7/25/2008

Bishop Howe of Central Florida works the fringes on the shawl

The Bishop of Central Florida, John Howe, is working at the knots on the fringes of the Anglican / Episcopal shawl. There are two knotty items that have caught my attention:

On Wednesday Bishop Howe wrote,

"Tonight I have just come from a meeting of seven of the "Global South" Primates, several of the British Bishops, and 14 of our American Bishops, some involved in "Common Cause" and some in "Communion Partners." The point was again made that CP is an "inside" strategy, and CC an "outside" one, but that both are needed; and we want to do the best we can to support each other. The Primates were very clear in repeating several times their promise of solidarity with both efforts."

The Communion Partners is a group of Episcopal Church bishops committed to being part of the Anglican Communion and part of the Episcopal Church both. They include at least Bishops William H. Love, Albany; John W. Howe, Central Florida; James M. Stanton, Dallas; Russell E. Jacobus, Fond Du Lac; Michael G. Smith, North Dakota; Edward S. Little, Northern Indiana; Geralyn Wolf, Rhode Island; Mark J. Lawrence, South Carolina; John C. Bauerschmidt, Tennessee; Don A. Wimberly, Texas; Gary E. Lillibridge, West Texas; James M. Adams, Western Kansas; D. Bruce MacPherson, Western Louisiana.

Some of these bishops were part of the group called the "Windsor Bishops" in whom the Archbishop of Canterbury was placing considerable hope. Others are or were at one time part of the Anglican Communion Network. THe ACN is now defunct, being for all intents and purposes replaced by the Common Cause Partnership (CCP).

Bishop Howe has separated from ACN, joined the Anglican Communion Institiute - a theological think tank - and has begun with others this new conversation among those who want to stay in the Episcopal Church but be full fledged members of the Anglican Communion.


The Communion Partners are for all intents and purposes the Anglican Communion Network for people not set on forming a new North American Province related to whatever configuration of Primates.

Bishop Howe is working the fringe of the shawl and along with others knitting together a community of concerned "insiders." That is entirely appropriate and I can applaud him for the effort, particularly since he maintains that this is a "relational fellowship" within the Episcopal Church. I hope we hear from them in General Convention and that they raise their concerns. That's the way we work it out.

I am concerned, however, that the old argument for the Anglican Communion Network was that it was the "inside" the Episcopal Church opposition and the American Anglican Council was the "outside" effort, or more lately that CCP was the "outside."

If The Communion Partner Bishops are an "inside" fellowship then let them prosper as they can. I don't think they will prevail, but some of their theological cautions and concerns might grow in value. For example I believe Bishop Howe has done a remarkable job in working out settlements with congregations and clergy wishing to leave the Episcopal Church. It may be that he has a great deal to tell us about how that might be done elsewhere in the church.

Hopefully the CP will begin to be a voice for conservative or traditionalist bishops and clergy willing to keep on keeping on with the Episcopal Church. Having been part of the loyal opposition from the other side for many years I know the it is a long haul and sometimes not an easy one. But it is an important and legitimate function of a church that is broad in base and solid in common life. If it wanders off in the same way that the ACN did and ends up being part of a realignment that quits the Episcopal Church it will fail to be such a voice and simply become one more splinter group.

Then on Friday, Bishop How asked, remarking on his small group's work, "The question was: is it possible for someone who says, "Jesus is 'my way' [or, perhaps, 'our way']," but who cannot say, "Jesus is 'the way'" - to be a real Christian?"

Readers may remember that the Presiding Bishop has been continually slammed for her response to the question as to whether or not Jesus is THE Way. The most recent example of this is in the innuendos in the video produced by the Diocese of Pittsburgh for the congregations as they consider the resolutions of the diocese that would attempt to remove it from the Episcopal Church. That video begins with a slide that asks "who do you say that I am," it goes on to quote Peter: "You are the Christ the Son of the Living God." The next slide asks the same question and quotes The Presiding Bishop, "A carpenter from Nazareth or Bethlehem...shows us what a "godly human being' looks like," and a further slide quotes her again, "To say no one comes to the Father except through me' tends to eliminate other possibilities."

Bishop Howe's question in the email to his clergy (whether or not he posed it) does not occur in a vacuum. The question is asked and everyone knows it is directed at the Presiding Bishop. The realignment crowd has repeated over and over again that Presiding Bishop Katharine is a heretic. Bishop Pierre Whalon took the trouble to ask the question of her being a heretic directly on his blog. (His response was no, she is not a heretic.) One of the talking points of the radical right is that the Episcopal Church, its Presiding Bishop and the leadership of the church have gone astray, not in terms of their stance on homosexuality but on the basic tenants of the faith.

Again Bishop Howe is playing the fringes. This time he is letting it be known that the question is alive and well as to whether or not the leadership of the Episcopal Church is acting outside the norms of understanding about the unique character of Jesus Christ.

This time, however, he is playing into the hands of the realignment crowd in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. He at no point suggests that the question raised is either a red herring or a slight to the Christian character of leaders in the Episcopal Church or the Communion. Perhaps it is because he too believes the Presiding Bishop not to be a "real" Christian.

The real problem with the question raised is of course that it becomes a litmus test question. If the only "right: answer is that Jesus Christ is the Way and only he and no one else is, could be or might be for someone in particular, the Way then it has become the question on the rack. It becomes the Inquisitioner's question. And if, by the Way one means the only means of salvation, or the only way to heaven, or the only way to the Truth, then the matter is made all the more complex.

And of course if one reaches out further and determines that what this really means is that "no one comes to the Father except through me," then the door narrows and all that is left is to explore what it might mean to say "except through me."

Bishop Howe seems to think the question of Jesus as the only Way, and all its implied expanded meaning, is a right question, and that those who don't say "yes" are not real Christians. If so he has simply given the context in which he would stop working from the "inside" and start working for the "outside" - from working with the Communion Partners and start working with the Common Cause Partners. And because he makes no protest about this being the right question, it raises the possibility that Bishop Howe is working the fringes still thinking he might have to cross over into the world of the GAFCON Primates Council and their North American Province.

All it would take is a nod from the Archbishop of Canterbury, for that is where the Communion Partners are joined - not in being part of the Episcopal Church, but in being part of a Province itself part of the Anglican Communion.

I find much that I like about Bishop Howe. He is strong and of good courage. But he is working the fringes, and I am sorry to say I do not trust him very much. It is likely reciprocated, but of course there is little reason why he needs to take much interest in what I think. He is a bishop and I am a villager.

14 comments:

  1. The problem with the "the Way" statement is that it is ambiguous. It's possible to take it to mean that unless you're a Christian, you've no chance of having any knowledge of God in this life and you're damned in the life to come; this is the way that it's commonly interpreted back home in heavily-Baptist Texas. Basically, unless you've said the Sinner's Prayer in the front of your Gideon's Bible, it's off to the Lake of Fire with you.

    On the other hand, it's possible to interpret it as saying that any knowledge that someone has of God in this life, whether they are Christian or not and whether they realize it or not, comes through Christ, and that non-Christians' salvation may be worked out in the economy of God through Christ. I believe that CS Lewis endorsed this interpretation.

    When I hear the Presiding Bishop's answers on the exclusivity of Christ, I assume that she is answering, "No, I don't believe that non-Christians are necessarily benighted sinners bound for Hell; God may have other provisions besides overt membership in the Christian Church." I think the Focas/Gafconians are interpreting her answer to mean, "No, I believe that all religions are equally valid, and you might as well be a Hindu or an Isis-worshipper as a Christian, because it's all the same." In other words, they accuse her of taking the position refuted by Article XVIII.

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  2. I am interested in this statement: "those who want to stay in the Episcopal Church but be full fledged members of the Anglican Communion."

    Are we (The Episcopal Church in the US of A) not a part of the Anglican Communion, in a full fledged way, already? Is this group wanting to have dual nationality?

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  3. Excellent, thought-provoking post, Mark.

    I remain concerned when I hear "Bishop Howe has done a remarkable job in working out settlements with congregations and clergy wishing to leave the Episcopal Church."

    I have to ask, "Who watches the watcher (overseer)?"

    Since +Howe, by his own admission, shares much sympathy with those "wishing to leave", how do we know ***TEC's*** longterm interests---and commitments to future generations---are being served here?

    If, for example, he lets parishes go, gaining TEC's property at bargain-basement prices (I'm just sayin', *IF*), then might he not be facilitating parishes out every bit as much as xSchofield did, w/o the depositional consequences?

    Color me suspicious.

    ***

    More seriously, as you identify, Mark, is what +Howes's implying about our PB---and all who share Episcopal faith, as she so outstandingly exemplifies it.

    The question "Is Christ ***THE*** Way?" MUST be seen for what it is: a litmus test that we proclaim ALL other faiths as FALSE---leading nowhere, if not to the Lake of Fire!

    Am I prepared to proclaim other religions "false religions"---w/ false gods, or even demonically-inspired?

    No, I am not---I know that this makes me heretical to some, or "not a real Christian."

    I'm perfectly comfortable leaving it up to Christ, to make the Final Judgment on this matter (John Howe? Not so much! ;-/)

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  4. I'm sure that it won't come as any surprise to anyone who reads this blog that there is the distinct possibility that Jesus himself never even uttered those "I am" statements and that they may likely be a "layer" added by a later group to make a Christological point.

    That being said, what disturbs me about these movements is that they look like overt "5th column" activity. Perhaps the time has come to watch our backs.

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  5. Robert Dodd26/7/08 7:23 AM

    A german word -- Doppelgaenger -- seems to fit Bp. Howe and others who want to be in the Episcopal Church but not of it.

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  6. If, as we claim and I believe, Jesus is the incarnation of God's Word, then to say that Jesus is the way is a perfectly valid tautology. But it is not the same thing as saying that one must be a particular kind of confessing Christian, or even a Christian at all, in the here and now in order to get to heaven. As to whether Jesus actually said these words, that is entirely irrelevant. We have to deal with the text as we have it, not as we think it should have or might have been.

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  7. I think we have to read the putative "I am the way" speech in context. Jesus isn't teaching a lesson about who he was; nor is he preaching a sermon about salvation. What Jesus is doing here is trying to keep his disciples on board.

    The scene: the Last Supper, which the Fourth Gospel portrays as somber, even tense. The Jews" had recently tried to stone Jesus (Jn 11), which had to have been frightening for everyone involved. Jesus knows what's soon going to happen to him; he's troubled in spirit about his upcoming betrayal; and the disciples are obviously perturbed too (Jn 13). The synoptic gospels tell of the institution of the Eucharist, which was a valedictory speech if ever there was one. All in all, it doesn't sound like a particularly happy occasion.

    Jesus tries to buck up his followers' flagging spirits: Don't let your hearts be troubled; trust in God, and in me too. I'm going to prepare a place for you in my Father's house, where I'll bring you after I return. You know the way to where I'm going, he says.

    The skeptical Thomas challenges Jesus (as he would do again a little more than a week later): We don't even know where you're going, boss; how can we know the way?

    Jesus snaps back with a peremptory assertion of his authority: I am&nbsp— or perhaps, what I am is — the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. And then notice what comes immediately afterwards: Jesus' defending his legitimacy by painting himself in terms of the Father. If you really knew me, you'd know my Father as well, because the words I've been saying and the things I've been doing aren't just mine, they're the Father's words and deeds in me. From now on, you do know the Father, and you've seen him — got it? We can imagine Jesus angrily jabbing his finger at Thomas.

    Philip puts forth an olive branch: Just show us the Father, Lord; that'll be enough for us.

    Jesus turns and tears a strip off of Philip's hide too: Don't you know me, Philip, after I've been among you such a long time? How can you say, show us the Father — don't you believe I'm in the Father, and the Father is in me?

    This is not a Jesus who is dispassionately announcing a technical point of christology or soteriology. This is an all-too-human Jesus who is desperately trying to shore up his legitimacy and authority with his disciples; who is trying to hold his followers together, to keep them from drifting away in the middle of an incredibly stressful situation.

    So what about Jesus' claim that no one comes to the Father except through him? If we read it in context, instead of as an isolated proof-text, it's clear we shouldn't take the passage literally. At most, we should read it metaphorically: When Jesus has been preaching and working miracles, it's been the Father acting through him; and that which he has been preaching — loving God above all, loving one's neighbor as one's self, and amending one's life when necessary — is the only way to the Father. That's considerably different than the traditionalist Christian claim that the only path to salvation is supposedly "believing in Jesus," whatever that means.

    (Adapted from this blog posting I did a couple of years ago.)

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  8. Deacon Charlie Perrin26/7/08 11:41 AM

    I take the position that one can be a follower of Christ wuthout being a Christian. (Note: Mohandas Gandhi for one) and I think that this can be an acceptable reading of the text.

    I find that some people read the Bible with as broad an interpretation as possible, while some read it with as narrow an interpretation possible. That is the whole issue here and to me it is the same issue that has troubled the Church, since it's inception in 1st century Palestine.

    Nothing every really changes, does it?

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  9. "As to whether Jesus actually said these words, that is entirely irrelevant. We have to deal with the text as we have it, not as we think it should have or might have been."

    Wow. Never question, never seek to understand, never try to correct or authenticate? It is written in stone, cement, adamantine for all time, no questions asked? Even if we can reasonably assume something is falsely attributed to Christ we must accept it because "thus it is written"?

    That is a frightening prospect for me. And it pretty much removes any possibility of the scriptures speaking to me at all, two thousand + years later in a different culture and a different country and with an entirely different understanding of the world as a whole. I can never be a bibliolater, worshipping a book of words and accepting is as my god, no matter how many times it is conveniently pointed out to me that is "inspired" or "breathed' by God.

    It is my heart and my experiences of listening to what God says to me now that takes precedence always for me. I guess that makes me a hopeless heretic.

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  10. I think BillyD put it well right at the top. As I understand it, the Vatican not long ago came down on the side of BillyD's second paragraph -- that even non-Christians' knowledge of and relationship with God may come thru Christ. Of course, I'm too unskilled at searching to find the links to the Vatican document. But I'm pretty sure +KJS and Pope Benedict are on the same page regarding this ... and a very different page than the Anglican fundamentalists.

    OCICBW ...

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  11. On this:"that even non-Christians' knowledge of and relationship with God may come thru Christ. Of course, I'm too unskilled at searching to find the links to the Vatican document." I am reminded of Karl Rahner's concept of the anonymous Christian here? EPfizH

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  12. Lisa Fox, you are spot on. The relevant Vatican II document about the world relogions in relation to Christ is Nostra Aetate. It is based on a LOGOS Christology, which, in effect, goes back to 2nd cent. Church Fathers, that wherever there is truth there is Christ. Wherever the world religions profess the truth of God they are under the influence of HO LOGOS, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, although they may not be aware of it.

    The reasserters, who attack ++Jefferts Schori and Pope Benedict XVI, are simply ignorant of the teaching of the Church Catholic, which has always held to a HO LOGOS Christology.

    The other day +Bob Duncan made an utter fool of himself when he accused an Asian bishop preaching at Caterbury Cathedral of espousing Buddhism, when he used an Asian chant to affirm the Blessed Trinity.

    The reassters, in the end, are all a bunch of Bible-thumping nitwits ignorant of 2,000 of Christian history, awash with fundi hybris.

    John Henry

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  13. "Anonymous," how you wrung a charge of bibliolatry from Steven Woolley's post is a mystery to me.

    I'm sure that source criticism has an important place in Biblical scholarship. All too often, though, I find that people use it as a tool to defuse the hard parts of Scripture. Sometimes I find that it makes an interesting detour, but it rarely helps me relate to the story that Scripture tells.

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  14. I think what Country Parson was saying was, in effect, that even though we understand the passage to be a literary composition long after the events depicted, we would only dig ourselves into a deeper, stickier quagmire if we try to rewrite the text. Instead we need to find ways (that's plural on purpose) to understand the text as it is. I see his comment as a cautionary note not against what the other commenters said but on where their comments could lead. I found both ideas helpful.

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