Some contemporary Anglican discourse, especially in the US, has reached for two contemporary philosophical ideas: 'difference', echoing Derrida (though without his subtlety), and 'the Other', a central theme in Levinas. Frank Griswold, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church (US), has repeatedly urged that we 'celebrate difference' and 'embrace the Other'. In other words, we must be a broad church without nasty, rigid boundaries." N. T. Wright Bishop of Durham
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the clash of ideas few things have polarized the Episcopal Church more than the notions of inclusivity versus the exclusive claims of the gospel of Jesus Christ, based on His person and work. There is all the difference in the world then between a welcoming church and an inclusive church; between a church that says come as you are, stay as you are, and a church that welcomes everyone, but says that there is a life changing transforming message that you need to hear.
Such is the story of the ANGLICAN CHURCH OF UGANDA. This week I sat down and spoke with the Primate of Uganda Henry Luke Orombi, a highly articulate Western-trained archbishop who told me that revival has broken out in Uganda and thousands are coming to Christ each week. In fact things are so dynamic that he has already outgrown the cathedral in Kampala and they have had to erect a tent outside on the cathedral grounds to meet the crowds that are pouring in. And when he makes an appeal to accept Christ hundreds come forward. As a result the Uganda church now has 9 million members up from 7 million a few short years ago.
Now that's a church on the march. And why? Because it has a message of hope and redemption, of change and of the promise of eternal life, and it is why the Ugandan Church is the second largest province in the Anglican Communion with almost a third of the country's population, and it is why the Church of England and the Episcopal Church USA, mired down in abysmal sexual practices, arguing over the validity of women bishops, and which Prayer Book to use, seem so utterly irrelevant to the African Church and this Anglican leader. For him Africa has two choices, it will either go Christian or go Islam, and if it goes the latter then we will all (including the West) enter a new spiritual Dark Ages.
And that is why this struggle for the soul of the church is so important, and it is why the orthodox minority in the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church in Canada must fight till their last drop of blood for the defense of the gospel, and why leaving (an option but not the only one) may not be the only move, though highly understandable.
This writer makes no judgment about what individual parishes and their clergy should do, for the very simple reason that each situation is uniquely different. Some rectors get thrown out - deposed and inhibited - by revisionist bishops; others walk away disgusted by the whole mess, for reasons too numberless to mention, and many stay and fight because they think history is on their side. They may be right. The truth is there are good people on all sides of this issue.
Jesus himself said the way into the kingdom had narrow doors and an equally narrow way and that few would find it. The Episcopal Church, in its desire to be all things to all people and include especially pansexualists has opened the door to a hellish degree.
Caroline Westerhoff in her book Good Fences: The Boundaries of Hospitality writes: "Gates that swing too wide and doors that open too fast do not give us the opportunity to slow down and decide what is important before we make our choices." Indeed, the only time the Bible tells us to "fling wide the gates" is so that the "King of Glory can come in." The Episcopal Church should take note.
THIS WEEK, four orthodox primates swept into the DIOCESE OF PENNSYLVANIA to kickoff the Anglican Relief and Development Fund to aid the poor in the Global South. But in a fund-raiser near Philadelphia, the revisionist Bishop of Pennsylvania Charles E. Bennison turned up and the Primates would not speak to him, break bread with him, or even acknowledge his presence. They closed themselves off in another part of the building and left Bennison alone. It was a diplomatic rejection of the highest order. But the real question is; if they would do that to Bennison imagine what all the orthodox archbishops will do to Frank Griswold in Ireland in February! Stay tuned.
BUT GRISWOLD has more immediate troubles. In Houston this past week some 30 non-consenting ECUSA bishops; that is bishops who did not vote for the consecration of V. Gene Robinson, met to weigh their options. Their meeting clearly spells trouble for the left. The revisionists should not assume they have it all sown up said a bishop who asked not to be named. "The assumption was that we all had a lot in common and that would work itself out in creative ways. We dealt with building relationships among a group of people who opposed this action. It was a positive meeting, a positive first step."
Among the bishops were the 12 Network bishops, but 20 other bishops also showed up, proof that they are facing a lot of discontent in their own dioceses, and that not even they saw the backlash coming. "Most of them will come down on the right side of the fence when the votes are counted," said the bishop. Clearly the days of fence-sitting are drawing to a close. These 20 bishops will not be able to live much longer in the both/and world of Episcopal diversity. The issue is going to boil down to either/or and those bishops, including Don Wimberly of Texas and John Howard of Florida will have to get off the fence and be counted…one way or another. On hearing this news an orthodox bishop said, "What we assumed in the decision of August of 2003 turned out to be an utter disaster." Said the bishop: "The purpose of the January meeting of the House of Bishops will be to respond to the Windsor Report. I see it as a great tool for us orthodox bishops."
Clearly Griswold will not have it all his own way, and we can't wait till February when Griswold gets an earful from his fellow Primates in Ireland, or they ignore him. The Global South bishops have reached the end of their tether and patience with Griswold and we got a taste of that this past weekend in Philadelphia when four primates totally ignored PA Bishop Charles E. Bennison. You can read that story today.
The EPISCOPAL CHURCH FOUNDATION has just completed a report called COHERENCE: Soundings on the state of leadership among Episcopalians. What they learned was that the vast majority of Episcopalians don’t want the Robinson consecration and homosexuality to dominate the church. Another remarkable surprise was the size of the majority that wants to be related to the worldwide Anglican Communion. Are the revisionist bishops and Griswold listening? Virtueonline will present an in depth look at the document in a forthcoming digest.
A MAJOR CRISIS FOR ROWAN WILLIAMS has erupted in the Diocese of Recife, Brazil that will test his Solomonic skills. The bishop there, one Robinson Cavilcanti has asked for episcopal oversight directly from the archbishop himself! Cavilcanti is the one and only orthodox diocese in the ultra-liberal province that began as a plant by the ECUSA. Primate Dom Orlando Santos de Oliveira has pulled the financial plug on the diocese and has been scooping out parishes and giving them to liberal bishops. He was angry that Cavilcanti flew to the US and stood with the 'Akron Five' bishops last year when they blew into Grew's Ohio diocese and did a bunch of confirmations. Now it is pay back time. Cavilcanti has been under the gun since then from his own Primate.
For a while there was talk that Cavilcanti would bring his diocese under Primate Greg Venables of the Southern Cone which would make geographical sense, but apparently that idea got nixed for a better one. Go directly to Williams himself, do not pass go, ask directly for oversight from the world Anglican leader.
Now it gets interesting. Williams has blasted bishops and archbishops who cross diocesan lines. He particularly took a swing at Nigerian Primate Peter Akinola for coming to the U.S. to rescue Nigerian Anglicans just before the Windsor Report was announced, and now he is being asked to do precisely that! If he says no, and he will not rescue Cavilcanti he will look like a coward and be despised by the Africans, and if he does, he goes against his own prime directive. If there was a soap opera in play it would be called "As the Communion Turns", starring a Welsh shepherd boy playing Rowan Williams. You can read the full story in today's digest.
IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND this week, the Archbishop of York, Dr. David Hope, has warned that the Anglican Church is on the brink of "implosion" over the divisive issues of the ordination of homosexual clergy and women bishops. In an interview with The Telegraph on the eve of his retirement as the second most important clergyman in the Church of England, Dr Hope, 64, said that the Church's "fundamental Christian message" was in danger of being lost in the midst of disagreement over differences that were "neither here nor there".
One wonders why the Global South bishops bother with the C. of E. that church needs converting to Jesus as much as animist Africans and Middle East Muslims. Nigerian Primate Akinola says he will double his church from 18 million to 36 million in three years, perhaps he should give some pointers on how it is done to Williams, Griswold and the liberals, they sure could use it. The Western liberal branches of the Anglican family are dying and only a return to a clear gospel mandate can rescue them. But many feel that it might now be all too late.
AND TO MAKE THE POINT about Episcopal sodomite acceptance, inclusivity and AIDS, a new research finds that abstinence and fidelity are key to fighting AIDS. An article published in the current issue of The Lancet, signed by nearly 150 HIV/AIDS experts from over 35 countries has acknowledged that abstinence and being faithful in marriage are key to stopping AIDS. The article calls for following evidenced-based approaches and looks to Uganda's ABC model as a successful campaign against the deadly virus. (Uganda's success is directly related to the Anglican Church there).
The latest UN conference looking at AIDS demonstrated the hostility of many AIDS researchers and academics towards the Ugandan ABC program which has been backed by the Bush Administration. ( http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2004/jul/04071602.html ) While some may see ABC (Abstain, Be faithful/reduce partners, use Condoms) push in the Lancet as a success, others have seen a major watering down of the ABC approach. The Ugandan model shunned the use of condoms and resorted to them only as a last resort.
AND IN A CASE that should give heart to orthodox Episcopal parishes in the fight for their properties comes this word: "Fresno church wins legal fight for property", screamed a headline this week. The Fresno Bee reported that St. Luke's Community Church in west-central Fresno can leave the United Methodist Church and retain control of its property, according to a recent court action. The California Supreme Court denied a petition for review filed by the California-Nevada Annual Conference, letting stand a state appellate court's decision in August.
Now this ought to give LOS ANGELES EPISCOPAL BISHOP JON BRUNO heart burn. VirtueOnline spoke with the Rev. Praveen Bunyan, rector of St. James Newport Beach who is in litigation with the bishop to keep his parish. He said this was the best and most heartening news of the week and he can't wait for the courts to resolve his situation with the bishop so he and his flock can get on with the business of evangelizing people without this cloud hanging over them.
AND IN THE CULTURE WARS over homosexuality, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America parish in San Bernardino, California urban ministry that aids the poor and homeless had its official recognition removed by Lutheran church officials in a dispute over an associate pastor who is in a lesbian relationship. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America allows gay clergy only if they are celibate.
And the UNITED METHODIST CHURCH tossed out a lesbian Methodist preacher from her parish in Pennsylvania because she announced she was in a sexual relationship with another woman. And from the AMERCIAN BAPTIST CHURCH comes this. "We will voluntarily refrain from recommending or approving persons who are practicing homosexuals (gay and lesbian persons) for positions and ministries on the regional and national levels of denominational life. We will voluntarily refrain from conducting or participating in marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. We will voluntarily refrain from making stereotypical statements about homosexuals, participating in homophobic behavior, making uninformed assumptions about homosexuals, or from participating in public demonstrations advocating on either side of this issue. We will voluntarily refrain from making threats of withdrawal of resources and threats of withdrawal of fellowship."
Perhaps these old Protestant mainline denominations are watching the gadarene slide The Episcopal Church is on and doesn't want to become another burnt out denominational statistic.
AND FANK GRISWOLD continues to court hostility and questions wherever he goes. Boyd Ready a VirtueOnline reader from Holy Cross church Kahuku, in Oahu, Hawaii wrote to say that at an open meeting for laity in Hawaii recently, Griswold was asked the following question: "As the celebration of communion, as you have said, is it central to our Episcopal worship, even in spite of differences of opinion, how important is it that more than half, or 22 of 38 Anglican provinces worldwide are either 'out of communion' or in 'impaired communion' with PECUSA?"
Griswold responded: "The vote not to affirm some of the 39 articles was taken at a time when I was not present. That failure to affirm need not be taken as a sincere unwillingness to believe them, for the timing and selection of what was voted upon was, in the view of many, put forward with political motivations that made it advisable to vote no."
So what he is saying is that Quincy Bishop Keith Ackerman (he introduced Resolution B001) is a political hound dog not a godly bishop who cares more about the faith than pluriformity and politics. That is a gross attack on the man.
Griswold went on to explain that in many of these places, such as Nigeria and Kenya, sexuality is not a normal topic in public, much less the complex issues of homosexuality.
"Any discussion of such matters is unfamiliar and highly emotionally charged. Some in the American church believe that we are a pioneer in many areas, and this has been true in some cases in the past. This is the cause of some of the resentment as well. Different contexts have different problems. In the Nigerian province the churches have two women's groups, the Wife's group and the Women's Group. One wears blue and white, the other, green and white. The Bishop's wife alternates between the two color combinations. Why the two groups? One is for women in polygamous households, the other for women in monogamous ones. The church has found a way to accommodate the cultural context, rather than refusing to tolerate polygamy. If all wives in polygamous households were thrown out or put out on their own, they would have no support and would have difficulty surviving. After 30 years of discussion on this matter there are many works written about the subject, including official statements of the various General Convention proceedings and reports, its just that much of this material has not been circulated worldwide. It is understandable that people are astonished."
Really! And what has 35 years of sodomite discussion wrought? The answer is nothing but hurt, despair, abandonment, anger, flight, duplicity and a neo-Fascist takeover of the Episcopal Church that would make Mussolini happy.
WORD ON THE STREET has it that Tom Shaw Bishop of Massachusetts is bored with his job and would like Griswold's job as PB when he comes to retire. Conversely if he doesn’t get that he would like Ted Kennedy's senate seat, as Shaw had a great time when he took a sabbatical and went to Washington, DC and played politics for three months. Stay tuned.
NUMBERS, NUMBERS, NUMBERS. Well just how many Episcopalians are there? It all depends on how you want to read or rig the figures. Officially there is about 2.3 million, but the majority of those either have not darkened an Episcopal Church in years or go once or twice a year. In reality there are less than 750,000 practicing Episcopalians. But here is the story of one couple with children who left the Episcopal Church to attend a Reformed Episcopal Church.
"My wife and family left the Episcopal Church and found a home in a nearby Reformed Episcopal Church parish (Holy Trinity Church in the Diocese of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic). Our new vicar sent a letter requesting transfer of our membership from our ECUSA parish (Diocese of Virginia). Nothing happened. After placing calls to the parish we were told that because we were transferring out of ECUSA, the Diocesan guidelines were to not send letters of transfer. We finally got letters "commending our family to Holy Trinity's pastoral care which sounds like a kind of "spiritual transfer", he told VirtueOnline.
"When I pushed a little further, I found that our ECUSA parish, according to Diocesan guidelines, would only move us to inactive status and would not remove our names from the membership roles. To me this sounds and feels like denying a portion of my freedom of religion. If I have the freedom to join the church of my choice, shouldn't I also have the freedom to remove that membership? Of course, this also explains the numerical gap between the 2.3 members in ECUSA and 750,000 who actually show up on a Sunday morning."
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