Monday, June 30, 2008

The Danger of Impatient Weeding

This is the closing thought from the Archbishop of Canterbury's response to the Gafconites:

...I have in the past quoted to some in the Communion who would call themselves radical the words of the Apostle in I Cor.11.33: ‘wait for one another’. I would say the same to those in whose name this statement has been issued. An impatience at all costs to clear the Lord’s field of the weeds that may appear among the shoots of true life (Matt.13.29) will put at risk our clarity and effectiveness in communicating just those evangelical and catholic truths which the GAFCON statement presents.
Here is the explanantion of the parable of the weeds which Dr. Williams' mentioned:

Jesus' disciples approached him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field." He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
(Matthew 13:36b-43.)
“The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.” For impatient beings such as ourselves, this is a tough message. Even though we see the weeds choking the life out of the wheat, we can’t pull up the weeds. We have to be patient, and wait on the timing of God. In regards to both the wheat and the weeds alike, the message is clear...hands off.

But, we are impulsive people. We see an obviously ugly and evil weed throttling the life out of a golden stalk of wheat stretching toward the sun, and with a shout, we run into the field with our axe, and hack away at the root of the wicked weed. We wrench it from the ground, holding it aloft, expecting to hear the applause of God for our good deed. All we hear is silence. We trudge away, confused, but confident that this day we have been about our Father’s business. We seem not to notice that our path is littered with broken stalks of wheat, the innocent vicitms of our zealous attack.

Somehow, we humans seem to have gotten the idea that we can surgically remove sin and evil from the world without involving the rest of creation. I think this erroneous thinking is why we finite beings are not the reapers of this harvest. We don’t see the big picture. Our tiny minds cannot fathom the intricate interelatedness of the created realm. We cannot be trusted to weed the crop, because we are blind to the fact that few things are totally good or totally bad.

Jesus preached the nearness of God’s harvest. He met resistance at every turn, but refused to take up the axe of judgement. Jesus continued to forgive, and to call for repentence, a change of heart. Jesus calls us to be patient. The time of the harvest will arrive, and there will be a speparation of the weeds and the wheat. But it must happen in God’s time, not ours. We must be patient.

If God were to step in right now and destroy all evil, do we think that any of us would remain unscathed? Who would be left if God stamped out all selfishness, greed, hate, and violence? No one. God is patient with us, therefore we can be patient with others.

This parable from Jesus does say something I think it is essential that we all hear; always beware of sinners judging other sinners. Good and evil exist side by side, not only in the world, but within each one of us as well. As Carl Jung once pointed out, “The brighter the halo, the smellier the feet.”

This patience does not mean we turn a blind eye to sin and evil in this world. Jesus counsels patience, but Jesus also sensitizes our consciences and makes us aware of evil in ourselves and others. Jesus exposed and confronted sin as we should. We might confront evil, in ourselves and others. We may even be able to make this world a safer place, for the time being. This parable reminds us not to be fooled, though. We will never eradicate all the weeds. We might one day catch Bin Laden and bring him to justice, but we will not eliminate global terrorism. Only God can heal the falleness of creation.

The wisdom of Jesus' counsel also reveals that some of the crusading efforts to eliminate sin, and what some perceive as sin, in our churches may tend to tear up and destroy more than they create. This place we are called to live and witness in is not some kind of spiritual vacuum. It is a world made up of wonderfully good things, and good people, as well as atrociously bad ones, and every combination in between. This knowledge should free us from both indifference and fanatacism, and increase our capacity for toleration. We are free to resist evil without needing to take on the role of God.

The wheat never stifles growth. The wheat endures the weeds. We are called to show the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Let us lift our heads towards God, nurtured by the assurance that the harvest will come, and one day, we will all shine like the sun in the Kingdom.


Canterbury Responds to the Gafconites

From the Archbishop of Canterbury:

...A ‘Primates’ Council’ which consists only of a self-selected group from among the Primates of the Communion will not pass the test of legitimacy for all in the Communion...
After many years of scheming, and at least four years of activism, this group has not gotten what they wanted. So, they created their own new authority, consisting of 6 Primates out of 37. As Dr. Williams' points out, the problem these gentlemen now face is that few, if any, of the other leaders in the Communion are going to consider their authority to be legitimate.
...And any claim to be free to operate across provincial boundaries is fraught with difficulties, both theological and practical – theological because of our historic commitments to mutual recognition of ministries in the Communion, practical because of the obvious strain of responsibly exercising episcopal or primatial authority across enormous geographical and cultural divides.

Two questions arise at once about what has been proposed. By what authority are Primates deemed acceptable or unacceptable members of any new primatial council? And how is effective discipline to be maintained in a situation of overlapping and competing jurisdictions?

No-one should for a moment impute selfish or malicious motives to those who have offered pastoral oversight to congregations in other provinces; these actions, however we judge them, arise from pastoral and spiritual concern. But one question has repeatedly been raised which is now becoming very serious: how is a bishop or primate in another continent able to discriminate effectively between a genuine crisis of pastoral relationship and theological integrity, and a situation where there are underlying non-theological motivations at work? We have seen instances of intervention in dioceses whose leadership is unquestionably orthodox simply because of local difficulties of a personal and administrative nature. We have also seen instances of clergy disciplined for scandalous behaviour in one jurisdiction accepted in another, apparently without due process. Some other Christian churches have unhappy experience of this problem and it needs to be addressed honestly.
One example involving overlapping jurisdictions and clergy discipline that we should all recall would be the case of Don Armstrong, who was found guilty of theft by an eclesiastical court, but jumped to Nigeria the same day the evidence against him was made public.

I do indeed "impute selfish or malicious motives" to some of those foreign bishops  (and their followers, such as Mr. Armstrong) who pillage North American congregations . Yes, there are indeed "underlying non-theological motivations at work," unless one wants to include monetary gains as a theological motivation.

Continuing with Dr. Williams' statement:

...It is not enough to dismiss the existing structures of the Communion. If they are not working effectively, the challenge is to renew them rather than to improvise solutions that may seem to be effective for some in the short term but will continue to create more problems than they solve. This challenge is one of the most significant focuses for the forthcoming Lambeth Conference. One of its major stated aims is to restore and deepen confidence in our Anglican identity. And this task will require all who care as deeply as the authors of the statement say they do about the future of Anglicanism to play their part...
For these 6 Primates to attempt to cut the authority of Canterbury out of the equation, and still call themselves "Anglicans," is simply absurd. As Susan pointed out, Dr. Williams continues to issue invitations to Lambeth, chair the Primates' Meeting and preside over the Anglican Consultative Council. That is the legitimate authority, if the Gafconites like it or not. And the changes happen from within, not by making up your own structures that intend to function as nothing more than a subversive element.

Regarding the false witness that the Gafconites and other extremists continue to make against their brothers and sisters in Christ, Dr. Williams had this to say:

...I believe that it is wrong to assume we are now so far apart that all those outside the GAFCON network are simply proclaiming another gospel. This is not the case; it is not the experience of millions of faithful and biblically focused Anglicans in every province. What is true is that, on all sides of our controversies, slogans, misrepresentations and caricatures abound. And they need to be challenged in the name of the respect and patience we owe to each other in Jesus Christ...
A good statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, it seems to me.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

GAFCON Statement: More Lies to Justify Thefts

You can find the statement here.

They repeat the same old lies about the North Americans, for which these folks claiming to be Christians should be ashamed. Then they claim that the litmus test for membership will include the 39 Articles (which excludes Anglo-Catholics and Charismatics) and the 1662 BCP. Nothing very unexpected there. Then they finally get around to something slightly new:

Primates’ Council

We, the participants in the Global Anglican Future Conference, do hereby acknowledge the participating Primates of GAFCON who have called us together, and encourage them to form the initial Council of the GAFCON movement. We look forward to the enlargement of the Council and entreat the Primates to organise and expand the fellowship of confessing Anglicans. We urge the Primates’ Council to authenticate and recognise confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations and to encourage all Anglicans to promote the gospel and defend the faith. We recognise the desirability of territorial jurisdiction for provinces and dioceses of the Anglican Communion, except in those areas where churches and leaders are denying the orthodox faith or are preventing its spread, and in a few areas for which overlapping jurisdictions are beneficial for historical or cultural reasons. We thank God for the courageous actions of those Primates and provinces who have offered orthodox oversight to churches under false leadership, especially in North and South America. The actions of these Primates have been a positive response to pastoral necessities and mission opportunities. We believe that such actions will continue to be necessary and we support them in offering help around the world.

We believe this is a critical moment when the Primates’ Council will need to put in place structures to lead and support the church. In particular, we believe the time is now ripe for the formation of a province in North America for the federation currently known as Common Cause Partnership to be recognised by the Primates’ Council...
After stating that they will not recognize the authority of Anglican leaders with whom they disagree (clearly identified as the North Americans), they then create their own new authority; half a dozen Primates who apparently think they can trump canon law, secular law, General Convention, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates meeting and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Pretty bold, eh? But sorry, fellas, no dice. Your repeated false witness against those who are intended to be your brothers and sisters in Christ reveals your true colors. The evidence suggests the possibility that you may be simply scoundrels dressed up in fancy vestments justifiying your theft of other people's property.

I hope that by your actions you will prove me wrong. I hope you will see the error of your ways and repent. Stop the lies. Stop the thefts. And perhaps show at least a little compassion towards the victims of rape and torture in your own backyards. Then maybe we can talk.


UPDATE: A comment by Jim Naughton is worth repeating here:

Step back from the details of this particular document for a moment, and consider the nature of GAFCON. It has brought together bishops from some of the poorest countries on Earth to deliver the residents of some of the richest suburbs in America from living in a Church to which they cannot dictate terms. Zimbabwe is on fire. Darfur is bleeding. Ethnic strife and pandemic disease rage across the African continent while these bishops devote themselves to rescuing the Episcopalians of Orange County, California and Fairfax County, Virginia from persecution that does not exist. And how will they achieve this? By calling the world to faith in the Gospel as it was delivered to them by representatives of an empire that conquered their homelands, stole their resources and denied their ancestors even the most basic human rights.

One doesn’t know whether to laugh or weep.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Presbyterians Vote to End LGBT Discrimination

From SFGate:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), bitterly divided over sexuality and the Bible, set up another confrontation Friday over its ban on ordaining non-celibate gays and lesbians.

The denomination's General Assembly, meeting in San Jose, Calif., voted 54 percent to 46 percent Friday to drop the requirement that would-be ministers, deacons and elders live in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between and a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness."

The proposed change to the church constitution requires approval from a majority the nation's 173 presbyteries, or regional church bodies — a yearlong process that has proven to be a barrier to similar efforts in the past.

Of equal importance to advocates on both side of the debate, the assembly also voted to allow gay and lesbian candidates for ordination to conscientiously object to the existing standard. Local presbyteries and church councils that approve ordinations would consider such requests on a case-by-case basis.

That vote was an "an authoritative interpretation" of the church constitution rather than a change to it, so it goes into effect immediately. The interpretation supersedes a ruling from the church's high court, issued in February, that said there were no exceptions to the so-called "fidelity and chastity" requirement...
The Lead points us to a press release from More Light Presbyterians:

More Light Presbyterians said a decision today by the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to lift its ban on ordination for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons is good news for Presbyterians and Christians across the country and world.

“This is a great moment affirming God’s love for all people. We are thankful to the Commissioners at this Assembly who upheld standards for leadership and service in our Church, and at the same time eliminated categorical discrimination that has denied ordination to LGBT persons based simply on who they are and who they fall in love with,” said Michael J. Adee, Executive Director and Field Organizer for the organization.

The action by the General Assembly removes G.60106b from its Book of Order, the Constitution which governs the Church and replaces it with new language. Formerly, it required fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness to be eligible for ordination as deacons, elders or ministers.

“The intent of this standard, passed over a decade ago, was to bar LGBT persons from full membership and service in our Church since marriage equality is not yet available to most in our country,” Adee said.

New language passed by the General Assembly reaffirms historic standards of the Church that focus on faith and character which has withstood the test of time, and did not exclude anyone based on sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status...
Yesterday, General Assembly voted to restore the Heidelberg Catechism to its original language:

...After rejection of the minority report and extended debate, the Assembly voted with a strong 60% majority to restore the Heidelberg Catechism to its historic accuracy which did not include a reference to "homosexual perversion"...
These changes will still have to be approved by a vote of the presbyteries, so it's not over yet. But this good beginning is certainly reason for rejoicing.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Positive Fallout From Anglican Crisis

From the Rev. Astrid Storm, vicar of the Church of St. Nicholas-on-the-Hudson in New Hamburg, New York:

...You'd never guess from all this that, on the local level, many of us are experiencing positive fallout from the current crises in the Communion. For one, people are a lot more curious about and knowledgeable of the Anglican Communion than before. There's also a greater appreciation of our identity as Episcopalians, even among people who don't agree with all the goings-on but can appreciate a church that's at least brave enough to discuss such matters.

But most significantly, I've noticed an increased interest in establishing meaningful connections with other members of the Communion. Along these lines, my parish recently joined a program called Carpenter's Kids, which links parishes in the Diocese of New York to the Diocese of Central Tanganyika. Similarly, several people have also expressed a desire to revive a partnership we formed years ago with the Diocese of Haiti.

Curious to know if the same was happening in other parishes, I floated an email to the priests in my diocese, and got quite a number of responses affirming that it was. The Rev. Alison Quin, of Christ the King Episcopal Church in Stone Ridge New York, wrote "I think there is an effort to strengthen ties even as the politics seem to be pulling us apart. Our parish recently started raising funds for an orphanage in South Africa. It's almost as though the connection has all the more meaning now that it is under threat -- I think being a world wide communion was something most Episcopalians simply took for granted." Several other priests expressed similar sentiments, and almost all who responded agreed that the effects of the crisis in their parishes were mostly positive for all the reasons I'm finding in my own parish...
That's been my experience as well. In this neck of the woods, when in collar, most folks assume I'm Roman Catholic. When they find out I'm an Episcopal priest, not only do more seem to know what such a creature is than in the past, they are curious to know more about us. Within the congregation, I can never recalled talking so much about the Anglican Communion in response to questions in all of my 18 years as an ordained person.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to God's purpose.


Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade

The annual Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade was held today, to the consternation of 1,000 conservative Anglicans meeting elsewhere in the city. From Iain Baxter:
...I am marching in the Jerusalem pride march today because, as a Christian, I believe that Jesus came to set people free from legalism, that God loves us just as we are. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind". And the second was like it: "Love your neighbour as yourself."

We are marching to claim the right to love; the right to be loved by our parents and families for who we are and to share our love for them; the right to love and care for our children and others who need our help; the right to love one another, and have that love acknowledged and regarded; and for those of us who are believers, the right to know and share God's love.

We are the lucky ones, we are free to march and live our lives. In many, many, countries around the world, including many in which Anglican church leaders are powerful politically, as well as religious leaders, such as Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya, people are still harassed, arrested, tortured and killed for their failure to love the right person; their failure to be a "real man" or "real woman". We are all real people, made in the image of God. That is why it is such a privilege for me to march in Jerusalem...
The Lead has links to more stories about this unusual sharing of venues.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

An Infamous Dominionist Spotted at GAFCON

Ruth Gledhill spotted a well know player in the ongoing Anglican saga; none other than the avenging angel of the religious right himself, Howard Ahmanson.

You don't recognize that name? Maybe this 2003 report from the Guardian will refresh your memory. Or this Special Report by Jim Naughton entitled Following the Money. Or our previous discussions of this man, to be found here, here and here.

I'll attempt a brief summary:

Howard Ahmanson was a member of St. James Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, CA. His rector was David Anderson.

St. James, Newport Beach was one of the earliest parishes to claim allegiance to a foreign bishop. That property case is still working its way through the courts.

David "I like a good fight" Anderson left St. James, Newport Beach to launch the American Anglican Council, partially bankrolled by Howard Ahmanson.

Before joining up with Anderson, Ahmanson was a previous disciple of the infamous Rousas John Rushdoony. You may recall that Rushdoony was the grandfather of the Dominionists, who advocated for, among other things, capital punishment for all gays and lesbians.

Howard Ahmanson turns out to have been the primary contributor of the AAC during its early years. He pledged $200,000 annually to the organization (and much more, according to Jim Naughton's research). There was discussion regarding adding his name to the letterhead of the AAC, but cooler heads prevailed. It would not be wise to allow such a blatant connection between the AAC and an extremist. Instead, Roberta Ahmanson, Howard's wife, was appointed to the board of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

The IRD shared a suite of offices in Washington DC with the AAC for many years. For all intents and purposes, they functioned as one organization, sharing a mailing address and wealthy sponsors. The IRD is notorious among most of the mainline denominations as advocates for conservative movements, with their clear agenda being to be a subversive element, until they can get their own right wing candidates in positions of authority within the Presbyterian, Methodist and Episcopal churches. The IRD lost much of their credibility after the CEPAD affair, in which their zealous anti-communist position is suspected of costing the lives of some missionaries in Nicaragua.

The American Anglican Council became the Anglican Communion Network, the primary group behind the attempted coup, in which they hoped to replace TEC. The Network is now in the process of morphing once again, this time into Common Cause, a coalition of extremists from many different break-away groups, some of whom use the term "Anglican," although they have never been recognized by Canterbury.

David Anderson is now a Nigerian Bishop. And Howard Ahmanson shows up at GAFCON, wearing a "delegate" badge. Imagine that. Now we at least know where Nigeria found the funds to fly all those Bishops to Jerusalem.

The Lead has more on this, and concludes with a good question:

...So here's a question for Archbishop Akinola. It's said that you "raised $1.2 million in three weeks for the conference [and your] church even subsidized the attendance of a number of Americans." Where did you get that money?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Schism Has Been Postponed

Yesterday, Ruth Gledhill offered this report from GAFCON:
Several of the bishops in the audience in Jerusalem last night are drawing up secret plans to form a “Church within a Church” in an attempt to counter Western liberalism and reform the Church from within...

...The aim is not to split with the worldwide Anglican Communion, which counts 80 million members in 38 provinces, but to reform it from within.

Formal ties will be maintained with the Archbishop of Canterbury but fellowship members will consider themselves out of communion with provinces such as the US and Canada.

Members of the fellowship could attempt to opt out of the pastoral care of their diocesan bishop and seek oversight from a more conservative archbishop, either from their own country or abroad.

The success of the fellowship in averting schism will depend on the response of the local leadership...
Jim Naughton clarifies what most likely caused such a shift in goals:
...So the leaders of GAFCON are attempting to dress up strategic failure as the dawning of a new phase of their march toward victory, hoping that the media will bite. After five years of schismatic maneuvering, they have said, in effect, that they will associate closely with some Anglicans while trying to make life miserable for others--a state of affairs in no way different today than it was last month, last year or last decade...
Tobias Haller has come to a similar conclusion, while reminding us that postponing the schism is going to play havoc with the plans of one of our local break away groups:
...The leaders also appear to be grasping that the revolution and reformation of Anglicanism is going to take longer than they thought. Rather than a turning point, GAFCON will be the continuation of more of the same, as the leaders continue to work from within at the glorious reform of the Anglican Communion. Perhaps they are realizing at long last that there is not the impetus for a split they may have thought there was. As the whole independence effort by CANA in Virginia was to prove there was a “division” in the Anglican Communion (and The Episcopal Church) — after all, the judge said so, so it must be true! — the language of “working from within” will be of little solace to those who were, quite literally, banking on a split...
Mark Harris suspects this temporary backing away from schism may be part of a more long-range plan to grab the entire Anglican "franchise":
...So I don't buy the notion that the realignment gang is opting for a more modest option...not yet. The take over of the Anglican Communion is a long term process and if the realignment crowd must rest a while in the world of accommodation, where it claims to be a fellowship of real Anglicans within the shell of the remnants of the old, so be it.

But that fellowship will be working to remake the Anglican Communion into a world wide church with a head elected by a curia (read Primates) who will for sure demand to be representative of blocks of people, so that in effect the Global South Primates group will dictate the terms of office and elect the Metropolitan. They will work for a Covenant with a clear disciplinary code and separate out the sheep from the goats early on - don't sign don't come. From the front end they will exact an entry fee consisting of agreement to a statement of belief, or a covenant, or some other screening device...
Today, Riazat Butt  reports that Peter Jensen of Sydney, who seems to be emerging as the leader of the GAFCONites, has confirmed that there will be no schism in the near future:
...Jensen is seen at the conference as the bridge between the hardline conservatives who want nothing to do with liberal churches in the US and Canada and those who wish to stay in the communion despite profound ideological differences over the ordination of gay clergy. It is agreed among the clutch of westerners at the conference that the real power will lie with the Australian delegates, not those from Africa...

...He also expressed doubts about the long-term prospects for Gafcon. "This is a coalition of people who would not necessarily work together. Will it work? We don't know." He insisted there was not a schism, but confirmed that there would a "structure within a structure", which would allow clergy and congregations to opt out of liberal churches and join more conservative groups.
I tend to agree with Mark's take on what is happening. Quite possibly the strategy has shifted from schism to going after the whole Anglican "franchise." I don't think it is going to work, any more than it did back when David Anderson was using the same line about TEC.

I suspect that they know such an attempted coup is not going to work, but they hope this ploy will keep their supporters in line by dangling a "new" strategy on which to hang their hopes (even though it is really a continuation of an "old" strategy, slightly repackaged).  They hope this will buy them some time, maybe a decade or so, to get their ducks in a row.  They can  continue their plum picking forays in North America, until the time is finally right to form some new denomination which will be free of gay cooties.

It could make the next few years "more of the same," which is unfortunate, although the longer this is prolonged, the  fewer Anglicans who will be left that agree with their take on things. In twenty years, not too many folks will still be listening to rhetoric that is so obviously the last gasp of a dying world view.

I'll let this Guardian editiorial have the last word:
...The issue on which all of this currently hinges is the status of openly gay people. Over the past half century, civil society in many parts of the world, including ours, has broken free from the long tradition of hostility and discrimination against gay people - and both society and individual lives are immeasurably the better for it. Now, inevitably and rightly, the same process is taking place in the churches, with pressure for the election of openly gay clergy and bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions. In the past, the church has managed such issues by covering them up. But on this issue in these times, that is no longer possible.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has battled to hold both his church and the wider communion together in the face of these pressures. That is one of his jobs - and it has not been a dishonourable effort. Yet it seems clear that it has only delayed an inevitable - and ultimately necessary - confrontation over this issue. Dr Williams has not, contrary to the views of Archishop Akinola, led the church into this. But, now that it is coming, he has a profound responsibility to lead the church out of it, happily and without fear. The question facing Anglicans - and facing other religious groups too - is whether theirs is a faith that is loving enough to treat gay people as equals. If the communion cannot hold together in the face of this question, then so be it. Unity matters as long as the cause is a good one. If the cause is not good, then maybe nor is the unity...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Is Torture Godly?

I'm currently reading Everything Must Change; Jesus, Global Crisis, and a Revolution of Hope by Brian McLaren. I just read a paragraph that succinctly describes something that has troubled me for some time. It has to do with how some Christians speak of the end times, specifically, a particular understanding of the Second Coming of Christ made popular by the Left Behind series, which depicts Jesus as the new Rambo.

Here is Brian's insight:
...Far from being an esoteric and speculative distraction, our beliefs about the end toward which things are moving profoundly and practically shape our present behavior. This is especially true in regard to violence and war, and is one of the reasons many of us have been increasingly critical in recent years of popular American eschatology in general, and conventional views of hell in particular. Simply put, if we believe that God will ultimately enforce his will by forceful domination, and will eternally torture all who resist that domination, then torture and domination become not only permissible but in some way godly. The implication for, say, military policy (not to mention church politics) are not hard to imagine...

...If we remain charmed by this kind of eschatology, we will be forced to see the nonviolence of the Jesus of the Gospels as a kind of strategic fake-out, like a feigned retreat in war, to be followed up by a crushing blow of so-called redemptive violence in the end. The gentle Jesus of the first coming becomes a kind of trick Jesus, a fake-me-out Messiah, to be replaced by the true jihadist Jesus of the violent second coming...
(Everything Must Change, p. 144)
Because of very strange interpretations of the Revelation to John, torture and violence are seen as tools of God, and so are permissible to be used as tools by God's agents here on earth.

I think Brian is on to something here. Much of the underlying narrative that has shaped the recent history of our nation suddenly becomes quite clear.


US Religion Landscape Survey

Driving home from a meeting this afternoon, I heard about the latest Pew Forum Survey on NPR. After doing some yard work (my weekly "day off' chore), I sat down to take a closer look at it. It is quite interesting.

Some of you may have already looked it over, as The Lead already has a story up about it (that team over there is fast!). Even though it may now be redundant, here's a few items from the survey that I found particularly fascinating:

92% of Americans believe in some concept of God.

70% of Americans believe that many religions can lead to eternal life (83% of the members of all mainline churches believe this).

68% of all Americans believe there is more than one way to interpret the teachings of their religion (82% of the members of mainline churches).

33% believe their sacred texts are the Word of God, to be taken literally, word for word; 30% believe they are the Word of God, but not to be read literally; and 28% believe they are written by men, and are not the Word of God.

Go see what you can find in this survey.


Primates of Nigeria and Uganda; In Denial or Simply Lying?

Here is a purported quote from yesterday's GAFCON press conference:
Iain Baxter of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement: "Don't you feel the gospel is compromised by bishops who support jailing gay people in their countries?"

Abp. Peter Akinola of Nigeria: "I am not aware of any."
Oh really? Shall we refresh the Archbishop's memory?

Here are some of Abp. Akinola's previous public statements in support of Nigeria's proposed legislation intended to incarcerate all gays in Nigeria:

From February 2006:
The Bill against Homosexuality:

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.
From September 2006:
Human Sexuality

The Church affirms our commitment to the total rejection of the evil of homosexuality which is a perversion of human dignity and encourages the National Assembly to ratify the Bill prohibiting the legality of homosexuality since it is incongruent with the teachings of the Bible, Quran and the basic African traditional values.
Note that Peter Akinola's name appears at the conclusion of both of these documents.

This proposed Nigerian legislation is contrary to Lambeth 1.10, the Windsor Report, as well as the policy of the US Department of State.

Abp. Akinola's claim that he is not aware of this legislation is more than a bit disingenuous, it seems to me.

Iain also asked about the Archbishops' response to the torture and rape of Prossy Kakooza in Uganda. Riazat Butt has more on their response:
...Akinola did not condemn these acts. Neither did the other African archbishops. Orombi said he had never heard of people being tortured because of their homosexuality, that when he learned about incidents – from the western media – he was at a loss to understand why he had not heard of them. He refused to accept that persecuting and torturing gay people was done openly in Uganda.

It was clear they failed to grasp how homophobic rhetoric from the pulpit led to violence and intimidation, as described by Colin Coward from Changing Attitudes. Still no condemnation was forthcoming. As a follow-up I asked whether the lack of condemnation meant they condoned torture of homosexuals. It took the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, to articulate opposition to all acts of violence towards all people. The Africans didn't even nod in agreement.

Their muteness – either because they did not understand the question or did not understand why they had to issue a condemnation – is a harrowing glimpse of a dogmatic and draconian narrative that has not been explored thoroughly; least of all, it seems, by those who have allied themselves with the populous Anglican churches in Africa...
These are the men who intend to lead whatever it is that is trying to emerge out of GAFCON. Whatever this new thing may be, it is clearly not Anglican. I'm no longer sure if it is even Christian.


UPDATE: Thinking Anglicans now has a transcript of the press conference. Both Akinola and Orombi were even more outrageous than can be seen in the bit I quoted. Go take a look.

Banned in Jesus' Name

Ruth Gledhill provides us with the "No Entry" flier that is being circulated at GAFCON. Pictured are Bp. O'Neil, Davis MacIyalla, Colin Coward, Louie Crew, Susan Russell, Scott Gunn and Deborah and Robert Edmunds. Congratulations to those who have been honored by their placement on such a prestigious list!

Guess I'll have to try harder next time.

Here is their "security plan":

...Should these or any other activists attempt to breach the security around the conference at the Renaissance Hotel in west Jerusalem the 1,000-plus delegates have been instructed to start singing the hymn: 'All hail the power of Jesus' name.'
I wonder who is functioning as their "Bouncers for Jesus"?


Friday, June 20, 2008

GAFCON a Shambles

From George Pitcher, in the Telegraph:
The Global Anglican Future Conference, or GAFCON as it is appropriately abbreviated, has so far been a shambles. Over 100 bishops, principally from the theologically conservative reaches of Africa and the United States, who believe that they understand the mind of God with sufficient intimacy to dictate terms to the rest of the Communion, were meant to gather in Jordan to do their business before transferring this weekend for a week’s pilgrimage in Jerusalem.

As it turns out, the team’s cheerleader, the belligerent Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, was denied entry to Jordan and the conference is having to transfer precipitately to Jerusalem, with its spokespeople stammering about hotel bookings becoming unexpectedly available there. The Anglican Church in Jerusalem, headed by Bishop Suheil Dawani, is a reluctant host to these schismatics, which is why their preliminary meeting was in Jordan in the first place.

It appears that the whole exercise was undertaken remotely and with arrogance, taking little or no regard for local middle-eastern sensibilities over how the presence of a bunch of Evangelical Christian hard-liners would play with painstakingly constructed relationships with local Muslim authorities. The GAFCON caravan will, nevertheless, issue demands and statements...

...None of this will do anything but bemuse Church of England congregations, for whom such remote machinations are, at best, boringly irrelevant. But such congregations will feel a visceral antipathy to being bossed about by what amounts to more of a circus than a conference in the Holy Lands. Dr Williams should be strengthened by that thought ahead of next month’s Lambeth Conference.
What he said.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Jimmy Doyle "Takes the Soup"

From Newsweek:

...I suppose what I took wasn't soup, but it was comfort. I took a life steeped in the mystery and rhythm of the church along with what I hoped was a life with the integrity of being an open, practicing gay man. When I turned to the Episcopal Church, I saw a Christianity that was alive and evolving, one that delighted in difference and saw God's creation in many things, including women and openly gay men serving as priests and bishops. I saw a chance to get past the separation and sanctimony of the more vocal Christian presence in American society, and a challenge to get to the more nuanced and tricky teachings of Christ—loving your neighbor and all that. I hoped to live and worship as I was created, not as I was condemned. And so I took catechism at St. Thomas the Apostle, where the smells and bells made me feel at home, although the challenges of parish life made me want to sleep some Sundays. After six months of classes in the teachings of the Anglican faith, I was "received" into the communion in a high mass attended by friends and my partner, with not a dry eye in the house. The healing I felt as I stood before the assistant bishop and reaffirmed my faith was, without a doubt, of the Spirit...

...As my partner's Mormon mother would say, I have a testimony. I was created by God, who works through all of his creation, and I've been gay as a handbag since birth. I wanted to wear my sisters' chapel veils at 2, had a crush on Hoss from "Bonanza" at 4 and have always known that God loves me and Jesus has lessons for me. And I am called to be Episcopalian and part of the Catholic faith, sure as Joan of Arc was called to her mission, although I'm not in drag. And I have faith that I will stand in front of the altar of God and commit my life to the man I love, with smells and bells and without secrecy. It is right to stand before God as I am, and speak my own truth. And I am grateful to have a model of simple, elegant defiance in the bishop from New Hampshire who happened to come to mass at my church one day.

The GAFCON Gaffes Roll On

This news story offers yet another version of why Abp. Akinola was not allowed into Jordan:

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, whose campaign has raised the spectre of schism in the 77-million strong Communion, was not allowed into Jordan from Israel on Wednesday to attend a pre-summit meeting of about 130 conservatives in Amman...

...Fjeldstad said Akinola was not denied entry into Jordan but gave up after several hours' delay at the border.

"He was kept in bureaucratic limbo," he said. "They claimed that, as a diplomatic passport holder, he had to give advance warning that he was coming. He decided to go back to Jerusalem."

Planned for four days, the Amman meeting "wound up early" when GAFCON leaders learned "that previously granted permission for the Jordan consultation was deemed insufficient", Fjeldstad said in a statement late on Wednesday announcing the move...
So it was not a "clearance" or a particular stamp or anything like that which was missing. It was an "advance notice." And he was not refused entrance to Jordan, he was simply detained for so long that he finally gave up and went back to Jerusalem.

Sorry, but I don't buy that version any more than I did the first version. 200 Bishops and their entourage are entering Jordan, and only one is held up at the border. And that one just so happens to be implicated in various acts of violence against Muslims in Nigeria.

As I mentioned yesterday, 90% of all Jordanians adhere to Sunni Islam. Their Constitution stipulates that the king and his successors must be Muslims and sons of Muslim parents. It certainly seems plausible to me that Abp. Akinola's actions against Muslims in Nigeria was probably the real reason behind his being detained at the Jordanian border.

Moving on, The Lead notes that the new book being unveiled at GAFCON includes an essay supposedly written by Peter Akinola, but was actually ghost-written by Martyn Minns. As I said at the time that Minns was revealed as the author of Akinola's words;

...May we remember this incident the next time Abp. Akinola's loud voice claims to be speaking for the majority of Anglicans in Africa. Most likely, the voice we will be hearing is not coming from another continent across the ocean, but from an office in Virginia...
How fitting that this ghost-written essay is now memorialized in GAFCON's little book. It is a good reminder of the unethical lengths this group will go to save themselves from gay cooties.

Speaking of gay cooties, Thinking Anglicans points us to the most ironic coincidence:

Jerusalem Pride will take place on Thursday June 26th...

In June the gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual community and our supporters will again struggle for our freedom of expression and civil rights in Jerusalem. The violence and Intimidation surrounding Pride 2005 and 2006 only serves as proof that we must assure that our rights as citizens of Jerusalem are defended.

June will put Jerusalem, Israel and our leaders to the true test of democracy and civil rights. Though we expect the struggle to be tough, we will not let the threats of violence silence us or challenge Israeli democracy. Our struggle to march this summer will require us to unite as a community and pool our resources and personal strength- for this historic battle on the forefront of human rights in Jerusalem.

Well, imagine that. The Bishops would look fabulous in their long magenta cassocks and glittering pectoral crosses. Will they have the courage to join the parade? Oh cooties. I momentarily forgot that little matter. I guess they'll just have to stay inside on the 26th. Just as well. I doubt they'll find many takers for their new book among the parading crowd gathered outside their "pilgrimage" site.

Poor GAFCONites. Parading gays to the left of them and Muslims to the right. Seems like they just can't find a venue where pure people like themselves can gather in peace to launch a little schism.

However, according to an editorial in the Telegraph, their hopes for a schism may be getting dimmer as each day passes by:

...On paper, therefore, the moment of schism in worldwide Anglicanism has arrived. Many of Gafcon’s members will boycott Lambeth, and the Archbishop of Canterbury will therefore preside over a ruptured communion. But, before Dr Rowan Williams runs up the white flag, he should take a closer look at the reality of Gafcon, as opposed to its self-important pronouncements. The truth is that the conference has so far been a shambles. Its leader, the belligerent Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, has been denied entry to Jordan. Other conservative church leaders are missing because they have chosen not to attend. Significant absentees at Gafcon include the Rt Rev John Chew, Primate of South-East Asia, and Dr Mouneer Anis, Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East and treasurer of the “Global South” group of conservative provinces. And even those leaders who are attending the conference make up a volatile compound. Gafcon, in other words, is far from the united force it claims to be, and it does not fully represent Anglicanism in the developing world...

...Gafcon is dominated by the single issue of homosexuality; its relative failure should remind us that ordinary Anglicans – and especially members of the Church of England – are not obsessed with sexual mores or gay marriage. The challenge of Lambeth is to revive Christianity in a secular age. Dr Williams is well aware of that fact, and we wish him well...
I can imagine that Abp. Akinola, along with the rest of the ringleaders of this "alternative Lambeth" are spittin' bullets by now. We can expect to hear some rather unscripted outbursts in the days to come. So, stay tuned. The show in Jerusalem is just geting started.


A Report From St. Andrew's, Taft, CA

We recently discussed some conflicting reports of what happened in Taft, California which led to that mission church breaking their ties with the deposed Bishop of San Joaquin, John-David Schofield, and reaffirming their commitment to the Episcopal Church. I now have a report from one of the members of St. Andrew's, which follows:

At our Easter Sunday Services, Fr. Threewit announced that there would be a Bishop's Committee Meeting following the service. It was not called to order and not everyone was present to hear instructions from him. The members were told that they had to sign the new by-laws and he would not allow them to take time to read what they were signing. One member voted 'NO' because she did not want to sign a document without knowing what it said. They were told by Fr. Threewit that they had no choice, the by-laws had to be signed. The secretary was not present and was later told what to write up as minutes by Fr. Threewit.

At the monthly Bishop's Committee meeting on May 3, 2008, Fr. Threewit stated that he had been to Fresno and met with Fr. Gandenberger and he (Bill) had said that if the majority of our members wanted to stay Episcopal, they would be free to do so and have the property and the money held in the Diocesan Trust returned to us. We would have to have a meeting with John David to assure him that this was what the majority wanted. Fr. Charles now denies saying any such thing. The Bishop's Committee voted to have this meeting set up by Fr. Charles.

Since the Southern Cone would not discuss anything with our members, and Fr. Threewit refused to have any discussion on the subject, even though being asked several times before and after the December vote, and learning via the Dio Net that John David planned to be at St. Andrew's July 20th, and not being blind sheep, we asked Canon Hall if he would be willing to meet and discuss what was happening.

On May 19th we assembled for an informational meeting with Canon Hall. This was not a called meeting, but an informal gathering. All members who are in our Mission Directory and living in the area were to be notified of the informational gathering. The Bishop's Warden declined to attend as he had a previous appointment. When everyone had arrived, the absence of the Jr Warden was noted. Apparently the two persons that had done all the calling had each thought that the other had called him. When this was discovered, I immediately called him and was informed by his spouse that he was not available. We did ask her to attend, which she did.

We had an enjoyable social gathering after which Canon Hall asked if we had any questions. Our members then did ask several questions which were openly and honestly answered by Canon Hall. We thanked him for his clear and open answered and parted

There was no vote, no discussion, or anything further as this gathering was for information only and could have been held anywhere. Having never before been required to ask permission to use our facilities for the benefit of our members we decided to have this gathering without asking the Vicar. The Jr Warden submitted his resignation on Tuesday, May 20th...

...On the 1st of June, some of our members of the Bishop's Committee were not at church due to family gatherings... Fr Threewit stated from the pulpit that we were all protesting his presence. On my return to Taft, I was informed that Fr. Threewit called a secluded secret meeting with the two members of the Bishop's Committee and informed them that John David was going to lock up the church and give it over to St. Luke's, Bakersfield to be used as a Spanish Satellite Mission (Brown Act?). He then took the secretary's computer and attempted to gain access to the checkbook and church records for removal from St. Andrew's. Afterward, he further polled via e-mail and telephone in order to discover the location of the keys to the fireproof filing cabinet containing the church record books and also the combination to the safe where the checkbook is stored.

With this blatant attack on the faithful members of St. Andrew's Church we had no option but to deny access to Fr. Threewit and the other members of the "Southern Cone"...

...We do have a petition signed by 27 members of St. Andrew's, 3 members did not sign because they adhere to the Southern Cone and 4 were out of town and unavailable.



Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Peter Akinola Refused Entry Into Jordan

On his way to the GAFCON consultation in Jordan, Abp. Akinola was refused entry at the border:
...Sources at the conference tell me that the Nigerian delegation landed in Tel Aviv and went to the northern crossing point. Archbishop Akinola was travelling on his diplomatic passport. After being questioned for four hours, he was turned back, although the rest of the Nigerian delegation was allowed in. He got his passport back, and apparently was told that they needed a particular clearance on a diplomatic passport which he did not possess...
The Lead suggests that Akinola was barred because of more than a lack of the required "clearance":
...Readers of the Café will remember that Akinola, a fierce critic of Islam, has refused to answer questions about his knowledge of, or involvement in, the retributive massacre of some 700 Muslim in the town of Yelwa in northern Nigeria in 2004.

The massacre was carried out by a para-militia wearing clothing associating it with the Christian Association of Nigeria of which Akinola was then president. When asked about the massacre by Eliza Griswold, who wrote The Atlantic's story, Akinola refused to comment. He has since ignored requests for clarification...
We have discussed Abp. Akinola's role in the massacre of Yelwa here and here. We called for an investigation of Abp. Akinola's role in this massacre by Anglicans leaders, the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. To date, the only response we have received has been from AkinTunde Popoola, former director of communications for Nigeria, who has now been elevated to the episcopate. In that response, Canon Popoola ignored the questions about Yelwa, and instead focused on another incident in which Abp. Akinola advocated for violence against Muslims.

90% of all Jordanians adhere to Sunni Islam. Their Constitution stipulates that the king and his successors must be Muslims and sons of Muslim parents. Regardless of the various other reasons that will be offered, I think it is safe to assume that the motivation for banning Abp. Peter Akinola (and no one else, including members of his own delegation) from entering Jordan was because the leadership of Jordan had serious reservations about allowing someone who is implicated in violent crimes against Muslims to enter their country.

So, the "Jordanian Consultation," which was to continue until Sunday, has now been moved to Jerusalem. This will be contrary to the wishes of Bp. Dawani of Jerusalem, whose objections to GAFCON was the reason for the "consultation" segment being moved to Jordan, with the "pilgrimage" in Jerusalem to follow. Since this is now a conference without a venue, it appears that all the extremist Anglicans will be converging on Jerusalem a few days early, apparently with or without the Bishop of Jerusalem's permission.

Pray for the Bishop of Jerusalem.

Pray for the Church.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

St. Andrew's in Taft, CA Reaffirms Their Membership in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin

The members of a small mission in San Joaquin have decided to reaffirm that they remain faithful members of the Episcopal Church. It appears this has the deposed Bishop of that Diocese, John-David Schofield, quite upset:

...we are informed that some eleven members of St. Andrew’s Mission, Taft, held an unpublicized meeting in late May with The Rev. Canon Mark Hall, Canon to the Ordinary for Bishop Jerry Lamb, wherein a majority apparently illegally voted to join the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin...

...On June 4th Bishop John-David Schofield, Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin, a recognized member Diocese of the Province of the Southern Cone of South America, was informed that some of the members above changed the locks on the doors without any court order, thereby seizing the property and preventing Anglican members from entering freely as they had been able to before. Additionally, we were to understand that Canon Hall was to preside at services held on that Sunday, June 8th, at the direction of his Episcopal Bishop.

Bishop Schofield is grieved by the aggressive and disturbing behavior exhibited by Bishop Lamb, his agents, and the leadership of the Episcopal Church in the USA...
We'll get to the numerous inaccuracies in "Soundings" report of these events in a moment. But first, there's a couple of other matters to touch on.

So, according to Schofield, the folks in Taft ...illegally voted to join the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin.... That accusation is rich, considering the source.

Schofield abandoned TEC, and led his Diocesan Convention in what some might describe as an "illegal" vote to join the Southern Cone, a Province whose Constitution and Canons does not allow the establishment of a Diocese in North America. Regardless of the vote, there is no "Southern Cone Diocese of San Joaquin."

Even though he has been deposed, John-David Schofield may still be a Bishop, depending on your understanding of the sacramental nature of holy orders. However, according to the Provincial Directory of the Anglican Communion, he is a Bishop without a jurisdiction.

There is little doubt that Schofield has left TEC. What is appalling is that he is attempting to take as many assets as he can grab on his way out the door. The congregations in San Joaquin belong to TEC, regardless of any votes, according to Canon I.7.4. All the congregations in San Joaquin remain a part of the Episcopal Church. No process or protocol is required when a congregation desires to affirm a reality that already exists.

The Living Church was quick to report Schofield's version of the events at St. Andrew's:

The Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin claims Bishop Jerry Lamb of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin “appeared to follow no protocol at all” in appointing new leadership after a hastily called parish meeting recently voted 9-2 to lock out the priest-in-charge and wardens and affiliate with The Episcopal Church...
First of all, as I explained above, there is no "Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin." It is a figment of Schofield's imagination. Second of all, if The Living Church expects to be considered a reputable news source, they may want to start seeking out the other side of the story before embarrassing themselves by reporting such flawed facts.

Oh yes, there is another side of the story. And it is quite different from that being told by Schofield, and repeated by The Living Church. It is provided for us by The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin:

In April, members of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Taft, California, contacted the Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin, the Rt. Rev. Jerry A. Lamb, to clarify their desire to remain within the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Lamb assured members that they are welcomed in the Episcopal Church, and reminded them that although individuals may choose to leave the Episcopal Church, a congregation or a diocese cannot by canon law leave the Episcopal Church which created it. The former vicar has publicly aligned himself with John-David Schofield, the deposed bishop of San Joaquin.

After receiving a statement from St. Andrew's signed by 25 pledging members (more than the average Sunday attendance of 18) that they wished to remain under his authority, Bishop Lamb confirmed the active status of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church as a Mission within the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. At their request Bishop Lamb appointed a new Bishop's Committee and is assigning Episcopalian supply clergy to the Mission.

In response to statements from the former vicar of his intention to rent the building to another congregation, members of the congregation changed the locks on the building and secured church property on June 2nd.
Welcome home, St. Andrew's, Taft.

To the rest of the congregations in San Joaquin who might be starting to have misgivings about following a renegade Bishop, the door remains wide open. Come home.


Monday, June 16, 2008

GAFCONites Incensed by UK Blessing Service...Is Anyone Surprised?

Yesterday I suggested that much of the outrage  regarding a recent blessing of a civil partnership at St. Bart's in London was fueled by a few Anglican extremists, in the hope that it would help launch GAFCON. Some of the press reports now verify that this is the case:
..The couple's elaborate wedding ceremony at the historic St Bartholomew the Great church in London has incensed a breakaway Christian group, unhappy with the liberal agenda of western churches, which is due to meet next weekend in Jordan to decide whether it can still retain links with the Anglican communion...
A tangential point worth noting is that this is the first time in some months I've heard of the meeting in Jordan, which was to precede the pilgrimage in Jerusalem, still being scheduled. It appeared that the plan to meet in Jordan had been abandoned, possibly because leaders in Jordan were not pleased with one of Anglicanism's most outspoken Islamophobes, Abp. Akinola, spearheading the event. Is there a "meeting" happening in Jordan, followed by a "pilgrimage" in Jerusalem? They aren't telling. Most likely they're still afraid of wild-eyed protesters crashing their party, so the itenerary is being kept top secret. If they are meeting in Jordan, I wonder if the King has been informed? I would imagine that he might have some strong opinions about Abp. Akinola visiting his realm.

Returning to the press reports on the UK blessing, yesterday I suggested that the media were being used as pawns by the extremists to create a facade of outrage over an event that was hardly newsworthy, as nothing new really happened. I still suspect that the negative coverage is getting some of their information from the extremists' media contacts. You can hear the echo of their favorite lines in the stories:
A rector faces the sack after becoming the first clergyman to conduct a gay 'marriage' in an Anglican church.

The Rev Martin Dudley flouted Church of England rules by blessing two homosexual priests in a service that used a traditional wedding liturgy in which the couple exchanged vows and rings.

Details of the ceremony provoked fury among many senior ministers and fuelled the row over gay clergy which already threatens to tear apart the worldwide Anglican church.

Last night the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, ordered an urgent inquiry into the ceremony, which was held last month in one of the capital's oldest churches, St Bartholomew the Great...
Today it appears that I was mistaken when I painted all the media with the same brush. Consider, for example, this story by Riazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent for The Guardian, entitled "Gay priest resigns after furore over church blessing." Note that the term "blessing" is used, which is more accurate, even though less sensational, in comparison to the term "marriage," which seems to be the preference of most other reporters.

Then there is the matter of speculation regarding the rector getting "sacked':
...Dudley is the freeholder of St Bartholomew's, making it virtually impossible for him to be ousted. But he could face procedures which would involve someone proving there had been an irrevocable pastoral breakdown or that Dudley had acted in a manner unbecoming of a clergyman of the Church of England.

Nigel Seed, a church lawyer, said there was no prohibition on having a service after a civil partnership, provided it was not contrary to church doctrine.

"If you do not purport it to be a service of blessing there is nothing to stop couples from having prayers, hymns or a service of prayer and dedication," he said...
In other words, there may be an "investigation," but most likely Dudley is not going to get "sacked."

Riazat also points out that this is not an isolated event:
...Liturgies, such as the one Dr Lord and Mr Cowell participated in, have been taking place in New Zealand, Scotland and Canada. The presiding bishop of the US Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts-Schori, said: "Those services are happening in various places, including the Church of England, where my understanding is that there are far more of them happening than there are in the Episcopal Church."

The provost of St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow, the Very Rev Kevin Holdsworth, described the experience of performing a same sex blessing as a "new addition to the range of things that human beings have wanted to mark."

On his blog he wrote about celebrating a Eucharist in circumstances which were new to him but which felt old and traditional all the same. As he helped the two men through their vows and then served communion to them and their friends in thanksgiving, he remarked: "People like me have been waiting for services like the one I celebrated today for so long.
My goodness, it certainly appears that someone has been visiting Jake's place! Imagine that.

Offering some background details for "real" reporters is one of the services that bloggers provide. Speaking personally, I prefer not to be mentioned in such reports, as that could lead to someone mistaking me for a "real" reporter. That would take all the fun out of this hobby, and might be cause to curtail some of the snark and humor. I'm content to be the little terrier nipping all the heels of the big dogs (those who know their archetypes may want to replace "big dogs" with "fools").

Thank you Riazat, for bringing a little balance to this story.

It crosses my mind that this is my second post on this fabricated "news" story. Am I also becoming a pawn for the extremists? Oh, what a tangled web we weave...


Sunday, June 15, 2008

UK Blessing Causing Quite the Buzz

From the Guardian:

The first gay "marriage" to be held in an Anglican church has reignited controversy over homosexual clergy and same sex civil partnerships.

The Reverend Peter Cowell and the Rev Dr David Lord exchanged vows at St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London last month.

Church of England guidelines say gay clergy can enter a civil partnership if they provide reassurance that they will abstain from sex.

Couples who ask a priest to bless their union must be dealt with "pastorally and sensitively" on an individual basis.

This is the first time a full ceremony has been held for a same sex couple...
You can find more links and discussion about this at The Lead and at Thinking Anglicans. Worth noting is a comment by the officiant, the Revd Dr Martin Dudley:

As the Rector of St Bartholomew the Great, who officiated at this service, I would like to add a little clarity to the story.

First, it was not a wedding or a marriage but the blessing of a civil partnership. Mr Wynne-Jones was well aware of this from his conversation with me today. If others construe it as a wedding, than they do so deliberately in order to ferment division.

Second, it was not and was intended to be a provocative act. It was not undertaken in defiance of the Bishop of London and there was no plea from him that I should not officiate at the service.

Third, we should remember that this service celebrated the love that the two persons involved have for each other. I officiated at it because Fr Peter Cowell has been my friend and colleague for many years. 300 people joined in the service; nearly 200 received communion, and there were dozens of other clergy present. It was not a rally or a demonstration. If other people want to turn into a loveless battlefield for the future of the Church of England, then it is they who will carry responsibility for the consequences.
But apparently that is not enough to stop some of the press and a few of the extremist Anglicans from acting like this is a big deal. For instance, here is a quote from Abp. Orombi of Uganda, a foreign Bishop who regularly makes unethical and illegal claims on North American congregations:

...The Most Rev Henry Orombi, the Archbishop of Uganda, said that the ceremony was "blasphemous." He called on Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to take decisive action if the Anglican Church were not to "disintegrate". Archbishop Orombi added: "What really shocks me is that this is happening in the Church of England that first brought the Gospel to us.

"The leadership tried to deny that this would happen, but now the truth is out. Our respect for the Church of England will erode unless we see a return to traditional teaching"...
If I were a congregation in the Church of England, I'd beware. It appears Abp. Orombi is now prowling your perimeter, seeking fat assessments to gobble up.

This story is really not "news." It was a blessing, not a wedding. And it is certainly not the "first" liturgy of its kind within the Anglican Communion, or the Church of England for that matter.

As we pointed out almost nine months ago, such liturgies are happening in Scotland, New Zealand and Canada. We also had this statement from our Presiding Bishop last January:

...The church has stated it will not officially authorise such services, but Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori admits they do take place.

"Those services are happening in various places, including in the Church of England, where my understanding is that there are far more of them happening than there are in the Episcopal Church," she said...
So why all the feigned shock about this particular liturgy at St. Bart's?

The extremists are getting ready for GAFCON, which begins in a few days. This is when they will launch their "alternative Communion." They have built this entire plot on the backs of gay Christians. So, to fan the flames, they alerted their media contacts of this latest incident, and presto! Instant outrage on the eve of their big shindig.

Keep in mind that if it wasn't their disdain for gay Christians, this band of rascals would have come up with something else to justify their attempted hostile takeover; the new prayer book, women's ordination, how some retired bishop interprets scripture, abortion, euthanasia, labyrinths, mandolins in church or cucumber sandwiches at coffee hour.

So, the media allowed themselves to be used as pawns in this little drama. How unfortunate. And how sad for the couple whose celebration has been tarnished by all this mud slinging.


Friday, June 13, 2008

What is Happening in the Diocese of California?

From Episcopal Life:

Bishop Marc Andrus of the Diocese of California is encouraging all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, to obtain secular marriages before seeking the church's blessing, as a way to support same-gender couples and "our continued witness to God's inclusive love."

"For too long the onus has fallen on marginalized people to bear the burden of inequalities that exist within the Church, and the decision by our state's Supreme Court has given us the opportunity to level the playing field," Andrus wrote in a recent pastoral letter to clergy and lay leaders of the San Francisco-based diocese.

Andrus also said he intends to serve as a deputy marriage commissioner, and urged clergy and lay Episcopalians also to "be deputized" and volunteer to preside at same-gender marriages, which are slated to begin June 17.

"There are over 4,000 civil same-sex marriages planned in a short period of time in the city of San Francisco alone and the city is asking for help in meeting demand," according to Andrus' letter, which was posted on the diocesan website June 9.

"The Diocese of California seeks to provide, by advocacy and example, a way forward for The Episcopal Church (TEC) so that the marriage of same-sex couples will be a part of our official marriage rites, without distinction," he wrote. "Although TEC does not have canonical rites for same-sex marriage, it is our goal that all couples be treated equally by the Church, as they are equally loved by God"...
Bp. Andrus' guidelines are quite similar to those recently offered by Bp. Mary Gray-Reeves of El Camino Real. They are also similar, although more explicit, to the guidelines offered by my Bishop. We are to offer pastoral care, but under no circumstances are we to sign a marriage license.

I suspect that this is the position that many Bishops are going to take, in one form or another. I must admit to having mixed feelings about it.

Does this go too far? In the case of Bp. Andrus, he is clearly advising his clergy to bless the marriage. Isn't that going beyond what the canons allow? And isn't this one of the issues that gave rise to the Windsor Report, the proposed Covenant, etc.? Our friend Lisa asks similar questions:

Let's face it: The canons and Prayer Book of our church seem to be pretty clear: The Episcopal Church has not yet authorized a liturgy/sacrament for marriage between two men or two women. I don't see how we can ignore those canons and rubrics, while holding the schismatics accountable for their violations of our polity...
On the other hand, don't the guidelines of Bp. Andrus not go far enough? It still sounds like there is a second class status being placed on same sex marriages. If we are going to do it, why not just do it? Why have a civil ceremony followed by a blessing? Why not sign the marriage license?

Bp. Andrus' recommendation that all marriages be done this way does add some equality to the situation, but it still seems rather convoluted to me. Call me a purist, but I just don't like having the sacramental rites of the Church tacked on to the end of a civil ceremony.

Richard Helmer, rector of Our Savior, Mill Valley, recently informed his vestry that he would not be presiding over any marriages until this matter is resolved. The responses he's received have caused him to do some deeper reflection on this matter, which he has shared with us. Do follow the above link and read the entire reflection, as it is quite good. Here's part of it:

...I believe in my bones that I must do my utmost to follow the discipline of the Church to which I have pledged a good deal of my life. Clearly the Book of Common Prayer and the canons as they are presently structured define Christian marriage as being between a man and a woman. I cannot, in good conscience, use the marriage liturgy of the greater Church to solemnize anything other. Bishop Marc appears to feel much the same way. Indeed, his authority is limited in that he cannot unilaterally change these definitions. I applaud him for that admission.

But nor can I ignore the fruits of the Spirit I see in my brothers and sisters who have heard God's call into a covenant that the Church does not yet, as a whole, recognize. So, where gender is the only measure of difference, to solemnize one coupling over another creates a hierarchy of goodness and grace that I no longer believe in. I'm not sure Jesus, given his proclivity to reach out to the very least among us, would believe in it either...

...We are called to minister to people, not powers. If truth be told, we are called to attend to Christ in each other first, not the limits of canons and carefully worded structures. This is a hard truth, for we rely on our canons and constitution to hold for us some sense of unity and community in a fractious world. But, in truth, the canons and constitutions are imperfect reflections of our faith in a perfect God. We must be forever cautious, at least this side of God's promised Reign, not to confuse one for the other. That surely is one reason Christ quoted the ancient Jewish teaching that the law is only properly understood and anchored upon love of God and love of neighbor.

But we have endeavored to honor the canons as best we can, while knowing that law and our ability to abide by them has limits that are mysteriously and constantly tested by a capricious Spirit -- a Spirit who sometimes might even rattle around state supreme courts and be found in controversial judicial decisions. We have endeavored to honor the canons in an effort to show we honor Communion.

We should expect heat just the same. . .umbrage, curses, annoyance. That is our cross to bear...
Thank you, Richard. That helped sort things out quite well.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Love of God Holds Nothing Back

Greg Jones, writing for the Daily Episcopalian, offers us some thoughts worthy of our reflection:

...In the news lately there's been a focus on some 14 Muslim children who were on their way to Israel thanks to Brothers Together - who were ultimately not permitted to go -- by their own parents and nations. One mother of a six-year old Iraqi boy with a hole in his heart that needs repair said she couldn't let him enter Israel to receive the healing he was offered -- because she just hates Israel too much. She says she has an innate, inbred hatred of Israel -- she cannot let her enemy heal her son.

But, before we judge this mother, hear me - this is not an Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern story. No this is an all too human story. This is a story of the World, that Jesus came into for its own sake. We live in a world, we are the people of a world, where the mother of a son with a hole in his heart holds him back from care, freely given, because of the spiritual hole in hers - nursed there by a world which wants to keep hearts broken.

For we all have these spiritual holes in our hearts that keep us from trusting, forgiving, mercy and courage.

Before we judge her - the Lord would show us that we are all holding back from entering the Holy Land of healing in Christ. We are all holding back out of self-guided, inbred drives - which we think are self-protecting.

For some reason, the promise of free care, free healing, the free repair of our broken hearts is not something we leap at in this world. For some reason, the gracious love of God is not MAKING us be different. For some reason, the Love of Christ as poured out in a manger, at a table, and above all on a cross, is not FORCING us to be better.

The reason is simple. The free love of God which does not protect itself and holds nothing back is free, gentle and pure - and it's our choice to accept it or not.* God won't make us let him fix the hole in our hearts. God won't make us love each other. God won't make us love in a way that does not protect ourselves and holds nothing back...
I read things like this, and I find my heart leaping. This kind of discussion is what it's all about, folks.

Be honest for a minute. What do you want? Go deeper than wanting an air conditioner if you're in the sweltering East. Go beyond the desire for a better car, or a new job. What do you really want?

I bet I can guess what we would find if we strip away all the surface stuff. I know what your heart's desire really is.

What is it? Rather simple, actually.

We want to love, and we want to be loved.

Love that is forced is not real love. So, we have a choice. We can have our heart's desire, by entering into a relationship with the living God, who is the source of all excpressions of love, and so reveals to us what love is really all about, or we can continue to seek love in other places (often resulting in searching "in all the wrong places.")

Connected to this is some thoughts I've been having since our discussions on Evangelism. I'll just come out and say it, and hope folks get where I'm trying to go with this. I happen to be an Episcopalian because it is the best place for me to experience the love of God, and the best position from which to reveal this love to others. I've tried other places. They didn't work for me.

In other words, I am much more in love with God than I am the Episcopal Church.

I felt the need to say that, since we get so preocuupied with secondary concerns around here sometimes.

I know, I'm being sappy today. I'll blame it on the heat.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

New Westminster: Schismatics Are Trespassers

The Lead points us to some interesting developments in the Anglican Church of Canada. From the Anglican Journal:
Bishop Michael Ingham, of the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster, has written to five members of the clergy who resigned from the Anglican Church of Canada that they may not exercise ministry at their churches, are considered to be trespassing if they are on the property and may not remove anything, including books...

...Bishop Ingham told synod that “we do not seek litigation, but if all appeals to reason and responsibility fail, we may need to seek relief from the civil courts in order to re-build and restore these parishes after the departure of their leaders and some members of their congregations.”

He said the diocese intends to “act legally to retain all property and assets belonging to these parishes and to the diocese” since schism, which is the “setting up of unlawful authority” cannot be allowed to stand...
From the Diocese of New Westminster:
Bishop Michael Ingham told Diocesan Synod that as bishop he has a responsibility to ensure that schism does not become normal or accepted in the Anglican Church of Canada.

In a report on May 30 to about 300 synod members, about a third clergy and the rest lay, the bishop insisted that the decision of four congregations to join the South American Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, was not simply “divorce” but “schism…the setting up of a unlawful authority” to challenge the rightful authority, which is Diocesan Synod.

“I am fully aware that nobody wishes to see the church diverted from its mission by the prospect of civil litigation over property,” he said.

“But schism cannot stand, for if it were allowed to stand it would undermine the mission of the church across this country.”

Chancellor George Cadman, the synod’s chief legal officer, reported that the clergy remaining in four parishes—St. John’s Shaughnessy, St. Matthew Abbotsford, and Good Shepherd and St. Matthias/St. Luke of Vancouver—have relinquished and abandoned ordained ministry within the Anglican Church of Canada, and by remaining in parish buildings they are now trespassing...
It is about time someone started clearly stating what is going on. If someone is aligned with the Network, or one of the foreign bishops plundering parishes in North America, that person is a schismatic. Their claim to any property is based on setting up an "unlawful authority." To remain in those buildings is to face the charge of trespassing, and may lead to their arrest.

Trespassing is a minor charge, in comparison to possible future charges of grand theft, but perhaps if some of these renegade priests and bishops had to spend a few hours behind bars, they might rethink some of their lofty plans.

If you want to set up your own denomination, go with God. But, if you try to build that new entity with the assets given to be used to the glory of God through the Episcopal Church by generations of faithful members, there will be consequences for those actions.