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TRADITIONALISTS NOT SERVED

The Episcopal Cafe is a progressive online web page which has placed in its window, “Traditionalists not served here.” Today it takes a letter it received and turns it into an editorial, Note the word “editorial”. This isn’t an article by any old Tom, Sarah or Harry. It’s an editorial, presumably signed off by its editors. That surprises me because I know some of them. You may find the editorial here:

http://www.episcopalcafe.com/questions-to-ask-the-bishop-elect-of-dallas/

The author of this editorially approved piece requires that the Bishop-elect of Dallas, Dr. George Sumner, answer a number of questions relating to the matter of whether, if confirmed, he intends to or may ever seek to remove the diocese from the Episcopal Church. The justification for this loaded question is that at present George Sumner is Principal of Wycliffe College, Toronto, and has on his staff the likes of Ephraim Radner and Christopher Seitz who write for the Anglican Communion Institute. Neither of these scholars has left the Episcopal Church or advocated schism. The ACI has not advocated that traditionalists commit schism. Their offense seems to be that they do not subscribe to a narrow constitutional doctrine which subordinates dioceses to General Convention and to the jurisdictional authority of the Presiding Bishop.

My own bishop, Daniel Martins, comes in for similar opprobrium by the writer because he was one of the bishops charged with treason because he joined an amicus brief challenging the same doctrine. He and his fellow bishops, reminiscent of the seven bishops imprisoned by James II because they refused to endorse his Declaration of Indulgences, apologized under coercion for signing the brief, but maintained their opposition to what has become the received doctrine of Episcopal Polity. (I stand somewhere in the middle on this one.)

Now I count Bishop Martins as a friend. We were priests together in Northern Indiana. I fancy that if he harbored schismatic plans for himself or this diocese, covertly tucked up his rochet sleeve, I would have heard them. He certainly hasn’t espoused ecclesiastical high treason in his Synod addresses, at clergy conferences or other meetings.

Consider the context in which this offensive demand has been made. We are approaching General Convention. The Episcopal Church is being called to reform its structure to meet the demands of a rapidly dwindling constituency, in which the average Sunday attendance of its parishes is a meagre sixty-one, some of its seminaries are in deep trouble, and while the coffers of the national church remain fairly stable, dioceses and parishes are, for the most part, either deeply compromised or drawing close to that situation. Episcopalians are calling for unity, for drastic restructuring and for a return to basics, to core issues and to evangelism. At this moment, as a new Presiding Bishop is to be elected, a person who will face the biggest crisis in our common life since the beginning of the 19th. Century (when disunity and the aftermath of the Revolution brought us close to extinction) one of the largest and healthiest dioceses of our church, that of Dallas, and it’s bishop-elect are to be subjected to a divisive and hostile attack mounted against them. Why?

I don’t think its paranoia to posit -or at least anymore paranoiac than these progressive conspiracy theorists devise – that the real target are those of us who commit the unpardonable sin of dissenting from most of the aims and objectives of the parliamentary majority in General Convention: the tyranny of the majority. In short, traditionalists are not served here. It’s enough to make us turn into schismatics. But we don’t. We regret that the Bishop of South Carolina and his diocese, caved under severe pressure and left. We regret the loss of every diocese, parish and individual Episcopalian. We deplore fragmentation as much as we deplore Episcopalian exceptionalism. We deplore that the Episcopal Church Worldwide Inc., regards itself to be a discreet denomination, accountable only to itself, inward looking and xenophobic. Indeed we accuse these progressives of illiberality, of collusion in driving those who do not agree with them out of the church, because they only believed that which, hitherto, the Episcopal Church has espoused. They are as purist as some extreme conservatives.

Now I happen to believe that one of the laudable intentions of Anglicanism is to comprehend people who disagree vehemently but who kneel at the same altars because they share the same baptism. I share friendship with many progressives, thanks be to God. I hope this blog doesn’t offend them too much but whatever I still love them. I happen to believe with Martyn Percy that contentious issues are to be chewed together slowly and that unity matters because our Lord prayed that we should be one. Unity is the sign of the unity we share with the Trinity. It is not just a cosy idea, or a strategic asset. “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.”

I hope George Sumner and the Diocese of Dallas will ignore those who question their fidelity to their baptismal covenants, their ordination oaths. Of course the bishops and standing committees of our church are free to ask bishops-elect any questions they desire, but I hope such questions will be framed without malice, without suspicion, without the bitterness of former days. I hope too that the Episcopal Cafe will remove that sign from their window. We will sit with you, pray with you, work with you, laugh with you, cry with you, but we refuse to let you own that which is our common property.

THINGS CAST DOWN ARE RAISED UP

Today a group of influential Episcopalians issued a “Memorial” to the upcoming General Convention calling for spiritual, theological and structural renewal: http://www.episcopalresurrection.org/memorial/

The memorial calls the Episcopal Church to:

Engage creatively, openly, and prayerfully in reading the signs of the times and discerning the particular ways God is speaking to the Episcopal Church now;

Pray, read the scriptures, and listen deeply for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in electing a new Presiding Bishop and other leaders, in entering into creative initiatives for the spread of the kingdom, and in restructuring the church for mission;

Fund evangelism initiatives extravagantly: training laborers to go into the harvest to revitalize existing congregations and plant new ones; forming networks and educational offerings to train and deploy church planters and revitalizers who will follow Jesus into all kinds of neighborhoods; and creating training opportunities for bilingual and bi-cultural ministry;

Release our hold on buildings, structures, comfortable habits, egos, and conflicts that do not serve the church well;

Remove obstacles embedded in current structures, however formerly useful or well-meaning, that hinder new and creative mission and evangelism initiatives;

Refocus our energies from building up a large, centralized, expensive, hierarchical church-wide structure, to networking and supporting mission at the local level, where we all may learn how to follow Jesus into all of our neighborhoods.

I think we are finally emerging from those heady days of iconoclasm – for the moment,- during which, in the name of renewal, not only our liturgical and spiritual inheritance was scorned as something irrelevant or even harmful to “man come of age”, but the heart of the Gospel and the mission of the church questioned. As I’ve written before, we had become a boutique church, designed for a politically and socially aware elite. In the process we forged a schism, equally designed for a politically and socially elite, a mirror image of a designer church for those who agree with us, or with whom we feel comfortable.

I am struck by the acuity of thoughts expressed by the present pope when he was rector of a seminary in Argentina, days when the church there was under attack by a right-wing, bloodthirsty dictatorship on the one hand, and those who had submerged the Gospel in a specific left-wing crusade.He wrote:

“The example of Our Lord saves us: He became incarnate in the people. Peoples have habits, cultural references which are not easily classified…..To adjust our ears to hear their desire for change requires humility, affection, the habit of inculturation, and above all, a rejection of the absurd pretension to become the “voice” of the people, imagining perhaps that they don’t have one…..The first question any pastor seeking to reform structures must ask is: What is my people asking of me? What is it calling me to do? And then we must dare to listen.” (Austin Overeigh, The Great Reformer, A&U Press, 2014)

What I am not advocating is a program proposed, lobbied for, won by majority vote, all in the name of those who are the church. The church will no more be renewed by a further group of empowered reformers than it was in the seventies. Of course renewal and revival begins with small groups of people inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is when such groups become divisive factions, using political power to enforce their will that the problem arises. Now is the time for genuine egalitarianism. An unrepresentative General Convention as insulated from popular opinion as Congress needs to divest itself of privilege, and claims that it speaks for the people: it needs to listen to the poor, blue collar workers, those who do not subscribe to their political and social ideals, to traditionalists and even to those who have left us for other churches or to ACNA.

Let me be clear. I am not advocating a conservative solution. I am not suggesting we abandon our mission to those who are left out of the national political process, or shunned by us. I am suggesting that unless we recover our spiritual, theological and ecclesial roots, we have nothing to offer that a political party or a social activism group can’t do better. There is only one skandalion, stumbling block, set before those whom God loves, and that is Jesus and him crucified and risen. We have alienated the many in the hope of attracting the few, and assembled enough stumbling blocks to build a multitude of mission churches among those who are battling with the complexities of modern life and see nothing we have to be relevant to their lives. If we claim to be a catholic church, for God sake let us rediscover our mission to all people.

I therefore endorse the work of Episcopal Resurrection, for what my endorsement is worth. I am merely a grey head, the vicar of two small missions, my retirement job. But I assure this group, many of whom I know, of my support and prayers.

A SILENT PREJUDICE

The real reason why Episcopalians have lost the interest of most Americans is quite simple. We don’t like them. We can adopt their cause as a mass, as a class, or a group of classes, but when it comes to them -you know, real people, a few of whom, or perhaps more than a few perch in our pews on Sunday, it’s quite a different matter.

I accuse our leadership of this sin, but dear conservative, I accuse you too. Well yes, the ‘masses’ probably espouse  most conservative policies and seem to enjoy being trickled down upon. It’s rather like a free lottery. There’s always a slim possibility one may strike it rich. That’s why they try Publisher’s Clearing House and buy plastic gnomes, or get a lottery ticket when buying gas.

The main blame lies with progressives. After all the main task of a progressive is to champion the under dog, as long as he or she is under. The thought that such people might actually come to church, or be represented in our synods makes the skin crawl. Just consider these people for a moment. Most have never been to college -community colleges don’t count – and many may not have graduated from High School. They read little that is worthwhile and eat at McDonalds. They wear dreadful clothes, their English aint good, they have never been to the symphony, have no interest in the arts and grow potatoes in the front yard next to the gnomes and flamingos. And yes, they wrap themselves in the flag, hate immigrants unless they are white and wealthy, and wear baseball caps to dinner.

Of course, there are exceptions. We feel good about the really hungry who come to our soup kitchens, about African Americans if they are shot by the police of bullied at school, about Latin American refugees struggling across the border, or gays beaten up outside a bar. But the good thing is that we usually don’t have to meet these people, eat with them, talk with them, actually love them enough to share our faith with them. After all, they are probably members of an evangelical sect or, just as bad, are bigoted Roman Catholics.

Those of the “under classes” who still come to church with us, perhaps form majorities in some congregations, or who actually turn out to be the back bone of most of our smaller congregations know just how condescending our leadership has become. Why do they turn off what General Convention will do? They are not represented, their views are not heeded and they know that if they actually read the doings in Utah they’d get mad, maybe mad enough to stop coming to church very often even though they love their local parish.

The truth is that most of this silent majority, the workers, don’t see how the Jesus we talk about has anything to say about keeping a job, losing a job, paying the rent, bringing up children, dealing with divorce, or marriage, or paying medical expenses, or even understand the complexities of modern living. The last thing they want to encounter is preachy snobs, wrapped up in their latest Cause, be it conservative or liberal. The church is irrelevant. To make matters worse, most of us think the workers are irrelevant. We don’t care. We pass resolutions, write checks, attend meetings, maybe help serve meals for the needy, but in all this we are a bit like a Russian Grand Duchess throwing rubles to the peasants. So dear fellow Episcopalians, fess up. We don’t like the workers,employed or not, Black or White, Asian or Hispanic. We do love our impersonal orthodoxies.