Skip to comments.Straight Talk from Birmingham
Posted on 05/24/2006 5:37:34 PM PDT by sionnsar
I promised Id talk about the state of the Episcopal Church as we approach General Convention, 2006. First, I want to describe the crisis as I see it; second, clarify my position; and finally say something about my relationship with the Diocese of Alabama.
This is not something I enjoy doing. I wish our problems would go away, but they wont. And let me pause right now to say that regardless of what happens in the church as it pertains to the crisis she is in, regardless of how heated things get, I pledge to keep it out of Sunday worship as best I can.
If you were here last Sunday for the Deans Class you heard me say the rubric under which I place my ministry comes from 1 Corinthians 9:16: Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel. Id like to have a small piece of brass engraved with those words, Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel, and attach it somewhere to be seen as you climb into the pulpit.
I may address various issues as they come up in the Deans Class or in letters to the parish or special forums, but not in the pulpit. Regardless of what happens, I want us to be a church that is focused on the gospel and Sunday worship will be just that, worship.
Having said that, I think it is time that I, as your Dean, talk to you, the vestry, about the crisis in the Episcopal Church and also put the cards on the table before all the wonderful people of the Advent.
Ive waited to do this. Early on I talked to the Search Committee about where I stood on the issue. But since then I have not talked about it at any public forum. One-on-one I have talked to you as you have come to me but not openly to the church. For one thing, I want everybody to like me and these things are divisive. Second, theres an old saying: Dont use your influence until youve earned it. Being new to the Advent, I wanted to focus on building relationships. But third, even more importantly, as I just said, my passion is somewhere else. My passion is for the gospel and it breaks my heart to be seriously side-tracked by other things. Theres a point in time, however, when you have to address the proverbial elephant in the room.
The fact of the matter is, our church is in crisis. Dont let anybody tell you differently. It is amazing to me that it has taken this long for some of the prelates in the church to understand how serious this is. We could be on the verge of a break.
When I say break, I mean a break in the Anglican Communion. Some parts of the Communion have already severed relations with the Episcopal Church USA. We have been warned. The Anglican Communion is watching. It is not inconceivable that the break could become more formal and ultimately leave us as a non-Anglican, protestant sect. I pray not.
Heres the way I see it: Homosexuality, blessing of same sex unions, are just symptoms of a much deeper issue. The Episcopal Church is a house divided. Yes, there are those who are in the middle and who just want peace and say, just let us be the Advent and not worry about what everybody else does. From our perspective thats not a possibility because were not a congregational church. We are an Episcopal Church and a constituent member of the world-wide Anglican Communion and what we believe to be true is what holds us in communion. What we do affects others in the communion. The ordination of Gene Robinson has damaged Anglicans in other parts of the world in their relationship with other religious bodies, particularly the Muslims in certain parts of the world; and also Christians, the Greek Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church.
If a person thinks we can start acting as a congregational church, then I believe this person is not clear on what all that would mean.
At the heart of the crisis there is a deep divide.
On one side you have people with sincere, deep, deep convictions who say whats at stake is a human rights issue, a human justice issue. Take segregation for example. They say just as we look back on civil rights 35 years later and are ashamed, so will we look back on the gay issue years from now and be ashamed. For them the rubric of inclusive love overrides everything. They are very sincere people who are deeply committed to what they believe and what they are doing. And they are not going to give in and change their mind. And I would not expect them to.
On the other side you have people who say this is a theological crisis. They say whats at stake is a question of ultimate authority. Does the Bible judge culture or does culture judge the Bible? (Its clear what the Bible teaches. This is not a matter of yanking a verse out of context. The overall teaching of the Bible is clear.) So for people on this side of the divide, the issue is what we mean when we say we are an apostolic church. When we read from Romans, for example, we dont say, "This is the word of Paul." We say, "This is the word of the Lord." And the congregation responds, "Thanks be to God."
So people on this side say that the very teachings of the church are being undermined. They say if we dont hold firm, the very foundation of the church will fall. They are deeply committed to what they believe; theyre not going to give in and change their mind.
As I said, I did not refrain from telling the Search Committee where I stood on the issue. Its one of the first things we talked about. I am over here, on the traditional side. But please believe me when I say it is my hearts desire to reach out in love to all people.
I think the task of the church should be to reach out to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered (those are the categories that are most talked about) to reach out IN LOVE without condoning the behavior. There are those who say you cant do that, who say you cannot reach out in love without condoning the behavior, but I dont believe that one bit.
I consider myself inclusive to the core. It has been said in the Diocese of California that Mark Andrus is committed to inclusivity. Let me say that I also am committed to inclusivity. The gospel is radically inclusive. Jesus said, Him who comes to me I will in no way cast out (John 6:37). Jesus never rejected anyone; but he didnt condone their way of life. He never touched a soul he didnt change.
No person should feel rejected at The Cathedral Church of the Advent. I have people whom I love dearly who are gay. They know where I stand and I dont think they feel hatred or rejection. We have members of the Advent who are gay. Any kind of homophobia will not be tolerated by any person on this staff. No person is better than the other. Just before Holy Communion we all pray, We are not worthy enough to gather up the crumbs under thy table. We pray that together, as one body.
Let me share a pastoral conversation that took place recently. A mother said, "Its so tragic. My son didnt choose to be gay and he cannot change." Well, it is tragic and no one said the son did choose to be gay. (Every person alive was born in ways that need transformation.) But its clear to me that the mothers problem is not with homosexuality, her problem is with Easter. God can give life to the dead. How can she say that God cannot change her son? Remember Lazarus, and every other person, dead or alive, that Jesus touched. "Gods love changed me," is the refrain of many people of all sorts and conditions.
The gospel is a not a message of unconditional affirmation; it is a message of unconditional forgiveness and transformation.
Now, whats going to happen?
The answer is I dont know whats going to happen. I think I can tell you whats not going to happen, and that is reconciliation. There are people who continue to say that what we need is more dialogue. Well, the problem is not a matter of not understanding each other. The problem is we do understand each other. And the differences are irreconcilable. I see no proposed resolutions coming up for General Convention that have the teeth to indicate a bona fide change of heart on the part of the Episcopal Church.
So I think I know whats not going to happen reconciliation. But I do not know what is going to happen. That would have been like asking Martin Luther to tell you what was going to happen in the heat of the Reformation. He didnt know.
Let me assure you of something. (And this may be good news for you or bad news, depending on your perspective.) Let me assure you Im here for the long haul. I didnt come to Birmingham because the living is easy. I plan to do my small part to witness and call the Episcopal Church back to its New Testament roots and to her traditional teachings. If God can call Lazarus out of the grave he can save the Episcopal Church.
I believe if were going to survive as a denomination we need to avoid being absorbed into the culture. The Bible is Gods word to man. We need to remain an apostolic church in as much as that means to be under the authority of the apostles teachings. I will hang in there until God tells me to quit. I want to remain open to the Holy Spirit and be obedient to wherever He leads.
I think John Stott, prolific author and noted Anglican scholar from England, summed up the situation very well. He said we traditionalists have three options:
The first is to get out. There are faithful men and women who think to stay in an unfaithful church would be an intolerable compromise. And I believe to say, Ive always been an Episcopalian and Ill die one come hell or high water, is to make an idol out of our denomination. Obedience and loyalty to the Lord is a higher call than loyalty to our denomination. Our priorities should be first as a Christian, second as an Anglican, and third as an Episcopalian. In light of that, many faithful people have left or will be leaving the Episcopal denomination.
The second option is to stay in and give in. I am thinking of Episcopalians who are determined to stay in the church at all costs, even at the cost of betraying the gospel. For me that is simply not an option.
The third option is to stay in, while refusing to give in. This can take courage. Frankly, this can be the most painful and it might cause us the most misery. But, again, I didnt come to Birmingham because the living is easy. I have come trusting in the providence of God. Is there any situation so desperate into which the God of Easter does not bring hope?
Theres one other thing I want to address and that concerns my relationship with the Diocese of Alabama. Bishop Parsley knows where I stand. Despite the fact that we have differences of opinion, he has been gracious to me and has not been threatening or mean-spirited towards me in any way. I am truly thankful for his kindness. Of all the candidates running for Presiding Bishop he would be my choice.
In what ways do Bishop Parsley and I differ? He has told me he is absolutely committed to unity with the Episcopal Church USA. (The Bishop of Virginia is quoted as saying: "If you have to choose between heresy and schism, you should choose heresy every time." I firmly disagree with the Bishop of Virginia.)
Bishop Parsley has made it clear he wants a church that can stay in dialogue and continue to walk together; in other words, agree to disagree and live in peace and harmony, and focus on mission. But I dont think you can focus on mission when we cant agree on what it means to be an apostolic church at the most fundamental level. A church divided at the core cannot be successful at mission. We are painfully divided at a fundamental, doctrinal level. This is a crisis of theology.
As we continue to trust that God will show us the way forward, I am going to strive to have a healthy working relationship with the Bishop of Alabama who has no easy job. May God grant us grace to do so. Please pray for our beloved Advent, for the diocese and for the "one holy catholic and apostolic church."
The Bishop of Virginia is quoted as saying, "If you have to choose between heresy and schism, you should choose heresy every time."
Kind of sums up the revisionists' beliefs in a nutshell. They stand for nothing. It's the theological equivalent of "Better Red than dead!"
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