Skip to comments.A Response to Fr. Timothy Fountain, Parts 1&2 [on "The Broad Church, The Orthodox, and GLBTs]
Posted on 06/08/2006 6:00:12 PM PDT by sionnsar
I have a great deal of respect for Fr. Timothy Fountain. I almost always agree with his posts on titusonenine and I am fed and instructed by his keen insight. He's definitely one of the good guys. It is, therefore, with great respect and admiration that I pen this first part of my critical response to his article The Broad Church, The Orthodox, and GLBTs; How Can the Minorities Live with the Majority published two days ago on Brad Drells site.
I disagree, rather vehemently, first with Fr. Timothys premise: that the "fuel" for our current divisions flows from a core sense of insecurity that plagues both revisionist and orthodox parties; and second, with his prescription: that this insecurity can be dealt with by a series of mutual compromises designed to create relational space or pastoral safety zones, enabling both sides to remain actively engaged and the Church to remain institutionally unified.
Here is his premise:
The orthodox and LGBT dominate diocesan and General Conventions with irreconcilable claims. Broad church efforts to accommodate, balance or temper these demands are seen as fudge a denial of justice from the LGBT perspective and lack of fidelity to Christ from the orthodox point of view I am convinced of two factors relevant to our denominational agony: 1. Both LGBT and theologically informed, orthodox Episcopalians are minorities in the denomination. 2. Much of ECUSAs conflict is fueled by these groups efforts to establish their security in an environment that is (and might always be) ambivalent (or even hostile) toward them.
Fr. Timothy has framed this debate in relational/pastoral terms rather than doctrinal. The fuel for this fire from the orthodox perspective is not self-preservation or safety but the defense of the faith. Its not just that we want a safe place for ourselves in the wider community, the freedom to be orthodox. Rather, we want the wider community to be a wider Christian community.
That identification has been thrown into doubt by ECUSAs official repudiation of biblical and traditional teaching and practice. This repudiation threatens not just our own sense of security. It strikes to the very heart of Anglicanism. Its not that we want our own little orthodox ghetto free of heretics. We want a Church that leads people into the truth rather than away from it; toward life not toward death.
The premise upon which Fr. Timothy proceeds is thus skewed from the very start. He seriously misidentifies the high stakes involved (the gospel), and the motivations of at least the orthodox (to defend and preserve it) not simply on our own turf, but everywhere.
Upon the basis of this misidentification Fr. Timothy goes on to articulate a general vision for an uneasy peace between revisionist and orthodox parties based on the assumption that coexistence is both possible and mutually satisfactory so long as there is a sort of safety zone for the moral conscience of both sides.
If I had the solution, Id bottle it and sell it. Absent that, I ask us to think about ways that we might minister to the fears of both minorities. In offering some responsive love and respect, perhaps we can mitigate some of their perceived need to fight for survival and the collateral damage to the greater church.
Fr. Timothy adopts the heretofore revisionist assumption that fear is one of the primary motivators in this dispute. If the fear can be dealt with, then peaceful dialogue/engagement is possible.
Again, this is a serious misinterpretation of the problem. There is fear, not for our personal or our partys political future, but for the souls caught up in the lie propagated by our Church. There is the fear that if we do nothing and let those souls go down to death we will have betrayed our calling as ministers of the gospel of Christ. As bishop FitzSimons Allison put it: heresy is cruel. It destroys lives and souls. It must be defeated everywhere it crops up. This is not personal. It is an essential matter of faith.
Fr. Timothy goes on to articulate what he considers some of the Orthodox Safety Needs
First, he says: ECUSA must refrain from non-Trinitarian revisions of the BCP.
This is true, but, again, it has little to do with safety. It has to do with being a true Church. We are not given the freedom to casually saunter into Gods presence and address him in accordance with our own cultural needs and desires. God is personal. He has an identity. He has revealed himself in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have no authority to formally address him otherwise in the context of public worship. This is not a safety need. Its basic Christianity.
Moreover, I could not disagree more with Fr. Timothys summary of this first need:
When opponents of the orthodox assail key Creedal affirmations, the orthodox necessarily hear, We dont want you in the church."
Why does he insist on couching heresy in such emotional/relational terms?
The orthodox I know dont hear we dont want you in the church. We hear a core rejection biblical revelation. We recognize a move to conform Gods self-revelation to human cultural convention. We discern the same willed idolatrous misperception that has, from the very beginning, arisen from within the fallen human heart: God is who we want God to be.
Second Fr. Timothy says:
The orthodox, especially at this time, need ECUSA to take seriously the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic (meaning Windsor compliance). It must be admitted that the orthodox lived with a de facto local option policy toward a number of issues for several controversial decades. But GC 2003 pushed into an area where the seriously orthodox had no room for compromise. Appeals to proper canonical process did not answer the orthodox need for organic connection to worldwide and historic Christianity. The orthodox hear assertions of radical denominational independence as absolute rejection of their membership in the body of Christ.
I fully concur with Fr. Timothy here. I would only add that orthodox complacency in the past, the fact that we lived with a de-facto local option, is something to be ashamed of. It is one reason why ECUSAs future is so bleak. The sheer number of active priests currently living in same sex sexual relationships (were talking numbers at least in the hundreds and growing) makes it almost a given that at some point in the near future VGR will be joined by another non-celibate homosexual bishop. Compromise is always a short-term solution. We are paying for it now.
Fr. Timothy goes on to list the safety needs of the LGBT community.
First, he says:
The LGBT need the church to be honest with and about them. Rejection, discomfort and disgust are common straight reactions to LGBT people. For many LGBT people, such negative reactions from family, community and church are formative, damaging experiences. It is insulting to hang out ECUSA welcomes you (or Were here for you) signs if thats not how a congregation feels about LGBT people. Better to have an orthodox congregation that says, We see it as sin than well-meaning churches that say, Were inclusive when they mean Dont ask, dont tell. Churches need to understand the painful, ambivalent relationship many LGBT folk have with religion, and honor those who take the risk of coming to church to seek Christ. Too many churches make the right noises about inclusivity and equality, but coddle serial marriages, gossip, alcoholism and all kinds of other un-Biblical things while squirming nervously should an out homosexual start attending. Churches that are serious about LGBT members need to look into special programming that addresses their unique spiritual issues. And ECUSA needs to own up to its statements affirming Gods love for LGBT people. That is, the most orthodox among us needs to look a Southern Baptist friend in the eye and say, LGBT people are my brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever our differences, and they belong in the church.
I am not at all certain what Fr. Timothy means here so I want to tread lightly. Setting aside the question of whether those promoting heresy are to be considered brothers and sisters, if he means that because the orthodox have turned a blind eye to socially acceptable sinful behavior in the past (heterosexual promiscuity, divorce without cause, gossip) we ought to now turn the same blind eye to homosexual sinful behavior its only fair, then I dont even know where to begin.
But let me try anyway.
First, having worshipped in a number of orthodox Anglican parishes and leading one on my own now, I have never seen this coddling. If it does exist then it is shameful and must be stopped. Church discipline is a biblical mandate and it must be applied across the board.
Second, all sexual behavior outside of marriage is a sin and is therefore destructive to body and soul. Certainly pastoral kindness, gentleness, humility and love are necessary, but if non-celibate homosexual people will only feel comfortable in a parish that embraces their behavior or remains silent, then I am afraid they will never be comfortable in my parish. Nor should they be; nor should anyone living in open rebellion against God be comfortable in any faithful community. Sin ought to make us uncomfortable and when it doesnt then either our conscience is deadened or our pastors are negligent...or, more likely, both.
I cant open the bible without feeling uncomfortable. I am constantly convicted. The bible is not a welcoming book. And yet, thanks be to God that he has, in his mercy, given us such a flawless gift. Thanks be to God that like a good father, he corrects and rebukes me through his Word. In it I find conviction and in it I find the words of life.
A pastor who teaches and proclaims the whole word of God, truthfully and accurately, may be perceived as unwelcoming and hateful. This is unfortunate but not unexpected. It is the lot of prophets.
In any case, I have come to the end of this first part of my response to Fr. Timothy. Ill try to have the second out tomorrow morning.
This is the second part of my two part critique of Fr. Timothy Fountain's article The Broad Church, The Orthodox, and GLBTs; How Can The Minorities Live With The Majority published on Brad Drell's site three days ago.
In the first installment of this critique posted yesterday, I noted Fr. Timothy's emphasis on pastoral accomodation over and above doctrinal truth. That emphasis only becomes more pronounced in the remainder of his article.
We pick up today following his call for pastoral accomodation of LGBT people in orthodox parishes. Here he extends this call to the world-wide Communion.
This honesty must extend to international Anglican and ecumenical discussions. The Preface to the 1549 BCP describes a church in which people grow in holiness by regular attendance at Bible-expounding worship. While evangelicalism has a noble history within Anglicanism, radical conversion is not the dominant model of holiness in our tradition. Our foundational tradition is more at home with steady spiritual progress and sanctification.
This is an interesting assertion but unnecessarily limiting. Fr, Timothy draws a facile dichotomy between conversion and sanctification: two aspects of Christian living that are separated neither in scripture nor in tradition. As an evangelical, I believe that the process of sanctification necessarily flows out of conversion based justification. It is justification (through the conduit of faith alone) that ensures salvation, but if the process of sanctification does not ensue, if there is no change in life and habit, there is reason to suspect that conversion has not in fact occurred. As some put it: we are saved by faith alone; not by a faith that is alone. But anglo-catholics also emphasize both conversion and sanctification. Sanctification is the process of daily conversion: your habits of thought, speech and behavior are changed as you are conformed or gradually converted by holy discipline and the grace of the sacraments to the image and likeness of Christ. The difference between anglo-catholics and evangelicals is not over whether both conversion and sanctification take place, but the ground upon which one is saved. For evangelicals, salvation is grounded on justification and justification comes by faith alone. For anglo-catholics justification (being declared righteous by God) comes at the end of the process of sanctification, not logically prior (as it does for evangelicals) so that salvation is accomplished through the grace imparted to the believer who cooperates with that grace and bears the fruit of a changed life and good works.
In either case, evangelical or anglo-catholic, there is no room for accommodating sin. At no point in the process of sanctification would an evangelical or anglo-catholic say: this sin is okay for now. Particularly addictive or habitual sins may take longer than others to break and some sins may plague a believer for his entire lifetime, but he is never at liberty to make peace with them. Nor is the Church
Sins are to be exposed, fought, and mortified by the power of the cross and resurrection. That is the purpose of a church in which people grow in holiness by regular attendance at Bible-expounding worship.
When we fall, we get up, repent, and return to the Lord. There can be no peace with sin.
Fr. Timothy goes on to explain:
This isnt a justification for SSUs and LGBT bishops (in fact, this approach should curb our zeal for innovation), but it is part of our contribution to the greater Christian community and it distinguishes us from Roman Catholic natural law and evangelical measures of conversion and holiness.
So our special charism, our great gift to Christendom, is our ability to be honest; to accommodate or at least consider (enter into dialogue with) open rebellion?
He goes on:
As I wrote above, weve accepted lots of local option and diversity in the past in order to hold one another in fellowship. We need to stand up for this (our church making a place for LGBT Christians) in ecumenical and inter-Anglican conversation.
As I wrote yesterday, this accommodation is precisely what has led to the disaster we are facing today. Had we stood firmly against these local option ordination and SSUs from the beginning VGR would not be a bishop today. Our past complacency is a dramatic failure for which we must repent. It is not a gift to be embraced or a precedent to follow.
But the most disturbing line of the above quoted section is this one:
...weve accepted lots of local option and diversity in the past in order to hold one another in fellowship.
This puts everything in place. The mission and goal for Fr. Timothy is institutional unity, or, holding one another in fellowship.
I have been working under the assumption the ultimate ssion and goal for the orthodox is the reformation of North American Anglicanism. If that can be accomplished whilst holding one another in fellowship, well and good. But if not, so be it.
This, I think, is what has disturbed me so about Fr. Timothys article and, even more, about the overwhelmingly positive response it has received from my fellow orthodox Anglicans.
What is our purpose here? What is our mission? Is it reformation or is it safety?
If it is reformation then ultimately that means that those pushing the LGBT agenda must either be expelled, excommunicated, or converted. Reformation means that the false teachers are not accommodated, not held together in fellowship. Why? Because they are leading souls away from Christ. They may be nice people. They may be pleasant to speak with on a personal level, but they are encouraging confused and lost people to follow a lifestyle that will ultimately devour their bodies and souls. The same is true for all heretics. Thats why Jesus calls them wolves. You dont embrace wolves, you drive them away from the flock.
Moreover, if your goal is safety, you are deceived. Those pushing the LGBT agenda are on a mission too. Do you really think theyll ultimately settle for even one safe orthodox neighborhood in any precinct of the Episcopal city? Are you kidding? No justice, no peace. They see our stance on homosexuality as fundamentally unjust as South African apartheid. To their minds we are oppressors. For them this is an essential justice issue. So long as any non-celibate homosexual person is denied access to Episcopal ordination or same-sex blessing, the fight will continue until we are expelled, excommunicated, or converted. Dont be deceived. There is no peace.
Fr. Timothy goes on to articulate some challenges his proposals would pose to both sides:
But the church must challenge both groups as well as affirm them. Their reactions to perceived threats spread discord in the greater church, and ironically increase their own frustration and isolation.
Just as a side note, the moral equivalence in this paragraph is stunning. It is difficult to understand just how Fr. Timothy, an orthodox priest himself, could believe this. It is like visiting first century Corinth and suggesting that those proud and supportive of the man who has taken his fathers wife (1st Cor 5) on the one hand and St. Paul on the other are equally problematic.
In any case, here is his first challenge to the orthodox:
Build a consistent kingdom witness. The containment of LGBT political excess is not an end in itself. Rebuilding Biblical marriage in a hostile culture is important. Addictions of all kinds ravage lives. Gossips ruin churches. Sarcasm and pride increase cultural hostility. So nurture congregations that abound in the fruit of the Spirit. Certainly contend against the works of the flesh, but build loving, serving, discipling communities as you do.
I will definitely agree with this. Orthodox parishes must be orthodox. Heres the second challenge:
Try to hang in as a loyal minority voice. For many reasons (not the least of which are plenty of other evangelical and Catholic places to go), attentively orthodox Christians are highly unlikely to become the majority in ECUSA. People come to ECUSA for a distinct approach to Christian formation. In accepting this, perhaps you can avoid the heresy or schism? decision. John Maxwells current N.Y. Times bestseller, The 360 Degree Leader, is a practical guide to exercising positive influence from the middle of an organization. Yes, if you are being forced to compromise on your absolute values, it is time to leave. But in most environments your presence can be a positive source of change, like several of historys great reforming saints.
Wow, I am once more amazed by the clash of purposes here. Are we really in this thing to provide a loyal minority voice? Are we really willing to accept this: orthodox Christians are highly unlikely to become the majority in ECUSA as an enduring reality? The dominance of heterodoxy in the Episcopal Church is a relatively new reality; stretching over the last fifty or so years.
Is Fr. Timothy suggesting that for the sake of holding one another in fellowship we accept this new reality as a permanent state?
Fr. Timothy, do you really believe this? Brad Drell and all of you orthodox bloggers and commenters who so highly praised this piece, is this what youve been fighting for?
If so, count me out.
The peace offered in Fr. Timothys article is nothing short of a betrayal of the gospel and a betrayal of all those confused Episcopalians caught up in sexual sin.
As I said at the very beginning, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Fr. Timothy and Brad Drell and all the rest of the commenters who have received this article with joy.
But Im afraid Fr. Timothys work may have revealed a deep fissure in the orthodox party between those who are fighting for total reformation and those who are fighting to preserve a safe space for all sides.
Fissures are dangerous things. They lead to divisions. Divisions lead to defeat.
We must have a common purpose or we will fail and orthodoxy will be lost.
I don't want this to happen.
Fr. Timothy goes on to give a series of challenges to the LGBT and to the entire church but I think Ive already dealt with the core premise and assertions of his piece.
For brevitys sake Ill end here with a challenge of my own to Fr. Timothy and to all of the orthodox:
Is the peace with wolves envisioned in this article supported or permitted in the New Testament? If so, please show me where.
If not, then it's time reassess. The mission envisioned by Fr. Timothy cannot be our mission. We must not seek peace above all, but above all seek to reestablish Anglican biblical orthodoxy in North America.
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Speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15
" The difference between anglo-catholics and evangelicals is not over whether both conversion and sanctification take place, but the ground upon which one is saved. For evangelicals, salvation is grounded on justification and justification comes by faith alone. For anglo-catholics justification (being declared righteous by God) comes at the end of the process of sanctification, not logically prior (as it does for evangelicals) so that salvation is accomplished through the grace imparted to the believer who cooperates with that grace and bears the fruit of a changed life and good works."
Monergism vs. synergism. Interesting that anyone might think the two could exist in the same ecclesial community! The Reformers certainly didn't. Neither does Orthodoxy for that matter.
My understanding of the (Eastern) Orthodox position here is not that it's a matter of declaration; it's a matter of being, correct? I am a layman not well educated as to the particulars of "sanctification" -- does this approach theosis (as described it seems to)?
Yes, you are correct. That was a misstatement on my part. For Romans and Orthodox, I think, one is declared righteous only when one is righteous whereas for an evangelical, one is declared righteous on the basis of the alien righteousness of Christ.
I've had some long and difficult (for me to understand) discussions with Kolokotronis over this, but what I have come out of it is not that there is a "declaration" by God, but that one works on being "approachable" to God. (I am tired, so my explanations may fall short...)
I am minded of the Ghost in Lewis' "The Great Divorce" who is being asked by his "angel" to set foot on the path toward the Dawn but who complains that the (uber-real) grass is too hard, though the angel tells him the way will become easier. There are at least a couple of readings of this passage, but this is the best I could reach in understanding the concept of theosis - it's not that one stands before a judge who delivers a decision... it's more of what one is revealed to be in the presence of God -- a major sinner will not be able to withstand the (refiner's?) fire, but one well on the journey may.
The language of "declaration" is something I've not heard from the Orthodox on this venue, though it fits with much of what I hear of Protestant theology, so I raise the question of whether this is one of the differences between East and West.
Father Fountain must have come under some pretty heavy PC peer pressure to have written something as "nonjudgemental" as this. It is analagous to those who serve as apologists for the terrorists - the logic of "yes they shouldn't be blowing up and decapitating innocents, but at the same time we need to accept our role in giving them no other option..."
While Father Fountain is justified in his belief that there is a value of faithful witness, even in the minority, this must only be in the context of mission - bringing salt and light to a congregation that is becoming increasingly pagan and deist.
" My understanding of the (Eastern) Orthodox position here is not that it's a matter of declaration; it's a matter of being, correct? I am a layman not well educated as to the particulars of "sanctification" -- does this approach theosis (as described it seems to)?"
Its a grace driven process.
"'Can a man take fire into his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?' (Prov. 6:27) says the wise Solomon. And I say: can he, who has in his heart the Divine fire of the Holy Spirit burning naked, not be set on fire, not shine and glitter and not take on the radiance of the Deity in the degree of his purification and penetration by fire? For penetration by fire follows upon purification of the heart, and again purification of the heart follows upon penetration by fire, that is, inasmuch as the heart is purified, so it receives Divine grace, and again inasmuch as it receives grace, so it is purified. When this is completed (that is, purification of heart and acquisition of grace have attained their fullness and perfection), through grace a man becomes wholly a god." +Symeon the New Theologian
D'oh! I was way too overtired...
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