Saturday, August 11, 2007

Scorched Earth

Back in the bad old days of incessant European wars, the Russians had an unbeatable defensive strategy. They would burn every building and field that lay in the path of the attacker. The Russian army would carefully stay just out of reach of the enemy. After a while, the enemy's army would simply dissolve due to disease, fatigue and starvation.

The Episcopal Church seems to be pursuing a similar approach in its litigation. Any church that attempts to walk with its property gets sued. The vestry gets sued, individually. Even if you leave the real estate, they still sue you for the cash. I understand that TEC wants to retain the property and wants very much to intimidate the waverers into remaining.

My question is why?

On a purely secular level, Falls Church and Truro Church both are very valuable pieces of real estate. I understand suing over them. The value to TEC if they win far outweighs what the cost will be. I don't understand suing over the smaller churches. Most Episcopal churches are rather small, with an Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) of under one hundred. Especially if the church has debt, as many do, why sue? The remnant congregation will be unsustainable. The buildings and land will wind up either in foreclosure or being sold for far less than the amount of money spent on them.

And that's the secular analysis. From a Christian perspective, the lawsuits are reprehensible. Assuming that TEC is legally right in every respect, even so there is no good reason not to try to negotiate. It is our duty as Christians to behave ourselves and to act out of love and charity. Suing over real estate is never loving. It is never kind. And it rarely ends well for any of the parties.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Public relations

One of my favourite movies is a fairly obscure little film called Shattered Glass. In it, a New Republic editor discovers to his horror that his star writer has been fabricating stories. While time is compressed and two women were apparently merged into one, the movie is apparently fairly accurate in its portrayal of what happened. In the real world, The New Republic investigated, fired the writer and issued an apology.

That is the way that responsible adults of any stripe behave. We make mistakes. We apologize for those mistakes, and we pay for them. Then we make sure not to repeat the same error twice.

Unfortunately for the New Republic, they've been caught once again with 'cooked stories'. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, a private in the Army, provided TNR with some hot 'n juicy stories about himself and his peers misbehaving in Iraq. TNR apparently found them plausible enough to print them. Unfortunately for TNR, they're entirely fictional. The change from the Stephen Glass incident is that TNR is not owning up to its mistake.

The Beauchamp fiasco will cost TNR dearly. Credibility is a precious commodity in todays information age. Even among the New Republic's true believers, doubt and skepticism will creep in.

But until they apologize for their severe lapses in judgment, I will not be able to believe anything they print. Adults apologize of their own will. Children do so only when forced. I have no interest in the opinions of children. And there seem to be more and more persons of advanced years who are nothing but children, whether in leftie news magazines or elsewhere.
Irenaeus is posting his admirable 'Revisionist Dictionary' over at StandFirm. He has some wonderful definitions listed, but he omitted one. So here's my definition of 'Presiding Bishop'.

PRESIDING BISHOP: The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church (TEC) is the Heresiarch of the denomination. While she is not a primate, she functions as one in her dealings with foreign primates. It is believed that she is a marsupial.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


I subscribe to two Episcopalian mailing lists. One is Magdalen House, which I would describe as the view from the pew. The other is the House of Bishops and Deputies (HOBD) mailing list. Which is more a reflection of what the church leadership thinks. For whatever reason, Gmail is sorting the two. Every post to Magdalen goes into my inbox. All of the HOBD posts are being sent to the spam folder.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Poetry Monday

Here's one of my favourite poems of all time. The language is a bit dated, but the spirit of ecclesiastical compromise lives on to this very day.

The Vicar of Bray

In good King Charles's golden days,
When Loyalty no harm meant;
A Furious High-Church man I was,
And so I gain'd Preferment.
Unto my Flock I daily Preach'd,
Kings are by God appointed,
And Damn'd are those who dare resist,
Or touch the Lord's Anointed.

And this is law , I will maintain
Unto my Dying Day, Sir.
That whatsoever King may reign,
I will be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!

When Royal James possest the crown,
And popery grew in fashion;
The Penal Law I shouted down,
And read the Declaration:
The Church of Rome I found would fit
Full well my Constitution,
And I had been a Jesuit,
But for the Revolution.

And this is Law, &c.

When William our Deliverer came,
To heal the Nation's Grievance,
I turn'd the Cat in Pan again,
And swore to him Allegiance:
Old Principles I did revoke,
Set conscience at a distance,
Passive Obedience is a Joke,
A Jest is non-resistance.

And this is Law, &c.

When Royal Ann became our Queen,
Then Church of England's Glory,
Another face of things was seen,
And I became a Tory:
Occasional Conformists base
I Damn'd, and Moderation,
And thought the Church in danger was,
From such Prevarication.

And this is Law, &c.

When George in Pudding time came o'er,
And Moderate Men looked big, Sir,
My Principles I chang'd once more,
And so became a Whig, Sir.
And thus Preferment I procur'd,
From our Faith's great Defender
And almost every day abjur'd
The Pope, and the Pretender.

And this is Law, &c.

The Illustrious House of Hannover ,
And Protestant succession,
To these I lustily will swear,
Whilst they can keep possession:
For in my Faith, and Loyalty,
I never once will faulter,
But George, my lawful king shall be,
Except the Times shou'd alter.

And this is Law, &c.

Image of God

One of the freedoms that we enjoy as Christians is that we can try to imagine or portray God. Neither Jews nor Muslims are allowed to by their respective faiths. This freedom has both good and bad points.

I've come to believe that the progressive image of the conservative God is something similar to this:

And I know that the orthodox view of the progressive image of God is very close to this:

But, in reality, this comes closest to my experience of God:

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A New Fisking

It's been a while since I've done a fisking, so here goes. This gem comes from the blog 'Father Jake Stops the World'. First comes the set up:

In a conversation being held elsewhere, some suggestions were made regarding how to "welcome home" those who may become disillusioned with the apparent splintering that has begun among the secessionists. Here is a paraphrased version of the four suggestions:

1. Seek ways to remove clergy from their posts who need to be removed without humiliating them, and reconsider previous removals as generously as possible.

2. Offering DEPO (Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight) to any congregation or clergy person that requests it.

3. Implement a non-biased way to identify conservative congregations so that they can be more easily found by those seeking them.

4. Make a commitment to not hinder a congregation that seeks only male clergy.

The above is, of course, a compromise. I think it was proposed in good faith. If we are honest, something like this is probably the bare minimum that would have to be offered to "welcome home" some of the more extreme elements that were previously aligned with the Network.

Actually, the above is what has already been offered. Point #1 is just behaving oneself in a Christian manner. Point #2 was offered, withdrawn, re-offered, emasculated and ignored by the Bishops who caused the request for DEPO in the first place. Point #3 is already occurring. Point #4 was promised when Women's Ordination was first enabled. Assurances were made that no diocese or congregation would ever have to accept female clergy.

Can such a compromise be offered? I don't think so.

I doubt it would be accepted. It's nothing new and nothing that was already offered and withdrawn. I don't think the re-appraisers are aware of how little they are trusted or believed at this point. Absent some real repentance, acknowledgment of bad faith and of sin, I do not foresee any such scheme working.

For the reasons why, I offer you the thoughts of the Rev. James V. Stockton, Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Austin, Texas:

I suggest that the reality of the situation requires that we acknowledge some truths. These may be uncomfortable for some, but ultimately, no tongue in cheek here, the truth really does set us free.

I love the use of absolutist language here. The word truth is used twice for emphasis. Fr. Jim is emphasizing that there is going to be some straight talk. I don't know the good Rev. Stockton, but somehow I do not think he will stick to Aristotelean talk. Call me cynical, but I suspect Relativism will rear its pretty little head in short order.

First: those who wish to come home will do so. No one is making this difficult for anyone to do so. Therefore, measures taken to cajole the malcontents, beyond a reiteration of the welcome that exists already, are simply undue and inappropriate. The Church has nothing for which to apologize, especially to those who have gone widely and wildly outside the structures by which they have vowed to abide. The democratic governance of this Church is a strong appeal to people who appreciate the many strengths of the Episcopal Church. So, token measures will be wholly unnecessary for anyone who truly wants to return; and will meet with only suspicion amongst those who do not trust the Church, and so will not be swayed by our good intentions.

This being a free country, no one is barring the door against anyone, in terms of attendance and contributing money. I agree with that. The third sentence is where the truth lies. The truth of the disagreement, that is. The Episcopal Church officially has done much for it needs to apologize. Our Church officials have misled the other primates repeatedly, both under PB Griswold and PB Schori. Churches have been seized for no good reason. Clergy have been harassed, inhibited and deposed without just cause. Heresy has been proclaimed, preached and taught with official sanction. Church rule have been enforced according to a double standard with the Orthodox being held to a strict observance and the heterodox to a more relaxed one. Our entire denomination is out of communion with a majority of the world's Anglicans and shows no desire to re-enter such fellowship.

The whole thrust of the New Testament can be read as a manual of how to behave with one another. I think it contains much besides, but I'm going to speak 're-appraiser'. Last time I checked the whole idea of 'doing unto others' and 'loving your neighbour as your “sibling”' was still considered to be the standard of conduct. As such, it is incumbent upon the majority in a democratically run Christian organisation to respect the rights, privileges and beliefs of the minority. This has not occurred.

As a result, the protestations of good faith and well-meaning that have been offered recently have in fact been met with suspicion and distrust.

Second, DEPO options that are possible under our polity exist already and have already been rejected by the malcontents.

The DEPO that was offered was flawed from its inception. Further the Bishops whose congregations need it the most have refused to offer even the DEPO that's been on the table.

Third, it is, in my humble opinion, hazardous to the health of the Church to participate in any way in the false dichotomy of 'conservative' and 'progressive,' or 'orthodox' and 'liberal.' One person's 'conservative' is another person's 'liberal.' To pretend that these monikers represent defined categories is too simplistic to be helpful. In addition, it's liberality is the very virtue of this Church that enables the healthy inter-relatedness and coexistence of congregations and dioceses that differ in their theological convictions. It is this commonality that all of us need to experience and to invite more people to experience with us. Thus, if someone looking for a new church home happens across a congregation that happens to be a relatively poor match, so much the better. The seeker is free to continue seeking, but in the meantime, experiences the challenge and the blessing of the breadth this Church. Folks who simply refuse to tolerate their kindred in Christ who hold views differing from their own will likely not be comfortable in the Episcopal Church, and will be more comfortable in a more monolithic denomination. All of our congregations are Episcopalian. I suggest that this label is ample identification, indeed.

I agree that liberal and conservative can be viewed as relative terms. That is their utility, actually. Most conservatives in the Episcopal Church would be considered moderates or liberals in the larger denominations such as Southern Baptist or Roman Catholic. The rest of the paragraph is rather Orwellian. Fr. Jim conflates liberality in the sense of 'breadth of spirit or vision/generosity' with the current political or theological sense of the word. The former is always to be desired and is presently lacking in the discussions of this denomination. The second is omnipresent and stifling. The present TEC has very little liberality at present, as is shown by Fr. Jim's essay.

In the second part of the paragraph we have a false assumption. It is that the typical Episcopal Church congregation is broad. That is true theologically. Most the TEC are the heirs of the old Broad Church. But that reflects a lack of both theological knowledge and commitment. In any other sense TEC is rather narrow. We are narrow ethnically, with orthodox parishes being far more ethnically diverse than reappraising ones. We are narrow demographically, being older than most other denominations. We are narrow politically. Lefties far outnumber the right. In terms of leadership we are narrow theologically. Most priests are no longer orthodox in their beliefs. The higher up the hierarchy one looks, the less orthodox and more uniform the doctrines of those in power become.

I very much want to laugh every time I hear the term diversity used in a TEC setting.

Fourth, to 'permit' congregations to restrict their clergy hiring to men only is to sanction sexual discrimination. This is morally and spiritually wrong, and the Church does well to name it as such. Pandering to the impulse to practice discrimination, whether based on sex, gender, age, race, ethnicity, disability, marital status, or other abstract and morally neutral descriptors is sin. For those who know it is sin to teach others to do it, it is a sin greater still. Validating discriminatory practices is not being truly kind. It is condescending, manipulative, and deceitful. Here again, the Episcopal Church is what it is; we are who we are. We need to be honest with ourselves, with one another, and with others. The truth is the greatest kindness we can offer.

Apparently at some point Women's Ordination went from optional to mandatory. The promise was made, and yes you really can look it up, that WO would remain forever optional. That no one would ever have to violate their conscience because of it. Apparently that was yesterday's eternal truth and now we have a new one. Fr. Jim plugs in an EOE statement and elevates it to the realm of theology. I'm all for not discriminating at law against sex, gender, age, race, ethnicity, disability or marital status where it is inappropriate so to do.

However, such discrimination is often necessary. Police departments typically balk at hiring as police officers those with physical disabilities. Most of the women I know refuse to use gynecologists who are men. Everyone on the planet discriminates against teenagers. The Nation of Islam refuses to accept white people as members.

Theologically, a strong case can be made against Women's Ordination. The Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Coptic churches have all made and stuck by those arguments. It is painfully obvious that Fr. Jim and his ilk do not wish to address the actual theology of it. They are using a manifestly non-absolute standard of secular law and elevating to a Commandment: “Thou shalt not discriminate.” Furthermore, he offers up that discrimination is “condescending, manipulative and deceitful.” He does not offer up any substantiation of these charges. He does not explain how it is so. And it is clear me that he can not. If as a Church we say “You may not become a priest, you are too young” then that is not condescending, not manipulative and quite honest.

I think we may safely ignore all the discussion of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, age, etc and concentrate only on the one that is actually pertinent. Sex. What is needed is for those who wish it to be made obligatory to come forward and make their case on a theological basis. That has not been done.

No one is barring the door to the return of those who are realizing that they've been taken in by the ACN. The Church's welcome home that existed before they began their departure is still there, now. Those who want to come home, will do so. In the meantime, for the sake of all those not yet a part of this Church, we will do well to be frankly honest about who this Church is and about the Gospel truth that has gathered us and set us free.

Jim Stockton
Priest, Diocese of Texas

There we agree. I bless the Lord each day for the election of PB Schori. She has given those of us in the right a God-given sense of clarity. At the very least, the fog of pseudo theological blather has been cleared away and we all see where we all stand. I stand with Christ, where I have stood since I became a Christian. TEC stands somewhere else now. I pray that one day that the hierarchy will take their vows seriously and repent and join me with the rest of the Church.