyles our ends or chosen means, but we have to accept that it may be a known but unintended side-effect of putting our conscientious convictions into effect. Refusing to do so shows no charity to the oppressed whose cause we feel called to sponsor. Nor can we consistently believe that it shows charity to those who are dug in against us, because our considered opinion is that they are imprisoned by illogic and taboos.

Finally, liberals must not make an idol of unity. In institutions, as in biology, differentiation and division may be in service of richer and more mature integration. John's Jesus prays for unity, but the Jesus-movement precipitated a schism within Judaism. It was not his first choice, but it is how the gospel spread.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The World is Watching

I think it is important for us to recognize that humanity has become connected globally in ways that would have amazed past generations. Events unfolding in one corner of the world are no longer isolated incidents. Within days, and sometimes within hours, they are revealed to the world. We are quickly redefining the term "community".

The speed with which the internet allows such communication to occur is one of the most compelling causes of the sudden broadening of our global consciousness. This new reality requires every organization, including the Church, to rethink the ways in which we communicate our message of the Good News revealed through Jesus Christ.

Beyond reconsideration of proclamation, we also have to pay closer attention to the perspective of those who are outside the Church, who do not always trust our words, because our actions, our witness, is often viewed as being contrary to the message we claim to profess.

As an example, consider this recent article; Americans, Especially Catholics, Approve of Torture. Here's how Andrew Sullivan summarized this poll:

...Most disturbing to me are the high numbers of self-decribed Christians favoring torture: only 26 percent of Catholics oppose it in all circumstances, while only 31 percent of white Protestants rule it out entirely. If you combine those Christians who think torture is either never or only rarely acceptable, you have 42 percent of Catholics and 49 percent of white Protestants. The comparable statistic of those who are decribed as "secular," which I presume means agnostic or atheist, is 57 percent opposition. In other words, if you are an American Christian, you are more likely to support torture than if you are an atheist or agnostic...
Unfortunately, I have seen the truth of this poll within the Episcopal Church. The Diocese of New Jersey did pass a resolution condemning torture this year, but it took two years to get it passed! Last year, an almost identical resolution was soundly defeated. The statements made by Episcopalians supporting torture this year and last were chilling commentary on the direction the Christian faith seems to be headed. The good news is that we managed to pass the resolution this year. The bad news is that there is a vocal pocket of Episcopalians, and apparently a majority of all Christians, who see no contradiction in following the Prince of Peace and torturing prisoners. This is our witness to the world. And the world is watching.

To focus in a bit more on our Anglican witness, consider the recent legislation in Nigeria that outlaws not only same sex unions, but makes it a criminal offense to advocate for civil rights for gays and lesbians. Peter Akinola, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, has publically supported this legislation. No longer is this oppressive law only the act of a misguided secular government. It is the Christian witness this Anglican leader is offering to the world; our "Christian" response to gays and lesbians and their allies is to lock them up.

For some time, only a few brave Christians such as Bishop Chane of Washington, made clear that Peter Akinola does not represent what many of us consider a Christian witness on this matter. Since then, numerous organizations from around the globe, including the US State Department, have spoken out against the Nigerian legislation. More info on the growing global outrage can be found here and here. The world is watching, Abp. Akinola.

To narrow the focus even further, did you see this recent Reuters article? I want to draw your attention to this segment:

...But Maury Johnston, Virginia-based author of "Gays Under Grace: A Gay Christian's Response to the Moral Majority," said the church factions have reached the point of "irreconcilable differences."

"The longer the Episcopal Church tries to force both sides into unity that doesn't work, the longer the church will be side-tracked from forging onward in the world," he told Reuters. "That does not mean that I necessarily want schism. It just means that I think that it is unfortunately inevitable in light of the hard-nosed attitudes of conservatives ... "
Some of you will recognize Maury as a regular commentor here at Jake's place, and the author of the essay Facing the Spectre of Schism.

My first communication with Maury was when he sent me his essay by email. The quality of his writing and the power of his message compelled me to immediately reply with a request to post it on Jake's place. David Virtue read it, and asked Maury for an interview, which he courageously granted. And now a Reuters reporter has interviewed him for an article. Personally, I'm tickled that a wordsmith of Maury's caliber has been identified as a spokesperson for the more progressive perspective within the Anglican Communion!

Which brings me to my final thought. I think progressive Anglicans have a message that the world is willing to hear. I think we are doing a poor job of proclaiming that message. I think we can do better. But, to do so, we have to change our perspective.

For instance, most of us probably consider this little blog to be a tiny backwater in the flow of information in the Anglican Communion. And yet, the only way that Maury would have shown up on that Reuters reporter's radar screen is if the reporter was reading Jake. The world is watching.

In the world of blogs, the traffic on this site is considered rather small. But, among progressive Anglicans, it has a significant audience. One of the primary reasons it has developed such a steady audience has more to do with those who participate than it does the quality of the content. Those who regularly visit and comment here represent another example of how we are redefining the concept of "community".

So, I want to suggest to you that we be more intentional about functioning as a community by working together to get our message out. Some of you already send me links to items of interest, which is extremely helpful. I don't always use your sources, especially if another site has already done a good job of covering it, but I greatly appreciate you sending them to me. I will not promise that I'll use everything sent to me in the future, but, please, don't be shy about sending me links, or posting them in comments.

I'll also consider posting your essays, which would allow me to get something up more often. No promises of publication, however! Better yet, if you don't have a blog, get one, and I'll link to your essay. Keep in mind that I've more or less zeroed in on things Anglican as the focus here for some time now, and plan to keep that focus at least until after General Convention.

The world is watching. What witness to the healing power of the living God will we offer?


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Open Thread

The Censure Akinola post currently has 325 comments, which has made it difficult for that conversation to continue. Consequently, I'm providing this space in an attempt to facilitate the continuation of that amazing discussion.

But don't feel limited to that conversation. This thread is "open", meaning tangential thoughts are not only invited, but encouraged!

Speaking of tangential thoughts, have you noticed the new link to the right, "Speaking Truth to Power"? That is a link to an excellent essay written by a sixteen year old student. In honor of making comment #300, IT was awarded the choice of links to appear for two weeks on the front page of Jake's place. A minor prize, I know, but I wanted to acknowledge that momentous event in the life of this little blog in some manner, and that's the best I could come up with on the spur of the moment.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Cautious Voice of Rowan Williams

In a recent interview, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, discussed a number of topics. His restrained language offers little new insights into his personal views regarding various concerns within the Church, with the possible exception of a rather clear indication that his restraint is intentional, and will continue:

...I've been given a responsibility to try and care for the church as a whole, the health of the church. That health has a lot to do with the proper and free exchange between different cultural and political and theological contexts: people are actually able to learn from each other. And it's got a lot to do therefore, with valuing and nurturing unity, not, as I've often said, not as an alternative to truth, but actually as one of the ways we absorb truth. That means that, structurally speaking, in the church as I believe it to be, it really is wrong for an Archbishop to be the leader of a party; in a polarised and deeply divided church it's particularly important, I think, not to be someone pursuing an agenda that isn't the agenda of the whole. Now, on this question of what the agenda of the whole is or should be, is a long job to decipher or untangle ... And I suppose what I'm, therefore, saying, and it's not something new, is if the church moves on this, it must be because the church moves, not because, rather like getting rid of Clause 4, a figure of leadership says, "right - this is where we go." My conviction, my views, my theological reflections on this and, indeed on other matters, they are things which I have to bring to that common process of discernment. It's not as if I can say simply, "I know this is right, this is where we've got to go, come along, whatever the cost." And if you ask is that a comfortable position to be in, no, not particularly, but I think it's part of what's intrinsic to the role of any bishop and, therefore, a priori, Archbishop, which is to try and make sense of people to each other in such a way that whatever movement there is, is just one bit running ahead with its agenda.
The interviewer, Alan Rusbridger, summarized this postion well; a summation affirmed by Dr. Williams:

AR: Don't we get back into this danger of being, sort of a ring holder, appearing to -

AC: Sure. Not having any convictions except being able to hold together, as it were.
Does this sound to you as coming close to a stance of "unity at any cost"? If not, read on. The next topic is Archbishop Peter Akinola:

AR: Yeah, again. None of this is news to you but looking from outside, it seems as though you're, well, you haven't made any fuss in public about the recent pronouncements of Archbishop Akinola, or the Archbishop of central Africa and yet they seem to be equal participants, of equal weight in this debate, as the people on the other side.

AC: Again, what is or - or should be said in public is something I would - see previous remarks - weigh very carefully, what actually moves things on. I don't believe that all of this should necessarily be conducted on the internet, as some do. I think the situation in Central Africa is - is dismal and deeply problematic. I wish I knew how to resolve it. It doesn't mean ignoring it.

AR: Right, so we can take of that, that it's a situation where you are saying things privately?

AC: The correspondence continues...

AR: And what about Akinola and his troubling statements about Muslims (not being allowed to bear arms) which was followed by 80 people being macheted to death?

AC: Hmmm. I think that what he - what he meant as, so to speak, an abstract warning, you know, "don't be provocative because in an unstable situation it's as likely the Christians will resort to violence as Muslims will." It was taken by some as, you know, open provocation, encouragement, a threat. I think I know him well enough to - to take his good faith on that, what he meant. He did not mean to stir up the violence that happened. He's a man who will speak very directly and immediately into crises. I think he meant to issue a warning, which certainly has been taken as a threat, an act of provocation. Others in the Nigerian church have, I think, found other ways of saying that which have been more measured.
Is this a rebuke or a justification of Abp. Akinola's irresponsible remarks? And why is there no mention of Akinola's support for the civil legislation that makes even advocating for civil rights in Nigeria a criminal offense?

There are some rather concrete statements contained in this interview regarding creationism and "faith schools" which may be of interest to some. Personally, I found myself quite discouraged by Dr. William's cautious pronouncements. I do not think a "ring holder" will lead us into any kind of unity that one could still consider Christian, let alone Anglican.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Bishops Jenkins and Duque Nominated for PB

The Rt. Rev. Charles Edward Jenkins III of Louisiana and the Right Rev. Francisco Duque-Gomez of Colombia have accepted nomination by petition for consideration as the next Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

From ENS:

...Each nominee by petition is subject to the same background checks and screenings conducted for the four bishops selected by the Nominating Committee, Lee and Pollard said, adding that April 1 is the deadline for any other nominees by petition. The election is set for June 18 in the House of Bishops, meeting during the 75th General Convention.

"I had to decide last Friday night whether or not I would agree to the request of twelve Bishops who asked me to allow them to nominate me from the floor for consideration as the next Presiding Bishop," Jenkins wrote to his diocese March 19. "As you may know, I had been previously dropped from the process by the Nominating Committee. These twelve bishops who asked me were from across the spectrum of the Church and included liberal and conservative, male and female and are of various colors. I am humbled by and conflicted by their request.

"After a long night and day of struggle and wrestling with myself and with God, I decided to allow them to put my name in nomination, this time for consideration by the entire House of Bishops.

"... In saying yes to these Bishops I am not saying that I prefer something else over the work of 'episcope' in Louisiana. I am saying that I want to be open to serve God as I might be called. Unless and until called elsewhere, I believe I am called to serve God in Louisiana. The Church will discern where best I might serve God and use whatever gifts and talents God gives me at this juncture in my life."
Full letter can be found here.

Bp. Jenkins was mentioned in last month's Christian Century in an article on the PB nominations as "one bishop who voted against Robinson and could have gained conservative support." I think that is questionable, as he was also a member of the delegation that testified before the ACC in Nottingham, which concerned some conservatives. His remarks at Nottingham are worth noting, especially this segment:

...Amongst the presenters from the Episcopal Church from whom you shall hear this day, I alone stand as a Bishop who did not give consent to the recent election of the See of New Hampshire. I remain convinced that the Divinely ordained intention for the practice of human sexuality is between a man and a woman within the bonds of Holy Matrimony. Further, I remain committed to serving Jesus Christ in the Episcopal Church even though I think my Church has made a wrong move as regards recent decisions about human sexuality. I must tell you that my presence with you is a stumbling block for some who think my willingness to even be present today is a betrayal of my theological position. I think my presence is an act of obedience to Jesus the Good Shepherd, who calls His flock to unity and who stands with is people no matter the challenge or threat. So, I am, I can do no other.

Further, some on the Lambeth Commission found puzzling the relationship of brotherly affection that I share with my Presiding Bishop. Though he and I are in obvious disagreement on a few issues concerning persons whose affections are directed toward those of the same gender; I must tell you that I believe with every fibre of my being that Frank Griswold would guard my interests if I could not and I pray, with God as my strength, that I would guard and hold his interests if he could not. Such relationships of trust are not uncommon in the Episcopal Church, instead they are the rule; even in the face of serious and sometimes daunting disagreement...
Here is how our current PB spoke of Jenkins in a PBS interview from 2004:

Q: You are a good friend with the Episcopal bishop of Louisiana.

A: Bishop Charles Jenkins and I go back to when he was ordained a bishop. In fact, I was scheduled to give a retreat to the clergy of his diocese before he was elected. He attended the retreat and we became, out of that experience of praying together and reflecting on the life of ministry together, very, very close friends. I think the fact that Bishop Jenkins and I have somewhat different views on matters of sexuality, but are absolutely of one mind on everything else, has been a very good example to people on both sides of the question, of people who can care deeply about a mission they share for the sake of the world, and disagree on some things, and yet make common cause in the name of Christ.

Q: Does he challenge you? Does he push you a bit on some of these things?

A: If anything, Bishop Jenkins teases me. He has an outrageous sense of humor. I would say we were both aware of our different perspectives, but we simply accept the fact that there are different realities within one church, and those realities are going to continue, and they need to be respected. And sooner or later the Holy Spirit will figure out how they might be reordered, but for now we live our two integrities together as brothers in Christ.
I'll try to hunt up some reading material on Bp. Duque soon.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Primate of Rwanda Crosses Diocesan Boundaries

The following letter from The Rt. Rev. Duncan M. Gray, III, Bishop of Mississippi, recently appeared in The Mississippi Episcopalian. It is dated January 11, 2006:

Dear Friends,

On Sunday, January 8, the Right Reverend Emmanuel Kolini, Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church of Rwanda visited Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Jackson to perform Episcopal duties for this small congregation established by the Anglican Mission in America. This visitation took place without my knowledge or approval. Sadly, the first I knew of Archbishop Kolini’s visit was when a reporter asked me for comments on the following Thursday.

I have been committed to the terms of the Windsor Report as the means by which the Anglican Communion, fragile and precious as it is, can continue to be a vital worldwide community of faith. This visit, as well as the visit by Bishop Githiga of Kenya in the summer of 2005 to another congregation in Mississippi, clearly violates one of the foundational propositions in the Windsor Report that provides for the integrity of diocesan boundaries. It becomes increasingly difficult to ask one part of the Anglican Communion to observe the Windsor recommendations in their totality while another segment feels free to pick and choose which they will accept and which they will disobey. Such unilateral action only hardens the division now present.

If our communion does rupture, certainly the actions of General Convention can be pointed to as one cause of the break. However, I am increasingly impatient with the “Lone Ranger” mentality of all segments of the Communion that seems to say in words and actions, “I have no need of you.”

I am writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams to register my strong protest of this action.

When asked by the reporter why he had chosen not to communicate with me prior to his visitation, the Archbishop replied that he would only speak to those bishops who were part of the Anglican network in this country. It is just such behavior that has deepened my opposition to a diocesan affiliation with the network.

After this communication to you and the registering of my protest to Archbishop Williams, I plan to waste no more energy on this event. We, all of us, have far greater work to do for the Lord of our lives than to expend precious energy fueling the internal wars that have consumed us for a generation. I will continue to preach and seek to live into our vision of One Church in Mission: Inviting, Transforming, Reconciling. I will, as God gives me strength, guard the faith, unity and discipline of this church, and I will continue to call us to an ever deepening sense of what it means to be a missionary church.

I ask for your prayers, and commitment to our common life.

The Rt. Rev. Duncan M. Gray, III


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

It's About Justice

Last month, Bono addressed the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. I finally got around to reading the transcript. It's quite good. Here's an excerpt:

...And finally, it's not about charity after all, is it? It's about justice.

Let me repeat that: It's not about charity, it's about justice.

And that's too bad.

Because you're good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drugstore. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what's happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn't accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the Tsunami. 150, 000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, "mother nature". In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it's a completely avoidable catastrophe.

It's annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren't they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.

You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, "Equal?" A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, "Yeah, 'equal,' that's what it says here in this book. We're all made in the image of God."

And eventually the Pharaoh says, "OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews—but not the blacks."

"Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man."

So on we go with our journey of equality.

On we go in the pursuit of justice.

We hear that call in the ONE Campaign, a growing movement of more than two million Americans… left and right together… united in the belief that where you live should no longer determine whether you live.

We hear that call even more powerfully today, as we mourn the loss of Coretta Scott King—mother of a movement for equality, one that changed the world but is only just getting started. These issues are as alive as they ever were; they just change shape and cross the seas.

Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market… that's a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents… That's a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents… that's a justice issue.

And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.

That's why I say there's the law of the land… and then there is a higher standard. There's the law of the land, and we can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it's OK to protect our agriculture but it's not OK for African farmers to do the same, to earn a living?

As the laws of man are written, that's what they say.

God will not accept that.

Mine won't, at least. Will yours?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Diocesan Border Crossings Harmful

From All Africa:

A Ugandan Anglican Bishop currently on a visit to the United States has sparked off an uproar after declaring that he is there "to rescue Anglicans" from gay influences.

Bishop Jonathan Kyamanywa is currently visiting the Kentucky State Diocese where he confirmed 30 people, many of them ex-Episcopalians on Tuesday evening.

Apostles Anglican Church and St. Andrew's Anglican Church, where Kyamanywa preached last Sunday, are both affiliated to the Church of Uganda.

In an interview with the Herald Leader newspaper, Kyamanywa said his diocese was in Kentucky not to fight, but to "rescue" Anglicans who have been abandoned.

"Our coming is not causing any division. Actually our coming is nursing and providing care for the people who are hurt," he said.

Asked whether the Episcopal Church is still a Christian church, Kyamanywa said, "I don't know."

Lexington Bishop Stacy Sauls, who has clashed with leaders of the breakaway churches in Central Kentucky, did not authorise Kyamanywa's visit, according to the Herald Leader…
Perhaps Bishop Kyamanywa has not read the recommendations contained within the Windsor Report?

The Anglican Communion upholds the ancient norm of the Church that all the Christians in one place should be united in their prayer, worship and the celebration of the sacraments. The Commission believes that all Anglicans should strive to live out this ideal. Whilst there are instances in the polity of Anglican churches that more than one jurisdiction exists in one place, this is something to be discouraged rather than propagated. We do not therefore favour the establishment of parallel jurisdictions.

We call upon those bishops who believe it is their conscientious duty to intervene in provinces, dioceses and parishes other than their own:
• to express regret for the consequences of their actions
• to affirm their desire to remain in the Communion, and
• to effect a moratorium on any further interventions.
Since it is possible that Bishop Kyamanywa has considered the Windsor Report and found it to be a flawed set of recommendations (an assessment with which I would agree, but most likely for quite different reasons), one must wonder if he has also considered the Primates’ Communique:

…during this period we commit ourselves neither to encourage nor to initiate cross-boundary interventions.
Of course, it is not surprising that Bishop Kyamanywa would dismiss this statement, since his own Archbishop seems to ignore it.

How does he justify his actions? From the Herald-Leader:

…false teachings are even more damaging than division, Kyamanywa said. "Unity is important, but it doesn't supersede correct doctrine."
The effect of these boundary crossings is summarized by Bishop Mark Dyer:

Retired Bishop Mark Dyer, the only American on the Lambeth Commission, said the new churches are harmful.
"They have systematically divorced themselves from the Episcopal Church. To have another bishop come in and to participate -- I don't hesitate to use the word schism," he said.
I wanted to comment on Bp. Dyer’s assertion that these new churches are “harmful.” I think it is important to recognize that the harm done is not simply institutional, but also pastoral.

As an example, consider the case of David Valencia, a former Ugandan priest under the authority of Bishop Kyamanya. A year and a half after he was accused of sexual assault, Valencia was found guilty and sent to prison. Bishop Kyamanywa has expressed his intention to depose Valencia. This is a tragic story that, unfortunately, can be found in the history of many institutions, including the Church. What is questionable in this particular situation is if the lack of clear lines of authority and communication contributed to the unfolding of this tragic tale. Valencia was ordained by a Ugandan bishop. He was serving in a break away congregation, under the authority of the rector, John Guest, who was under the authority of Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh. This confusion of roles may have hampered appropriate disciplinary actions being taken against Valencia:

… From an ecclesiastical point of view, the case is a puzzle. Valencia, a native of Chile, was an Anglican priest of the Diocese of Bunyoro-Kitara, Uganda, serving in an unaffiliated church whose senior pastor is a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Jan Nunley, deputy director of Episcopal News Service in New York City, was flummoxed when asked whether Episcopal church canons or policies might apply to Guest's supervision of Valencia.

"This is unprecedented. It's uncharted territory because, to my knowledge, these kinds of cross-jurisdictional disputes have really not arisen in the American church before," she said…
Even the diocese of Pittsburgh was forced to admit the situation was problematic:

...Bishop Robert Duncan of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is on sabbatical in France, but Assistant Bishop Henry Scriven is scheduled to meet with Guest soon. He is trying to determine whether Guest had a responsibility to follow diocesan guidelines for dealing with a subordinate when neither the church nor the subordinate are part of the diocese, Scriven said.

"Certainly I don't want to get out of any responsibility that we might have, and we will take any blame that is due to us," Scriven said. "This is one of the big issues with independent churches. To whom are they accountable?"
Exactly, Bp. Scriven. And there lies the problem; a lack of accountability.

Episcopalians need to remember their history. The early Anglican churches in the American colonies found that some of their clergy had come over from England in order to place some distance between themselves and their bishop. It has been suggested that the authority given to the Wardens in the Episcopal Church is derived from a time in our history in which the laity had to keep a sharp eye on the clergy, due to the difficulties involved in getting a bishop located in England to respond with disciplinary action.

This same difficulty seems to be apparent in the current realignments, as can be seen in an article highlighting Anna Gulick, a deacon who recently left the Episcopal Church and placed herself under the authority of Bishop Kyamanywa:

…Now, thanks to Kyamanywa's friendship, Gulick is on Uganda's spiritual radar.

"He asked my permission to have his prayer warriors pray for me, and I would wake up in the middle of the night and know they were praying," Gulick said.
The bishop, 49, now serves as her unofficial spiritual adviser and her "chief pastor."

"I am under ecclesiastical obedience to him," Gulick said. "If he says I can't do something, I just can't argue."

They communicate periodically, exchanging e-mails "when they don't have a power outage," Gulick said. "There's been drought in east Africa. ... When the rivers dry up or when the dams are empty, they have to wait for them to fill" so there's water to generate electricity.
These pillagers in purple are not only acting schismatically; they are also placing those under their pastoral care in potential danger.

UPDATE: The Rt. Rev. Stacy F. Sauls, Bishop of the Diocese of Lexington, who did not authorize Bishop Jonathan Kyamanywa's current visit to his diocese, has been nominated by petition for the Presiding Bishop post.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Censure Peter Akinola

Thinking Anglicans provides us with a column by Stephen Bates:

...last week our old friend Archbishop Akinola waded into the inter-religious violence in Nigeria with all the abandon of a man waving a lighted match near a pool of petrol, threatening Muslims that they did not have a monopoly of violence. Who knows what the effect, but shortly afterwards Christian mobs in Onitsha started hacking people to death with machetes. The only people I can find who condoned the Archbishop’s remarks were on American blogsites. Even his fellow bishop Cyril Okorocha thought he was being inflammatory...
From the Catholic Information Service for Africa:

...Media reports say suspected mobs of Christians armed with machetes and guns roamed the streets of the mainly Christian city of Onitsha, in the south-east, killing at least 40 people in retaliation for Muslim violence in the north.

The revenge killings came a day after the country's leading Anglican primate, Archbishop Peter Akinola, warned Muslims that they did not have a "monopoly on violence." He said churches "may no longer be able to contain our restive youths should this ugly trend continue"...
Abp. Akinola's statement is dated February 21. Here is a segment of a report regarding the violence in Nigeria that appeared in the New York Times February 24:

ONITSHA, Nigeria - Dozens of charred, smoldering bodies littered the streets of this bustling commercial capital Thursday after three days of rioting in which Christian mobs wielding machetes, clubs and knives set upon their Muslim neighbors.

Rioters have killed scores of people here, mostly Muslims, after burning their homes, businesses and mosques in the worst violence yet linked to the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad first published in a Danish newspaper...

The main thoroughfare leading into the city across the Niger River was covered in carrion - the bodies of Muslim Hausas trying to flee rampaging bands of youths, witnesses said. Many of the victims appeared to have been beaten to death; most of the bodies had been doused with gasoline and burned...

...At the central mosque, rioters burned the building and hacked down trees.

Someone wrote in chalk on a charred wall: "Jesus is Lord. As from today know more Muhammad."

Thousands of Muslim residents fled the city, some on foot over the bridge leading to Delta state, taking refuge in neighboring cities. Thousands more huddled in police and army barracks in Onitsha and surrounding towns...
What makes this situation even more disturbing is that we hear absolutely no condemnation of Akinola's fanning of the flames of violence from the leadership of the Anglican Communion, even though the Archbishop of Canterbury received a letter from volunteers serving in Nigeria asking him to censure Abp. Akinola for his role in the riots:

A COALITION of volunteers in Nigeria has written an open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury asking him to denounce last week's "irresponsible" statement by the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, on the current Christian-Muslim riots.

Archbishop Akinola, writing as president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), had warned Muslims that "they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation. . . . CAN may no longer be able to contain our restive youths should this ugly trend continue."

The volunteers say this "aggressive and inflammatory rhetoric" will incite further violence...
Returning to Stephen Bates' column:

...This of course is the archbishop who has just ostentatiously praised the Nigerian government for introducing draconian and inhumane legislation against homosexuals, thereby breaking that great holy writ of conservative evangelicals, Lambeth 1.10...
From Abp. Akinola:

The Church commends the law-makers for their prompt reaction to outlaw same-sex relationships in Nigeria and calls for the bill to be passed since the idea expressed in the bill is the moral position of Nigerians regarding human sexuality...
Dr. Williams received a letter regarding this situation as well:

...We understand that the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council is meeting in London in March 2006. We ask that you bring this matter to the attention of the Standing Committee and the Councils of the Anglican Communion. In particular:

We ask that attention be paid to those members of the Councils who are failing to honour the documents and statements agreed by those Councils to listen to the experience of lesbian and gay people...
So far, Canterbury has been silent. However, the U.S. Department of State has not:

The United States is concerned by reports of legislation in Nigeria that would restrict or prohibit citizens from assembling, organizing, holding events or rallies, and participating in ceremonies of religious union, based upon sexual orientation and gender identity. This proposed legislation has not been adopted.

The freedoms of speech, association, expression, assembly, and religion are long-standing international commitments and are universally recognized. Nigeria, as a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has assumed important obligations on these matters. We expect the Government of Nigeria to act in a manner consistent with those obligations.
The administration of George W. Bush, not exactly known as champions of civil rights, denounces Nigeria, but Rowan Williams utters not a word. We live in bizarre times.

I'll let Stephen Bates have the last word:

...Now these men have all been very hot on western decadence. They want the American Episcopal Church, and especially Gene Robinson, banned from the next Lambeth Conference, though I don’t think Robinson has ever threatened violence against anyone.

All I know is that if Rowan Williams bans the bishop of New Hampshire but extends invitations to men such as Akinola, Malango and Kunonga, Anglicanism will have ceased to be a communion worthy of the name. It will be, to coin a phrase, spiritually dead.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Sexual Ethics and Scripture

From Walter Wink:

The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is simply that the Bible has no sexual ethic. There is no biblical sex ethic. Instead it exhibits a variety of sexual mores, some of which changed over the thousand-year span of biblical history. Mores are unreflective customs accepted by a given community. Many of the practices that the Bible prohibits, we allow, and many that it allows, we prohibit. The Bible only knows a love ethic, which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual mores are dominant in any given country, culture, or period.

The very notion of a "sex ethic" reflects the materialism and splitness of modern life, in which we increasingly define our identity sexually. Sexuality cannot be separated off from the rest of life. No sex act is "ethical" in and of itself, without reference to the rest of a person's life, the patterns of the culture, the special circumstances faced, and the will of God. What we have are simply sexual mores, which change, sometimes with startling rapidity, creating bewildering dilemmas. Just within one lifetime we have witness the shift from the ideal of preserving one's virginity until marriage, to couples living together for several years before getting married. The response of many Christians is merely to long for the hypocrisies of an earlier era.
Wink offers us some specific examples in support of the above statement:

...virtually all modern readers would agree with the Bible in rejecting:
  • incest
  • rape
  • adultery
  • intercourse with animals

    The Bible condemned the following behaviors which we generally allow:
  • intercourse during menstruation
  • celibacy
  • exogamy (marriage with non-Jews)
  • naming sexual organs
  • nudity (under certain conditions)
  • masturbation (some Christians still condemn this)
  • birth control (some Christians still forbid this)
  • And the bible regarded semen and menstrual blood as unclean, which most of us do not

    Likewise, the bible permitted behaviors that we today condemn:
  • prostitution
  • polygamy
  • levirate marriage
  • sex with slaves
  • concubinage
  • treatment of women as property
  • very early marriage (for the girl, age 11-13)

    And while the Old Testament accepted divorce, Jesus forbade it. In short, of the sexual mores mentioned here, we only agree with the Bible on four of them, and disagree with it on sixteen!
  • Regarding the specific passages from the bible that are often quoted as evidence against same sex relationships, I offer a long quote from the presentation given by representatives of the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Consultative Council. The presentation, which can be viewed in its entirety online, is entitled To Set Our Hope on Christ.


    ...Two biblical texts that have sometimes been read as condemning same-sex relations are Genesis 19:1-29 and its companion story in Judges 19. Both stories are more about violent attempts to undermine ancient traditions of hospitality through guest rape than they are about same-sex relations. Except for the lone voice of Jude 7, the rest of the Bible comments on the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah as the sin of greed. Ezekiel 16:49 says, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”

    Several other biblical texts (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:10, and Acts 15:28-29) contain vice lists (strings of prohibited behaviors). Written in Greek, the meaning of these words is sometimes contested. Among these words are two that have been interpreted to describe same-sex relations. At least one of the words (malakoi) is so uncertain in its meaning that no solid argument can be based on it one way or the other. The other word (aresenokoitai) is probably a shorthand expression for the prohibition of a man lying with a man as with a woman in Leviticus 18:22.7 These vice lists do not contribute substantially to the debate, but they do point us to a text which does, Leviticus; and they serve at least to underline the importance of Leviticus for several New Testament writers.

    Bearing these points in mind, we turn now to what, in our judgment, are the two most significant biblical sites for the present discussion.

    a. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Leviticus, which is a book about what constitutes holiness, is distinctly relevant to our holiness argument. Moreover, we have an obligation to take seriously the texts which seem to oppose our position. In Leviticus, holiness is not a private thing; the text makes clear that we can only be holy in a community that intends hospitality to God. The challenge in reading Leviticus (or any biblical book) is in its application to our own lives in a different context. For the writers of Leviticus, the issue was about boundary crossing. The sexual prohibitions, like those against cross-breeding cattle, sowing hybrids or sowing different crops in the same field, eating amphibians or wearing clothes made out of wool blended with other materials, are meant to observe the distinctions that God (presumably) established at creation. Holiness is then defined as staying in one’s class, and not mixing or confusing classes of things. One of the major difficulties of applying a text like Leviticus is that although our goals are the same—holiness, offering hospitality to God, living in such a way that God would feel comfortable in our midst— our categories are not the same as those of the biblical authors. For example, we do not see mildew as a problem for a priest to treat with a ritual of purification. Leviticus does.

    The holiness code (Leviticus 18-26) is generally dated to the early exilic period, a century or two later than much of Leviticus. It seems to have been a new synthesis of Torah for the community that survived the destruction of Jerusalem and was now living in exile among the nations. Maintaining Israel’s distinctiveness would be a matter of survival. It is an axiom of sociological studies that pollution/ purity beliefs receive emphasis where social boundaries are precariously maintained.10 The holiness code makes no distinction between ritual and moral regulations, as is especially clear in chapter 19—which follows the chapter on sexual regulations and forms the rhetorical center of the holiness code. The rights of the poor and the duty to the neighbor are listed side by side with the prohibitions about not breeding two different kinds of cattle or wearing clothes made of different kinds of cloth. But even if the text itself makes no distinction, no interpretive community—including orthodox Jews—treat all the commandments with the same weight. The interpretive tradition is a living and growing conversation with the text about where “the density of holiness” lies. Interestingly, Judaism and Christianity have agreed about this: the commandments that help us sift out and interpret the others are those to love God above all else (Deuteronomy 6:4ff) and to love the neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:18). As the scribe says to Jesus in Mark 12, these are far more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.

    b. Romans 1:26-27. When we read in Leviticus or Romans that a specific behavior is proscribed, it is helpful to acknowledge from the first that the biblical writer’s words are neither unclear nor irrelevant. St. Paul, as a first century Jewish male steeped in the tradition that includes Leviticus, was strongly opposed to same-sex relations even though he had reversed his position with respect to the issue of Gentile holiness. If we had Paul here, we might legitimately press him about the logic that crosses one boundary but not another. Since Paul wrote his letters expecting to have to defend his arguments, that approach is neither far-fetched nor unfaithful. Paul himself invites his readers to “discern for yourselves” (1 Corinthians 11) what is natural or unnatural, the very issue which is at stake in Romans 1. Paul also seems to have thought that long hair for men is “unnatural” while it is “natural” for women. While Paul’s letters had the status of advice from a trusted apostle, the members of his churches who received them probably felt free to argue with him about what was natural and what was unnatural. But now, as a result of the canonization of his letters, they have become Scripture for us and we honor them appropriately. Does this mean we can no longer engage Paul as if he were a living conversation partner? We do not believe so. As Jesus himself argued against the Sadducees in Mark 12, God is the God of the living. Like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Paul is alive in the Lord and very present in the current debates of the Church.

    It is useful to speculate about where Paul might be on these issues today, given his unusual and brave commitments to Gentiles, women, and slaves in his own day. The logic of Paul’s letters as a whole stands in some tension with the specific words he wrote in Romans 1. Paul’s subject in Romans 1:18ff is the way idolatry leads to many other kinds of sinful acts. That is the most important point of Romans 1, and we might well ask ourselves what forms of idolatry endanger us today: militarism? consumerism? wealth, status, or power? Perhaps whatever we most obsess about may become idolatrous. Thus the Wisdom of Solomon 14:12 and other texts suggest that the first sin, idolatry, leads to all the others and sexual immorality is an easy example. But it is not the only example: Paul’s vice list at the end of the chapter includes a wide range of other equally serious sins, some much more serious than sexual activity between those of the same gender. In fact the point of the list seems to be that all of humanity, having engaged in one or more of these sins, is radically dependent on the grace of God. He also warns us that passing judgment on the sins of others is itself a participation in the sin of idolatry, since it usurps God’s role as judge. St. Paul picks up this theme in Romans 14- 15 when some members of the community are judging and despising others who disagree with them, encouraging us to read Romans 1 and Romans 14-15 together...

    Religious Tolerance has compiled some good information on these particular verses, including both conservative and liberal interpretations of the texts.

    Personally, I'm getting a bit weary of all this focus on the bible. Until those who accuse me of "rejecting the bible" admit that they also engage in some "picking and choosing" in their selection of the verses they consider authoritative today, we have nothing more to talk about. Beyond that, the "sola scriptura" approach to the Christian faith has always seemed theologically dangerous to me, for the reasons which follow, offered by William Countryman in his comments about the Windsor Report:

    The Report rightly adds that the authority of scripture always points beyond itself to the authority of God. It can never substitute for the latter. To treat scripture as if it were the very voice of God in the present moment is to commit the favorite sin of the religious: idolatry. Idolatry takes some good gift of God and treats it as if God were so fully involved in it that one can no longer tell the two apart. This is what we are doing when we assume that the bible, by itself, can provide us with complete and unproblematic access to the authority of God here and now - the idea that a single text or a short catena of texts can resolve complex problems like the ones Anglicans are now debating.

    Monday, March 06, 2006

    Anglican Consultative Council Chair Offers Apology

    The Rt. Rev. John Paterson spoke at the opening session of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church on March 6. In his comments, he offered an apology for the ACC's decision to "limit the participation of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada's delegations to the last ACC meeting in Nottingham, England in June 2005":

    ...I was saddened personally by what took place at ACC13 in Nottingham. I chaired the session at which a vote was taken to “endorse the Primates' request that 'in order to recognise the integrity of all parties, the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the ACC, for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference'”. Your representatives were not permitted to speak or to vote on that resolution. It was carried by two votes. The effect of it was to ostracise the American and Canadian representatives, who were forced to live apart and walk apart. I apologise and at the same time I commend your representatives for the manner in which they managed somehow to stay with the body which was treating them so badly. There was a dignity in their bearing in the midst of their sadness and the Episcopal Church can be quietly proud of your people. Nevertheless, it happened on my watch, and this is my personal apology...
    Bishop Paterson also offers a good explanation as to why some of us find the exclusion of the Episcopal Church at the last ACC meeting quite outrageous:

    ...The fact that the Lambeth Commission on Communion was asked to report to the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose office is itself one of the Instruments of Unity, 'in preparation for the ensuing meetings of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council' yet has found that the Instrument which happened to meet first, has taken steps to recommend that the Instrument which was to meet subsequently can only meet without its full membership, is at least slightly premature, if not coercive and somewhat punitive. A body which exists by means of a constitution agreed to by all the member churches of the Anglican Communion, and that is required by that constitution to be 'consultative' cannot consult fully or properly if all of its members are not sitting at the same table. It is surely not for one Instrument of Unity to disempower another?
    For those who haven't been following the Anglican saga closely, let me clarify the bishop's point; The Primates (the lead bishops of the various provinces of the Anglican Communion) met before the Anglican Consultative Council (the only "Instrument of Unity" that is not made up of only bishops)to consider the Windsor Report. In the Primates' Communique, they demanded that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada "voluntarily withdraw" from the Anglican Consultative Council. Thus, by the time the ACC met, the Primates had already made the decision to expel the North Americans. Obviously, in the Primates' mind, some "Instrument of Unity" are more equal than others.

    Bishop Paterson continues by commending the Episcopal Church:

    ...My next word is one of commendation. Along with a number of others in the Communion, I take the view that the Episcopal Church thus far has been exemplary in the attention that you have given to the recommendations of The Windsor Report. Of course you have your General Convention soon, and that body will make up its own mind about these matters. The process of reception is moving along, and at considerable cost to your own ministry and mission the Episcopal Church has acted carefully and well. I hope that the call in The Windsor Report for all Provinces to exercise generosity and charity as the process gathers pace does not go unheeded. Those qualities are yet to be shown by some...
    Bishop Paterson seems to be advocating for acceptance of the Windsor Report:

    ...For all its imperfections, The Windsor Report is the document before the Communion, with suggestions for a way ahead. I hope the General Convention debates it rigorously, and then generously shares its conclusions with the Churches of the Communion...
    At best, the Windsor Report might be considered the beginning of a conversation. But it is such a terribly flawed document that I cannot imagine it being affirmed by the Episcopal Church without drastic revisions.

    As a side note, in regards to the Windsor Report, the Diocese of New Jersey held their 222nd Convention last weekend. Out of six proposed resolutions, four were passed. The two resolutions proposed by the Network (I assume that they were from the Network, as much of the wording was lifted from resolutions proposed in the Diocese of Pittsburgh last November) were defeated. The following resolution regarding the Windsor Report passed by a large majority:

    RESOLUTION 2006-4:
    Subject: On the Windsor Report
    Resolved, That the 222nd Convention of the Diocese of New Jersey acknowledge with gratitude the conscientious efforts of the Lambeth Commission on Communion, reflected in The Windsor Report 2004; and be it

    Further resolved, That this Diocesan Convention urge the clergy, laity, and congregations of the Diocese to give thoughtful and prayerful study to The Windsor Report, its recommendations, and the varied responses already made to it; and be it

    Further resolved, That this Diocesan Convention encourage all Episcopalians to engage in honest conversation on the issues involved; and be it

    Further resolved, That this Diocesan Convention encourage members of the Diocese to communicate their views on the issues to the Clergy and Lay Deputies to the 2006 General Convention.

    Submitted by: The Rev'd Frank B. Crumbaugh, III, Rector, Holy Innocents' Church, Beach Haven; the Rev'd Gregory A. Bezilla, Chaplain, St. Michael's Chapel, Rutgers University, Piscataway; the Rev'd Lisa S. Mitchell, Rector, Christ Church, Shrewsbury; the Rev'd Ronald N. Pollock, Rector, St. John’s Church, Somerville; and the Rev’d Terry Martin, Vicar, Church of the Holy Spirit, Tuckerton

    Statement in Support of Resolution 2006-4 by Proposers:
    The Archbishop of Canterbury established the Lambeth Commission on Communion in October 2003, requesting "consideration of ways in which communion and understanding could be enhanced where serious differences threatened the life of a diverse worldwide Church." The Report of the Commission, entitled The Windsor Report, is significant in its contribution to the ongoing conversations about the present and future of the Anglican Communion.

    The Windsor Report has many ideas and proposals which may affect our common life to- gether as Anglicans. These ideas and proposals are the beginning of a conversation regarding the future of Anglicanism. They are not necessarily the final word. They need to be thoughtfully and prayerfully considered before being accepted or rejected.

    Responses to the Windsor Report and its recommendations have been made by scholars in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. We recommend the following responses as resources to inform the conversation among the members of the Diocese of New Jersey: Understanding the Windsor Report, by Ian Douglas and Paul Zahl (Church Publishing Inc. 2005); The Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2005, Vol. 87, No. 4 (Ellen Wondra, ed.); "To Set Our Hope on Christ": A Response to the Invitation of Windsor Report ¶ 135 (
    I'll have more to say about Diocesan Convention once the final draft of the resolutions becomes available. What are your thoughts on Bishop Paterson's statement?