Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I Agree With the Presiding Bishop

OK ... now that I have your attention...

The Presiding Bishop spoke this afternoon to the regular triennial Synod of the Province of the Midwest. My profound theological differences with her are no secret. The way she and I would articulate "gospel" and "mission" are not only divergent; they are in different solar systems.

That said, I thought she made some profoundly important and true points in her remarks, and I cannot but add my own enthusiastic Amen. Let me cite (and paraphrase as best I can) the two that made me want to stand up and applaud:

  1. We have allowed the legislative process to have an undue influence in the way we relate to one another. Every controverted question inevitably (and fairly quickly) becomes a Yes or No vote. This creates winners and losers, and polarizes the church. We need to find ways to be more patient with and forbearing of one another--quicker to listen and slower to act.
  2. We are suffocating in our own structures. Our very life as a church depends on our willingness to cast off that yoke, setting aside business-as-usual in order to attend to core issues of identity and purpose.
To these observations I would add my own suggestion: That the 2012 General Convention make issues of structure not only the primary issue, but the only issue. Let us elect to those offices that need electing to, and let us pass a straitened minimalist budget. But aside from those two things, we need to put everything else--everything else--in abeyance until we figure out what we need to morph into in order to be a responsibly faithful church in this post-Christian era. 

Any takers?


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a new prayer point. I like your idea. Unfortunately, I like it because it would cause avoidance of issues that I don't want to see acted upon.

I keep coming back to the concept of a General Convention where a concensus is somehow achieved PRIOR to GC that is the answer to this question, "Lord, what would you have us discuss for the sake of decision at General Convention?"
The Apostolic request in Acts 6 proves the possibility; but, in my opinion and observation, it would take a New Pentecost. Now THERE's something prioritize your prayer list!

Anonymous said...

It strikes me as very intereting that now, after the legislation of 2003 has passed, and trial rites are being presented or same sex unions at this convention, and all the warnings, including mine, that the church would split over these issues, that now that they got their way, they want to have peace and harmony, having changed the entire theology of marriage.

Canon Herrmann, SSC said...

Maybe a third point should have been made:

3. Now that the judicial process has drained our resources and tore the fabric of our mutual bond and belief; we should begin to uphold Holy Writ.

Father Thorpus said...

We should not lose sight of the fact that we're suffocating under our structures because we've been using them to suffocate ourselves. If the legislative process has unduly influenced our relationships, it is because that process has been the go-to weapon against traditionalists ever since progressives got ahold of the process. It's the liberation theology play book: if there is no afterlife and this world is all that matters, your only option is to get ahold of this world's power-players and enforce 'justice' over the objections of Cretans and bigots. Structure has been the target all along, because structure is the home of systemic sin (the only kind that matters to liberationists). It was the suffocating steucture that those first women priests broke wide open in 1974. It was sthe legislative process that slowly took away a diocese's conscience clause with Women's Ordination. Is the Leadership repenting of this? Of the times steucture has been the stepping stone to victory in their crusade for justice? I think not. PB Jefferts-Schori has the privilege, among the last 50 years of 'progress' , to be within sight of the endgame, and to pursue it.

Also, structure - for all its human failings - is what restrains the tyranny of a despot. Structure is the last obstacle to tyrannical 'justice' and the rule of persons instead of the rule of law. The Church has survived such rule for thousands of years - but do you really trust Hang 'Em High Jefferts-Shori, who has spearheaded over $40 million in litigation against dissenters (and against bishops who won't prosecute them), with such personal rule? There's a reason we have a "Presiding Bishop" and not an Archbishop - structure, for all it's unwieldiness, is the Episcopal Church's ethos.

Also, let's look at our context: "structure" is the last bastion of defeated traditionalists, the last nest of dissent, the La Rochelle to the Liberationist Richeleu. "structure" is all that allows me, an orthodox rector in a diocese that encourages same sex marriage, to resist that trend in my own parish - will the canon that protects a priest's freedom to refuse any marriage for any reason be swept away in this reform? Or modified to eliminate 'bigotry'? Will the wording of the Declaration of Intent be reformed? We've already seen Title IV reform as structural reform, and how both the old structure and the new structure have been wielded equally as bludgeons against dissenters. Reform we maybe could use, but from This Leadership?

But the best reason to be careful about structural reform is that we are the Catholic Church Visible. Our structure is the embodiment of our ecclesiology, the Anglican tradition, the American ethos (for good and ill), and the wisdom of our forbears. Those in charge right now haven't shown themselves to be real concerned about correct ecclesiology, or very respectful of the Anglican ethos. I'm very worried about the direction this reform would take. I worry it would be more authoritarian than we are used to - and again, thats not the death knell for the Church, but it wouldn't be comfortable for dissenters. If anything, we've seen from this Leadership that less formal, less 'adversarial' structures can be MORE easily used to punish dissent. The old Adversarial setup actually gave the accused rights that could not be trampled upon - that was the source of its adversative ethos.

All this makes me very wary.

Undergroundpewster said...

You may only think that you agree with the Presiding Bishop on "structural reform."

One look at the changes to the disciplinary canons is a hint as to what may constitute structural reform from the different perspectives of the person on the top of an organization and the person on the bottom.

We should not be at all surprised to see more "different levels of understanding" about the meaning of the term in the years to come.

Fr.Tony said...

I agree that we need structural reforms. However structure is a vehicle for mission and it is difficult to reform how we get things done without a vision of what we want to get done. Given the divisions in our midst, the best solution would be to return mission to the dioceses, together with funding. A redirection of funds, paring down the central bureaucracy would permit us to get on with being the church.

It seems to me that so many members of the Establishment have benefitted from the present structure which has enabled TEC to enforce its policies and discipline non-conformists. I would guess that such people will push back from any significant decentralization.

Lisa Fox said...

I was honored to meet you.

I hear the PB open to radical re-structuring.

I hope you and I might come together about the need for structuring. As one person said, we are being called to reflect on our mission and ministry and identity. I hope we will take that seriously.

Jason said...

Oh Bishop!

I could only wish that such a thing would come to pass. How would such a thing even be possible? What are the rest of us to do?

Jason said...

I made a start:

Anonymous said...

Radical restructuring sounds so coporately romantic.

That's not where we are.

Fr. David Bailey said...


I've always found it interesting to compare the Byzantine structure of the Episcopal Church to that of the Church of God in Christ. COGIC is about twice our size . . . and their structural chart is about a tenth of ours!

Small Farmer in The City said...

I agree with you, Your Grace, that we need to rethink what structure the Church should adopt that is efficient and effective in our current and future reality as 21st century North Americans.

I believe the proposals which emphasize subsidiarity, the devolution of functions from National to diocesan or parish levels, may allow Dioceses and parishes to adopt and adapt Church polity to best fit their people. Continue with the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, the BCP, and the Creeds as the true measure of being an Episcopalian and the rest? As Augustine wrote, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials charity, and in all things, love."