Thursday, January 11, 2007

So what IS the problem?

Checking out what I missed while on hiatus from the blogosphere was a little like missing a soap for a week or two and coming back to more of the same. A week with the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was a welcome respite from the relentless onslaught of "things Anglican" and I am deeply grateful for the gift of that time and space and the extraordinary hospitality of the sisters.

But hi-ho, hi-ho, it's back to work I go ... and checking in on what I missed over at Kendall Harmon's titusonenine, I was impressed by the energy engendered around this Connecticut letter to the editor writer who not only named the truth about the current contretemps but called the paper to account for buying the Schismatic Spin hook-line-and-sinker. Calling the report “sadly one sided and misinformed” the writer went on to object to the reactionary fringe dominating the story and for being “treated as if their bigoted opinions represented a significant portion of the Episcopal Church” concluding:

“The Episcopal Church is moving ahead into the 21st century and if a few squirm and holler the media should be savvy enough not to be a pawn of their ploys. Please research your stories and present more than one warped view of what is going on.”

My response was (predictably): “And let the people say, AMEN!”

Kendall’s was (equally predictably): “Foul!”

But his “foul” came with the kind of energy one saves for those challenges that hit a nerve … and in this case Mr. Hartford Connecticut hit a big one. In two simple sentences he managed to undermine the house of sand on which this schism is built causing Canon Harmon, one of its chief architects, to resort to the strategy found on page 2 of “Media Training 101”: reframe the message you don’t want to respond to.

Kendall – an excellent student of the media spin -- responds on cue: “We have the wrong identification of the problem as bigotry.” Bravo. Well done. Redirect the question, reframe the argument and then you get to have the discussion YOU want to have with the outcome you control. Sort of like when you convene a Panel of Reference to discern whether or not a plan to offer women equal access to the ordination of women is working in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Only you don’t actually talk to any women …you base your recommendations on the description of the plan’s “success” offered by the plan’s architects.

As I noted to a colleague earlier this week, that makes all kinds of sense, doesn’t it? Imagine how much tidier it would have been if we’d just asked the segregationists how the Jim Crow Laws were working. Would have saved so much messiness in the 60’s!

I’ll give Kendall this much: I don’t actually believe the presenting issue is bigotry – bigotry is just one of the fruits of the spirit of the rabid absolutism driving those whose criteria for being included is being agreed with and who will stop at nothing to “purge” the church of those they consider “unclean.” It leads us to ask the question we asked in the Integrity statement issued ealier this week "What Next?" And points to the truth that in the end it isn’t about sex or gender or race or even theology – it’s about power. And Kendall brings that right back home for us again in his blog entry by presuming the power to define what the problem is.

The problem is he doesn’t get to say what the problem is. We do. The people of the Episcopal Church. Straight and Gay. Women and Men. High Church and Low Church and In-Between Church. And the problem we have identified is the challenge of becoming more and more fully and wholly the Body of Christ in the world. And the way we have addressed that problem is to continue to live into our call to widen the embrace of the Institutional Church to better model the embrace of the Incarnate Christ.

We said it in 1997 when we passed canons mandating equal access to the ordination process for qualified candidates for the priesthood. We said it in 1994 when we added sexual orientation to the ordination canons in the “non-discrimination” laundry list. And we said it way back in 1976 when we promised “full and equal claim” to the gay and lesbian baptized. We haven’t solved all those problems yet but we’re working on them. And whether we like it or not this church – this Episcopal Church – works to solve them by consultation with all orders of ministry represented in the councils of the church, not by caveat from bishops meeting apart from the rest of us. We solve them within the polity of our Episcopal tradition -- with the checks and balances in place our forebears wisely bequeathed to us in the 18th century and continue to serve us well as we move ahead into the 21st.

Kendall understands it otherwise: “The Episcopal Church is not moving ahead but instead moving away from Scripture and the Church and a significant majority of their fellow Anglicans worldwide.” It’s their spin and they’re sticking to it. The question is at what cost to the church, to the mission of the Gospel and to the world groaning in travail yearning for hope and vision and life from this church that HAS the power to offer it if we could but turn out attention to the needs that surround us rather than the nastiness that consumes us.

Will we claim that power and move ahead into God’s future or WILL we allow ourselves to be blackmailed into bigotry, ignoring the spirit of the Letter from the Birmingham Jail and the good news of the Babe in the Bethlehem Manger? Whether Kendall Harmon likes it or not, THAT is the problem.


Anonymous said...

Susan quotes Kendall: “The Episcopal Church is not moving ahead but instead moving away from Scripture and the Church and a significant majority of their fellow Anglicans worldwide.”

I'm not sure, Susan, whether or not you're claiming that some part of this statement is false (and if so, which part), or whether you just don't like it.

As to "not moving ahead", by the most obvious measures (ASA and membership), ECUSA is shrinking at a fairly alarming rate; the official statistics are unarguable and unanimous on this point.

As to moving away from Scripture, Griswold himself said that "strictly speaking, ECUSA is in violation of Scripture" -- as have an enormous number of other respected commentators, nearly all of whom eat shellfish.

As to moving away from the Church, the Romans and the Orthodox have both condemned ECUSA's position; between them they represent somewhere around seven out of ten Christians worldwide. And ECUSA's innovations have hardly been welcomed by worldwide Protestantism, either.

And as to moving away from a significant majority of our fellow Anglicans worldwide, I think the numerous Primates's statements -- since 2003 and before -- not to mention Lambeth, indicate clearly that they, at least, believe ECUSA is abandoning the Anglican faith.

So again, Susan, I'm not sure what you object to specifically in the statement. Please explain.

plsdeacon said...

For you, maybe, it is about power.

For me, (and the reasserters/conservatives/traditionalists) the issue is faithfulness. As Christians, we are called, first, to be faithful as God is faithful. To whom or what are we to be faithful? We are to be faithful to the Holy Trinity. How do we know if an belief or activity is being faithful to the Holy Trinity? We know by the witness of Holy Scripture and by the teaching of the Church, catholic.

The blessing of same sex unions and the raising of people engaged in same sex genital contact is against the unified witness of both Holy Scripture (in both the Old and New Testaments) and it is against the unbroken tradition of the Church.

Can you give me an argument based in Holy Scripture and/or the unbroken tradition of the Church for blessing same sex unions or ordaining men or women involved in them?

Phil Snyder

Hawick said...

As Senior Warden of a parish, I will very soon be shaking the dust from my feet, having become increasingly shocked and saddened by the path of the church. Harmon may well be obsessed with relatively narrow issues, but the elitist, shallow snots who have commandeered TEC (or whatever they insist on calling it this week) have long since plunged headlong into a post-Christian fuzziness whose only redeeming quality is the promotion of human dignity, which is very respectable in and of itself but which absolutely does not rise to the level of religion--any decent non-profit can do as much, and most do it far better than TEC. Those in the saddle would be more honest to give up the clerical trappings and concoct rituals befitting a this-worldly social-justice movement, putting an end to their hypocrisy and to the post-Christian farce now known as TEC.

Lisa Fox said...

Preach it, my sister!

Glad to have you back in the mundane world!

StampDawg said...

A note to Hawick.... your post was very helpful to me. I would be grateful for the opportunity to speak with you by email. Would you be willing to do that? You can reach me at


John B. Chilton said...

++KJS interviewed in latest Integrity. Go there via

Catherine said...

To Craig's claim that the Church is shrinking,I would beg to differ. This Sunday we will baptize three more persons into the Body of Christ. We have to hold two welcoming services each year for the 20 or so memebers that join the Body of Christ each service. And I am sure my parish is not alone in their growth, and that is because Christ is evident in those parishes and so He draws them to Him.

TEC is alive, well, kicking and spitting up the noxious bigotry and prejudice it has had to swallow for so long from the minority who would divide this Church and its mission.

I would say TEC is on its way to wellness by purging the infection it has tried to accept and cure by reconciiation and reason. The fact that the infection choses to leave on its own is a very good sign that TEC is very strong in spirit and purpose of mission.

uffda51 said...

Dear Phil, I understand that for you (and the reasserters, conservatives & traditionalists) the issue is faithfulness. As Christians, we are called to be faithful, as you say, to the Holy Trinity. This includes, obviously, the Holy Spirit.

I think we would all agree that the Holy Spirit is alive and well today. I think we can also agree that the gospels, written decades after the crucifixion, will not be adding any more chapters. I think we can agree that terrible wrongs have been committed by people citing the Holy Scripture and terrible wrongs have been committed under the guise of “the teaching of the church.”

We must remember that Jesus was not a reasserter, a conservative, or a traditionalist. He was a radical challenger to the status quo and was deemed so subversive that the was crucified by those who feared his influence. We must remember that the creeds we recite each Sunday speak of Jesus’ birth and death but say nothing of his convention defying ministry. If we are looking for a Bible passage that states “Yes to gay marriage. I approve this message. (Signed) Jesus,” we won’t find it. Nor will we find Jesus’ endorsement of torture, rendition or pre-emptive war, all of which are currently being carried out by our born-again president, who would like to ban gay marriage via a constitutional amendment. I don’t hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in those policy decisions. I do hear the voice of the Holy Spirit when I read the speeches of Martin Luther King.

I believe the Holy Spirit is working through Gene Robinson, Bishop Tutu, Bishop Katherine and many others to tell us that denying full inclusion to our LGBT friends is wrong.

We know that ruling political parties try to “spin” news and opinion in their direction even in a democracy. Isn’t it just possible, not to say even more likely, that in a Jewish theocracy thousands of years ago the “spinners” might have had the clout to prevent dissenting voices from being heard?

The Bible would have us believe that lepers are unclean, epileptics are demon-possessed, the moon is a source of light and the earth is flat. Does this mean that the gospels are invalid? No, it means that the authors of the Bible were not experts on medicine, psychology, astronomy or geography. Is there no possibility in your mind that the Bible could be mistaken about human sexuality? Isn’t sexual orientation, like eye color, hair color and skin color, determined in the womb? Or is it something we sign up for, like allegiance to a major league baseball team, which could change if the team ever left Brooklyn?

In your heart of hearts is the Holy Spirit truly calling you to exclude LGBTs? Jesus said "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). I don’t see how one can see this as an order to condemn LGBTs from full inclusion in their church.

Yes, it’s about faithfulness. Faithfulness to Jesus and the Holy Spirit. But we also recognize that religious institutions are all too infallible, that human beings are all too often fearful of the unfamiliar, and that no one group has a monopoly on absolute truth.

I think that if you came to my church and saw gay people preach the gospel, perform the liturgy, decorate the church, provide the music, place their tithes in the plate, rejoice in their children, receive the Eucharist, and help to run all of the outreach programs we have, you might hear the Holy Spirit calling to you.


Bruce Babcock