Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pre General Convention - Again

This summer's General Convention will be very important in determining the future of the Episcopal Church in terms of our relations with the other churches of the Anglican Communion but also in terms of our own inner life -- as to what we proclaim, and how we conduct our mission and ministry. In slang terms, the decisions we make this summer in Anaheim will show ourselves and our sister churches around the globe, 'How we roll.'

I am thinking in particular of the rather large number of resolutions which pertain to overturning B033 -- a hastily prepared resolution put forward last triennium in order to assure our communion partners that we were responding to calls for moratoria on elections of bishops non-celibate gay persons. I am also thinking of the similarly large number of resolutions coming forward which go to the question of marriage equality.

It is for sure that the parties in the Anglican Communion most adamant that the Episcopal Church be expelled or vanquished or in some other way chastised for the consecration of Bishop Robinson have not prevailed in getting their wishes. The Episcopal Church is still a member in good standing of the Anglican Communion, we named the first women ever as primate, and we continue to be at the table. But, at the same time, in the six years since 2003, we have seen a de facto realignment within the Communion by several provinces, as well as the formation of a self-styled new province for North America. The recent deliberations of the Anglican Consultative Council were frought to say the least - but the decision to continue improving the Anglican Covenant appears to stand.

This General Convention therefore is under no pressure to consider the Anglican Covenant. The only folks who are insistent upon immediate action against the Episcopal Church are largely now themselves self-exiled. At the same time, the only other folks insistent upon immediate and strident action are those who seek, as Integrity states on their website, to "effectively nullify the effects of B033 and to pass a resolution that will significantly advance rites for blessing same-gender relationships."

To be sure, if resolutions are passed which would effectively nullify B033 and amount to the authorization of blessings of same-sex unions, many more member churches of the Anglican Communion will take this as a direct affront. Advocates for immediate action argue that 1) The Communion effects will be minimal; or 2) We shouldn't worry about the Communion consequences; or 3) We will be saddened by negative consequences, but we believe this is absolutely necessary to do this now.

In my view, the only faithful attitude would be the last one. This is the one that says, "Yes, these decisions will have obvious impacts on our partners, and many of them may see them as a sign that we no longer wish to be in a meaningful communion relationship whereby we actually give up a bit of our full autonomy, and believe we are called to walk more alone for the sake of this thing we believe we must now do."

However, while I think it is clear that many faithful actions do require taking this latter attitude -- I question whether or not the actions called for are indeed both just and timely. In other words, there is a range of possible actions which may be taken by General Convention, and I am not sure that taking the one that goes the furthest down a given trajectory is the wisest one.

Specifically, I think that there is no particular urgency to overturn B033 in fact.

The resolution itself is not particularly binding, and it is likewise rather vague in its wording. It is referred to as a de facto moratorium on non-celibate gay bishops, but that is not so. The de facto moratorium -- if there is one -- is in place by virtue of the fact that people know that if we do consent to a non-celibate gay bishop, the global response will be one of increased division, tumult and disharmony. That knowledge alone is what constitutes the boundary, and whether or not B033 is in place makes no meaingful difference.

In line with what the Presiding Bishop has said, I advocate not repealing B033, and simply leaving it where it is.

As well, as one in the midst of a theological task force appointed by my bishop to examine the church's teaching on marriage, I am convinced of only one thing: the average Episcopalian, lay or clerical, cannot yet have a particularly deep theological conversation about what we say marriage is -- and there remains a wide array of arguments among those who know a great deal, but who don't agree. I feel much better about taking a look at the theology of marriage bound up in our Book of Common Prayer, seeing what it is we really uphold and affirm already, see what if anything in depth it has to do with Church/State questions, and also ask how it is we might be called by God to expand the range of who may be married.

Given that in my humble opinion the best short book on the subject of same-sexuality and the church yet to be written has only been published this year -- Tobias Haller's Reasonable and Holy -- and that a great many of the prevailing arguments are not anywhere as deep or well-argued as his -- I simply do not believe that a sufficient portion of the Episcopal Church is prepared theologically to authorize the development of common rites.

As such, I would advocate for acceptance of resolutions which actively promote the deepening of the listening process as called for by the Windsor Report, but also do the hard work of thinking theologically about what we already really uphold about public and solemn covenants between two people in the presence of God. As well, I would advocate for a resolution -- if one is even necessary -- which acknowledges the pastoral latitude of our diocesan bishops to permit the liturgical blessing of relationships between persons for whom the Book of Common prayer's rites of marriage are not an option.

There are two resolutions which go along these lines, the first is Resolution C014, entitled "Theological Study of Christian Marriage," from the Diocese of El Camino Real which says:
Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 76th General Convention authorize a committee of both houses to examine the theological dimensions of Christian marriage, to develop a program for discussion in the dioceses, and to report to the 77th General Convention.
And second, C004, entitled Full Participation of LGBTI Community, coming out of the Diocese of Newark in the House of Bishops which says:
Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 76th General Convention affirm that there are no restrictions on a diocesan bishop's authorization of the liturgical blessing of committed relationships between same-sex partners.
I think we need to keep moving forward both mindful of those who require our pastoral ministry, but also with regard to how God is speaking to us in deep theological reflection, and in regard to our global sisters and brothers. It is not easy to move forward this way, but it may be more fruitful in the long run.

To this end, I am almost finished with Tobias book, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Tony Clavier on ACNA

From Covenant:

The “Anglican Church of North America” has been formed. What it will become is yet to be seen. From the outside it seems to be a bewildering mixture of structures, including rump former Episcopal dioceses, collections of congregations which were formerly parts of the Anglican Church of Canada, ecclesial extra-territorial missions of overseas Provinces which have established ‘mission’ in North America and appointed missionary bishops, an Anglo-Catholic society, Forward in Faith which developed originally as a coalition of ‘Catholic’ clergy and parishes within TEC after the ordination of women and at least one jurisdiction which created its own self-identity in the midst of the Catholic Evangelical disputes of the 19th.

What unites this disparate constituency is a common belief that there is no room at the inns we term The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada, the official Anglican Provinces of the Anglican Communion in this Continent. This is not the first attempt to create a common home for the alienated. In 1977 in St. Louis a Congress met which attempted to create a similar united alternative expression of Anglicanism. If anything the differences of appoach, even of faith and one must say personalities which made a shambles of that movement are even more pronounced in Bedford, where the new Archbishop will be enthroned tonight. One significant difference is to be noted. This time those attempting to create “common cause” in Texas this week have the support and perhaps in an informal manner the oversight and counsel of overseas Provinces and dioceses and again in an informal sense those charged with leading ACNA have a larger constituency overseas to which they must answer. We shall see whether the “particularism” which seems to be in the American bloodstream south of the Canadian border will be as potent in ACNA is it is in TEC. The temptation to claim a special revelation vouchsafed to Americans and to be exported abroad has been manifest in both groups, although from different prospectives and both have been potent dividers in the Anglican Communion.

Three main problems face the newly formed ACNA, and they are all formidable. All of them in a sense limit the ability of ACNA to break free of its emotional and psychological attachment to that which has brought them to this point. The first revolves around property disputes. I wrote to bishops and deputies to General Convention today suggesting that a trust or trusts be formed to administer disputed property and to enter into temporary agreements in cases in which a vast majority of parishioners in such properties wish no longer to be in TEC, negotiating leases, shared arrangements and creative solutions to take these disputes out of the secular courts. I was not encouraged by the responses I received, most of which accused those leaving us off stealing property or of being so bigoted against gay and lesbians that in justice they should be shunned. Justice, I am told, trumps charity.

The second problem revolves around the language used to depose bishops and other clergy who have joined ACNA which, if language means anything at all, purports to laicise such clergy rather than merely to desprive them of the right to exercise ministry in Provinces in which they have no desire to exercise ministry.

The third is the problematic relationship between ACNA and the Instruments of Unity of the Anglican Communion which has exported American problems worldwide and threatens to destroy the unity of the entire Communion. If indeed the Communion comes apart because of what has happened here, ACNA will, whether it deserves to be blamed or not, bear a good deal of responsibility for a tragic schism, a responsibility in which it will ironically, be accused of sharing responsibility with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, to what extent perhaps is a judgment differently assessed by people on differing sides of this tragedy.

These drawsbacks into that which has happened harm both sides in the dispute. TEC and the ACofC have a psychological, territorial and monetary investment in their commitment to retain property, diocesan identity and to disown those who have left them. ACNA has a similar investment in retaining property, diocesan and jurisdictional integrity and the status of their clergy.

Thus the ghost of things past haunts both households. Both also are driven to defend what their part has been in all this and such a defense is capable of compromising the essential identity and mission of the church. Causes replace Gospel and self-authentication replaces mission. In such situations it is easy for both groups to become mirror images of each other, or other sides of the same coin, trapped in their own involvement like a couples in a lengthy, bitter and unresolved divorce.

Those of us in TEC who were once moderate “traditionalists” are now driven to the edge and wonder just how welcome we are in a growingly monochrome and less comprehensive Episcopal Church, a church now impelled to justify its narrowing “comprehension” to the rest of the Anglican Communion and capable of being as militantly reactive to anything and anyone whose faith is that of the Prayer Book and the Catechism as it has been to those who have left. Those of us who are “Communion Partners” are already being branded as schismatics merely because we wish to adopt an Anglican Covenant at diocesan level whatever the General Convention eventually decides to do once a Covenant is offered to the Communion.

General Convention has an opportunity to reach out to those who have left and to those of us who remain by adopting a language of charity and forbearance, the language of the Cross rather than that of institutional self-justification and protection. We shall see.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Orthodoxy is a Funny Thing

I found this comment on Episcopal Cafe by the Rev. Michael Pipkin to be worth repeating:

Orthodoxy is a funny thing. Yes, it’s a word that has been hijacked by the more conservative wings of most religions, and it is a word that has been wielded for millennia to achieve the selfish aims of so many sick-minded theologians who are trying to make God into their own image. As we struggle to regain our sense of what Orthodoxy is and is not, we must take care, as you suggest, to err on the side of the inclusive embrace, or else run the risk of missing the core message of Jesus’ ministry (which I would define as reconciliation).

I would, normally, fully embrace the general understanding of orthodoxy that you describe: "that Christ lifted up on the cross drew all people to himself as he had taken all of human life to himself, moment by moment throughout Jesus’ life among us.” But I think that what you are affirming is not the availability and desire of God to embrace us all through Jesus Christ – what you seem to be suggesting is a universalizing blessing of God’s embrace on all that we might encounter or endure as a definition of salvation – and I’m not sure that this is true. While I do believe that God’s blessing is universally available, indeed, woven throughout everything as a product of creation – I think that there is also an element of intentionality and reception that are necessary.

Yes, I do believe that God would like for all of us to warmly receive him, and to believe in his Son, and to know the richness of that relationship. That is what was/is behind the Incarnation itself. But to say, “what Christ did not assume, he did not save” is not the same thing as saying that everything is good and right and blessed because God became Human. Yes, God ennobled Humanity when Jesus became human (Anselm?), but that ennobling does not override the necessary function of Human choice and the freedom of the will. These are still factors that must be considered, and it remains a part of the human condition that we can and do reject God – and it remains a part of the Covenant that God lets us.

It must be so. Without our ability to reject God, and without God’s allowance for us to reject him, we would be nothing more than mere puppets playing out a sick game – and I don’t think that any of us believe that.

No, we must choose God – we must choose the loving embrace – and even if blessing is forced on us, love cannot be compelled. I am focusing on “choice” because Orthodoxy itself suggests that there must be some kind of choice – even the kind of Orthodoxy that you suggest Irenaeus defends that “holds an opening for universal salvation, union, and knowledge of God.” Even your words suggest that there is only an “opening” – and I imagine that your words suggest a door that is open (invitationally), not a black hole that is sucking us all in. If that is the case, then, as we contemplate the choice of God, we must also contemplate what we are choosing, and what we are excluding.

The very same Ecumenical Councils that you cite as wrestling with Christology did, indeed, come up with some exclusionary language for what is and what is not Christian. The creeds themselves are at once doctrinal, theological, devotional, and prayerful (if I may take language from Jaroslav Pelikan), and as such betray our human wrestling with an imprecise language that is trying to articulate universal and relative/personal experiences of God at the same time.

Even so, the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 stated “The catholic and apostolic church anathematizes any and all those so-called Christians who presume to deviate from their creed or alter it in any way.” So, even as you say, "orthodoxy consistently rejected enlightened, high-minded efforts to narrow, refine, protect, and make wholly consistent the church’s faith and practice," I must object and suggest that there *were*, indeed, very successful attempts to narrow, refine, protect, and make consistent the faith and practice of the church.

Yes, in general, I think that we are being called to reconcile the world to Christ – to bring the world to Jesus Christ in a radical way, in an inclusive way – but I disagree with your interpretation of Irenaeus’ own ministry and theology, and want to suggest that any definition of Orthodoxy requires some lines, even the most radically inclusive definition.

You seem to be working very hard to defend the election of Kevin Thew Forrester, even to the point of claiming a sort of Gnosticism on the part of bishops and Standing Committees of the Episcopal Church (using words like elitism and secret knowledge in the process). Perhaps it is more innocent than you presume.

We have a process of consent in the Episcopal Church in order to evaluate and maintain a sense of unity, orthodoxy, and identity. I do not believe that we are attempting to create cookie cutter processes, and generally dioceses are free to use whatever process of election seems good and right to them… generally. But a Bishop is elected and “called to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church” (BCP 517) – which is the answer to your question: “Why would we subject any preacher who is actively engaged in pastoral and missionary theology to a line by line scrutiny of sermons-once-preached to see if phrases drawn from ancient Christian and contemporary cultural sources might be taken to imply something that deviates from a central ‘core of orthodoxy.’”

I do not think that we are attempting some kind of Gnostic perfection by examining any preacher’s writings as part of the Episcopal Election Consent Process. Rather, I think that it is an attempt to be faithful to an understanding of our faith and polity, while exercising our responsibility as an ecclesial body that is called upon to ask these questions without the presumption of a foregone conclusion. The consent process is not meant to be a rubber stamp process, and for it to have integrity, I believe that those involved must attempt a faithful examination. I trust that this is what they have done – prayerfully, faithfully, and with deep love for the people of Northern Michigan.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Anglican Church in North America Birthday

Today, at the Bedford, Texas gathering of delegates representing what has been known for the past year or so as the Common Cause Partnership a new constitution has been approved, and a new ecclesial community born.  The Anglican Church in North America has also named former Episcopalian bishop Robert Duncan as its archbishop.  Though deposed from holy orders by The Episcopal Church, Duncan has been recognized by several non-U.S. Anglican provinces as a bishop in good standing anyway.  The Anglican Church in North America is not a province of the Anglican Communion, but it is being recognized by several provinces anyway.  As well, significantly high ranking non-Anglican figures were present at the meeting, notably Pastor Rick Warren, Orthodox Metropolitan Jonah, and a high ranking cleric from the Missouri Synod Lutherans.

On the one hand, while the ACNA has declared The Episcopal Church, and significant portions of the Anglican Communion (including Canterbury), as fundamentally flawed apostate churches which no longer are to be recognized as valid, they also claim to be rooted in the love of God in Christ.

To put it bluntly, the two claims are necessary in order for them to have any validity or integrity themselves.  Firstly, of course, if they are not rooted in the love of God in Christ, then they are not in anyway Christian.  Secondly, but importantly, unless it is true that The Episcopal Church and large portions of the Anglican Communion (centered as it is in Canterbury) are invalid as Churches, then the ACNA has moved too autonomously, too precipitously, and against normative Anglican methods and identity.

Time and the Holy Spirit will tell.

For now, it is up to The Episcopal Church and the wider communion to focus on the first and primary question of all -- 'Are We Rooted and Totally Focused on the Love of God in Christ?'

That's our claim to Christian identity, and ultimately, the only reason we or the Anglican Communion should exist anyway.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Secret Committees and Deja Vu in Reverse

Much is being made at present by some of my good friends about how bad it is that the House of Bishops has a committee exploring sexuality and theology -- but whose members are not yet publically known. Other blogs have begun 'outing' the membership -- and thus far we find the names Ellen Charry (PTS) and Daniel Westberg (Nashotah). Perhaps, it would have been better had the House of Bishops simply identified the panel by name, and then requested that they be left to do their work in privacy. That seems perfectly reasonable, and indeed preferable to me.

However, in a way, we have been here before.

At the 1991 General Convention a compromise resolution was passed, A104sa, which formed a committee to produce a large-scale questionnaire and pastoral response on questions of human sexuality. The report, entitled Continuing the Dialogue, was released at the 1994 General Convention. However, before it was released, an early draft was leaked and then widely condemned by a number of conservative critics -- including several who have left The Episcopal Church altogether. Notably, Stephen Noll and Terrence Kelshaw (now with Uganda), and Mike McManus (now of Evangelical Presbyterian Church), along with the Episcopalians United group, condemned the report, the process, and the direction they pointed toward. Chief among the points of criticism was the alleged secrecy under which the group operated. Notably, the left (and P.B. Ed Browning) launched a counter-attack against the conservative critics. The following article from the Integrity archives tells the story:


by Kim Byham

By now, most Episcopalians know that the 4th Draft of the House of Bishops' Pastoral Teaching on Sexuality, which had been under an embargo, was first leaked to the press by person or persons unknown, and then widely distributed by Episcopalians United for Revelation, Renewal and Reformation ("EURRR"). After an extensive investigation, this journal is able to reveal the story behind the story.

At the 1991 General Convention, Resolution A104sa affirmed the church's teaching that sexual expression was appropriate only within the context of heterosexual marriage, but also recognized the 'discontinuity' that exists between the church's teaching and the experience of many of its members. The resolution called for "all congregations ... [to] enter into dialogue and deepen their understanding of these complex issues." More than 30,000 persons have participated in the dialogue. The resolution also called on the House of Bishops to develop a pastoral teaching on the subject of sexuality informed by the churchwide dialogue, as well as from "insight as is necessary from theologians, theological ethicists, social scientists, and gay and lesbian persons." During the past three years a 15-member committee that included nine bishops, three clergy deputies and three lay deputies submitted four drafts of a pastoral teaching to the House of Bishops for refinement.

Since the convention in Phoenix, the bishops have met twice a year in closed meetings with most discussion limited to small table groups of about ten bishops each. The stated purpose was to develop consensus on pastorals regarding racism and sexuality. Bishops agreed not to publish either statement, not comment on the content of either, until they had built consensus. [The Racism Pastoral was a "Letter," which meant that unlike the Sexuality "Teaching," it was required to be read in all congregations -- which it was in June.]

The first press account of the leak came June 1, when conservative Scripps Howard columnist Terry Mattingly fired a broadside at the pastoral. Mattingly has written fairly extensively for "The United Voice," the EURRR newsletter, but he claims he "didn't get [the draft pastoral] from EU[RRR] or any other logical place." In his column he stated:

"The complete 42-page text has not been officially released, but many of its critics and defenders are circulating detailed commentaries that dissect the early drafts. It is impossible to keep church debates behind closed doors in the age of photocopy and fax machines, not to mention electronic mail."

Mr. Mattingly, of course, was being disingenuous because it was only the "critics," not the "defenders," who circulated copies. Indeed, Mattingly confirmed in his June 1 article that he had spoken with "a number of bishops" who were "moderate and conservative critics" of the document. These were chiefly bishops in Province 7, all of whom with the exception of Bishop Sam Hulsey of Northwest Texas, had written a strong statement condemning the 4th draft.

Mattingly's points of criticism were, of course, in the eyes of the beholder:

"It's hard to discuss what the Bible says about sex without mentioning marriage. Nevertheless, the Episcopal House of Bishops is studying eight guidelines for sexual morality that call for lifelong relationships between 'mature adults' without making a single reference to marriages between husbands and wives. This latest modernized sex creed also embraces same-sex unions.

"The sixth guideline proclaims: 'We believe sexual relationships reach their fullest potential as healthy relationships and minimize their capacity for ill when in the context of chaste, faithful, and committed lifelong union between mature adults. We believe that this is as true for homosexual as for heterosexual relationships and that such relationships need and should receive the pastoral care of the Church.'"

A review of the document [which was sent to this reporter and all deputies and alternates by EURRR shortly before we went to press in July] indicates that pointing to this guideline gives a distorted view of the document.

But as of June 1, no one in the leadership of Integrity had seen Draft 4 of the pastoral. Louie Crew immediately posted his concerns about the breach of confidentiality. Mattingly responded electronically on June 3:

"Quite frankly, there are so many copies of the 4th draft floating around that you can get it all over the place. A question for you: Honestly, you DON'T have the 4th draft? I will be stunned if you don't have it."

When Crew did not answer his query by June 6, Mattingly wrote:

"So I will assume ('Man For All Seasons' is one of my favorite movies) that your silence is the same as an affirmative answer to my question: Do you have a copy of the 4th draft? The follow-up question, of course, might be: What role did you plan in helping with the research of the 4th draft?"

This time Crew responded:

"How dare you bully me by sending me unsolicited material and then presuming all manner of things by my silence! How do you expect anyone to trust you? I have not seen the 4th draft. I have had no role in helping with the research for any of the pastoral.

"Both of my bishops have much too much integrity to share with me any material they are not supposed to share, and I would never violate material shared with me in the manner that you have done. You have taken it upon yourself to tell the whole world only those parts that you want the world to see. As a deputy I am appalled that you have so little concern for the processes set in place by General Convention. I would have preferred a more open discussion myself, but that is not what we as a church chose to put in place."

Mattingly apologized to Crew that day, but said:

"My point was that I have had trouble finding many people in the Episcopal Church who have not seen all or various chunks of the pastoral dialogue, or whatever the document is called at the moment. I'm amazed that many writers and columnists in the press haven't already aired this thing out. It's probably hard to justify making much of an effort to probe the views of such a small denomination."

The final installment of this dialogue came from Dr. Crew:

"If you genuinely want to find Episcopalians who have not seen a single one of the drafts, I can point to 99.99+ percent of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.

"Far be it from me as a writer myself to applaud excessive secrecy, especially in a House that has abused secrecy on numerous occasions in the past. But it was your conservative bishops who fought so hard to force secrecy. Why are you -- a reporter as clearly identified as 'conservative' as I am identified as 'liberal' -- now leaking the report in chunks of your own choosing to the press?

"Are your sources leaking the material through you because they have lost confidence that they can win in any other way besides whipping up the homophobes?"

Mattingly never responded, but the next day, June 10, another even more conservative syndicated Episcopal columnist, Mike McManus, also wrote a column condemning the pastoral by grossly distorting its contents:

"In a still secret fourth draft of a Pastoral Teaching on 'Human Sexuality,' America's Episcopal bishops have abandoned marriage as the norm for sexual behavior, endorsed homosexuality and said they would 'respond pastorally to those persons whose sexual behavior does not conform to the traditional standards and norms of the Church.'"

McManus, undoubtedly unknowingly, makes an interesting observation about the weakness of the conservative position:

"How do the bishops view homosexuality biblically? Who knows? The First Interpretation citing Romans 1:26-7, is traditional: 'Scripture forbids homosexual behavior.' But a Second Interpretation written by Los Angeles Bishop Frederick Borsch says: 'The complete lack of reference to homosexuality in Jesus' words and in the Gospels ... may mean that it was not considered particularly threatening.' Conservative bishops fought to have the traditional point of view included, and it was, but placed next to Borsch's more polished advocacy that 'homosexual orientation was unknown to biblical authors.' Thus, the conservatives have been co-opted -- and even misled. For the document's guidelines have gotten more libertarian."

McManus then quotes the only bishop to speak publicly about the document before its release by EURRR:

"It's horrendous" says Rio Grande Bishop Terence Kelshaw. "It's a minority report for the affirmation of the homosexual lifestyle that 80% of church members don't want. We give no guidance to young people who are not homosexual for their personal development."

Even before McManus' article appeared, Kelshaw was widely viewed as the most likely source for the "leak" of the document. Before being elected bishop, Kelshaw was a member of the faculty of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, the conservative seminary in Ambridge, Penn., and has been rabidly anti-lesgay in his pronouncements in the House of Bishops.

McManus' article also was the first public acknowledgement by EURRR that they had copies of the draft.

"The Rev. Todd Wetzel, director of Episcopalians United, a conservative coalition, sights: 'It undercuts the authority of Scripture. ... It substitutes in its place the paramount value of human experience.'"

A few other newspapers picked up the story in the next few days, but usually in only summary fashion. Just as the story seemed to be dying down, EURRR announced on June 23 that it was making copies available to anyone who wanted them. The July issue of "The United Voice," issued on that day, included very selective excerpts and the entire pastoral guidelines section. EURRR justified this, in a lead editorial, entitled "Breaking the Silence."

"The 15-member committee charged with preparing a Pastoral Teaching on sexuality for the House of Bishops has declared its work embargoed since the first draft. The committee's *unilateral* decision has made the process needlessly furtive and anything but a true dialogue about the Church's teachings on sexual morality."

The justification continued in Todd Wetzel's signed editorial, "Publish Sad Tidings: The Fourth Draft is a Disaster."

"EU has chosen to publish the fourth draft for several reasons:

"- The mass media began reporting on the Pastoral Guidelines in early June. It's time somebody in the Church offered a comprehensive picture of the Pastoral Teaching.

"- *The embargo on all drafts was an arbitrary decision of the A104sa Committee.* Resolution A104sa neither required nor recommended a secretive process for preparing the Pastoral Teaching.

"- This secretive process has been unhealthy in the life of the Church, leading to distrust and gossip, and excluding nearly all lay people and clergy from a crucial discussion.

"- The fourth draft of 'Continuing the Dialogue' is every bit the theological travesty as suggested by rumors circulating throughout the Church.

Of course, as with all EURRR reporting, there was considerable untruth and half-truth in this justification. While A104sa did not call for secrecy, the embargo was a decision of the House of Bishops, not the A104sa Committee. This was confirmed in an interview with the Rt. Rev. Sam Hulsey who heads the Kanuga Planning Team for the House of Bishops, whose committee recommended the embargo. Moreover, EURRR may have been using its own selective release of the draft and the subsequent coverage to justify its broadscale release. EURRR's admitted purpose is to derail the pastoral:

"'Continuing the Dialogue' attempts to codify the local option, in which bishops are free to ordain noncelibate homosexuals and priests are free -- in the name of pastoral care -- to bless same-sex unions. The revisionist theology reflected in 'Continuing the Dialogue,' and the false peace offered by the local option, merely increases the pressure to reject the Church's traditional teachings on sexual morality.

"The committee, however, has shown a repeated willingness to ignore the concerns of orthodox bishops and to move the document further into heterodoxy.

"... Finally, we encourage you to let your bishop know what you think about 'Continuing the Dialogue.' The future of the Episcopal Church is far too important to be shaped by a purported dialogue held behind closed doors and resulting in heterodoxy by pronouncement."

One of the articles in "The United Voice" is by Stephen F. Noll, Professor of Biblical Studies and Academic Dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, who apparent has had access to all of the drafts:

"I have followed the drafts of the House of Bishops' pastoral teaching on sexuality since Fall 1993. The committee appointed by the House of Bishops to produce this new teaching has maintained a consistency of purpose throughout -- to legitimate homosexual practice -- muddled only enough in its wording of earlier versions to appear 'inclusive' of all views.

"... In conclusion, it seems clear from reading the drafts sequentially that the drafting committee is intent on advocating a sea change in the moral teaching of the Christian faith. We may be thankful the latest draft is even more clear-cut than the earlier ones, as it becomes obvious that conservative objections cannot be incorporated into this document without leading to theological chaos."

Apparently the drafts of this pastoral were confidential only from Integrity and the lesgay community, while they were widely available in Ambridge.

In another low blow, and a foretaste of tactics to come in Indianapolis, EURRR also condemned the composition of the A104sa Committee, particularly the Rev. Jane Garrett, who is openly lesbian. This, they suggest, automatically invalidates the document, while the presence of Bishop Harry Shipps, who recently called for the excommunication of all "open" lesbians and gay men ["Voice," Summer, 1993], is necessary to represent the true feelings of the Church.

By now, the 4th draft was widely available, and on June 23, Associated Press writer David Briggs did an extensive article. He interviewed numerous people:

"The document doesn't take a stand one way or the other, basically," said the Rev. Jane N. Garrett, a member of the drafting committee. "It leaves everything open for a continuation of the dialogue.

"But Bishop William Frey, dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, said presenting different points of view is not pastoral teaching, but a reflection of the chaos in the church on these issues today. 'The nicest thing I can say is that parts of it remind me of theology by Oprah and Donahue,' he said. 'In its present form, it would be the most embarrassing document the bishops have every produced.'

"Committee members would not comment on the contents of the final draft, but said it would not shake up the church. 'It's not going to be a particularly radical document,' said Bishop Frank Allan of Atlanta. 'if people want to get titillated by it, they can get titillated by something else.'

"Garrett said given the tensions in the church the drafting committee deliberately avoided taking a stand on issues such as the ordination of homosexuals. 'There's no way at this moment to reconcile those differences,' she said.

"Wetzel disagrees. He said the document is a sophisticated attempt to place homosexual relations on a par with heterosexual relations. 'I think the real intent of the document is pretty clear: to legitimate homosexual practice,' he said.

"But a leader of an Episcopal gay rights group said that is already happening -- with or without a statement from the bishops. E. Kim Byham, publisher of 'the Voice of Integrity,' said blessings of same-sex unions have occurred in churches throughout the country, and homosexuals have been ordained in some 35 dioceses. 'It's really a done deal,' he said."


The following day, the Most Rev. Edmond L. Browning broke his silence on the purloined draft in a letter to all bishops:

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

I write to make you aware that, in defiance of the careful process established by the House of Bishops, Episcopalians United has released draft four of the pastoral teaching on human sexuality. They have issued a press release urging Episcopalians to request a copy of the report from Episcopalians United headquarters.

Further, the pre-Convention issue of their publication, under the guise of "critiquing" the report, is devoted to discrediting the report, the House of Bishops process, and the committee. I find this action utterly reprehensible and unworthy behavior for those who declare themselves to be part of our household of faith.

Careful reading of their newspaper and press reports, as well as exposure to their disgraceful fund-raising materials over the years, seems to indicate that they assume they hold the truth on all of the difficult issues before us, based on their unambiguous interpretation of scripture, which they categorize as "orthodox." They have determined that the fourth draft does not adhere to their position, and apparently believe they are therefore justified in using whatever means to derail the process the bishops have established.

They have characterized the House of Bishops process as "clandestine" and erroneously stated that it was the "unilateral" decision of the committee which made the process "needlessly furtive." As you are aware, the process reflects the House of Bishops efforts to respond to General Convention resolution A104sa.

Episcopalians United charged that there has not been a dialogue. In actual fact, we know that the teaching was not meant to be a dialogue but rather the work of the bishops in consultation with ethicists and biblical scholars. In addition, the teaching was informed by churchwide dialogue involving an estimated 30,000 persons, as reported on by Bishop O'Kelley Whitaker's committee.

Contrary to the substance and spirit of the Episcopalians United coverage, we know that the report reflects the faithful effort of the bishops to help the church continue together in dialogue as we seek to discover God's will. We know that our report will not be an end, but a beginning.

What I find the most difficult about the Episcopalians United action is that their organization has supporters in most of our dioceses, many of whom are unaware of the decidedly un-Christian tactics of Episcopalians United, and of its highly one-sided point of view. These supporters give credence to Episcopalians United claims, regardless of how misleading, incorrect, or totally disingenuous they might be.

It is very important that you know that I spoke yesterday in a conference call to all of the members of the A104sa committee who could be reached, including Bishops Frank Allan, Steven Charleston, Mark Dyer, Rogers Harris, Richard Shimpfky and Vincent Warner and also the Rev. Barnum McCarty and Mary Meader. They are extremely pleased with their efforts on the fifth draft, which is significantly different from the fourth, based on the comments of the House. I regret that the debate around the church provoked by the Episcopalians United action will be about a document that is no longer relevant. I hope that energy will be maintained for a good discussion about the actual report itself.

I believe the most appropriate response to the action of Episcopalians United is first to be aware of it, which is the purpose of this letter, and then be prepared to provide, and to help your clergy provide, accurate information. More important, I believe we, the House of Bishops, must stay on the course we have been following over these last years, and continue to be guided by the Covenant that informs our life together. We must honor our process, which has been open and consultative, and we must honor our sense of what it means to serve as bishops.

-- Edmond L. Browning, Presiding Bishop and Primate


In response to Bishop Browning, Todd Wetzel wrote a letter defending himself to the House of Bishops, closing with, "[P]lease know that we are deeply saddened by and take exception to both the tone and inaccuracies of the Presiding Bishop's recent comments regarding Episcopalians United and the progress of the dialogue." Nowhere, however, does Wetzel indicate what the inaccuracies are.

Not one to miss an opportunity, Bishop John Howe of Central Florida, also wrote to the Presiding Bishop giving a unique defense of EURRR, in a letter which was circulated by them.

"First, your accusation that EU[RRR] has done something 'in defiance of the careful process established by the House of Bishops' is itself disingenuous. Episcopalians United never agreed to the process by which this 'Pastoral Teaching' has been prepared. ... It is true that the House agreed to the Committee's decision, but obviously one or more of our members broke faith with that agreement. That is not the fault of EU[RRR]. ... I am saddened to say that your letter seems strangely shrill, defensive and antagonistic toward a constituency within this Church that is simply trying to bear allegiance to the 'faith once delivered to the saints' -- at least as they understand it."

This journal is going to press before "The Living Church" has commented on the "leak," but it is safe to assume that that magazine will consider the distribution of an embargoed paper by EURRR to be much less troubling than Integrity's fully authorized reception at the House of Bishops' meeting in Panama.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sermon by New Primus of Scottish Episcopal Church

Sermon preached in St Salvator's Chapel, St Andrews on 30th November 2008 by Rt Rev David Chillingworth

Readings: Isaiah 64: 1 - 9 and Mark 13: 24 - 37


I'm delighted to be here today - or to be more exact. I'm delighted to be here. But not so delighted about today. It's a good day in some ways. St Andrew's Day - marking a missionary apostle - honouring this place and of course Scotland which has been good to me - marking the title of the diocese in which I exercise ministry.

But it's also Advent Sunday. There are some Sundays which present difficulties for the preacher. Trinity is one. Advent is another. But I like Advent. I like the music - rich hymns and minor keys. I like the urgency of the scripture passages and the apocalyptic writing - the drawing back of the veil and the invitation to contemplate what is beyond contemplation. I like the counter-cultural element of it. Even in these straitened times, the world is winding itself up towards Christmas and we are preparing for the birth of the Saviour. But we are also contemplating the end and the four last things, death, heaven, hell, judgement.

I suppose it's not really fair on St Andrews Day in St Andrews in Scotland to say that I find Scotland astonishingly secular. I've lived with enough overbearing religion in my life to be untroubled by that. But it's hard here to get in touch with the extent to which religion is in the air and in the water and just about everywhere else in Ireland. And I'm thinking particularly today of the religious traditions which really live within the paradigm of the scripture today - the people who put notices on trees on dangerous corners saying 'Prepare to meet thy God'. Or the people who would take me aside in the middle of the night when I was ministering as a hospital chaplain to a faithful disciple coming to the end of life trusting in the generous forgiveness of a merciful saviour and ask me 'Do you think he is ready?'

The challenge of those people to me is the implied question about what I see when I look at life. Do I recognise and live in the knowledge that what I see is but a part of what there is to see and know - the whole of which will be revealed at the end. And as I live, trying to be at ease with myself, my fellow man and my God, can I grasp the call to 24/7 waking and watching and expecting - preparing for the breaking in of the kingdom, the judgement, the reckoning and the end.

Archbishop Rowan Williams recently spoke about his meeting with a man who had been the Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at Broadmoor - who carried throughout his working life the line from the Tempest spoken by Prospero to Miranda, 'What seest thou else?' And through the lens of that universal question comes a new way of looking and seeing - seeing disturbed and violent human beings; nations at war; slaughter in Mumbai; cholera in Zimbabwe. And of course there also comes a way of educating our own world view.

What seest thou else? The danger today is that faith is perceived often as leading us into a smaller world rather than a larger one. Faith seen as a suspending of disbelief appears to be the pathway of those who have chosen to view the world through a lens which reduces it and suggests that, whatever the question, there is only one answer.

But on this Advent Sunday we read in Isaiah and Mark of a cosmic view of the universe we inhabit - of a God far greater than the friend in need to whom we often shrink him - or heavens torn open and mountains which quake - of darkness and falling stars - of urgency and readiness.

But what do we see .. can we see, we who are the clay in the hands of God the potter, that we are not the centre of our own world. Can we see - can I see - that my world view is partial and limited because it is centred on me? Can I see that, even as the Hubble telescope gazes out into world far beyond our imagining, that there are other worlds of sense and beauty and experience far beyond the tiny corner of life which I inhabit and make secure by blessing it with familiarity.

Above all can I see that this is the making of a God of infinite power and of infinite love - that even if I am awake 24/7, ready and prepared, I can never be ready and prepared precisely because I am limited, partial, fallible, sinful. And that if I tremble at the scale and the majesty of what is revealed in these scriptures on this Advent Sunday yet I still tremble in expectation and gratitude and above all Advent hope that all this may yet be for my saving - from the very limitedness which denies what I do not see, cannot see and wilfully refuse to see.

Because it seems to me that Advent Sunday invites us to set aside the domestication of God - the shrinking of God to one who suits our personal and individualistic society - the God who is there for me but whom I don't invite to let me see more than I see. And in so doing it brings us back to that sense of smallness, inadequacy and failure which the domesticated God is seldom allowed to mention to us. And we seek forgiveness in a pentitential season.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Gap II

In looking at the comments at Mark Harris' blog, in which opinions are solicited in regards to the Thew Forrester matter, I discern a bit of a generational dynamic, as well as a bit of a culture-shift dynamic also.

Namely, The Episcopal Church -- where growing -- is growing by folks who are joining it, not by birth, but by choice.  In some places, those who are joining by choice are also doing so because it is where they want to raise children.  I see a lot of this.

What I am noticing, as TEC's make-up begins to change, is that the usually older generation of Episcopalians (older Boomers, mid-20th century modernists) who so often seem completely enamored of the likes of John Shelby Spong, Kevin Thew Forrester, Elaine Pagels, etc., are not replacing themselves with like-minded folks.

On the other hand, the people I am seeing becoming more newly active in TEC seem increasingly to share a great deal of affection for the ancient streams of ancient Latin, Eastern and Celtic theology and practice, along with the desire to see the Church not become either 1) Calvinist/Contemporary Evangelical/Socially Conservative or 2) Modernist/Protestant/Capital 'L' theological Liberal. 

Among the rather large number of people I know who have become active in TEC in the past decade, (and at least half from other backgrounds), I see a lot of them seeking an alternative to today's non-denominational/evangelical/contemporary worship/Saddle Back type of Christianity, AND, the boring, stuffy old-shoe Mainline business as usual type.  I see folks very much excited by the sorts of communities that Diana Butler Bass describes -- those 'intentional practice' ones -- who likewise are looking for intelligent theology, artful worship traditions, and of course a place to openly practice 'mere Christianity' while leaving the brain turned on.

In the parishes I have served, and among the parishes I know about and look up to for what they are doing in ministry, I see significant growth in all the traditional practices of faith (prayer, service, study, fellowship, welcome, etc.) and also in worship attendance and membership figures.

In my view, therefore, I think those who are currently becoming active in TEC are increasingly attracted to that blend of creedal orthodoxy and classical worship forms that are inform our core identity as a denomination.  Certainly, I also find a number of folks who have joined because they felt personally or categorically rejected in more 'conservative' denominations -- either because they were gay, or minded toward social justice, etc.  Yet among these, the desire I see being pursued is for a welcoming/inclusive Christian home with compelling liturgy, proclamation and mission -- not a place where all the good old basics are constantly deconstructed, the liturgies constantly tinkered with, or local authorities presume to do it the way they want to all the time.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Generation Gap

Several of the leading members of what I will call the 'establishment Left' are quite upset with the lack of consents in the election of Thew Forrester.  They are beginning to cry, 'witch hunt,' and 'theological oppression.'  Others are beginning to cry, 'but he's actually orthodox.'  Still others, 'this is the beginning of the end of true intellectualism in the Church.' Still others seem to have begun a process of shaming those 'fellow liberals' who voted against Thew Forrester.

What we are seeing is the Gap between parties in the Episcopal Church who have not historically been seen to be different.  The party of theological 'free thinkers' who have eschewed since the 1960s any appreciation for theological and liturgical coherence are awakening to see that there are also Episcopalians who favor the ample and generous orthodoxy of the Prayer Book and Hymnal, and are looking for a more inclusive church, but who are not looking to tweak, revise, redact or avoid the core elements of the faith, or make revision and innovation the constant modus operandi of the church either.  

The party of folks who want to keep things loose, open, and 'challenging' -- are finding new resistance from those who want to keep things theologically and liturgically coherent, in and of themselves and in line with centuries of faith and practice, as well as with the global Anglican Communion.  

The past number of years has perhaps seen folks from both parties operating together - because both agree with the affirmation of women and glbt people.  But, perhaps now, we are beginning to see that once the equality issues are more widely agreed upon internally in TEC, other areas are much less agreed upon.

As I have begun to see on this blog, as well as on Episcopal Cafe, there is an impressive cadre of Episcopalian laity and clergy who are very serious (and usually very educated) about theology and the Anglican tradition.  This group tends to agree on matters of theology, liturgy and church order, AND, in regard to the affirmation of women's ordination and the inclusion of all the baptized into sacramental life and leadership.

General Convention: Structural Considerations

The Rev. Chris Epperson, Rector of St. Columba's in Middletown, Rhode Island writes:

In my diocese, like many others, we hold a clergy gathering with the deputies going to GC. It is a time for sharing information, asking questions and clarifying opinions about the issues on the table. Our GC forum was just last week. In the days since, I have found myself pondering GC itself as a legislative unit, rather than the issues that will be considered.

In the midst of our economic upheaval, some say we should cancel GC. It is too expensive. It should be a teleconference. Some have argued that we should shorten it and just deal with budget. The immediate crisis is rarely a helpful force for sound decision-making or long-term vision.

In a somewhat different fashion, the economic crisis has crystalized my thinking about the Episcopal Church. The failure of General Motors has sparked something for me. GM, once the largest corporation on the planet, has failed and sought reorganization after years of decline. It has been clear through most of my lifetime that GM was not in a position to compete over the long-term with manufacturers like Honda and Toyota. GM has long been top heavy, slow and cumbersome in operation. Every CEO of GM over the last thirty years has promised to improve vehicle quality and profitability. Yet, the slow, stumbling giant has fallen to his knees. An elixir with chunks of SUV will not help him to his feet. What now?

If GM is to survive, it will be through a radical transformation. A top to bottom renaissance is required. I hope GM can make it work.

I wonder what it was like to be inside GM during the long slide. It seems that some raised the alarm. Why was the response inadequate? I imagine some just wanted to believe everything would be fine, after all, we are talking about GM...I am sure many didn’t want to let go of the known for the unknown.

The Church is in the midst of decline. The Mainline has been in a slide for quite some time, maybe as long as GM. As a denomination, we don’t seem to be doing very much about it. Some have examined the data considering birth and death rates. Some have noted growth in larger parishes, and argued that we are experiencing a shift and not decline. Some will argue that faith, health and vitality cannot be quantified.

The numbers included in the “State of the Church” piece of GC seem to illustrate simple decline. There are fewer members of the Episcopal Church. There are fewer people in the pews of Episcopal parishes on your average Sunday.

The Episcopal Church is not a business. There are a zillion ways comparing the Episcopal Church to GM is unfair, but I am thinking about practical dynamics. How connected is GC to the actual state and health of the Church? GC is a legislative body that produces a huge number of resolutions, revisions and what not. How effective is GC at empowering the Church to be the Church? For that matter, how effective is our present model of “being” Church? Do GC, current diocesan structures and parish structure serve the Church well at present, or will they serve the Church of the future?

My questions are not asked out of fear or scarcity. I am not saying we should pare down to run the enterprise more inexpensively. What I desire is a more vibrant, committed, exciting and growing community of servants of Jesus Christ. We face real decisions as the Church. Will we simply operate the way we always have, and pretend that the slide of the last thirty years isn’t happening? Will we expend all our resources and energy propping up an institution that is not currently structured to meet our needs? If GC had the will and support of the rest of the Church, maybe we could do a new thing, a better thing, a more faithful thing. With the aid of the Spirit, it is time for the Church to remake itself.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Uncommon Prayer and Radical Individualism

One of the things I've long been offended by was the presumption of bishops, priests, deacons and laity to make changes in the Prayer Book which haven't been made by the Church as a whole.  It is always one thing to excercise liturgical creativity in special circumstances, on occasion, or in small groups settings.  But it is also another to make essentially permanent local option use of things not authorized by General Convention for normal use in this Church.

But why say more when Tobias Haller can do it better:

It is not within the authority (nor in many cases the competence) of individual bishops and parish clergy to tinker with (or radically revise) the texts of the Book of Common Prayer on their own initiative. I have no difficulty with bishops exercising their constitutional authority to allow for the development of liturgies for which no common text exists — though even in this case a bit of research may turn up work already accomplished elsewhere with greater grace and wisdom.

But when it comes to the texts of the Book of Common Prayer, it is important to recall the penultimate word: Common. These are notmy prayers, they are our prayers. They are not mine to tinker with, to alter as the whim (or the Spirit, or the Ego, or both) strike me. There is plenty of scope for creativity in the liturgy without the need to refashion the Eucharistic Prayer or the Baptismal Covenant to suit my own peculiar views. This isn’t about peculiarity, but commonality.

These common prayers are there precisely to be central and uniform (though in the Eucharistic Prayer with considerable variety from which to choose.) They are the center stabilizing point of the compass whose inclusive reach can best be extended and expanded with a rich selection of hymnody (though there are limits there as well! — read the rules), vibrant preaching, and intercessory prayer adapted to the hearts’ content of the people for whom and by whom it is offered.

To those individuals tempted to tinker with the Common Prayer, I offer some old advice, “Put it down; it don’t belong to you.”

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Thew Forrester Situation

The following standing committees did not give consent to Kevin Thew Forrester:

  1. Alabama
  2. Albany
  3. Arizona
  4. Arkansas
  5. Bethlehem
  6. Central Florida
  7. Central Gulf Coast
  8. Colombia
  9. Colorado
  10. Dallas
  11. El Camino Real
  12. Eau Claire
  13. Europe
  14. Florida
  15. Fond du Lac
  16. Fort Worth
  17. Georgia
  18. Hawaii
  19. Iowa
  20. Los Angeles
  21. Louisiana
  22. Maryland
  23. Mississippi
  24. Missouri
  25. Montana
  26. New Jersey
  27. New York
  28. North Carolina
  29. North Dakota
  30. Northern California
  31. Northern Indiana
  32. Northwest Texas
  33. Northwestern Pennsylvania
  34. Ohio
  35. Oklahoma
  36. Oregon
  37. Pennsylvania
  38. Pittsburgh
  39. Puerto Rico
  40. Quincy
  41. Rhode Island
  42. Rio Grande
  43. San Diego
  44. Springfield
  45. South Carolina
  46. Southwest Florida
  47. Southwestern Virginia
  48. Tennessee
  49. Texas
  50. Western Kansas
  51. Western Louisiana
  52. Western Michigan
  53. West Missouri
  54. West Tennessee
  55. West Texas
  56. West Virginia
Presumably, there will be some more as well.

In looking closely at these dioceses, one certainly sees a range of provinces, churchmanship, and place in the 'spectrum' of Episcopalianism. It is indeed very interesting to look at these dioceses, as well as those who have given assent, and see what may be learned from all of this about 'where we are' as an Episcopal Church vis a vis teaching and church practice.

Northern Michigan Bishop Elect Is Not Affirmed

Bryan Owen writes:

The Bible Belt Blogger reports that Kevin Thew Forrester, the bishop-elect of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan, has failed to receive the number of consents required for his consecration:

Fifty-six standing committees have now decided to withhold consent, while 29 have given consent, according to a survey by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock. Roughly 16 committees, including seven based outside the United States, are still in the discernment process. Another 10 or so committees have voted, but are currently declining to reveal their vote.

Barring last-minute vote-switching by dioceses across the country, Thew Forrester will not be seated by the House of Bishops. He would be the first bishop-elect to be vetoed by a majority of the Episcopal Church’s 111 standing committees since at least the 1930s.

I certainly hope this holds without undue intervention "from above."

The Bible Belt Blogger also summarizes the controversy surrounding Forrester:

Thew Forrester, the rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Marquette, Mich., was overwhelmingly elected bishop by representatives of the Diocese of Northern Michigan on Feb. 21. Since then, he has been heavily criticized on theological and liturgical grounds. Critics said Thew Forrester altered the denomination’s baptismal covenant to make it more closely reflect his own personal theological views. He likewise rewrote the church’s Easter Vigil and reworked the Apostles' Creed. Critics said the changes removed or obscured key Christian teachings about the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross, the problem of sin, the will of God and the identity of Jesus as the eternally divine and only-begotten Son of God. Thew Forrester said the changes were needed to keep the church relevant in the 21st century and that they reflected popular Christian beliefs that predated the Middle Ages.

I have repeatedly taken a stand against Forrester’s theological and liturgical innovations, but I take no pleasure in what must certainly be a difficult time for him and for his family and friends. They need and deserve our prayers.

My hope is that the pain this most surely causes will not be in vain, but rather that, by God’s grace, it will bear fruit for the Episcopal Church. Commenting about all of this over at Episcopal Café’s “The Lead,” Bill Carroll says it about as well as anyone could:

In this case, I think history will remember this as the point when the Episcopal Church began to show some backbone about basic Christian doctrine. For too long, we have allowed our respect for difference to mean anything goes. There are boundaries. We might be wrong about whether Fr. Forrester has crossed the line (I find his defense to be unconvincing), but we are not wrong that the Creeds and the liturgy give us some standards (based ultimately in Scripture) that one has to live up to. I would think this would hold for any baptized member of the Church. It is particularly important for bishops, who are charged with guarding the faith. … The danger for us has not been witch hunts. It has been an amorphous Christianity that does not adhere to the standards it sets for itself.

Many have noted the way in which this case has united Episcopalians across the theological spectrum. Given the depths of division on so many other issues, I consider that a hopeful sign that there remains a background of agreement behind our disagreements. I pray that we will continue to find ways to build on that background of agreement, and not just in cases like this in which we are united in what we oppose.

But I'm not naïve enough to think that everything is hunky-dory. For the agendas espoused by the far-left and the far-right on the theological spectrum continue to advocate for departures from the generous orthodoxy espoused by the mainstream of the Anglican tradition. The Forrester case is, indeed, a wake-up call that the Episcopal Church has been infiltrated by both bad and heretical theology. It may not be as pervasive as the more stringent doomsayers cry, but it's there and, left unchecked, will spread and come to seem more and more "normal." It's up to the "diverse center" of the Episcopal Church to remain vigilant and to have the courage to say "no" to those agendas.

In the end, if all of this wakes the Episcopal Church up to the necessity of “show[ing] some backbone about basic Christian doctrine” and adhering to the norms laid out in Scripture, the Creeds, and the liturgies of the Prayer Book, then the Forrester case will have served an important purpose.