Thursday, March 18, 2004

Determined to call it "splitsville"

I haven't posted the past few days. I just haven't had the energy to marshall together everything to express what's been on my mind.

You see, this past Sunday, in the Diocese of Ohio, some disaffected clergy of the AAC-type violated canon in an attempt to hurry the schism in the Episcopal Church. They gathered confirmands from their parishes, went to a non-Episcopal church, and had the confirmations performed by some retired bishops from other parts of the country and one bishop from Brazil.

This is both a violation of canon, which states that permission must be obtained from the local bishop to perform any sacramental acts or official duties, and a violation of common courtesy. No such permission was asked; in fact, this was done in the darkness of secrecy, like most AAC actions. It was announced just about time the confirmation was starting.

The usual (traditional and orthodox !) procedure is for the bishop of the diocese to perform the confirmations, laying on hands and saying a prayer for each confirmand. But, one self-righteous priest explained that a lot of parents didn't want this "liberal" local bishop or bishop-elect, who had voted to ratify Gene Robinson as bishop coadjutor, to touch their children.

This is a slap in the face to both these men and to Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. The intent was to put the PB in a "damned if you do or damned if you don't" position (you let them continue their hateful actions or respond and be accused of hatefulness), and hopefully provoke a response that they would use to "justify" a schism.

This is the kind of action you see in a relationship where one partner wants to leave to pursue someone new, but wants to blame the breakup on the old partner, so does things to provoke the partner to an angry response. Then the faithless one says, "See, I just can't live with you any more. You're just too hard to get along with. I'm going to pursue a new relationship over here with so-and-so."

PB Griswold hasn't bit on the bait. I'm developing more and more admiration for him as I watch him through this crisis.

PB Griswold, in his response, reminded them of church canon, the instructions from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the upcoming meeting this week to work on alternative oversight. (The action taken in Ohio was an attempt to preempt this meeting. They don't want anything worked out.)

Here is the conclusion to PB Griswold's response from Monday, March 15:

"Why, I am moved to ask, did these bishops decide that Confirmation of these persons was pastorally necessary at this moment and act without permission of the Bishop of Ohio? Given that the House of Bishops will meet later this week, I can only surmise that their intention is to co-opt the bishops' agenda and provoke a reaction that will appear sufficiently lacking in pastoral concern for 'dissenting minorities' to justify what they have done in the eyes of others.

I trust that they will be disappointed in their hope and that the vast majority of bishops of this church--occupying the diverse center--will find a way forward that is clear and just in its principles, pastoral in its approach and responsive to the needs of the church in this present moment."


Through a study program in my parish, I've been reading Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life. Ironically, this action in Ohio took place right after I'd read chapters 20 and 21, "Restoring Broken Fellowship," about reconciliation and peacemaking in the church, and "Protecting Your Church," about protecting unity in the church: "Unity is the soul of fellowship. Destroy it, and you rip the heart out of Christ's Body."

I've watched every principle in these chapters being broken by the actions of these priests and the bishops who participated or encouraged them.

I can only regard this as bad shepherding, as in "The Hired Hand." At the same time, I know they must feel justified, feel that what they are doing is right, to persist with these kinds of actions.

Are they so afraid of change? I look at the history of Christianity and see that the Holy Spirit is constantly leading us to change. Again, I see Peter sitting at the table with unabashed, uncircumcised folks who didn't obey the dietary laws, being very uncomfortable because this went against all he had been taught all his life, but doing it -- because the Holy Spirit was bringing these awful gentiles into the fold.

Are they so afraid of an admitted, open and honest homosexual bishop? They see this as such an awful sin that they can't live with it. I have to look at the example Jesus set for us and know that He was an inclusionist. He brought to him people who at that time were viewed at least as, or more contemptible, to the religious "right," and He even made apostles of them. Otherwise, we wouldn't have the Gospel of Matthew. I would rather risk erring on the side of love than erring on the side of prejudice. This is the way I feel the Holy Spirit calling me, as I think most Episcopalians feel the Spirit calling them.

How can you deny someone who loves Christ with all his heart, soul and mind, who has demonstrated able pastoral leadership and wants to serve God? I don't understand the animosity.

So maybe we are set for a schism. If so, it won't be because there is no common ground, as some claim. We are all Christians. We all believe the Nicene creed. No, if there is a schism, it will be because this group has set their will to it and are determined to have it. It will be their choice.

But hear what the Spirit is saying to the church, because it's to God we'll have to answer for our actions.

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