Monday, March 29, 2004

Questionable Virtue

Karen, on The Heretic's Corner and Mumcat, on The Cat's Cradle have both written excellent pieces reflecting on how to respond to the angry voices within the Episcopal Church in response to the decision of our General Convention to give consent to the diocese of New Hampshire's election of Gene Robinson as their bishop. What follows is an attempt to participate in this conversation, as well as sort out some of my own conflicted thoughts and feelings in regards to the current tensions within the Church.

The consents are understood to be a ratification that the election of a bishop was done properly and in order. A majority of the bishops and Standing Committees of all the dioceses of the Episcopal Church must give their consent to an election. The reality is that sometimes the consents are used as a second vote. An example of this would be James DeKoven, who was elected twice as bishop, once for Wisconsin and once for Illinois, but was never given the necessary consents, because he had the audacity to do such terrible things as put candles on the altar and wear a chasuble. He was never consecrated as bishop.

In that era, the "issue" was churchmanship. The tension was between the Protestants and the Catholics in the Episcopal Church. The specifics of that struggle seem absurd today. So what is "the issue" behind the consents given for Bishop Robinson? Not the way he celebrates the Eucharist. Not his abilities as a leader. The sole issue is that he is "openly" gay.

Bp. Robinson is not the first gay bishop. I say that as a fact, not speculation. He is, however, the first diocesan bishop to be open about his sexual orientation.

This has some in the Episcopal Church quite upset. Anyone who supports Bishop Robinson is labeled as "a revisionist," who has "thrown out the bible," and is "following Satan."

Regarding the bible and this "issue," much has been said elsewhere, and I find the argument tiring. If you want to read more on this, I suggest you start here. The bottom line, for me, is that I do not find any place in the bible where committed relationships, rooted in love, and manifesting for us all an outward sign of divine love, are condemned. Specific acts, motivated by lust without love, perhaps. But I do not see the pastoral issue confronting us today specifically addressed in scripture.

I do see a consistent theme of widening the circle of those we invite into the Kingdom. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). Consequently, I find it a personal affront to suggest that those of us who support Bp. Robinson have rejected the bible. Many of us daily "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" the scriptures. The fact that God has revealed more than one message is not anything new. History is full of differences of opinion regarding the interpretation of sacred texts. The bible has been used to justify slavery and the subordination of women, among other things. To suggest that those who have heard a message that is contrary to what you have heard have "rejected the scriptures" and "are following Satan" is to demonize your opponent, in an attempt to force them into silence.

Regarding the tradition of the Church; let me say again, there have always been gay and lesbian Christians, some of whom have been ordained. As long as they stayed in the closet, no one made a big deal about it, although often it was common knowledge. Today, the Episcopal Church has decided to be honest. I am quite proud of us for doing this. The previous "don't ask, don't tell" policy was a mockery of the faith that we proclaim.

In most places in the Episcopal Church, Bp. Robinson is considered a new bishop, not an issue. These places have gone on with the work of the Church, and have ignored the angry voices from the fringe. For that, I am thankful.

But, there comes a point when I think these angry voices, who it has become clear desire nothing less than the destruction of the Episcopal Church, need to be held accountable.

Consequently, I am going to offer a recent post from David Virtue's site. I am offering it for a variety of reasons;

1. I don't want to provide a link to this site. If you really want to find it, Google is your friend.

2. He quotes from the House of Bishops and House of Deputies mailing list, a list on which each message contains this instruction; Unless this message is clearly in the public domain, e.g. a press release, it may not be redistributed without its author's permission. I think it is safe to surmise that Bp. Righter, the target of this piece, did not give permission. I guess that rules don't apply if you are an "orthodox" waging battle with "revisionists"? Following his lead, I assume that I am free to lift material from his site as well.

3. When I first read these comments on the list (which I read but do not post to, since I am neither a bishop...heaven forbid!...nor a deputy...thank God!) I wanted to quote Bp. Righter's comments, as I thought they were quite good. Now that Virtue has placed the bishop's remarks in the public domain, I can quote them. Thank you David.

4. I am also including a few of the comments, just so you can see for yourself that those who are troubled by the degree of anger and hate coming from the conservatives (specifically, the American Anglican Council; the AAC) are not making mountains out of molehills. There is good reason to be troubled, and to hold these folks accountable;


By David W. Virtue

Walter C. Righter, the former Bishop of Iowa and assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Newark, NJ who was tried and subsequently found not guilty for ordaining a non-celibate homosexual to the priesthood, says the five orthodox bishops who won't subscribe to ECUSA's canons and constitution should leave the Episcopal Church.

Writing on the House of Bishops/Deputies, listserv, an Online chat room, the revisionist bishop said, "if the continuing dissenters must go I say 'Go with God', and now let us get on with the work of the church."

The bishop was the central player of the now infamous 'Righter Trial' which declared the Episcopal Church had 'no core doctrine' when he ordained a noncelibate gay man to the diaconate in September 1990.

"How can the Bishops 'allow' what the canons and constitution do not allow? How can the Bishops 'cede control' that is not theirs to cede? Even if they wanted to, they cannot. If outfits like the AAC and the Network et al must have a plan cast in concrete, they are stuck with it."

Righter said the same thing happened at the House of Bishops when the House met right after his presentment. "My presenters acted as if they would negotiate. The PB appointed people to negotiate with them. When they met together it was clear there was only one way - the presenters way. No negotiation. So, Mary Adelia McLeod, acting on behalf of the committee appointed by the Presiding Bishop called everything off, saying there was no way a negotiation could occur. So it is now. If the continuing dissenters must go I say "Go with God", and now let us get on with the work of the church."

Righter said too much time has been lost because of people who seem to want the attention of the church focused on them, and who simply ignore mission, including the continuing urging of the church to enter into conversation with homosexual persons. Only in rare instances has that been organized and done thoroughly, even when urged by primates. Who are they kidding?

The bishop, who is retired, lives with his third wife in Maine.
He just couldn't resist that last line, could he? Let's not mention that Bp. Wantland, the retired bishop of Eu Clair who was the celebrant at the secret confirmations in Ohio is also divorced and remarried, or that David Rosenberg, another champion of the AAC cause, is as well. If we are going to use that criteria to judge the validity of the message, let's be consistent.

I was a diocesan trainer for the mandated human sexuality dialogues in the early 90s. What Bp. Righter stated is true to my experience. The conservative members of our diocese did not participate, and had no interest in any form of dialogue. They had already made up their minds.

Regarding Bp. Righter's comments about how bishops cannot allow what the constitions and canons do not allow, this is in regards to the recently released plan for congregations who disagree with their bishop to seek the pastoral care of another bishop. The conservative segment have rejected this plan. They want to choose their own bishop, who will have sole authority over them, withhold funds from the Episcopal Church, and still be granted voice and vote at Diocesan Convention and receive all the benefits those faithful to the Church are offered. It is a demand that cannot be met.

Now, a few of the comments:

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly. -Prov 26:11

This schism is inevitable. We cannot reconcil the Gospel to the false and idolatrous doctrine of sexual salvation. The three legged stool has been "kicked to the curb" by ECUSA. Scripture and tradition have clearly been abandoned by the revisionists. The structure cannot stand on reason alone. These men and women believe in nothing more than the Playboy philosophy of Hugh Hefner, i.e. whatever two consenting adults chose to do is okay as long as nobody gets hurt. Let us shake the dust from our sandles and seek fellowship with the Primates of the Global South who still believe that salvation is by Christ alone.

(Note from Jake: These "Primates of the Global South" are the same ones who requested, and received, permission to allow converts in polygamous marriages to keep their wives, for "pastoral reasons," in 1998. When the Episcopal Church began addressing a pastoral concern of their own; same sex unions, these same bishops expressed outrage and disgust, referring to gay Christians as dogs, and have now broken communion with the Episcopal Church. So much for reciprocal grace in regards to the diverse pastoral care needs within our varied cultures.)

I agree with Righter. Far too much time has been lost because of people who seem to want the attention of the church focused on them. However, I see those people as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance and the Revisionists. They have hijacked ECUSA in order to use its "power" as further justification of their secular political agenda. It is time for us traditionalists to cut the ties, cut our losses, move on and get back to the very important things God has given us to do. Those things aren't getting done as we sit around and attempt to reconcile the unreconcilable differences with the revisionists who have changed the meaning of reconciliation just as they have changed the meaning of the Holy Scriptures.

Ah! This circuitous reasoning reminds me so of Satan. It works for them one way and then, when it needs to work the other way to protect them, it is the other way. The pot calls the kettle black. He was one who started this. Get thee behind me Satan.
Satanic gay dogs chasing Playboy bunnies. How lovely. These are just a few of the tamer comments found on this site.

I am still divided as to how to respond to all of this. I am thankful that this is a non-issue where I am currently serving. Yet, I don't think that means I can just consider this someone else's struggle. My Church is being torn apart, and people are being deeply hurt. The Lover in me wants to say, "Can't we all just get along?" The Warrior wants to unfurl his own banner and engage in this struggle. The Magician is sometimes inclined to put a pox on both their houses, and walk off into the desert. The King hesitates, and that is what concerns me.

Our Presiding Bishop, in a recent interview on Beliefnet, pointed out that the Church exists for the sake of the world. I think that needs to sink in a bit more. It resonates as the theological kernel in all of this somehow.

Maybe we have to let go; surrender. Not because the outraged conservative segment is right; but because we are called to be people of grace. Let them go. Let them take their property, their endowments, and their indignation, and go with God. Will the loss of these members be devastating? Most definately. Will this set a dangerous precedent that any congregation who disagrees with their bishop can leave the Episcopal Church? Maybe. Will this encourage an attitude of parochialism, congregationalism, in which my congregation is the only one that matters? Most likely. Will the vision of a community that is global and eternal, breaking the bonds of space and time, become dimmer? I think so. Will this destroy the Episcopal Church? It just might.

If it does, then I say we must die, and allow God to raise up something new from the ashes of our broken dreams.


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