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Forgiveness and Reconciliation: But by whom for whom?

Forgiveness and Reconciliation: But by whom for whom?


By David W. Virtue, DD
January 19, 2018

Clergy and bishops love to rail at laity calling them to forgive those who have hurt or offended them.

It is a standard mantra of many sermons and rightly so. But do clergy and bishops, live up to the high standards they call their parishioners too?

Not necessarily.

Let's take the recent death of AMiA Bishop Charles "Chuck" Murphy, a man whose vision started the realignment in North American Anglicanism. He was touted as a visionary, a missionary bishop, orthodox in faith and morals, a preacher of some note, fund raiser extraordinaire, a leader for our times and much more.

He would, from time to time, at his annual conventions call on his fellow bishops, clergy and attending laity to lay all their "weights" aside, confess their sins to one another and get the slate clean in order to advance the kingdom.

Fine thoughts, noble intentions and more. We would bow our heads and ask God to forgive us our sins, "known and unknown", (especially who had wronged us) and then rise up to newness of life and proceed forward as the army of God to do battle with the devil and all his works.

But what if the leader himself doesn't really practice what he preaches? Who calls him out? Who says, wait a moment, you have called us to repentance...but is your slate clean? Is your heart free of sin? Have you forgiven those who hurt you? Have you repented and sought reconciliation for people you have wronged?

Chuck Murphy knew, months before he died, that he had brain cancer. It was not sudden news.

Why did he not pick up the phone and call all his former bishops and apologize for the damage and harm he had done to them? I saw some of these bishops after the AMiA broke up and they were hurting men. Many were suffering the equivalent of spiritual PTSD. They were broken and hurt men. They were so hurt they wouldn't even tell me all the details. Some were mute, clearly in pain, trying to move on with their lives. Most made it across the ecclesiastical "Tiber" to the ACNA, where they have remained, presumably (and hopefully) healed from their experience.

Of course, Chuck knew the damage he had inflicted on these men -- the demand for personal loyalty (where have we heard that one before), the recognition of himself as the future leader of the ACNA and much more. It was not to be.

None of the bishops have come forward to say that Chuck had called them to say he was sorry for the pain he inflicted.

At a recent gathering of ACNA bishops in Melbourne, Florida, they put out a statement saying they gave thanks to God for his [Chuck Murphy's] life and prayed for his family. The College also requested the Archbishop to communicate their condolences and prayers to Margaret and the rest of his family. A muted statement if ever there was one. Nothing about his life and ministry. No talk of his leadership, of his place in the Anglican realignment. Nothing. Slim pickin's indeed.

I wonder what the former AMiA bishops were really thinking with their heads bowed? Were they still trying to forgive Chuck for the way he treated them? I wouldn't be so sure.

Then there is the elephant in the room; namely the conflict between Murphy and Archbishop Bob Duncan, who later went on to form the ACNA.

All the evidence, both real and anecdotal, said the battle between the two men was fierce both in the US and later in London where the two men met to hammer things out. Of course, no one would talk about what went on, but I knew and wrote nothing (cowardly me). The shouting and yelling was awful by all accounts. Murphy flew back to the US and Duncan stayed in London.

Later, Murphy would withdraw himself and the AMiA from the ACNA and they would go their separate ways. Murphy later retired from the AMiA to lick his wounds and start yet another parish, pulling some folk away from All Saints' Pawleys Island to form a new parish, the Abbey at Pawleys Island.

When I asked a source close to Duncan if Chuck had called before he died to put things right, apologize perhaps, the answer was a flat no. No contact for years.

So, what does all this say to ordinary lay folk like (you and) me who look to our leaders to set an example of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation? It says a lot. It says; "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside...."

It also says if you can't practice what you preach, stop preaching, and get your own house in order before you try and tell me (us) how to get our lives in order.

You, by your ordination vows, are called to a higher standard. We hear you preach, we listen to you unfold the Word, we follow your example and then you let us down.

I have castigated The Episcopal Church for spending millions of dollars on lawsuits for properties, and then hearing over and over about the need for peace and reconciliation between the brothers, (but not of course with orthodox Anglicans). That has never happened and never will. Theirs is a phony reconciliation.

But can we claim to be any better?

Jesus said; "If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering."

It is too late for Chuck to do that, but it is a timely reminder to ACNA bishops that if they want to be taken seriously, they need to keep short accounts with God and shorter accounts among themselves and with the people they preach to and at.


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