Monday, August 31, 2009

Akinola's Primacy: The Rest of the Story

Thinking Anglicans draws our attention to an article entitled Akinola's Primacy: The Journey So Far. It was penned by Gbenga Onayiga, the Diocesan Communicator of the Anglican Diocese of Abuja. As you might imagine, it highlights, in glowing terms, every positive aspect of Abp. Akinola's primacy. There's also more than a few questionable additions to this long list of accomplishments. Here's part of the conclusion:

...Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but anyone who does not think that Akinola's primacy is a resounding success will have an uphill task for a better comparison, as the Church has never had it so good. In fact, Archbishop Akinola has succeeded in putting the Primacy of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) at a level that will take a very long time to equal nationally, regionally and globally. By the foregone indications, he has immensely endowed the future generation of Anglicans in many unprecedented ways...
There are a number of commendable initiatives attributed to Abp. Akinola, identified by Onayiga as "A Hero of Our Time." But I note that there are other actions by the Archbishop that seem to have been left off this lengthy list. As a matter of fact, as I review past entries on this site, I spot at least half a dozen rather important stories in which Abp. Akinola played a prominent role. It seems to me that we might be of assistance to Mr. Onayiga by suggesting a few additions to the "hero's" story:

June, 2003 - Anglican Leader Raises Stakes With New Gay Outburst:
...Peter Akinola, leader of the 17.5 million-strong church in Nigeria, hit out at the recent election in America of the first openly gay bishop.

'This is an attack on the Church of God - a Satanic attack on God's church,' he told the Lagos-based Guardian newspaper.

'I cannot think of how a man in his senses would be having a sexual relationship with another man. Even in the world of animals, dogs, cows, lions, we don't hear of such things.

'When we sit down globally as a communion, I am going to sit in a meeting with a man who is marrying a fellow man,' he added. 'I mean it's just not possible. I cannot see myself doing it.'

Akinola restated an earlier warning that he will precipitate a split between the Nigerian Church and the Church of England if it consecrates its first gay bishop, the self-avowed chaste homosexual Canon Jeffrey John...

September, 2005 - Akinola: "Gays Produce Hooligans":
...Homosexuality and lesbianism, like divorce, breed a society of single parents which gives rise to a generation of bastards. And in the context of much poverty and lack of education, this further produces an ill-bred generation of hooligans, portending much terror to the peace and stability of the society...

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...
Note that one of the accolades showered upon Akinola in the Onayiga piece is "Giving Voice to the Voiceless." One must assume, based on the above statements, that gay Anglicans were excluded from this gift. Incarceration was Akinola's preferred solution to such "satanic attacks". Being in prison would certainly qualify one as "voiceless."

Read more about Akinola's unique version of the mandated Anglcan Listening Process here and here.

March, 2006 - Censure Peter Akinola:
...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...
From 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...

January, 2007 - A Letter to The Diocese of Virginia from the Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, Bishop:
...The Church of Nigeria, like The Episcopal Church, is an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion with clearly defined boundaries. Bonds of affection in the Anglican Communion hold that provincial boundaries are not crossed by bishops without expressed invitation. Bishop Akinola’s effort to establish CANA within the boundaries of The Episcopal Church has occurred without any invitation or authorization whatsoever and violates centuries of established Anglican heritage. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has made clear, CANA is not a branch of the Anglican Communion and does not have his encouragement...
More on Akinola's border crossings in order to pillage American congregations here.

February, 2008 - Abp. Akinola and the Massacre of Yelwa:
...... At the time of the massacre, Archbishop Peter Akinola was the president of the Christian Association of  Nigeria, whose membership was implicated in the killings...

...When asked if those wearing name tags that read “Christian Association of Nigeria” had been sent to the Muslim part of Yelwa, the archbishop grinned. “No comment,” he said. “No Christian would pray for violence, but it would be utterly naive to sweep this issue of Islam under the carpet.” He went on, “I’m not out to combat anybody. I’m only doing what the Holy Spirit tells me to do. I’m living my faith, practicing and preaching that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to God, and they respect me for it. They know where we stand. I’ve said before: let no Muslim think they have the monopoly on violence”...

June, 2008 - Peter Akinola Refused Entry Into Jordan:
On his way to the GAFCON consultation in Jordan, Abp. Akinola was refused entry at the border...

...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 there are just a few highlights that I'd like to see added to Abp. Akinola's list of accomplishments. There are quite a few more, that I'd be happy to provide Mr. Onayiga upon request.

A lasting tribute to a great hero needs to include the rest of the story, don't you think?


Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Episcopal Church: "God Loves You"

Go read this.

I'm biting my tongue, for now, as the above post is quite moving, if you read between the lines. Although I'm witholding further comment, I do invite your reactions.

On other fronts...yes, I'm using my time to write. Is it a productive use of my time? Well, that remains to be seen.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wrestling with Writing

I need your help.

Here's the situation. I've got a bit of time on my hands at the moment. Not a lot, but enough to get a writing project completed. Most likely only one project, however.

Although I've written a number of essays over the years, and had limited success in getting some of them published, I've been working on some book length projects at the same time. I've not submitted any of them for publication, as none of them are even close to being completed. My dilemma is that I tend to flit between them, resulting in nothing being completed, and some severe problems from blending the voices of the various projects.

So, I need to pick one, and stick with it until completed.

Here's where I'd appreciate your help. I'll list the projects, in order of my current enthusiasm for them (which I'll admit does tend to change from day to day). I ask for your recommendation as to which one I should work on for the next couple of months. The goal is to get it done. Marketable, etc. are secondary considerations (although insights regarding those aspects will also be appreciated). Eventually, I intend to complete all four projects. My current wrestling match is in regards to which one I can realistically expect to complete within the next 60 to 90 days.

So, here they are:

1. Autobiographical - This would be the easiest to finish writing, as it requires little research. I've got lots of stories, some over 30 years old, of which the details are still quite vivid. Most likely the format would be to include some kind of spiritually oriented commentary. Some examples would be The Boys of Hall and Longing for Home. Much of this is already written, in various forms. It would be a matter of pulling it all together under a unifying theme, perhaps along the lines of the Stopping the World series.

2. The Anglican Wars - Although this would take some research, much of that work has already been done on this site and elsewhere. This might be structurred along the lines of telling the story of Jake's place, and using some of the posts and comments to document the last six years of the current unpleasantness within the Anglican Communion (since the Windsor Report). The reservation I have with this project is that it would offer little in the way of new information, and would serve no real purpose, as those who are interested could get the same info by spending some time here. However, it might be helpful to have all the information pulled together into one resource.

3. Fiction - I'm playing with a story that might be labeled as falling into the "urban sci-fi" genre. I'm hesitant to say more about this. Fiction is a real art, and on bad days, I look at what I've done and define it as nothing more than amateur crap. On good days, it's not all that bad. But this is a very competitive field, in which only the brilliant survive. My work is far from brilliant. I find it an amusing pastime, however, so will probably continue to play with it. Not sure this is such a good choice for the limited window of time I have right now.

4. Evangelism - I've done quite a bit of work in this field, and have something to say about it, but I'm not sure this is the best time for me to complete this work. There's some internal turmoil in regards to this particular topic right now. I'd rather wait until I was sure I was not being driven by an underneath "I'll show you!" motive. You can get an idea of what the content might be in this video, which is hosted through the generosity of the Diocese of Washington.

So, there are my options. Please note, "none of the above" is a valid fifth option, and any alternative proposals would then become a sixth, seventh, etc. option.

What is your advice?

Thanks for your help!


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Christians Against Health Care For All?

I must admit to being simply astounded that anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ would be against providing health care for every child of God.

Unless you cut out the 25th chapter of Matthew, the parable of the Good Samaritan, the year of Jubilee, and various other big swaths of scripture, it is simply impossible to refute the clear message that God has a preferential bias for the poor.

More than 46 million Americans lack any kind of health insurance. Millions more are are underinsured. Many of them don't have coverage because they simply can't afford it. And, because of that, people are dying. Specifically, at least 22,000 Americans die every year because they don't have health insurance or because they are underinsured. The current health care system simply does not work.

Yet, this guy claims that the health care reform currently being considered by congress is anti-Christian:

ObamaCare is immoral and anti-Christian.

It is immoral to rob citizens of the their hard-earned money in order to give to other citizens something that they did not earn. That is government-sanctioned stealing, pure and simple. And it is anti-Christian to take something out of the hands of individual believers something that they should voluntarily do out of their compassion for the poor, and place it in the hands of government to do through a mandated program...
His argument seems to be that the churches should provide for the health care needs of the poor. In theory, that is a lovely idea. But here's the problem: IT DOESN'T WORK! The churches do not have the structures in place to address such a huge problem. If they did, it would already be happening. But, except for a few scattered church-sponsored providers, it hasn't happened in the past, so there is little reason to think it's going to happen in the future. The efforts of the churches alone, although commendable, simply cannot meet the needs of 48 million Americans.

It is obvious as one reads the above article that the author cares little about those who are suffering and dying because of lack of medical attention. He is using this issue to rant about his own political agenda, nothing more. He provides a shameful witness to his Christian faith.

There are others who bring shame on all Christians by repeating outright lies regarding H.R. 3200: America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009. I suggest that you read the bill for yourself first, and then look around elsewhere on the net, before jumping on the bandwagon of such extremist positions.

Let's touch on some of the more outlandish accusations being made. :

1. "Death Panels" - Here's the relevant section of the bill. As you can see, this is an "end of life counseling" session, and is completely voluntary. The idea that some panel is going to decide to kill grandma is just plain nuts.

2. Federally funded abortion - FactCheck claims that this is true, while PolitiFact claims it is false. Why the confusion?

Read the two relevant sections of the bill here. As you can see, "abortion" is not mentioned. It was introduced into the bill by the Capps Amendment, which is an attempt to make sure public funds are not used for abortions.

What FactCheck and PoitiFact did not mention (although Open Congress did) was that nothing in the bill or the amendment nullifies the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which prevents any federal funds being used for abortions, except in a few limited cases; rape, incest, or danger to the mother's health.

This bill does not introduce any new legislation that would allow federal funds to be used for abortions.

3. Illegal Immigrants - I have no idea where this one came from. In sections 242 and 246 of the bill, it is made clear that those elgible must be "lawfully present" in the US.

There's other false statements being made, such as "it will raise taxes" (sure, if you make more than $350,000 a year), and "it will take away the private insurance option" (actually, it will expand your options, while not eliminating any of them). If you want to learn more about some of these popular distortions, take a look here and here.

I also recommend that you consider A Christian Creed on Health Care Reform:

As one of God's children, I believe that protecting the health of each human being is a profoundly important personal and communal responsibility for people of faith.

I believe God created each person in the divine image to be spiritually and physically healthy. I feel the pain of sickness and disease in our broken world (Genesis 1:27, Romans 8:22).

I believe life and healing are core tenets of the Christian life. Christ's ministry included physical healing, and we are called to participate in God's new creation as instruments of healing and redemption (Matthew 4:23, Luke 9:1-6; Mark 7:32-35, Acts 10:38). Our nation should strive to ensure all people have access to life-giving treatments and care.

I believe, as taught by the Hebrew prophets and Jesus, that the measure of a society is seen in how it treats the most vulnerable. The current discussion about health-care reform is important for the United States to move toward a more just system of providing care to all people (Isaiah 1:16-17, Jeremiah 7:5-7, Matthew 25:31-45).

I believe that all people have a moral obligation to tell the truth. To serve the common good of our entire nation, all parties debating reform should tell the truth and refrain from distorting facts or using fear-based messaging (Leviticus 19:11; Ephesians 4:14-15, 25; Proverbs 6:16-19).

I believe that Christians should seek to bring health and well-being (shalom) to the society into which God has placed us, for a healthy society benefits all members (Jeremiah 29:7).

I believe in a time when all will live long and healthy lives, from infancy to old age (Isaiah 65:20), and "mourning and crying and pain will be no more" (Revelation 21:4). My heart breaks for my brothers and sisters who watch their loved ones suffer, or who suffer themselves, because they cannot afford a trip to the doctor. I stand with them in their suffering.

I believe health-care reform must rest on a foundation of values that affirm each and every life as a sacred gift from the Creator (Genesis 2:7).


UPDATE: Cany provides us with a great link that exposes 14 of the top health care reform myths, as well as two clips from The Daily Show that are excellent examples of just how bizarre this debate has become. Go pay her a visit.

Friday, August 21, 2009

ELCA Approves Gay Clergy

Here's what was passed:

RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.
Vote was 559 yes, 451 no.

They did it! They really did it! Praise God!

The UCC, TEC and now the ELCA are united on this matter.

May the Methodists be next!


UPDATE: Resolution Four, which "proposes the specifics of how this church can move toward change in a way that respects the bound consciences of all" was also approved, 667 to 307.

Caminante offer us some quotes and commentary drawn from the live feed of the Assembly.

The news release regarding this historic day can be found here.

Lutherans Support Same Gender Relationships

From here:

Resolved that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable, life-long, monogamous same gender relationships.
The vote was 61% yea and 39% nay.

This has been confirmed by tweets (#elca, #cwa09, #goodsoil09). Apparently, it sounds like it was announced that using twitter during plenary sessions was "inappropriate," so little info is getting out.

This afternoon will bring us the vote regarding gay clergy. You can view the session live here. It begins at 2:00 central time.

Keep praying.


UPDATE: The Lead is also covering this.

This action now appears on the official Assembly Voting Results page.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The ELCA's Sexuality Statement: A Tepid Testament?

Yesterday, we talked about the ELCA's approval of a social statement; Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust. In most places, there was much rejoicing over this statement, as it is seen as clearing the way for further movement by the ELCA towards condemning bigotry committed in the name of God.

To be quite honest, as I read the statement, I found myself straining to find much in the way of Good News, at least in regards to repenting of the horrendous way Christians have treated gay and lesbian persons. It seemed like a very "safe" statement. But, perhaps since I'm still getting used to writing once again without censors looking over my shoulder, I just left that conclusion up to all of you.

Today, I came across an article that says pretty much what I wanted to say, if I had fully recovered my voice. It is written by Candace Chellew-Hodge, the founder/editor of Whosoever and author of A Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. It is entitled Lutherans Reap the Whirlwind, although I kind of fancy her alternative title ("God Breaks Wind on the Lutherans"). Now, if that doesn't get you curious enough to go read her essay...then just move along, folks, because nothing that follows will entice you further!

Here's the part that needed to be said by someone:

...The human sexuality document, meanwhile, is a tepid testament to much ballyhooed, but ultimately ineffectual church councils. It affirms marriage as being between a man and a woman and simply outlines all the different beliefs around homosexuality (that some say it's wrong and some say it's right) and urges Lutherans to stop throwing chairs at each other over the issue. So, it's simply an acknowledgement that people disagree on this issue and we should all get along, with the help of God. Yawn. So much for bold statements from the ELCA.

If the ELCA wants to see how to make a bold statement on human sexuality, they need to check out the UCC statement from its 2005 Synod where it gave its unqualified support to marriage equality for gays and lesbians. Launch another council and study this statement – then you'll know what it looks like to take a bold stand for God's unconditional love of all in the world. They may also want to study the Episcopal Church's recent decision to trash its de facto moratorium on gay and lesbian bishops. That's another example of a church boldly becoming society's headlights instead of always being the taillights...
If Christendom is to recover from the extremist reputation we have earned by being too timid while self-serving bigots grabbed the spotlight and trashed our tradition, it is time for bold moves. We must recognize that what is called "playing it safe" is actually condemning an innocent minority to appease the personal biases of the extremists. That may be safe, but it most certainly is not just.

This story is not over, however. Tomorrow the ELCA will have one last chance to make a bold move, as Candace notes:

...The ELCA does have a chance to make that bold statement as they take up the Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies before the week is through. Here is where they get a chance to either affirm God's call to gay and lesbian ministers or toss them under the ecclesiastical bus like they've done for so many years...
One would hope that the Lutherans have been paying attention to the saga of the Episcopal Church. We have also thrown some of our members under that bus a few times. We all remember the fiasco known as B033, in which we heeded the call for "sacrifice," so that the Bishops could go to Lambeth. Other than that, our self-imposed "restraint" accomplished nothing. Foreign Primates continued to pillage our churches. Blatant lies and threats of violence were still hurled at our Church. And now, with the development of an Anglican Covenant, the Communion is asking us to once again compromise our integrity and abandon our members for the sake of the illusion of unity.

But, I believe TEC has learned her lesson. I don't think we'll entertain any ideas of a Covenant now, or in the years to come. Sacrificing members of the Body of Christ (without asking their permission, btw) will not soothe the rage of the extremists. It will only embolden them further.

I pray the Lutherans will be bold, and be willing to risk much for the sake of the Gospel, the message of the redemptive power of God's radically inclusive love.

Pray for the Church.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lutherans Take First Step Towards Equality for All

By an extremely close vote, the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America approved a proposed Social Statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.

The statement itself is very carefully worded so as to include every perspective on these matters. For instance, consider this small section:

...We in the ELCA recognize that many of our sisters and brothers in same-gender relationships sincerely desire the support of other Christians for living faithfully in all aspects of their lives, including their sexual fidelity. In response, we have drawn deeply on our Lutheran theological heritage and Scripture. This has led, however, to differing and conscience-bound understandings about the place of such relationships within the Christian community. We have come to various conclusions concerning how to regard lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships, including whether and how to publicly recognize their lifelong commitments.

While Lutherans hold various convictions regarding lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships, this church is united on many critical issues. It opposes all forms of verbal or physical harassment and assault based on sexual orientation. It supports legislation and policies to protect civil rights and to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, and public services. It has called upon congregations and members to welcome, care for, and support same-gender couples and their families, and to advocate for their legal protection.

The ELCA recognizes that it has a pastoral responsibility to all children of God. This includes a pastoral responsibility to those who are same-gender in their orientation and to those who are seeking counsel about their sexual self-understanding. All are encouraged to avail themselves of the means of grace and pastoral care...

...We understand that, in this discernment about ethics and church practice, faithful people can and will come to different conclusions about the meaning of Scripture and about what constitutes responsible action. We further believe that this church, on the basis of “the bound conscience,”
will include these different understandings and practices within its life as it seeks to live out its mission and ministry in the world...
As I read this, it appears to adopt what we Episcopalians sometimes refer to as the "local option."

This will clear the way for the adoption of the recommendations on Ministry Policies, which are expected to be considered tomorrow. Here's the first three recommendations:

1. RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long,monogamous, same-gender relationships.

2. RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.

3. RESOLVED, that, in the implementation of these resolutions, the ELCA commit itself to bear one another’s burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all.
This concept of "Bound Conscience" appears to be an important component of both of these actions. A good summary of this concept can be found here. To put it simply, this is a call to respect those who hold a different position from your own on these matters, recognizing that "their consciences are bound to particular interpretations of Scripture and tradition."

Pray for the ELCA.

Pray for the Church.


About Those Town Hall Meetings...

Mad Priest points us to the best response I've seen yet to the shrill nut jobs showing up at the health care town hall meetings:

Indeed, it is like arguing with the dining room table, isn't it?

And now some of these kooks are showing up with sidearms, as if they'll get some respect because they are armed, I suppose. Any small amount of respect for this group that I may have held somewhere in the recesses of my mind was lost by that absurd stunt.

I learned a bit about the use of weapons during my younger, crazier years. And one of the absolute rules is that you don't go brandishing a weapon unless you intend to use it. So, are these "macho men" intending to shoot someone over health care? I doubt it. Posers, every one.

In attempt to return to some form of sanity, please feel free to use this thread to express your thoughts on any aspect of health care reform.


Monday, August 17, 2009

The Heresy of Individualism

As you may recall, there was much discussion about a section of our Presiding Bishop's opening address at General Convention. Here's the part that drew so much attention:

...The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy – that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being...
Bp. Bena of CANA recently tried to get some mileage out of that statement:

...They listen to religious leaders who teach bad religion, who don’t tell them the truth. For a Christian leader to stand and say, with the whole nation listening, that personal salvation is a heresy -- in my humble opinion, that teaching insults our Heavenly Father, who wishes each one of us to have a personal, saving relationship with His Son...
Of course, for Bp. Bena, that was just a warm up for his real issue: the litigations against those who are attempting to steal property. He even attempts to channel Ronald Reagan at one point. Sorry Bishop, but, in my opinion, you are no Ronald Reagan.

Apparently, the significance of what Bishop Katharine was saying is lost on some folks. Let me see if I can be of assistance by offering similar quotes from various other people.

Here's some thoughts from the Orthodox perspective:

...Perhaps the most difficult theological truth to communicate in the modern world is that of personal existence. Modern English has taken the word person from the realm of theology and changed it into the cheapest coin of the realm. Today it means that which is private, merely individual. As such, it becomes synonymous not with salvation but with our very destruction. Life lived as a mere individual is no life at all but a progressive movement towards death and destruction.

Thus there is always something of a hesitancy when someone asks (in newspeak), “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” If only we would, it would be truly significant. But in our modern street-wise theology, Christ as personal savior becomes synonymous with Christ as private savior, and as such is no savior at all. For no one and nothing can save the false existence we have created in the privacy of our modern existence. We were not created for such an existence.

In the story of Genesis – the first appearance of the phrase, “It is not good,” is applied to man – in an existence that is private. “It is not good for man to be alone.” We do not exist in the goodness which God has created for us when we exist alone. The most remote hermit of the Christian desert does not live alone, but lives radically for others and to God. Of all men he is the least alone. No one would take on the radical ascesis of the desert for themselves alone: it is an act of radical love.

And thus the personal God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, determined that salvation for humanity could only take place as we lived fully and truly into the existence for which we were and are created: the Church. In the Church we do not exist as mere individuals but as members of the Body of Christ. My life is the life of Christ. What happens to me is essential to what happens to all the members of the Body and what happens to the members of the Body is essential for what happens to me. Their life is my life...
And a little more from an Orthodox author:

...Orthodox theology is anything but individualistic. As theologians in the West have sought to recover a view of Christian community as more than a conglomeration of individuals. they have often turned to the work of John Zizioulas, a Greek Orthodox bishop and theologian. In his highly influential Being as Communion he argues that the inter-relationship of the three persons of the Trinity should serve as a model for human relationships.

Sarah Coakley thinks Zizioulas has been popular among Protestant theologians because they were already looking for a way past the "rampant individualism" of their culture. A vision of persons acting in self-emptying ways toward one another is deeply appealing in such a setting...
You can find Zizioulas' Being as Communion here.

Then, there is the work of C.H. Dodd:

...We have already observed that at a certain point in the Old Testament there is a change of emphasis. In the earlier parts the emphasis is upon the community; in the later parts the individual is more directly in view...

...In particular, it would be untrue and misleading to suggest that the New Testament represents the culmination of a development in the direction of individualism. It is of course true that the religious and moral significance of the individual is asserted by New Testament writers at least as firmly as by Jeremiah; but on the other hand the conception of an organic solidarity of the people of God reaches its fullest expression in the New Testament idea of the Church as the ‘Body of Christ’.

The comparison, which I suggested above, with the development of Greek thought aptly illustrates the point. There is no mistaking the thoroughgoing individualism of the Hellenistic world in the New Testament period. It found its highest expression in the Stoic philosophy, which, for all its efforts to call men to the service of humanity, had for its aim the ‘self-sufficiency’ of the individual (his ‘autarky’, as the newspapers now say, adopting a word from the vocabulary of Stoicism, but usually misspelling it). In contrast, anyone can see that Christianity brought into that world a new idea, and practice, of community.

But even in the Old Testament the break which we have noted at the time of Jeremiah is not nearly so complete as might appear on the surface. All through the Bible the individual is contemplated in the context of the community, though the emphasis shifts to some extent...
And some similar thoughts from Norman Pettinger:

The Bible begins its saga of man’s Salvation by portraying Adam alone in a garden. It closes that saga with the company of faithful people living in the City of God. The story is a story of man’s movement from solitude to fellowship, from individualism to community; and it is a way of saying that man, to be redeemed, needs not only the work of God for his Salvation but the companionship of his human brethren in God. That, I suppose, is the final reason why we need a Church.

We cannot even live to ourselves alone, much less be saved alone. Some of you may remember that Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, had occasion to remark that man is a social animal. We all know this is true, although frequently we try to evade the fact. There are plenty of people who want to be "lone wolves." There are very few people who succeed in that enterprise. We live one with another. The existence of the family is a token of this. God, the Prayer Book says in one of its collects, has set the solitary in families; and the man or woman who has not had some experience of family life is to that degree an impoverished human being. A child was found in India, so they say, who from earliest infancy had been away from fellow humans and lived amongst animals; and it was impossible, despite years of effort, once the child had been recovered, to make that child a fully-developed human being. A lone man may make a very good animal but he does not make a very good human. This is the natural ground for the religious fact of community -- one with another -- under God and in God...
It is time to let go of our nostalgic attachment to the "rugged individual," and recognize that our continual move towards individualism is having a negative impact on so many aspects of our clulture.

It is time to reject the heresy of individualism. Being "in Christ" is to belong to the Body of Christ, a community comprised of many members. My salvation is indeed yoked to your salvation.

Your thoughts?


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bishop Lawrence: "No Hasty Departure"

Bishop Lawrence addressed the clergy of South Carolina today. Here's part of his opening comments:

...While I have no immediate solution to the challenges we face—it is certainly neither a hasty departure nor a paralyzed passivity I counsel. Either of these I believe, regardless of what godly wisdom they may be for others, would be for us a false peace and a “fatal security” which in time (and brief at that) would only betray us. Others in their given circumstances must do what they believe God has called them to do...
Later on, he makes this comment:

...I believe we have a unique role to play within the Anglican Communion. If at present we play that role by being in but not of the mainstream of TEC is it any less important?
It appears Bishop Lawrence's counsel is to remain in TEC.

Most of the rest of his statement I find rather troubling. It causes me to wonder if the Bishop has ever sat down and had a real conversation with a progressive Christian. He lays out a number of accusations that are simply quite bizarre. To give him the benefit of the doubt, I want to assume that he has been misinformed, and is not intentionally bearing false witness against his brothers and sisters in Christ.

To offer just a few examples, he spends quite a bit of time on this thing he calls "The False Gospel of Indiscriminate Inclusivity." False Gospel? You mean the Gospel of John 3:16? The Gospel that clearly states that WHOSOEVER believes will be saved? God's grace is indeed indiscriminate. All are offered the gift of grace. None are excluded from that invitation.

One might assume that the Bishop's point is more about the transformation that occurs once a person accepts the free and radically inclusive gift of God's grace. Specifically, I would imagine that the Bishop has accepted as fact that all progressive Christians are light on sin and the need for repentance. That is simply not true. The shift in the way we acknowledge the gifts of women and GLBTs in the Church does not signal that we have suddenly embraced an "anything goes" approach to sin and repentance. In fact, upon considering the history of the abuse of those two groups by the Church, we are calling the Church to repent of the sins of misogyny and bigotry. If anything, we have expanded our awareness of sin in our own lives, and in this world.

The Bishop then provides a list of what he considers current "false teachings" in TEC. The first one he lists is "The Trinity." I was rather startled by that. I don't think I've ever met an Episcopalian that was not a Trinitarian. Upon further reading, it appears the Bishop's primary example for this accusation is the tendency in some places, and in some trial liturgies, to not refer to "three Persons in one Nature" as  "Father, Son and Holy Spirit." On that basis, he claims that in the name of inclusion (and radical feminism) TEC has abandoned the doctrine of the Trinity. I don't know about you, but to me that sounds like a bit of a stretch.

The next "false teaching" is "The Uniqueness of Christ." As you can imagine, he focuses in on our Presiding Bishop's controversial statements on this matter, and leaps from there to "the pervasiveness of this inclusive Gospel." As you probably know, the relevant biblical passage for this issue is John 14:6..."No one comes to the Father except through me." Apparently, the Bishop believes that gaining access to God through Jesus Christ involves reciting some formula (perhaps the Jesus prayer?) in which the use of only certain words, leading to particular concepts, can assure one of salvation. Never mind if the person is not accustomed to Western thought, or suffers from some disability that does not allow such intellectual constructs to be understood. This narrow focus on formularies of words as the only way to move "through" Christ is made even more clear by the Bishop's fixation on the use of the term "Lord" at the end of this accusation.

God's ways are not our ways. I don't think it serves us well to assume that we can place limits on the how God moves in the lives of others.  We limited beings are not the ones to define the means by which we can enter into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Due to our own flawed nature, most likely we'll get it wrong.

The next example of "false teaching" is "Scriptural Authority." The Bishop makes this statement: "Too often supposed conundrums or difficulties are brought up, seemingly in order to detract from traditional understandings..." Or, perhaps because some of us are honestly struggling with the text? Or would the Bishop prefer that we just ignore the obvious difficulties? Then the Bishops offers this: "Ridiculous arguments such as shellfish and mixed fabrics are dragged out (long reconciled by the Fathers of the Church, as well as the Anglican Reformers) in order to confuse the ill-taught or the untutored in theology." It's all a plot, you see.

I guess we should just shut up about those texts in which we find that it is lawful to kill your disobedient child, or stories about God sending bears to maul the children. These are not "ridiculous arguments." To remain silent about them is to deny the fact that there are parts of the bible that are quite ugly. Our challenge is to not ignore those ugly bits, but to wrestle with them; to honestly attempt to grapple with what those stories reveal about those who told them, about what they reveal of their relationship with God, and to then reflect on how such unpleasant passages inform us about our own relationship with God. Hiding the conundrums because they are difficult is simply another form of denial. So, who is it that is denying the authority of scripture?

The next "false teaching" is "Baptismal Theology detached from Biblical and Catholic doctrine." The bishop challenges the statement "all the sacraments for all the baptized." It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why the Bishop considers TEC to have an "inadequate baptismal theology." One must assume that in the case of GLBT Christians, he feels they have not repented and died to sin. The evidence for such an offensive assumption is not provided. He then states, "Since when has baptism been the ticket to ordination in the Church?" Not a ticket, but, according to our tradition, certainly a prerequisite. The only way we can continue to exclude people from the sacrament of Holy Orders based on their sexual orientation is to quit baptizing them. That's the point.

Next false teaching is "Human Sexuality." From the Bishop: " has been a clever device of some in recent years to refer to the varied approach to marriage in the different epochs of biblical history, often done in ways that are intended to bring more confusion rather than clarity..." Is the Bishop denying that there are numerous models of "marriage" in the scriptures? Is the Bishop denying that what we now consider to be "marriage" is a rather recent innovation?

The way in which two people are united in a long-term monogamous relationship rooted in love, a love that is the closest expression most of us will ever experience of divine love, has continued to evolve. In these times of increasing divorces and damaged families, it would seem to me that the Church should be about the business of encouraging more committed relationships, not banning them because of personal biases backed by the questionable interpretation of five bible verses.

The final "false teaching" is "Constitution & Canons—Common Life." The Bishop seems to be making the argument that C056 broke our own Constitution and Canons. The Bishop may want to give that resolution another read. It calls for a "generous pastoral response" and a gathering of resources. If and when we authorize "gay marriage," the relevant canons will have to be addressed, of course. The earliest that will happen will be in 2012.

There's much in this address that will probably be cause for most extreme conservatives, and probably a few conservatives, to stand up and cheer. I found it to be a rather offensive remix of an extreme position in a debate that has now been going on for much too long.

But, as I said in the beginning, it appears Bishop Lawrence is in TEC (although not "of" TEC) for the long haul. That is indeed good news.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Closer Look at the ACNA Lifeboat

Back in 2004, the attempt to create a new entity that would replace The Episcopal Church was made public. Even though the instigators of this plot have tried hard to bury the fact in lots of lofty ideas, the "issue" that rallied them was their fear of gay cooties. They longed for the "good old days", when men were men, and gays stayed in the closet where they belonged. The existence of lesbians in the Church was an afterthought for the most part, because, after all, they were just women. This was to be a church for manly men, and women who admired such men.

The audacity of TEC, expressed by being honest about the gay Christians in our pews and behind our altars, was more than they could stand. So, armed with five questionably interpreted bible verses, and a tradition that affirmed the closet, they launched their mission to re-create a "pure" church, designed by their own selective memory of the past.

The tactics outlined in the documents uncovered in 2004 included the use of offshore bishops, claiming property, and other acts of "guerrilla warfare" (their term, not mine). The fruit of many years of such ecclesiastical disobedience and blatant theft was the creation of an organization now known as the Anglican Church in North America.

ACNA now claims to have 28 Dioceses and 100,000 members. It is worth noting that they picked up at least two "partners" that had already established themselves; The Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Mission in America. The REC brought with them about 14,000 members in about 140 congregations organized into 7 dioceses. The AMiA added 9 dioceses to ACNA's list. So, when folks try to tell you that ACNA is made up of 100,000 disgruntled Episcopalians, you may want to point out to them that at least 16 of their 28 dioceses were created by those who have not been Episcopalians for a long time.

It is also worth noting that neither the REC or the AMiA are recognized by Canterbury as a being members of the Anglican Communion. The reasons why they are not recognized are substantial, and, to date, have not been resolved. By grafting in these two groups, ACNA's hopes of being recognized as a "replacement Province" at some future date are severely weakened.

I don't personally know anyone who has aligned themselves with ACNA. Well, as a Son of the House, actually I know quite a few of them. So let's put it this way; I am not on speaking terms with anyone aligned with ACNA. Having no access to inside information, I've been left to my own ponderings regarding how things are going within this strange hybrid consisting of Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic extremists, some of whom also fear girl cooties almost as much as gay ones. It has seemed to me that such a coalition formed out of convenience, led by leaders known for their effective "guerrilla warfare" tactics, was headed for more stormy weather.

But now, thanks to modern technology, I am no longer limited to my own ponderings. Examples suggesting that all is not well within ACNA are beginning to emerge. For instance, consider this sermon recently offered by the rector of St. Gregory's Episcopal Church in Mansfield, TX, part of the Diocese of Fort Worth that has claimed to have left the Episcopal Church and is now aligned with the Southern Cone. One would assume that this congregation would eventually transition right into ACNA. However, Fr. Whitfield has some concerns about such a transition. Here's part of his sermon:

...But, on the other hand, what about this new province? Haven’t all godly Anglicans come together out of faithfulness to God to form this new thing, this (so it’s called) “new communion for a new reformation”? It is being praised by many as being “orthodox” and “biblical.” The swelling tide of praise for this new province is a remarkable thing to behold. Now, I’m afraid I might upset some of you, and I’m sorry. But I’m bound by conscience to tell you this: from a theological standpoint, this new arrangement is quite possibly the most significant ecclesiastical mistake of my lifetime. The canons and constitution of this new province display the most subtle use of historically ignorant theological selectivity and a remarkably dated and bankrupt ecclesiology, all of which enshrines our own narrow prejudices and preferences. There is no belief in objective truth in these founding documents, even if we say it. There is only the confidence of conservatism which is itself just a form of liberalism in that “autonomy” is still worshipped above truth.

Of course, I have been saying this for months. I have been at pains appealing to my brethren, and for this I have found myself in a new lonely world. I have been called a “fool,” publicly. When I suggested that all of this makes it very hard for me to bring people to Jesus and into his church because of the scandal and arrogance of it all, it was suggested that my problem was simply that I wasn’t preaching the gospel—a wounding thing to say to a preacher. And what is perhaps the worst thing is that on several occasions, some of my brethren have come to me privately in agreement—but mind you, only privately. One rather significant brother of mine even told me that this new province wouldn’t last five years. He said, “Of course, it’s a disaster.” Nonetheless, he said, we must push this through. Now, I don’t understand this, and mine is a lonely confusion...
I can relate to some of Fr. Whitfield's struggle, even from my place on the other side of the theological spectrum. He said, "...all of this makes it very hard for me to bring people to Jesus and into his church because of the scandal and arrogance of it all..." I share that frustration as well. Maybe more about that another time.

If you want to review the constitution and canons of ACNA, and come to your own conclusion as to if they do indeed represent "historically ignorant theological selectivity and a remarkably dated and bankrupt ecclesiology," you can find them here.

To those considering jumping ship and sailing off in the ACNA lifeboat, I encourage you to take a closer look before making that leap. There appears to be a few holes in that hull as well. Most likely even more structural damage will be exposed as the scrutiny of this vessel intensifies.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Meetings in South Carolina Continue

Bishop Lawrence of South Carolina has issued this letter about the upcoming Clergy Day scheduled for this Thursday. Here's part of it:

...You will not be asked to make a decision or vote on any resolution at this meeting. This is not a legislative gathering, nor even primarily a meeting to vet resolutions...

...It is my hope, even expectation, that this will be a meeting that will initiate a more robust and expansive conversation within this diocese and, even more importantly, set out the principles that will enable us to begin a broader and more active engagement with the challenges we face...
No doubt that this is an attempt by the Bishop to alleviate some of the anxiety about what is being planned in South Carolina. One would hope that what we are witnessing is not the beginning of the process we saw unfold in San Joaquin and elsewhere.

There are good reasons to be quite concerned. It is worth remembering that Bishop Lawrence was previously from San Joaquin, and supported the process that led to the unsuccessful attempt by the Province of the Southern Cone to claim ownership of that entire Diocese.

The Episcopal Forum of South Carolina wrote two letters to the Bishops and Standing Committees which express further concerns about Bishop Lawrence. Here is part of their second letter, dated September 14, 2007:

...Our concern is heightened by recent statements made by Father Lawrence. Following the ruling that his first election was null and void, Father Lawrence stated, "It's time to call for those in the middle to wake up and decide which side you are on." (3/17/07, Charleston, SC, Post and Courier). Further, in a letter by Father Lawrence to his parish, posted August 22, 2007 on his parish's website, he wrote; "I also hold strong convictions on remaining in covenanted fellowship with the worldwide Anglican Communion, rather than following, as some have suggested, the pathway of an overly autonomous provincial or national church."

His perspective deeply concerns us, as we believe that it would further isolate a substantial number of Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina. A climate of intolerance exists in this diocese, virtually isolating Episcopalians who do not agree with the expressed position of the majority of clergy and lay leaders who are members of the Anglican Communion Network. We fear that climate would be exacerbated by the administration of a bishop with Mark Lawrence's perspective...
More recent troubling news is that the vestry of a parish in South Carolina has recently adopted this resolution:

Whereas The Episcopal Church in its most recent General Convention has once again exhibited a disregard for Holy Scripture and failed to submit to the Anglican Communion, we the Vestry of Christ St. Paul's Parish, Yonges Island, SC, hereby request that the Diocese of South Carolina be placed under a spiritual authority which holds to the clear teaching of the Holy Scripture and the Bonds of Affection within the Anglican Communion which will give our Diocese a place to thrive.
It would seem that it may be time to be developing some contingency plans, if one is a faithful Episcopalian in the Diocese of South Carolina.

It appears that some of the work of preparing for a crisis in South Carolina has already been going on for a few years. I commend to you The Episcopal Forum, which is a group of 400 Episcopalians in South Carolina committed to this mission:

The mission of The Episcopal Forum of South Carolina is to preserve unity with diversity in the Diocese of South Carolina and within The Episcopal Church, through the inclusion of a broad range of Scriptural understandings, and by upholding the democratic actions of its Constitution and Canons, conventions and elected leadership...
This group needs our support right now. You can find their contact information here.

Continue your prayers for the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

Pray for the Church.


Sunday, August 09, 2009

Something's Cooking in South Carolina

You may recall that Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina had a difficult time getting the necessary consents to his election a few years ago. He failed to get them after his first election, due to the concerns of many that he might eventually jump ship and try to take the Diocese with him. Then he was re-elected, sent a letter to all the Standing Committees assuring them that he had no intention of leaving the Episcopal Church, and so received the necessary consents. We discussed those developments here, here and here.

Now, two years later, Bishop Lawrence wrote this letter to the members of South Carolina regarding last month's General Convention. Here's his closing thoughts:

...There is an increasingly aggressive displacement within this Church of the gospel of Jesus Christ’s transforming power by the “new” gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity which seeks to subsume all in its wake. It is marked by an increased evangelistic zeal and mission that hints at imperialistic plans to spread throughout the Communion. This calls for a bold response. It is of the utmost importance that we find more than just a place to stand. Indeed, it is imperative that we find a place to thrive; a place that is faithful, relational and structural—and so we shall!
The leadership of the Diocese of South Carolina is currently holding closed meetings. Hints are given that something big is brewing.

David Trimble offers the most thorough summary of what this "something" might be. However, I do need to correct David on one point; a point that I believe is quite crucial.

Here is the quote that I find to be a bit misleading:

It is widely reported that +Lawrence pledged, during the process of his election and approval as Bishop, that he would not lead DioSC out of TEO. I wondered at the time what such a pledge really meant, because a Bishop cannot truly "lead" such a move by his or her own fiat, but it must be voted by the Standing Committee and Diocesan Convention.

Commenter Suepie at Stand Firm says, however, that this is a misquote of what +Lawrence said, but rather his "pledge" was: “I said I was willing to abide by the consecration vows of a bishop. They asked me what would I do to keep the Diocese of South Carolina in the Episcopal Church. I said I will work at least as hard to keep the Diocese of South Carolina in the Episcopal Church as my brothers and sisters in the Episcopal Church work to keep the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion. There is a mutual accountability we all have.”
David got it partially right. Bishop Lawrence did indeed make the statement quoted above, as can be seen here, on November 6, 2006. That letter did little to calm the fears of most of the Standing Committees. In March of 2007, his election was declared null and void.

Bishop Lawrence was re-elected by the people of South Carolina. According to the Episcopal News Service, on March 8, 2007, Bishop-elect Lawrence sent a second letter to all the Standing Committees, which included this statement:

...As I stated at the walkabout in Charleston on September 9, 2006, and again in a statement written on 6 November 2006, I will make the vows of conformity as written in the Book of Common Prayer and the Constitution & Canons, (III.11.8). I will heartily make the vows conforming ' the doctrine, discipline, and worship' of the Episcopal Church, as well as the trustworthiness of the Holy Scriptures. So to put it as clearly as I can, my intention is to remain in The Episcopal Church.
I could not find the March 8, 2007 letter on the South Carolina website, where I am sure it resided at one time. However, it can be seen reprinted here and here, and is referenced here.

" intention is to remain in The Episcopal Church." That is the statement made by Bishop Lawrence. That is the statement that made it possible for him to receive the neccessary consents. I want to believe that the Bishop will honor that intention.

The actions of General Convention may be seen by some as indicating some future direction for The Episcopal Church, but the truth of the matter is that nothing has changed. That's not an opinion, by the way. That is what a careful reading of the two resolutions causing concern (D025 and C056) reveals, if one removes all the spin attached to them and simply considers the actual wording of the resolutions themselves. I do not see how those two resolutions by themselves would be cause for Bishop Lawrence to abandon his stated intention to remain in TEC.

So, what might South Carolina decide to do?

Steve Wood suggests that it is time for South Carolina to join the imaginary province of ACNA.

Mark Harris suspects they will take some other path, such as signing up to the Anglican Covenant as a Diocese, while pulling their financial support from TEC.

I would guess that indeed some middle way will be found, most likely along the lines of the recent Anaheim Statement or this statement signed by 15 Bishops and the three members of the Anglican Communion Institute (for background on the latter, don't miss this post by Mark Harris).

So, that's what we know about what is happening in South Carolina, for now. If anyone has more information about this situation, please find a way to make it public.

Now, a request: Let's hold back the snark and the angry comments, please (yes, I am indeed preaching to myself here!). From my understanding, no final decisions have been made yet in SC. Let's not add any unneccesary additional fuel to this fire, ok? Thanks.

Pray for the Diocese of South Carolina.

Pray for the Church.


Friday, August 07, 2009

The Anglican Schism; Does It Matter?

The Guardian is hosting an interesting set of essays on the topic "Who Cares About the Anglican Schism?" Thinking Anglicans provides links to the various articles. Make sure you take a look at Simon's entry, as I think he offers an important insight into another reason why we are witnessing the current awakening within the Church of England.

I thought it might be entertaining if we addressed that question as well. So, here we go...

Who cares about the Anglican schism?

Since I already have the floor, I'll go first.

I used to care about the schism very much, but possibly not for the regularly stated reasons. My understanding of God's grace has always been very contrary to the Calvinist assumption (predestined election, etc.). In the Gospel in miniature (John 3:16), I don't see any qualifiers to the term "WHOSOEVER." Whosever believes will not perish. God's grace is not limited. It flows where it will.

That means that God's mission is not limited to me, or my family, or my group, or my nation. To glimpse God's mission, our ego boundaries have to move beyond the inclination to separate humanity into camps of "us" and "them."

In some places, specifically in the US, the importance of the "individual" has been enshrined as an idol that dare not be challenged. The Church is not immune to the influences of this particularly poisonous form of idolatry. As a result, what is of utmost importance to many Christians is what is happening in their congregation. This is often referred to as "congregationalism" or "parochialism." It severely limits our ability to perceive the movement of God beyond our own backyard.

The concept of the Anglican Communion guards against this limitation. It draws us to constantly keep in mind that God's mission is a global mission, which touches every person, everywhere, all the time. That is an important perspective. To me, it is what gives value to the existence of The Anglican Communion.

I recall being at some event about 15 years ago, at which some representatives from some official entity (815, perhaps?) were asking us to identify the specific value added by being part of a Diocese. I was troubled by the various responses, as, without exception, they were all about how the Diocese assisted their local congregation. When it was my turn, I pointed out that the Diocese was important because it was my connection to the Episcopal Church, which was in turn my connection to the Anglican Communion. The Diocese was my connection to God's global mission. That response was greeted with a few puzzled expressions, and a few more condescending smiles. Then the discussion continued, along the lines of "what's in it for me," of course.

A decade and a half later, I find that my thinking on this matter hasn't shifted too much. It is the reason that I continue to be outraged by those who believe that a congregation or a Diocese has the authority to make unilateral decisions regarding their connection to the Episcopal Church.

However, recently I find my view has started to shift, due primarily to the tensions emerging within the Anglican Communion. To avoid all the heavy language of the theologians and simplify what I see as at the root of this tension, I'll offer two sentences that I think are quite representative.

The first is from former Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning; "In this Church, there will be no outcasts."

The second is from a recent article by Cal Thomas: "Inclusivity has nothing to do with the foundational truths set forth in Scripture."

As you can see, those are two very different perspectives, and I'm not sure that they can ever be reconciled.

If we are to use the recent statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury as an indicator of what direction the "official" Anglican Communion is headed, it appears that it will be more aligned with Cal Thomas. Based on personal prejudices and a strained interpretation of 5 verses from the bible (while apparently editing out John 3:16), the Good News of the Anglican Communion will be an exclusionary message.

Can such a message convey the free flow of God's grace? I don't think so. If not, can the Anglican Communion be said to be engaging in God's global mission? I'm no longer so sure.

So, what can we do?

I'm drawn to reflect on the term "communion." What does it mean for me to "commune" with God? It is to be in a relationship, a relationship from which grace flows, a relationship in which the depth of God's love is known. A relationship in which that love allows me to be a conduit of grace for the world.

As a conduit of grace (or a "sacramental person" if you prefer) a web of relationships that spans the globe is perceived. God's mission continues, regardless of our petty disputes of what is fit and what is not. And it is in this web of relationships that I find hope for the future.

Perhaps the time for official institutions has come and gone. Perhaps the hierarchies that block the flow of grace must be revealed for the facades that they have always been and be allowed to come tumbling down. If that is so, I will grieve their passing. But then it will be time to carry on, actively seeking the movement of God, and engaging in that mission, wherever it might be found.

Do I care about the Anglican schism? Yes. I find it to be quite sad that such a noble experiment has allowed the shrill voices of a dying world view to twist their global mission into one that places unnecessary exclusionst barricades around their perimeter. As I can see no future for such an institution, I also mourn its inevitable death.

But, in the end, it is God's mission, not mine, not the Episcopal Church's, and not the Anglican Communion's. And God will prevail. Of that I have no doubt.

Perhaps this schism will result in the destruction of the Church as we know it. If so, then let it happen quickly. But let us never give up our hope in God's redemptive love. From the ashes of those broken dreams, God is already fashioning a new thing; a communion rooted in a web of living relationships that transcend the barricades of the past.

Ok, your turn.  Who cares about the Anglican schism?


Thursday, August 06, 2009

What is a Generous Pastoral Response?

Bill Carroll has written an essay worth giving a read: How Generous is Pastoral Generosity?. He is commenting on the Liturgies for Blessings resolution from last month's General Convention. He specifically focuses on the fourth resolve of that resolution:

Resolved, That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church

Here's part of Bill's thoughts:

...At the same time, however, all of us (not just bishops) need to acknowledge that we have, as individuals and as a Church, fallen short of the mark and that we have waffled about whether we really mean it when we speak of a “full and equal claim.” If anyone has been generous these thirty years and more, it has been the LGBT faithful, who have endured from the Church they love a spectrum of pastoral care ranging from spiritual violence and rejection, on the one hand, to ambivalent and fickle tolerance, on the other, with an occasional outbreak of Kingdom hope here and there to sustain them on their wilderness journey...
If we are honest, most of us will admit to the truth in that statement. I know that I stand convicted by it. Not long ago, I had the opportunity to play a role in the blessing of a couple, one of whom I consider a valued friend. In the end, I didn't do it. Why? Because I feared the consequences. More specifically, because I feared repercussions from at least three bishops that would be implicated by that action in one way or another.

Am I blaming the bishops? Partially. In the end, the decision was my own, and I take responsibility for it. But the guidance from the bishops whose authority I have been under also played a role. As an example, here's a paraphrase of the directive I have received from at least two bishops:

Clergy will not perform same sex blessings, but I do expect them to provide the best pastoral care possible to all baptized members.
As you can imagine, that leaves a few of us scratching out heads. Is this a subtle way of stating the Church's version of "don't ask, don't tell"? Does this mean we can do what we think is best, but don't tell the Bishop? Or does it mean we can do everything except sign the marriage license?

This kind of directive places the local clergy in a very difficult position. As Bill points out in his essay, " cannot be generous in discharging a duty. One is either being faithful and upholding one’s vows, or one is not..." If we are to offer the best pastoral care possible, one would assume that means, at the bare minimum, offering access to all the sacramental rites to all the baptized.

I am very fond of my bishop, but I think it is time for us to be honest about something we often avoid, for fear of offending the members of the junior House. Bishops are indeed a blessing, but they can also be a bane.

As an example, consider Jim Naughton's live blog of the debate over the Liturgies for Blessings resolution in the House of Bishops. Here's the bit that draws my concern:

...Then a bit of a blockbuster, Bishop Sean Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania, (the youngest bishop in the House) supported by Bishop Kirk Smith of Arizona want the resolution discharged (killed.) Rowe says legislation doesn't work. What he offers sure plays to me as a sweeping attack on the House of Deputies authority. Smith says the bishops should do a pastoral letter. (Maybe it is just the fact that I am helping hte House of Deputies with media, but this seems disrespectful of the Deputies.... Another attempt to disenfranchise them for the governance of their church.) Most of the debate seems to be going against it.

The Bishop of Hawaii, Fitzpatrick, speaks in favor of discharge, as does Doyle of Texas.

it is very hard for me to see this as anything other than an attempt to assert the authority of the bishops and the bishops only on this matter.

Rowe asks for a roll call on the discharge vote. This feels like an effort to run out the clock. What possible reason can there be for getting this vote on the record. It is of no lasting significance.

Halfway through, the move to discharge is losing 42-19. The vote isn't over, but 55 no votes are already in, so I'd say the move to discharge fails. Final now 42-94-1, the motion fails.
Do you see what happened there? About one third of the House of Bishops wanted to kill the resolution. Not amend it, but kill it. What's going on there?

There were a few different dynamics happening within the House of Bishops, I think. The first one is that I suspect many of our Bishops are becoming more and more aware that the nature of their authority has shifted. Rarely do we encounter the "Prince Bishops" of yesterday. If the Bishop wants something done, he or she will have to make their case, usually before numerous groups. And they can expect to be challenged on every front. Most likely this shift makes a few Bishops a bit uncomfortable, which results in stunts like the one above. Thank God that attempt to assert their authority was defeated. If it had passed, and C056 died on the floor of the House of Bishops, the outrage that would have resulted would have further weakened their authority.

Now for the second dynamic that I think was at work here. Some time ago, someone who has been around the Church for some time made an observation that I found to be quite insightful. They noted that the "career track" (Anglo-Catholics are free to translate that into "vocational path") of your typical Bishop is that they serve as a curate, then rector or vicar of a small congregation, then rector of a large parish, and then are elected Bishop. This isn't true for all Bishops, of course, but I think if you surveyed the current House, you'd find that it is pretty much the norm.

The problem with this model is that in many cases, it means that those we call as Bishops have never created anything new! They inherited the work of those who went before them, but, with the exception of a few subtle changes, did little to rock the existing boat. "New" and "innovative" meant trouble. When they become Bishops, they continue to be wary of "change." That's why you see few (if any) church planters or other known risk takers among our Bishops. And this inclination to "play it safe" is a serious stumbling block when it comes to being faithful to our call as servants of God, who daily risks much for our sake.

To give the Bishops credit, they did pass this resolution. Now that it is in place, I would pray that the time of "double talk" has ended, and our Bishops will speak clearly and boldly on the subject of offering a "generous pastoral response" to all our baptized members.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Awakening of the Church of England

Well, after a little over a year, I've decided to return. The project that was the primary reason for shutting down Jake's place has come to an end. Beyond that, it has become quite clear to me recently that Jake still has a few more things to say.

Do keep in mind that, as before, anything that appears here is the result of my own personal musings. My days of wearing any type of "official" hat are over. I no longer speak for anyone other than myself. Maybe more about that another time.

I doubt if we can simply pick up where we left off. The Church is in a very different place from where it was a year ago. And Jake has changed a bit as well. So, with that disclaimer in mind, let us begin the conversation anew.

Rather than attempt to cover the entire last year, I'm going to assume that most of you have kept up with the news of "things Anglican," and jump right in with a current development that is important enough to draw me out of my self-inflicted retirement. But, perhaps to understand why it is so important, maybe we do need to back up at least a few weeks.

So, let's return to last month's General Convention. As was to be expected, the two resolutions that got the most attention, D025 and C056, had to do with matters regarding human sexuality. After they were passed by both Houses of Convention by considerable margins, our Presiding Officers wrote two separate letters to Canterbury, painstakingly explaining that both of those resolutions were simply honest reflections of the current mind of the majority of Episcopalians on these matters. They represented no "new" developments.

About a week later, Dr. Williams responded, using some quite troubling language. Here's a sampling:

...Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church's teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires...
One wonders if Dr. Williams believes we should have waited for the Church Catholic to make up their mind about any number of other matters, such as celibacy or women's ordination, to name just a couple that would leave us still waiting. And what is this bit about a "chosen lifestyle." Are we really going to revisit that absurd argument?

In the end, Dr. Williams reintroduces the "two levels of Anglicanism" idea. He attempts to soften the message by suggesting that instead of "two tiers," we might think of it as "two tracks" track for a new entity called "Covenant Anglicans" and a second track for just plain old "Anglicans." Not so bad, at first glance, right? Personally I don't care for the added adjective, but if others like it, no big deal, I suppose. But, then Dr. Williams continues...

Apparently, only the "covenant" group will be able to function in representative capacities. So, how does that differ from the previous "two tier" idea? It doesn't. The intent is still to create first and second class citizens in the Anglican Communion (and, by inference, in the Kingdom of God). Isn't this exactly what the extremists have been scheming to accomplish through a carefully woven web of lies and outright thefts for the last decade or more?

As you would imagine, there were a number of responses to Dr. Williams' letter. Rather than cover them all, I invite you to follow with me through a particular thread of responses, which leads to the important development I mentioned earlier.

This particular thread could be said to have started with Andrew Brown's commentary; Rowan's Road to Schism:

...The mechanism that Rowan proposes to solve these problems in the future is a "covenant": a legally binding agreement that the individual churches who sign up to it will do nothing important against the wishes of the rest of the covenanted churches. This is an idea hugely popular among conservatives who think it would have stopped the Americans. As such, the Church of England currently thinks it's quite a good wheeze. But I cannot see any General Synod actually signing up to it, when this would constrain its own freedom. Had the covenant existed 20 years ago, there would be no women priests here...
Mad Priest did some checking, and concluded that Andrew was wrong; General Synod would actually approve a Covenant, because it would be rude not to do so. Then the Mad One offered some thoughts of his own:

...Basically, my church is sleepwalking into disaster. We are going to die because we are so damn polite and we don't like offending people...

...It seems to me that it is of the utmost importance that the progressives, liberals and radicals of the Church of England, along with anyone who is protective of our church's national identity and its establishment role of being a church for English society and the English culture, must get off their arses pretty damn quick and do something to stop the covenant now. If they do not, then not one of these people will have a place in the Church of England in a few years' time. If they vote for the covenant they will be voting for their own censorship. They will be voting for an end to freedom of thought and the right to speak their thoughts.

Are the members of the Synod of the Church of England really prepared to embrace an archaic, unenlightened puritanism just because they don't want to upset that nice, old boy who writes those books nobody can understand?

You know, I very much fear that they are.
Maggi Dawn and Nick Baines joined this conversation (along with a few others).

And then, low and behold, on August 4, what happened? Inclusive Church posted a joint statement by 13 groups working together in the Church of England. Here's part of it:

...Together, we reaffirm our commitment to working for the full inclusion of all people at all levels of ministry. We will continue to work towards liturgical and sacramental recognition of the God-given love which enables many LGBT couples to thrive. We will seek to strengthen the bonds of affection which exist between those in all the Churches of the Anglican Communion who share our commitment to the full inclusion of all of God's faithful. We will also continue to work closely with our brother and sister churches, especially those with whom we have mutual recognition of orders such as the Nordic churches...
Well, it appears that at least some parts of the Church of England are no longer "sleepwalking into disaster." About time!

So, what does this have to do with TEC? One last comment made by the Mad One:

...TEC started this. They were right to start it. But that doesn't mean that they can avoid their responsibilities for having started it. You did a good thing. Don't ruin it by crawling back into your isolationist shell as soon as the going gets really tough...
At last month's General Convention, I think we of TEC witnessed the last bit of cleaning up after too many years of being distracted by attempts to make outcasts of some of our members. But, as MP reminds us, that doesn't mean our work is done. We don't exist just for our own sakes, but, as Bp. Griswold was fond of reminding us, "for the sake of the world."

So what's the new development? We still have much work to do, beyond the borders of TEC.  Let's not be deluded into thinking we've done our part and can now rest on our laurels.  Time to roll up our sleeves and get back to work, it seems to me.

Now is not the time to draw back into isolationism. Let us press on.