Saturday, September 30, 2006

Gate Keepers Beware

The Gospel appointed for October 1:

John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. "

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
We have an advantage when it comes to how we proclaim the Good News to others. As Episcopalians, we have much more freedom when it comes to talking with others about our relationship with God. There is no set formula. There are no particular beliefs that we insist others embrace before walking in our doors. Later on, if someone wants to officially be baptized, confirmed or received, yes, there are particular beliefs that they will need to understand and affirm. But when folks first join us, we don’t require them to pass any tests or make any promises.

Why are we so loose about this? We understand that this is the approach Jesus took when speaking to others of God’s love. In this Gospel, John is upset that someone is using Jesus' name to heal, but he wasn’t part of their group. Jesus tells John to leave them alone. He said, “Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. "

“Whoever is not against us is for us.” Those we talk with about God do not have to agree with all of our beliefs. And we don't have to believe all of theirs. They don’t have to be part of our group. Yet they can still be part of Jesus’ family.

When we talk to others about our faith, we meet them where they are in the spiritual life. We never drag them to where we think they should be.

To make sure we get this point, Jesus goes on to say, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”

Sometimes, those who are already members of the Church see their role as gate keepers. They want to keep the riff raff out of THEIR Church. Anyone who wants to be part of THEIR Church must believe just like they do. I don’t consider these folks to be gate keepers…I see them as gate blockers, stumbling blocks that attempt to keep others out of the kingdom of God. Jesus is pretty harsh in his description of such stumbling blocks.

To keep from being such a stumbling block, all we have to remember is the grace God has extended to us. None of us are worthy of being the beloved of God. We haven’t done anything to earn the right to enter the door of God’s kingdom. Every one of us is a sinner who has fallen short of the glory of God. It is only by God’s grace, God’s unmerited favor, that we have been redeemed, that we are able to receive God’s radically inclusive love.

And that love is offered to every person who was ever born. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever…WHOSOEVER…believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

This is the Good News we have to proclaim.


Friday, September 29, 2006

Bp. Minns to be Licensed by Bp. Lee

We have previously discussed the unusual situation regarding Martyn Minns, the rector of Truro Episcopal Church in the diocese of Virginia, who was consecrated a bishop in the Church of Nigeria on Aug. 20. His intention to be both a Nigerian bishop and the Rector of a parish in TEC seemed outrageous to some of us, including Bp. Lee of Virginia:

...Virginia Bishop Peter J. Lee, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, has called Mr. Minns' election "an affront," adding that it would be "impossible" for Mr. Minns to act simultaneously as rector of Truro and as a bishop for the Nigerian church's Convocation of Anglican Churches in North America (CANA)...
It appears the impossible has happened. Martyn Minns has sent out the following letter to the members of Truro Church:

For the past month we have been in conversation with Bishop Lee regarding my ministry here at Truro during this critical time of transition. Our goal has been to find a way to both honor the Vestry’s desire for me to continue to exercise the duties of Rector and the Bishop’s understandable concerns about the canonical challenge that this presents. I am delighted to let you know that we have agreed on a way forward.

As you all know, Truro has been engaged in a search process for a new Rector with the goal of issuing a call by the first quarter of 2007. On August 20, when I was consecrated as Bishop of the Church of Nigeria to serve as a missionary bishop for CANA (Convocation of Anglicans in North America) I ceased to have canonical residence in the Diocese of Virginia. In order to allow me to continue to exercise the duties of Rector I now require a license from the Bishop of Virginia. This has been granted and so will allow me to continue my ministry among you during this critical phase of our life together.

As part of the agreement, I have assured Bishop Lee that I will not perform any “episcopal acts” within the boundaries of the Diocese of Virginia through January 1, 2007. In other words, I will respect his jurisdiction and not conduct confirmations or ordinations in Virginia during this time.

I am very grateful for Bishop Lee’s generosity in making these rather unusual arrangements and pleased that we have found a way forward that brings glory to God and honors His Church.

Your brother in Christ,
At first glance, this seems like a mistake to me. But, Bishop Lee is the authority in Virginia. He is the one who knows the pastoral needs and canonical necessities of the situation the best. He can license whomever he chooses. I will certainly honor his decision, and commend him for a graceful response to a difficult situation.

Martyn Minns' promise to respect Bp. Lee's jurisdiction through the end of the year is also commendable, although one does wonder why this grace period was extended for only 90 days. Will Truro have a new rector by then, meaning that the license will no longer be in effect? Does this mean that as of January, 2007 Minns will no longer feel obligated to honor Bp. Lee's jurisdiction?

I hope the positive aspects of this arrangement are not lost on us. To be honest, I had not expected Minns to request to be licensed by Lee. It is not unusual for priests or bishops from other dioceses, or other provinces, to be licensed to serve. The particular situation is rather unique, but the solution is not setting any new precedents.

I caution us all to avoid the temptation to slip into a modern form of Donatism. The validity of the sacrament does not depend on the moral character of the priest or bishop. If we consider Holy Orders a sacrament, then regardless of our opinions of the moral character of Abp. Peter Akinola or Martyn Minns, we have no choice but to recognize Minns as a Bishop in the Anglican Church of Nigeria.

I have been remiss in this, making the same error that Bonnie Anderson chastized the Global South for in regards to Bp. Jefferts Schori. From this point on, I will attempt to honor the office by referring to the Rector of Truro as Bishop Martyn Minns.

Pray for the Diocese of Virginia. Pray for the Church.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

President of the House of Deputies Speaks Out

Bonnie Anderson, recently elected President of the House of Deputies, has issued a statement regarding the Camp Allen meeting of the supposed "Windsor bishops" and the recent ultimatum from the Global South which claimed the support of 20 Provinces. To place Ms. Anderson's comments in context, let me first quote a part of the Presiding Bishop's statement:

... note here that Archbishop Robin Eames, Chairman of the Lambeth Commission which produced the Windsor Report, says in his introduction: "This report is not a judgment. It is part of a process. It is part of a pilgrimage toward healing and reconciliation." As such, I believe the "Windsor process" is a process of mutual growth which calls for patience, mutual understanding and generosity of spirit rather than stark submission.

It also needs to be said that the assessment of the responses of the Episcopal Church to the Windsor process is not the responsibility of self-chosen groups within the Communion...

...The General Convention in Resolution A165 affirmed our commitment to the Windsor process. From my perspective, being faithful to the Windsor process – and the Covenant process which is integral to it – calls for patience and rules out actions which would preempt their orderly unfolding. In my view, portions of the Kigali statement that take issue with the actions of the Episcopal Church in advance of hearing from the advisory group, and before the Covenant has an opportunity to be developed, are inconsistent with the Windsor process, as are continuing incursions of bishops from other provinces into our dioceses. Patience and respect for one another and our provincial structures are required on the part of us all...
Here is Bonnie Anderson's statement. I'm posting all of it, because it is exceptionally clear and needs to be repeated as many times as possible:

The clarification from Bishop Griswold in his letter to the bishops is very important. The Windsor Report was issued as one part of a process. The responsibility for the response to the Windsor Report belongs to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, a bicameral legislature with representation from lay and clergy as well as bishops. At the 75th General Convention, our response was made. Our bishops certainly can and do meet together. However, when decisions affecting the whole Episcopal Church are made, representatives of the whole Episcopal Church need to be present for the conversations as well as the possible decision making.

Accordingly, the Global South Primates who recently met at Kigali have a right to meet, but no right to make decisions for the Anglican Communion. They have expressed concern about the perceived unilateral actions taken the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2003. However, their statement is truly a unilateral act.

In their statement they distance themselves from Bishop Jefferts Schori for holding views that are similar to those held by Bishop Griswold, Bishop Browning before and other Primates currently. There is nothing unique in her views. What is unique is her gender in the circle of primates. That seems to be their biggest objection. I note with sadness that the Kigali communiqué does not extend the courtesy of referring to Bishop Jefferts Schori as a bishop, where everyone else is referred to with titles. It adds a low note that is not worthy of the faith espoused in the document.
Are we clear now? Bishops can meet whenever they want. But decisions are made at General Convention, where duly elected representatives from the lay, diaconal and priestly orders also have voice and vote. This is how we do things. This is how we will continue to do things.

The Global South Primates can also meet whenever they feel like it, of course. But they do not have the authority to dictate terms to the rest of the Communion.

And finally, the rude and sexist nature of their statement is exposed clearly for all the world to see. On November 5, Bishop Jefferts Schori will be the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. There will be no alternatives offered.

One final note; the Primate of the Episcopal Church in the Phillipines has distanced himself from the poison-pen letter from the Global South. Then there were 18.

That leaves Burundi, Central Africa, the Church of South India, Congo, Indian Ocean, Jerusalem and Middle East, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Rwanda, South East Asia, Southern Cone, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, West Africa, the West Indies and Bangladesh. Any speculation as to who will be next to back away from it?


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sane Thoughts from MadPriest

MadPriest is getting bored with all the negativity within Anglicanism. So, he suggests we turn it around:

...Maybe God is doing something new. Maybe we are not the defenders of an old church. Maybe we are the thing that is new. To use a phrase I absolutely despise, it is possible that we are the "emerging church," a culturally relevant, authentic voice of God in our own time and place.

If this is the case then we must start doing things differently, with immediate effect. Instead of running a negative and defensive campaign to try and retain a status quo that wasn't, in reality giving us that which we believe Christ wants in his Church, we must run a positive campaign. We must talk about new things. We must start saying why we are right and be less inclined to go on about why "they" are wrong. We have been given the task by God to build the new Temple. This will be a glorious Temple and will replace the old building. We should not spend much of our time trying to shore up the crumbling edifices of the past...
Possible that we are the emerging church of the future? I'd say there is absolutely no doubt.

The apparent rise in popularity for fundamentalism is the last gasp of a dying world view. I'll give it two more generations before it disappears completely.

A desire for things spiritual will live on, however. Who will hear the authentic voice of God in the generations to come? Is this the calling of Anglicanism?


Honestly Owning Our Past

Karen Armstrong, an author for whom I have high regard, has written an article in response to the Pope's recent address. Armstrong uses such terms as "Islamophobic" and "bigotry" in her description of the mindset that would support the Pope's choice of quotes. She suggests that our current problems are rooted more in politics than they are religion:

...The early conquests in Persia and Byzantium after the Prophet's death were inspired by political rather than religious aspirations. Until the middle of the eighth century, Jews and Christians in the Muslim empire were actively discouraged from conversion to Islam, as, according to Qur'anic teaching, they had received authentic revelations of their own. The extremism and intolerance that have surfaced in the Muslim world in our own day are a response to intractable political problems - oil, Palestine, the occupation of Muslim lands, the prevelance of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, and the west's perceived "double standards" - and not to an ingrained religious imperative.

But the old myth of Islam as a chronically violent faith persists, and surfaces at the most inappropriate moments. As one of the received ideas of the west, it seems well-nigh impossible to eradicate. Indeed, we may even be strengthening it by falling back into our old habits of projection. As we see the violence - in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon - for which we bear a measure of responsibility, there is a temptation, perhaps, to blame it all on "Islam". But if we are feeding our prejudice in this way, we do so at our peril...
The Mad Priest points out that suggesting this is all about projection doesn't take into account some of the realities of the current situation:

...I expect there is still much self-examination that could be done by Western Christians, and the West in general, in respect of the sins of their past. But, for many years the West has faced up to its culpability in the violence of past centuries - the Crusades, the invasion of Latin America and slavery amongst many other acts of terrible oppression. Karen's comments come from the guilt we have come to accept because we have been prepared to be honest about the past. However, Islam has not really even started to examine their own culpability for past acts of violence or the position of its scriptures in the giving of religious blessing to such acts. They must do this if there is to be any sort of level playing field on which all the religions of the world and secular agencies can meet to try and find a way out of the mess we are in.

Alternatively, we could all agree to forget the past completely and start again from a year zero. This would be a very postmodern solution but we would have to sort out disputed borders first before we could really start again.
I tend to agree with the Mad Priest. There is no question that Christians need to continue to hold themselves accountable for the violence committed by them in the name of God, and to ask forgiveness, and repent of such actions. But I don't think such repentance requires us to justify the violent actions of another faith tradition. It seems to me this is what Karen Armstrong has tried to do. There is no justification for American bombers killing innocent civilians. And there is no justification for terrorist bombs killing innocent people, either. Both are being done in the name of God. Both must be condemned as being contrary to the nature of God. Until the religions of the world confess their role in the violence, and name it for the sin that it is, the violence will continue.


Monday, September 25, 2006

The Imaginary Majority

To the surprise of few who recall recent history, it turns out that there were not 20 Provinces in support of the rather bizarre Global South statement that came out last week. Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Southern Africa has made it clear that he won't touch the thing:

...I wish to offer this clarification of the position of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, in light of the potentially misleading impression that our Province has endorsed the Communiqué issued at the end of the meeting. Whereas Canon Livingstone Ngewu and I were present in Kigali, neither of us were made aware even of the possibility of a communiqué in the name of the Primates of the Global South, prior to its release...
So now there may be, at the very most, 19 Global South Provinces who will allow themselves to be associated with this obnoxious missive. 19 out of 38 can no longer be touted as a "majority."

I'm sure that a few more Primates will come forward in the days ahead to distance themselves from this embarrassing attempt to codify extremism. And no doubt there are a few Primates who would like to keep their name out of all of this, but will remain silent to keep on the good side of the Archbishop of the World Nigeria.

Since we will probably never know who wrote this thing, and in the end who was strongly in support of it, I guess we are free to speculate, and then let the Global South refute such speculations?

Marty Minns wrote the document. Almost all of it is about the Network. It uses Network language, and hands them everything they've been asking for on a silver platter.

Nigeria championed it at the meeting. Signatures were not affixed because they could not be assured of a majority signing on to such an outrageous statement. Instead, we were given the strong implication that all those present affirmed it, which has now been proven to be false.

Who really supported this? Peter Akinola, Nigeria; Henry Orombi, Uganda; Drexel Gomez, West Indies; and Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone. The 20 has become 4.

There's my speculations. Yours?


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Global South to the Communion: "We Rule!"

The Global South has issued a statement. The claim is that it represents 20 provinces. 18 Primates were present, although we know that at least one left before the conclusion. We are not told who signed on to this; only who was present. Keep in mind the last time they issued one of their ultimatums, a couple of Primates came forward later and said their names had been added without their permission. It is difficult for me to believe that Southern Africa would sign this thing. So, what we have here is, to be generous, is a statement from about 19 Provinces out of 38 represented here; half the Communion.

So who were these Primates? Let the most prominent member of this rather elite crew be representative; Peter Akinola, Archbishop and Primate of the World Nigeria. Here's just one example of the kind of lovely rhetoric to which Peter does not hesitate to affix his name:

...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...
The Nigerian solution to this "perversion"? Lock them all up. Let those who claim that the extremists within Anglicanism don't reject gays, but only their actions, try to explain this.

I suspect Peter's crusade to cage all icky critters is going to backfire. It is estimated that there are over 500,000 gays and lesbians currently worshipping in Anglican churches in Nigeria. If he is sincere about "loving the sinner," he's going to need to recruit a whole lot of prison chaplains.

So what did these Primates have to say? Rather than go through it all, I'd rather just refer you to various articles written over the last few years that have spelled out pretty clearly what was going on. A small group of extremists, primarily bishops and priests, have been quietly working to replace the Episcopal Church as the only Anglican presence in North America. What we are witnessing is "Stage Two" of the Chapman plan finally being unfurled for all the world to see:

...Stage 2 will launch at some yet to be determined moment, probably in 2004. During this phase, we will seek, under the guidance of the Primates, negotiated settlements in matters of property, jurisdiction, pastoral succession and communion, If adequate settlements are not within reach, a faithful disobedience of canon law on a widespread basis may be necessary...
Consequently, there's no real surprises in this latest statement, but I suppose we should take a closer look anyway, if for no other reason than to more fully perceive the web they weave:

...We are grateful therefore, that one sign of promise is the widespread support for the development of an Anglican Covenant. We are delighted to affirm the extraordinary progress made by the Global South task group on developing an Anglican Covenant. For the past year they have labored on this important task and we look forward to submitting the result of their labor to the rest of the Communion...
I suspect that the development of a Covenant was not forseen in the early planning stages of the coup. So, what is being done is a quick draft is being prepared by this elite group, so that their version will be the first to be on the table. No doubt Marty Minns, the new Assistant General Secretary of this gang, and former AAC/Network operative, will leave his mark on the finished product. So much for Dr. Williams' suggestion of a 6 to 8 year process. Now the GS will claim that their Covenant is THE Covenant.

...We grieve that, because of the doctrinal conflict in parts of our Communion, there is now a growing number of congregations and dioceses in the USA and Canada who believe that their Anglican identity is at risk and are appealing to us so that they might remain faithful members of the Communion. As leaders of that Communion we will work together to recognize the Anglican identity of all who receive, hold and maintain the Scriptures as the Word of God written and who seek to live in godly fellowship within our historic ordering...
It is their "Christian duty" to declare North America the new mission field. Expect to see many more pillaging pirates on the horizon.

...We have asked the Global South Steering Committee to meet with the leadership of the dioceses requesting Alternative Primatial Oversight, in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Network and the ‘Windsor Dioceses’, to investigate their appeal in greater detail and to develop a proposal identifying the ways by which the requested Primatial oversight can be adequately provided...
Akinola is drooling when imagining he might pick up not just a parish here and there, but entire dioceses. If AlPO ever becomes a reality, I hope that Peter is given the job. As Stephen Bates has pointed out, it would be a match made in heaven.

...At the next meeting of the Primates in February 2007 some of us will not be able to recognize Katharine Jefferts Schori as a Primate at the table with us. Others will be in impaired communion with her as a representative of The Episcopal Church. Since she cannot represent those dioceses and congregations who are abiding by the teaching of the Communion we propose that another bishop, chosen by these dioceses, be present at the meeting so that we might listen to their voices during our deliberations...
The hubris of this boy's club seems to have no bounds. Now they want to tell us who our Primate is going to be. It's not going to happen, fellas. Wannabe Archbishop Bob might show up, but he'll still go down in history as the Pretender he has always been.

At least we finally understand why so many of the extremist bishops voted for Bp. Jefferts Schori. This was the plan all along. Get someone who they can reject, and maybe Bob can get a loftier title.

...We are convinced that the time has now come to take initial steps towards the formation of what will be recognized as a separate ecclesiastical structure of the Anglican Communion in the USA. We have asked the Global South Steering Committee to develop such a proposal in consultation with the appropriate instruments of unity of the Communion. We understand the serious implications of this determination. We believe that we would be failing in our apostolic witness if we do not make this provision for those who hold firmly to a commitment to historic Anglican faith...
And there it is, ladies and gentlemen; the dream launched 30 years ago by those who started getting nervous about all the riffraff coming in the door of the Church; a place they can call their own; an exclusive club where they can pretend "those people" don't exist.

God is shaking things up. No matter what storms we find ourselves in the midst, or how many pirates we discover swarming onto our decks, we must never let go of the fact that, whatever is happening, it's all glory. If we stay true to our convictions, if we never back away from proclaiming to a desperate world the radically inclusive love of God made known to us through Jesus Christ, all will be redeemed one day.

Let us keep in mind the words Paul wrote to the Church in Rome:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Or, if you prefer, find solace in these thoughts from the Moody Blues:

There you go man,
keep as cool as you can.
Face piles
And piles
Of trials
With smiles.

It riles them to believe
that you perceive
the web they weave

And keep on thinking free.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Not Acting Reasonably is Contrary to God's Nature

Pope Benedict XVI gave an address last Tuesday at Regensburg University. By now you have heard the sad news about the angry response by some Islamist extremists, which included acts of violence. In the Northern Nigerian town of Dutse, almost all the churches, including St. Peters Anglican Cathedral, have been torched.

What gave rise to such outrage? A small segment of the Pope's address, in which he quotes Manuel II Palaiologos, the Byzantine emperor from 1391 to 1425:

...In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point -- itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself -- which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason," I found interesting and which can serve as the starting point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation ("diálesis" -- controversy) edited by professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 2:256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion." It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat]. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Koran, concerning holy war.

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels," he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably ("syn logo") is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats.... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...."
Before saying anything more, we need to recognize some problems with this English translation of the German text. Instead of "turned to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely" the German text reads, "He addresses his interlocutor in an astoundingly harsh — to us surprisingly harsh — way." The other difficulty is found in the line that seems to have caused the most offense; "things only evil and inhuman" was actually "things only bad and inhumane". Perhaps minor points, but worth noting.

There are a couple of historical inaccuracies in the above section as well. Most scholars now agree that Sura 2:256 is not from the early period, but from the middle period, which negates the point he seems to have been trying to make. The other minor correction would be that most likely Manuel wrote those words while being held hostage by the Turkish sultan, not duirng the seige of Constantinople.

Was this an unfortunate quote for the Pope to use? In context, with the rest of Manuel's quotation, it is certainly relevant to the remainder of the address. Maybe he could have distanced himself a bit more from it; saying clearly, as he did in his apology, that this was not his personal view, or possibly also mentioning examples of "things bad and inhumane" done in the name of Christianity. History certainly offers of plethora of examples of that.

But he didn't. And so, primarily thanks to the news media's need to deal only in sound bytes, some extremists respond with violence to the perceived accusation by the Pope that they are violent. I believe they missed his point.

The crux of what the Pope was trying to communicate is contained in the very next paragraph after the above passage:

...The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality...
We have talked about this before, in our discussion of Charles Hefling's article How Shall We Know? in which he offered the following pearl:

God is not at odds with our best moral judgement. The human capacity to know the good is not only a capacity that he has created but also, what is more, a likeness and a taking part in his eternal Word, the true light that enlightens every man and woman.
Pope Benedict also draws our attention to the Word:

...I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the 'logos.'"

This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts with logos. Logos means both reason and word -- a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist. The encounter between the biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance...
It is the erroneous attempt to separate faith from reason (the "de-Helenization" of Christianity) that is the primary focus of the remainder of his essay:

...The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them.

We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions...

..."Not to act reasonably (with logos) is contrary to the nature of God," said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.
The generalizations made regarding Muslims, the Reformers and the Modernists are troubling, but read in its entirety, it is an insightful piece of work.

I am not a big fan of Pope Benedict. There is much irony in his speaking of a "reasoned faith" while also using a heavy hand to stifle discussion on various topics within Catholicism. But to assume that he marches lock step with George Bush and the rest of the neocons is to misjudge him. He has consistently spoken out against the war in Iraq and does not hesitate to condemn Israeli violence against the Palestinians. Even if you disagree with him on some issues, his consistency on all sanctity of life issues gives his words added validity.

The religions of the world, but especially at this time the extremists within Christianty and Islam, are viewed by many to be sanctioning violence in the name of God. I don't believe that those who seriously engage themselves in either tradition would ever consider violence to be the will of God. But, unfortunately, we have allowed the extremists to define us.

To quote Pope Benedict, "Violence is incompatable with the nature of God and the nature of the soul." May we reveal the nature of God to the world by rejecting violence, and by reasoning together.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Renegade Bishop of Bolivia

Frank Lyons, the Bishop of Bolivia, recently made a visitation in Evanston, Illinois:

...Lyons, 51, is not simply a visiting missionary however. He is overseeing this and 28 other congregations from Virginia to San Diego that have broken with the Episcopal Church over their interpretations of the Bible, a dispute that was spurred by the election of an openly gay bishop in 2003.

Lyons, a Wheaton College graduate, is emerging as a rallying figure for conservatives in the Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church. Saying the leadership has turned its back on these people, he is offering a haven to grateful parishes but angering church leaders who accuse him of using the denomination's divisions to promote himself.

His parishes, not wishing to separate from worldwide Anglicanism, turned to Lyons, an American who supervises four churches in Bolivia. Eventually, they plan to establish their own leadership.

Lyons has embraced what some congregations call "the Diocese of Bolivia's Northern Deanery" with zeal. In defiance of U.S. bishops, he ordains priests, lays hands on the sick and shrugs off complaints that his actions contravene church law and common courtesy. He ignores letters from other bishops asking him to stay out.

On Sunday, Lyons ordained a deacon in Evanston, entering the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago to perform an act that normally would be undertaken by the local bishop. He also is scheduled to meet with other area churches.

"It's schismatic," said Chicago Bishop William D. Persell. "I would have no intention of going into his diocese, for example, and ordaining somebody"...
The diocese of Bolivia, which previously had four churches and four clergy, is certainly growing. Although, some might question Bishop Lyon's form of evangelism, especially, it would seem, the "Windsor compliant" bishops currently meeting at Camp Allen. From the Windsor Report:

We call upon those bishops who believe it is their conscientious duty to intervene in provinces, dioceses and parishes other than their own:

  • to express regret for the consequences of their actions

  • to affirm their desire to remain in the Communion, and

  • to effect a moratorium on any further interventions.

    We also call upon these archbishops and bishops to seek an accommodation with the bishops of the dioceses whose parishes they have taken into their own care.

    We further call upon those diocesan bishops of the Episcopal Church (USA) who have refused to countenance the proposals set out by their House of Bishops to reconsider their own stance on this matter. If they refuse to do so, in our view, they will be making a profoundly dismissive statement about their adherence to the polity of their own church.
  • Bishop Lyons seems to not care much for the Windsor Report. He's been making these raids quite regularly, at least since 2004. It's not as if he's discreetly plundering TEC, either. You may recall the Meeting of the Disgruntled held in Pittsburgh last November. Bishop Lyons was there, and brazenly wielded his episcopal authority:

    ...But the Windsor Report also asks overseas Anglican bishops to stop intervening in U.S. dioceses. At the closing Eucharist, Bishop Frank Lyons of Bolivia ordained three deacons and a priest to serve newly formed groups started by former Episcopalians in the U.S. "These men have been ordained to minister to those folks who cannot remain in communion with the Episcopal Church," Lyons said. He ordained the deacons for his own diocese, and the priest on behalf of Bishop Tito Zavala of the Diocese of Chile.

    The priest, Eliot Winks, will serve the Church of the Resurrection in Baltimore. Of the deacons, William Haley will have a ministry among the poor in Washington, D.C.; Ian Crom will serve a congregation in Greenwich, Connecticut; and David Drake will serve Holy Trinity, a congregation in Raleigh, North Carolina.

    The ordinations were termed "appalling" by Bishop Robert Ilhoff of Baltimore. "This is in violation of the Windsor Report, which called on bishops in various other parts of the Anglican Communion not to interfere with local matters," he said...
    There was some degree of outrage following this blatant disregard for Anglican polity, but that doesn't seem to have had any effect on Bishop Lyons. His pillaging raids have continued.

    What do we do with such pirates? Keel hauling comes to mind, but I suppose that is not too Christian of an idea. Canterbury seems too preoccupied with holding the center to be concerned about renegade bishops prowling the perimeter. Our own leaders seem helpless to prevent such raids. Me heartys, 't may be up t' us t' avast this scallywag.


    Monday, September 18, 2006

    Consents and Covenant Considerations

    I received an email from a reader who pointed out a couple of interesting things about the election of Mark Lawrence as bishop of South Carolina.

    Consider some of his answers to the clergy survey. I specifically draw your attention to questions 17-21. The choice of responses were: strongly agree - agree - unsure - disagree - strongly disagree. Here are Mark Lawrence's responses:

    17. There should be room in the Episcopal Church for priests and bishops who accept homosexual conduct as a valid, non-sinful choice. Disagree.

    18. There should be room in the Episcopal Church for priests and bishops who consider homosexual acts to be sin. Strongly agree.

    19. The church should not divide over this issue. Strongly disagree.

    20. If the Diocese of South Carolina does not become separate in some formal way from ECUSA, I intend to resign my orders as an Episcopal priest. Unsure.

    21. If the Diocese of South Carolina separates in some formal way from ECUSA, I intend to transfer from this diocese to an ECUSA diocese. Strongly disagree.
    There are a few troubling things to be seen in these responses. According to the bishop-elect, there should be no priests and bishops who support gay and lesbian Christians in TEC. The church must divide over this issue. If the diocese separates from TEC (which it cannot do; as my reader pointed out, individuals can separate, but there is no process by which a diocese can), he will remain in the diocese. He will support schism.

    One would think that the Standing Committees and Bishops will have a difficult time giving consents to this election. Although I would be hesitant to use the unfortunate resolution B033 passed by manipulation at our last convention, it would seem to me that anyone advocating for schism would fit the description of one "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion." Some of us were deeply opposed to this wording, but the majority wanted it. The question is, now that an opportunity has arisen to show that this was "not just about gay bishops," will they use it?

    In other news, Dr. Williams wrote a letter to the Primates, in which he makes fairly clear that he has decided that the development of an Anglican Covenant is the way forward. And guess who he chose, out of 37 possibilities, to be the chair of the new "Covenant Design Group"? Someone neutral who will be among us as a reconciler? Someone with compassion that will seek to bind our wounds? Not quite. Dr. Williams has chosen Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies. In case you have forgotten who Abp. Gomez is, here is a portion of his Synod address from last year:

    ...The Church in the Province of the West Indies, through its Provincial Synod, has endorsed the Windsor Report and the Lambeth Resolution 1:10. However, as a Province, we have to determine our future relationship with ECUSA and the Province of Canada. Our present position is that we exist in a state of impaired relationship at the formal level with both Provinces. However, if these Provinces, through their Convention or General Synod, refuse to accept the prevailing Anglican consensus as represented by the Windsor Report, we will have to move beyond a state of impaired communion. As we seek to determine our ongoing relationship with these Provinces, we will have to pay special attention to those dioceses and parishes who are at variance with the official position of their Province and espouse the Anglican consensus that we cherish in this Province...
    The person in charge of developing any future Covenant has already made up his mind who will be in, and who will be out. The end result is quite obvious; the North Americans will become second-class Anglicans. I doubt, however, regardless of the form of "punishments" dreamed up for us on foreign shores, that any Covenant will have any effect on our status within the Kingdom of God.

    There's a couple of meetings starting this week. The one at Camp Allen requires that all bishops attending affirm that the Windsor Report is law. Since I cannot imagine any self-respecting bishop allowing recommendations to become mandates, I doubt much will come out of this meeting, as those attending seem most likely to be bishops who are either fearful or weary of the current unpleasantness, and are heading for any port in a storm.

    The Global South Primates Meeting will also commence this week. Do you think anyone will challenge the recent statement by the Church of Nigeria regarding their encouragement of the incarceration of all supporters of "the evil of homosexuality"? I wouldn't hold your breath.


    Friday, September 15, 2006

    AlPO: The Choice of the TDAD

    During the brief break between meetings of bishops, archbishops, and wannabe archbishops, all the talk about AlPO reminded me of an insightful piece from a couple of years ago; Treat Dogs as Dogs?...

    The year is 2010.

    A new controversy is bubbling up throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion and threatening its unity. Conservatives in many provinces are insisting that the church return to what they term "the biblical teaching on dogs." Others, especially in Britain and North America, insist that there is nothing unchristian about showing dogs love and respect as creatures of God.

    Both sides admit that there are relatively few references in the Bible to dogs, and that most are negative. Many of these verses use the image "dead dog" as a term of opprobrium. Others speak of dogs licking up somebody’s blood or eating their mortal remains...

    ...Conservatives see these texts as establishing conclusively that dogs are nasty, and that Christians should have little or nothing to do with them. These conservatives also hold that altar rails, originally installed to keep dogs from profaning the altar, should be repositioned to protect the entire church building. They look askance at such developments as legislation against cruelty to dogs, pet cemeteries, human names for canines, and dogs sleeping in the same beds as their owners. In particular, they are offended at the proliferation of animal blessing services occurring in Anglican churches in some countries.

    Progressives, on the other hand, see the negative references in Scripture as culturally determined, and base their case for respecting dogs on a creation theology that sees every living creature as good. In some places they are building churches or installing stained glass windows honoring St. Bernard. A trend in their scholarship identifies the Wolf of Gubbio, which St. Francis tamed as not a wolf, but a German shepherd. Some even draw Jungian parallels between Tobias’ dog in Tobit and Dorothy’s dog Toto in "The Wizard of Oz."

    Matters have come to a head over proposals for the Episcopal Church to develop official services for the blessing of dogs. Some bishops have already endorsed such services for use in their dioceses, while others know they occur by reading about them in parish newsletters. Reports of such services also appear in newspapers, usually around the October 4 feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a figure viewed as suspect by conservatives, who regard him as a proto-pan-speciesist.

    The conservatives have coalesced as TDAD (Treat Dogs as Dogs). They are extremely well-funded, allegedly by a couple of Texas millionaires who made their fortunes in cat food. TDAD is appealing to Anglican leaders in other parts of the world, and finding support in some places. Several African and Asian prelates read the biblical texts about dogs quite literally, and find support for their views in places in their homeland where packs of scavenger dogs prowl around freely...

    ...Various Episcopal and Anglican bishops are talking quite loudly about schism. In response, the Archbishop of Canterbury has summoned the heads of all Anglican provinces to meet with him at Lambeth Palace. His personal view of the matter is apparent: the meeting takes place the day after he officially opens the Greater London Dog Show. Conservatives hope to be vindicated, while progressives question the validity of the meeting since it will include no dogs, only primates.
    My pup Barkley is considering transfering his membership to a parish in Fort Worth. He doesn't mind being excluded and called nasty names, as long as they serve him AlPO. Such a practical pup.


    Wednesday, September 13, 2006

    Will a "Two Church Solution" be Traded for Invitations to Lambeth?

    No official news regarding the meeting in New York, although Ruth Gledhill has offered us some additional information and some interesting speculations:

    ...The most likely outcome is a “two-church solution” for the United States, allowing conservatives and liberals to exist, separate but side-by-side, as Anglicans. It would have implications for the worldwide communion, because many other provinces, including England, have similar problems.

    The plan this week is to draw up a pact giving the appearance of unity, enabling a final deal to be hammered out at the Lambeth Conference in 2008...

    ...Sources have told The Times that the aim is for Dr Williams to invite all 890 bishops and archbishops to the Lambeth Conference. That would include the gay Bishop Gene Robinson, whose consecration in 2003 triggered the crisis, and any other openly gay bishops consecrated since.

    Although the Nigerian bishops are among those who have have pledged to boycott the conference if Bishop Robinson is present, sources hope that they might be persuaded to turn up if a settlement can be reached...
    Surrender to the extremists for an invitation to Lambeth? Let's hope Ms. Gledhill's sources are mistaken. If this is what is agreed to, I don't think the membership of TEC will stand for it. It appears that I'm not alone in holding that opinion:

    ...The argument among the Episcopalians is expected to move beyond theology to matters of money and property. The wealthy US liberal lobby is expected to resist any compromise move by Bishop Griswold and Bishop Schori — especially for conservatives to retain any of the substantial capital and pensions assets of the Episcopal Church.

    “If it all falls apart,” said the source, “you could even see something quite radical happening.” For example, insiders are talking of the liberal-dominated Episcopal Church leaving the Anglican Communion itself and seeking unity with a body such as the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht, which is liberal on the question of women and gays. Such a move would allow the Episcopalians to retain their Catholic identity...
    I must not be an "insider," as this is the first I've heard of aligning with Utrecht. Ms. Gledhill expands on this idea on her weblog:

    ..."There is a big go-wrong factor here," my source told me, and it is not just the orthodox who might walk. Just as Rowan Williams is under pressure from liberals in his own church who believe he has sold out, some liberals in TEC are furious that Griswold intervened at GenCon06 in an attempt to keep TEC in the Communion and that he and Schori are taking part in this week's meeting at all. If neither side is prepared to compromise at all, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that TEC could itself decide it has had enough and seek communion with another body, such as the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht. This church is in communion with Canterbury, and is liberal on women and gays. I can imagine a scenario where, should the whole thing become a much looser federation, enabling the Methodists among others to come on board, the Old Catholics could end up part of the wider Communion in any case.

    Maybe it would just then become The Communion, TC, with separate bodies such as the Episcopalians, the Anglicans, the Methodists, the Old Catholics, the Lutherans and numerous others all included. Then all the other continuing churches that left over women could come back on board, should they wish to. Rowan Williams or his successor, probably Dr Semtamu if Dr Williams decides to head back to academia after working a miracle at Lambeth, would then become a kind of Pope, with little of the power but with an awful lot of authority...
    I have to wonder if Ms. Gledhill is having a bit of fun with us. It is difficult to believe that such options are being considered. I don't see any advantage, or any necessity, in joining the Old Catholic Church. Am I missing something here?

    If the deal on the table in New York was a new North American province in exchange for invitations to Lambeth, I hope the members of the Episcopal Church tell our bishops, clearly and stridently, "No deal." Then, if Bishop Robinson is not invited to Lambeth, I think it would be appropriate for us to recommend to all of our bishops that they decline their invitations as well.


    UPDATE: A statement has been issued regarding the meeting of bishops in New York:

    ...We had honest and frank conversations that confronted the depth of the conflicts that we face. We recognized the need to provide sufficient space, but were unable to come to common agreement on the way forward. We could not come to consensus on a common plan to move forward to meet the needs of the dioceses that issued the appeal for Alternate Primatial Oversight. The level of openness and charity in this conference allow us to pledge to hold one another in prayer and to work together until we have reached the solution God holds out for us.

    Tuesday, September 12, 2006

    Deimel on the Meeting of Bishops in NY

    Lionel Deimel has posted some thoughts on the bishops' meeting currently in progress.

    Lionel asks, "Why just the bishops?"...

    ...To begin with, it is yet another meeting of bishops. (Canon Kearon represents the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is apparently unwilling to visit our shores.) Ever since the votes at the 2003 General Convention, only bishops seem meet to discuss the “crisis” in The Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. It is high time that priests, deacons, and laypeople assert that bishops are not the church, particularly not The Episcopal Church. Whereas bishops have demonstrated considerable talent in fomenting discord in the Communion in recent years, they have shown little capacity for defusing it. The whole church met in General Convention in June, of course, but, even in that gathering, bishops exercised what many consider inappropriate and, perhaps, destructive, influence when relations with the Anglican Communion were being discussed...
    He then wants to know what in the world Dr. Williams thinks he is doing...

    That this meeting is taking place at all is distressing—certainly that it is taking place at the behest of Archbishop Williams. Bishop Griswold began his explanation of the origin of the meeting as follows: “Shortly after the General Convention, Kenneth Kearon, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, shared with me some conversations he had had with the Archbishop of Canterbury regarding the whole notion of “alternative primatial oversight” and the difficulty in making a response.” What, we must ask, was the nature of Archbishop Williams’ difficulty? He has no authority over The Episcopal Church; the Presiding Bishop’s letter acknowledges that the archbishop knows this. Moreover, it is perfectly clear to anyone who might look at them—which may or may not include the archbishop—that the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church neither allow for the kind of isolation asked for by the Network bishops nor give the Presiding Bishop, the House of Bishops, the Executive Council, or anyone else the right to negotiate or grant such a radical arrangement. The response of Rowan Williams to the appeal of the Network bishops should not have been “I have difficulty deciding what to do” but “get a life!”
    Lionel then points out that, once again, the Network bishops are asking for what they know darn well TEC cannot offer...

    ...And what do Bishops Iker, Duncan, Salmon, Stanton, et al., want? Institutionally, these people want a church best described as neo-Puritan—narrow theologically, moralistic, ruled by bishops, and dedicated to the principle of sola scriptura. At a more practical level, the Network seeks (1) effectively to be free of The Episcopal Church, (2) to be, in its own right, a member of the Anglican Communion, and (3) to retain the property of parishes and dioceses of which its members are currently in effective control.

    Short of simply throwing away the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, which is as immoral as it is illegal, where are the issues that could reasonably be subject to negotiation? Although loyal Episcopal bishops cannot, on their own authority, promise very much to the insurgents, they certainly can agree to try to convince the House of Bishops to act so as to enforce certain kinds of agreements. The bishops effected a moratorium on the consecration of new bishops prior to the 75th General Convention, for example, and appear to be committed to enforcing some continuing moratorium by virtue of resolution B033. The Network bishops could, therefore, be offered an agreement—one that would have to be sold to the House of Bishops—that they would not be presented by their colleagues for past misdeeds if they uphold church order in the future. The bishops cannot bind clergy and laypeople to such an agreement, however, and it is unclear that bishops could agree conscientiously not to move forward presentments not originating from bishops. Such an offer, and no other, should be made to Bishops Iker, Duncan, Salmon, and Stanton...
    Does this seem a bit harsh? Maybe. But maybe it is time to use "restraint holds" (as discussed in the comments of the previous post) on the Network folks, before they do more harm to others and themselves...

    ...It is time, I think, to suspend the endless arguments about theology; they are largely beside the point. Although I find the theology articulated by the Network hateful, disingenuous, ignorant, and self-serving, that is not the point. Believing that the genius of Anglicanism subsists in its willing embrace of theological diversity, however, I would exclude it from Anglicanism only because of its categorical rejection of differing opinions and the authority of those who hold them. This posture recalls nothing so much as the ancient controversy known as Donatism, which no less orthodox a figure as Augustine of Hippo repeatedly and successfully denounced as heretical. Even this is not a reason to eschew discussion of accommodation, however, as one might, in principle, imagine the Network agreeing to be more tolerant without sacrificing its other theological positions.

    The Episcopal Church should take a hard line against the insurgents not because they are “conservative,” “orthodox,” “Evangelical,” or whatever—not, in fact, because of their expressed theology at all. These bishops and all who follow them, particularly those in holy orders, must be treated harshly because of the way they behave—because they are willing to lie, cheat, and, ultimately, steal, to achieve their goal of an independent “pure” American church—a church whose assets will, largely, be furnished by “liberating” them from The Episcopal Church. This is appalling and unacceptable behavior. All who engage in it demonstrate that they are unfit for Christian ministry, and The Episcopal Church has every reason to purge itself of people who behave in such a manner before they do more damage to it...
    Thanks for this unflinching essay, Lionel. Since your site does not have a comments feature, I will gladly host (and monitor) comments here, if you would be willing to respond to them. I do ask that commenters read Lionel's entire essay before responding.

    Pray for the Church.


    Monday, September 11, 2006

    Remembering 9/11

    Our local ministerial association is hosting an ecumenical service of prayer for world peace tonight. I've been asked to offer the homily. What follows is a couple of ideas that some will recognize as a reworking of previous reflections that I have woven together to form tonight's message:

    On this day, five years ago, our world changed. Never again would we ever feel as safe and secure as we did on September 10, 2001. We have been forced to face how fragile our safety, our security really is. We were forced to admit that humanity is broken, and we can’t fix it.

    How do we respond to this new world? How do we keep from giving into the very human responses based on fear and a need for revenge? We avoid these temptations by remembering who we are and whose we are. We avoid these temptations by embracing our Christian faith.

    In the 15th chapter of John, Jesus tells us; “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me, and I in them, bear much fruit; because apart from me, you can do nothing.” Apart from me, you can do nothing.

    I know that is something I need to hear. Without Christ, I can do nothing. Sometimes I get caught up into the thinking that if humanity could just find the right social program, or the right economic model, we could save ourselves. Or if we had a big enough army, my nation could whip the rest of the world into shape. Or if everyone would just listen to me, I could fix the wounds of this world. But I can’t fix it, and you can’t fix it. History is full of attempts by humanity to pull itself up by its bootstraps and get on with it. And it doesn’t work.

    The truth is, whether we like it or not, that we are powerless. There’s a book by Keith Miller that I want to recommend to you, as some may find it helpful. The title is “A Hunger for Healing.” He takes the 12 steps made famous by AA and fashions them into a program for spiritual growth. In the places where the 12 steps mention alcohol, he replaces it with the word sin. So, the first step becomes, “I am powerless over sin, and my life has become unmanageable.” I think that is the truth for each of us.

    Maybe you don’t feel it is true for you. Maybe your life doesn’t seem unmanageable. Maybe you do feel safe and secure. Let me simply remind you of your feelings on September 11, 2001. Is our safety and security an illusion? “I am powerless over sin, my own sin, and the sins of others, and my life has become unmanageable.” Even if it makes us feel uncomfortable, I think it is important that we see the truth in that statement.

    And what is sin? I think at the root of many occasions for sin is forgetting that God is God and we are not. We cannot stop our sinful ways on our own. Paul cries out, “I do that thing which I don’t want to do!” We cannot stop the sin in this world with social programs, or large armies. We are powerless over sin, and our world is falling apart. We need, we desperately need, a Savior, because we can’t fix it.

    I am the vine, Jesus tells us. Apart from me, you can do nothing. If we are connected with Jesus, if we are in relationship with God, if we abide in Christ, we find a hand offered to lift us out of our sinful preoccupations. Then we can see what our true nature, what our true calling has always been. We are the branches. We receive the essence of life itself from the vine. If we desire to truly live, we will abide in Christ, and he in us.

    We will abide in Christ. But what about the world outside the walls of the Church? As followers of Christ, it is not just for our own ticket to heaven that we exist. It is not just about us. The Church serves for the sake of the world. What can we offer a world trapped in a never ending cycle of violence?

    We can offer them the example of Jesus Christ. We can offer them an alternative to the way the world responds to violence.

    Our world is bound by a circular chain of violence. We are taught very early in life never to allow ourselves to become a victim. What happens when some bully picks on us at school? We go home with that awful feeling of being vulnerable and powerless. We need to be free of this feeling of dread. As we walk into our yard, we tease our little sister, and suddenly feel much better. Our boss at work is demanding and demeaning. We go home feeling that we have been treated unfairly. We raise our voice when disciplining the children, and walk away feeling more confident, more in control. We have learned our lessons well. The way to escape the role of victim is to become an oppressor. Our children are learning the same lessons from us. The violence continues.

    An oppressor makes a victim, who then becomes an oppressor to escape the role of victim, and so makes new victims who become oppressors, and on and on until the entire planet finds itself bound by chains of violence. How can we break these chains?

    People of faith believe that there is a way. It involves believing that humanity has been called to a higher purpose than getting and spending. It involves believing in a God of mercy and grace who desires that we become more than a violent mob seeking personal gain. My faith tradition teaches that the way to break these chains of violence is to become reconciled with our own victims. We believe that when we make peace with the victims we have made, we encounter the One Pure Victim, Jesus Christ. Instead of responding with violence, we seek to heal the wounds we have made. Our link in the chain of violence has been broken, and the circle that binds us becomes weaker.

    Criminal acts must be controlled in a civilized society. There is a place for force when faced with human evil. Today, the oppressive use of force seems to be often the first response instead of a last resort. Is violence the only response to becoming a victim? Jesus taught another way; make no new victims.

    We can no longer think of the people of the world in categories of "us" and "them." Technology has connected us as never before. We are all in the same boat. Together we can break this chain of violence by refusing to respond to oppression with oppression and choosing to become instruments of peace and reconciliation to the wounded victims of this world.

    As we engage the world as instruments of peace, and break the chain of violence that binds us, it is important that we always keep in mind that healing will not come from our efforts alone. Humanity is broken, and we can’t fix ourselves. To keep from repeating the mistakes of the past, we must etch on our hearts the words of Jesus, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

    There is a story told by a veteran of WWII who was in Italy. He passed a statue of Christ that had had its hands blown off by an exploding shell. Someone had penciled a sign and hung it around the neck of this statue...the sign read; “No hands but yours.” Just as we were offered the hand of love by Christ to lift us up to a new life, so we are called to be the hands of Christ in the world today. Let us be the Church, the living hands of Christ, and offer the love of God to a world hungry for healing and desperate for peace.


    Sunday, September 10, 2006

    Episcopal Leaders to Discuss AlPO

    Tomorrow a meeting of a handful of bishops will begin. Here's the first official report of this meeting, dated August 18:

    Following consultation with the Presiding Bishop the Archbishop of Canterbury has asked Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia and Bishop John Lipscomb of Southwest Florida to convene a small group of bishops from the Episcopal Church (USA) to meet together to discuss some of the difficult issues facing the Church and to explore possible resolutions. Along with Bishop Griswold, those invited include Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop Bob Duncan, and Bishop Jack Iker . The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion will also attend. The first meeting will be taking place in New York in the first half of September.
    Within days of this news release, Wake Up!, described as "a coalition of concerned Episcopalians who seek a Full Inclusion Church," provided us with more details and asked some good questions in an essay entitled Tightening the Noose:

    ...Consider the following:

    1. By what authority is Archbishop Rowan Williams calling for meetings of bishops of the Episcopal Church? The Presiding Bishop has now been reduced to someone merely to be “consulted” about the meeting, while the Archbishop, apparently, decides who attends.

    2. One of the “conveners” named by Archbishop Williams is Bishop John Lipscomb of Southwest Florida. From the start, Lipscomb was at the forefront of the fight against the ordination of Gene Robinson as the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop and since Bishop Robinson’s ordination has consistently worked to weaken the unity of the Episcopal Church. He is one of the original founders of the ACN.

    3. The other “convener” of the meeting is Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia. Lee voted in 2003 for the consecration of Gene Robinson but afterwards publicly recanted and now says he would not do so again. He has said that “it’s appropriate for the American Episcopal Church to back away [from ordaining gay people] to serve the wider unity of the church.”

    4. Two of the other bishops invited by Archbishop Williams are Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth and Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh. Their views are well known: they want their small group of right-wing dioceses to separate from the Episcopal Church and to be declared the true representatives of the Anglican Communion in the U.S. and they want the Episcopal Church to be thrown out of the Anglican Communion.

    5. Although Presiding Bishop-elect Jefferts Schori will attend the meeting she will not do so with much authority. Bishop Griswold will still be our Primate. The timing of the meeting leads to the suspicion that Archbishop Williams wants to pressure Bishop Griswold one last time. Bishop Griswold has often succumbed to pressure and in the process become the enforcer of the Episcopal Church’s policy of appeasement toward the hate-mongers and fundamentalists of the Anglican Communion, led by Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria...
    Take a moment to to read the rest of that piece, noting especially the specific actions that are recommended.

    On August 22, an attempt was made by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold to clarify the situation:

    ...Shortly after the General Convention, Kenneth Kearon, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, shared with me some conversations he had had with the Archbishop of Canterbury regarding the whole notion of "alternative primatial oversight" and the difficulty in making a response. Though application for the same had been made to the Archbishop, it was clear in our conversation that the Archbishop, though symbolic head of the Anglican Communion, has no direct authority over the internal life of the Provinces that make up the Communion. Canon Kearon's point was that such requests needed to be discussed and a resolution be sought within the Episcopal Church itself. We agreed that the most helpful next step might be to have a candid conversation to include the Presiding Bishop-elect and me together with bishops who have expressed a need for "alternative primatial oversight," and to have Canon Kearon join with us in the conversations. Bishops Duncan and Iker were then asked to be participants. We also agreed that the group might be expanded by other bishops to be chosen by the participants themselves. Bishops Duncan and Iker invited Bishops Salmon, Stanton and Wimberly to take part. I have asked Bishops Henderson, O'Neill and Sisk. This is the genesis of the meeting now set for mid-September. Bishop Peter Lee was asked to serve as convener and he in turn thought it would be helpful were he joined by a bishop known to have views different from his own. Accordingly, Bishop John Lipscomb was also asked to serve as convener. Whether or not this is the first in a series or in fact a one-time conversation will be decided by the group itself...
    About the same time, a communication was received from G.K. Cameron, Deputy Secretary General, Anglican Communion Office:

    ...The meeting in September to which you refer has been convened precisely so that bishops who are asking for alternative primatial oversight can meet with their current primate and his successor to determine from within the Episcopal Church the best way forward. While the Archbishop of Canterbury had a role in establishing this meeting, and will be represented at it by the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, it is intended to allow the Episcopal Church to reach its own conclusions, and does not represent any independent action by the Archbishop of Canterbury at all...
    Up to this point, what we had been told was that there would be a meeting of Episcopal bishops, with a representative of the Anglican communion present. Note the insistence that Canterbury was not trying to interfere in our domestic affairs.

    It seemed clear to everyone that the requests for AlPO (Alternative Primatial Oversight) would be part of the discussion, although the exact content of the combined requests of the seven dissenting dioceses was unknown at this point.

    On September 6 (with the meeting scheduled for September 11...who picked that ominous date, anyway?), Mark Harris alerts us to some hints as to what had been going on behind the scene:

    ...There is an intriguing comment by Ruth Gledhill concerning work being done at Lambeth Palace in preparation for this meeting. She noted that while the Archbishop was meeting with the Chief Rabbi: “An important meeting of the US Episcopal Church is coming up in New York next Monday, to be followed soon after by a meeting of the Global South. … One of the papers they will be considering has been drawn up by four members of the Primates' standing committee, including Archbishop Bernard Malango”...

    ...The Living Church just published an article on the possible role of the Archbishop of York as representative of the Cof E in future meetings of the Primates. In that article George Conger remarked, "The Primates' Standing Committee last met Sept. 5 at Lambeth Palace. While details of the meeting have not been released, it is believed archbishops Malango and Morgan met with Archbishop Williams and his advisors to finalize proposals to be considered by bishops attending a meeting in New York later this month to be moderated by the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, ACC secretary general." This offers additional confirmation of my sense that the meeting in New York is assumed by Canterbury to be about proposals that his working party or Primates Standing Committee put in place...
    The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates do not have any "official" authority over TEC, yet that does not seem to be stopping them from quietly administering as much pressure on our leadership as possible. We know that it was pressure from Canterbury that forced our PB and PB-elect to push so hard for the unfortunate resolution B033. If it worked once, why not try it again?

    And then, finally, on September 8, three days before the meeting, the AlPO appeal was made public. No real surprises in the body of the document, although the appended quotes from Bishop Jefferts Schori were cause for her to rise in my esteem. Here's a sampling:

    On the Windsor Report - "The Windsor Report contains some significant misunderstandings and errors of fact. It does not clearly recognize how the polity of the Episcopal Church varies from that of most other parts of the Communion" (Speech in Seattle, Nov 2005)

    On the present course - "I am fully committed to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in the church." (Episcopal News Service, Jun 2006)

    On the Instruments of Unity - "I don't think Jesus is as interested in instruments of unity as he is in whether or not we're serving his brothers and sisters or feeding the hungry. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are going to survive if we manage to work together at healing the world." (Address, Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Nov 2005)

    On the Anglican Communion - In an interview: “ … the Anglican Communion is a gift to be cherished, and a gift that needs to be increasingly valued and appropriated through our own sacrifice, albeit not at the cost of what this church believes to be faithful response to the gospel." (The Living Church, 2006)

    On what she will say to Peter Akinola - "I will ask him what encourages him to see some of God's children as less than human and less worthy of the dignity that our liturgy believes is the right of all human beings." (The Guardian, Jun 2006)
    The problem is, at this particular meeting, Bp. Jefferts Schori will be in the uncomfortable position of being the "almost but not yet" Presiding Bishop, and also the subject of the AlPO discussions.

    What will come out of this meeting? It appears that with the combination of foreign influences and the rather absurd requests from disgruntled domestic bishops, there is little chance of our leadership accomplishing much more than supporting, once again, a completely defensive stance. No doubt that this was the planned strategy.

    Pray for our bishops. And, regardless of the misguided recommendation of Bp. Lipscomb, I'll try to keep you updated as to what, if anything, transpires at this meeting. After all, such matters are not only the concern of the purple shirts, are they? We hoi polloi need our voices to be heard as well.


    Wednesday, September 06, 2006

    Analysis, Congregationalism and Decline

    Busy week, so fewer posts. As penance, today I offer three interesting items for your perusal.

    First, from San Diego; By Their Fruits Shall You Know Them: An Analysis of AAC and Network Activities:

    Over the past ten years, the Episcopal Church has been subjected to increasing attacks for its breadth of theological perspectives and its hospitality to all. Since the consecration of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, an openly gay man living in a committed monogamous relationship, the attacks have become more strident. A small but vocal faction, comprised of people both inside and outside the Episcopal Church has used significant resources to paint a false picture of our Church. These actions are similar to the attacks of the McCarthy Era, when a lie would be told often enough until it was deemed to be true. Half-truths are particularly useful to this approach because they require of the truth-teller a more detailed and sophisticated response than the attacker wields in the initial assault. The Internet only assists this kind of campaign of misinformation, offering a hood of anonymity to those dishonorable enough to wear it.

    Regrettably, it is necessary to make a careful rebuttal of the unkind and dishonest representations of our Church which are antithetical to the spirit and words of Jesus, who calls us to be “one as the Father and I are one.” The American Anglican Council and the Anglican Communion Network have created, through expensive DVDs, websites, and slick printed material, a gross distortion of our church that must be confronted...
    Much of this information has previously been revealed in Jim Naughton's piece, Follow the Money and here at Jake's place in our discussion of the attempted coup. Catherine Thiemann's article is a nice summation that should prove to be a valuable resource, if the leadership of TEC ever decides to do something about these scoundrels, which is questionable.

    Today the Parish Administrative Issue of The Living Church arrived in my mailbox. It contained the essay by Lionel Deimel and Christopher Wells that I mentioned last Friday. TLC is considered by many to be a rather conservative zine, although personally I think it is often judged much too harshly. I've read it for over 15 years, as at one time (pre-blogs era) it was one of the few regular news resources within TEC. An editorial caught my eye today; Creeping Congregationalism. Here's a quote:

    ...When this church was formed, it deliberately used the word "episcopal"in its title to make clear that it was a church governed by bishops. In recent years, many of ushave overlooked that fact and our churches have become more congregational.

    Consider this: Some of our churches have decided on their own that they will change their form of governance. If they don't agree with their diocesan bishop, they find another one, usually from some foreign Anglican province, or they petition their diocesan for the ministry of a different American bishop. While this is a recent development, it should be pointed out that it is not the only example of a congregational trend. There are Episcopal churches that have been reducing their diocesan assessments - some not paying at all. A few have not paid their assessments or apportionments to their dioceses for several years...
    Yet these are the same folks who like to claim they are "catholic" and/or "orthodox." As Thiemann said above, "...when a lie would be told often enough until it was deemed to be true."

    The final item I found on Street Prophets...the sad story of a declining denomination. Try to guess the denomination before following the links:

    ...If there's a bright spot in the...statistical report for 2005, it's that "back-door" losses -- the number of adults removed from congregational rosters (not counting deaths and transfers) -- have declined by 2,453 members. That figure dropped from 44,219 in 2004 to 41,766 in 2005.

    But...membership and contributions from members to congregations also declined, as did the number of baptisms, confirmations, and Christian education programs/students, according to 2005 congregational statistics reports.

    Baptized membership fell from 2,463,747 in 2004 to 2,440,864 in 2005, a drop of nearly 23,000 members. And confirmed membership in 2005 was 1,870,659, a decrease of 9,554...
    Must be one of those liberal churches, right? Guess again. It's the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, one of the most conservative of all the Protestant denominations.

    I think we need to admit the truth that, in the West, Christianity, conservative, liberal, moderate, or whatever flavor you choose, is in decline. There are many reasons for this. To blame it on one group or another is nothing more than a weak attempt to avoid facing the facts. As we discussed last week, it is past time for us to recognize this trend and begin to respond to it.


    Monday, September 04, 2006

    Evangelicals and the Christian Right

    The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune offers us an interview of Randall Balmer, professor of religious history at Barnard College (at Columbia University in New York), regarding his latest book, Thy Kingdom Come. Here's some excerpts:

    ...I am a traditional evangelical Christian in that I honor the teachings of Jesus as well as the noble legacy of evangelical activism in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Evangelicals throughout most of American history engaged in political and social activism on behalf of those on the margins of society. I'm thinking here of the antislavery movement, the temperance crusade (a progressive cause in the 19th century), public education, advocating equal rights for women and trying to mitigate the effects of predatory capitalism around the turn of the 20th century. Only relatively recently, with the rise of the religious right in the late 1970s, have evangelicals drifted toward the political right.

    So, yes, I am a traditional evangelical; it is the right-wing zealots of the religious right who have hijacked my faith. They have taken the gospel, the "good news" of the New Testament, which I consider lovely and redemptive, and turned it into something ugly and punitive...

    ...Surprisingly enough, I think it's the environmental issue that may finally break the hammerlock of the religious right on rank-and-file evangelicals. Many of my fellow believers are beginning to sense, almost intuitively, that there is a fundamental contradiction in professing to believe, for example, in intelligent design and refusing to care for the handiwork of this intelligent designer. With few exceptions, the leaders of the religious right have been adamant in their defense of corporate interests at the expense of environmental protection.

    In other words, they have sacrificed the created order on the altar of free enterprise. Many evangelicals, especially younger evangelicals, are beginning to challenge that contradiction...

    ...I want my fellow evangelicals to reclaim their birthright as biblical Christians and assess for themselves whether or not the agenda of the religious right is consistent with the teachings of scripture. Would Jesus, who summoned his followers to be "peacemakers" and who invited them to love their enemies, jump at the chance to deploy military forces, especially at the cost of so many civilian lives? Is the denial of equal rights to anyone -- women or immigrants or Muslims or gays -- consistent with the example of the man who healed lepers and paralytics and who spent much of his time with the cultural outcasts of his day? I suspect that when Jesus asked us to love our enemies, he probably didn't mean that we should torture or kill them...
    It is becoming more and more the case that we cannot consider "Christian right" and "Evangelical" to be synonyms. Thanks be to God! Beyond that, we've also discussed before the difficulties with the term "Evangelical," due to its varied meanings around the globe. Let's be careful not to use this term to describe the Christian right within the Episcopal Church (the Network/AAC/IRD folks), as it is proving to be as much of a misnomer as "orthodox" when used to describe this new breed.

    I came across another article related to Balmer's comments on Intelligent Design by Keith Ward, Gresham Professor of Divinity, and a fellow of the British Academy. It is entitled Beyond Boundaries: the Infinite Creator:

    ...So it is important to distinguish the American "intelligent design" school from the general Christian belief that the universe, and the evolutionary process as a whole, are indeed designed by a supreme intelligence. If the students surveyed were indeed confused by the question, then only about 12 per cent of students questioned in the survey were "young Earth" believers - that is, they thought the universe to be less than 10,000 years old. This is still very sad, since it is the virtually unanimous testimony of astronomers and cosmologists that the cosmos is 14 billion years old. It demonstrates a huge conflict between the best modern science and the Christian (or Muslim) beliefs of some students. It means that such students will regard modern science as the enemy of faith.

    Modern science originated in a context of Christian belief that God had created the cosmos through reason, through the Logos, and that the human mind could discern the glory of God in the works of creation. It is regrettable in the extreme that some Christians have now abandoned this belief.

    Neither the Pope nor the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the overwhelming majority of Christian theologians are creationists, so what accounts for this strange state of affairs? I think two main factors are at work. First there is a loss of a sense of the importance of metaphor and poetic language in religion. Nobody believes that the Earth is a flat disc floating on a great sea of chaos, or that the stars are lamps hung on the dome of the sky, above which is another great sea. Yet that is what the Book of Genesis literally says. So all agree that we cannot read the Genesis creation account (or two accounts) literally.

    Once you have made that step, the obvious thing to say is that here is a piece of inspired poetry, depicting the dependence of all things on the creative wisdom of God. There is a literal truth expressed in the text - the dependence of all things on God - but the text expresses it in a poetic way that is both more emotionally affective and more evocative of associated ideas. The problem is that some people think poetry is not important, or cannot express things which go beyond what can be literally described. This is the death of religious imagination, and it is sad to see the profound symbols and metaphors of religion reduced to literal descriptions of purely physical facts.
    "...a loss of a sense of the importance of metaphor and poetic language in religion...the death of religious imagination..." Very sad, indeed.

    To get those imaginative synapses firing again, go visit Mark Harris, who has invited us all to try our hand in creating some Episcopal Haiku.