Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bryan Taylor Responds to Canterbury's Letter

...Voluntary has become mandatory. Windsor process has become Windsor requirements. Dialogue has become a steady diatribe of one-way shaming and judging. None of our attempts at conciliation and cooperation are being credited. Our polity is being trampled on, ignored, and wantonly insulted from every side. Our Presiding Bishop, elected by the whole church to serve and represent the whole church, is discounted, mocked, and insulted. Men who won't even receive communion from her are being treated as her equals or worse, as having the moral high ground of their self-chosen victimhood.

This is bullying. This is abuse. This is tyranny. It is time for our Executive Council to tell the Archbishop of Canterbury and the rest of the Anglican Communion, as the American colonists once did: DON'T TREAD ON ME! What is going on is a complete distortion of the Windsor Report. We cannot possibly begin discussing an Anglican Covenant under such conditions of duress--indeed that whole idea is about conformity and control, pure and simple, and ought to be rejected now. We can no longer agree to meetings ABOUT us that don't INCLUDE us. We cannot tolerate intrusions by foreign bishops in our jurisdictions any longer. All these things have proceeded despite our efforts to be conciliatory, our willingness to accept criticism, our efforts to remain open to peaceful resolutions and compromises...

...For all the holy talk, our efforts have been interpreted as weakness, and that perceived weakness is being exploited in the rawest, crudest political struggle for power. I do not say we should respond in kind, but we must wake up to the nature of the threat and defend our autonomy and independence. Other churches in the Communion would do well to think long and hard about what's going on, too, because Canada? Scotland? New Zealand? I don't know, Brazil or South Africa? YOU'RE NEXT...
You can read Bryan's complete essay here.


Saturday, December 30, 2006

Hussein Executed

I have one question to ask; why? The man was locked in a cage. He could do no more harm. What good was accomplished by this execution?

Here's Mark Harris' summary:

...The news broadcasts are talking abou the imminent execution of Saddam Hussein. Just for the record, although I know it matters little, I'm against it. I'm against his execution for three reasons: I am against Capital Punishment; I am against turning over a prisoner to a government that makes use of Capital Punishment; I believe our capture of Saddam Hussein, whatever its moral value, was an extension of an illegal war and his imprisonment is our responsibility...
When one human being takes the life of another human being, it is always a tragedy. We did not create life. We have no right to take it.

When we do so, we are claiming the role of God. When limited, finite beings play God, disaster is inevitably the result. I believe this act of revenge will also result in disaster.

A consistent life ethic recognizes that the ethical dilemma for a Christian is very much the same regarding a myriad of issues involving the taking of a life, or a potential life, including war, euthanasia, abortion and the death penalty.

From the 1991 General Convention of the Episcopal Church:

RESOLVED, the House of Bishops concurring, that this 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church reaffirm the position taken in opposition to capital punishment by the 1958, 1969, and 1979 General Conventions; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church oppose federal initiatives to establish constitutional procedures for the institution of the sentence of death for various crimes; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church deplores the expansion of capital offenses by federal legislative action; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church support state and local initiatives to establish a range of community sanctions and services offering alternatives to incarceration and reducing recidivism; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Presiding Bishop’s Open Statement on Capital Punishment be sent to the President, the Attorney General, and every member of the Senate and Congress of the United States of America; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church urge the provinces, dioceses, parishes, missions, and individual members of this Church to engage in serious study on the subject of capital punishment and work actively to abolish the death penalty in their states.
From the BBC:

...Most Western European countries abandoned the death penalty in the 1960s while Eastern European states did so in the 1990s.

Russia, a member of the Council of Europe, has yet to formally abolish the death penalty - although it has had a moratorium on capital punishment since 1990...

...The US and Japanese governments - both of which exercise capital punishment - welcomed the former Iraqi leader's sentence when it was passed...

...The US stands alongside China, Saudi Arabia and Iran as carrying out the greatest numbers of executions per year. According to Amnesty International 94% of the 2005 executions took place in those countries - with about 80% of those taking place in China...
Which of those countries listed would you consider to contain the most "Christians"? What a witness we are offering the world.

Before someone mentions it, let me be clear that I recognize, and have experienced, situations in which the use of force is necessary to stop acts of violence. This is not one of those situations. Hussein was no longer a threat. But his death is now on our heads.

May God have mercy on us all.


Friday, December 29, 2006

Is Our Current Unpleasantness Clergy Driven?

In a previous post, we began a discussion about the role the clergy played in some of the Virginia congregations deciding to become Nigerian Anglicans. RMJ expanded that point:

...Clergy, of course, have a vested interest in the niceities of church polity; which is all well and good, but if there is going to be any energy generated over questions of polity, doctrine, and church identity, it will not come primarily from the laity, and even if it originates there, unless the majority of the people supporting a change are clergy, the change isn't going to happen. Time was when people sought denominational identity, and freely created new ones as they felt the need, inventing clergy to serve them as they went along (well, seldom did the clergy lead the departure. Wesley didn't intend to start a new church anymore than Luther did, and most American denominations were formed by lay people, not pastors.). The majority of congregants simply don't care what denomination their church is. They go to the church they are comfortable with, not the one they grew up in. We are, in other words, in a post-denominational world, and as we go from one state to the other we face an interregnum in which all manner of morbid symptoms appear.

Which is why clergy are driving this talk of schism in The Episcopal Church, not laity. The leaders in this issue are Archbishops and Bishops and priests. That seems normal for a polity like the TEC's, but they are the ones whipping up the froth; they are not responding to pressure from their parishes...
Alex Kim recently sent me an academic study from the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, December 2006 issue. This study contributes more information to our conversation. Here's a couple of relevant excerpts:

...The results of our present analysis offer a rare glimpse into clergy’s actual political effectiveness. Put simply, Episcopal priests affect their members, whereas ELCA pastors do not. In part, Episcopal priests are more likely to be addressing issues concerning homosexuality within the denomination, but Episcopal laity can also attach any information provided about gay rights to something concrete; ELCA members do not have that option... It appears that the issue has to be salient (hence no ELCA effect), targeted at an issue on which clergy have expertise or are provided deference (here, denominational affairs), and one on which clergy and church members largely agree...

...The questions posed at the agenda-setting stage may generate conflicting desires. Many clergy and members believe their faith must bear witness to society and are supportive of their denomination becoming more active in public debates. At the same time, such public debates are divisive, the outcomes are uncertain, and conflict over issues can strike at the organizational robustness of the denomination and local congregations. In the end, the denomination is left in an uncomfortable position, with serious ramifications no matter the action committed or omitted...
As this study and the testimonies from Virginia suggest, in the Episcopal Church the clergy do hold substantial influence over the members, but that influence has its limits. As Alex suggested, to avoid the "uncomfortable position," anti-gay clergy shifted the argument to more comfortable turf; debate on our place in the Anglican Communion.

There was another statement made in this study worth noting:

...This table shows that over 80 percent of clergy in both denominations overwhelmingly favor equal treatment of gay and lesbian people. Congregation members are more conservative on the issue, but not by much. Over 70 percent of Episcopalian church members and just over half of ELCA church members support equal treatment of gays and lesbians...
In the 1999 study, the question asked was; "Homosexuals should have the same rights and privilages as other American citizens." 11% of the Episcopalians and 18.5% of the Lutherans disagreed with that statement. I find that astonishing. We're not talking about the issue of ordination, but basic civil rights. I cannot imagine a Christian disagreeing with that. One can only hope that in the 7 years that have passed since this data was collected there's been some consciousness raising going on among our members.

Returning to the original topic; what is your experience? Is our current unpleasantness primarily clergy driven?


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Fox News, The Falls Church and the IRD

Some of you may have been wondering why there was so much press generated by two previously unknown Episcopal congregations voting to align with Nigeria. In the big picture, it is hardly a newsworthy event.

Beth Adams of The Cassandra Pages suggests at least one reason for the big media splash:

...The announcement about the Virginia parishes has been directed by the skillful spokespeople at the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), a neo-conservative Washington think-tank that has innumerable connections, through its board of directors and officers, to the conservative Washington area parishes that have recently left the Episcopal Church. These parishes have been home to prominent conservatives such as Oliver North and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, as well as top-level IRD Episcopalians. For instance, Fox News commentator Fred Barnes is a member of the Falls Church congregation, and serves on the Board of the IRD; Fox has covered this story extensively and sympathetically, interviewing Barnes as part of a roundtable discussion, but never mentioning his IRD connection...
What do Fox News, The Falls Church and the IRD have in common? None other than our old friend Fred Barnes, who launched the smear campaign against Bp. Robinson the day before the House of Bishops was to vote on giving consent to his election at GC 2003. Imagine that.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Falls Church, Truro Church and George Washington

From The Falls Church website:

...In 1763, George Washington and George William Fairfax were appointed church wardens with responsibility to contract for a new building. This was Washington’s last official act on behalf of this church after the parish was divided in 1765 and before work began...
From the Truro Church website:

...Named after the Parish (now the Diocese) of Truro in England, Truro Parish was created by order of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1732, some 10 years before Fairfax County itself came into existence. The father of George Washington, Augustine Washington, was a Truro vestryman and nominated the first regular rector of the parish in 1736. George Washington himself was appointed to the vestry in 1762...
It appears both of these parishes are insinuating, if not directly claiming, that their roots go back to before the Revolutionary War, and both seem to be suggesting in their "histories" that George Washington was a member. In recent weeks, some of the articles in the secular press have affirmed this rendition of their history.

A new paper challenges the claims made by both of these parishes. The author of this report is Joan R. Gundersen, who holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Notre Dame. She has published extensively on the history of the church in Virginia, and is currently collaborating with Edward Bond on a new history of the Diocese of Virginia to be published by the Diocese of Virginia and the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.

Here are a couple of sections from her research worth noting:

...There is a lot of confusion and misinformation being distributed concerning the actual history of these parishes, however. Neither is the direct descendant of a colonial parish. Neither can claim George Washington as a past member of its vestry or its congregation. Both are “new” church plants from the 1830s and 1840s. In most places in the United States, founding dates in the antebellum period would be quite old enough to justify a claim of being “historic,” but these two parishes have sought the additional aura associated with George Washington and our colonial past...
The "confusion and misinformation" seems to be primarily derived from a misunderstanding of the term "colonial parish." It was not a specific congregation, as we would think the of the term "parish" referred to today. It was more of a geographical designation, somewhat like the way we might think of a "diocese":

...The colonial church in Virginia was an arm of the colonial government. The House of Burgesses divided the colony into parishes, and every square inch of Virginia was officially part of some parish. In order to make services accessible to the scattered, rural population of a parish, Virginia vestries usually constructed more than one place of worship in the parish. There might be a main church and several chapels of ease, or, sometimes, two more substantial buildings. The minister rotated services among the buildings, and lay clerks read Morning Prayer on the Sundays that the parson was at one of the other buildings. [3]

The Falls Church is in possession of a restored colonial building that was once part of the colonial parish called Fairfax Parish. The site was originally in what was known as Truro Parish, but the building was constructed after the Virginia House of Burgesses divided Truro into two parishes in 1765. [4] Together, the colonial parishes of Fairfax and Truro covered the territory of Fairfax County.

There were no dioceses in the American colonies before the war. Afterwards, people who had been members of the Church of England began organizing as conventions, with lay and clergy participating. Eventually, these conventions became dioceses. Simultaneously, groups from the various states began organizing a national church, The Episcopal Church. The Diocese of Virginia retained its historic parish boundaries but allowed individual congregations within a parish to organize separately. Thus, in contemporary Virginia, there may be several parishes (i.e., distinct and independent “churches”) within the bounds of what was once a single colonial parish. More than one congregation within a parish may even own a colonial building...
George Washington was on the vestry of the colonial parish of Truro, which for us might be the equivalent of serving on the Standing Committee. But he had no historical connection to the congregations that now claim the names of "The Falls Church" and "Truro Church":

...George Washington did have a lot to do with the colonial parishes we know as Fairfax and Truro. He served on the vestry of the colonial Truro Parish. The parish boundary line between Truro and Fairfax cut through his land. In 1765, he ran for the Truro vestry after the old Truro Parish was divided, and he was the third-highest vote getter. He occupied one of the 12 positions on that vestry until he resigned in 1784. Washington bought pews at three of the parish buildings in Fairfax County, Pohick, Payne’s, and Christ Church. His diary records attendance at all three of these buildings. However, neither the modern Truro Church nor The Falls Church can claim his regular attendance...
Dr. Gunderson also provides us with an interesting final note regarding the Falls Church:

A final note is in order. In the 1830s when the Falls Church applied for admission as a parish, the constitution of the diocese included this provision as its Article XI:

Every parish within this Diocese shall be entitled to the entire benefit of this Convention, as soon as it shall have signified its ratification thereof, either in writing or by sending a Lay Delegate to the Convention; and such parish shall thereafter be benefitted and bound, equally with the other parishes in this Diocese, by every rule and canon which shall be framed, by any Convention acting under this Constitution for the government of this Church in ecclesiastical concerns. [15]

Parishes were thus bound by every rule and canon passed by any Convention of this Church. After 170 years these Virginia parishes are reneging on their promise.

NYT on Peter Akinola

From the New York Times; At Axis of Episcopal Split, an Anti-Gay Nigerian. Here's part of it:

The way he tells the story, the first and only time Archbishop Peter J. Akinola knowingly shook a gay person’s hand, he sprang backward the moment he realized what he had done...

...“This man came up to me after a service, in New York I think, and said, ‘Oh, good to see you bishop, this is my partner of many years,’ ” he recalled. “I said, ‘Oh!’ I jumped back”...
As a side note, it is interesting to compare this version of the story with that of Louie Crew:

...In July 2002, I was a lector at the Enthronment of Peter Akinola (Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Nigeria)at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. Mark Sisk (Bishop of New York) invited Ernest and me, among many others, to his home to meet the archbishop at a reception afterward. The archbishop dashed to the other side of the room when I introduced him to Ernest at the punch bowl. Later in the reception Cathy Roskam (Bishop Suffragan of New York) called me over to engage the archbishop in conversation with me. Looking like a deer in headlights, he summoned an aide across the room and abruptly ended the conversation. Ernest had watched the latter scene from the doorway. "What did you say to him that put him into a panic?" he asked. "Nothing. He does not know you and me and he wants to keep it that way. Otherwise, he might have to feed my sheep"...
Continuing on with our consideration of the NYT story:

...Archbishop Akinola, a man whose international reputation has largely been built on his tough stance against homosexuality, has become the spiritual head of 21 conservative churches in the United States. They opted to leave the Episcopal Church over its decision to consecrate an openly gay bishop and allow churches to bless same-sex unions. Among the eight Virginia churches to announce they had joined the archbishop’s fold last week are The Falls Church and Truro Church, two large, historic and wealthy parishes.

In a move attacked by some church leaders as a violation of geographical boundaries, Archbishop Akinola has created an offshoot of his Nigerian church in North America for the discontented Americans. In doing so, he has made himself the kingpin of a remarkable alliance between theological conservatives in North America and the developing world that could tip the power to conservatives in the Anglican Communion, a 77-million member confederation of national churches that trace their roots to the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury...

...Asked whether his installing a bishop in the United States violated the church’s longstanding rules, he responded heatedly that he was simply doing what Western churches had done for centuries, sending a bishop to serve Anglicans where there is no church to provide one.

Archbishop Akinola argues that the Convocation, his group in the United States, was established last year to serve Nigerian Anglicans unhappy with the direction of the Episcopal Church, and eventually began to attract non-Nigerians who shared their views. Other church officials and experts say Archbishop Akinola’s intention for the Convocation was to attract Americans and become a rival to the Episcopal Church...
In his "heated" response, the Archbishop claims he was simply "...sending a bishop...where there is no church to provide one." In other words, since the Episcopal Church is no longer a Church in his eyes, he had to send a bishop. At least that response to the question is more honest than the shell game regarding exactly what CANA is that we have heard in the past. A church for Nigerians in America? Did anyone ever believe that was anything more than a subterfuge?

Let's hope more reporters will give the Archbishop opportunities to "respond heatedly" in the future. Honest answers are a refreshing change from what we usually hear from this man.


Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

by John Donne

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov'd imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod's jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Gifts for Procrastinators: Give a Goat

It's Christmas Eve. Have you made all your gift purchases? Or are you one of those who wait until the very last minute?

If you are among the latter, let me suggest an easy alternative. Why not honor that special someone in your life by giving a gift in their name to a family in need?

For instance, through Episcopal Relief and Development, you can give a goat which will provide ongoing income for a family.

Or, if goats aren't your thing, browse through ERD's Gifts for Life Catalogue.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

ABC Will Invite PB to Primates' Meeting

There's a letter being circulated from Abp. Rowan Williams to the Primates. Jim Naughton has confirmed its authenticity and has posted it on the Daily Episcopalian. Here is the part that is especially worth noting:

...There are two points I wish to touch on briefly. The first is a reminder of what our current position actually is in relation to the Episcopal Church. This Province has agreed to withdraw its representation from certain bodies in the Communion until Lambeth 08; and the Joint Standing Committee has appointed a sub-group which has been working on a report to develop our thinking as to how we should as a meeting interpret the Episcopal Church’s response so far to the Windsor recommendations. In other words, questions remain to be considered about the Episcopal Church’s relations with other Provinces (though some Provinces have already made their position clear). I do not think it wise or just to take any action that will appear to bring that consideration and the whole process of our shared discernment to a premature end.

This is why I have decided not to withhold an invitation to Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the elected Primate of the Episcopal Church to attend the forthcoming meeting. I believe it is important that she be given a chance both to hear and to speak and to discuss face to face the problems we are confronting together. We are far too prone to talk about these matters from a distance, without ever having to face the human reality of those from whom we differ. However, given the acute dissension in the Episcopal Church at this point, and the very widespread effects of this in the Communion, I am also proposing to invite two or three other contributors from that Province for a session to take place before the rest of our formal business, in which the situation may be reviewed, and I am currently consulting as to how this is best organised...
Those Primates who have vowed not to sit with Bp. Katharine now have a decision to make. Their voracious pronuncements are probably the reason we find the unusual wording above; "...I have decided not to withhold an invitation...," which implies that Dr. Williams considered witholding the invitation as an option. That such ultimatums, lacking any semblance of grace, could become serious factors in this deliberation is quite troubling.

Inviting two or three "contributers" for a session is going to make an already potentially volatile situation even more so, in my opinion. One must assume Bp. Duncan will be one those invited. His presence will further the fiction that the Network is anything more than just another parachurch organization similar to the Brotherhood of St. Andrew or Cursillo.

At the last Primates' Meeting in Dromantine, this fraternal association prowled the perimeter, making as much mischief as possible from the outside. They are now being rewarded for their most unseemly behavior by being invited inside to participate in a "session." No doubt they will once again orchestrate further theatrics among the Primates. I cannot see anything constructive resulting from the intrusion of these "contributers."

If Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori accepts this invitation, she will most likely encounter some rude and possibly even abusive behavior from some of her peers. I have little doubt that she will be a person of grace in all circumstances, and will give evidence for the belief that many of are coming to hold; that God has chosen the right person to represent the Episcopal Church at this time in our common life.

Keep our Presiding Bishop, and the Church, in your prayers.


UPDATE: Tobias offers some thoughts on this; Unity by Division.

Friday, December 22, 2006

2007 Prognostications

Thinking Anglicans points us to Stephen Bates' View from Fleet Street in which "the League of Pear-Shaped Religious Affairs Correspondents - Petre, Morgan, Doughty and myself - draw our armchairs closer to the hearth at Blakely Towers to discuss the articles we hope to write in the coming year and make our prognostications for coming church events." Here's a couple:


Anglican primates meet in Dar es Salaam. US presiding bishop Jefferts-Schori arrives at the hotel pool to find her lounger has already been annexed by Bishop Martyn Minns who tells her that he has the support of 150 million loyal Anglican evangelicals for doing so. During a sermon, Archbishop Rowan Williams produces an instantly understandable sentence...


Evangelical Alliance calls for Christmas to be moved to Mid-Summer to make it more relevant to people who don't go to church. The Rev Giles Fraser takes a vow of silence ... for five minutes. US Episcopal Church observes midsummer solstice as a means of being inclusive of druids...
Smiles don't hurt, and, best of all, they're free.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Nigeria Disputes Anti-Gay Label

The Nigerian congregations in Virginia got welcome letters from their new Bishop and Archbishop. A couple of lines are worth noting. First, from Bp. Minns:

...I want to address one recurring untrue accusation concerning our attitude towards homosexual persons. Our vote was not an "anti-gay" vote. We affirm that as Christians we believe that every person, regardless of their sexual orientation, is made in the image of God, and deserving of the utmost respect...
Nice words, if they are true. The Bishop refers to Archbishop Akinola's letter as evidence for the truth of his statement. Here's the Primate's argument:

...Sadly, I have also heard that some are suggesting that you are now affiliated with a Church that seeks to punish homosexual persons. That is a distortion of our true position. We are a Church that teaches the truth of the Holy Scriptures and understands that every person, regardless of their religion or sexual orientation, is made in the image of God, loved by God, and deserving of the utmost respect. That is the conviction that informs our passion for evangelism and drives our determination to establish new dioceses and congregations. We have no desire to place anyone outside the reach of God's saving love and that is why we have supported well reasoned statements such as Resolution 1.10 from the Lambeth Conference in 1998 and also the section of the Dromantine Communiqué, which condemns the "victimization or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex."

As I am sure you have heard, there is a bill currently being debated by the Nigerian Legislature that addresses the topic of same-sex marriages and homosexual activism. The Standing Committee of the Church of Nigeria, in its desire to see the strengthening of marriage and family life in our society, has commended the legislators for tackling this difficult issue. We have no desire to see our nation follow the path of license and immorality that we have witnessed in other parts of the world. And we also oppose the severe sanctions of Islamic law.

We recognize that there are genuine concerns about individual human rights that must be addressed both in the framing of the law and its implementation. I am glad to inform you that while the Honorable Speaker of the House, a Moslem, wanted the immediate and outright passage of the bill, the Deputy Speaker, an Anglican, persuaded his colleagues to allow full public debate on it...
"The Standing Committee of the Church of Nigeria, in its desire to see the strengthening of marriage and family life in our society, has commended the legislators for tackling this difficult issue." The Archbishop has done nothing. It was the standing committee. They were forced to do it to strengthen marriage and family life. And all they did was commend the government for tackling the issue. Got all that? That is the new and improved line.

The problem is, it is a complete and total fabrication, and a very poorly weaved one at that. One more time, let's revisit the official statements from the Anglican Church of Nigeria:

From February 2006:

The Bill against Homosexuality:

The Church commends the law-makers for their prompt reaction to outlaw same-sex relationships in Nigeria and calls for the bill to be passed since the idea expressed in the bill is the moral position of Nigerians regarding human sexuality.
From September 2006:

Human Sexuality

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

So, in the new rationale we have this statement:

"...we have supported well reasoned statements...which condemns the "victimization or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex..."

Yet in the Archbishop's Message to the Nation, we have this:

"...the total rejection of the evil of homosexuality which is a perversion of human dignity and encourages the National Assembly to ratify the Bill prohibiting the legality of homosexuality..."

Apparently, in the Archbishop's mind, tossing someone in prison for 5 years is not "victimization." And it is not "diminishing" someone to do so, if that person's human dignity is perverse.

Either we accept this twisted logic, or must admit that one of the above statements is not true.

The only way I can see to clear up the confusion of these contrary statements would be if the Archbishop was to admit that the previous communiques were in error, and apologize for them. Will that happen? Don't hold your breath.


UPDATE: Jim Naughton and Matt Thompson have some thoughts on this. For those seeking a boiled down version of this latest attempt at spin, Matt offers a good paraphrased version of Abp. Akinola's letter:

Thanks for your vote. I heard you guys are concerned that you're now "anti-gay". Not true. I love gay people. Many of my best friends are gay people. I also heard that you're worried about the fact that I endorsed that legislation, not once but twice. Yeah, I know. It looks bad. But we don't want to be like Massachusetts or Cape Town, do we? I mean, seriously. And besides, there was this one guy in the legislature, an Anglican, who wanted to debate the bill. The Muslim guy didn't. Did I mention that no one ever brings up the fact that there's Shari'ya in many northern Nigerian states? Anyway, thanks for your vote.
FURTHER UPDATE: The Nation covers this in an entry entitled "Holy Homophobia". The author emphasizes that the "blame it on the Muslims" tactic rings hollow in light of the evidence. Worth a read.

Bawer: "Don't Bow to the Bullies"

Bruce Bawer, author of Stealing Jesus, offers some thoughts about our current unpleasantness:

...For years now, antigay Episcopal leaders have been cultivating ties with people like that Nigerian bishop with an eye to eventually jumping ship. Now these two Virginia congregations have taken the plunge, placing themselves under the authority of Archbishop Peter Akinola, primate of the Church of Nigeria - a man who not only opposes gay bishops but enthusiastically supports a proposal by his nation's government to outlaw meetings of homosexuals. In doing so, these parishes - whose histories are wrapped up in the history of the founding of American democracy - have betrayed both their American and their Anglican roots.

For though they beat their breasts over their fealty to "traditional values," these secessionists have demonstrated quite dramatically that they don't know the first thing about Anglican tradition - which from the beginning has called on the faithful to focus on what brings them together, not on what divides them, and whose glory is not a book of discipline but a book of common prayer. They call themselves orthodox, but in an Anglican context they're anything but. They thunder that their denomination has been taken over by gays and their supporters; the fact is that third-world Anglicanism has largely fallen under the sway of reactionary demagogues who have left Anglican traditions and values far behind.

What do the actions of these Virginia churches say about the Episcopal Church's fate? Hard to say. Over the last century, it's declined in influence and relative size, though in recent years attendance figures have actually risen. In a sense, the Episcopal Church is in better shape than other "mainline" US churches - the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans - which are more evenly split between pro- and anti-gay elements. Additional parishes and even dioceses will likely join the Nigerian exodus, but probably not many, and more than a few liberal Episcopalians are frankly relieved to see them go. They don't represent most Episcopal conservatives - who, though perhaps uneasy about gay bishops, aren't uneasy enough to join forces with the likes of Archbishop Akinola.

There's a challenge in all this, however, for liberal Anglican leaders. They must face the fact that they belong to a worldwide communion dominated largely by people who aren't just reactionaries but outright tyrants - people who don't honor the most basic Anglican obligation to treat their opponents with respect and dignity. Instead of bowing to these bullies, as Griswold did at Lambeth, they must stand up for the Anglican tradition. If this means that the liberal Anglican provinces in America, Britain, and elsewhere end up having to leave the Anglican Communion, so be it. Such a schism would be lamentable, but it would be better than selling out human dignity for the sake of a communion that's no longer truly Anglican.
If the Anglican Communion does end up sanctioning bigotry (which I did not believe was possible only a few years ago, but now I sometimes wonder) I would assume Dr. Williams recognizes that more than a few Episcopalians will shake the dust from their feet and move on. Most likely, if we ever get to that point, we won't have to do anything, as the extremists will announce they have no need of us. The effect will be the same.

As Bruce has said, a schism would be lamentable. My inner Catholic grieves just thinking about it. But, my inner Baptist asks, "So what?" Thank God such decisions are beyond my abilities to decide.

Pray for the Church.


P.S. Maybe for the sake of discussion I need to expand that last bit. Fair warning, the following some will find controversial.

Setting aside the theology for a moment, I know I don't need the Church. I've walked away before, and may do so again. And I certainly don't need the Communion. Being part of those official bodies must be a choice, an act of my free will, or the decision is of little value. Love has little meaning if it is not a choice. That also means having the freedom to end relationships that become unhealthy.

I do need God, and most of the time I recognize the need to be in community, to witness "God with skin on." But I don't think that community has to be defined as an historical institution.

Disturbed - Prayer

The final chorus:

Living just isn't hard enough
Burn me alive inside
Living my life's not hard enough,
They take everything from you

Living just isn't hard enough
Burn me alive inside
Living my life's not hard enough,
Take everything away
The post-9/11 world. Apocalyptic message, ending with resurrection imagery. Job with an attitude. Powerful.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bishop Martyn Minns of Nigeria Subject to 5 Years in Prison

An online discussion group has alerted us to this breaking news. It appears Bp. Martyn Minns, of the new Nigerian Truro Church is about to be hoist by his own petard.

The proposed Nigerian legislation that may cause problems for Bp. Minns contains this clause:

Any person who is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a term of 5 years imprisonment. (emphasis added)
Archbishop Peter Akinola, who has final oversight over CANA, the organization run by Bp. Minns, is on record as supporting this legislation. Although the Archbishop has not issued an official response to this evidence of inappropriate behavior by one of his bishops, unofficial reports are claiming the Archbishop was heard shouting something that can be loosely translated as "I am Primate, hear me roar!"

Further developments will be reported as they unfold.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Well Staged Coup in Heathsville, VA

From the ENS:

...Mahaffey said that (the Rev. Jeffrey) Cerar initially said at a congregational meeting late in 2003 that he would try to work within the framework of the Episcopal Church to make changes but that he would leave if he felt he could not continue in the church. He said at that meeting that if he left and if others joined him, they would not attempt to take over St. Stephen's property, she said.

In December 2003, Kirkpatrick said, a vestry survey showed that the majority of St. Stephen's members wanted to remain in the Episcopal Church.

However, Mahaffey recalled, the perceived failings of the Episcopal Church "became the topic of his sermons from that point forward. It did not matter what the liturgy was for any given Sunday or what the Gospel was, there was always a way to bring the topic around to that issue. We very often got the message that the Episcopal Church had sinned and needed to be repentant."

"It got to the point that our needs for pastoral oversight and ministry were not being met because of the single-minded focus on this issue. We were not hearing the Word and how that was applicable in our daily lives. I don't think we were being ministered to in all of our needs."

There was a "steady outgo of people who found this message intolerable," Kirkpatrick said, and a "steady influx" of people who approved of the leadership's position.

"Everyone down here knew that St. Stephen's was taking this stance," she said.

Mahaffey said the growing disaffection with the Episcopal Church "has been very well staged."

"I think it has been sold to the congregation," she said. "Three years of hearing it week after week after week"...
Yet another example of how our current unpleasantness has been primarily clergy driven. Unfortunately, I'm afraid Dave Walker has gotten it right once again.


Bp. Katharine: "Reconciliation is the Episcopal Mission"

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is the "Guest Voice" on the Washington Post/Newsweek blog On Faith. Here's her message:

Reconciliation Is the Episcopal Mission

The Episcopal Church continues to focus on its mission of reconciling the world, particularly as it cares for the least, the lost, and the left out.

While the Episcopal Church laments the recent votes by some persons in Virginia congregations to leave this Church, we are clear that individuals may depart, but congregations do not. Congregations are created and recognized by the diocese in which they exist, and can only be closed by action of the bishop and diocesan governing bodies. Even if a large percentage of a congregation departs, the remaining people will be assisted by the diocese and the larger Church to reconstitute their congregation and continue in mission and ministry in that place.

These recent departures have received a significant amount of publicity, but they represent a tiny percentage of the total number of Episcopalians in the Church. We regret and grieve their departure, and pray that they may continue their journey as Christians in another home.
In the hope that some may decide to return, we intend to keep the door open and the light on.

Those Episcopalians who remain will be offered every pastoral assistance we can provide, in the hope and expectation that mission and ministry continue in their communities. Our Anglican tradition is a broad and comprehensive one, with space for people of widely varying theological opinions. We will continue to model an expansive welcome for all people.

Our mission as a Church is the reconciliation of the world. We will continue to feed the hungry, house the homeless, educate children, heal the sick, minister to those in prison, and speak good news to those who have only heard the world's bad news. That is the work to which Jesus calls us, and that is the work we shall continue - with a priority of peace and justice work framed by the Millennium Development Goals. May God bless that which seeks to unite and build up and heal this broken world.
The site allows comments (97 so far), so go have some fun.


Some Facts About Nigeria's New Churches in Virginia

From the Diocese of Virginia:

...The 15 churches above represent just over 7% of the churches in the Diocese. In terms of membership numbers, the 15 churches represent 11% of baptized membership and 18% of the diocesan average Sunday attendance of 32,000 as reported in annual parochial reports. In terms of financial support for the Diocese, in 2006 the 15 churches pledged $41,000 to the diocesan operating budget, nearly half of which came from one church, All Saints’, Dale City...
Note that those figures are not just about the congregations that joined Nigeria last weekend, but also those who had previously left TEC, and those who are expected to leave in the near future.

Yes, it is sad. But it is certainly not the mass exodus that some other sites, and even some of the secular media, have made it out to be.

I must admit to being surprised by the strong media coverage. Compared to other developments over the last few years, this one is not really that big of a deal. Some of the members of these new Nigerian churches obviously had some connections among the media.

Stephen Bates offers us a few words on this development:

...These groups have chosen homosexuality as a defining issue because they believe it is something that will unite and mobilise sympathisers in a way that other current issues in the church, such as women's ordination, have not been able to do. There is still a visceral distaste for the idea of homosexuality and the prejudice against it can be characterised not as bigotry but as something sanctioned by a few (and there are only a few) references in the Bible. Interestingly, the same mobilisation in defence of biblical orthodoxy does not seem to apply to other facts of life about which the Bible's authors were quite as adamant, pre-eminently divorce. Surely this can't be - can it? - because many more folk have experience of divorce in their families these days than of homosexuality, and that even some of the most outspoken evangelical leaders are themselves divorced...

...In the same spirit of Episcopal pick'n'mix, the American churches have chosen the Archbishop of Abuja, the Most Rev Peter Akinola, as their archiepiscopal leader; a man whose vehemence against gay people - quite in defiance of current Anglican position statements - has led him to vociferously support Nigerian government legislation which would prevent gays meeting, let alone campaigning to improve their status and condition in Nigerian civil society. His willingness to cross provincial boundaries to interfere in other churches is also, incidentally, against current Anglican polity...
Which leads me to ask again for an explanation from one of these Virginia congregations;

Please explain how ordaining gays and lesbians can trouble your conscience, yet throwing them in jail does not. This really makes little sense to me, and to be quite honest, is cause for me to question your motives.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Cheer From Canterbury

From a purported Christmas message from the Archbishop of Canterbury:

...My mind wandered back to a day spent at Lake Vyrnwy high up in the mountains above Bala. A small number of us had spent a day of reflection at the hotel and had pushed out in a boat towards the dam wall. "Listen, Rowan," said Dai, as his eyes surveyed the rough stonework. "If it's true that pilgrimage and faith cannot exist outside of complex histories and theoretical perspectives, then why is there a dead sheep in the water over there?"

We gently steered away and headed towards the old Victorian pumping house. "It's not that simple." I insisted, my thoughts turning to Venantius Fortunatus. "And we cannot argue such a position from a few obscure, disconnected biblical verses now, can we boys?" They all shook their heads and looked down at their damp boots. "But Bethlehem wasn't simple either." They seemed to brighten. "You see, even taking into exegetical account the synoptic variations, one thing is blindingly simple. There was a sheep there as well!"

"A dead sheep?" Iolo sounded unconvinced. "No, a live one!" I hammered home my thesis. "Indicative of the regeneration inherent in the Incarnation. It was probably being carried by a shepherd boy"...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Presiding Bishop's Interview on NPR

An interview of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was aired today on NPR's All Things Considered program. You can listen to it here.

Bp. Katharine's closing comment is worth repeating:

NPR: What other reforms do you hope to bring to the Church under your leadership?

PB: I think my basic hope is that we remember that, as the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1940 said, "The Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not members." Our focus needs not to be so much on internal politics, but on serving the world, on helping to heal a world that is broken.

Truro and Falls Church Vote in Favor of Bigotry

From the Washington Post:

Officials at The Falls Church in Falls Church and Truro Church in Fairfax City announced the results of the week-long vote following their worship services this morning. Their leadership has been at the forefront of a national conservative movement that has been alienated from the Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of the worldwide Anglican Communion, since the installation of a gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003.

At both congregations, more than 90 percent of the members voted to split from the U.S. church and to retain their church property.

The churches voted to align themselves with a new group that hopes to eventually be home to thousands of dissident Episcopalians, the Convocation for Anglicans in North America, which is led by the Rev. Martyn Minns, the last rector at Truro. CANA is formally under the Church of Nigeria and Archbishop Peter Akinola, who supports a proposed law in Nigeria that would outlaw public and private gay activity...
I've also heard that these two parishes voted to keep their property. A rather strange thing to vote on, it seems to me, especially in light of what the Constitution and Canons and their Bishop made quite clear to them prior to this vote:

...According to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, dioceses are created or dissolved only by acts of General Convention (Articles V and VI) and dioceses create or dissolve Episcopal congregations in their midst. Congregational property is held in trust for the diocese, and the diocese holds property in trust for the wider church (Canon I.7.4 of the Episcopal Church). Canon 15.1 of Virginia's diocesan canons concurs with the national canons.

"I remind you that absent a negotiated settlement of property, an attempt to place your congregation and its real and personal property under the authority of any ecclesial body other than the Diocese of Virginia and the bodies authorized by its canons to hold church property will have repercussions and possible civil liability for individual vestry members," Lee warned in his letter...
I wonder who they've got in their hip pocket to bankroll their coming court costs?

Bp. Lee has made an initial response:

Bishop Peter Lee of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia said December 17 that he was saddened by the fact that, as of that afternoon, Nigerian and Ugandan congregations were "occupying Episcopal churches"...

...Lee said he will convene a joint meeting of the diocese's Executive Board and Standing Committee of the Diocese, with legal representation, on December 18 "to consider the full range of pastoral, canonical and legal obligations of the Church and our responsibilities to those faithful Episcopalians in these congregations who do not choose to associate with the Church of Nigeria."

In the meantime, Lee said, he has asked the leaders of "these now Nigerian and Ugandan congregations occupying Episcopal churches to keep the spiritual needs of all concerned uppermost in their minds at this difficult moment in our Church history, especially continuing Episcopalians."

He said that he will direct diocesan personnel to work with departing members and those who remain loyal to the Episcopal Church to work out agreements about sharing congregational property until those disputes can be settled.

"Our polity maintains that all real and personal property is held in trust for The Episcopal Church and the Diocese," Lee continued. "As stewards of this historic trust, we fully intend to assert the Church's canonical and legal rights over these properties."
Bp. Lee's complete statement can be found here.

Lionel Deimel explored the matter of property issues in an essay from 2004 entitled Property Constraints. I think many of his points are valid in regards to these two cases.

The Daily Episcopalian has a few choice words regarding this news:

The members of Truro and the Falls Church have now declared that belonging to a church that permits gays and lesbians to become bishops is too great a tax on their conscience, while belonging to a church that believes gay people should be imprisoned for eating together in public is not.

I can suggest three reasons that Bishop Martyn Minns and his flock may have taken this decision. The first is naked bigotry. The second is a willingness to trade the human rights of innocent Africans for a more advantageous position in the battle for control of the Anglican Communion. The third is a profoundly distorted understanding of who Jesus was and what he taught...
I'll guess #1 is probably the most accurate, Jim.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bethlehem Denies Consent to Fr. Lawrence

The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Bethlehem voted unanimously not to consent to the election of Mark Lawrence as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. The explanation for their decision is given on the diocesan website (pdf) and on Andrew Gerns' site. This statement is a good resource for other standing committees and bishops who have not yet made their decision regarding this matter. Here is a segment that is especially worth noting:

...Asked if the Presiding Bishop would be welcome to preside at his consecration, Father Lawrence said that “would be a most unwelcome situation for the vast majority of priests and laypersons of the Diocese of South Carolina.”

Asked further if he would recognize Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and as his Primate, Father Lawrence evaded the question, saying simply that he recognized her “as the legitimately elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church,” and that he recognized also that “her actions as bishop of Nevada in condoning same sex blessings … put her in violation of the Windsor Report and, consequently, compromise her ability to function in primatial authority and relationship.”

Considering the current nature of the Windsor Report, one cannot be “in violation” of it, though one can act in violation of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. We heard Father Lawrence’s answer as non-responsive.

To a question about what his response would be if the convention of the Diocese of South Carolina voted to leave the Episcopal Church, Father Lawrence said, “I don’t think that speculative questions of this nature … are either reasonable or helpful.”

We heard that as a refusal to respond to a question we thought had to be asked, and answered.

To the question whether he would “uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church as now constituted,” Father Lawrence said “neither the Standing Committee of South Carolina nor I have made plans to leave the Episcopal Church.”

We would have been encouraged if Father Lawrence had a plan not to leave the Episcopal Church.

Some may ask why we would not consent to the election by South Carolina of Father Lawrence as their bishop when the Episcopal Church consented to New Hampshire’s election of Canon Gene Robinson.

We consider the consent question to be an ecclesiological, not a theological, question. Neither Father Lawrence’s nor Canon Robinson’s theology is relevant to the consent process.

Had Canon Robinson been as unclear or cavalier about his willingness to remain at table with those who disagreed with him, even defaming his character, it is likely he would not have received the required consents for him to be a bishop.

The crucial difference between the ecclesiology of these two men is that one clearly indicated that he would not work for reconciliation within a church with whom his own theology and understanding of scripture disagrees. Father Lawrence’s own words suggest rather that he would work with those who would expel the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion.

We do not see how Father Lawrence can claim to promise to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church. He would see himself as a bishop of the Anglican Communion and not of the Episcopal Church. However, we are only in the Anglican Communion by virtue of our being a part of the Episcopal Church...

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Need for a United Response

We recently heard from Tanzania, who declared themselves out of communion with most of the bishops of the Anglican Communion based on a single criterion; sexual orientation. We have now heard from Uganda, who demands that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori be replaced at the February Primates' Meeting with another representative of TEC.

What are we to make of these statements, which sound rather bizarre to our ears? I think the first thing we need to keep in mind is that the cultural setting in Africa is quite different from our experience here in the States. For background on these differences, especially in East Africa, I commend to you this article from the Winter 2002 volume of the ATR. Here is a brief excerpt:

...From the point of view of East Africa, it was unfortunate that the issue should have emerged in the way it did. The Lambeth debate in 1998 forced the bishops to make judgements which were only tangentially related to the situation in their areas. Questions of ordination or same-sex marriage are not issues. Nor is there a strong homophobic tradition in the Church. In many ways the Church in Africa has a long experience of living with difference and ambiguity in ways which the Churches of America and Britain have not faced. For example, a majority of its members do not have officially recognised (Church) marriages; a significant proportion live in polygamous relations, or in forms of cohabitation which do not accord with Church marriage standards. In recent years, the Church in East Africa has had to come to terms with the fact that a significant proportion of its members, especially young people, are living with AIDS. It has not yet been required fully to face the fact that there have always been people of a homosexual orientation in their fellowship, and that increasingly this group will become visible. The Church needs to evolve strategies for exploring the particular needs and problems of such people. A pastoral concern for gay people has been articulated on a number of occasions. But it is still conceived primarily as a duty of warning and a call to conversion. If the Churches in East Africa have long had to deal with the stubborn fact of the diversity of the human condition and the tremendous struggle required to conform to Christian precepts and ideals, they have not yet developed fully satisfactory ways, pastorally and theologically, of handling the ambiguity of moral discourse, and the possibility that there are some moral issues which are not amenable to final or definitive answers, whether from the Bible or Christian tradition...
The way Lambeth 1988 responded to the issue of the practice of polygamy in Africa ("...a polygamist who responds to the Gospel and wishes to join the Anglican Church may be baptized and confirmed with his believing wives and children...") reveals that the Anglican Communion has recognized the different cultural settings in some parts of Africa, and has been willing to allow African church leaders to work out these matters without interference from those in other cultural settings.

It could be argued that the same tolerant approach has been taken in regards to homosexuality. The African churches that are still working out this cultural development should be allowed the freedom to do so in the manner they find the most pastoral and relevant to the realities they face in their local environments. The stripping of all civil rights, as we see in Nigeria and Uganda, is of great concern, and must be condemned, however. But, in regards to the teaching of the Church in those places, I think the guideline needs to be drawn from our lenient response to the issue of polygamy.

What cannot be allowed, however, is for these same African churches to not only deny the right for other parts of the body to respond to the pastoral realities within their cultures, but to demand that they adhere to their ultimatums. The Archbishop of Uganda has crossed the boundaries of The Episcopal Church, without permission (contrary to the Windsor Report, and numerous other Lambeth resolutions) and claimed ownership of 20 Episcopal congregations. He now claims to have the authority to choose who will reperesent TEC at the Primates' Meeting. The Archbishop of Nigeria has established a missionary presence in TEC, without permission, and has appointed an Episcopal priest as his "missionary bishop." Such attempts to force their cultural requirements across the Communion cannot be tolerated, as it strips other segments of the body from their ability to respond to ethical issues in an appropriately pastoral way.

Now, a couple of clarifications, and one recommendation;

It is a mistake to classify all African churches, or the Global South, as being cut from the same cloth, as the Primate of South Africa makes quite clear.

It should also now be clear that Bp. Minns of Nigeria is a missionary bishop, and cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered the Primate of any sub-group within TEC.

And now for my recommendation;

It is worth noting that TEC has taken the brunt of the global attacks regarding our insistence that "in this Church, there will be no outcasts." Note that the Primate of Anglican Church of Canada has not been mentioned, although the ACC is equally the subject of the Windsor Report. We know that there are many within the Communion who find themselves in the same postion as TEC in regards to needing the freedom to respond to pastoral situations within their cultural setting. To date, for the most part, with some clear exceptions, they have remained silent, apparently in fear that they will be added to the list of those to be excluded by the African Primates. In light of recent developments, I think it is time for at least our British brothers and sisters to break this silence.

Somewhere I read a commentary that spoke of bulding fences, and how those fences are being drawn in. I think this is exactly what is happening. Each diocese, and in some places each congregation, feels that what matters the most is that they keep their corner of the Kingdom out of this dispute. And so they are silent, trusting that the Americans will carry their banner successfully.

I'm afraid that assumption may have been wishful thinking. TEC is now required to build up their own fences, if for no other reason than to hold off the invasions of foreign bishops seeking to plunder Episcopal congregations.

To some degree, I don't believe these fences will keep us safe from these attacks over the long haul. Let the Church of England beware. There is no longer any question that you are the next on the list of lands to be conquered. I think the time has come to throw off the defensive isolationism that many within the Communion have attempted to use as cover, and respond with a united front.


UPDATE: Tobias offers us an example suggesting responses in East Africa are much more fluid that some Church leaders would have us believe. Here is a recent letter from Bishop Mdimi Mhogolo, Diocese of Central Tanganyika, Province of Tanzania:

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus

You might have ready that the House of Bishops acting not on behalf of the whole Church but on their own have issued another statement regarding its relationship with ECUSA. Among other things, the statement shows that the communion between the Anglican Church of Tanzania and the Episcopal Church in the US is severely impaired and that no financial or human personnel support from ECUSA will be received by the Anglican Church of Tanzania. Put that way, the statement assumes that there is some communion that still exist between the two bodies of the Church of Christ.

DCT still remains in communion with ECUSA, maintaining our mutual respect for our cultural traditions and values. When one visits the other, he/she should not impose one's cultural understanding of Christianity on the other. There are so many Christian things that we share together than the things that divide us&.Our relationship with ECUSA institutions will continue as usual; and if DCT continues to work together with secular organizations and governments such as CARE INTERNATIONAL, OXFAM, governments of UK, Germany, Australia, and Japan in trying to realize the Millennium Development Goals, how much more will we enjoy working with our brothers and sisters from the US in doing together God's mission to the world?
We stand firm in our work for Christ with all those with good will in the Episcopal Church. No body has the right to tell us to do otherwise.

Peace and grace to you all


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Should the Bishop-Elect of SC Receive Consents?

We have previously discussed the election of Mark Lawrence as Bishop of South Carolina. There continues to be some concern regarding consenting to his election. From what I understand, currently South Carolina has heard from 28 dioceses. 10 of them have denied consent. Considering that those dioceses aligned with the Network (7 to 10, depending on your source) were most likely the first to respond to requests for consents, it is still questionable if Fr. Lawrence will receive the required majority of consents.

Beyond the concerns that we have already discussed, a new development has raised further questions. Fr. Lawrence wrote to the Bishops and Standing Committees. His letter did little to alleviate concerns, and introduced a few new ones. Lionel Deimel, author of an earlier essay regarding this issue entitled No Consents, has introduced a new essay that carefully scrutinizes Fr. Lawrence's letter; The Annotated Mark Lawrence. In his introduction to this essay, Lionel offers the following summary:

1. Lawrence has taken pains to be truthful, but, on questions where his views are likely to alarm mainstream Episcopalians, he is not above employing obfuscation or avoiding a question.
2. Lawrence seems put out by having to answer questions in general, and questions about his and South Carolina’s commitment to The Episcopal Church, in particular.
3. Ironically, Lawrence and I agree that dioceses do not have a categorical right to the bishop of their choice. We disagree on appropriate criteria for episcopal suitability.
4. Lawrence has a passion for theology, but this theology seems decidedly un-Anglican in its emphasis on enforcing correct doctrine and on not tolerating viewpoints distinguishable from his own (such as those of the new Presiding Bishop, for example).
5. Lawrence fails to reassure us that he will not lead the Diocese of South Carolina out of The Episcopal Church.
6. Lawrence disparages the polity of The Episcopal Church—especially its autonomy—and insists that “globalization” requires new ecclesiastical structures to assure uniformity of belief and to preserve “traditional” doctrine. He would subordinate all voices to what is deemed “traditional,” which could preclude responding effectively or innovatively to a complex, troubled, and increasingly interconnected world.
7. Lawrence views alternative primatial oversight as a way of bypassing a Presiding Bishop who, although she does not agree with his opinion on certain matters, has made it clear that she will represent them faithfully and fairly.
8. Lawrence touts his past good behavior as evidence that he deserves our trust, but he gives us many reasons to expect that his past behavior may not be a good predictor of his future actions. He hedges on his commitment to vows to uphold the “Doctrine, Discipline and Worship” of The Episcopal Church, and he suggests, like other Network bishops, that he may minimize his participation in the House of Bishops.
9. Lawrence offers a defective marriage analogy to explain his view of the disputes within The Episcopal Church. His analysis is one-sided and self-serving. It follows a pattern in which the bishop-elect’s self-reflection and self-criticism are difficult to discern alongside his severe judgment of others, particularly of the majority of Episcopalians.
For those who desire an even more boiled down version of the controversy, let me see if I can fit it all in one sentence. Can the Episcopal Church give consent to the election of a bishop who has such a low regard for the constitution and canons of the Church, does not recognize our Presiding Bishop as our spiritual leader, and appears to be an advocate for schism?


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What Then Should We Do?

The Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent:

Luke 3:7-18 -
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked
him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
From J. Janda:
For Dorothy Day—The Water Strider

"Do what you
would wish
them to do
unto you"

a voice whispered
and she responded
with hospitality

with soup and

and bags of

and feeding
and housing

the homeless
the rejected
the unwanted

the absurd Christs

who fit not
in churches
nor prisions
nor hospitals

the absurd Christs
who slip through

every mental grid
rational sieve

those to whom
no law or structure
can apply

the Christs walking
on water

instead of using
boats or bridges

the Christs reaching
their purpose to live
to love

and embracing it

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tanzania Uninvites Anglican Primates

From ENS:

The House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Tanzania (ACT) issued a statement December 7...

..."Mindful of the fact that the Anglican Church of Tanzania issued statements in 2003 following the election, confirmation and eventual consecration to the Episcopate of Gene Robinson a practicing homosexual clergyman, whereby we declared that henceforth we are not in communion, namely, communio in sacris, with:

Bishops who consecrate homosexuals to the episcopate and those Bishops who ordain such persons to the priesthood and the deaconate or license them to minister in their dioceses;

Bishops who permit the blessing of same sex unions in their dioceses;

Gay priests and deacons;

Priests who bless same sex unions"...
Since there have always been gay priests, deacons, and bishops in the Church, and since not only are those of this particular orientation excluded, but also the bishop who ordained them, I think it is safe to say that Tanzania has effectively eliminated every bishop that I have ever known, and I would imagine most bishops within the Anglican Communion. They have certainly excluded the Archbishop of Canterbury.

When Jeffrey John, a celibate gay priest, withdrew from his appointment as Bishop of Reading, many of us wondered if this would be the beginning of the Church's sanctioning of prejudice based on orientation alone. The Vatican's scapegoating of all gays last year was another sign this was the direction things were headed. And now we have an Anglican Province declaring who it is in communion with based on one criterion; sexual orientation.

A section of Dr. Williams' statement at the time of Jeffrey John's withdrawal is worth noting:

...Let me add that some of the opposition expressed to Canon John's appointment has been very unsavoury indeed. A number of the letters I received displayed a shocking level of ignorance and hatred towards homosexual people. Our official policies and resolutions as Anglicans commit us to listening to the experience of homosexuals and recognising that they are full and welcome members of the Church, loved by God. Not everyone, it seems, takes equally seriously this element in the teaching of the Anglican Church; and some letters that came from non-believers suggest that the level of foolish and hurtful prejudice in our society is still uncomfortably high. Christians who collude with this are simply not living out their calling...
The Anglican Church of Tanzania, who are intentionally colluding with those who spread such foolish and hurtful prejudice, are not living out their calling.

The Primates' Meeting, scheduled for February, was to take place in the Province of the Anglican Church of Tanzania. It is safe to assume that most of these Primates have participated in the ordination of a gay priest or deacon, or the consecration of a gay bishop, or have licensed gay clergy at one time or another. Consequently, it appears that they are no longer welcome in Tanzania. It may be prudent for the Primates to begin to seek an alternative meeting place.

Jim Naughton and Mark Harris have more on this story.


Monday, December 11, 2006

An Advent Theme: Be Prepared!

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Also, Dave's free 2007 Cartoon Calendars are now available.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Diana Butler Bass on Tradition

Jim Naughton points us to a discussion with Diana Butler Bass that recently appeared in the Washington Post. There are a number of comments within this chat worth noting, but I wanted to highlight one that I found particularly significant:

...To quote the former president, I feel your pain. A lot of people are in pain right now. Including me, even though I love my local parish; I love the Episcopal Church; and I love Anglicanism. It is painful when Christians have a public fight like this.

My argument relates to my answer to "Capitol Hill." I think that two parties in the Episcopal Church, the Old-line liberals and the Radicalized Conservatives have politicized their particular visions of Christianity into a winner-takes-all strategy of making all Episcopalians agree with their views. From a historical perspective, since 1945, there has been a well-documented, increasing politicization of all of American religion into hardened positions. It is those two groups that are involved right now in political hardball and are trying to drag the rest of us into their argument.

I do, however, think there are some significant groups of Episcopalians -- the centrists, the progressive pilgrims, and the emergent conservatives -- who are attempting to resist politicization in the church and are trying to reground the church on spiritual practice and Christian (and Anglican) traditions. I think this middling-groups (not exactly parties) are working very hard to have a genuine theological discussion (or even argument...arguments are okay in theology...without arguing in the right ways, theology wouldn't even exist!) in the din. So, while some people are concerned about Christian life and theological vision, most of the loudest voices are from partisan combatants. Politics is drowning out theology...
"...trying to reground the church on spiritual practice and Christian (and Anglican) traditions..." That brought to mind a late night discussion I recently had here. To unpack those comments a bit more, let me quote Dr. Bass from her book, The Practicing Congregation:

...Christians often define tradition as fixed, conflating it with ideas of custom, convention routine, and endowment. In this perspective, tradition must be maintained, guarded, protected, and perpetuated. Such definitions of tradition, however, are becoming increasingly untenable with philosophers and theorists as they recognize that tradition is essentially a dynamic concept, whereby "continuity is capable of incorporating even the innovations and reinterpretations demanded by the present." Sociologist Wade Clarke Roof suggests these two views are in constant tension in contemporary faith communities. "Religious tradition persists, and will continue to do so," he argues, "but in one of two fundamental ways: either as a 'lived tradition,' and thereby in a constant state of reenactment, or hardened into rigid doctrines and moralisms" (p. 40).
Dr. Bass suggests that the relationship between tradition and change is more complex than this. She offers French social theorist Georges Banlandiers' three forms of traditionalism:

1. Fundamental traditionalism "upholds the maintenance of the most deeply rooted values and models of social and cultural observance" and is marked by sense of permanence;

2. Formal traditionalism "makes use of forms that are upheld but changed in substance; it establishes a continuity of appearances, but serves new designs"; and

3. Psuedo-traditionalism enables a "new construction" of tradition by interpreting the past and assuming continuity while recognizing disorder. It is a stance that calls on the past and, at the same time, "appeases" modernity (p. 41).
In our current unpleasantness, it seems to me that we tend to group all those who disagree with us in Banlandiers' first category. They, in turn, tend to group us in his second category. I suspect the truth is that many of us actually fall into the third category; Roof's "lived tradition," also referred to by Dr. Bass as "fluid retraditioning."

As I was saying last night, I think that, eventually, our differing perspectives may discover that we need each other. We need a core of "tradition" that roots us in the faith of the apostles. But we also need that tradition to be lived in such a way that it is communicated to today's world, meaning that it will be constantly expressed in new ways that meet people where they are right now.

Without a core, we may lose who we are. Without flexibility, we can become irrelevant.

Dr. Bass also includes a quote from Cardinal John Henry Newman, drawn from his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine:

If Christianity be a universal religion, suited not simply to one locality or period, but to all times and all places, it cannot but vary in its relations and dealings towards the world around it, that is, it will develop. Priniciples require a very various application according as persons and circumstances vary, and must be thrown into new shapes according to the form of society which they are to influence. Hence all bodies of Christians, orthodox or not, develop the doctrine of scripture.
It seems to me that tradition cannot help but change in relation to time and place. Can we not keep our link to the past, which constantly calls us to live into who we are as Christians, while still straining towards the future, which may require us to reimagine new ways to manifest that identity?


Friday, December 08, 2006

Bishop of California Arrested

From the AP:

...The Rt. Rev. Mark Handley Andrus was arrested Thursday for blocking the entrance to the San Francisco federal building. He was among about 200 protesters who had marched from Grace Cathedral as part of a weekly anti-war rally that has been held for about five years.

Federal Protective Service officers arrested 11 other protesters for blocking the door, and all were cited and released.

"God is with all who have suffered in Iraq," the bishop, wearing his purple robe and carrying a shepherd's staff, said. "This war needs to be opposed. Even though there is widespread sentiment against the war, we need to continue to push for peace."
Fr. John was there:

...The entire march, liturgy, and civil disobediance were marked by joyful solemnity and a spirit of nonviolence. It was a wonderful opportunity for people from around the diocese to act together in faithful witness of the Prince of Peace to whom we give our ultimate allegiance. It was also good to do so with Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Buddhist, Quaker and humanist sisters and brothers who share our commitment to justice, peace, and nonviolence. None of us ceased being who we were; we were not boiled down to some kind of imaginary generic human being, sans tradition or history. Yet, for a few hours, we were able to speak with one voice for an end to this unjust and brutal war...
Jan was there as well, and brought back some great pics, including the one above. Here is her summary:

...When the Bishop's turn came, he seemed almost in his element. More than one member of the Episcopal clergy remarked to me: "we're seeing a new day."

The event was surprisingly moving even to this hard-bitten old political cynic. I've been known to be critical of these carefully choreographed "non-violent" protests, even though I've done my share of them. When we the comfortable get ourselves arrested, we don't risk much; the power of nonviolent action is only really revealed when people who have little or nothing choose to demand, through peaceful demonstrative self-assertion, that they have a right to full humanity.

Seeing Bishop Marc get himself arrested wasn't about that; it couldn't be. But it was about seeing him exemplify through action what he thinks the people and clergy of his diocese ought to be about -- and that is quite a call, even here in Left Coast City...
Good old fashioned civil disobedience; worth a thousand words.

Some days I really miss the Left Coast.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Does Abp. Akinola Want to Jail All Gays?

There are two parishes in Virginia that will be deciding this weekend if they will be leaving TEC. Since Martyn Minns is rector of one of these parishes, and also a Bishop of Nigeria, overseen by Abp. Peter Akinola, the assumption has been that these parishes will choose to join Nigeria.

On Monday the Washington Post carried an article on this situation, which included the following excerpt:

...Some members of the two Fairfax churches say they are comfortable with the arrangement because Minns is their "missionary bishop." However, they know there are questions about a suburban Washington congregation technically under the leadership of Akinola, who has supported a new Nigerian law that penalizes gay activity, whether private or "a public show of same sex amorous relationship," with jail time.

Jim Pierobon, a member of The Falls Church serving as a spokesman for both Fairfax churches, said he believes Akinola is trying to ease tensions between Nigerian Anglicans and Muslims by supporting the law. That doesn't mean the leadership issue doesn't weigh on Pierobon's conscience.

"I can't ignore what's gone on," he said Friday. "It gives me pause. But I understand it well enough that it's not a show-stopper"...
In response to this article, Bp. Minns has posted A Statement of Clarification on the Truro Church website:

In a recent Washington Post article, Archbishop Peter J. Akinola was characterized as “an advocate of jailing gays.” That is not true.

Archbishop Akinola believes that all people—whatever their manner of life or sexual orientation—are made in the image of God and deserve to be treated with respect. “We are all broken and need the transforming love of God,” Archbishop Akinola said to me during a recent conversation.

Archbishop Akinola also said, “Jesus Christ is our example for this. He refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery instead he said. ‘Go now and sin no more.’ That is an essential part of the message of the Gospel and the teaching of our congregations.”
That still leaves me with some questions regarding Abp. Akinola's previous public statements in support of Nigeria's proposed legislation.

From February 2006:

The Bill against Homosexuality:

The Church commends the law-makers for their prompt reaction to outlaw same-sex relationships in Nigeria and calls for the bill to be passed since the idea expressed in the bill is the moral position of Nigerians regarding human sexuality.
From September 2006:

Human Sexuality

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

Also note the following explanation from a Nigerian official regarding the proposed legislation:

...Justice Minister Bayo Ojo said the law would also ban "any form of protest to press for rights or recognition" by homosexuals, the AFP news agency reports...
So, what are we to make of this? Is Abp. Akinola continuing to advocate for the jailing of gays and their supporters? Or are we to consider Bp. Minns' denial as a retraction of Abp. Akinola's previous statements?

This proposed Nigerian legislation is contrary to Lambeth 1.10, the Windsor Report, the policy of the US Department of State, and basic Christian decency. One would hope that Abp. Akinola's (previous or continued?) support of such legislation would give the parishes in Virginia good reasons to reconsider aligning themselves with Nigeria.

Jim Naughton offers us two excellent commentaries on this situation. If you want more background on the development of this legislation and the Church of Nigeria's role in that development, make sure you follow Jim's links.