Monday, June 30, 2008

N.T. Wright on GAFCON


Reflections by the Bishop of Durham

30 June 2008

I spent this last week in a great celebration of the love and power of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I confirmed many new believers. I installed a dynamic new rector in a key parish. I assisted in consecrating a wonderful man as the new Bishop of Stockport. I spent four days in prayer and pastoral conversations with twenty-seven ordinands, listening to their breathtaking stories of God’s power, guidance, and (in some cases) profound healing, and praying with them for their new ministries. All this climaxed in two wonderful ordination services, with great crowds, great singing, great praying, and above all a delight in and celebration of God’s presence, God’s gospel, and the power of God’s Spirit to love Jesus and make his good news known in our diocese and parishes.So it was with great interest that I heard that many Anglicans had spent that same week in Jerusalem – which has been, over the years, a special place for me, too – to celebrate the same gospel, the same God, the same love and power of Jesus, the same dynamic and life-changing message through the work of the Spirit. As I read the GAFCON communiqué, phrase after phrase said to me ‘How wonderful that my brothers and sisters gathered there were joining with me in this great adventure we call God’s kingdom!’I warmed, too, to GAFCON’s statement of our contemporary context. I have long believed and taught that our new century presents new problems (secularism, pluralism, the decline of modernity with nothing to put in its place, and much else) and that this means a great, fresh opportunity for the gospel. I have been saying for years that, in this context, we shouldn’t be surprised that serious challenges arise from within the church itself, offering the world a pseudo-gospel, a caricature of the world-changing love of God in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, an attempt to hold the outward form of godliness while denying its real power. I have believed and taught for years that we will have to work through these challenges if, instead of merely being distracted and having our gospel energies soaked up, we are to come through with the fresh message our culture (and individuals within it!) so badly need. If mission is our priority – as it certainly is for me and my diocese – then we should expect to face serious theological and moral challenges, and to have to overcome them in prayer and deeper study of scripture.And of course I have found myself involved in the troubled situation of our Communion following the disastrous events of 2003. I have grieved at the muddled teaching which has allowed all kinds of confusions about Christian doctrine, behaviour and even the nature of Anglicanism to abound, with disastrous consequences. I have shared the frustration of many at the fact that we don’t possess the kind of structures that would enable us to deal straightforwardly and clearly with the complex problems that have faced us. As Archbishop Rowan has said, our present ‘instruments of Communion’ were not designed to meet this kind of problem, and we badly need to find new ways forward. I, with others, have given a lot of time and energy to work on all this, and the Archbishop’s statement that the forthcoming Lambeth Conference will take Windsor and the Covenant as its basic road-map were very heartening. So I fully agree with the GAFCON statement – and with Archbishop Rowan – that the Communion instruments have not been able to deal with the problems, and that we need to find better ways of going about it. Part of the genius of Anglicanism has been to be reformed by the gospel but always ready for fresh reformations by that same gospel: to recognise that God has more light to break out of his holy word, and that this may lead us to do things in new ways, sometimes setting us free from tired structures and sometimes creating new structures for new gospel purposes. That is precisely what Windsor is proposing, and what Lambeth will be pursuing.

What’s more, it is enormously exciting to live at a time when new leadership is arising from places completely outside the north Atlantic axis. Africa was one of the great cradles of early Christianity, producing such towering minds as Tertullian and Augustine. Most of us have long ago moved away from any idea that Christianity, or even Anglicanism, somehow ‘belongs’ to England or northern Europe. In my own diocese we love our link with Lesotho, and always find that visits from our friends there bring new energy and joy to our parishes and schools. Just as you don’t have to go to

Jerusalem to meet Jesus – he is alive and present to heal and save in every place! – so it’s obvious that you don’t have to go to Canterbury to be part of the Anglican family. However, as I know, going to Jerusalem can help. Pilgrimage can add a new dimension to our awareness of who Jesus was and is; it has done that for me, as it clearly has done for those attending GAFCON. Likewise, the historic link with Canterbury is not to be dismissed. Cutting your links with the past can be like cutting off the roots of a tree. Reconnecting with our roots – and, where necessary, refreshing and cleaning them – is always better than pretending we don’t need them. But what matters is of course the fruit. Here in my diocese, as in so many in England, we are refreshing our roots and seeing real fruit; but we don’t imagine we are self-sufficient. On the contrary, we know we have a great deal to learn from brothers and sisters in many other parts of the world, Africa included. I would have hoped, actually, that all this would now go without saying: that we have long moved beyond the sterile stand-off between ‘colonialism’ and ‘post-colonialism’. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s what matters.I and my colleagues in this diocese, like so many others, share exactly in the sense that we are a fellowship ‘confessing the faith of Christ crucified, standing firm for the gospel in the global and Anglican context’, sharing too the goal ‘to reform, heal and revitalise the Anglican Communion and expand its mission to the world’ and ‘to give clear and certain witness to Jesus Christ’. For this reason, I know that the GAFCON leaders can’t have intended to imply (as a ‘suspicious’ reading of their text might suggest) that they are the only ones who really believe all this, that they and they alone care about such things. The rest of us, no doubt – including several of us who were not invited to GAFCON – are eager to share in any fresh movements of the Spirit that are going ahead. And as we do so I know that the GAFCON leaders would want us to express the various questions that naturally come to mind as we contemplate what they have said to us. Just as they wouldn’t want anyone to swallow uncritically the latest pronouncement from Canterbury or New York, so clearly they wouldn’t want us merely to glance at their document, see that it’s ‘all about the gospel’, and then conclude that we must sign up without thinking through what’s being said and why. It is in that spirit that I raise certain questions which seem to me important precisely because of our shared goals (the advancement of the gospel), our shared context (the enormous challenges of contemporary society and of a church often muddled in theology and ethics and lacking the structures to cope), and our shared heritage (the Anglican tradition with its Articles, Prayer Books and historic roots).

Central to these questions is the puzzle about the new proposed structure. I am sure the GAFCON organisers are as horrified as I am to see today’s headlines about ‘a new church’. That doesn’t seem to be what they intended. But for that reason it is all the more strange to reflect on what the proposed ‘Primates’ Council’ is all about. What authority will it have, and how will that work? Who is to ‘police’ the boundaries of this new body – not least to declare which Anglicans are ‘upholding orthodox faith and practice’ (Article 11 of the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’), and who have denied it (Article 13)? Who will be able to decide (as in Article 12) which matters are ‘secondary’ and which are primary, and by what means? (What, for instance, about Eucharistic vestments and practices? What about women priests and bishops?) Who will elucidate the relationship between the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer, on the one hand, and the 14 Articles of GAFCON on the other, and by what means? It is precisely questions like these, within the larger Anglican world, which have proved so problematic in the last five years, and the ‘Declaration’ is actually a strange document which doesn’t help us address them. Many at GAFCON may think the answers will be obvious; in some clear-cut cases they may be. But there will be many other cases where they will not. It is precisely because I share the officially stated aims of GAFCON that I am extremely concerned about these proposals, and urge all those who likewise share that concern to concentrate their prayers and their work on addressing the issues in the way which, remarkably, GAFCON never mentioned, namely, the development of the Anglican Covenant and the fulfilment of the recommendations of the Windsor Report. I am delighted that many of the bishops who were at GAFCON are also coming to Lambeth, where their help in pursuing these goals will be invaluable.

In particular, though, there is something very odd about the proposal to form a ‘Council’ and then to ask such a body to ‘authenticate and recognise confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations’ – and then, as an addition, ‘to encourage all Anglicans to promote the gospel and defend the faith’. Many Anglicans around the world intend to do that in any case, and will not understand why they need to be ‘recognised’ or ‘authenticated’ by a new, self-selected and non-representative body to which they were not invited and which will not itself, it seems be accountable to anyone else. Of course, within the larger global context, not least in North America, I can understand the perceived need for something like this. I know how warmly the proposals have already been welcomed by many in America whose situation has been truly dire. But I also know from my own situation the dangerous ambiguities that will result from the suggestion that there should be a new ‘territorial jurisdiction for provinces and dioceses of the Anglican Communion, in those areas where churches and leaders are denying the orthodox faith or are preventing its spread.’ Sadly, as I suspect many at GAFCON simply didn’t realise, that kind of language has been used, in my personal experience, to attempt to justify various kinds of high-handed activity. It offers a blank cheque to anyone who wants to defy a bishop for whatever reasons, even if the bishop in question is scrupulously orthodox, and then to claim the right to alternative jurisdictional oversight. This cannot be the way forward; nor do I think most of those at GAFCON intended such a thing. That, of course, is the risk when documents are drafted at speed.

In short, my hope and prayer is that the spiritual energy, the sense of celebration, the eagerness for living and preaching the gospel, which were so evident at GAFCON, can and will be brought to the forum where we badly need it, namely, the existing central councils of the Anglican Communion. I understand only too well the frustration that many have felt at these bodies. But if GAFCON is to join up with the great majority of faithful, joyful Anglicans around the world, rather than to invite them to leave their present allegiance and sign up to a movement which is as yet – to put it mildly – strange in form and uncertain in destination, it is not so much that GAFCON needs to invite others to sign up and join in. Bishops, clergy and congregations should think very carefully before taking such a step, which will have enormous and confusing consequences. Rather, GAFCON itself needs to bring its rich experience and gospel-driven exuberance to the larger party where the rest of us are working day and night for the same gospel, the same biblical wisdom, the same Lord.


Executive Summary

GAFCON was a great celebration of the gospel of the love and transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church needs this energy and vision. But this doesn’t mean the GAFCON proposals can be accepted without question. The proposed ‘Primates’ Council’ is a strange body, just as the ‘Declaration’ is an odd document which leaves many ambiguities. It gives far too many hostages to fortune, inviting us to trust an unformed and unaccountable body to make major decisions and giving licence to all kinds of unhelpful activities. It isn’t so much that GAFCON should invite people to sign up to its blank cheque. Rather, GAFCON itself should be invited to bring its Christian vision and exuberance to the larger party where the rest of us are working for the same gospel, the same biblical wisdom, the same Lord.

Rowan Williams on GAFCON

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has responded to the final declaration of the Global Anglican Future Conference with the following statement:

The Final Statement from the GAFCON meeting in Jordan and Jerusalem contains much that is positive and encouraging about the priorities of those who met for prayer and pilgrimage in the last week. The ‘tenets of orthodoxy’ spelled out in the document will be acceptable to and shared by the vast majority of Anglicans in every province, even if there may be differences of emphasis and perspective on some issues. I agree that the Communion needs to be united in its commitments on these matters, and I have no doubt that the Lambeth Conference will wish to affirm all these positive aspects of GAFCON’s deliberations. Despite the claims of some, the conviction of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Lord and God and the absolute imperative of evangelism are not in dispute in the common life of the Communion

However, GAFCON’s proposals for the way ahead are problematic in all sorts of ways, and I urge those who have outlined these to think very carefully about the risks entailed.

A ‘Primates’ Council’ which consists only of a self-selected group from among the Primates of the Communion will not pass the test of legitimacy for all in the Communion. And any claim to be free to operate across provincial boundaries is fraught with difficulties, both theological and practical – theological because of our historic commitments to mutual recognition of ministries in the Communion, practical because of the obvious strain of responsibly exercising episcopal or primatial authority across enormous geographical and cultural divides.

Two questions arise at once about what has been proposed. By what authority are Primates deemed acceptable or unacceptable members of any new primatial council? And how is effective discipline to be maintained in a situation of overlapping and competing jurisdictions?

No-one should for a moment impute selfish or malicious motives to those who have offered pastoral oversight to congregations in other provinces; these actions, however we judge them, arise from pastoral and spiritual concern. But one question has repeatedly been raised which is now becoming very serious: how is a bishop or primate in another continent able to discriminate effectively between a genuine crisis of pastoral relationship and theological integrity, and a situation where there are underlying non-theological motivations at work? We have seen instances of intervention in dioceses whose leadership is unquestionably orthodox simply because of local difficulties of a personal and administrative nature. We have also seen instances of clergy disciplined for scandalous behaviour in one jurisdiction accepted in another, apparently without due process. Some other Christian churches have unhappy experience of this problem and it needs to be addressed honestly.

It is not enough to dismiss the existing structures of the Communion. If they are not working effectively, the challenge is to renew them rather than to improvise solutions that may seem to be effective for some in the short term but will continue to create more problems than they solve. This challenge is one of the most significant focuses for the forthcoming Lambeth Conference. One of its major stated aims is to restore and deepen confidence in our Anglican identity. And this task will require all who care as deeply as the authors of the statement say they do about the future of Anglicanism to play their part.

The language of ‘colonialism’ has been freely used of existing patterns. No-one is likely to look back with complacency to the colonial legacy. But emerging from the legacy of colonialism must mean a new co-operation of equals, not a simple reversal of power. If those who speak for GAFCON are willing to share in a genuine renewal of all our patterns of reflection and decision-making in the Communion, they are welcome, especially in the shaping of an effective Covenant for our future together.

I believe that it is wrong to assume we are now so far apart that all those outside the GAFCON network are simply proclaiming another gospel. This is not the case; it is not the experience of millions of faithful and biblically focused Anglicans in every province. What is true is that, on all sides of our controversies, slogans, misrepresentations and caricatures abound. And they need to be challenged in the name of the respect and patience we owe to each other in Jesus Christ.

I have in the past quoted to some in the Communion who would call themselves radical the words of the Apostle in I Cor.11.33: ‘wait for one another’. I would say the same to those in whose name this statement has been issued. An impatience at all costs to clear the Lord’s field of the weeds that may appear among the shoots of true life (Matt.13.29) will put at risk our clarity and effectiveness in communicating just those evangelical and catholic truths which the GAFCON statement presents.

© Rowan Williams


By Robert J. Schneider
for the Anglican Centrist

Recently the Gallup Organization released the results of its latest (2006) poll of American opinion on the issue of human evolution. Since 1980, respondents have been asked to choose among the following:

1) Humans developed over millions of years, but God guided the evolutionary process.
2) Humans developed over millions of years; God had no part in it.
3) God created humans as is within the past 10,000 years.

In 1980 the results were: (1) 38%, (2) 9%, and (3) 44%. In 2008, the breakdown had changed only a little: (1) 36%, (2) 14%, and (3) 44%. These figures call for some explanation. Since 1980, the evidence for human evolution has grown tremendously. More hominid fossils have been found and these offer a better visual picture of evolution. More importantly, studies in comparative genomics have conclusively established our relationship as a species to other primates and helped tremendously to map the pathways from lower life forms that have led to the emergence of homo sapiens. Dr. Francis Collins, evangelical Christian and just retired Director of the Human Genome Project, has made the case very well in his 2007 book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, and I recommend this fine personal testimony of the complementary relationship between science and Christian Faith. (Other evidence is summarized in my previously published web essay, “Human Evolution and the Image of God” at

Why, then, in the face of so much compelling evidence from nature for the evolution of life, including human evolution, does nearly one-half of the American public reject this concept and hold on to the notion that humankind was directly created and that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, defying the equally compelling evidence from geology that our planet is billions of years older?

Here are some factors I believe are at work here. In the decade before 1980 American society became caught up in a “culture war” as many people of traditional faith perspectives watched the nation’s moral compass spin wildly in the face of changes in social relationships and behavior. Young earth creationists, promoting a movement that only emerged in the 1960s, convinced a large portion of the conservative and fundamental Christian population that “belief” in evolution was responsible for this assault on traditional values. They persuaded these Americans that one must adopt a literalistic reading of Genesis 1 as historical and scientific in order to be a true Christian. Thus, when scientists reject their belief in a young earth and separate creation many faithful Christians see this as an attack on the Bible, the very heart of their faith. It has proven very difficult to change the minds of believers when they have been taught to believe that they must choose between God and evolution.

Also, a few conservative Christians are prepared to accept the evolution of other species, but the vast majority draws the line at human evolution. At some fundamental gut level they simply are unable to accept the fact that we may be descended from some lower life form, especially those clownish chimpanzees.

More fundamentally, other polls have shown only about 5% to 7% of the public really understand what science is and what scientists do. Thus, it is difficult for most people to understand why science has come to adopt an evolutionary paradigm for its study of the natural world. Such ignorance has also made it easier for anti-evolutionists, including, since the late 1980s, “Intelligent Design” proponents, to paint the scientific community as “dogmatic” and unwilling to look at “alternatives” to evolution. Suspicion of the scientific enterprise, regrettably, has grown in recent years, a trend that if continued could eventually lead to America yielding its primacy in the natural sciences.

A few years ago, the Episcopal Church’s Committee on Science, Technology and Faith, became concerned that Episcopalians by and large shared this ignorance about science, and even more distressing, showed little understanding of the doctrine of creation, even though we profess it every time we recite the Nicene Creed. To contribute to their education the Committee created “A Catechism of Creation: An Episcopal Understanding,” which is accessible at (click “Catechism of Creation”). The Committee also produced a resolution, passed by General Convention 2006, that expressed the compatibility between the science of evolution and the doctrine of creation; and called on Episcopalians to promote and defend good science education (see “Affirm Evolution and Good Science” at

I believe that it is incumbent upon all Episcopal educators to learn the basics about the doctrine of creation and its relationship to the work of science. God’s two books, the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature, come from the same source, the creating Word of God, and we need to help the faithful develop a better understanding and appreciation of this fundamental truth.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


The group which calls itself GAFCON has issued a 'Jerusalem Declaration.' Much of it is what I also believe. Yet, because I don't share every word of their declaration, I am a heretic according to them.

Here is what I share with the 'almost-schismatic' ultra-conservatives:

1. We rejoice in the gospel of God through which we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God first loved us, we love him and as believers bring forth fruits of love, ongoing repentance, lively hope and thanksgiving to God in all things.

2. We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation...

3. We uphold the four Ecumenical Councils and the [Nicene and Apostles] Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

4. ...

5. We gladly proclaim and submit to the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, humanity’s only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell, who lived the life we could not live and died the death that we deserve. By his atoning death and glorious resurrection, he secured the redemption of all...

6. We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage as an expression of the gospel, and we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture.

7. We recognise that God has called and gifted bishops, priests and deacons in historic succession to equip all the people of God for their ministry in the world. We uphold the classic Anglican Ordinal as an authoritative standard of clerical orders.

8. ...

9. We gladly accept the Great Commission of the risen Lord to make disciples of all nations, to seek those who do not know Christ and to baptise, teach and bring new believers to maturity.

10. We are mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation, to uphold and advocate justice in society, and to seek relief and empowerment of the poor and needy.

11. We are committed to the unity of all those who know and love Christ and to building authentic ecumenical relationships...

12. We celebrate the God-given diversity among us which enriches our global fellowship, and we acknowledge freedom in secondary matters. We pledge to work together to seek the mind of Christ on issues that divide us.
13. ...

14. We rejoice at the prospect of Jesus’ coming again in glory, and while we await this final event of history, we praise him for the way he builds up his church through his Spirit by miraculously changing lives.

Here are the parts I find over the top, specifically the red parts:

The Jerusalem Declaration

... solemnly declaring the following tenets of orthodoxy which underpin our Anglican identity.

2.... The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.

3. ...[main trouble is in placing Athanasian creed alongside Nicene and Apostles; Episcopalians have long upheld the Nicene and Apostles creeds but not the Athanasian.]

4. We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today. [Which 39?]

8. ... [the main difficulty here is the assignment of marital ethics as traditionally understood to the level of first-order doctrine.]

11. ... We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration.
13. We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. [Main difficulty in these two bullets is in using their own confessional standard of 'orthodoxy' as a standard of authentic orders and jurisdiction. This is very similar to Donatism.]

Thursday, June 26, 2008

More on Bennison Verdict

From Episcopal News Service:

[Episcopal News Service] An ecclesiastical court has found that Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania Bishop Charles E. Bennison engaged in conduct unbecoming of a member of the clergy.

Bennison, 64, faced two counts of the charge. The first count of the presentment that formed the basis of a recent four-day trial dealt said that 35 years ago when Bennison, as rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Upland, California, failed to respond properly after learning that his brother, John Bennison, a 24-year-old newly-ordained deacon whom he had hired as youth minister, was "engaged in a sexually abusive and sexually exploitive relationship" with a 14-year-old parishioner. The abuse lasted for more than three years.

The presentment also said Charles Bennison failed to discharge his pastoral obligations to the girl, the members of her family, and the members of the parish youth group after he learned of his brother's behavior.

The second charge accused him of suppressing the information about his brother until 2006 when he disclosed publicly what he knew. John Bennison, who having once renounced his orders and later succeeded in being reinstated as a priest, was forced to again renounce his orders in 2006 when knowledge of the abuse became public. The second count also accused Charles Bennison of "fail[ing] to minister to people who he understood to have been injured by his brother's conduct."

On June 25, the nine-member Episcopal Church's Court for the Trial of a Bishop unanimously convicted Bennison on the first count and six of the members voted to convict him on the second count. Canon IV.5.25 of the church's Constitution and Canons requires an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of the court.

Next steps in the canonical process
Bennison, the victim, her mother and brother, Lawrence White (the church attorney who acted as prosecutor for the Episcopal Church) and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori now have until July 30 "to offer matters in excuse or mitigation or to otherwise comment" on the sentence that the court will impose. That sentence can range from an admonition to deposition. Canon IV.5.28 says the Court for a Trial of a Bishop may hold a hearing on any comments that are made before agreeing on a sentence by a two-thirds majority vote and imposing it on Bennison.

He will then have 30 days to ask for a modification of the sentence. If Bennison makes such a request, the court must hold a hearing, according to Canon IV.5.30(b).

After receiving what is known as the final judgment, Bennison can appeal within 30 days to the Court of Review of the Trial of a Bishop, a different court made up of nine bishops elected by the House of Bishops. Canon IV.6 outlines the appeal process.

Jefferts Schori inhibited Bennison from all ordained ministry on October 30 after the Title IV Review Committee issued the two-count presentment against him. The Standing Committee of the diocese met October 30 and consented to the inhibition, as is required by Title IV, Canon 1, Section 6.

The Standing Committee, now the ecclesiastical authority in the diocese, issued a statement late in the day June 25 saying it "shares in the grief of the victims and all whose lives have been impacted by these events."

"Our prayers and thoughts are with those affected by the trial and the verdict," the statement continued. "We pray for healing for all. The canonical process is long and far from over."

Bennison's defense to the court
On the fourth and final day of the trial earlier this month, Bennison told the court that he would do nothing different than what he did when he learned that his younger brother seduced the 14-year-old girl in his parish. He testified that he was made aware of the situation shortly before John's ordination as priest. He said he confronted him but John denied repeatedly any improper conduct. The bishop said he ordered John to leave the church, but it was two more months before his brother departed, while continuing his abuse of the girl.

Bennison admitted under cross examination that he felt "a little bit" uncomfortable, but maintained that he knew of no impediment or criminal action to prevent John's ordination. As a result, he testified, he presented his brother for ordination by his father, Bishop Charles Bennison Sr., at a service in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The court was told that John Bennison, married and 10 years older than the girl, seduced other women at St. Mark's Upland, California, and at least two others in the next parish in Santa Barbara where he was a curate.

The Court for the Trial of a Bishop consists of five bishops, two priests and two adult lay communicants: Bishop Andrew Smith of Connecticut (Chair); Bishop Bruce Caldwell of Wyoming; Bishop Gordon Scruton of Western Massachusetts; Bishop George Wayne Smith of Missouri; Bishop Catherine Waynick of Indianapolis; the Rev. Marjorie Menaul, Diocese of Central Pennsylvania; the Rev. Karen Anita Brown Montagno, Diocese of Massachusetts; Maria Campbell, Birmingham, Alabama; and Jane R. Freeman, Akron, Ohio.

ENS coverage of the first day of the trial is available here.

ENS coverage of the second day of the trial is available here.

ENS coverage of the third day of the trial is available here.

ENS coverage of the fourth day of the trial is available here.

On June 20, the Pennsylvania Standing Committee learned that the Title IV Review Committee had decided not to issue a presentment against Bennison for what the Standing Committee said was his repeated usurpation of its "canonical prerogatives and authority." The Standing Committee made their allegations to Jefferts Schori by way of a "verified complaint" which David Booth Beers, chancellor to Presiding Bishop, sent to the Title IV Review Committee at her request.

The Standing Committee's statement on the Review Committee's decision is here.

Bishop Bennison Found Guilty

From the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pennsylvania:

Standing Committee Communication

Posted Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ecclesiastical Trial Update

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania has received the news of Bishop Bennison’s conviction and shares in the grief of the victims and all whose lives have been impacted by these events. Our prayers and thoughts are with those affected by the trial and now the verdict. We pray for healing for all. The canonical process is long and far from over. The Standing Committee will be continuing its responsibilities as the Ecclesiastical Authority in the diocese until the matter is finally concluded.

Trial of a Bishop – the process

After a vote of a canonical offense, the Bishop, Church Attorney, each Complainant and each Victim will have 30 days to provide the Court with comments regarding the sentence to be imposed.

The Court then votes upon the sentence, which also requires a 2/3rd vote. The Judgment and Sentence are then communicated to each party listed above plus the Standing Committee.

After entry of the Final Judgment, the Bishop may appeal within 30 days to the Court of Review of the Trial of a Bishop. This is a different group of individuals and consists of 9 Bishops elected by the House of Bishops. The Presiding Judge of the Court, upon receiving the Notice of Appeal, shall appoint within 60 days the time for the Hearing on the Appeal.

From the Associated Press:

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — An Episcopal bishop was found guilty by a church panel of covering up his brother's assaults of a teenage girl in the 1970s.

Charles E. Bennison Jr., 64, was convicted of two counts of engaging in conduct unbecoming of a member of the clergy, according to his attorneys and the church verdict, dated Tuesday and released Thursday. He could be reprimanded, suspended or ousted from the church.

"We are proud of the Episcopal Church for holding Bishop Bennison accountable, and for using an open and transparent process that allowed the truth to come to light," church attorney Lawrence White said in a statement Thursday.

It was not immediately clear when the sentence would be handed down for Bennison, bishop of the nation's fifth-largest Episcopal diocese. The special Court for the Trial of a Bishop must wait at least 30 days before handing down a sentence, and Bennison's attorneys said they will request a hearing before sentencing.

The victim, now 50, testified during a four-day ecclesiastical trial this month that the abuse by the bishop's brother, John Bennison, happened three to four times a week for several years. She testified that an encounter in a Sunday school classroom and another in a church office in 1973 were witnessed by Charles Bennison, who "opened the door, took a look at us, turned around and walked out."

At the time, Charles Bennison was rector of St. Mark's Church in Upland, Calif., in the Diocese of Los Angeles, and his brother was a married lay minister there.

The Associated Press generally does not disclose the names of sexual abuse victims.

The bishop testified that he heard rumors of sexual impropriety and confronted his brother, who was about to leave the California parish where he was a youth counselor. Bishop Bennison said he kept quiet to protect the girl and the church from scandal, and because he didn't know the rumor to be fact until years later.

Attorneys for the church suggested that Bennison kept quiet to advance his career. They accused him of "selective amnesia" and other psychological phenomena that he described in his own 1997 book on the effects of harboring secrets about clergy sex abuse.

Charles Bennison's legal team, led by attorney James Pabarue, declined to comment on the verdict but said in a statement that it would appeal.

"The appropriateness of his actions is reflected by the actions of numerous Episcopal bishops, priests, officials and lay members who knew of Bishop Bennison's conduct as early as 1979 and who for 28 years never felt that his conduct was improper (or) warranted charges being brought against him during that time," the statement read.

Pabarue has said the young rector handled the situation as best he could with his limited experience and a lack of church guidelines, particularly in an era when views about sexual abuse were not as enlightened as today.

Bennison was ordered to cease all church duties in November.

A church indictment, called a presentment, charged that Bennison failed to investigate his brother's actions and protect the victim. The presentment also charged that Bennison knew about the abuse but didn't halt the 1974 ordination of his brother.

John Bennison, who never faced criminal charges, left the priesthood two years ago.

Ephraim Radner on the Covenant

Ephraim Radner of Wycliffe College (Toronto, Canada) is a member of the Covenant Design Group

How did the idea of a Covenant arise?

The history of the proposed Covenant goes back over a decade. Here are a few key elements in this history:

  • In 1997 the so-called “Virginia Report” of the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission began a rich process of reflecting on the needs of a growing, diversifying, and changing Anglican Communion. This included analyzing and re-thinking in some cases the current structures and relationships among Anglican churches around the world and generally demonstrating the demand for greater explicitness and deliberation in the way the Communion functions. The Report’s opening theological discussion (2.1) sets out the reality of divine “Covenant” as the fundamental means by which God’s purposes are enacted historically.
  • In March 2001, as fractures within the Communion had already begun to appear, Prof. Norman Doe of Cardiff University proposed “covenants” among Anglican churches as a means of furthering the coherent articulation of a common “communion canon law”, based on the existing ius commune of the Communion (the shared fundamental commitments to Communion life already present in the canon law of various Anglican churches around the world – see his “Canon Law and Communion”, available online at the Anglican Communion office).
  • In 2004, in response to the disarray within the Communion sparked by the election and consecration of the partnered gay bishop of New Hampshire in the American Episcopal Church the year earlier, the Lambeth Commission on Communion issued what is called the Windsor Report. The Report provided three important spurs to the Covenant proposal. First, it described the communion shared among Anglican churches as one of “covenantal affection” (par. 45), thereby defining the Anglican Communion, theologically, as already structured by covenantal dynamics. Second, the Windsor Report (paragraphs 113-120) actually proposed in a formal way that a Covenant be drafted and adopted, the “case” for which, it said, was “overwhelming”:

“This Commission recommends, therefore, and urges the primates to consider, the adoption by the churches of the Communion of a common Anglican Covenant which would make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion. The Covenant could deal with: the acknowledgement of common identity; the relationships of communion; the commitments of communion; the exercise of autonomy in communion; and the management of communion affairs (including disputes).” (par. 118).

Finally, the Windsor Report provided a “draft” proposal to stir reflection (Appendix Two of the Report).

  • The Windsor Report’s recommendation was accepted by the Primates’ Meeting in 2005, and later by the Anglican Consultative Council, and in 2006, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, followed up on this, first by an open letter to the Communion describing his support of the Covenant idea (“The Challenge and Hope of Being Anglican Today”), and then by his appointment of provincial nominees to a Covenant Design Group, which first met in January of 2007. The Covenant Design Group has now produced two drafts of a proposed Covenant for the Communion.

What is the purpose and form of an Anglican Covenant as presently proposed?

The proposed Covenant follows upon the ideas and recommendations noted above. It will seek the official and solemn commitments of Provincial (and possibly diocesan) Anglican churches around the world to a common set of doctrinal, missionary, and decision-making standards. A commitment to these standards will identify a church as being a recognized member of the Anglican Communion with an unqualified relation to all its instruments of unity. It will also provide all members with a set common expectations by which ministry and mission can be ordered with one another faithfully, peaceably, and affectionately and for the sake of the wider Christian Church and God’s glory.

Read it All...

The Priesthood of All Believers

I’ve been a father for almost five years in one sense, and I’ve been a father for nine years in another. I’m a papa, and a padre.

Priesthood is a somewhat convoluted notion in the Episcopal Church. Part of the trouble is language. Priest is a tricky word in English - it derives from the Greek word presbyter, but it has two meanings. The first meaning is literally ‘presbyter’ or ‘elder’ of the Church community. The second meaning has to do with the Jewish Temple priesthood – the sacerdotal or sacrificial priesthood – in which the priest is the intermediary between the sacred and the mundane.

I am not that kind of priest. I am the first kind, ‘presbyters,’ ‘elders,’ we are called to be pastors of the flock.

The second kind of priest – the sacerdotal kind – the sacrificial temple priesthood kind – is what belongs to Jesus Christ. Hebrews says he is the Great High Priest, who makes the necessary sacrifice (himself) which makes everything better. He alone has the power to connect the sacred with the divine – to fix what’s broken in the world.

He is both priest and sacrifice: the Lamb of God who offers himself on that hard wooden altar of the cross.

And as the Body of Christ, everybody who is baptized into Christ’s own life shares in the the priesthood of Christ, making the broken world whole. All the baptized are priests as members of the great high priest. Yes, you and me both.

The priesthood of all believers belongs to everybody who calls Jesus the Christ, and your ministry is explained not in Leviticus, but in the Gospel. Your ministry, our ministry, is explained in today’s Gospel – where again and again Jesus says, “Go out and preach the Good News that God’s kingdom has come near,” and HEAL ... CURE ... make the world ... better.

There are more than ten thousand presbyters in The Episcopal Church, but there are over two million baptised members. Those presbyters just can’t do enough – either by numbers, or because of their skill.

[In fact, if you know many clergy you quickly began to see how pathetic a lot of folks we really are. We just will not and cannot change the world – and possibly – not even a lightbulb if you want to know the truth.]

No, the priesthood of all believers means that the Good News message and the Good News work of Jesus – (which is to heal all disease, sin and death) – has to be done by all.

Folks – the Harvest is plenty but the laborers are few. It really ought to read, “The Harvest is plenty, and the laborers are YOU.”

Disciples of Jesus Christ are called and equipped and sent forth by the Holy Spirit to do work – and folks – that is you.

Your salvation was given to you, not for free, but by the high price paid by the high priest himself. Your hope for a better life now, and an eternal life in the presence of God, was paid for by the only priest who could change the world and give us hope. The receipt for this transaction is shaped like a cross. Every time you see one, remember the Great High Priest who has bought you, and put your failings away. Yes, you and I have received all this without our payment. Christ calls you now to go give the same to others – to give them the hopeful message of Christ – and to do healing work.

The question I think is “What am I going to do, for the Father of All, for His household, for the rest of my life?” Amen.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hispanic Ministry

Last night, the council of the diocese met at St. George’s, the site of a growing Hispanic congregation. In addition to our regular meeting, it was an opportunity to see and hear about that particular ministry. It was very impressive.

We were told about a program the Hispanic congregation has started. The congregation has embarked on a healing ministry. Members of the congregation go out in groups to the homes of those suffering from illness. They start with an opening prayer, sing a hymn, do a house blessing and read a Gospel passage. Those present are invited to comment on what they have heard.

This ministry started out of a desire to offer care for a few ailing members. After that, individuals in the parish and the larger community began to request these visits. At this point, teams are going out about twice a week to offer services of prayer and healing.

One of the team members spoke eloquently about the presence of God felt at the services. She said that it was palpable, and that people were hungry for the Word of God. It sounds like the hunger is being addressed in this ministry.

Good for the congregation seeing a need, and devising a way to meet it. Good for those in need accepting the offer of the support of the Church. Good to see the Gospel in action.

Andrew Corsello of GQ on Bishop Gene Robinson

There is a lengthy piece in the current issue of Gentleman's Quarterly magazine - GQ - written by a friend of mine. Andrew Corsello is a brilliant writer who is easily the best writer and thinker in the employ of GQ. I have not yet read the piece. But knowing Andrew, I'm sure it's well written, and astute.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Cool Faith and Science Site

In a comment on the previous post, on Spong's views, Bob Schneider made some keen observations. Which I believe are spot on. Dr. Schneider writes:

Thanks for these words. Your reference to the post-Modern in the last paragraph gets to the heart of the matter, I believe. I think that Bp. Spong is the archetypal Modernist, and in a sense representative of the end of that era. In a way he is a kind of empiricist who paradoxically resists the objectivism he is anchored in.

I think it was Phyllis Trible who said that the last 500 years of Christianity in the West can be book-ended by Martin Luther at the earlier end and Jack Spong at this one. We are entering a new era of western Christianity marked by the movement called the emerging church, she holds. Certainly, in my view, we are in a major transition period, and what will "emerge" is not yet clear to this observer.

One way of understanding Bp. Spong is that he is reaching out to the unchurched modernists who have rejected the Myth (in the postive sense of the Truth) to tell them, "Hey, there is a deeper truth beyond the literalism (of the Bultmannian biblical universe) that you can embrace." Christianity must change or die. But history tells us that Christianity always changes. Will it move beyond the problem +Spong diagnoses? Likely so. Will it shatter further into new forms of first-world and old forms of third-world? (If those terms have any meaning anymore.) It appears so. Will the many worlds of Christianity become in the post-modern deconstructionist way incommensurable? No time ofr anxious souls.

Sadly, in his often senasationalist way of poutting things, +Spong has alienated a lot of the faithful. And he has become a useful weapon to the dissidents who "spong" whomever they are unhappy with in the leadership of TEC.
His web pages on faith and science are also pretty keen, but they are hard to find by Googling. So here they are. I hereby invite the good professor to consider being a regular poster here at the Anglican Centrist.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Beating Up On Old Jack Spong's Theology

Bishop John Shelby Spong has done good for the world rooted in his love for God's people. His work for inclusion of women and gay people is admirable. No, it is not the man, nor even his vision of a more just society and church that bothers. It is his theology, really, that's the trouble after all. And moreover, it is his theology coming from him as a bishop.

Sadly, nobody would read his books if he weren't the "bishop who doesn't believe what the Church proclaims."

In a recent essay he writes:

- "... citizens of the 21st Century cannot twist their minds into First Century pretzels in order to say “I believe” to the traditional explanations offered by the biblical writers. Rather I seek the reality of the Jesus experience that made these explanations seem appropriate."

- "I do not believe, for example, that Jesus was born of a virgin in any biological sense, but I do believe that people found in Jesus a God presence that caused them to assert that human life could never have produced what they believed they met in him."

- "I do not believe that the deceased body of Jesus was resuscitated physically on the third day and was restored to the life of this world as, at least, the later gospels assert, but I do believe that in him and through him people found a way into that which is eternal and so they portrayed him as breaking through and transcending the limits of death."

- "I do not believe that Jesus defied gravity to ascend into the heavens of a three-tiered universe to be reunited with the God who lives above the sky, but I do believe that Jesus opened the door to that realm in which life can become so whole and so fully human that we enter God’s divinity and God’s presence in a new way."

- "I do not believe that 50 days after the Easter experience the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples as a might rushing wind, accompanied by tongues of fire, as the Pentecost story in the Book of Acts relates, but I do believe that when we are open to God’s eternal presence we are also open to see another so deeply that tribal identities fall and we can communicate with one another in the universal language of love and discover that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, but a new humanity."

- As Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once observed, I do not believe that Christianity can today be contained inside the traditional formulations of Christianity and must, therefore, transcend these boundaries, if it is to live in this generation. Bonhoeffer coined the phrase “Religionless Christianity” to describe what he meant. I seek in a similar way to look at Jesus outside the boundaries of religion.

- The Easter Jesus is, I believe, the limitless Jesus, the one in whom full divinity flows, not destroying but affirming his humanity, the Jesus who can command the attention of a world that is not only weary of war, but weary of religion also, especially when it seems to be a cause of war.

To be sure, Spong is not the first Anglican, let alone Anglican prelate, to dispute the traditional proclamation. It is also worth saying that the things he does not believe in, are not necessarily what the Church proclaims.

As regards the virgin birth of Jesus, what we believe is that the Incarnation came by power of the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the assent of Mary. He says he doesn't believe it in 'any biological sense.' Of course the Church's proclamation is rooted in the notion of the possibility of the miraculous. We believe that God did a new thing, and it was the parthenogenesis of Jesus from the Blessed Virgin Mary (as we traditionally revere her.) I don't believe this was a typical event, obviously, but rather a unique event. Though, to be sure, I believe that God is the one who made the universe ex nihilo. As such, I do believe that the emergence of new phenomena in the universe at the instigation of God is not merely possible, but to be expected of the God who creates from nothing. Moreover, this doesn't appear to be that big a 'trick,' in the biological sense, given that there are thousands of parthenogenetic events each day, in thousands of species, naturally.

As regards the physical 'resuscitation' - this is not exactly what is believed in Resurrection either. The physical part is believed, but the 'resuscitation' part is not. We believe the risen Lord had a full presence, which includes all aspects of realness -- physical, spiritual, etc. Of course this is itself proclaimed in the so-called 'later' Gospels, with the different ways in which the Risen Christ was perceived.

Spong's use of the word 'later Gospels,' clearly refers to the idea that Mark was written first, and the other three afterwards. He suggests that Mark, without its resurrection accounts, merely the empty tomb, has 'got the story right', but the 'later' Gospels add to it with later developments. This is ironic on the one-hand, and not necessarily factual on the other. It is ironic, because Spong's hero, as he has long said, was John A. T. Robinson - whose famous work "Honest To God" created the shocking mold that Spong filled. Robinson, however, a true scholar, believed that the Gospels, and all the letters of the New Testament, with the exception maybe of one, were composed before 70 A.D., and that John's gospel was possibly first. Apart from Robinson's challenge to critical orthodoxy, it continues to be normatively understood that the letters of Paul were written before even Mark, and Paul does speak to resurrection bodies. Again, not as mere 'resuscitation,' but as 'real.'

The Ascension was certainly also a stupifying event, as with the incarnation and resurrection, and escapes normal understanding. But, as with Pentecost, all of these events are about what we would normally call the 'miraculous.' Spong's key presupposition is that miracles cannot happen. He takes this straight from Spinoza, and all who followed in the modernist trajectory. His entire theology presupposes this, and goes from there. But what if they can and do happen? What if the God of all things can do things that boggle our minds, and go against our suppositions of logic and what we think we know?

On the one hand, Spong grasps the power of the human imagination and the beauty of wonderment at new possibilities. Why on the other does he insist on the limits of God's imagination and new possibilities, and that they just might emerge from within nature just as nature itself has emerged from nothing?

As regards his use of Bonhoeffer's phrase, 'religionless Christianity,' it is frustrating to hear Bishop Spong do so, in nearly every book. What Spong suggests is simply not what Bonhoeffer was talking about. Stanley Hauerwas, who knows just a thing or two about Bonhoeffer, would almost certainly eat Jack Spong up on this one. (Also an anti-war figure to say the least.)

The ultimate sadness of the Spongian trajectory is that he claims to be 'with it' in the 21st century. Yet, the post-Modern has much less trouble with the idea that the universe is very strange indeed, and that stuff happens beyond our own logic and knowledge anyway -- let alone if and when God might choose to interact however God chooses.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The First Bishop of Pennsylvania

The sad news from the Diocese of Pennsylvania, puts me in mind of what the first Bishop of Pennsylvania did in his ministry. William White was the architect of the constitution of the Episcopal Church, became first bishop regularly ordained by English bishops, served as first Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, produced the standard reading list which formed clergy in the Episcopal Church for decades, and all the while continued in his role as rector of Christ & St. Peter's Churches in Philadelphia.

In considering the question of the identity and mission of a bishop and priest, White writes on his method. His method includes, "reference to the Scriptures, the only rule of faith; to primitive antiquity, as throwing light on Scripture, and helping to the interpretation of it; and to the institutions of the Episcopal Church, with a view to the consistency to be expected of those, who are or intend to be of the number of her ministers." He ultimately argued for the earliest sense of the identity of presbyters and bishops - that they share in the sacerdotal ministry of Christ insofar as all the baptized do - but not moreso. Hear, hear.

But more important to me than his theological outcome, I like White's method. Which is so quintessentially Anglican. I yearn for more of our leaders - in all orders - to dig in to the Anglican tradition of reasonably considering the Word of God in Scripture, by light of the early traditions of the Church, and also by the light of later traditions of the Church.

Just as White was neither a 'conservative' nor a 'liberal' exactly in his time - neither does this method belong to either party now, however they may more ably be defined. For example, when I think of the theological writings of William Stringfellow of a generation past, and his great regard for the Word of God in Scripture, and the traditions of the Church, and the value of human minds made in God's image, I am made glad for Anglicanism. In exactly the same way, I regard the work of an Ephraim Radner today, or an N.T. Wright, or a Verna Dozier, or a Michael Curry, or an Ellen Charry. To paraphrase the opening words of All in the Family, "We Could Use a Man Like Michael Ramsey Again."

I am not an ideological 'conservative' by any means. Nor a 'liberal.' But I think this rather tried and true method of White's discernment (inherited from Hooker, Jewel, and so forth) is a hallmark of the Episcopal Church, as with the Church of England before. And it still will serve us best.

I find it sad that any church, let alone an entire diocese, should be forced to attend to the kinds of nonsense, power struggles, and wrangling which have so surrounded the current sad case of White's successor, for years.

My prayer is for the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Sufficiency of Anglicanism

Some thoughts from the 17th Century bishop Jeremy Taylor (1613 - August 13, 1667), in which he gives what I think are excellent reasons for regarding what would eventually come to be called "Anglicanism" as a more than sufficient way to live the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith.

Bryan Owen

A reading from a Letter to a Gentlewoman Seduced to the Church of Rome, written by Jeremy Taylor in 1657.

For its Doctrine, [the Church of England] is certain it professes the belief of all that is written in the Old and New Testament, all that which is in the three creeds, the Apostolical, the Nicene, and that of Athanasius, and whatsoever was decreed in the four general councils or in any other truly such; and whatsoever was condemned in these our church hath legally declared to be heresy. And upon these accounts above four whole ages of the church went to heaven; they baptized all their catechumens into this faith, their hopes of heaven were upon this and a good life, their saints and martyrs lived and died in this alone, they denied communion to none that professed this faith. “This is the catholic faith,” so saith the creed of Athanasius; and unless a company of men have power to alter the faith of God, whosoever live and die in this faith are entirely catholic and Christian. So the Church of England hath the same faith without dispute that the church had for four or five hundred years, and therefore there could be nothing wanting here to saving faith if we live according to our belief.

And after this, what can be supposed wanting [in the Church of England] in order to salvation? We have the Word of God, the faith of the apostles, the creeds of the primitive church, the articles of the four first general councils, a holy liturgy, excellent prayers, perfect sacraments, faith and repentance, the ten commandments, and the sermons of Christ, and all the precepts and counsels of the Gospel. We teach the necessity of good works, and require and strictly exact the severity of a holy life. We live in obedience to God, and are ready to die for him, and do so when he requires us so to do. We speak honourably of his most Holy Name. We worship him at the mention of his Name. We confess his attributes. We love his servants. We pray for all men. We love all Christians, and even our most erring brethren. We confess our sins to God and to our brethren whom we have offended, and to God’s ministers in cases of scandal or of a troubled conscience. We communicate often. We are enjoined to receive the Holy Sacrament thrice every year at least. Our priests absolve the penitent. Our Bishops ordain priests, and confirm baptized persons, and bless their people and intercede for them. And what could here be wanting to salvation?

Quoted in They Still Speak: Readings for the Lesser Feasts, edited by J. Robert Wright (Church Hymnal Corporation, 1993), pp. 149-150.

Gregory of Nazianzus

I've been reading Gregory of Nazianzus lately - as I reflect on the identity and mission particular to the ministry of bishops and presbyters. Here's a little fragment of something larger I'm working on.

Gregory of Nazianzus lived through the struggles of the Fourth Century, between Church and Empire, and the many theological struggles of the day exacerbated by introduction of imperium into the mix. In his time, at their worst, the theological debates became infused with coercion, domination, and the desire for power, leading to violence between Christians in the name of God. He lived at the top of a highly urbane and civilized society, noted for its wealth, high-learning, and religious pluralism – this too had its profound impacts on the Church’s identity and mission. Though an elitist in many ways, as the privileged and urbane so often are, Gregory dedicated his life to the Church, and to the work of leading within it as a pastor rooted in Word and sacrament, first and foremost.

At first interested in a life of monastic remove, and not ecclesiastical leadership, Gregory was compelled to the priesthood by his father, a bishop, who lived into the kinds of imperial corruptions we have discussed. Corruptions which led not only his father’s dalliance with the teachings of Arius – when politically convenient – but also to impure motivations for ordaining his son to the presbyterate. A desire for his son’s attainment of a prominent rank within Roman society, and the imperial tax advantages of ordination to the priesthood, seem to have been among his bishop father’s chief motivations in ordaining Gregory on Christmas Day, A.D. 362. Gregory’s own piously motivated rejection of all this led to his fleeing town Jonah-like before preaching his first sermon as a presbyter.

He soon returned in obedience to his father qua bishop, and moreover to the Church and its ordering, and put forward a definitive oration “on the priesthood.” In that piece Gregory laments that so many pastors of his time – including perhaps even his own father we might suppose -- saw “this order to be a means of livelihood, instead of a pattern of virtue.” Too many bishops and presbyters of the urbane and diverse civilization of the late fourth century saw their office as “an absolute authority, instead of a ministry of which we must give account.” As opposed to imperial loyalties, Gregory asserts that bishops and presbyters (with the whole Church) are subjects of the law of Christ before the law of the land. The role of pastors within the Body is as leaders working on behalf of the Great Shepherd.

In their servant leadership of proclamation, pastors are called to “feed God’s flock with knowledge, not with the instruments of a foolish shepherd.” In their servant leadership of benediction, blessing and absolution, pastors are called to work “according to the blessing of God, not the curse pronounced against fallen.” In their servant leadership of sacramental ministry, pastors work so that “God will give strength and power to God’s people, ‘Himself present to Himself.’” And in all these particular leadership ministries, bishops and presbyters are working for the overall gathering of the baptized, “So that in God’s temple, everyone, ‘both flock and shepherds together,’ may say, “Glory, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be all glory for ever and ever.” -- (c) 2008, Greg Jones

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Covenant Comment from NY

From the Diocese of New York

The Saint Andrews Draft Covenant represents a marked improvement over the earlier effort. Many of the concerns raised in response to the earlier draft have been addressed, and a number of the troublesome details have been eliminated. In particular, the first two sections of the draft place the theology of covenant on a stronger foundation. Section One’s appeal to the articles of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral — long accepted as the basis for intercommunion with traditions outside Anglicanism, and so all the more meaningful as a basis for communion within it — establishes recognizable and already agreeable boundaries. There will, of course, continue to be disagreements concerning exactly what constitutes an acceptable “pattern of Christian theological and moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in and answerable to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the catholic tradition.” (1.2.2) But the same section’s emphasis on remaining in Eucharistic communion (1.2.3) and common pilgrimage (1.2.6) in spite of such disagreements shows a grasp of the irrevocable nature of communion.

The enduring nature of communion is eloquently laid out in Section Two: it is a gift of God (2.1.1) ordered towards and nourished by mission (2.1.2,3) in a program of action deriving from the Anglican Consultative Council’s mission strategy, itself clearly influenced by the Baptismal Covenant of the American Book of Common Prayer. (2.2)

Section Three begins well, charting out, in an essentially non-controversial manner, the collaborative and consultative structures that have evolved, and are currently in place, in the Anglican Communion. It is only with paragraph 3.2.5 that we begin to hear about threats to the unity so well established throughout the rest of the document. If unity derives from Christ, how is Christ divided? If unity is found in our mission, how is unity challenged if the mission continues to be carried out?

Section Three defines our present difficulties rather than actually solving them: What are we to do when a minority of provinces in the communion disagrees with the majority? The ultimate answer offered by this draft, soft-pedal it as much as one likes, is excision — the very thing one would have thought impossible if the communion truly were based in Christ, who is not, and cannot be, divided. This draft continues in the mode of a pre-nuptial agreement rather than a covenant of irrevocable commitment.

Thus the primary difficulty with this covenant lies in providing for the dissolution of the very communion it seeks to preserve. It is therefore our recommendation that the appendix and section 3.2.5 (and its subsections) be deleted. What remains would then be worthy of the name “Covenant” — a promise to remain together, united in Spirit and in Mission come what may.

— a statement from the General Convention Deputation of the Episcopal Diocese of New York

First Church?

Neat discovery in Jordan.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Communion Partners and Pilgrim Numbers

A group of priests and bishops of The Episcopal Church have formed a gathering which calls itself, 'Communion Partners.' This is a very interesting development, in my view, and I wish them well. The group aims to:

• Provide for those concerned a visible link to the Anglican Communion. Many within our dioceses and in congregations in other dioceses seek to be assured of their connection to the Anglican Communion. Traditionally, this has been understood in terms of bishop-to-bishop relationships. Communion Partners fleshes out this connection in a significant and symbolic way.
Provide fellowship, support and a forum for mutual concerns between bishops. The Communion Partner bishops share many concerns about the Anglican Communion and its future and look to work together with Primates and Bishops from the wider Communion. In addition, we believe we all have need of mutual encouragement, prayer, and reassurance. The Communion Partners will be a forum for these kinds of relationships.
• Provide a partnership to work toward the Anglican Covenant and according to Windsor Principles

The group intends to work cooperatively "according to the principles outlined in the Windsor Report to seek a comprehensive Anglican Covenant at the Lambeth Conference and beyond."

The group pledges to work transparently and in communication with:

• the Presiding Bishop of TEC,
• the Archbishop of Canterbury,
• the Meeting of Primates, and
• the Anglican Communion Office, and therewith the Anglican Consultative Council.

Cheers to the partners I say.

By Contrast
On the other hand, the group that is in fact trying to reinvent Anglicanism by way of deconstructing it and putting it back together in a novel way (while claiming the mantle of orthodoxy) is meeting in the most widely publicized
non-open event of recent memory. The GAFCON event is happening soon - styled as a 'pilgrimage' to the Holy Land of self-styled orthodox Anglicans. Notably, the Anglican bishop of the Holy Land does not want the conference to happen, and registration for the event is by invitation only. To be sure, invitation-only is also how Lambeth works - as it has since its late 19th century inception. Yet, there's something honest about the Archbishop of Canterbury's inviting the bishops of the Anglican Communion together, as the body of those persons whose ministry is to represent the whole body of Christ in each Anglican diocese around the globe.

The way GAFCON works, seems, well, different.

I offer the following from the GAFCON registration form:
"Registration for the Piligrimage [sic] is by invitation only. ... Registrations without a valid Pilgrim number are invalid and will forfeit the registration fee. ... You and your Pilgrim Members are willing for to take photographs at the Event which may include images of you and your Pilgrim Members, and to use such photographs in various media solely for advertising / promotional purposes in the future....In the unlikely event of the Event being cancelled we will not offer you a full refund of the price you have paid for your Pilgrim fees."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Gnostic Popularizers Do What They Do: Make Up Stuff

If you are alive than you probably have heard that the Gospel of Judas was recently published by the National Geographic Society, in which according to the English translation they produced, Judas doesn’t seem so bad. Many secular news organizations picked up the story, and put headlines into the mainstream indicating that maybe Judas had gotten a raw deal all these years.

Thanks to the National Geographic Society, and the ‘dream team’ of ancient textual scholars who translated the Gospel of Judas, many tens of thousands of people around the world now believe that a credible historical source offers new insight into ‘the real Judas Iscariot.’

Turns out, as with the Da Vinci Code, that this ain’t necessarily so. No, not surprising to me and many, the whole Gospel of Judas media event has turned out to be largely based in two factors: the ignorance of the secular media, and a willingness by some reputable scholars to push the envelope of the truth.

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education indicates that the National Geographic ‘dream team’ of took some incredible leaps in their translation of the text. Perhaps, it shouldn’t surprise us that the folks they chose to translate the text have a very particular bias. Notably, Bart Ehrman of UNC-Chapel Hill is an atheist with an axe to grind, and Elaine Pagels is a neo-Gnostic, whose own work on Gnosticism has raised serious criticisms from other scholars.

If you heard about this, you probably read the newspapers, the magazine articles, or even some of the books published by these very people. One of the people who read some of thse stories was April D. DeConick, professor of biblical studies and an expert in Coptic (ancient Egyptian) at Rice University. Dr. DeConick saw the National Geographic special, then downloaded the English translation and a copy of the original published on the National Geographic website.
Within a few moments (because she can read both English and the original) she caught the deception.

She noticed that the National Geographic translated a word as "spirit" which is usually translated as "demon." In the National Geographic version, Jesus says to Judas: "O 13th spirit, why do you try so hard?" Turns out, he really says, "O 13th demon, why do you try so hard?" In another place, the National Geographic quote the text as saying that with Jesus’ blessing, Judas has been "set apart for the holy generation." Turns out, it should read, "set apart from the holy generation."

At a conference on the subject at Rice University, some of the ‘dream team’ scholars from National Geographic were present. And there, their case unravelled. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, "at one point, Pagels grabbed the microphone to say that she did not wish to be associated with Ehrman's positive take on Judas. She also, strangely, distanced herself from the book she had written with King."

I bought that book the other week at an airport – maybe you did too, it’s called "Reading Judas," by Elaine Pagels and Karen King. Turns out – its no longer even got the support of one of its authors.
I thought you should know.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hilarious Video From The Bottom of the Earth

This guy's from New Zealand - a fascinating land filled with hobbits, orcs, Maori, and Anglicans.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Love Which Holds Nothing Back

Brothers Together -- have you heard of them?

I saw an article about them --

Brothers Together is a group working to help poor Muslim children get the special surgeries they need in Israeli hospitals, the best in the Middle East by far.

Brothers Together has sent more than 80 Muslim children from Arab countries all over the Middle East to Israel for life-saving surgeries in the past few years.

Their motivation?

A spokesman says:

"Our work is motivated by faith and obedience to Jesus...

We believe that the love of God is freely offered unconditionally to all people...

So a Muslim child dying from a heart condition should have the same access to medical care as Jewish or Christian kids."

Sounds so good.

But there's a glitch,

In the news lately there's been a focus on some 14 Muslim children who were on their way to Israel thanks to Brothers Together - who were ultimately not permitted to go -- by their own parents and nations.

One mother of a six-year old Iraqi boy with a hole in his heart that needs repair said she couldn't let him enter Israel to receive the healing he was offered -- because she just hates Israel too much. She says she has an innate, inbred hatred of Israel -- she cannot let her enemy heal her son.

But, before we judge this mother, hear me - this is not an Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern story. No this is an all too human story. This is a story of the World, that Jesus came into for its own sake.

We live in a world, we are the people of a world, where the mother of a son with a hole in his heart holds him back from care, freely given, because of the spiritual hole in hers - nursed their by a world which wants to keep hearts broken.

For we all have these spiritual holes in our hearts that keep us from trusting, forgiving, mercy and courage.

Before we judge her - the Lord would show us that we are all holding back from entering the Holy Land of healing in Christ. We are all holding back out of self-guided, inbred drives - which we think are self-protecting.

For some reason, the promise of free care, free healing, the free repair of our broken hearts is not something we leap at in this world.

For some reason, the gracious love of God - shown in a manger - at a table - and on a cross - is not MAKING us be different.

For some reason, the Love of Christ -- which Rowan Williams describes as a love that does not protect itself and holds nothing back -- is not FORCING us to be better.

The reason is simple.

The free love of God which does not protect itself and holds nothing back is free, gentle and pure - and it's our choice to accept it or not.

- God won't make us let him fix the hole in our hearts.
- God won't make us love each other.
- God won't make us love in a way that does not protect ourselves and holds nothing back.

He can't make us follow the teachings of Jesus, or the Law of Moses, with intentions of love and obedience.

But that is all he wants.

God loves us this way - and all he wants is for us to know him, to share in his life, so that God may not be forcedly but graciously one in all. He wants this, but he won't make it be.

He sends his love - as Christ has shown - in a manger, at a table, on a cross - and if we choose to join him we can. If we choose to return his gracious love, sending it back and forth, and without fear of what it might cost us, without holding back - than God rejoices.

Is this what you want?

Do you want to know God, and to have him know you and not just see you there doing your thing?

I do.

And I know that I can't - by myself.

I know that I can't generate the grace that God gives on my own.

I know that the only way to heal the hole where grace slips away is to say, "God, I choose you, your ways, your life - help me to choose and receive your gifts."

The Gospel and Miracle is that when we do this -- we are changed.

Little by little, when we allow the free love of God unconditionally given to help us heal our broken hearts - it works.