Thursday, June 05, 2008

Pittsburgh Lines Up Its Ducks

It's no news that the Diocese of Pittsburgh is poised to follow my former diocese of San Joaquin into the arms of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone when its next annual convention meets this fall. The first reading of a proposed constitutional amendment to remove the diocese's accession clause to the Episcopal Church has already been passed--the gun is cocked. All that remains is to pull the trigger with the second reading.

Partly through the vicarious experience of San Joaquin, no doubt, Pittsburgh is doing a better job of leaving. They have posted what might be called "utility resolutions" to make the mechanics of the realignment operate more smoothly and transparently. This is commendable. There is a spirit of charity and realism about the effects of the change that was lacking in San Joaquin.

Of course, I can't pass up the opportunity to say once again, "Please don't go." I sympathize with what impels them, but I think it's an unwise and destructive action. Yet, my protest is pro forma, and I won't waste any more pixels making my case. I've already said all I know to say. And I certainly don't rule out the possibility that they and my San Joaquin friends are "going to prepare a place" for this recalcitrant "communion conservative" who just won't wake up and smell the coffee.

No, tonight my energy is directed toward the predictable chorus of "Thieves! Scoundrels! Neo-Puritan bigots! Homophobes! Hypocrites!" that will no doubt be sung in the direction of the departing Pittsburghers. The billable hours at David Booth Beers' law firm are about to be kicked into overdrive. As satisfying as it might feel to hurl epithets and file lawsuits with righteous indignation, I, for one, would find it refreshing if a critical mass of Reappraisers were overheard to be asking themselves, "Hey, what the heck is going on here? Two whole (more or less) dioceses have left, with at least one more to follow. Hundreds of parishes are gone as well, including some of our largest. Anglicanism itself is falling apart at the seams. How did we not see this coming?"

I don't know whether this is typical or not, but in the last two dioceses in which I have served, part of the drill for a priest to get the bishop's permission to solemnize the marriage of a divorced person is to attest that said divorced person, even if he or she is clearly the "innocent party," soberly accounts for his or her share in the breakdown of the marriage. The most health-giving thing the majority party in the Episcopal Church could do in this time of exponential fissiparation would be to demonstrate some humility, and say, "The Episcopal Church is breaking up, and this is how we helped."


Unknown said...

Your clarity of vision is truly a gift. On this and the previous couple of posts, I see the makings of a prophet in the Hebrew sense of the word(nabiy').

Thomas B. Woodward said...

Dan, I appreciate your sentiments here but with both John David Schofield and Bob Duncan I believe we are dealing with the character of The True Believer. I have known both men for a long time -- I was in seminary with John David and Bob Duncan followed me as Episcopal Chaplain at the University of North Carolina.

A number of us who see things quite differently from the two have tried to speak with them in respect and with charity -- but the wall has been to high. I have good, working relationships with clergy far to the left of either -- so it's not just about theology.

Bishop Duncan's wife has noted that "Bob watches too many reruns of "Braveheart." There is something in that. There is something very compelling, too, in the psychology of The True Believer -- you have an enemy upon whom you can dump all your frustrations while achieving personal power at the same time. We both probably know several lay and clergy leaders in both dioceses who have been hooked by things other than theological niceties.

I do not know anyone of liberal bent in our church leadership who told either bishop he had to ordain gay or lesbian people to any order. Both have been given every opportunity to be part of a comprehensive church.

As for you, good priest, please know the high honor and respect you have from all segments of our church. I never read anything you write without mulling it over and over in my mind.
Tom Woodward

plsdeacon said...

I think that it is not so much a problem of lack of humility, but a problem of classical American Individualism.

I flesh that out a bit here.

Phil Snyder

Anonymous said...

RE: " I believe we are dealing with the character of The True Believer."

Yes -- as Tom Woodward is, only in the opposing direction.

For a delectable demonstration of just how far in the opposing direction he goes, this thread does a good job:

And then there is this copiously researched and linked article about Woodward's beliefs and actions here:

RE: ". . . but the wall has been to high. I have good, working relationships with clergy far to the left of either -- so it's not just about theology."

I have to giggle here. Uh . . . that would be because Tom Woodward himself is "far to the left of either" -- and yeh . . . it's about theology, as in, Duncan and Schofield manifestly don't share the same gospel with Woodward.

Neither do I.

RE: "Both have been given every opportunity to be part of a comprehensive church."

No -- Tom Woodward naming heresy "comprehensive" doesn't make it so. Both have been given every opportunity to be part of a heretical church.


Anonymous said...

"I have good, working relationships with clergy far to the left of either ..."

No kidding! You could have knocked me over with a feather! Maybe Tom could get out a bit and meet a few priests in the center - you know, to be "inclusive."

"... so it's not just about theology."

As it hasn't been for quite some time in ECUSA.

Anonymous said...

Sarah Hay, since you are well-known in blog-land as a vocal re-asserter, I am curious: where you raised in the Episcopal Church? And if so, what part of the country?

I only ask this because so many people who claim to be re-asserting the traditions of TEC are in fact converts, or were not raised in the areas where the church had its roots in the pre-revolutionary (Colonial) Church of England.

I'm a bit of a TEC history buff, particularly in my own state of Virginia, so perhaps consider this part of an informal poll.

Matt Gunter said...

Virginia gal,

It is probably true that "many people who claim to be re-asserting the traditions of TEC are in fact converts." But this is also true of many who claim to be defending the Anglican way against "reasserters" -- often with allergies fomred by their reaction to either Roman Catholic or Fundamentalist upbringings.

It is also true that sometimes, though not always, converts know the traditions better than those raised in them as a matter of course.

Matt Gunter said...


What is frustrating is that Dan (and others in the blogoshere of a more conservative bent like Tony Clavier) regularly critiques those with whom they are in basic sympathy -- critiquing method, attitude and occasionally substance. One might not hear much such self-reflection and self-critique at Stand Firm and you are unlikely to hear it from Duncan and other schismatics.

I’ve seen little evidence – perhaps I’m not looking in the right places – of self-critique among those who are defenders generally of the Status quo in TEC.

Are "liberals" responsible for no part of this mess? Are there no tendencies among liberal/progressives that have contributed to the mess? Nothing in the lead up to or follow up from GC 03?

Do you really think that this is just a matter of "theological nicety"? For Dan and others who agree with Schofield and Duncan on the presenting issue? Is it possible that that very reduction and caricature of the issues splitting the church might be part of the problem? That it alienates people who sympathize with those folk but not their methods or attitude?

Do you really think that it is as simple as whether or not bishops are *forced* to do something against their conscience? Is it inconceivable that some folk are unconvinced that this is not a matter of indifference and believe it is as central to the gospel as you do - but in the negative? And that this conviction held in good faith?

Is it possible that "traditionalists" have reason to doubt the "inclusivity" of liberals given the removal of the possibility of future bishops to hold the traditional understanding of ordination being limited to men? What are the chances that whatever quaint conservatives like Dan exist in TEC in 25 years will be viable candidates for bishop?

Are you deaf to the arrogance and condescension many hear in the rhetoric of many liberals and progressives?

Do Dan and Tony and others like them have no legitimate concerns, questions, of challenges regarding the current status quo?

It would be refreshing to hear such self-critique from you and others on the left. Dan seems to be asking for some such sign of humility, recognition of culpability, grief, and repentance from the current status quo. Perhaps some acknowledgement that the concerns that folk like Dan have about the status quo are not simply figments of their imaginations. If we are going to have anything like classic comprehensiveness in whatever remains in TEC and the Anglican Communion, it will need to start there. And it needs to start now.

Matt Gunter

Anonymous said...


I could never argue that every Episcopalian raised in the church is well-schooled in our history, liturgy, theology or even our historical roots with the Church of England. I think it's safe to say I've made more effort than most to fill in and refresh the gaps in a rather solid religious education. I also have a personal interest in studying the early history of Christianity, and am lucky enough to have a Roman Catholic theologian/historian to help me with my studies. But I study what interests me, so of course there are gaps.

Our country is filled with Christian denominations rooted in a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, and the Episcopal Church isn't one of them. Actually, many of the Revolutionary war patriots who made the CofE-to-TEC transition possible were scorned by more Puritanical faiths and individuals as Deists.

If I am reading your message correctly, you are still upset by the decision over thirty years ago to ordain women in the Episcopal Church. Since there were women leaders of faith communities in the early church, we really aren't doing anything new. Societal norms eventually formed a patriarchal religion, and then societal norms changed things back to an older tradition. Most Episcopal churches large enough to have several priests have both male and female clergy, and for good reason: it works very well and both genders are treasured for their contributions.

For someone like me, a life-long, deeply religious Christian, I cannot accept that change is always wrong because some people do not like it. God brings all kinds of change into our lives; some personal, some more universal. He is there to guide us through the change if we are open to his advice. And that advice rarely seems to be a message of standing still or never using new knowledge and understanding. There has never been a time where the Church universal really stood still, though there are some branches that try to do that a bit more vigorously than others - it doesn't work, people just leave (or start wars). New branches of the tree start, and grow, then either flourish or die.

I ask for no apology or repentance from you as a condition of re-establishing a broader base of beliefs within the Episcopal Church. In some ways, it would be like the Protestants apologizing to the Roman Church. And then, of course, the Eastern Church apologizing to the Roman church...we can't always apologize for our core beliefs. I just find all of what some think of as a string of secular civil rights issues as born of the Spirit, the will of God teaching us all to appreciate one another's gifts and humanity. God is unchanging...but yes, he has been waiting patiently for us to grow and change..

If we take an honest look at apology and repentance, we know that it requires better understanding and no false words. Repentance requires healing on both sides, working with each other, and with God.

So, how would you suggest we understand each other better, is it even possible in the near future? Is it merely your way, my way, or a split? We are not the only mainline church with these struggles, just the one with the most press attention. Anything we can do to reconcile in any way will help so many. So, offer plan B. I'm listening, but I won't necessarily agree. Any happily married couple knows it isn't until around plan E that some of the large issues get settled.

Matt Gunter said...

Virginia gal,

You do in fact misunderstand me. I am an enthusiastic supporter of the ordination of women. My point is that that does not prevent me from understanding how the way that issue has been handled might make "traditionalists" suspicious of the good intentions of "Progressives". And that Progressives would do well to recognize that, as Paul writes in Romans 7, when they intend good, evil is close at hand.

Nor do I believe in an absolutely static tradition. Although I know there are those who talk that way, I do not think it is a sustainable position. But, there is a difference between a faithful development and an unfaithful aberration. There is a difference between disagreements that those who disagree can recognize as at least in the ballpark of faithfulness and those disagreements where that is not the case.

That's where I think more discussion would be good. But, I have to acknowledge that my willingness to entertain development is at odds with just about all of our Anglican and Episcopalian ancestors before 1950.

My further point is that even if Progressives are absolutely on the side of the angels on the particular question of faithfulness of same-gender sexual unions (and I am quite open to that) that would not absolve them from all responsibility for the breakdown in trust, the sense of desperation many conservatives seem to feel, and the sense that we cannot tell the difference between a gospel imperative and a liberal prejudice. I get very weary of those who talk as though TEC can do nothing right and relish every incident that reinforces that idea. I get equally weary of those who talk as though TEC and its current leadership can do no wrong and are utterly innocent of any abuse of power or lack of charity. And surely Progressives ought to be able to acknowledge occasionally the weakness and excesses of their own theological method.

It is the apparent lack of that willingness or ability to be self-critical that frustrates me.


plsdeacon said...

Virginia Gal,

I'm a cradle Episcopalian as were my father and his father and, possibly, his father before him (but I'm not sure if he was cradle, but he was burried in the Episcopal Church.) I am steeped in the Anglican ethos and understand our history quite well.

What started in the 60s and 70s is something rather new. It is an inability to say "no" to anything that a person "feels" strongly about. We cannot discipline ourselves because we don't want to hurt someone else's feelings or to be too critical of anyone else actions. You saw this movements high points with the inability to discipline +Pike or +Spong for their obviouly heretical and apostate views. In terms of praxis, you saw it with the ordination of women before the change in the canon and the fact that neither the ordaining bishops, nor the priests participating, nor the ordinands were disciplined. You saw it again in 2003 with the confirmation of Robinson as bishop even though he was living what TECUSA's last official statement said was a life style incompatible with scripture (1991 resolution) and was against the statement that we would not move forward with blessing same sex unions or ordaining men or women involved in same sex relationships without consulting the Anglican Communion.

And the rappraisers wonder why we don't trust them.

Phil Snyder

Anonymous said...

Phil S. and Matt - I think we have all learned quite a lesson in how divergent the views are in the Episcopal Church - and they have been since the beginning of our history. It is really unsettling, I think, to find out your local understanding is so foreign. That's not just true in the church, either; I think we just naturally find it more unsettling in matters of faith.

Phil, weren't we raised to think that anywhere we traveled in the U.S., the local Episcopal church would be a place for spiritual renewal and worship on Sunday morning with people who held similar views? I was, and wasn't an unreasonable expectation for a person born in the 1950s. We were just uninformed. When I traveled on business all the time, I finally learned to just walk to the closest church and see what happened - it's actually quite an enriching experience, and even fun. But I'll be honest, given a choice, I'd go to an RC Mass before a service at a Baptist church. I bet there are a reasonable number of Episcopalians that would say just the opposite.

Did we stop talking and listening, or did we only do a partial job of it, knowing that the differences were too great to overcome in the long run? Who know, that was yesterday.

Phil, if it gives you a little faith in the "system," I know our local experience was that the irregular ordinations made the news, but the disciplinary actions did not; things were different then. I'm sure some felt my bishop wasn't harsh enough, but then events sort of took over rather quickly on regularizing the ordinations. The deaconesses of that time will tell you that the discussion on equality for women (including ordination)was quite old. Remember, once upon a time a deaconess had to give up her orders if she wanted to marry! It's all in the perspective.

I truly think the differences are no wider than they ever were. They have just been ignored.

In the spirit of understanding one another, none of the controversial changes make much of a difference in my personal life, there are no selfish motives. I never felt called to the ordained ministry, and I'm a heterosexual with no confusion on that matter whatsoever, and I'm so monogamous I wasn't particularly tempted to fool around in final years of my husband's illness. I find that liberals, Christian or not, aren't any more inclined to immoral behavior than anyone else. Some people make some pretty big assumptions on that point (neither of you have done so in this discussion, no accusation on my part).

Just my thoughts. We're just talking

Thomas B. Woodward said...

Matt, I am sorry to be so late in responding to you. I've had my computer in the shop twice in the past two weeks and have had to install a new operating system - in the meantime I have been on borrowed internet time.

I think the progressives do share part of the blame for our impasse. I have noted the same from time to time, but that has not been a consistent theme on any side of the issues.

Here are some of the things we might have done a lot better or differently:

I was suprised by what seemed to be a suddenness of a push for recognition of gay and lesbian marriages. I believe the timing of that push ensured a hardening of positions among conservatives -- and a level of fear or distrust that has not been quieted.

I respect those who made the case before the Eames Commission around the issues of human sexuality, but I believe a much stronger case could have been made. I am thinking about Bill Coats' article on "Experience" early on at The Episcopal Majority and something more substantial about the difference between didache and euangellion.

I don't think any of us has had the imagination to establish a forum where these issues can be discussed -- and a direction discerned -- in respect and forbearance.

I have spent a lot of time on HoBD arguing for more charitable and more accurate language in our discussions, but I have not been as agressive with progressives as I have been with conservatives.

I wish there were more efforts to establish bonds of affection across our disagreements. Some of us work hard at that -- and with great success, I think. Liz Zivanov gathered an equal number of people from both "sides" at our last GC -- the Verbosians -- and their gatherings established some of those connections. I have valued my relationships with Don Pershall, Kendall Harmon, +Jack Iker, +Jeffrey Steenson, John Liebler and others and believe they feel the same way. I try to indicate my great respect for you, Dan Martins and others I have not met in person. I grow in trust of you, Dan and others in good part because of your demeanor and your attitude of respect.

I hope this is a start to responding to your great questions.
Tom Woodward