Several weeks ago (November 11, 2018) Bishop William Love of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany wrote a pastoral letter to the people of his diocese, and people “throughout the world” in which he pronounced this inhibition: “Until further notice, the trial rites authorized by Resolution B012 of the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church shall not be used anywhere in the Diocese of Albany by diocesan clergy (canonically resident or licensed), and Diocesan Canon 16 shall be fully complied with by all diocesan clergy and parishes.”
I’ve read his full pastoral letter, and I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, be angry or simply ignore this strange epistle. I cannot simply dismiss Bishop Love’s letter as an absurdity since I believe that all bishops (good, bad, indifferent, orthodox as all get out, squishy as Jell-O or firm as hell) are somehow ordered by God’s good grace for the life of the Church,. But I’d like to.
Bishop Love’s pastoral letter gives expression to his convictions about what the Bible and Christian faith require. His letter can be read in its entirety HERE.
His believes that in the Holy Scriptures God has made it clear that sexual intimacy is only blessed in the context of marriage between a man and a woman, and that Jesus did not in any way issue a corrective to that understanding. There might be an argument for taking the bishop to task for his read of scripture and his understanding of everything from sin to sexual intimacy, but that give too much emphasis to his very threadbare argument. And, I must confess, I have little interest in going over all this again.
However, on the way to issuing the prohibition that comes at the end of his letter, he also opined about the state of the Episcopal Church. A number of these are startling in their condemnation. It is these comments that deserve further attention.
I’ve taken Bishop Love’s most strident comments and added a bit of commentary.
Bishop Love (BL) “(God) has reserved the gift of sexual intimacy for men and women within the confines of marriage between a man and woman as expressed in the above passage from Mark’s Gospel.”
Priest Mark (PM): Sexual intimacy is a reality in the lives of many people, including same-sex couples. Assuming such intimacy is a gift, it seems to me the primary givers are the members of the relationship. Understanding that God is the ultimate source of all good gifts, then, of course, the gift of sexual intimacy is finally a gift of God. Bishop Love seems to believe that the “gift” given same-sex couples is NOT from God. If so, in what larger context does this gift arise? from some evil source?
BL: “I can’t help but believe that God has removed His blessing from this Church. Unless something changes, The Episcopal Church is going to die.”
PM: If Bishop Love truly believes this, I suggest he leave the Episcopal Church. Who wants to lead or serve an unblessed church?
The death of the Episcopal Church, on the other hand, has little to do with its position on the issue of marriage between same-sex couples. At some point, our work as a separate Church will be done, and the wider body of Christ will take our efforts into itself and move on. But that death will have little or nothing to do with God removing his blessing. In fact, it may be a blessing to have completed our task as a separate denomination.
Bishop Love is trying to make The Episcopal Church feel afraid. “God has removed His blessing from this Church.” Be afraid, be very afraid. Good try.
BL: “There are many in the Diocese of Albany who have made it clear that they will not stand for such false teaching or actions and will leave – thus the bloodbath and opening of the floodgates that have ravaged other dioceses will come to Albany if B012 is enacted in this Diocese.”
PM: Now we are getting to the front edge of the spear: “Bloodbath” and “floodgates” sound pretty bad. Is this a predictive observation or a promise? Who knows? He does seem to think that if B012 is not “enacted” in his diocese his clergy will not leave. So, the proposition becomes, ‘leave us alone or there will be blood and flood.“ This is not an observation, not a promise. It is a threat.
BL: “I do believe (those who support same-sex marriage) have been deceived into believing a lie that has been planted in the Church by the “great deceiver” – Satan.”
PM: That certainly ups the ante… now, according to Love, all of us who support same-sex marriage are not simply wrong, heretical, and foolish. We are deceived by Satan. Invoking Satan is another ploy: hammer The Episcopal Church with fear, threat and finally Satan himself.
BL: “Satan is having a heyday bringing division into the Church over these issues and is trying to use the Church to hurt and destroy the very ones we love and care about by deceiving the leadership of the Church into creating ways for our gay and lesbians brothers and sister to embrace their sexual desires rather than to repent and seek God’s love and healing grace. B012 plays right into this.” (the error “lesbians brothers and sister” is in the original.)
PM: It is hard even to parse this sentence, layered as it is to drive the point home that the Episcopal Church is worse than deceived and that it is being used by Satan.
Bishop Love is sure that the Church is being used by Satan, and if we step into that river with counterclaims, what is to prevent us from suggesting that perhaps Bishop Love is being used by Satan to lead us into arrogance regarding the splinter in the eye we behold as greater than the beam in our own? Bishop Love is walking down a strange path here. The same Church that ordained him to a vocation is engaged in ordaining others to the vocation of marriage, some of whom are persons of the same sex. If it is being used by Satan in the second instance, what is to prevent the same being true of the former. Bishop Love needs to back off the accusations that the Church is being used by Satan. The combination of bad theology and bad logic in indigestible. The tendrils of that vine have a mind of their own.
BL: “As a result, I cannot in good conscience as a bishop in God’s holy Church agree to what is being asked for in B012. While I respect the authority of General Convention as an institutional body, my ultimate loyalty as a bishop in God’s holy Church is to God.”
PM: Again, Bishop Love is in a bit of a bind. The bishops of the dioceses in union with the General Convention saw fit to give consent to his ordination. Bishops of that Church ordained him as deacon and priest. Probably a priest of that Church baptized him. If General Convention is an institutional body only then his place in it is institutional only as well. And then, on what does his claim to ordination in “God’s holy Church” depend?
Bishop Love writes, “my ultimate loyalty as a bishop in God’s holy Church is to God.” I agree with that sentiment, except of course that the issue is not about being a “Bishop in God’s holy Church” but a bishop in the Episcopal Church. As with all of us in orders, bishops are ordered in “the Church” but they are licensed and hold office in this or that particular Church. If one has to choose between the two, of course, choose “God’s holy Church,” of which particular churches are mere shadows. But the Bishop must know that license and church authority reside in particular churches. Stepping away from the authority that rests with the ordering of the Episcopal Church effectively breaks his authority within that organization, including with the Diocese of Albany.
Given his vitriol, I believe that Bishop Love should resign as bishop in The Episcopal Church. If he believes we are led astray by Satan, who is having a hay day messing with our moral sensibilities, and that God has withdrawn his blessing from The Episcopal Church, he would do well to leave.
He would do well to make it personal, about his leaving a church he abhors. To attempt to lead his diocese out of the Episcopal Church is ill-advised. When it all shakes out, he and some members of the current Diocese of Albany might leave, but those who remain will continue to be the Diocese of Albany, and those who leave will have to find another home.
Meanwhile, Bishop Love seems to have acquired a threatening and condemning voice. It does not become him or his name.