Thursday, March 29, 2007

What is safety in today's Church?

"… the Church is challenged to show that it is truly a safe place for people to be honest and where they may be confident that they will have their human dignity respected, whatever serious disagreements about ethics may remain. It is good to know that the pastoral care of homosexual people is affirmed clearly by so many provinces.” ++ Rowen Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury.

What does it mean to be safe in the church today for gay community? Does it merely mean that gay folks won’t be beaten up and hung on a barbed wire fence? In the years before GC2003 before the election, consent and consecration of an openly gay bishop to the episcopate, I would have said that the Episcopal Church was a fairly safe place for us. In some dioceses having gay clergy was not even sneezed at. Some, even had partners and if there were no problems in the parish, no one seemed to get especially exorcised about it.

But with the advent of +Gene Robinson and the reaction of the hot-eyed right of the Church, the safety of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered folk has eroded. Even in places where LGBT folk have traditionally found welcome, ordination processes and deployment processes are found to be closed to gays that are out, or in relationships. Even in dioceses where the delegations and bishops have supported the election of +Gene and even allow the blessing of same-sex relationships, it has become clear that anyone who might “rock THAT boat” are eliminated from the process.

Much of this has to do with the way that the dioceses and bishops face the issue of safety. For the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) it seems only to recognize that people need to be safe--that all we need is some pastoral care in various provinces. Safe for many in authority also seems to mean “quiet.” With the Church in major kerfuffle, anything such as an openly
LGBT cleric who speaks his /her mind is seen as a liability and consequently “unsafe” for many. The dioceses and parishes where gay clergy could once get positions have dried up often by the guidance of diocesan processes which want calmness in the light of the national/international conflict in the Church. Safety has become something for the authorities of the Church rather than those LGBT people in them.

At present the Episcopal Church is not a safe place for LGBT persons, lay or ordained. This struggle for power is being played out on gay folks’ backs even when our bishops say that it shouldn't’t be. It is hard to go to church every Sunday and know that some of the issues that are going to be discussed at coffee hour have to do with calming the fears of those who have difficulty with your life-style or your orientation. It is not safe to be a part of a church even when gay/lesbian presence in the Church is thought right and just, but the practice of our relationships cannot be spoken of from the pulpit, or our blessings are not printable in the parish newsletter because “others might get upset.” For 30 years The Episcopal Church (TEC) has recognized that gay persons were welcomed as part of the Body of Christ. So why is it so difficult to recognize our presence?

The communication from the House of Bishops does see the present conflict rightly. The issues facing TEC and the Anglican Primates is one of authority. As I see it, the Primates have neither authority over TEC nor do they have authority over the Anglican Communion save in their particular provinces. But the manifestations of their authority come back to haunt LGBT persons if nothing more than heightening the concern about people who are different in the pews or pulpits.

It is tiresome to be lesbian in the church these days. It is hard to discuss anything about the Church without it having to be about YOU, your life, your ministry,your relationship, etc. And it is very hard for LGBT folk to keep from taking it personally when the blogwags out there call you a pervert in the name of Jesus.

Safety in the Church? The bishops have promised it, even the Archbishop of Canterbury recommends it, but how will it come to pass when so few of them understand that safety is not silence? Safety in the church will mean that there will need to be agencies in the church to hear the needs of LGBT people that are not run or attended by those who regard LGBT people as depraved, degraded, or sinful. It will take the willingness of the authorities in the dioceses to listen to the words and lives of LGBT people without writing them off. And it will take the willingness of the authorities in the dioceses to defend LGBT persons from the outrage that the neo-fascists of the right have heaped upon us in the past 4 years.

Perhaps we could not have foreseen that the battle for authority, and biblical scholarship would have surfaced over the inclusion of gay folk in the Church. But it is time to separate the issues to make it clear that LGBT folks are not the cause of the possible break up of the Anglican Communion. And it is not safe for us not to take the blame that many would have us assume.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

For a Season Lent5C


I am just enough Pelagian and therefore Anglican to appreciate Paul’s “ Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

For my Lutheran friends this is seems a bit heretical because justification by faith alone is so much a part of their vocabulary. But I truly believe that salvation is not yet finished. It is faith in action that makes the whole endeavor meaningful. Am I saved? Of course! But I have work to do. I do press on because God isn’t finished with me yet. Paul understood life before Augustine. He knew himself in a race within himself to be all that Christ asked of him. And I would guess that many of us would know that feeling in faith. I want to be more than I am in the light of the Gospel. I need to be more than I am because my friendship with Christ calls it from me. The only problem is that there is part of me that rebels against reforming myself. Could that be SIN? (as the Church Lady used to say) Yes, it is. It isn’t some category of misdeeds. There is no list that dictates what sin is that I can check off before Confession and Absolution. It is merely that propensity toward being lazy in the face of my friendship with God. And it is this we address during Lent. It is why we give up something for a season or change some behavior. But the real clue is do we go back to eating our chocolate, or drinking our beer after Lent? Is giving up for a season what this ‘pressing on to make it our own’ is all about?

I would suggest to you that our Lenten fast is about change.
There is one thing that I do know is that whether we are Lutherans or Episcopalians, CHANGE does not fit well with us. If I am truly to gain victory over that which keeps me from Christ, then I cannot return to it after Lent. It isn’t chocolate or beer that keeps us from Christ, it is what chocolate and beer symbolize: our own flabbiness in our relationship with God, our own addictions to the easy life, our own self-centeredness before a Christ who laid down everything that we might know salvation, our own rebelliousness in the light of all that God has given us.

Paul got the hang of it: “3:13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

It is God’s call that we press on toward that which is the goal of living. It is to become that which God has implanted in us. We use the passion that God has given us to live into the dream that God has shared with us of a world in peace, justice restored, a life restored to wholeness, whatever it is that is your vision of God’s kingdom.

In the reading from John that we have today we find Mary, the sister of Martha, the one who sat at Jesus’ feet and was told she had the better part, anointing Jesus’ feet. We are not sure if John confused this story with the anonymous woman who does the same thing in the other Gospels, but the story tells of a woman who does an extravagant thing. She uses expensive nard to anoint Jesus. This is a remarkable act: women did not touch people who were not family. It just wasn’t done. Yet Jesus does not flinch from Mary’s action. She is ‘pressing on to make Christ her own.’ She reaches out to heal that which was to be broken. She prepares him for what is to come.

All too often we afraid to reach out a healing hand when it is needed. Mary pressed on. She did what was necessary. She stepped beyond mere salvation into relationship. She did what was needed even though it would garner criticism. She stood up to local custom and did what was necessary. She did something new. She called out a kind of truth in human existence that needed to be raised. She called out that the society of her day did not provide the healing touch that was needed and she broached the customs in the name of truth and wholeness. She pressed on.

In Isaiah we hear “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Mary understood that the call to newness, to change, to reach out. To be more of what we are called to be is the work of what it means to be Christian. It is not the stuff that can be done “for a season”. It is the race that we are constantly running.

If what we have always done before is getting in the way of our being what Christ is calling us to be, then we need to be about the work of change. If what we have always been gets in the way of healing the problems of our lives, if our anger or our pride or our fear or whatever it is, makes for problems in moving on in our relationship with Christ, then we have the obligation to recognize it as sin and it needs to be put away—not for a season but for always. We cannot afford the baggage while racing the race of life.

“Is there a time when this race ends?” you may ask. I don’t know. I haven’t reached that place yet. There is no place where we can rest on our laurels, because it is God who makes things new. We don’t make it new—God does and there is always something wonderful in the newness.
And even in heaven the saints "move from glory to glory" we are told. It is part of our lives to press on. AMEN

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Home Again, Riggity Jig

In some ways I feel like the prodigal (read: extravagant) child being welcomed back home. When I was little my father used to sing: "Riggidy-jig, All the way home," as we drove into our driveway after a long trip. It has been a long journey these last 4 years.

Last evening the House of Bishops (HOB) has made it quite clear that I am welcome in the Church again. In a very measured way the House of Bishops in a meeting in TX responded to the Primates' Communique from Tanzania. In her commentary, Elizabeth Kaeton likened the statement to the work of a healthy, non-anxious pastor in a dysfunctional congregation. I would be more likely to say that this is the most reasoned statement by the House of Bishops since GC2003 showing that they understand that 'homosexuality' is merely the red herring in the current flap between some in the Anglican Communion. The issue is about power, who has it, who can wield it and how it is going to be perceived.

It is clear that the African Churches have more Anglicans than does the US. It is clear that the North American Churches wield the financial clout. But the mistake of the Primates and the virulent minority of The Episcopal Church (TEC) was not paying attention to the unwavering stock that the American Church has in its democratic polity which includes the lay and the ordained as well as bishops. We may be "episcopal" in that we have bishops, but we have never allowed those bishops free reign. They are accountable to the dioceses that elect them, and that accountability goes throughout the Church. It is heartening to hear from the HOB that they understand their place in the scheme of American Anglicanism.

It was also helpful to hear them say unequivocally that LGBT persons are part of the Church and welcome at all levels of participation and call. In effect, they just cancelled out B033 (the 2006 convention resolution that said there would be a moratorium on the election of bishops whose manner of life was a problem for the rest of the Communion).

From the report of +Gene Robinson, there was a clear and palpable sense of resolve by the HOB to be about their work without rancor and without too much debate. He felt supported which is an important point for me. Now I wonder what this means for those dioceses that called themselves "Windsor Compliant." Will they hold out against welcoming gays or will they accept the Constitution and Canons (C&C)? Hopefully we will see the end of Primatial Vicar and Alternative Oversight and respectfully accept the resignations of those clergy who opt to form another denomination, recognizing that they have, like Ft. Worth, not been Episcopalian for almost 30 years.

I do not see this as a victory for liberals or gays, however. I do see it as a victory for Constitutional government in the Church which I have seen being eroded by lax and 'make nice' attitudes. Hopefully this will provide the shot in the arm of clergy and laity to become adept at the law of the C & C's. If we do not, we will lose our voice in the Church and American democratic Anglicanism will fade into history. But the statement of the HOB has made it clear that fading is not what they have in mind.

What will the Primates do? Who knows? Maybe they will say that ++KJS won't be welcome at their meetings, but they have let her in once... I do not believe that the Primates have the power to put us out of the Anglican Communion. Is that not the work of the Anglican Consultative Council on which TEC folk sit?

Once again we are dealing with authority--the authority of monolithic patriarical voices or the mass of people who have joined together to make the Church into a place where the witness of love is paramount.

Is this over? No, the journey continues. But the way has been made a bit clearer with the HOB statement and resolutions. A way has been made in the wilderness and I can see a way home. Hallelujah!

Statement from the House of Bishops

A Statement from the House of Bishops – March 20, 2007
We, the Bishops of The Episcopal Church, meeting at Camp Allen, Navasota, Texas, for our regular Spring Meeting, March 16-21, 2007, have received the Communiqué of February 19, 2007 from the Primates of the Anglican Communion meeting at Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. We have met together for prayer, reflection, conversation, and listening during these days and have had the Communiqué much on our minds and hearts, just as we know many in our Church and in other parts of the world have had us on their minds and hearts as we have taken counsel together. We are grateful for the prayers that have surrounded us.
We affirm once again the deep longing of our hearts for The Episcopal Church to continue as a part of the Anglican Communion. We have gone so far as to articulate our self-understanding and unceasing desire for relationships with other Anglicans by memorializing the principle in the Preamble of our Constitution. What is important to us is that The Episcopal Church is a constituent member of a family of Churches, all of whom share a common mother in the Church of England. That membership gives us the great privilege and unique opportunity of sharing in the family's work of alleviating human suffering in all parts of the world. For those of us who are members of The Episcopal Church, we are aware as never before that our Anglican Communion partners are vital to our very integrity as Christians and our wholeness. The witness of their faith, their generosity, their bravery, and their devotion teach us essential elements of gospel-based living that contribute to our conversion.
We would therefore meet any decision to exclude us from gatherings of all Anglican Churches with great sorrow, but our commitment to our membership in the Anglican Communion as a way to participate in the alleviation of suffering and restoration of God's creation would remain constant. We have no intention of choosing to withdraw from our commitments, our relationships, or our own recognition of our full communion with the See of Canterbury or any of the other constituent members of the Anglican Communion. Indeed, we will seek to live fully into, and deepen, our relationships with our brothers and sisters in the Communion through companion relationships, the networks of Anglican women, the Anglican Indigenous Network, the Francophone Network, our support for the Anglican Diocese of Cuba, our existing covenant commitments with other provinces and dioceses, including Liberia, Mexico, Central America, Brazil, and the Philippines, our work as The Episcopal Church in many countries around the world, especially in the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, and Taiwan, and countless informal relationships for mission around the world.
Since our General Convention of 2003, we have responded in good faith to the requests we have received from our Anglican partners. We accepted the invitation of the Lambeth Commission to send individuals characteristic of the theological breadth of our Church to meet with it. We happily did so. Our Executive Council voluntarily acceded to the request of the Primates for our delegates not to attend the 2005 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Nottingham. We took our place as listeners rather than participants as an expression of our love and respect for the sensibilities of our brothers and sisters in the Communion even when we believed we had been misunderstood. We accepted the invitation of the Primates to explain ourselves in a presentation to the same meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. We did so with joy.
At the meeting of our House of Bishops at Camp Allen, Texas in March, 2004 we adopted a proposal called Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight as a means for meeting the pastoral needs of those within our Church who disagreed with actions of the General Convention. Our plan received a favorable response in the Windsor Report. It was not accepted by the Primates. At our meeting in March 2005, we adopted a Covenant Statement as an interim response to the Windsor Report in an attempt to assure the rest of the Communion that we were taking them seriously and, at some significant cost, refused to consecrate any additional bishops whatsoever as a way that we could be true to our own convictions without running the risk of consecrating some that would offend our brothers and sisters. Our response was not accepted by the Primates. Our General Convention in 2006 struggled mightily and at great cost to many, not the least of whom are our gay and lesbian members, to respond favorably to the requests made of us in the Windsor Report and the Primates' Dromantine Communiqué of 2005. We received a favorable response from the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates, which found that our effort had substantially met the concerns of the Windsor Report with the need to clarify our position on the blessing of same sex relationships. Still, our efforts were not accepted by the Primates in the Dar es Salaam Communiqué.
Other Anglican bishops, indeed including some Primates, have violated our provincial boundaries and caused great suffering and contributed immeasurably to our difficulties in solving our problems and in attempting to communicate for ourselves with our Anglican brothers and sisters. We have been repeatedly assured that boundary violations are inappropriate under the most ancient authorities and should cease. The Lambeth Conferences of 1988 and 1998 did so. The Windsor Report did so. The Dromantine Communiqué did so. None of these assurances has been heeded. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué affirms the principle that boundary violations are impermissible, but then sets conditions for ending those violations, conditions that are simply impossible for us to meet without calling a special meeting of our General Convention.
It is incumbent upon us as disciples to do our best to follow Jesus in the increasing experience of the leading of the Holy Spirit. We fully understand that others in the Communion believe the same, but we do not believe that Jesus leads us to break our relationships. We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué is distressingly silent on this subject. And, contrary to the way the Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council have represented us, we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God's truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision.
With great hope that we will continue to be welcome in the councils of the family of Churches we know as the Anglican Communion, we believe that to participate in the Primates' Pastoral scheme would be injurious to The Episcopal Church for many reasons.
First, it violates our church law in that it would call for a delegation of primatial authority not permissible under our Canons and a compromise of our autonomy as a Church not permissible under our Constitution.
Second, it fundamentally changes the character of the Windsor process and the covenant design process in which we thought all the Anglican Churches were participating together.
Third, it violates our founding principles as The Episcopal Church following our own liberation from colonialism and the beginning of a life independent of the Church of England.
Fourth, it is a very serious departure from our English Reformation heritage. It abandons the generous orthodoxy of our Prayer Book tradition. It sacrifices the emancipation of the laity for the exclusive leadership of high-ranking Bishops. And, for the first time since our separation from the papacy in the 16th century, it replaces the local governance of the Church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates.
Most important of all it is spiritually unsound. The pastoral scheme encourages one of the worst tendencies of our Western culture, which is to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them and be instruments of reconciliation. The real cultural phenomenon that threatens the spiritual life of our people, including marriage and family life, is the ease with which we choose to break our relationships and the vows that established them rather than seek the transformative power of the Gospel in them. We cannot accept what would be injurious to this Church and could well lead to its permanent division.
At the same time, we understand that the present situation requires intentional care for those within our Church who find themselves in conscientious disagreement with the actions of our General Convention. We pledge ourselves to continue to work with them toward a workable arrangement. In truth, the number of those who seek to divide our Church is small, and our Church is marked by encouraging signs of life and hope. The fact that we have among ourselves, and indeed encourage, a diversity of opinion on issues of sexuality should in no way be misunderstood to mean that we are divided, except among a very few, in our love for The Episcopal Church, the integrity of its identity, and the continuance of its life and ministry.
In anticipation of the traditional renewal of ordination vows in Holy Week we solemnly declare that "we do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and we do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church." (Book of Common Prayer, page 513)
With this affirmation both of our identity as a Church and our affection and commitment to the Anglican Communion, we find new hope that we can turn our attention to the essence of Christ's own mission in the world, to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (Luke 4:18-19). It is to that mission that we now determinedly turn.
Adopted March 20, 2007The House of BishopsThe Episcopal ChurchSpring Meeting 2007Camp Allen Conference CenterNavasota, Texas

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Who's Footing the Bill

As time progresses, we hear more about who is paying for everything. We hear about the IRD (Institute for Religion and Democracy)underwriting the attack against the Episcopal Church (TEC) and others and we hear how TEC underwrites so much of the Anglican Communion. It has been one of those "bottom line" things--all issues being relegated to $'s and cents rather than what is right and wrong.

Now, I know that my colleagues have many more elevated theological, sociological, biblical reasons for calling for a "walking apart" than the fiduciary ones. But sometimes when we devolve into the financial mudslinging that we are apt to do, we often lose sight of the higher road that always must be before us: It is right to be open to the LGBT community because it is the right thing to do. Hang the budget! Jesus fed the poor with loaves and fishes.

In our parishes many are having difficulty making their budgets, financing the future only begrudgingly and with such parsimony that hope seems not to be with us. And yet we would argue about who is paying the bills? This is not a Communion! This is the elder son wondering why he has not been given a fatted calf. Let's get off the whole issue about who is funding what and be about being a Communion that does disagree within itself. It is the disagreement that makes us strong if we will but see God's work in it.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Reaping what we have sown

We in The Episcopal Church (TEC) should not be surprised by neo-Puritanism that is challenging us from the Global South. For years now we have sent missionaries to those regions with less than up-to-date biblical and theological training. Over the years in various parishes, I have hosted those wanting support for their missionary efforts. In each case I was appalled by the missionary's lack of basic scriptural scholarship. In fact many of those who came to my parishes were those who were resistant to any kind of biblical scholarship that was based on the kinds of scholarship that is taught in most of our seminaries. We have often sent clergy who have been unwilling to absorb the wisdom of modern biblical scholarship to other nations knowing that their training would not be tolerated in most of our dioceses.

I also was disturbed by the theory of missiology that these missionaries displayed. It was, in my mind, incredibly condescending and even colonial in its outward character: "taking the gospel to the poor, unbelieving "brown"brothers" was much of the way they described their ministries. They often showed their slides or power point shows showing the "humble" surroundings, and smiling children trying to tug at the heart strings of wealthy members who might support their ministries. Some did not even have the rudiments of the language of the area to which they were going in their command.

Years ago when I was young and still in that "other" communion, I served as a missionary in Latin America. I too went without Spanish ready to "take my newly acquired faith to the 'poor unfortunates'. Thankfully I went to an area where the people were kind and generous and had had many of my ilk before. Very quickly I learned that the faith that they already had was stronger and fuller and filled with the kind of trust that I had not even fathomed. What they needed was education. They needed to know the theological, the biblical, and ecclesiastical information so that they could go about formulating a theology that was appropriate for their area, not some condescending do-gooding. What they did not have access to was good theological and biblical scholarship texts in their language. In one place there were just not even any basic biblical commentaries in print. The cost of books is prohibitive.

While on sabbatical in the mid-nineties I spent a month in one of the Central American dioceses and became acquainted with the seminarians there. None of them even had a concordance. I can guess that in Africa the conditions would be much the same. When 60% of Nigeria is below the poverty level, it is not surprising that even having Bibles for the majority of the burgeoning Church population would be a stretch.

So the missionary efforts that we have underwritten over the past to emerging nations have been widely off the mark. The efforts I have seen were centered upon helping the poor rather than providing the education so that locals could be about raising up the kinds of ministry that they needed to serve their own poor in ways that did not have the cloying effects of exploitative colonialism.

The issues of translation of the Bible have often been paternalistic at best. Often we supported a western person going into remote areas to learn the indigenous language and then making a translation for the people of the region, rather than raising up scholars from the indigenous people to make the translations which would speak more to the lives of the people of a region.

It is time for us, all of our companion dioceses to get some up-dated theologies of mission. I know that my missionary experience brought more to my faith that what I gave. It is time for more parity in our companion relationships. It is not American culture that we need to be teaching in the areas where our missionaries are to go. We need to convey ways for a people to confirm the Gospel in their own culture as we have done in ours.