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Flogging the Sheep
Sanctuary ^ | 2/23/2005 | Sarah Hey

Posted on 02/26/2005 9:58:28 AM PST by sionnsar

For the past 15 years I have been a happy part of the Episcopal church, first by my attendance at a wonderful parish in Greenville, and second by my confirmation later on.

My prior Christian history had been within a non-denominational background -- and in my undergraduate years, I had attended one of the several dozen non-denominational, Protestant American Fundamentalist colleges around the country.* The story of my attraction to a liturgical, sacramental expression of Christianity is one that is literally several generations long . . . and one that I won’t analyze right now.

I bring up my past, though, to say that I have recognized a rather disturbing trend in my once-peaceful denomination. That trend is the attempt to exercise an alarming degree of control and power by authorities in an attempt to “reign in” the appropriate protest and attempts at reform by those within the Episcopal church.

Perhaps I notice these efforts because of my past. In many versions of Fundamentalism – although they would certainly say that they believe in salvation by grace alone – much effort is given to proving or evidencing one’s salvation by adhering to a rather large set of rules, or works. These rules generally surround the externals of a Christian, and deal with one’s devotional life, how one dresses, what one drinks or eats or views, and on and on. In an effort to help students adhere to these rules, the colleges I mention above work overtime at controlling students, to an extent that is quite eery when one looks back.

Interestingly enough, I learned much at this college, both good and bad. One thing I learned is that attempts to force compliance generally do not work over the long haul.

In one sense, of course, the attempts do work. Those with power are indeed able to make individuals comply with any and all manner of strange demands. One has but to look at Marxist states, fascist states, dysfunctional families with abusers and victims, Roman emperorers, and immoral bosses within bureacracies to see that, yes indeed, a person with power may accomplish anything at all with another person. Read the paper and glance through the history books and you will see that the cruelty and tyranny of man know no limits. This “no limits” approach to enforcement and the use of power should – and usually does – chill the blood of a knowledgeable person. It is the nature of the person with power over property, body, or government to do as he wills with others, and that nature should lead all Christians to fall to their knees and beg for help when handling the horror of power and authority, as we all will at some point. Teachers, parents, bosses, business partners, pet owners, even simply a human being, will eventually bear authority and power over something or someone less powerful.

It is one of many reasons why the God who became man inspires our gratitude and love more than anything or anyone else. He had power – and, unlike us, He did not use it when He was personally most threatened with great loss.

But, as I said above, in another sense, the use of power to enforce compliance does not work in the long run. It does not work, that is, if one is interested in developing the fruits of the spirit in another person; love, joy, peace, even self-control do not occur if there is no freedom and grace. A parent who wants to develop a child into an adult – a mature, responsible man or woman who is confident of his or her identity, yet free enough to love others – knows that eventually the use of enforcement and power, while never appealing to or developing unconstrained love, will not work.

Though we may indeed come to God out of fear, our relationship with Him does not develop into a loving one without the recognition of His love and His grace and, ultimately, His allowing us to go our own way.

Bullies create dependence, despair, passivity, and cravenness, on the one hand – not people of character or integrity – or a smouldering resentment and hatred, on the other. That hatred is often expressed by taking on the power of the system, and the bullied become the bullies. In the case of my undergraduate experience, navigating a system of fantastic control and power often meant that the powerless craved the power, and became self-righteous, and worse than the system itself. In all cases, the environment produces sneakiness, secrecy, lies, manipulation, cowardice, terrible guilt, and distrust, as people strive to work their way through the system without losing themselves in it.

For this reason – and many others – the words “grace” and “freedom” are quite precious and still mysterious in my life as a Christian. How does one, on the one hand experience the grace and freedom that Paul so eloquently speaks of in his Epistles, yet at the same time remain within the recognizable river of Christianity. As my rector says, Christianity without the “banks” of a river simply becomes a swamp, without a recognizable identity or formation. With the banks of boundaries and identity, the river’s water is identifiable, channeled, powerful, effective, and heads towards a destination – the ocean.

Nevertheless, if a Christian does not experience freedom and grace within the recognizable river, then there is something wrong, either with the steersman, or the navigator, or the boat, or the Christian himself. And if the banks erode, and the river dissolves into a swamp, the Christian’s boat becomes stagnant, unmoving, and not recognizably Christian at all.

Of course, it is over what “banks” – if any – that Christianity must have in order to be recognizable, that the Anglican Communion is fighting with such vigor and eloquence. I believe that the larger Anglican Communion is correct, and that the American Episcopal church is incorrect. We shall see what comes of the battle.

But I return to the alarming trend. As I look back over the horrendous year of 2004 [within the Episcopal church], in which a rather gratifying protest of laity and clergy alike has arisen over the actions of General Convention 2003 [of which, the confirmation of a practicing homosexual bishop is but one heresy of many], I note that some leaders within the church have attempted to repress that protest of laity and clergy with some amazing displays of power and control.

Given my history, these displays have raised alarm bells.

**We have, for instance, a resolution submitted to Diocesan Convention by a parish in New Jersey, adjuring the Episcopal protesters to the actions of GC 2003 to resign their positions of authority and leave the church. We have, for instance, two bishops of the 43 bishops who voted against the confirmation of a practicing homosexual as bishop, writing letters threatening inhibition and deposition against their clergy, should those clergy choose to associate with two organizations of resistance and reformation within ECUSA, the Network and the American Anglican Council. These two organizations, incidentally, have done more to keep reasserting Episcopalians within their denomination than any other act or organization has over the past 10 years. [My suspicion, and not merely mine, is that if given the choice between having groups of resisting, active clergy and laity within the Episcopal church or of all of us leaving the Episcopal church, many reappraisers would rather we all leave. In other words, given the choice between “fighting” and “fleeing” – reappraisers would prefer that we all flee, please. Hence another reason why the Network and the AAC are hated and forbidden – it gives laity and clergy a place to stay, organize, and resist.] We have bishops forbidding clergy from attending meetings of organization and fellowship with other reasserting Episcopalians. We have bishops forbidding speakers from entering their dioceses. We have the spectacle, yes, the bizarre spectacle, of parishes and dioceses demanding undesignated giving from horrified parishioners to fund the corrupt National church [strongly reminiscent of the sale of indulgences in Luther’s Roman church]. In some dioceses, should parishes refuse to fund the National church, they are threatened with reduction to mission status, firing of clergy, and forced vestry resignations. We have other clergy forbidden from expressing their views in public, and laity being castigated in writing by their own bishop – the pastor and shepherd and defender of the flock – for their own traditional views on sexuality – views, I might add, that have been held to in the majority of Christian churches throughout the past 2000 years. In diocese after diocese, laity and clergy are afraid of their bishops. Afraid to express their views, afraid for their parishes, afraid to meet in public, afraid to run for diocesan office, afraid of writing letters to the editors of their diocesan publications. We have bishops demanding “loyalty oaths” not just from clergy – but from laity. We have parishes that bishops will not allow to call clergy of their choice – normal, traditional, orthodox clergy from accredited seminaries, and who are perfectly harmless, except of course, for their orthodox theology. In perhaps the greatest mark of insecurity, we have a bishop forbidding – on pain of inhibition – all clergy from participating in services other than Episcopal services.

So much for ecumenism.

And so much, I might add, for the notion that shepherds should not fool their flock, nor fleece their flock, and for heaven’s sake, not flog their flock.

Sheep are indeed, very vexing. They are not smart, they are somewhat dirty, they are rather bumbling, and inclined to meandering over cliffs. We are all sheep, including bishops and clergy and laity. And when one is in a position of authority or power over a sheep – even as a fellow sheep – one should not beat fellow sheep, or laugh at fellow sheep, or mock fellow sheep, or disdain fellow sheep, or castigate fellow sheep, or forbid fellow sheep from joining sheep organizations.

It is wrong. It is bullying. It is insecure and indicates how inwardly weak of character, deficient in substance, and corrupt in theology that the floggers – reappraising Episcopal leaders – truly are. And ultimately, though it will achieve some short-term goals, it will not work.

All of the above to say – I have an eery feeling that I’ve been here before. It was in a religious tradition that has many positive attributes and that I learned much from – but has many obvious flaws.

I just never thought I’d find those same flaws in the Episcopal church.

*Note: It is the duty of a conscientious member of any organization to critique and work to reform that organization when it falls into grave error. However, it is not one’s duty to critique and work to reform various organizations of which one is *not* a member. Therefore, I shall leave it to others to expose what sins that Protestant American Fundamentalism may have – believing that the Episcopal church has enough sins for me to take several lifetimes over.

**Note: There are many sources and documents confirming actions by certain bishops. For just a few links from one web site covering these issues, see below:

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant

1 posted on 02/26/2005 9:58:29 AM PST by sionnsar
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To: ahadams2; Vicomte13; TaxRelief; Huber; Roland; ladyinred; Siamese Princess; Brian Allen; kalee; ...
Traditional Anglican ping, continued in memory of its founder Arlin Adams.

FReepmail sionnsar if you want on or off this moderately high-volume ping list (typically 3-7 pings/day).
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Speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15

2 posted on 02/26/2005 9:59:04 AM PST by sionnsar († † || Iran Azadi ||)
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To: sionnsar

When she mentioned fruits of the spirit, I initially thought oh boy, here we go again. But I think she is implying something else - that the priests and bishops have forgotten that they are also sheep and are not true shepherds. Was that your impression?

3 posted on 02/26/2005 12:44:26 PM PST by secret garden (Go Spurs Go!)
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To: secret garden
the use of power to enforce compliance does not work in the long run. It does not work, that is, if one is interested in developing the fruits of the spirit in another person; love, joy, peace, even self-control do not occur if there is no freedom and grace.

I guess I read it rather more simply, that she was just adding a little color.

4 posted on 02/26/2005 1:50:55 PM PST by sionnsar († † || Iran Azadi || Where are we going, and why are we in a handbasket?)
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To: sionnsar

It did raise my hackles initially when she used the language with which we have been getting beat about the head and shoulders. The revisionists often refer to the fruits of the spirit, no pun intended.

5 posted on 02/26/2005 1:53:28 PM PST by secret garden (Go Spurs Go!)
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To: secret garden

I see. Having been in a Continuing church for over a couple of decades now, that is not a point I'd recognize.

6 posted on 02/26/2005 2:56:45 PM PST by sionnsar († † || Iran Azadi || Where are we going, and why are we in a handbasket?)
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To: sionnsar

The Episcopal church is dead in the U.S.

Just leave and go to a different denomination with a Bible based doctrine (I don't mean wacky literalists or anything).

I joined the Episcopal church and stayed for one year until the appointed the wicked "bishop".

7 posted on 02/27/2005 4:37:31 AM PST by shubi (Peace through superior firepower.)
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