Monday, April 27, 2009

Bishop of Tennessee Explains 'No' Vote on Forrester

The Rt. Rev. John C. Bauerschmidt: Statement on the Consent Process in the Episcopal Election in the Diocese of Northern Michigan

The process of consent to an episcopal election does not always generate a great deal of interest in the Episcopal Church, but it has done so in the case of the Rev’d Kevin Thew Forrester, bishop-elect in the Diocese of Northern Michigan. The process for election of a bishop in this case requires consents from a majority of bishops and Standing Committees in the various dioceses of the Episcopal Church before a bishop is consecrated. This is one of the many ways in which we are reminded that our obligations to each other go beyond the local Church. 

I voted against consent to his election. Hesitations have been expressed in many quarters on a number of grounds. Decisive for me has been the fact that the Rev’d Thew Forrester has used liturgies not authorized for use in the Episcopal Church, on a regular and ongoing basis. The permission of one’s bishop is beside the point. No bishop of the Episcopal Church is able to authorize liturgies for use in our Church, as alternatives to the regularly appointed services, that have not been approved by the General Convention as supplements to our Prayer Book liturgies. Certainly no individual priest or vestry is able to do so. The clergy of the Episcopal Church are not free to use in church other Anglican liturgical formularies, including those authorized in other provinces of the Communion, or liturgical resources from other traditions, except within the limits set forth in our own Prayer Book. These limits have not been observed by Thew Forrester. 

This discipline of the Church may be thought too narrow or unsuitable to our own age. Yet it is the order we have. The theologically inadequate baptismal rite used at St Paul’s Church, Marquette, under the aegis of Thew Forrester, is a reminder of why individuals are not allowed to write their own liturgies. Liturgies which are formulated around idiosyncratic statements of what we are renouncing and exactly what we are embracing beg the question of what community we are being initiated into, and whose disciples we have become. If there is a moment for liturgical and theological clarity, Holy Baptism is it. 

Priests are called to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church, and bishops in particular promise to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church. Liturgy is a crucial articulation of this nexus of Christian faith and Christian community. I do not withhold consent to this election lightly or without knowledge of the difficulties that may be caused by failure to confirm the candidate. But those who are supposed to hold others accountable must have a creditable history of being accountable themselves. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Chris Epperson on Sacrifice

Sacrifice
by Chris Epperson


Giles Fraser, the vicar of Putney, wrote an interesting piece on atonement theology, a week or so back. It is an interesting little piece published in the Guardian. I link it HERE .

Fraser is quite correctly critical of a particular kind of doctrine of the atonement, we might refer to as substitutionary. The idea is that God demands a sacrifice to restore right relationship with humanity and Jesus becomes that sacrifice. The formulation of this way of thinking about the atoning death of Jesus is much more complex and subtle, but this is the broad brush.

It is troubling for all the reasons Fraser mentions. It smacks of brutality and violence. It doesn’t portray God in a very positive light. In certain global quarters, it might even lend support to practices most of us would consider quite barbaric.

I am not sure, however, that it would be appropriate to divorce Christianity of the atoning death of Jesus on the cross of Good Friday. The scriptures clearly see Jesus death in sacrificial terms. Surely, Jesus death in the minds of the writers of the scriptures, and in my mind was “for us”. So there is a sense in which Christ is the sinless victim for a sinful humanity. I don’t think you can simply walk away from Christian history, teaching and the Bible.

That said, I don’t think we need to be forever tied to a particular vision of the meaning of sacrifice. Usually, ritual sacrifice denotes an unwilling victim to be the offering. In the case of Jesus, the scriptures portray a victim, conflicted, but having a choice. It seems that Jesus chose to accept his death in service of God. The Bible does not indicate Jesus death was a transaction. It speaks in terms of kenosis, the free pouring out of life by choice in service of God. St. Paul certainly speaks of his life in these sacrificial terms. The martyrs of the early Christian Church seemed to embrace this same vision of sacrifice.

Here in the west, we don’t care for sacrifice. We rightly reject the implications of ritual sacrifice. However, we don’t much care for the notion of kenosis either. Offering ourselves and accepting less is not our strong suit. God is not a hungry, blood thirsty beast, that tends to be our territory. Maybe what we need is a deeper grasp of the mystery of Jesus’ self- authenticating, self-sacrificing acceptance of the cost of love?

Monday, April 20, 2009

St. Thomas and the Shroud of Turin

By Eric Von Salzen







Over Easter weekend, the Wall Street Journal carried an interesting piece about the Shroud of Turin. I was surprised to see this, because I had thought that scientists had thoroughly debunked the claim that the Shroud was the cloth in which the body of the crucified Jesus was wrapped before being laid in the tomb. Indeed, the Journal article mentions that in 1988 several teams of scientists dated the cloth of the Shroud to between 1260 and 1390.

Yet the Shroud won’t go away. The Journal tells us that a Vatican researcher has found medieval documentation that the Shroud was in the possession of the Knights Templar between 1204 and 1353 (before the cloth was made, according to the 20th Century scientists). The article reminds us that no one has yet come up with a scientific explanation of how the image on the cloth was made, an image of a crucified man.

Interest in the Shroud is understandable. To those who claim that it is the burial cloth of Jesus, the Shroud is scientific evidence of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Evidence of these events seems important to Christians because our religion is based on the belief that the Crucifixion and Resurrection actually happened as events in the real world. So far as I know, no other major religion is so dependent on the truth of a particular event.

I’m no expert on comparative religion, but my impression is that if you were to persuade a devout Jew that the Exodus didn’t really happen, he might be disappointed, but he would not have to abandon his faith; he could accept that the Exodus was a myth or an allegory about God’s relationship to the Jewish people, rather than an historical account, because the relationship between God and the Jews is what counts, not the historicity of the Exodus. If you persuaded a faithful Muslim that what he had been taught about the life of Muhammad was wrong, he would not have to abandon his faith, because it is the teachings of the Qur’an that really count. A Buddhist could be a Buddhist even if you persuaded him that there had been no Buddha.

But if you persuaded a Christian that on the third day Jesus of Nazareth stayed dead, that on the second day his followers stole his body and hid it where it has never been found, that there was no Resurrection, no Easter, how could he remain a Christian? As Paul told the Corinthian Christians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

But what, you ask, about the story of Thomas, “Doubting” Thomas, as he is known in popular culture (or was so known when popular culture was still Biblically literate)? After the Risen Lord displayed to Thomas the wounds of the crucifixion, and Thomas acknowledged him as “My Lord and my God”, Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Doesn’t that mean that we are wrong to want evidence, that we should just suspend our rational faculties and believe?

Well, certainly it is true that belief is, in the end, a decision (as well as a gift). We decide whether we will believe or not. But I don’t think the writer of the Fourth Gospel meant us to think that evidence is irrelevant. The very next verses of his Gospel, after Jesus’ remark to Thomas, are: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” The writer we call John devoted all his skill as a writer and a theologian to tell the story of Jesus in a way that would persuade those who read his Gospel, or heard it read aloud, to come to believe.

Similarly, Luke says that his objective in writing his Gospel was to “write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” Luke used his wonderful skills as a story-teller to persuade Theophilus and all other readers and hearers of his Gospel that it was true. Matthew’s approach is different, but his constant references to the Hebrew Scriptures, tying the events of the life and ministry of Jesus to Psalms and Prophets, were clearly intended to persuade his Jewish Christian audience that the story was true. Mark’s style is spare and unadorned compared to the other Gospel writers, and he doesn’t tell us what his motivation was in writing, but isn’t Luke referring to Mark’s Gospel (and other now-lost writings) when he refers to predecessors who have “undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word”?

The Gospels and the other writings we call the New Testament were created so that those who read and hear them – us – may know the truth, may come to believe. When John set down the story of Thomas, he knew that his readers could not have the experience that Thomas had, to see the Risen Lord in the flesh and examine his wounds. We are the ones who must “come to believe” without seeing, if we are to come to believe at all. We are the ones who are blessed if we do so.

When I first heard about the Shroud of Turin I thought it would be cool if it were true. The Shroud would not only be contemporary evidence of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, it would be evidence in a form that could not have been meaningful until the modern era, almost 1,900 years after the event. The image on the cloth could not be appreciated until it was photographed in 1898 and was seen in the photographic negative. Until the modern era, tests didn’t exist to show how the image on the cloth was created, so only now do we understand that it was not produced by any known, non-miraculous, process.

Now, though, I’m less excited about the Shroud as evidence. When scientists concluded twenty years ago that the cloth of the Shroud was woven in the Middle Ages, that didn’t prove that the Crucifixion and Resurrection didn’t happen, and if the scientists change their minds after further tests and conclude that it was woven in Jerusalem in 30 AD, that would not prove that the Crucifixion and Resurrection did happen. Even if science never figures out how the image was formed, that wouldn’t prove that it was formed by a miracle.

We don’t need more evidence that the Resurrection and Crucifixion happened. We have the evidence of scripture, and each one of us has the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives. We have all the evidence we need if we choose to believe.

Which brings us back to Thomas. He is mentioned in John 20 for two reasons. First, he was apparently harder to persuade than the other disciples. Second, once persuaded, he declared that Jesus was “My Lord and My God!”, the first disciple to do so (Mary Magdalene called Jesus “Teacher”). In a sense it’s a shame that we remember Thomas more for his doubt that for his eventual belief. But on the other hand, when we are troubled in our own belief, Thomas gives us hope. Recall that in scripture Thomas is not referred to as “Doubting” Thomas, he is called Thomas the Twin. We aren’t told anything about his twin, but I often feel as though I were Thomas’s twin. Don't you?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bishop Pierre Whalon on the new Covenant Draft

Bishop Whalon is always worth reading:




Covenanting to covenant
The Rt Revd Pierre W. Whalon, D.D.

Four-and-a-half years after the publication of the Lambeth Commission’s Windsor Report, with its proposal and draft text of an Anglican covenant, the Anglican Consultative Council will consider next month what might be the last iteration of a draft covenant for the Anglican Communion. It could conceivably send it back to the hardworking Covenant Design Group, the creator of now three draft covenants, the last of which was published on April 2, 2009, under the title “The Anglican Communion Covenant: The Third (Ridley, Cambridge) Draft” (hereafter “Ridley Draft”), so named because it was composed at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, England.[1] Or else the ACC could accept the draft and commend it to the forty-four autonomous-but-interdependent churches that make up the Communion. Or the ACC could nix the whole project.

This writer has just finished reading An Anglican Covenant, by Norman Doe (Norwich, England: Canterbury Press 2008). Subtitled “Theological and Legal Considerations for a Global Debate,” it is an exhaustive treatment of the covenant process as it lurched on its way on to the 2008 Lambeth Conference. Professor Doe is to be commended on this massive and even-handed compendium of texts and commentaries, arranged by formal categories: what is a covenant, how are they composed, what are their effects. In a way it reminded me of Lambeth Indaba, the compilation of the structured discussions of the Lambeth bishops that is the fruit of the recent Conference. Doe takes note of responses from great and small, strong and weak, as well as the documents by the Lambeth Commission, Design Group, churches, dioceses and Communion networks, official (International Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations, for instance) and unofficial (the Anglican Communion Network). Like Lambeth Indaba, everyone has had a say, and it has been noted.

Of course, things have moved on since Doe’s book first appeared. This writer had the privilege of being part of an Indaba Group at the Lambeth Conference that included among others, Archbishop Drexel Gomez, chair of the Covenant Design Group. It became apparent in that daylong discussion that most bishops were uneasy with a covenant that had a prescriptive disciplinary procedure, and indeed, the disciplinary Appendix to the second Design Group draft (“the St. Andrew’s”) was completely dropped in the latest iteration. A lawyer and a theologian, working together, reportedly wrote it. My Group also had a member from the Nippon Sei Kop Kai—the Japanese Anglican Church. Bishop Zerubbabel Katsuichi Iota, of the diocese of Kita Kanto, told us that he and his fellow bishops were dead-set against the Covenant. There is no word in Japanese for “covenant”—it can only be translated “contract.” “And we do not make a contract to be with Christian brothers and sisters,” he said through a translator. (Earlier, he had agreed with a point I had made that the Covenant should be no more than a page in length, “in fact, why not just four lines, like say, the Lambeth Quadrilateral?”)

Doe noted that there are multiple meanings to “covenant“. In particular, the term is used biblically as the establishment of a salvific relationship between God and people. First with Noah, then Abraham, then with the people of Israel, with the Levites and Phineas, and finally, with David. The New Covenant is for all nations, with Jesus Christ as mediator, effected through his death and resurrection, and accepted through faith. Covenants are also made between people, such as the one between Ahab and Ben-hadad in I Kings 20:34. The secular use of the word relates to legal agreements that are enforceable. One rule of thumb is that contracts have stated dates for beginning and end, while covenants continue in force until abrogated.

The large majority of comments and responses collected by Doe and later, Lambeth Indaba, as well as very recent comments on the Ridley Draft, show that few people wanted a Covenant that could be used to decide that a particular church is no longer part of the Anglican Communion. Overwhelmingly, people were far more content with a document that presents a theological, biblically-grounded notion of covenant. The rich and varied experience of the Reformed churches, for whom “covenanting” is of first importance in their understanding of what is a church, also points to the desirability of continuing to define relationships among Christians in the terms by which we became Christians. The Ridley Draft delivers a panoply of theological statements, supported by a lot of texts that have received unanimous acceptance by the constituent churches of the Communion. There is a final section that sets forth a consultative process for determining whether a church has violated the Covenant. It is then up to the Instruments of Communion—the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates Meeting—to decide what to do next. It unequivocally states that each church remains independent in terms of its own internal life. Signing on to the Covenant does not confer any power on outside jurisdictions to interfere in any church’s affairs.

Doe quotes the Rev. Dr. Kathy Grieb, a noted New Testament scholar, professor at Virginia Theological Seminary, and member of the Covenant Design Group: “The idea of a covenant is itself neutral. Everything depends upon its purpose.” (p. 53, n.1) So what is the real purpose of this Covenant? The Ridley Draft Preamble (like previous drafts) states it thus: “to proclaim more effectively in our different contexts the grace of God revealed in the gospel, to offer God’s love in responding to the needs of the world, to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and together with all God’s people to attain the full stature of Christ (Eph 4.3,13).”

At first glance, this sounds like voting for motherhood and apple pie, as Americans say. These words, “to proclaim more effectively in our different contexts” what we all can affirm together, point, I think, to the actual raison d’être of this document, which conceivably goes something like this: The effectiveness of our proclamation of Jesus as Lord depends on the quality of our common life, which is nevertheless lived out in vastly differing contexts around the world. It isn’t very effective these days, because of lack of regard for that common life. So let’s re-state our common faith, re-commit to “mutual interdependence and responsibility,” as we did in Toronto in 1963,[2] and get on with supporting the mission of God in Christ.

But, "Within any important issue, there are always aspects no one wishes to discuss", as George Orwell purportedly remarked. One such aspect has to do with churchmanship. Now, whether one is Low, High, or Broad is not supposed to matter anymore—everything boils down to “Liberal” or “Conservative,” cutting across confessional lines. But clearly, in the comments and responses, including the most recent, the church parties re-appear in what people say is lacking in the Covenant. The Low-church folks want doctrine, clearly stated, accepted Or Else, about Scripture and how it is to be interpreted, and could we have the 39 Articles, too? The High-church folks want as much prelacy as possible, some citations of the Church Fathers thrown in, and why not a little Aquinas, and many more references to sacramental liturgies and quotes from them. The Broad-church folks, the “hazy ones” (“High and crazy, Low and lazy, Broad and hazy”), would rather have no document at all. But if we must, then let it be a brief reminder to us that the poor we will always have with us, never mind all this palaver about doctrine and liturgy and (ecch!) Bishops! —and that we should go out and get on with doing justice, making peace and feeding the hungry. Since none of the parties get what they want in this Ridley Draft, which would be in effect to bend other Anglicans to their party agenda, this is certainly a strength.

Another unspoken aspect is the influence of the Virginia Report, which is not referenced in the Ridley Draft. This Report, apparently little-read (this writer heard Bishop Stephen Sykes complain that to his knowledge, fewer than one hundred people had actually perused it), is a reflection on the Church’s life structured by life in the Holy Trinity, and how this reality might guide the re-structuring of the Communion’s global decision-making. The Report asked all the right questions:

1.8 When Christians find themselves passionately engaged in the midst of complex and explosive situations, how do they avoid alienation from those who by baptism are their brothers and sisters in Christ, who are embraced in the communion of God the Holy Trinity, but who disagree? How do they stay in communion with God and each other; how do they behave towards each other in the face of disagreement and conflict? What are the limits of diversity if the Gospel imperative of unity and communion are to be maintained?[3]

This report introduced the term “instruments of communion” into wider parlance. Its background is a 1988 Lambeth Conference resolution (Number 18)[4]creating the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, asking for an essay from the Commission exploring a Trinitarian ecclesiology. In those times, people were wondering about the ordination of women to the episcopate and its effect on the communion (the Greek word koinonia is often used) of Anglicans. The Eames Report, presided over by the then-Archbishop of Armagh, Robin Eames, had made a preliminary answer in 1994. Archbishop Eames then chaired the IATDC as it produced the Virginia Report. In a separate but related development, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Consultation was exploring similar themes, but in relation to universal primacy. This gave birth to its 1998 report called The Gift of Authority.

Thus the proposed Covenant’s pedigree is in fact an attempt in our days to begin to answer the questions posed by the Virginia Report. The mostly tacit koinonia that had kept the Communion together had begun to crumble, due to the centrifugal forces that began pulling at the Communion since the 1960s (remembering that the Communion doubled in size since “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence” in 1963). These have only gotten stronger with the passage of time. It is worth noting that the Covenant does not try to define how the four Instruments should interact. It only pushes back to them a perceived threat to the integrity of the Covenant, not the Communion, from among the signatory churches.

A classic Anglican formulary, to which all Anglicans pay homage, is the Sixth of the Thirty-nine Articles, that Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation, though it does not spell out what those necessary things are. Similarly, this Covenant tries to define a “containment area” in which decisions on the Virginia questions can be made, without spelling out the particulars. Having made this Covenant, in other words, Anglicans could then work toward defining structures and procedures for a global communion of churches.

Two more undiscussed aspects are the blessing of same-sex unions and ordination of people in them, and the incursions by other provinces into The Episcopal Church. Furthermore, a new group has come into being, the Anglican Church of North America, competing with The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. In March 2009, the Church of Nigeria recognized it, and a few days ago a group of Primates (the “Global Anglican Future Conference Primates”) meeting in London did so as well.[5] The ACNA claims to unite under one jurisdiction a disparate cluster of churches, missions of other provinces, and dioceses calling themselves Anglican.

From the Windsor Report on, it has been constantly repeated that the Lambeth Commission process has not been about homosexuality. So what has it been about? The Episcopal Church since 1976 has had a number of developments that exacerbated the previously existing tensions that already had shortened the tenure of Presiding Bishop John Hines in 1974. These were not about churchmanship, but rather reflected the developing split along liberal/conservative lines evident in American political life that began during the Kennedy years. This conflict was exported. And then it was re-imported. Already in 1998, prior to the Lambeth Conference of that year, a Rwandan bishop took over a parish in, of all places, Arkansas.

In this sense, the Covenant serves to recall Anglicans to their roots, in re-affirming together the essential doctrines of Christianity. The unspoken hope is that doing so will enable Anglicans to work together again, and enable the Communion to function as the global entity that lives and works locally. And as the Lambeth 2008 bishops from outside the West learned, in some churches homosexuality is an issue that cannot be ducked.

As for interventions from other provinces, it would seem that the Anglican Church of North America has sublated the various provincial efforts (Southern Cone, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda) into a jurisdiction under American leadership. There should be no doubts about the intent of the ACNA leaders. They intend to supplant The Episcopal Church and the Church of Canada as the North American province of the Anglican Communion.

The Ridley Draft has these provisions:

(4.1.5) It shall be open to other Churches to adopt the Covenant. Adoption of this Covenant does not bring any right of recognition by, or membership of, the Instruments of Communion. Such recognition and membership are dependent on the satisfaction of those conditions set out by each of the Instruments. However, adoption of the Covenant by a Church may be accompanied by a formal request to the Instruments for recognition and membership to be acted upon according to each Instrument's procedures.

(4.1.6) This Covenant becomes active for a Church when that Church adopts the Covenant.

The Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht might choose to sign the Covenant. And the Covenant may be a good means to further the ecumenical ambitions of Anglicanism. This writer thinks it would be worth reconsidering insertion of Article XVII of the Windsor Report Covenant text, which would require churches in the Anglican Communion to consult more closely together when entering into full-communion agreements with ecumenical partners.[6]

But what happens when the ACNA signs the Covenant, as it will inevitably? Clearly, the Instruments of Communion will have to decide which province(s) is which. This will set up yet more controversy.

One solution would be to allow for the ACNA to function as a non-geographical jurisdiction alongside the two existing geographical provinces. This would however present major difficulties. As the bishop of a non-geographical jurisdiction, assisting in another, the practical problems of having such arrangements are themselves strong contra-indications to entertaining this solution.[7] But there are graver issues. For the Communion to recognize two provinces in one country—one geographical, growing from its historical roots, and second, existing in order to further a particular theological agenda—would spell the doom of any coherent Anglican ecclesiology. The First Council of Nicaea, faced with the Novatian controversy (a somewhat similar situation, actually), ruled that there can only be one bishop for one diocese. Anglicans have always followed this rule, for good reason.

Finally, returning to the American context (and this really does apply only to dioceses in the United States), the present conflict over church properties should end with The Episcopal Church winning back its properties and endowments from people departing from it, if court rulings so far are any indication. But the struggle to remain the Anglican province in that country will continue. If the Anglican Consultative Council does endorse the Ridley Draft next month for consideration by the churches of the Communion, grassroots Episcopalians across the globe will spend the next three years considering it and reporting their deliberations for the General Convention 2012.

I would encourage us in The Episcopal Church to take the long view. Signing the Covenant—if indeed that is what we decide—will be the culmination of a fresh new consideration of what it means for our international church to be part of a global Communion. 1963, the last time we really thought about it, was a while ago. Then we were willing, along with all the other provinces existing at that time, to renounce independence for “mutual responsibility and interdependence.” We should not be influenced by whether the ACNA signs on to the Covenant. What matters most is in fact what the Ridley Preamble claims: is this Covenant a means to make our contribution to God’s mission in the world more effective?

Norman Doe writes,

"There is nothing extraordinary in the Anglican enterprise [of the Covenant]. Although the project may be driven by theology, ecclesiastical politics and pragmatism, covenanting would actually involve participation in a conventional ecclesial experience for which there are numerous enduring theological and legal principles and precedents. While an Anglican covenant would appear novel to churches of the Communion, in point of fact, spiritual, sacramental and structural covenanting is a well-trodden Christian path." (p. 221)

And another question is to consider how we came to this place, and what to do in the future. The ecclesiology of The Episcopal Church is, I believe, a very practical way to govern a church, and I would argue that it is an authentic expression of Anglicanism. But we need to apply it, if we are ever to hope to move beyond the paralyzing effects of the conflict that has diverted so much of our time, effort, energy and money from the work the Spirit has given us to do. This will mean that the House of Deputies become less of a debating club and more responsive to the support of the several dioceses in their mission and ministry. The House of Bishops needs to reclaim its teaching ministry, and, as Episcopal bishops are subject to the House and its Rules of Order, to expect more discipline from its members. (Other episcopal colleges require attendance at meetings, for example. One Methodist bishop said that if he were to miss a meeting of his bishops, he had better be dead, or at very least, dying.) And the shape, role and powers of the office of Presiding Bishop should be re-examined. What seemed good in 1940 has probably become obsolete.

In my lifetime—a mere blink in terms of church history—The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion have gone through amazing changes. We have done some wonderful things to further the spread of the Gospel and validate its reality. And we have failed in many ways, as well. As we come to yet another moment of reflection and decision, let us remember that our ministries, our selves, and all our life come from and return to the Holy Trinity, who through Christ has bound us into communion with God and each other. This is the one, true, good, and beautiful reality that makes all our strivings worthwhile, and calls us each day into new and everlasting life together, whether we like each other, or not. Pace the ACNA, there are no irreconcilable differences, in Christ.

So we might as well get along together now.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bart Ehrman's New Book - Greg Jones Comments

University of North Carolina religion professor Bart Ehrman writes in the first paragraph of his new book Jesus, Interrupted that while the Bible "is the most widely purchased, extensively read, and deeply revered book in the history of Western Civilization" it is also likely the most "thoroughly misunderstood, especially by the lay reading public."  This sentence, while in some sense factually true, bears within it a seed of what's wrong with Bart Ehrman's entire project.  

That is further demonstrated by his claim that "scholars of the Bible have made significant progress in understanding the Bible over the past two hundred years, building on archeological discoveries, advances in our knowledge of the ancient Hebrew and Greek languages in which the books of Scripture were originally written, and deep and penetrating historical, literary, and textual analyses."

What's wrong with these two sentences?  Allow me to elucidate.  

While it is true that the Christian Bible is clearly the most influential single body of writing in Western Civilization, Western Civilization may not necessarily be that important to the Bible (either its form or its interpretation).  After all, Christians have cherished the Bible since antiquity in a cosmos of various and exotic cultures not all considered to be particularly Western - Celtic, Egyptian and Ethiopian to name just three.  Indeed, it is almost certainly true (as modern scholarship upholds) that nearly all of the books of Scripture were composed by Jewish people living in Africa and Asia.  The Bible is much more properly understood to be a world book than merely a 'Western' property.  

Which gets to Ehrman's entire problem: he continues to define the meaning of the phrase "understanding the Bible" in terms of the rationalistic, historical-critical, skeptical methods of the modern West -- even though the Bible was not written, edited or even now largely read by persons who share that hermeneutic.  

Factually speaking, the recent discoveries made by scientists have not been of things never before known.  No, much of what has been done is to restore a degree of familiarity with the languages and contexts of the ancient world which -- well -- the ancients were totally familiar with by virtue of being alive then.  To put a plain point on it -- the knowledge of Scripture that Paul exhibits, for example, when he wrote his own letters (which would become Scripture themselves) is of a degree that I seriously doubt whether Ehrman could even come close.  Paul, after all, is likely to have been versant in biblical Hebrew, as well as Aramaic, Greek and Latin.  As a trained bible scholar -- a Pharisee -- Paul probably had committed the Scriptures to memory to a large degree, as well as a large oral tradition, and he would have been exposed to manuscripts far more 'original' than any Ehrman has ever seen.
 
Of course, Paul wasn't the only one.  Folks like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Jerome -- to name three -- all likely knew far more about Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and the cultural/physical contexts in which the Bible arose than today's scientists will ever know. 
 
Second, the notion that modern Western scholars somehow better "understand the Bible" is likewise predicated on a definition that frankly is unacceptable to any believing Christian (or Jew.)  For we who believe in the God of the Bible -- "the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord."  In other words, "understanding the Bible" is a goal which can only be reached (however partially in this life) by prayerful study of the Bible from within the community of faith.  

That's right: no individual, no matter how scholarly - can "understand the Bible."  The Bible belongs not to the 'public' or the individual reader, but to the Church (or in the case of the Hebrew Scriptures to faithful Jews.)  It is the Church which together -- with one heart and one mind -- engages the Bible.  We use the God given gifts of memory, reason and skill in this pursuit.  We recognize that from time to time we will have to accept tensions, disagreements and what logical inconsistencies.  We do this trusting that the goal is Spirit-inspired Wisdom, not 'man-based knowledge.'

For Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, mainline Protestants, and Jews, the Bible is much more complex and inspiring than the paper-thin, literalistic book of straw that Ehrman likes to knock down.  We don't deny the many inconsistencies between the two testaments, three original languages, multiple literary genres and sixty-six individual books which comprise the sacred library of Scripture.  Rather, we uphold these in tension, just as we likewise uphold the incredible depths of intrabiblical harmony which also cohere these many pieces of writing together into something we recognize as inspired by God's genius.  

I have said this before (the last time he wrote a book with almost the exact same content), but I'll say it again: Ehrman is a fundamentalist who's lost his faith, but has found nowhere else to look but back, and there with a bitter and critical eye.

Tobias Haller on Kevin Thew Forrester

I have posted this in the larger post previously, but I would like to put greater focus on the depth of Tobias' comments regarding the theology of KTF.  Tobias is a very important voice in the church - for clearly he is an advocate of inclusion -- and thus to some, a 'progressive.'  Yet, he is also very much a creedally orthodox teacher and proclaimer of the faith -- which is why he is an advocate for inclusion and justice in the first place.  Just as Karl Barth once said of William Stringfellow, "listen to this man," I say the same of Tobias Haller.  (But of course I'm a tiny speck compared to the great Barth.)

He writes:
I have read Bp Breidenthal's letter with some attention. I had also read some of the sermons to which he refers, as well as other material from Bp-elect Thew Forrester.

I approach this from the language of the canons, which requires standing committees to state that they "know of no impediment" to the consecration. This leads to a discussion of "what is an impediment." It seems to me that the impediment (if it is truly there) in this present case would be the impediment of "defective intent." Thew Forrester is not happy with the present theology of the Episcopal Church, it seems. It is not that he denies the "satisfaction theory" of the atonement, but appears to deny the need for any theology of atonement whatever, as the "division" which "at-one-ment" is designed to remedy is purely illusory -- and artifact of human imperceptions.

Just as in marriage counselling I advise couples not to marry if they are intent on "changing" their partners to become more what they wish they were (a formula for disaster in my experience) so too I do not think it wise for one to seek to take up the mantle of a guardian of the faith if one is intent on being its reformer. This is not to say we need not work for change in certain aspects of the church's life -- but the object of change the Bp-elect seems to be intent on is a "core doctrine" --- and if one cannot sign on to that core doctrine, as it stands, it seems to me that there is an instance of defective intent.

I said the same thing regarding the Bp of South Carolina in terms of intent to observe the discipline of the church; and was heartened by his eventual clarifications that he had no intent to lead his diocese out of the church. The clarifications that the Bp-elect of N.Mich. has issued to date do not offer me the same kind of assurance in view of doctrine. He really does appear to think what Bp Breidenthal perceives him to think. He is welcome to those thoughts -- but it seems to me not to commend his episcopacy.

... I think Thew Forrester reveals himself to be a more than able administrator -- I would say it is his strong suit. And if that's all that being a bishop was about, I'd say, fine. But I don't think it is unusual to expect bishops to have a theological grounding and centering in those basic Christian doctrines. (BTW, I do not think T-F is inclining in an Eastward direction (at least towards Eastern Orthodoxy) and notions of theosis -- which is always in and through Christ. He admittedly passes further east to notions of awakening, shedding of illusion, and so on. Reading his sermons was an eye-opener for me. And if it is true they've been removed from public view, that seems all the more suspicious.

So in the long run, I don't think an examination of theological views is likely to stifle the election of theologically astute bishops. To expect bishops to be articulate exponents of the church's teaching is, I think, not too much to hope for.

[Certainly]... all doctrine is subject to further examination and elucidation -- that is part of the theologian's task. But "core" doctrine is "core" because it contains the postulates of the faith, some basic affirmations upon which the rest of the doctrine is built. Which is not to say they are a closed book: to date the church as a whole has not settled on any one particular theology of the Atonement, for instance.

But when core doctrines appear to be, not just being understood in new ways (which I think is great) but dismantled or misused (T-F's explication of kenosis in one of his "responses to criticism" seems to me to be almost completely backwards); or not clearly explicated (as in his response concerning the Incarnation) then I find that there is a question about suitability for the office of bishop.

As to N.N.'s observation that the church might be wrong, I not only agree but can join the 39 Articles in affirming that it is definitely sometimes wrong. I do not think the core doctrines are under threat by gays and women -- on the contrary, I think they are being more fully realized.

..... [The issue of including GLBT Christians is very important to me] but I don't see it as having any relevance to the discussion of bishop elect Thew Forrester. Here we are dealing, not just with novel ways of expressing or exploring the old truths concerning God and the nature of God, but with what appear to be rejections of the old truths -- which are not true because they are old, but old because they are true.

We will indeed see some old things pass away (God willing) in our lifetimes; but there are also eternal realities that will stand, indeed, upon which the change in the others is dependent. This is part of what Jim is referring to as intellectual coherence.

I would welcome from Thew Forrester, for example, a clear answer -- in his own words and without resorting to quotes from anybody else -- to the question, "What essential differences do you see between Buddhism and Christianity?" I have no objection to the use of Buddhist practice, and many of the moral ideals of Buddhism are remarkably congruent with a Christian life. But it appears to me that there are important distinctions as well, and I remain troubled by what I see as some of the elements of Buddhism that do not sit well with Christianity being imported into KTF's teaching and liturgical expression. A comment on the difference between satori and salvation, for example, would be helpful -- as KTF appears to see the latter in light of the former.

It is not that I'm trying to get him to say the words I want to hear, but that I want to hear something I recognize -- in its meaning -- as at the heart of the Christian faith. I see that in Rahner, I see that in the Cappadocians -- but in spite of quoting from them I don't see it in KTF -- in his own words.
-- Tobias Haller

Why Vote No in the matter of bishop-elect Kevin Thew Forrester?

I have been heartened by what many respected theologians and bishops in the Episcopal Church are saying about the election of Kevin Thew Forrester in Northern Michigan. A significant number of leading Episcopalians - particularly in the center and even left-center -- are saying that Kevin Thew Forrester's practice and theology are sufficient cause to deny consent.

To an extent not seen much in recent years, we are seeing progressives and moderate leaders standing up to say, "We are for inclusion, and a broad spectrum of folks in our Church, but we also uphold the doctrine and discipline of the Book of Common Prayer."

Notably, bishops Tom Breidenthal, Michael Curry, Ted Gulick, Paul Marshall, and Gregory Rickel have all said they are not giving consent. Breidenthal, Marshall and Rickel have published well-written epistles explaining their non-consent. These writings in my view are something all Episcopalians should read -- because they are good examples of theological reflection in the service of the faithful discharge of one's duties.

In addition to these bishops, a number of progressive and moderate laity and clergy have likewise asserted the importance of bishops-elect upholding the doctrine and discipline of the Prayer Book. Here are some quotations:

It didn't seem on my reading that +Breidenthal is using penal substitutionary atonement as a litmus test (as some do) but that he's protesting an absence of the concept of sin.
---- Derek Olsen


Bishop Breidenthal wrote, "According to Thew Forrester, Jesus revealed in his own person the way that any of us can be at one with God, if only we can overcome the blindness that prevents us from recognizing our essential unity with God. The problem here is that the death of Jesus as an atonement for our sins is completely absent, and purposely so. As I read Thew Forrester, nothing stands between us and God but our own ignorance of our closeness to God. When our eyes are opened, atonement (not for our sins, but understood as a realization of our essential unity with God) is achieved."

I live quite near the epicenter of the Unity School of Christianity, this understanding of Jesus seems quite familiar to me. It is a modern quasi-Gnosticism, in which the believer's right perception is important, and not any existential act of God in Christ. The most esoteric of the Christian mystics never denied that our unity with God is in and through Christ. Most of those who speak as Bishop Breidenthal describes never quite get to a docetic Christology; but theirs is certainly one of Jesus as Great Moral Teacher, and perhaps as Prophet, but not as Messiah.

I can't speak to the accuracy of the Bishop's interpretation, because I haven't seen the documents myself. However, if this is how Bishop Breidenthal understands Bishop-elect Thew Forrestor's Christology, I can't blame Bishop Breidenthal for choosing not to support the election.
-------Marshall Scott


If Fr. Forrester's views are as Breidenthal describes them, there is every reason to withhold consent. I know that Breidenthal is a judicious , charitable, and intelligent man. It is clear he bent over backward to give Forrester a fair hearing and was not in the end convinced. His letter acknowledges a broad, generous orthodoxy, including a variety of interpretations of the atonement, but there are some limits imposed by the basic Christian narrative and the normative exegetical-liturgical traditions as we have received them and are attempting to carry them forward as the Church in our own day. If you can't develop some positive account of what it means to assert that "Jesus died for our sins and rose for our justification," you probably can't do the job a bishop is required to do. Same thing goes for denying the bodily resurrection by the way. God's gracious initiative in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus liberates us from the power of sin and death. A bishop is fundamentally an apostle: an embodied witness to the Easter Gospel and its life-changing power.

... Forrester's failure to use the baptismal rite of the 1979 Prayer Book alone, in my view, disqualifies him from confirmation as a bishop. The Prayer Book has the force of canon law, and, while there is some latitude in how the liturgies are fleshed out, Forrester's departure seems to be of such a kind that he is no longer conforming to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.

Sorry to disappoint some of my liberal friends, but I think Bishop Breidenthal got it more or less right.

I also think that, if as he alleges, the process in Northern Michigan, which had no proper election, is consistent with the canons, then the canons need to be amended so that this kind of thing can't happen again. I am gravely concerned that a single unopposed candidate was brought forward.
------Bill Carroll


I have read Bp Breidenthal's letter with some attention. I had also read some of the sermons to which he refers, as well as other material from Bp-elect Thew Forrester.

I approach this from the language of the canons, which requires standing committees to state that they "know of no impediment" to the consecration. This leads to a discussion of "what is an impediment." It seems to me that the impediment (if it is truly there) in this present case would be the impediment of "defective intent." Thew Forrester is not happy with the present theology of the Episcopal Church, it seems. It is not that he denies the "satisfaction theory" of the atonement, but appears to deny the need for any theology of atonement whatever, as the "division" which "at-one-ment" is designed to remedy is purely illusory -- and artifact of human imperceptions.

Just as in marriage counselling I advise couples not to marry if they are intent on "changing" their partners to become more what they wish they were (a formula for disaster in my experience) so too I do not think it wise for one to seek to take up the mantle of a guardian of the faith if one is intent on being its reformer. This is not to say we need not work for change in certain aspects of the church's life -- but the object of change the Bp-elect seems to be intent on is a "core doctrine" --- and if one cannot sign on to that core doctrine, as it stands, it seems to me that there is an instance of defective intent.

I said the same thing regarding the Bp of South Carolina in terms of intent to observe the discipline of the church; and was heartened by his eventual clarifications that he had no intent to lead his diocese out of the church. The clarifications that the Bp-elect of N.Mich. has issued to date do not offer me the same kind of assurance in view of doctrine. He really does appear to think what Bp Breidenthal perceives him to think. He is welcome to those thoughts -- but it seems to me not to commend his episcopacy.

... I think Thew Forrester reveals himself to be a more than able administrator -- I would say it is his strong suit. And if that's all that being a bishop was about, I'd say, fine. But I don't think it is unusual to expect bishops to have a theological grounding and centering in those basic Christian doctrines. (BTW, I do not think T-F is inclining in an Eastward direction (at least towards Eastern Orthodoxy) and notions of theosis -- which is always in and through Christ. He admittedly passes further east to notions of awakening, shedding of illusion, and so on. Reading his sermons was an eye-opener for me. And if it is true they've been removed from public view, that seems all the more suspicious.

So in the long run, I don't think an examination of theological views is likely to stifle the election of theologically astute bishops. To expect bishops to be articulate exponents of the church's teaching is, I think, not too much to hope for.

[Certainly]... all doctrine is subject to further examination and elucidation -- that is part of the theologian's task. But "core" doctrine is "core" because it contains the postulates of the faith, some basic affirmations upon which the rest of the doctrine is built. Which is not to say they are a closed book: to date the church as a whole has not settled on any one particular theology of the Atonement, for instance.

But when core doctrines appear to be, not just being understood in new ways (which I think is great) but dismantled or misused (T-F's explication of kenosis in one of his "responses to criticism" seems to me to be almost completely backwards); or not clearly explicated (as in his response concerning the Incarnation) then I find that there is a question about suitability for the office of bishop.

As to N.N.'s observation that the church might be wrong, I not only agree but can join the 39 Articles in affirming that it is definitely sometimes wrong. I do not think the core doctrines are under threat by gays and women -- on the contrary, I think they are being more fully realized.

..... [The issue of including GLBT Christians is very important to me] but I don't see it as having any relevance to the discussion of bishop elect Thew Forrester. Here we are dealing, not just with novel ways of expressing or exploring the old truths concerning God and the nature of God, but with what appear to be rejections of the old truths -- which are not true because they are old, but old because they are true.

We will indeed see some old things pass away (God willing) in our lifetimes; but there are also eternal realities that will stand, indeed, upon which the change in the others is dependent. This is part of what Jim is referring to as intellectual coherence.

I would welcome from Thew Forrester, for example, a clear answer -- in his own words and without resorting to quotes from anybody else -- to the question, "What essential differences do you see between Buddhism and Christianity?" I have no objection to the use of Buddhist practice, and many of the moral ideals of Buddhism are remarkably congruent with a Christian life. But it appears to me that there are important distinctions as well, and I remain troubled by what I see as some of the elements of Buddhism that do not sit well with Christianity being imported into KTF's teaching and liturgical expression. A comment on the difference between satori and salvation, for example, would be helpful -- as KTF appears to see the latter in light of the former.

It is not that I'm trying to get him to say the words I want to hear, but that I want to hear something I recognize -- in its meaning -- as at the heart of the Christian faith. I see that in Rahner, I see that in the Cappadocians -- but in spite of quoting from them I don't see it in KTF -- in his own words.
-- Tobias Haller


The Episcopal Church states that it upholds the ecumenical creeds, the canons and the apostolic succession/historic episcopate. This connects us organically to one particular set of communities out of the mix of so-called early Christianities.

It pains me to see many progressive Christians making a bee-line for ancient heresies, often without ever looking at the wide breadth of Christianities that fall entirely within credal orthodoxy.
-- Derek Olsen


A Church without core doctrine is intellectually incoherent.
------Jim Naughton

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bishop of Olympia Explains Non-Consent on Forrester

This is excellent:

Dear Ones,

I write to you regarding my decision not to consent to the election of the Rev. Kevin Thew Forester as Bishop-elect of Northern Michigan. Some of you have been eagerly awaiting this, and I am sorry for the delay. I wanted to allow time to discuss this with our Standing Committee, not to persuade but simply to make sure they heard the following directly from me, which they have. I also wanted to converse directly with Kevin Thew Forrester, which I have done, and I am most grateful to him for that offering.

The Examination within "The Ordination of a Bishop" in our Book of Common Prayer reads as follows:

"My brother, the people have chosen you and have affirmed
their trust in you by acclaiming your election. A bishop in
God's holy Church is called to be one with the apostles in
proclaiming Christ's resurrection and interpreting the Gospel,
and to testify to Christ's sovereignty as Lord of lords and
King of kings.

You are called to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the
Church; to celebrate and to provide for the administration of
the sacraments of the New Covenant; to ordain priests and
deacons and to join in ordaining bishops; and to be in all
things a faithful pastor and wholesome example for the
entire flock of Christ.

With your fellow bishops you will share in the leadership of
the Church throughout the world. Your heritage is the faith
of patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and those of
every generation who have looked to God in hope. Your joy
will be to follow him who came, not to be served, but to
serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Are you persuaded that God has called you to the office of
bishop?
Answer: I am so persuaded.

Bishop: Will you accept this call and fulfill this trust in
obedience to Christ?
Answer: I will obey Christ, and will serve in his name.

Bishop: Will you be faithful in prayer, and in the study of
Holy Scripture, that you may have the mind of
Christ?
Answer: I will, for he is my help.

Bishop: Will you boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel of
Christ, enlightening the minds and stirring up the
conscience of your people?
Answer: I will, in the power of the Spirit.

Bishop: As a chief priest and pastor, will you encourage and
support all baptized people in their gifts and
ministries, nourish them from the riches of God's
grace, pray for them without ceasing, and celebrate
with them the sacraments of our redemption?
Answer: I will, in the name of Christ, the Shepherd and
Bishop of our souls.

Bishop: Will you guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the
Church of God?
Answer: I will, for the love of God.

Bishop: Will you share with your fellow bishops in the
government of the whole Church; will you sustain
your fellow presbyters and take counsel with them;
will you guide and strengthen the deacons and all
others who minister in the Church?
Answer: I will, by the grace given me.

Bishop: Will you be merciful to all, show compassion to the
poor and strangers, and defend those who have no
helper?
Answer: I will, for the sake of Christ Jesus."

Often when called upon in this vocation to make difficult decisions, I reread these words. On the day of my own examination, these words fell heavy upon me, and with very good reason.

One of the duties of bishops in the Episcopal Church is to consent to diocesan elections taking place within the greater church, and to the results of those elections. This consent process is part of the checks and balances within the church, and, perhaps more importantly, a very real part of the discernment of the Body of Christ-the whole Church.

It has been said that the role of the bishop is to be a bridge, interpreting the universal to the local and the local to the universal. This particular role is often very difficult; however, our history and polity are clear: we do not operate in a vacuum, alone, in our local situations and contexts. We work within a larger context-the Anglican Communion and the rest of the global community-with many more to consider than just those who we see within our midst.

The process in Northern Michigan has many complexities and issues; which issue is most important and serious varies from person to person. Below are the major issues I have considered. After I present each as I understand them, I will address each one from my perspective. The issues are:

1. The election in Northern Michigan included only one candidate: the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester. Standing committees and bishops were asked to consent to an "election." Although the gathered convention of Northern Michigan did in fact vote on this one candidate, some have questioned whether an election took place in this case, since an election typically includes at least one other candidate and some process of voting.

2. Thew Forrester's practice of Buddhism and especially his "lay ordination" in that belief system (My Christian Faith & the Practice of Zen Buddhist Meditation, Kevin Thew Forrester, 26 February 2009and Letter to the House of Bishops, Kevin Thew Forrester, March 11, 2009).

3. Thew Forrester's rewriting of the approved liturgies from the Book of Common Prayer, including the Baptismal Liturgy. (Baptismal Liturgy, Season after Pentecost, St. Paul's Church, Marquette, Mich. and Letter on Liturgy of Baptism, Kevin Thew Forrester, March 27, 2009)

I want to be clear that my decision is in no way a criticism of Total Common Ministry (TCM) or the work the Diocese of Northern Michigan has done in this area. Just over a year ago, I had the great fortune to sit with a group of people from the Diocese of Northern Michigan at the Living Stones Conference in Des Moines, Iowa. I have always been deeply intrigued and inspired by the work of this diocese since the time of Bishop Tom Ray and continued under the inspiring leadership of the late Bishop Jim Kelsey. Their exploration and advocacy of ministry, rooted in our baptismal vows, has been a tremendous gift to the Body of Christ. Kevin Thew Forrester has been an integral part of that work, which I recognize.

During that meeting in Des Moines, this very process of Northern Michigan's selection of a bishop was the topic of our case study. While inspired by their approach and discernment, I and some of the other bishops present, cautioned that the newness and innovation in their approach would most likely require much more education and explanation to the whole church if it were to go forward. The process itself is not nearly the concern for me that it is for many, and in and of itself would not necessarily be a reason to withhold consent. Some have read my decision as proof that I do not support TCM. I emphatically disagree. I believe and have often stated that TCM is part of the emerging church, and one I want to engage, support, grow and learn from. In fact, I continue to urge the planning group of the House of Bishops to bring into our midst representatives of the emerging church and Living Stones. I strongly believe in TCM and at the same time, no emerging system exists outside the collective discernment and the shared authority and oversight which our tradition has always upheld. It is built into our system that the local does not decide such matters alone.

2. Thew Forrester's adherence or learning of meditation practices through the Buddhist belief system does not, in and of itself, trouble me. In my first parish, I invited and participated in a Buddhist-Christian dialogue, which was deeply enriching to me. However, what we discovered in our time together was the fact that though many of our meditation practices were quite similar, what we were attempting and to whom we were connecting in the meditation was quite different. In one document (My Christian Faith and the Practice of Zen Buddhist Meditation, February 26, 2009), Thew Forrester states that his lay ordination in the Zen Buddhist tradition included a welcoming ceremony that included "a resolve to use the practice of meditation as a path to awakening to the truth of the reality of human suffering." In the same document he states, "It embodies a pragmatic philosophy and a focus on human suffering rather than a unique theology of God." This to me is quite different from our resolve in Christianity: that at the heart of our faith and our baptismal covenant are the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this same document, he states that his ceremony "included no oaths" although in a letter dated March 11, 2009 and distributed to the House of Bishops he provides more details including the "one vow I took and the precepts I affirmed." While he quite succinctly interprets what he intended to do with these vows and affirmations in relation to his Christian faith, to take the step of any type of ordination and "naming" within another belief system seems to me to be a deeper step and one I would take very seriously in relation to the vows taken in our Christian ordination. To this end, the lay ordination does cause me pause.

3. Finally, what troubles me the most about this situation is Thew Forrester's revision of liturgical texts, most especially the Baptismal Liturgy, the very core vow and liturgy of our faith. In a document circulated for the House of Bishops from Thew Forrester, he states that he and his congregation have "explored" the Baptismal liturgy, removing the reference to "Satan" and "accepting [Christ] as the way of Life and Hope." This action was to "complement the BCP"( Liturgy and Community, The Diocese of Northern Michigan, Kevin Thew Forrester, Lent 2009). In the same document, he states that he uses the Book of Common Prayer as a "primary resource." This brought me full circle. The very basis of Total Common Ministry and our very call to life as a Christian-the baptismal vow and liturgy-was being revised, and this is a concern.

I am faced with a situation where any one of these alone might be something that could be worked through; however, the panoply of these made me very uncomfortable and unready to move forward with consent.

This is one of the most, if not the most, difficult decisions I have had to make in my time as bishop. I want very much to honor those in Northern Michigan who have discerned this person and this outcome, but at this time, with the information I have, I cannot. I know and I have heard from many who do not agree with me and are greatly disappointed in my decision. I hold your opinions and feelings with great care and know them to be equally heartfelt. I hold in my prayers Kevin Thew Forrester, the Diocese of Northern Michigan, our diocese and this Church. I pray for the Holy Spirit to continue to enlighten us and I trust what should happen will, regardless of my role. This is my burden to carry. I do it on your behalf and I do not do it lightly, even when we disagree.

Faithfully,

The Rt. Rev. Gregory Rickel
Bishop of Olympia

Monday, April 13, 2009

How about this at General Convention?

Christopher proposes something along these lines be promulgated by the next General Convention.  I say, "Amen."  Christopher writes:




Draft: Comprehensiveness in Generous Catholicity: A Commendation to this Church in Preparation for the 76th General Convention

Preamble

Appreciative of the core doctrines of our faith, Incarnation and Trinity, as Charles Gore so succinctly summed them a century past, we are reminded that these teachings point not to themselves but refer us to and lead us into living relationship with the Persons of the Triune and Living God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We desire to commend to this Church anew those signs that we do share across program and party and school if we would call ourselves catholic and Anglican.

Therefore, rather than a program for persuading the Church to a particular point of view on matters of justice or on matters of ecclesiology, we recognize that our unity is founded in and maintained by Jesus Christ through Whom in the Holy Spirit we are all children of a merciful Father. Our unity is neither founded in a program for or preaching of earthly renewal important as this is, nor a scheme for or theory of churchly organization as necessary as this be, but rather in our incorporation into this self-same Jesus by Holy Baptism. In the words of F.D. Maurice, noting conditions similar wracking the Church of his own day, “And those who are sighing over the condition of the Church, and have tried scheme after scheme for reforming it and bringing back its unity, and have found only fresh disappointments and despondency, will learn that they may go back to the one source of Reformation and Restoration; to Him who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.”

To this end, we commend anew to this Church those catholic signs[1] we do share as pointing us to and bearing us forth to the truth of and knowledge of and relationship with the Living God:

- The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.

Needs filling in...

- The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.

Needs filling in...

Events of these past days have reminded us of our Nicene faith. Many of us will never again say the Creeds lightly or without recognition of this costly inheritance from our ancestors in faith. We commend anew to this Church and do profess our faith as sufficiently stated in the Apostles’ and Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creeds.

We affirm the use of the Apostles' Creed in our Rite of Holy Baptism as appointed in our Prayer Book and the saying or singing of the Nicene Creed at every principle Sunday Holy Communion as required by our canons.

-The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself — Baptism and the Supper of the Lord — ministered with unfailing use of Christ's Words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.

Needs filling in...

-The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.

Needs filling in...

As heirs to the apostles and guardians of the faith once delivered, we affirm the desire of our bishops to uphold the "doctrine, discipline, and worship" of this Church.

-The Book of Common Prayer as authorized in this Church as the normative standard of worship in this Church.[2]

As the rule of our belief set in prayers inherited and shaped by a comprehensiveness borne of the struggles, thought, and faith of our ancestors in faith, we commend the use of our authorized Prayer Book throughout this Church with particular encouragement to maintain consistent use of those prayers as provided for our central rites: Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

In a Church hungry for spiritual blessings and richness of prayer life, we commend the rites of Morning and Evening Prayer as generously set out and well appointed in the Prayer Book. And further, encourage their daily public praying in every parish of every diocese throughout this Church.

-Service of our neighbors’ and the world’s needs in proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ…[3]

Needs filling out...

The apostolic and primitive Church made the concerns of the world their own. This emphasis, though changed, has never been lost to the Church, for it is the concern of Jesus Christ who calls us into being and sustains us as His Body. In a world hungry for signs of God’s love, our Church rooted in its core faith, engaged in its central practices, and turned to the world’s needs in proclamation of the gospel, shall be set free from our ecclesial preoccupations.


The undersigned

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Jesus Rises from Death - For Real

Have you all noticed something lately?

I watch a lot of movies and tv - whenever I can - and I have noticed a trend in the past thirty-five years since my dad showed me how to turn the TV on. (For which I am grateful.)

I have noticed that we have gone from an era of science fiction to an era of fantasy.

Thirty-five years ago - you could watch all sorts of sci-fi shows featuring robots, flying saucers, ray guns and utopian images of society perfected by technology and human progress.

But nowadays - the big shows are all about mythological contexts, replete with medieval imagery, wizards, magicians and broomsticks.

When I was a boy - you had Robby the Robot, Hal 9000 and Commander Spock.

Now, you've got Dr. Manhattan (the demigod superheroe), Gandolph or Harry Potter.

It's an interesting cultural shift.

Indeed, in much of the 19th&20th centuries, Western thinkers tended to be very much rationalistic, scientific and futuristic. Some were optimistic, and others pessimistic, but the normative ideology was that human destiny was tied up with dreams of human self-progress.

In recent times, we are seeing a great deal more interest in mystery, magic and myth. We are seeing a shift from science fiction based on the premise of human self-progress to fantasy based on the premise of a universe of eery unknowns, and clouded by forces beyond our control.

For many in the past generation, the rise of technology to incredible heights has not been joined by a rise in hope for human progress based on technology.

I know some still dream of a future where robots and machines feed everyone and suffering and illness are wiped out - but we an also imagine a dark future where those same robots and machines do quite the opposite.

Even though in my pocket I have a tiny computer from which I can call my children, surf the internet, and listen to music -- I could also use that same tiny pocket computer to launch an attack on anyone anywhere -- if I were a villain, terrorist or other ne'er do well.

Yes, we have come to see that technology and the myth of human progress are not likely to save us - and so many of us have shifted in culture to things mystical, things mysterious, things magical.

For, we hope, maybe there will we find a savior.

But, though I too am a disciple of mystery, there are also dangers here.

For in an escape to mystery and myth there is also the threat of finding ourselves lost in a fantasyworld which does not exist either, and which is but the figment of our own imaginations, and thus cannot save us - however entertaining it may be for a while.

----------

I bring all this up to say quite simply that the death of Jesus on the Cross is not a myth, or the product of human fantasy, but is rather the historical event in which the myth of human self-progress is shattered.

Yes, what happened on that Good Friday when Jesus died, was that the myth of human self-progress also died. You see, when the world's greatest political, technological and military power kills someone like Jesus without a moment's regret (not to mention the thousands of others they routinely killed) it may be said that even at their civilized best, the human being is racked with sin and evil.

And this has not changed.

Moreover, I say all this about myths of progress or fantasy, to also point out that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is not a fiction, myth or legend either.

No, Jesus' resurrection is the historical event in which the power of man-made mythology is also overturned, because unlike the stories of Zeus, Mithras or Gandolph ... this actually happened in the course of people's lives.

The Gospel is not the Gospel because it's a good idea, a good story, or because it was told by imaginative good apostles.

No the Gospel is the Gospel - if it's any good news at all - because Jesus who though really and completely dead, did really and completely get back up.

And people saw him.

Indeed, if you look at the core of what the apostles said, what Paul said, what the Gospel writers said, what they all said was, "Jesus was dead and buried, then on the third day some women saw the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty, and then, they saw Him, and then so did the rest."

As all four Gospels say (and you know they sometimes disagree on points) Mary Magdalene, a single woman who had once herself been involved in witchcraft, and thus not a particularly strong choice for a witness if you were gonna make this stuff up, went down to that tomb, and saw it was empty, and then saw Jesus - risen.

Yes, Jesus died, and by the power of God he got back up.

And folks experienced this in time and space - in Jerusalem, in Galilee, at dinner and at breakfast.

Now, we live in a world where some will say this scientifically cannot have happened, and others will say "it's a good story, even if it didn't really happen."

But what we are saying is -- and what I am saying for sure -- is that it did happen.

It happened; and because it did, we no longer need to be disillusioned by the utter lack of human self-progress or the delusion of fantasy-land ideologies.

We can rest assured that God is real, does love us, has forgiven us, and will make things right. And this process has already begun.

I need this hope - don't you?

I am so grateful to have it. For, this hope has given me my life.

I'll tell you the first time it gave me my life.

My uncle died on Good Friday almost thirty years ago.

He put on his good suit, drove his new car half-way across Key Bridge in Washington, D.C., and he jumped.

When my father took care of his body, and my grandmother weapt so much, despair was all they had to make of it.

Neither my dad nor my grandmother believed what Mary Magdalene saw in those days.

But when my mom woke me up in the middle of the night early on that Holy Saturday to pray for Perry who had just been found -- even as a boy -- I knew who to pray to. I knew he would understand. I knew he would show compassion, and mercy and love. And I knew that because of what Jesus had done, my uncle Perry, broken as he was, would find himself in the arms of a loving savior -- and not before an angry God, or an gaping hole of nothingness.

I knew that because I had been led to trust the witness of Mary Magdalene and all those who likewise saw and bore witness with her, from then til now.

And because I knew, I have always been so glad, so deeply grateful, for this gift, this gift of hope, that can only come from God.

For God is not the product of industry or imagination.

No, God is love, and that love has been poured out for real in the course of human events.

That love became flesh, and that love knew death and defeated it.

For us.

Christ is risen!

Amen.













Jesus is Dead



Jesus is dead, his body laid in a borrowed tomb. Jesus son of Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth who became for awhile a popular itinerant preacher and healer, is dead.

In Jerusalem, behind locked doors, his former disciples talk in lowered voices, worrying and wondering about what to do, now that their hopes have been defeated.

They remember, and remind each other, of the things that Jesus said during his too-short ministry. They recall the parables through which he taught. The story of the man who had been assaulted by robbers and was succored by a Samaritan – a Samaritan of all people! Yes, and that was after a priest and a Levite had passed him by. Through this story Jesus taught us who we should love as a neighbor. They retell the story of the young man who took his inheritance while his father still lived, and wasted it on riotous living in foreign lands. Yet when he returned home, his father welcomed him. He told this story to teach us how YWHW loves us and wants us to return to him.

Do you remember that he said that those who mourn will be comforted, that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled? We mourn, but who comforts us? We seek righteousness, but there is no righteousness. He said that the merciful will receive mercy, but he was merciful and no one showed him mercy. He said that the poor in spirit, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, to them belongs the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven! He said it was at hand, that it was actually here. But he was wrong. The Empire of Caesar turned out to be more powerful than the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed. The Empire killed him.

Yes, he was wrong about the kingdom of God, and so what use are all those teachings that we thought were so true? We thought he was a wise teacher, but in the end his teachings led to torture and death for him yesterday, and perhaps for us tomorrow. What use are his teachings, now? Who will listen to them, the words of a failed Messiah? When we are gone, will anyone remember his name, much less his words?

In another room, the women disciples gather. They are in despair like the men, but they are women and they have obligations. Tomorrow morning, some of them will go to the tomb to anoint the dead body of their leader and teacher.

By Eric Von Salzen

Friday, April 10, 2009

Holy Triduum Reflections

During this Holy Triduum, it seems appropriate to offer some thoughts from two great Anglican theologians.



"The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. ... Theories about Christ's death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works. My own church - the Church of England - does not lay down any one of them as the right one. The Church of Rome goes a bit further. But I think they will all agree that the thing itself is infinitely more important than any explanations that theologians have produced. I think they would probably admit that no explanations will ever be quite adequate to the reality. ... We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed."



"The time had now come when, at last, God would rescue his people, and the whole world, not from mere political enemies, but from evil itself, from the sin which had enslaved them. [Jesus'] death would do what the Temple, with its sacrificial system, had pointed toward but had never actually accomplished. In meeting the fate which was rushing toward him, he would be the place where heaven and earth met, as he hung suspended between the two. He would be the place where God's future arrived in the present, with the kingdom of God celebrating its triumph over the kingdoms of the world by refusing to join in their spiral of violence. He would love his enemies, turn the other cheek, go the second mile. He would act out, finally, his own interpretation of the ancient prophecies which spoke to him of a suffering Messiah. ...

"The pain and tears of all the years were met together on Calvary. The sorrow of heaven joined with the anguish of earth; the forgiving love stored up in God's future was poured out into the present; the voices that echo in a million human hearts, crying for justice, longing for spirituality, eager for relationship, yearning for beauty, drew themselves together into a final scream of desolation.

"Nothing in all the history of paganism comes anywhere near this combination of event, intention, and meaning. Nothing in Judaism had prepared for it, except in puzzling, shadowy prophecy. The death of Jesus of Nazareth as the king of the Jews, the bearer of Israel's destiny, the fulfillment of God's promises to his people of old, is either the most stupid, senseless waste and misunderstanding the world has ever seen, or it is the fulcrum around which world history turns.

"Christianity is based on the belief that it was and is the latter."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Bishop Kimsey Responds to Bishop Breidenthal

Bishop Kimsey may find that he is going to have to write to Bishops Marshall, Alexander, Gulick and beyond. His letter essentially accuses of Bishops Breidenthal (and the rest who agree with him) of an 'inquisition' like approach in the matter of consents. The simple fact is that there is a doctrinal core, that it must be upheld, and that these theologian bishops who are witholding consent do not believe Thew Forrester would do that. Moreover, there are questions of canonical obedience - such as Forrester's penchant for rewriting liturgies and supplementing the authorized liturgies of the church for his own as it suits him. Moreover, after having read all of Pelagius' extant works, I can say that Pelagius did believe in sin, did believe in atonement, and where he certainly differed from his opponents (who smeared him) Pelagius looks like a giant of catholic orthodoxy compared to the things I've read of Thew Forrester.

Moreover, the simple fact that the House of Bishops should be broad in its theology and open in its mind (while true) does not preclude bishops and standing committees from determing in faith that a given candidate is out of bounds.

Kimsey likewise claims that Breidenthal (and those who agree with him) are "blocking access" to the floor of the House of Bishops - as if such access were a birth right of anybody. That's simply not so. As well, to accuse Breidenthal and others of "shutting off a faucet" of conversation and theological exploration likewise goes to rhetorical extreme that is simply absurdist. Finally, to suggest that Forrester was "elected overwhelmingly" is likewise nearly meaningless -- since Forrester was the ONLY candidate. Getting 88% of the vote would normally be impressive - unless you run uncontested.

Bishop Kimsey writes:

Dear Thomas:
I am alarmed by your March 31, 2009 letter regarding Kevin Thew Forrester’s fitness for his episcopal election.

If I am accurate in my reading of why you refuse to consent to his election, you maintain that unless a person holds the same view of a theology of atonement that you do, they have no right to be a bishop. “Being alarmed” does not come close to the emotion I know by your position in this matter.
The theological issue you raise has to do with the question of what did God wrought on that Good Friday through the death of my Lord, Jesus. You maintain: the conviction at the heart of our faith tradition, namely, that we are in bondage to sin and cannot get free without the rescue God has offered us in Jesus, who shouldered our sins on the cross.

And you maintain that: he (Kevin) appears to be settled in his conviction that our relation to Christ is not about salvation from a condition of objective alienation from God, but about a more realized union with God.

My alarm is simply this: are you attempting to stifle and/or eliminate a theological discussion that is as old as our faith tradition? Are you attempting to say that the Augustinian view of Original Sin is the only game in town? You and I could cite theologian after theologian who disagreed with one another over this pivotal issue of our nature--and the corresponding issue of the nature of God’s grace--and what occurred on Good Friday--and what was consummated on Easter morning, but the primary point of my entreaty to you is that we should welcome the debate. I find it reprehensible to even think of denying you access to the floor of the House of Bishops because of your theological belief about atonement. In the same vein, I find it reprehensible to think of your denying Kevin Thew Forrester access to the floor of the House of Bishops because of his
theological views on this pivotal issue. I also believe you are naïve if you think Kevin is a lone voice about union and communion with God through Christ being THE cardinal tenet for our understanding of salvation. Irenaeus comes to mind and there are more….and more….and more.

One of my fondest heroes in my twenty years in the House of Bishops was Bennett Sims. Bennett was a great admirer of Pelagius, that irascible and wise opponent of Augustine of Hippo, and Bennett often would proclaim it time for a heresy (Pelagianism) to be revisited for the sake of truth seeking. Bennett was ever the guardian of digging deeper and exploring more widely the parameters of our blessed faith tradition, and the House of Bishops was more attentive to one another and wiser because of him.

You may be right about those things that matter most to you, but you do not have the right to turn off the faucet of discussion and discernment in our quest for the truth. I have been a bishop for twenty eight years and I fear for the environment of our great Church when lines are drawn in the sand as you have done with Kevin’s consent process and proclaim that a good Christian person does not have the right to pursue his quest for truth as a bishop…..even when elected overwhelmingly by his brothers and sisters in Christ in a diocese he has served faithfully for eight years.

If you prevail and Kevin’s election is not agreed to, what is the next litmus test to be? And perhaps the telling question is: if you prevail and Kevin’s election is not agreed to, what word do you have for the people of Northern Michigan? I would suggest you cut us all some slack and withdraw your opposition to Kevin’s election. In so doing you would add a moment of grace to a Communion that, I believe, is in search of openness and transparency, not inquisitional standards employed through the consent process.

Thank you for your attention, and I wish you well.

I am Faithfully yours in Christ,
Rustin,
Assisting Bishop for the Diocese of Alaska