Skip to comments.Diocese of Florida Convention Swings to the Left under New Bishop: Analysis [MUST READ]
Posted on 05/25/2005 6:02:40 PM PDT by sionnsar
[I hope the Trad-Anglican ping list will forgive my breaking my habit of simply posting and letting the material speak for itself, but the Rev. Dr. Sanders gets it (IMHO) so very right I do not think this should be missed -- nor skimmed too quickly. It should be read and re-read, because what happened here is not new, nor is it a one-time event. I saw a "primitive" version of these tactics in a diocesan convention a quarter-century ago; they've clearly been refined. --sionnsar]
"Revisionists do not listen to reason, theology, tradition, or Scripture. We must break fellowship," says theologian
By Dr. Robert Sanders
Exclusive to VirtueOnline
On Saturday, May 21, the Diocese of Florida met in Convention at Camp Weed, the diocesan convention center. Among other things the convention considered the present conflict in the Episcopal Church. Several "conservative" resolutions were presented. One of them would direct diocesan funds away from ECUSA, another asked that property disputes be negotiated, and a third urged the Diocese to seek "oversight" from someone other than Frank Griswold. There was another resolution asking the bishop not to participate in Holy Eucharist with his fellow bishops at the House of Bishops. This resolution was withdrawn. All these resolution were defeated, and virtually no conservatives were elected to representative positions such as delegates to the next General Convention.
This convention stood in marked contrast to the two previous conventions in which conservatives were elected to General Convention and the diocese voted to place itself in "impaired communion" with ECUSA. How could a conservative diocese in a matter of months undergo such a radical transformation? Let me address that question.
To begin with, the convention was dominated by two subgroups that came together to form the majority. These subgroups were the liberals or revisionists, mainly clergy who probably spearheaded the proceedings, as well as a larger group whose main concern was unity. Let me first describe this second larger group and show how their support was enlisted to secure the defeat of all conservative resolutions. Then I will describe revisionism and show the relation between the two groups.
A goodly number of convention delegates, especially the laity, were essentially conservative. They believe in the basics of Christianity -- the authority of Scripture, the Incarnation, the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection, that God is Trinity, and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only Way, Truth, and Life. A number of priests hold orthodox views as well. The bishop considers himself orthodox, and although I have never discussed his orthodox views with him, I have no reason to think he doesn't believe in the aforementioned fundamentals. Although this larger group holds many orthodox views, they hold conceptions of Jesus Christ, the Spirit, and the Church that violate the Christian faith. Let me show this, beginning with the bishop's address that set the tone for the entire convention.
In his opening remarks the bishop asserted that he would hold to the unity of the Church, that he would never leave ECUSA, and that he would remain both Anglican and Episcopal. These conclusions were placed in a theological context.
He began with Galatians 5:22, listing the fruits of the Spirit, such things as love, joy, and peace. Of these, love received the greatest emphasis. Love, understood from an orthodox perspective, is defined by the biblical revelation centered in Jesus Christ. Love in the case of the diocesan convention, however, was defined by the culture of our Episcopal Church.
That is, love was understood by those present to mean, and this was evident in subsequent debate and action, that we would act in a loving, courteous, and civil manner, that we would do nothing to offend others, and we would never be divisive. To this end the bishop quoted his consecration vow that he would uphold the unity of the Church.
Once love had been pronounced supreme, the bishop then stated that the fruits of the Spirit would be the standard and guide for all our deliberations and future actions. Further, the bishop claimed that he would never have to decide between Jesus and the Church. He would affirm both since the Church is the body of Christ.
From there, another step was made one that seemed sensible to those present, namely, if something was loving then it was clearly the work of the Holy Spirit. Along these lines the bishop described the recent House of Bishop's meeting in which bishops from theological extremes agreed upon a document that all could sign. He claimed this as a work of the Spirit.
The bishop then outlined his vision for the diocese -- youth work, concern for the poor, evangelism, extension of Cursillo throughout Latin America, and so forth. The address ended with an example from his youth, how his father taught him to drive "to the right of the center line and to the left of the ditch." This was to be the direction of the Diocese of Florida. We would not separate from ECUSA (the ditch), and yet remain right of center (the diocesan theological position).
Once these ideas were in place, ideas that resonated with those present, the resolutions were all defeated because they were deemed divisive, unloving, and rude. For example, when the resolution asking the bishop not to participate in Holy Eucharist was withdrawn, those present applauded, feeling I think, that such a resolution was a slap in the face to the bishop and to the ECUSA bishops. After the withdrawal of that motion, the bishop commented; "The Holy Communion does not create a boundary between us, but is an invitation to us."
In other words, the Eucharist can never be divisive. On a resolution on the Windsor Report the presenter stood up with two clergy, one on his left and one on his right. One was known for his liberal views, the other for his conservative views. Somewhat jokingly, yet obviously in earnest, he commented, "This is the appropriate place, he on my right, he on my left."
When the resolution on not giving funds to ECUSA was presented, one person speaking against the resolution commented, "God will correct ECUSA without splitting us up." Another person stated that this resolution would tie Bishop Howard's hands since he was a member of the House of Bishop's ways and means committee. In other words, it is harmful and unloving to tie the hands of the bishop.
The convention ended with a Eucharist and diocesan-wide fellowship that, according to the printed agenda, was the "heart of the Convention!" All this made sense to the great majority of those present. The votes were consistently some 80 percent against the resolutions that attempted to distance the diocese from the Episcopal Church.
The most radical revisionists are normally priests indoctrinated by their seminary education. They often affirm a mixture of orthodox and heretical ideas. Among their most common heretical ideas, they have learned a new way to interpret the Scriptures. They understand personal relations as primary and doctrine as secondary, they may not believe in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and will never evangelize those of other religions, and they affirm homosexual relations since they view the Bible as the revelation of an ever-evolving religious experience.
I was informed, via the grapevine that certain clergy, those most inclined toward revisionism, had counted the votes ahead of time, organized themselves, and were expecting to defeat all conservative resolutions. This is exactly what happened. The convention ran like a well-oiled machine with debate being cut short by calling the question.
In the process, however, this group never publicly stated their real views. For example, none of them ever took the floor and said something like this: "I believe in justice for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and for that reason, I am against this motion. It distances us from our Church, the Episcopal Church; a Church that has worked for years, often with great success, to implement the gay agenda in every diocese of the country." Rather than set forth their true aims, the revisionists simply touted unity, and in concert with the more conservative unity group led by the bishop, defeated all conservative resolutions. At one point in the convention, one of the orthodox priests got up and read the following passage from Scripture,
"Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother in law against daughter in law and daughter in law against mother in law." He said to the crowd: "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'It's going to rain,' and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, 'It's going to be hot,' and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time?" (Luke 12:51-56)
After reading the passage he sat down without comment. No one responded and we went on with our business. This passage, however, gets to the heart of the matter. It shows, and shows clearly, that unity for the sake of unity is contrary to the Christian faith. To put it simply, Scripture does command us under certain conditions to withdraw from fellowship, to do things that are divisive, and to discipline those who corrupt the faith. There is no doubt of this.
In spite of what the bishop said, and what those present apparently wanted to believe, one must at times choose for Jesus Christ and against the Church. Yes, the Church is the body of Christ, but only to the degree that it is obedient to its head, Jesus Christ. Apart from that, the Church is a whore lusting after other gods.
Further, the primary work of the Holy Spirit is to witness to Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture. If the morality and the beliefs of Episcopal bishops can be shown to be in accord with Scripture, then perhaps, with caution, one could thank God for the work of the Spirit in their midst. But frankly, and I will say more on this later, I do not think, and here I understate my feelings, that the Holy Name of the Spirit should be used to honor such a body.
Further, it is mistaken to claim that the "Holy Communion does not create a boundary between us, but is an invitation to us." Scripture, the teaching of the Church Universal, and the prayer books (BCP p. 409) make it clear that the Holy Eucharist is not open to egregious false teachers and notoriously immoral persons. This is utterly clear. All these ideas, blending Jesus with the Church, falsifying the work of the Holy Spirit, and corrupting the Eucharist are false teaching. All of them, in one form or another, substitute the Church, the culture of the church, for the revelation of Jesus Christ given in Scripture. Such ideas place the Church ahead of Christ, making an idol of the Church and denying Jesus as Lord.
I suspect the revisionists knew very well what they were doing, but I doubt that most of those in the unity group were fully aware of theological perspective their votes embraced. They lacked strong teaching by their clergy, they tend to trust those in authority, they reflect American values of tolerance and diversity, and they were never given an opportunity to hear much beyond the party line. The limits on time, the calling of the question, made genuine debate impossible. As a result, they were swept along.
Theologically, does the unity group have anything in common with the revisionists? Yes, I believe they do. They are united in at least one simple idea, often not articulated, but always there. Both believe that personal relationships, our mutual love for one another is of higher value than our theological beliefs or moral practices. From this perspective, truth is personal, something we feel for each other, while doctrine, beliefs, and moral practices are secondary.
For example, the person who withdrew the resolution on communion with the House of Bishops pointed out that both Scripture and Prayer book forbid sharing Eucharist with a person who was leading a "notoriously evil life." He then mentioned Episcopal Bishop Vicki Gene Robinson as one who was quite notorious (known all over the world in fact), and further, one who was leading an "evil life." No one paid any attention to this appeal to Scripture and Prayer Book. Why was that? Withholding communion from Episcopal Bishop Robinson would be unloving, and further, it would be rude to claim that he was leading an "evil life."
A great many clergy at the convention had to know that Scripture, Prayer Book, and tradition places limits on receiving Holy Eucharist, but they said nothing. Regardless of their theological beliefs, by and large, in practice, they agree with the revisionists who hold that doctrine and moral practice are secondary to personal relations based on "love" and radical acceptance.
This attachment to personal relations in spite of profound moral and theological differences finds its highest expression in the Holy Eucharist. For example, shortly after Episcopal Bishop Vicki Gene was elected, and in the midst of controversy, he commented that, although we have profound differences, we are united around the table of the Lord. Above all, the House of Bishops is a place where diversity gathered in eucharistic unity is taken to the limit.
Some bishops believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, others that he was illegitimate, some that the Bible is the unchanging Word of God, others that it is the history of a continuously evolving religious experience, some hold that one should only marry someone of the opposite sex, others have left wife and children to have sex with other men, some believe that Jesus is the one and only Lord, others that he is one among many saviors.
All this diversity of moral practice and theological belief come together in the Holy Eucharist which, for revisionists, is the feast of radical inclusion. Regardless of what individual bishops may feel or believe about the Eucharist, as they celebrate communion at the House of Bishops they fortify the false teaching that the highest value is personal relations regardless.
It would now seem that the Diocese of Florida will drift into the revisionist camp. This is natural and will occur for at least two reasons.
First, the clergy will become increasing revisionist. Orthodox clergy will avoid the diocese, some will retire, some will probably leave, and others will gradually be changed by their environment.
Secondly, the theological and moral diversity within the diocese will steadily increase, yet all will be united with the bishop in fellowship and Eucharist. Inexorably, it will become apparent that unity still holds in spite of diversity, and from there, it will be seen that morality, Christian truth, and theological integrity really don't matter as long as all rally around the bishop. At that point, Christian truth and practice will fade away and the revisionist truth that "love" trumps all will reign supreme. This is already happening. In fact, the diocese is now following the trail blazed by many dioceses in ECUSA over the last fifty years.
In that personal relations are primary and doctrine secondary is fundamentally heretical if it ignores 'sound doctrine'. It is a form of Gnosticism in which the deep self is a locus of dignity and value transcending language, morality, and truth. Perhaps it is a form of Docetism that never believes that God the Word became incarnate to reveal eternally binding doctrinal truths. It could also be a form of Modalism that blends the creation with the Incarnation by insisting that all are acceptable by virtue of biological birth rather than responsible to the norms of the second birth given from above in Jesus Christ. However described, the notion is clearly idolatrous for it assumes that we define love and the norms of human relations rather than being instructed by the Word revealed in Scripture. In short, it elevates the self above the Lord.
Finally, what must we do? One thing seems clear to me after more than thirty plus years of theological struggle. Revisionists do not listen to reason, theology, tradition, or Scripture. As one revisionists said at a clergy conference in which we debated the Bishop Robinson situation, "I don't want to hear all that logic stuff, I want to know how you feel." Theology and logic are secondary for revisionists. I have never known one to engage me in extended theological argument. I have published extensively on the internet and on my web page (www.rsanders.org), and never once has a revisionists given me a reasoned theological or biblical objection. They don't need to. They feel in their bones that love is all that matters, the rest is window dressing.
There is, in the end, only one thing that speaks to revisionism. We must break fellowship. It is already happening. At the recent meeting of the primates in Ireland a number of primates refused to share Holy Eucharist with Frank Griswold. A number of Episcopalians have already left the communion, others will follow. Some will leave in the near future; others will wait until after General Convention 2006, pending whether or not ECUSA repents. Whether sooner or later, it is the only solution barring the miracle of repentance on the part of ECUSA. Common Cause is rapidly becoming the only viable solution.
But this raises a question; Is it loving to break fellowship with ECUSA? The answer is Yes. Breaking fellowship is a form of ecclesiastical discipline. Scriptures, the tradition of the Church, and the ordination vows of bishops, priests, and deacons all affirm discipline. Discipline is for the sake of the disciplined. It enables repentance. Normally, discipline is imposed by bishops, called to guard the "faith, unity, and discipline" of the church (BCP, p. 517). When the bishops themselves, however, are the source of false teaching and practice, they throw the Church into chaos and bring before the faithful the painful prospect of having to refuse fellowship as a last resort. That is where many in the Church find themselves, and that is what must happen, sooner or later.
Finally, God's judgment is always good for us. It is the cutting edge of his mercy. It allows us to see our sin in all its horror. The Diocese of Florida did not suddenly shift toward revisionism. All along the faithful in Florida were partisans of the American cultural ethic that toleration and diversity are always a good thing.
At the convention an issue came along that brought that hidden idolatry into the open. At that moment, everyone there had to choose, publicly, visibly, and personally, whether or not to resist the claims that Jesus and the Church can never be at odds, that love is defined by the culture and not by the gospel, and that the word Spirit can be applied loosely and without respect.
I believe that God used that convention to show all of us where we stand, and he has been doing the same for quite some time in the Episcopal Church. When it is over, there will be a purified Anglicanism in North America. Yes, judgment is real and judgment is good, for judgment always precedes the coming of the Kingdom. When we accept that judgment and repent, we become children of the living God and recipients of his eternal blessings. I think of Jesus' first words in Mark's gospel, "The time has come," he said, "the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Good News." This is as much true now as then.
THIS ARTICLE is the exclusive property of VirtueOnline. It may be reproduced and forwarded by e-mail and appear on BLOGS only with full reference to www.virtueonline.org as the originator. VirtueOnline is the Anglican Communion's largest and most widely read orthodox online news service.
The Rev. Dr. Robert Sanders is a leading orthodox Episcopal theologian and a priest in the Diocese of Florida.
Lenin's phrase "useful idiots" comes to mind.
"There is, in the end, only one thing that speaks to revisionism. We must break fellowship. It is already happening. At the recent meeting of the primates in Ireland a number of primates refused to share Holy Eucharist with Frank Griswold. A number of Episcopalians have already left the communion, others will follow. Some will leave in the near future; others will wait until after General Convention 2006, pending whether or not ECUSA repents. Whether sooner or later, it is the only solution barring the miracle of repentance on the part of ECUSA. Common Cause is rapidly becoming the only viable solution."
This is the most perfectly Orthodox/Patristic comment I have read by any Anglican since I first began reading these threads on what is going on in the Anglican Communion. I won't quote any of the Fathers on this...I've done that countless times. Allow me to add, however, that it isn't simply a matter of breaking communion, of refusing to share the Liturgy with heretics, its also about where you all go, since there is very little sense or spiritual profit in leaving the heresy of ECUSA to simply go off into a sort of religious and theological wilderness, proclaiming one's "ecclesial assembly', as the Romans might say, as the "One, True Anglican Church" or a sort of "purified Anglicanism" as Fr. Sanders puts it. The Church exists today as much as it did in, say, the 4th Century. That is where you should go...either as a group to Rome, or further East into Orthodoxy.
Interesting you should say this, because lately I've started to become aware of movements of various of the Anglican diaspora in such directions.
I've heard that one Anglican group, from Australia I think, who are very close to communion with Rome and a number of individual Episcopalians who have converted to Orthodoxy (in my own parish for example)but no groups coming over to Orthodoxy. Are there any? It seems such a good fit.
The group you mention, the TAC, is actually wider spread with churches in India, UK and North America (the ACC). They are in close discussions with Rome. And my own church, the APCK, has had discussions with the TAC.
You mention "it seems a good fit." But nobody (really) seems to think in that direction -- it's always towards Rome. Perhaps if the Orthodox started engaging in discussions with the Anglicans that could change.
"You mention "it seems a good fit." But nobody (really) seems to think in that direction -- it's always towards Rome. Perhaps if the Orthodox started engaging in discussions with the Anglicans that could change."
In our parish, as I may have mentioned before, we have a number of former Episcopalians but none came with a group. As for talking with them, Orthodoxy really doesn't go out and do that, except perhaps the Antiochians and they have had some mixed results. Probably your more conservation and orthodox groups simply don't think much about Orthodoxy, though as I said, I am a bit surprised that they don't since much of traditional Anglicanism is a bit like "Western Orthodoxy".
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