"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

20 September 2008

More Old Wounds (moved)

While I'm posting stupid things I wrote once upon a time, my mother-in-law asked that I make this available for her, so I'm just putting it here for convenience. I don't think I want this blog to be *about* this tragic time in my life and my diocese, but have some patience with my ramblings. Once I have managed to make it through church tomorrow, without my bishop and rector and brother at the helm, maybe I'll shut up and finish that novel I started this week (reading, that is, not writing).

The Case for Leaving The Episcopal Church
(Note: Fr. Simons' article is found on parishtoolbox.org)

I want to thank Fr. Jim Simons for his thoughtful comments on the situation in the Episcopal Church. On many things we agree, or as I have often said to others, we disagree on strategy, not theology. Jim Simons is my brother in Christ, and the current situation has no power to change that. In fact, I know all of "the twelve" who signed the now infamous letter, the twelve conservative priests who publicly decline to realign. I respect each of them, some of them I count as close friends.

And yet, it remains that we do disagree on strategy. Fr. Simons mentioned that it is not the way of the Old Testament faith for the faithful to set themselves outside the body. He is correct. It was never appropriate, no matter how apostate Israel became, for the faithful to go off and found a new Israel. At one time, my own argument ended here, as do the arguments in Fr. Simons’ document. But there are two fallacies at play here. The first is that the body of the faithful who are in favor of realigning are not going off and founding a new Christianity. The Episcopal Church is not our Israel. We belong first and foremost to a body of believers, world wide and across the millennia, who profess Christ crucified and raised from the dead. The Episcopal Church is only a tiny faction within that larger new Israel. Furthermore, we seek to found nothing new, as that would be an affront to the catholicity of our faith. We seek only to be under the authority of another, already existing, segment of that one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith.

Many have accused us of seeking schism. This is not what we are doing. Schism seeks to separate from the body, realignment in fact seeks fuller membership in the larger body of confessing Christians. If the Episcopal Church were the fullness of the valid expression of the faith, of course this would be schism. Of course, this is not the case. Centuries of schism in the church catholic and generations of decline in the Episcopal Church have left the Church fragmented and the Episcopal Church sliding further and further from the few boundaries of Christianity on which that torn and fragmented Church can manage to agree. Dr. Rod Whitacre once told a class that there is only one kind of schism, schism from the Body of Christ. Regrettably, that schism has already taken place long ago in the Episcopal Church.

The second fallacy in the Old Testament Israel model is that this is not how the New Testament church has functioned. While the people of Israel were always defined by their ethnic heritage, no matter what faith they espoused, whether faithful or apostate, the church does not have the luxury of similar boundaries. The Church has always defined itself by the faith, not the ethnicity. The church has therefore had the obligation to consistently define what groups of people are and are not within the Body of Christ. This sacred discipline was doubtles no more comfortable on either side of the aisle during the eras of the Gnostics and Arians than it is today. It is, sadly necessary at times, for the Church to lay claim anew to her doctrines and draw lines beyond which we may not cross while claiming to be members of the body. We cannot happily sit by while the tithe dollars of faithful Christians go to support the creation of paganized liturgies, apostate theologies, and lawsuits against servant of Christ.

Personally, I find Fr. Simons’ arguments to be a bit naïve. His comments about women’s ordination being a difficult subject for the Southern Cone are indeed accurate. However it is very ungracious to assume that our brothers and sisters in the Southern Cone, having truly exceeded the call of duty in accepting our ordained women in the first place, would be anything less than charitable in their behavior towards us. Still more disturbing is Fr. Simons’ assumption that the women of the church might not be aware that our vocations are difficult for some to accept and that we would not be ready and willing to set aside our own personal positions and feelings for the cause of Christ. I, for one, would gladly set aside my ordination if the body of Christ required it. This is not because I have some distaste for my calling, rather it is because the nature of the ordained call is not about retaining one’s rights but emptying oneself of those rights for the sake of the Cross.

I further find Fr. Simons’ assumption that the Episcopal Church would treat Pittsburgh any more kindly than other dioceses and parishes have been treated and that the Episcopal Church would repent of their extra-canonical actions against the orthodox to date to be a little naïve. The whole idea that this abusive relationship will get any better if the one party would only return to the vulnerability and intimacy that was once shared is, unfortunately, neither a likely outcome nor a responsible risk. No doubt my cynicism is a symptom of my fallen human nature, and yet at the same time we must be as wise as serpents, not leading our people intentionally into danger.

I agree with Fr. Simons on much, including that this will be a painful process. However, the faithful have counted the cost and it is a pain we are willing to bear. It is my sincere hope and prayer that the relationships we have built here in Pittsburgh can stand as a testimony to the Episcopal Church and to the world that no matter what side of the strategic debate we stand on, Christians honor one another and strive to love one another as Christ loved us. I have been honored these four years to serve among the finest clergy and most inspiring Christian men and women I have ever met. I pray those relationships are not ended over issues of strategy.

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