Friday, June 30, 2006

Who is Bishop John Howe?

Yesterday the diocese of Central Florida declared their intention to seek ALPO. This brought Bishop John Howe into the spotlight once again. For those who have been following developments in the Episcopal Church for many years, his name is quite familiar. It might be helpful for others to mention a few things about Bp. Howe.

To begin, I refer you to a lengthy article written by Lewis Daly entitled A Church at Risk: The Episcopal "Renewal" Movement. This piece was written some years ago, but remains required reading if you want to understand what is going on in the Episcopal Church today. Many of the names from the extreme conservative position that are mentioned in this article can be found in today's news.

Regarding Bp. Howe, let me quote the relevant section:

...Knippers is a member of Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, Virginia. Truro is an historically evangelical parish that grew to 3,000 members, with a strongly revivalistic emphasis, under the leadership of then rector John Howe (1976-89), formerly John Guest’s assistant at St. Stephens in Sewickley and a pioneering leader of the Episcopal renewal movement.

In the 1980s, Truro and its charismatic sister church, The Church of the Apostles, became an important religious hub for the political right wing in Washington, including Oliver North and Clarence Thomas. Howe supported Pat Robertson when he ran for president in 1988 and, more recently, he participated in a charismatic “re-ordination” service for Robertson held at Regent University.3 1 H e was formerly president and chairman of the board of the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life, part of a network of mainline anti-abortion movements now being organized by the National Right to Life Committee . In 1990 Howe became the third bishop of the Diocese of Central Florida, and joined the board of the American Anglican Council in 1998...

Despite John Howe’s departure in 1989, Truro has remained an important parish for
the Episcopal renewal movement. Its current rector, Martyn Minns, serves on the board of the American Anglican Council. This strong Washington axis centered on Truro and IRD sets the AAC apart from previous renewal efforts, along with the heavy involvement of bishops...
Starting at the beginning, we find the late Diane Knippers mentioned, who was the President of the Institute for Religion and Democracy for many years. Hopefully, most readers recognize the name of this organization by now. If not, I commend to you an article recently provided by the Diocese of Washington, Following the Money.

We then encounter John Guest, who, with Bp. Hathaway of Pittsburgh, started Episcopalians United. This organization spearheaded attempts to block legislation that would allow the the ordination of gay and lesbian Christians at the General Conventions of 1988, 1991, 1994 and 1997. Following the Lambeth Conference of 1998, they became Anglicans United.

John Guest can also be considered the pioneer of the manuever of Episcopal clergy being aligned with an offshore bishop. In 1998, Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh allowed the independent congregation of which John Guest was the rector, which had split from St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Sewickley, to come under the authority of an Anglican bishop in Uganda.

We then find mentioned Bp. Howe's support of Pat Robertson. Not only did he support Robertson's run for the presidency, but participated in his "reordination":

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson's plan to reaffirm the ordination he gave up when he ran for president in 1988 has drawn questions from the Southern Baptist pastor who ordained Robertson in 1960...

...Members of an ordination council, who will serve as a board of spiritual advisers for Robertson, heard and responded to his vows. Its members include Jack Hayford, president of the King's Seminary in Los Angeles; Thomas Trask, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God; Vinson Synan, dean of the School of Divinity of Regent University; and Episcopal Bishop John Howe of Florida.
Does this mean that the televangelist who called for the assasination of a foreign leader, as but one example of his outrageous public statements in recent years, is an Episcopal priest? Even contemplation of such a thing is enough to make one shudder.

But, from accounts of Truro Church, I suppose such a close relationship between Bp. Howe and our most unstable televangelist should not be that surprising. Consider David Corn's description from 1991:

...In a wing of the simple, red brick church, a bookstore sells anti-abortion material (the church is devoutly anti-choice), inspirational tracts and books that expose the workings of Satan. A corner is reserved for the products of the Truro Tape Ministry, which markets audiocassettes of lectures by church associates and well-known charismatics, including Pat Robertson. The Rev. John Howe, until 1989 the rector at Truro, was a key endorser of the 1988 presidential campaign of Robertson, who once called for a theocracy with "judges speaking in tongues on the bench."

Truro's services and tapes present a clear message: True Christians engage daily in actual, not metaphorical, hand to hand combat with Satan. In a taped lecture series on "Spiritual Warfare," Tom Tarrants reveals that the Devil and evil spirits "carry on a relentless battle behind the scenes" to affect "world events." Philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Immanuel Kant and Sigmund Freud were all under demonic influence. Lecturer Beth Whitnah averts that Satan is behind the "pollution of the whole entertainment industry."

Charismatics are instructed to heed orders. On one tape, the Rev. Brian Cox, associate rector of a sister church, the Church of the Apostles, exhorts Truro's congregants to obey unquestioningly God's commands. "When the Father tells you to do something," Cox says, "you don't argue with Him...You don't need to know why." During a 1987 sermon at his church, according to two people who were there, Cox preached that the goal of the charismatics is to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth, adding, "The Kingdom of God is not a Democracy." After that sermon, he embraced a member of his flock, Oliver North. On another tape, Os Guiness, a "Christian author," examines "the problem of constitutionalism." By "problem" he means that the U.S. Constitution has no "transcendence" because it does not rely on religious values.
And finally, we come across the mention of Martyn Minns, the current rector of Truro Church, and recently elected bishop in the Anglican Church of Nigeria. He will be heading up CANA, which is claiming to be a missionary effort by Archbishop Akinola, but is clearly an expansion of the concept introduced by John Guest; using offshore bishops to manuever around the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.

It appears that Minns intends to remain at Truro Church. How he plans to be a bishop of Nigeria and a rector in the Episcopal Church at the same time is beyond my comprehension. Bp. Lee of Virginia considers such a situation "impossible". One would assume the leadership of TEC will have something to say about this as well?

So, what can we surmise from all of this? Just a couple of observations. Note all this activity happening in and around the Diocese of Pittsburgh. One explanation for this is to recall that Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge Pennsylvania was accredited as a seminary of the Episcopal Church in the early 1980s. Trinity, considered by many charismatics and evangelicals as the New Jerusalem, has heavily influenced current developments in the Episcopal Church.

It is also revealing to notice the role Truro Church, located in Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of D.C., played in the alliance between the American Anglican Council and the Institute for Religion and Democracy. Martyn Minns remains a member of the board of the AAC, as was Bp. Howe before him.

One other bit of history that is worth recalling is that it was at Truro Church that Archbishop George Carey was invited for confirmations, as Virginia's bishop was considered tainted by his support of the Bishop of New Hampshire.

The final thing to note is that these folks have known one another for a long time. We can assume that these close relationships will continue. Consequently, we can also assume that we will be the subject of this "purity campaign" for years to come.


UPDATE: Since I did much wandering off the original topic in the above, I now realize that this post really needs a clear summary statement regarding Bp. John Howe. Thanks to Charlotte, who provides us with just such a summary, which I'm lifting out of the comments from a previous post:

The Diocese of Central Florida has lost 8.5% of its membership in the last two years, despite the fact that it includes a coastal Florida area which is the fastest-growing in the United States.

Its recent capital campaign was a dismal failure.

A large amount of money the Diocese had invested disappeared under somewhat dubious circumstances two or three years ago. Bishop Howe has never publicly explained how the invested money was lost.

Here is a bit more about Bishop Howe's view of things:

1) He supports the teaching of intelligent design in the public schools, and has attempted to mobilize the diocese to support it through an article by Terry Mattingly (sp?) in the Central Florida Episcopalian.

2) In addition to his support for Pat Robertson, Bishop Howe is a strong and committed supporter of James Dobson and his Focus on the Family.

3) This Lent just past, Bishop Howe called, in his column in the Central Florida Episcopalian, for priests to make a practice of denying Communion to anyone they identified as "notorious sinners."

4) Bishop Howe advertises some sort of weekend workshop for laypeople under the slogan "Can you learn to do miracles just like Jesus?" We had this announced by a visitor to my church, who stood up and identified himself as a strong supporter of Bishop Howe. With a big wink, he said that the Bishop's answer to the question "Can you learn to do miracles just like Jesus?" was "Yes."

5) The following is taken verbatim from a sermon by one of his favorites among the priests. He stood before the congregation, floppy Bible in hand, whacked it hard, and said "They're trying to take the Bible away from us. Every word in it is the Word of God."

One final comment. The first thing that strikes almost anyone coming in to Central Florida from another Episcopal diocese is just how weird the place is. The realization that it is rankly and offensively homophobic as a matter of official policy comes later.

I would say to those of you who have never had to live in this place: The first thing, and perhaps the most important thing to understand about the Diocese of Central Florida, because it is the fountainhead from which all else flows, is that it isn't Anglican. I still don't know what it is, and whatever it is, it is certainly strange, but it isn't Anglican.

It is really time to open up the windows of this diocese, clean the place up, and let the light and air in. It is time for Central Florida to rejoin the Episcopal Church and the great Anglican tradition.

No comments:

Post a Comment