Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Durham Lobs Charges in the 11th Hour, Again

You may recall that Bishop Nicholas Thomas Wright of Durham dropped a 4,000 word paper, declaring that TEC's proposed resolutions regarding the Windsor Report were insufficient, on our General Convention just a few hours before the final public hearing of the legislative committee responsible for presenting those resolutions. Now, one week before the Primates' Meeting in Tanzania, he's done it again, this time through an interview with Ruth Gledhill.

To be fair to Bp. Wright, I do want to point out something that has already been mentioned elsewhere. Note the following comment in an article on the SORs by Ruth Gledhill dated January 29:

...But the strongest statement came from Bishop Tom Wright of Durham. I was talking to him this afternoon on something else, to be blogged separately soon, and took the chance to ask him what he thought. He did not mince his words, and launched into an excoriating attack on almost every aspect of the present "Labour" Government. In fact, he was so angry he almost forgot to mention Iraq, throwing it in for good measure only at the last minute...
The next mention of Bp. Durham by Ms. Gledhill is today's entry; eight days after the interview. Possibly it is the reporter, and not the Bishop, who held back this interview for some unknown reason. The other noteworthy element is the depiction of the Bishop as launching an "...excoriating attack..." as "...he was so angry..." Possibly the comments gleaned by Ms. Gledhill regarding the Primates' Meeting also contained some of this same heat, which would explain some of the the Bishop's language, which sounds to me at times to come close to being hysterical.

The Bishop begins by suggesting that the decisive event will not occur until "late 2007," when invitations to Lambeth will have to be sent out. He also predicts that some form of a Covenant will be ready by Lambeth 2008.

Then comes the first of a few strange statements:

...The more sharp-edged question is who is seen to be speaking for the American evangelicals. Rowan has invited to Dar Es Salaam two of the leading Windsor bishops, the ones holding the ground around the Windsor report, who are not secceding and going to Nigeria but who are not going to waver in the terms that Ecusa got it wrong and it is still getting it wrong and needs to be called to order. The question is how that is going to be resolved in the first few days of the meeting.
American Evangelicals? Is that who Bishop Duncan and Bishop MacPherson represent? A very strange choice of words. I'll let others speculate on the implications there. To suggest that these two bishops represent the same segment of TEC ("leading Windsor bishops") is to show a lack of knowledge of these two leaders. Bp. Duncan has had one foot out of TEC for many years, and never misses an opportunity to encourage those who have already left. Bishop MacPhearson, on the other hand, is a conservative, but not an extremist. He currently serves as Chair of our Presiding Bishop's Council of Advice. It is doubtful if they will present similar perspectives to the Primates. Beyond that, it is curious that the third bishop invited, Bp. Epting, is not even mentioned by Bp. Wright. I suppose that does not fit in with his rather ominous projection that ECUSA TEC will be "called to order...in the first few days..."

The assumption, voiced in this interview and elsewhere, is that after hearing from our three bishops, our Presiding Bishop will not be allowed to be seated for the remainder of the meeting. That could happen. Considering the cast of characters, anything could happen. But let's be clear here. That would require a vote by the Primates. Currently, the Global South Primates aligned with the Network are counting on 20 votes out of 37 (with the ABC abstaining as Chair). Thus their frustration over learning that the Abp. of York will be present, which might just make a vote come out to 20 to 18, which is a little too close for comfort, especially in light of the importance of the concept of hospitality among some of the Global South Primates, meaning they cannot be assured of all 20 votes on this particular topic.

Continuing our consideration of Bp. Wright's comments, we then find this gem:

...Those who want to go and do their own thing do not like it when the Archbishop of Canterbury says the unity of the Church means you cannot"...
I wholeheartedly agree. Those who want to trade in their bishop for another because they disagree on something cannot continue to be allowed to "do their own thing." By doing so, they damage the unity of the Church.

We then have this rather over-the-top statement:

...There are many in America who are trying to have their cake and eat it, who are doing the schismatic thing and then accusing those who object of being schismatic. That is the bizarre thing"...
Am I understanding the bishop correctly? Did he just call "the Americans" schismatics? One must assume he is referring not only to TEC, but our Canadian neighbors as well. What lovely language, bishop. Perhaps you have been spending too much time reading blogs?

And then we finally get to the rub; the bishop of New Hampshire;

...As for what would happen to Gene Robinson? Pass. I really do not think there is a good answer to that one. The Windsor Report quotes the Archbishop of Canterbury himself saying in 2003 that if Robinson were in most other provinces of the Anglican Communion, he certainly could not be a bishop. As a priest he would be under discipline because of what has happened in terms of his marriage and partnership. In most provinces he could not have been a bishop. Therefore to ask other provinces to come to Lambeth and accept Gene Robinson as one of their number is a very big ask...
Although the Windsor Report did not ask for it, here is what Bp. Wright and the extreme conservatives he has aligned himself with really want; they want Bp. Robinson gone. Nothing else will satisfy them. And that simply is not going to happen. And so here we are.

Of course throughout the interview Bp. Wright reasserts once again that the Windsor Report is the new law, rather than the recommendations, or "process" it was intended to be:

... I think if the Windsor report is followed through then we have to say that those who have taken certain actions and who have not expressed regret in the way that Windsor requested should voluntarily absent themselves from the councils of the Communion"...
One wonders if the Bishop of Durham has taken the time to consider what TEC actually did at our last Convention in regards to the Windsor Report. Here's a good summation provided by The Consultation:

...Some of those requesting “alternative primatial oversight” have also claimed that The Episcopal Church has not responded adequately to the Windsor Report. However, we do not view the Windsor Report as an ultimatum dictating precise forms of response by The Episcopal Church. We remind you of Archbishop Eames’ statement in the Foreword to the Report that it is not a judgment but part of a process. We understand participation in this process to include serious study of the report and prayerful consideration of its recommendations to The Episcopal Church. We believe that The Episcopal Church did so in its preparation for and actions at the General Convention, and committed by resolution to continue to do so, even as the process continues worldwide.

As with a response to any other recommendation or resolution from one of the Instruments of Communion or other international Anglican body, our response to the Windsor Report was made in light of our understanding of Scripture, the polity of The Episcopal Church, and sensitivity to the cultural contexts of this Church. We affirmed our desire to remain in the Anglican Communion, gave our support to the process of development of an Anglican Covenant, and committed ourselves to participate in the ongoing Windsor process as well as the listening process commended by the 1978, 1988, and 1998 Lambeth Conferences and the Windsor Report. We expressed regret for straining the bonds of affection in the confirmation and consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, and we urged standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction to refrain from consenting to “the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.” The House of Bishops had already developed a plan for delegating episcopal pastoral oversight, and the Convention approved this plan. Although the convention did not adopt any resolutions about blessing same-sex relationships, no such liturgy has been authorized by any convention; instead, any decision to permit celebration of such a liturgy remains with the bishop, consistent with the provisions of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. In sum, we believe that the General Convention of The Episcopal Church has responded with great care to the Windsor Report, and at significant cost to some members of this Church. We urge you to reject claims that The Episcopal Church has not responded adequately to the Windsor Report, particularly as those claims become the basis for division rather than reconciliation. It is now time to allow others in the Anglican Communion, including the Instruments of Communion, to respond...
I think that says everything we of TEC need to say at this time in regards to the Windsor Report.

Regarding why our Presiding Bishop was invited to the Primates' Meeting, Bp. Wright seems to think it is so she can be interrogated. That is a rather offensive supposition. Excuse me, Right Reverend Sir, but I believe our Presiding Bishop was invited because she happens to be the duly elected Primate of our Province.

And then Bp. Wright can't resist insulting our members:

...My sense is that there are a lot of people in America, ordinary folk in the churches who have not really caught up with what is going on...
The "little people" are oblivious. Never mind that in our decisions at General Conventions, and in our episcopal elections, the "little people" are given both voice and vote, unlike other places in the Communion ruled by purple shirts. Since the bishop's speculation may be true for the people of Durham, maybe it is necessary to inform him that some consider the lay membership of TEC to include some of the most knowledgable voices on matters both theological and ecclesiological within the Anglican Communion.

There is little question that there is a high probability that the situation in Tanzania will be unpleasant. Keep all of the Primates, and especially our Presiding Bishop, in your prayers.

I want to add one last comment regarding this current unpleasantness. What some simply do not seem to grasp is that the messages being transmitted by the Episcopal Church, and by our Presiding Bishop, through both word and deed, are not intended for those already in the Church. To some degree, we are indifferent to how other religious communities react to our understanding of the appropriate ways to proclaim the Good News. To parpaphrase Abp. William Temple, the Church is the only institution that exists to serve those who are not yet members.

We live in a time in which Christianity is no longer the dominant faith tradition. More and more people have become apathetic, if not downright antagonistic, towards the message the Church has offered in the past, primarily because of the fear tactics and aggressive manner in which such proclamations were made. It is past time to reconsider our witness to the world, and maybe even repackage the message.

There is no abandonment of scripture. Regardless of what the extremists might claim, there is no place in scripture that directly addresses the specific ethical issue with which we are currently struggling. There is much in scripture in regards to lust, promiscuity and infidelity, but nothing that speaks directly to the reality we face today. We are not abandoning our tradition, which continues to inform our corporate life. However, we do not value some of the "unspoken" traditions, such as "don't ask, don't tell," which appears to be the way the Bishop of Durham has chosen to address this issue in his diocese.

Nor do we feel obligated to wait for a consensus of all of Christendom before moving in the direction we feel the Spirit of the living God has led us. If we had done so in the past, slavery would not be recognized as an evil institution today and the gifts that women have to offer the Church would still be in debate, to mention just two examples.

There is no doubt in my mind that 100 years from now, when the Church looks back on this era, the Episcopal Church will be considered one of the champions of the Good News of the radically inclusive love of God made known to us through Jesus Christ. That is the message those who have turned away from the Church long to hear. And that is the message we will continue to proclaim, whatever the cost may be. If those in other parts of the Church do not want to walk with us, then we will gather others in from the highways and byways. This is our mission; "to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." We will not compromise it.


UPDATE: More from Jim, Mark, Richard, Marshall, Raspberry Rabbit and Thinking Anglicans.

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