Monday, December 14, 2009

Yes, Virginia: There IS a via media!

Convergence trumps compliance in Dallas debate

Giving up on the television news this morning when I couldn't find anyone talking about anything other than Tiger Woods, I turned to cyber-news land and found this feature on Saturday's "debate" between bishops Katharine Jefferts Schori and William Frey in my inbox. It is totally "a keeper."

I'm posting the whole piece below and hoping you'll not only read it but forward it and save it for future reference re: the story I'm more tired of than I am of Tiger Woods. And that story is: "The Episcopal Church Splits: Film at Eleven."

Or not.

In spite of the uber-efforts of the schismopalians to spin that story for lo these many years now, the truth reads more like this: "The Episcopal Church Stretches: And there's room for you." Really.

If a three hour theological debate between Bishops Jefferts Schori and Frey can end with a hug and Bishop Frey's summation, "I heard a great deal of convergence," then I say we declare victory for the via media and get on with the mission and ministry of the church!

Because here's the real "breaking news:" If there's room for Katharine and Bill then there's room for you -- and for me. And for countless hungry souls out there yearning for hope and community and the spiritual sustenance that will empower them to go out into the world as agents of love, joy, compassion and justice. And that is precisely what is on the menu for the feast "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" to!

There is some sad news: There are going to continue to be those who put themselves outside that banquet hall because their criterion for being included is being agreed with and because convergence isn't enough for them: they need "compliance."

But no matter how much we yearn to gather absolutely everybody into this Big Fat Anglican Family of ours, the gospel we serve will NOT be served if we allow it to be hamstrung by those who insist our differences have to be divisions. The church will not grow if we focus more on those who might leave if we include everyone than we do on those who will come if welcome all. And the kingdom will not come closer if we allow the mission of our church to be held hostage by fights over consents to a qualified and duly elected bishop in Los Angeles when the world is calling us to fight injustice & oppression.

Yes, Virginia: there IS a via media. It is ours to rejoice and be glad in. AND it is ours to protect and preserve. And may the God grace give us the grace we need to do both of those things as we celebrate these waning days of Advent and look forward with joy to coming of our Lord Emmanuel!


No fireworks at Episcopal bishops' debate in North Dallas
By SAM HODGES / The Dallas Morning News

[Dallas - source code] One bishop spoke deliberately, professorially, with flashes of droll humor and poetic phrasing. The other told stories from his long ministerial career, rounding them off with insights into Christian faith and practice.

But what had been billed as a debate between the Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, and the Rev. William Frey, retired Episcopal bishop of Colorado, yielded much common ground and no outright conflict on the identity and meaning of Jesus.

"I heard a great deal of convergence," Frey said afterward.

The three-hour Saturday morning event packed the 700-seat sanctuary of Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in North Dallas, which brought the speakers in as part of a lecture series.

Jefferts Schori, the Episcopal Church's first female presiding bishop, has been criticized by theological conservatives on a number of fronts, including for refusing to say that belief in Jesus is the only way to heaven.

The Rev. Robert Dannals, rector of Saint Michael and All Angels, sought to balance the program with Frey, a longtime leader of the Episcopal Church's traditional wing.

That wasn't enough for one local Episcopal priest, who said he and five colleagues wrote a letter to Bishop James Stanton of the Diocese of Dallas, protesting his decision to allow Jefferts Schori's visit. (Under Episcopal law, a diocesan bishop must give permission for a working visit by another bishop.)

"She hasn't guarded the faith. She has attacked the faith," said the Rev. Canon H.W. Herrmann, rector of the Church of Saint David of Wales in Denton.

But at times on Saturday, Jefferts Schori sounded like a pitch-perfect voice of orthodoxy.

"Jesus is the ultimate sacrament of God in human flesh – that's what we're getting at when we say he's the only son of God. He's the unique demonstration of divinity in human flesh," she said.

Other times, Jefferts Schori took risks, including referring to Jesus as the "green savior" who requires that Christians protect the environment as part of God's creation.

She also wasn't afraid to get topical.

"The challenges of our current age include the ancient human desire to find a scapegoat, with the familiar targets in this society right now being Muslims and immigrants and gay people," she said. "Jesus' own witness is to continually reject that kind of response, for it always ends in violence and diminution of life."

Frey, much more anecdotal, also noted the requirements of Christians to work for justice and help the poor and marginalized.

But he stressed fidelity to the Bible, the personal transformation offered by faith in Christ and the importance of sharing the gospel.

"The church that doesn't evangelize will be evangelized by the culture in which it finds itself," he said.

During questions and answers, the bishops took on abortion, the role of faith in healing and whether non-Christians can get to heaven.

"It's not up to us to say this person's out" of heaven, Jefferts Schori said. "It's up to God."

At the event's conclusion, the bishops embraced and drew a standing ovation. Among those who were pleased was Stanton – the Dallas bishop and a well-known conservative who has differed with Jefferts Schori on church issues.

"I thought it was a very constructive dialogue," Stanton said. "It was nourishing to everyone, I think."

At a news conference afterward, Jefferts Schori would say little more than that "prayer and discernment" were needed as Episcopal Church leaders decide whether to approve the recent election of a lesbian as bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Los Angeles.

The question of gay bishops has roiled the Episcopal Church and exacerbated its tensions with the worldwide Anglican Communion.


Ann said...

yay - thanks for the good news!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well done. Well done.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Good News indeed, Susan ...

My one caveat would have to do with language, over which both sides in this matter can get very touchy. You wrote, "... then I say we declare victory for the via media and get on with the mission and ministry of the church!"

FWIW, to me that feels a lot like a shot across the bow of the enemy's vessel ... one that need not have been fired.

The AP Report from the Dallas Morning News, together with your to-the-point and up-beat commentary, wonderfully expressed the hope for the renewal of communications and moving forward of mutual ministries that might result from the Dallas debate.

Perhaps we can simply rejoice in that and indeed, each in our own home, ... get on with the mission and ministry of the church!"

All blessings!
Brian <3


Brian .. thanks for taking time to comment.

And ...

IMHO when we declare "victory for the via media" we declare the victory of hope over fear and the celebration of differences over divisions.

A strong, wise and prophetic leader once said we are called to set audacious goals and celebrate incremental victories. Our audacious goal of kingdom-come-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven is still down the road. But the incremental victory represented by the Dallas debate does -- in my mind -- bear celebrating.

Anonymous said...

I do not disagree with you one whit ... I agree totally with you ... it was only the language that I was quibbling with, not the celebration. :-)

One person's celebration of victory for the via media can be read as a[n unnecessary] put down of those on the "other side" ...

We can boldly celebrate in a way that makes clear our happiness -- indeed our great joy! -- of what is clearly such a victory for the via media, while not seeming to taunt those who will feel equally saddened by the same event.

It is attributed to Francis that we should "Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary using words."

Well, that's not something to which we need to give a second thought ... each one of us preaches our Gospel with every action and word - spoken or written or implied.

Be bold to accomplish; be gracious in victory.

All blessings!
Brian <3

Br. William Benefield, BSG said...

I had the experience and pleasure of working with Bill Frey for more than a year in the earlier part of this decade while he was interim rector after his retirement as bishop at a large, VERY conservative evangelical parish. I was a proud Religious Brother, gay, partnered, 'spikey' modern Affirming Catholic Episcopalian who happened to also serve as their organist for 5 years. We agreed on almost everything - no I would say - EVERYTHING ELSE except the sexuality issue. I think it scared both of us!! I learned a great deal from this dear bishop and I hope he learned something from me. He and his wife were honored guest in our home for dinner. Via Media - its a good thing and keeps all of us at the Table - both in our homes and at Church!!

Br. William Henry Benefield, BSG

Unknown said...

Dear Susan and all,
I was really moved at the article and the image of Frey and Katharine embracing... then I went and did something really really stupid. I logged into Stand Firm to gauge their reaction. It's pretty nasty over there. Actually it's simply slanderous. I've felt a bit sick to my stomach since.
I'm proud to be an Episcopalian today.
Lou Poulain, Sunnyvale CA, El Camino Real.


Lou ... Bless your heart! Not a place for the faint of heart, that. But welcome back. Glad you survived the trip! :)

Vintner said...

Oh, Lou, you can't mean Mr. Kennedy (because he's no longer a priest) saying to listen to our Presiding Bishop speak is to listen to "damnable lies from the pit of hell proclaimed from a Christian pulpit", now can you?

Seems Mr. Kennedy is rather an expert on hell. Must be what he puts his poor congregation through each Sunday.

Hiram said...

Bp Frey is a highly respected man, and very valued among conservative Anglicans for his excellent leadership during the opening decades of the renewal movement and for his leadership of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry (which has recently dropped "Episcopal" from its name). I will not presume to know what he was thinking that day in Dallas, but all of us conservatives are disappointed in him. It may be that he still cherishes the hope that the two extremes of the Episcopal Church can be reconciled in some way.

I had once hoped, in my naivete in the 80's, when the renewal movements were flourishing, that the "liberal" wing of ECUSA would find that the convictions of the conservatives were a valid expression of apostolic faith, a position in accord with the English Reformers, and a thoughtful, reasoned, and reasonable body of beliefs. Sadly, that never happened, but rather the two sides have moved ever further apart.

That movement has happened because of the differences between the fundamental assumptions and convictions has become ever more clear as time has gone on. We use many words in common, but mean very different things by them.

Bp Schori seems to have been speaking with her audience very much in mind, and using words and phrases that would seem to mean what her relatively conservative hearers would understand in a conservative way. I personally have never been able to follow the train of reasoning she seeks to take us on, and she posits some things that simply come out of the clear blue sky: where on earth does the idea that Jesus descended into hell to seek Judas come from?

I have resigned from my rectorship and have left ECUSA for ACNA because I see ECUSA as being in a state of theological incoherence. There is simply no common ground left. There are some words and ceremonies in common, but even the ceremonies are differentiating rapidly. There is no convergence, sad to say.

And by the way, did it ever occur to you that "I like a good fight" might have been meant ironically?