We're coming up on Holy Week and some bishops in The Episcopal Church seem to have decided that the offering they can make in The Episcopal Church is no longer a perfect one. Bishops Bena and Herzog of Albany have left; Bena for CANA land and the Church of Nigeria and Herzog is off to Rome. Today we read that Bishop Cox, against whom a presentment has been issued, is bound for the Southern Cone.
Fr. Don Armstrong, Executive Director of the Anglican Communion Institute and Canon David Anderson, President of the American Anglican Council, have gone to CANA as well. Fr. Armstrong has his hands full with the presentment against him. Since he has left the building the unfolding of all this may by necessity have to take place in court.
David Anderson has made an interesting, and relatively rant free, set of observations about Cox, Herzog and Armstrong in the AAC Weekly Update, (which I receive as e-mail and therefore have no url to reference.) He ended his remarks on Armstrong's case by saying, "These issues of judicial over-reach are good government issues, not liberal versus conservative issues, and they speak to basic rights of an accused to be treated with a presumption of innocence and a right to defend."
There has been a lot of comments on this and other blogs about the extent to which Armstrong is getting a fair shake. At least one commentator suggests this is a hatchet job. The charges in the presentment are quite serious. They provide a basis for further inquiry. But the critics are right on one point: He needs to be considered innocent until proven guilty. On the other hand it may be entirely appropriate to limit his access to monies and accounts and parishioners who now become part of the 'evidence' in the charges.
I believe the charges that Armstrong is being subjected to harassment and is a victim are shaky, but Fr. Armstrong thinks to the contrary.
Armstrong stated in a letter to his congregation,
"Although leaving the Episcopal Church has allowed me for the first time in three months to both return to my ministry and to share with you all the particulars of these charges, this important decision was based purely on the lack of tolerance the Episcopal Church now has for those of us whose theology is informed by the scriptures and the traditions of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and TEC's determination to walk apart from catholic Christianity.
It is my prayer that despite the turmoil caused by those who have reacted without allowing time for an adequate explanation, that we will walk in the steps of Jesus, through the charges, counter charges and persecution of his own life, all led by the high religious leaders of his time, and thereby remember his own humility and trust in the Father."
Fr. Armstrong makes it clear: He left TEC because of its lack of tolerance, not the charges. He identifies with Jesus, "…through the charges, counter charges and persecution of his own life, led by the high religious leaders of his time…" Intolerance and persecution… sounds like claims of harassment and victimization to me. I don't find his descriptions very useful or moving.
These bishops and clergy have left, believing that The Episcopal Church is seriously impure, broken and cracked. Bishop Cox and Fr. Armstrong have walked away from presentments as well. Still, perhaps they did leave over matters of purity, but that's the way the church in the world is – impure, broken and cracked. These worthies may unwittingly be deluding themselves or duping us. Either way this is not unfolding well.
I don't know what makes former Bishop Herzog believe Rome is going to be better. I don't know why Bishops Bena and Minns think the Church of Nigeria is the pure and better wave. Bishop Cox may find a home in the Southern Cone, but he will be surprised to discover a home as messy as our own. All of this may ring their bells, but there is an emptiness in the tone.
Which leads to the words of the prophet Leonard Cohen:
"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in."
Hereabouts we ring bells. They may not be pure and perfect. But cracks and all they let the light in. Purists will go elsewhere and be disappointed there. I wish they had stayed. Here we are preparing to celebrate Easter soon and ring them bells, cracks and all.