Yesterday the Diocese of Northern Indiana’s Standing Committee issued a statement about the recent actions of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops in deposing two recalcitrant bishops. I commend this statement for its contents and tone and above all for its grounding in the faith of the church.
We live in a legalistic society and in a society which tolerates a high degree of freedom to indulge in character assassination. To politicians and media pundits the sort of nastiness abhorred by young people at school has become a way of life exalted in the name of free speech and constitutional rights. People may as easily be destroyed by oft-repeated slander and legal fees as easily as they may be by medical costs and lack of competent health-care attention. Sometimes one is as impotent in confronting slander as one is in getting adequate attention for cancer. We seem less and less able to address issues objectively and without personal affront. We seem more and more willing to circumvent due process if we convince ourselves that someone is guilty or even wrong-headed.
It was once said of us, “See how these Christians love one another.” The history of ecclesiastical censure and the trials of bishops in our church has been rarely edifying. For instance it is said to this day that the trial and deposition of the Rt Rev. Benjamin T. Onderdonk, Bishop of New York, in the 19th. century was deeply flawed. “Whether the trial was an appropriate act to punish a Bishop for improper behavior or a conspiracy to silence a proponent of the Oxford Movement may be ultimately unknowable.” Whatever the truth of the matter the struggle between Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics in the mid Victorian period on both sides of the Atlantic and the clumsy and flawed legal and canonical attempts to settle the matter, far from protecting the church, produced defections to Rome, a schism which weakened and unbalanced the Episcopal Church for a century, or perhaps to this day and the unsavory drama of Christians in mortal combat. There were no winners.
One would think that such precedents would give pause for us to consider the grave dangers which attend our “unhappy divisions.” Yet I suspect few have recently read the accounts of the bitter exchanges between “Catholic” and “Evangelical” bishops and other clergy, the story of the trials and imprisonment of clergy, fumbled attempts at “Ritualist” Canons, the repeated refusal of bishops and standing committees to consent to the consecration of James de Koven and the tragedy of the Reformed Episcopal schism. If history doesn’t repeat itself it does a remarkable imitation.
It is in the context of this preface that I would commend to you all the Statement of Northern Indiana’s Standing Committee one may access at http://www.ednin.org/ednin/. I would particularly commend to study, reflection and prayer the concluding paragraphs of the Statement:
<this statement was written shortly after Trinity Sunday. The Trinitarian faith we profess in our worship is no mere exercise in divine arithmetic. The Trinity helps us know God’s true character within whose being exists a community of divine self-abasement. Thus understood, the Trinity is the foundation upon which truly human relationships are built. Everything the New Testament has to say about Christian relationships flows from this essential understanding of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nowhere is this clearer than in Philippians 2:1-11.
We believe that when we let the same mind be in us that was in Jesus, other ways of responding to division come into view. Those Bishops (or other clergy) who, for sake of conscience, can no longer minister as part of The Episcopal Church can be transferred at their request, or permitted to renounce their vows and join with other Anglican Provinces without vindictiveness or punitive measures. Confrontation in the Church is an opportunity to show the world how Christians conduct themselves in the midst of serious disagreements. It is an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. >
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