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Jim Hobby: An Open Letter to My Colleagues in the Episcopal Church
titusonenine ^ | 12/22/2005 | Jim Hobby

Posted on 12/22/2005 6:08:38 PM PST by sionnsar

These are unusual times in the life of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. We have never been here before. This is a time where we need to give each other a wide berth for following our consciences; for sincerely following the leading of the Spirit into very different, even contradictory, decisions. Therefore, this letter is not a prophetic call to others. It is simply an explanation of why I feel called to walk with the part of the Anglican Communion that believes ECUSA is choosing to “walk apart” from the Communion and from the “faith once delivered to the saints.” I will be making no case. I simply want to open my heart to you.

On May 2, 1982, after close to nine months of discernment and preparation, Bishop Roger Blanchard confirmed Shari and me at Christ Church, South Hamilton, MA. For the next 23 years I served God as a faithful Episcopalian, lay and then ordained. During that time God formed my heart and my mind through the Anglican rhythm of prayer, worship and Bible reading, through a rich theological heritage that stretches back beyond the reformers to the Fathers of the Church, and through the global perspective of belonging to a world-wide communion. I loved the Episcopal Church and the vision that it represented. I loved her not as Mother – as do those who have grown up within her. I loved her as Beloved whose enthralling beauty seized me from my first experience of the cadences and images of her liturgy. The Episcopal Church was completely mysterious to me until the day I was smitten. Like many converts I became a zealot, a kind of knight errant, loudly declaring the beauty of the Beloved, arguing her perfection against all rivals.

That is why the realization that the Episcopal Church has chosen to walk away from her calling, nature and identity is so difficult. It is wrapped in feelings of betrayal and abandonment. The Beloved has left, running off with the spirit of the age, rejecting me and those who loved her for what she was. While some feel called to play Hosea while the Episcopal Church takes the role of Gomer, I’ve come to realize that the beauty that drew me was not that of the institutional church but of the Great Tradition. And this beauty still has faithful expression in many parts of the world. The Episcopal Church does not equal the Church.

I became an Episcopalian, it seems, under an enchantment. Spells of half-truths were woven with oft-repeated incantations: the most powerful one being “lex orandi lex credendi.” Unlike the other reformation churches that wrote confessions and statements of faith, many told me with an air of settled self-assurance bordering on superiority, the Anglican Church composed a liturgy. “If you want to know what we believe, then join us in prayer.” Even 23 years ago there was a good deal of fudging going on at this point. “Yes, we believe what the Book of Common Prayer says – just not quite like Cranmer would have believed it.” More recently a bishop in good standing in the House of Bishops wondered if the language of theism is any longer an appropriate way to express our faith. Until recently many of us have stayed in the Episcopal Church, despite some of its outrageousness, because “on paper” it was orthodox. But with local option, I’m no longer sure what “on paper” means. What does it mean to be part of a denomination that has no common belief? Lex orandi lex credendi goes both ways. We believe what we pray. But we also pray what we believe. Is it possible to have common prayer without common belief?

Vision vs. Institution

The lure of the Episcopal Church for me was quite simple: the liturgy rang with the Bible and gave me a chance to respond to the Word in the Eucharist. It was a long time later that I learned about vestries, diocesan councils and General Conventions. I devoured the whole Book of Common Prayer (including the 39 Articles) before I knew the Constitution and Canons existed. C.S. Lewis, E.B Pusey, Tom Howard, George Herbert and Evelyn Underhill defined Anglicanism for me. It was a vision, not an institution, that captured my heart. I wasn’t alone. Most of my evangelical friends always talked about the “political stuff” with disdain. And suddenly one day we awoke to learn that the evangelical voice in the church was out of vogue. It took us several General Conventions to learn to navigate the halls of power. Too late. The institution had kidnapped the vision. “Conversation” became a stalling tactic until the votes were there. Old-fashioned ideas like discernment landed in the trash heap while compromise and negotiation became de rigueur. Was any of this brand new? Probably not. The story of selecting our first Presiding Bishop leads me to think it was there from the beginning. But it was kept carefully out of the line of sight, lest the Anglican vision be made less comely.

Over the last 12 years, I have been immersed in the institution. I have attended the last 3 General Conventions as a lobbyist. I helped track every resolution through the entire legislative process. I helped organize testimony at committees. I have seen the intricate machinations of the institution. And I sat in the gallery of the House of Deputies when they voted to confirm Gene Robinson. And I wept – inconsolably. From my perspective, the institution had lost its soul and betrayed its vision. Had Latimer and Ridley died so that a gay man could be a bishop? How could there be celebration after this vote? Especially from a church that saw decline in our decade of evangelism. At that moment I realized that we had lost our collective mind. Instead of allowing our unmitigated failure at engaging our culture evangelistically to stop us in our tracks, we instead allowed the culture to evangelize us.

Radical Faith vs. Radical Doubt

I took my early steps of discipleship within a tradition that was adept at getting things all figured out. We had principles and a process for just about everything. We even had the end times charted. It was refreshing to discover in Anglicanism a sense of mystery. Not everything could be boiled down to 5 steps or 4 laws. Some questions took the intense efforts of great minds. Some questions were beyond our reach.

Combined with that sense of mystery (and the humility that it produces), however, was the radical faith of the Reformers (and before them the Martyrs, the Apologists and the Fathers – Anglicanism and the whole rest of Church History came to me in one package), men and women willing to stand and die for their faith, our faith. While there was plenty of room for mystery, there was no room for doubt. Latimer’s exhortation to Ridley rings with confidence. Cranmer, Jewel, Wesley, Pusey, Lewis, Temple – each of them spoke to me of radical faith.

But somewhere the Episcopal Church sold its birthright for a pot of stew. We embraced the method of Gore and the skepticism of A.T. Robinson. We began to exalt doubt as a virtue. It’s commonplace to hear people say, “Doubt is the first step to faith.” Perhaps it is. But in theological discussion, it seems we have forgotten that there are other steps. And as doubt became the norm, openness replaced proclamation.

Proclamation vs. Openness

The defining images of the Church have always been the cross and the tomb – both empty. It seems the icon of the Episcopal Church in these days is the welcome sign that hangs at the street corner. While our Anglican sisters and brothers boldly proclaim their faith in dangerous settings, we demurely offer a polite word of welcome during the announcements.

Part of my journey into the Episcopal Church was two courses on the history of Christian spirituality taught by Fr. Mark Dyer. I was mesmerized by Athanasius, Anthony, Augustine, Ambrose, Gregory (all of them!), Chrysostom and so many others. Their courage, confidence, perseverance, boldness, and joy were completely captivating. At one time in the history of the Church, bishops were pastors, theologians, missionaries and evangelists. Today they are institutional executives. It grieves my heart to see how we have adopted the 1950’s model of corporate leadership (a model repudiated by business leaders today) in place of Gregory’s model of pastoral leadership.

Catholicity vs. Autonomy

I grew up as a Baptist (a heritage that I cherish because it taught me the Scriptures). We prided ourselves on our fierce independence. We believed that God gave us the Bible and the Holy Spirit; no man-made interpretations for us. Then I discovered the Church and the Great Tradition. I discovered something awesome: a community of people from many cultures and throughout time that had been pondering the meaning of the Bible, searching for truth in a grand conversation. But today I keep hearing people refer all matters theological to the diocesan bishop. While it may be true that “the diocese is the smallest unit of the Church,” in our day it has become the only unit that matters. Is there anything more bizarre, even diabolical, than “local option” for matters of doctrine? The spirit of autonomy that runs rampant in the House of Bishops is a scandal. Where is the sense of being part of something catholic, historically and geographically? You would think that a person ceases to be catholic when he or she is consecrated bishop.

Via Media

Having grown up in a thoroughly evangelical environment (Baptist family, Wheaton College, Gordon-Conwell Seminary) I was very familiar, and comfortable, with the puritan vision of the 16th century. The Episcopal Church exposed me to the catholic vision and the via media. The original via media was between catholic and puritan visions of Church. Currently, however, it seems that the course that the Episcopal Church is trying to set places it between faith and secularism. The enthusiastic embracing of liberal modernism (what people at General Convention meant when they intoned “the Anglican way of doing …”) has left us as a bridge that connects nowhere – neither with the faith of Wesley nor the teaching of Benedict XVI. We are not catholic. We are not puritan. Many seem to rejoice over this in the Episcopal Church these days. For me it is a great sadness. It was the Episcopal Church that taught me how to be both.

The Demise of Scripture and the Ascendancy of “My Story”

I came to the Episcopal Church with a wide knowledge and deep love for the Bible. Over my 23 years in the church I’ve seen the Bible treated as a problematic inconvenience; often relegated to being a footnote to what’s really important – “my story.” The denomination seems to have become incapable of the sustained, diligent study required to let the Word speak authoritatively on its own terms. We have perfected the art of weaving our thoughts around short passages carefully chosen as trolley cars for our ideas and opinions. We emphasize the parts that help make our point and avoid the rest. And if we are telling our stories, we don’t need to bother about Scripture at all! Our stories have immediate authority and are self-authenticating. The Scriptures are old and complicated and hard to understand.

As someone who has loved the Scriptures for over three decades, I find it scandalous for leaders in the church to treat the Bible with what borders on contempt. For example, the lectionary regularly follows Jefferson’s example of snipping out the bits that are offensive to our modern mindset – most particularly the judgment passages. There are no ancient manuscripts that omit Mt. 25:30. Why does the lectionary? Why are judgment passages so regularly excised? God’s Word is not “chicken soup for the soul.” It is terrible medicine, a “sharp two-edged sword.” The attempt to domesticate it is either paternalistic (“The laity will be upset and confused.”) or nefarious (“Those bits don’t fit what we believe about Jesus. So we will just leave them out.”). Either way it breaks my heart to see the Bible treated that way.


I said at the beginning that this is a time for wide berths for conscience. Some of my evangelical friends feel called to stay with the Episcopal Church during a season of exile, a season of God’s judgment. Some feel called to stay committed to her, like Hosea to Gomer. And for a long time, I have been in that group. But, after months of struggle, I am feeling called out of the Episcopal Church like Israel out of Egypt. Since the Anglican vision that captured my heart still has faithful expression in various parts of the world, I feel no need to stay and have no longing to return to something that has so completely lost its heart, its life, itself. Perhaps God will bring about a renewal and a reconciliation that at this point is unimaginable. Perhaps there will be such an outpouring of His Spirit accompanied by such comprehensive repentance that we will all once again be of one heart and mind. Perhaps the faithfulness of the orthodox Hoseas will, over time, win the heart of Gomer. Until that time, I will live as a priest in the Church of God within an Anglican community other than the Episcopal Church. May God have mercy on all of us.

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant

1 posted on 12/22/2005 6:08:39 PM PST by sionnsar
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To: ahadams2; AnalogReigns; Uriah_lost; Condor 63; Fractal Trader; Zero Sum; anselmcantuar; Agrarian; ..
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 3-9 pings/day).
This list is pinged by sionnsar, Huber and newheart.

Resource for Traditional Anglicans:

Humor: The Anglican Blue (by Huber)

Speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15

2 posted on 12/22/2005 6:09:36 PM PST by sionnsar (†† || To Libs: Celebrate MY diversity, eh! || Iran Azadi 2006)
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To: sionnsar


3 posted on 12/22/2005 6:21:41 PM PST by LibreOuMort ("...But as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" - Patrick Henry)
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To: sionnsar

The institution had kidnapped the vision. “Conversation” became a stalling tactic until the votes were there.


4 posted on 12/22/2005 6:37:50 PM PST by kalee
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To: sionnsar

Great essay!

5 posted on 12/22/2005 7:12:46 PM PST by Huber ("The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." - Edmund Burke)
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To: sionnsar

I'll join the chorus.


6 posted on 12/22/2005 8:08:24 PM PST by PAR35
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To: sionnsar
Over my 23 years in the church I’ve seen the Bible treated as a problematic inconvenience; often relegated to being a footnote to what’s really important – “my story.”

Which usually expresses the belief that "God made me the way I am and God doesn't make junk" Which is a not so indirect way of blaming God for ones condition and then refusing to look to Him for a way out. Homosexuals in particular love the "my story" bit.

7 posted on 12/22/2005 9:41:18 PM PST by conservonator (Pray for those suffering)
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To: sionnsar

"sincerely following the leading of the Spirit into very different, even contradictory, decisions."

Sorry, this premise stinks to high Heaven....

God's leading will not contradict His WORD. God is not the author of confusion.

8 posted on 12/22/2005 10:52:10 PM PST by The Spirit Of Allegiance (SAVE THE BRAINFOREST! Boycott the RED Dead Tree Media & NUKE the DNC Class Action Temper Tantrum!)
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To: sionnsar

Great essay. Thanks for posting it.

9 posted on 12/23/2005 7:28:18 AM PST by SuzyQue
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