9/03/2008

Forty Days of Discernment: A Setup Job.

Desert's Child reports that the Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth has asked that all parishes undertake a program called "Forty Days of Discernment." This is a program that was used by Truro Church and others in determining if they were going to stay in the Episcopal Church or vote to leave.

It purports to be a studied and prayerful effort to help people decide what it is that they want to do in terms of a "crisis" in the Episcopal Church. It is put out there as an aid to decision making. But it is a propaganda piece for making the decision to leave the Episcopal Church.

Desert's Child blogger Katie Sherrod says simply about the "Forty Days of Discernment" offer, "Thanks, but no thanks." Here is part of the reason why she and others recommend that one stay as far away as possible from 40 Days... It is neither prayerful or discerning. It is deliberately biased towards leaving.

From the Last week of the 40 days...with some highlights by yours truly...


"A thought experiment
This guidebook has sought to articulate the issues parishes and missions face in deciding whether to remain affiliated with TEC after the end of the 40 Days of Discernment. In making that decision it is important to consider some of the implications of the alternatives we face. What is the vision God has for our church? What would we have to do and what sacrifices would we have to make to follow each of these alternatives in both the short term and over time? How do we remain faithful to our commitments? What are the goals we have for the outcome of these 40 days?

The following analysis provides a starting point for congregational and small group discussions of possible scenarios. These scenarios are (1) conformity, (2) staying to resist, and (3) affiliate with another branch of Anglicanism. We encourage participants in the discernment process to carefully and prayerfully consider for themselves what they think the effect of each alternative would be.

1. Conform to the TEC status-quo
Avoid further conflict with the American Episcopal church by standing down. Embrace compromise for the sake of unity. Promote the view that what unites us is more important than what divides us. Do nothing that may cause significant conflict. Stop insisting that the Bible is primary authority for what we hold to be true. Allow truth to be defined by prevailing opinion and current culture. Repent of any former stance an
d pay contributions to our diocese. Embrace the moral and theological leadership of our duly elected national and diocesan leaders. Do not object to inhibitions and depositions of conservative clergy. By remaining silent, lend our support to TEC in any disputes with Global South Anglicans. Allow the diocese to control selection of our rector or vicar, and where our seminarians should be trained for ministry. Use Sunday school curriculum endorsed by TEC leaders so that our children are raised up to support the ethos of TEC. Risk losing members who prefer option 2 or 3.

2. Stay and resist TEC
Remain in TEC even if we determine that TEC has “walked apart.” Stand firm in our commitments to Christian orthodoxy in the Anglican tradition. Decline to compromise or walk apart. Decline to use the prospect of walking apart from TEC as leverage to reform TEC. Refuse offers from Anglican primates to join any new, orthodox branch of the Anglican Communion in America. Persuade clergy and congregations who have previously left TEC to return to the fray. Bear witness to the truth in love. Appeal to the TEC majority to respect the voice of a dissenting minority and to allow orthodox churches to continue their ministries unhindered. Continue to press for full conformity to The Windsor Report at future General Conventions. Mount campaigns to nominate and elect theologically orthodox bishops in all dioceses. Work to attract newcomers to orthodox congregations by a public relations campaign that offsets the public perception of the larger Episcopal Church. Institute a decades-long program to educate promising orthodox students in the hopes that they gain tenure in key professorships at Episcopal colleges and seminaries. Found a publishing house for orthodox Episcopalians. Support orthodox Anglican leaders and provinces. Endure hostile threats by national or diocesan leaders regarding clergy appointments, aspirant training, ownership of property, etc. Grieve over the continuing loss of members who can no longer in good conscience remain in a congregation that is in TEC, or who prefer option 1.

3. Affiliate with another branch of Anglicanism
Conclude that it is no longer feasible (theologically or otherwise) to remain affiliated with TEC. Recognize the division in TEC and proceed as amicably as possible. Seek alignment with an alternative Anglican body. Budget to support the Anglican body which would provide oversight. Should the diocese file suit against us, defend rights in court as may be necessary. Rededicate resources previously preoccupied with disputes with TEC to evangelical outreach. Acknowledge Global South provinces who have made significant sacrifices in recent years to provide safe harbor for the orthodox in TEC. Continue to pray for repentance by TEC and eventual reconciliation. Be a part of the adventure and challenge of building up an orthodox Anglican presence in the USA. Lose members who prefer option 1 or 2.

This last scenario is an umbrella covering several specific options, each of which carries different implications and costs. Some of these alternatives which the vestry may have considered include the emerging programs being developed by the Anglican Communion Network, Uganda, Southern Cone (including Bolivia), Convocation for Anglicans in North America, Anglican Mission in America, Reformed Episcopal Church, Anglican Province of America, and Traditional Anglican Communion. The present situation is fluid and new options may emerge. Consult with your vestry for further details.

Dozens of congregations have already come under the episcopal oversight of an orthodox province elsewhere in the Anglican Communion, such as Southern Cone or Uganda. This alternative may involve, among other things, some cultural adjustments, perhaps increased international travel, and partnership with a province particularly focused on evangelism.

The Convocation for Anglicans in North America (CANA) is another option. This is an initiative of the Anglican Church of Nigeria which offers a domestic episcopate, an emerging ecclesial structure for the American context, and full membership in a province of the Anglican Communion. This alternative may involve, among other things, some cultural adjustments, and partnership with a province particularly focused on evangelism.

The Anglican Communion Network (ACN) has emphasized its commitment to finding means of caring for, and keeping within the Anglican Communion, orthodox TEC parishes. The ACN also is working on a “Common Cause” initiative, which seeks to reunite orthodox Anglican offshoots in North America. Aligning individually with one of the forty or so groups that have previously disaffiliated from TEC may mean not having the full recognition of many Anglican provinces and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Furthermore, aligning with one of these groups would require accepting the perspective on the defining issues that led to its formation (e.g., rejection of the 1979 BCP).

Other options could be entertained too, including leaving Anglicanism. Congregations could consider applying to become affiliated with the Orthodox Church or the Catholic Church. Some may also consider joining another Protestant denomination or becoming a postdenominational independent church. These affiliations would require a denominational change which likely demand huge adjustments in polity and practices.

By God’s grace, we trust that none of our members will have become so disenchanted by the Episcopal crisis and division that they will leave Christ and his universal church altogether."

The so called, "Thought Experiment" is in reality a blatant effort to steer the participant into the third option. The first is totally discredited, as it assumes TEC to be the land of heretics and theological poison. The second option is little better, offering lots of suffering and little return except for a long period of attempting to regain control of TEC. Only the third is presented in any positive light at all.

In reading through the whole of the 40 Days of Discernment it is clear from the outset that the "problem" is presented as being the result of TEC's failure as a church, and who indeed wants to related to a failure? This is not an aid to clear thinking, it is an insult to clear thinking.

Katie Sherrod says it best,

"Why is this such a tense and troubled time? Oh, that would be because of all the lies people have been told about the Episcopal Church and all the rumors we hear about what your intentions are. For years you assured us that you had no intention of leaving the Episcopal Church. So did Bishop Pope, right up to the day before he left the Episcopal Church.

So now it's clear you DO intend to leave the Episcopal Church, but to go where? Are you "going to the Southern Cone" or are you "going to Rome"? It's hard to know what to believe when senior priests say one thing and you say another. Frankly, the recent back-and-forth between you and your own loyal clergy over their presentation to the Roman Catholic bishop didn't do a lot for your credibility.

Bishop Iker, while I certainly respect your office, I respectfully decline to be guided by your pastoral direction and leadership on this matter. You have made your intentions clear -- you plan to leave the Episcopal Church, and in so doing, violate the vows you took as a priest and as a bishop to the church that ordained and consecrated you.

During your episcopacy you have not missed one opportunity to say something negative about the Episcopal Church. Indeed I cannot recall you EVER saying anything positive about it in any public forum.

You have refused to worship with other Episcopalians time and again.

The legal arguments you advance to bolster your case are tissue-paper thin.

Your actions are tearing congregations apart, and breaking the hearts of more people than you can imagine. What is being done to the people of this diocese is a sin....

Even if you say it again and again, it doesn't make it true.

So thanks, but no thanks. I won't be participating in this program. It's too little and waaayyyyy too late, and too slanted to be trusted."

Go Katie!

8 comments:

  1. It is incredibly difficult to produce a real guide to discernment over a controversial question. However scrupulous one attempts to be, one will inevitably let one's biases show through.

    Problem is, this polemic makes no effort at all to present the issue fairly. It is, as you say, designed to generate a specific outcome.

    So, the only fair thing to do is to offer all those parishes an equally hardline - though perhaps more honest - piece presenting the other side of the question.

    Of course, I have no doubt that the Iker, Duncan et all would forbid such a document to be distributed in theie dioceses.

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  2. Katie's response is simple and biblical: speaking truth to power. As Mark said, go Katie!

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  3. How about abandoning belief in a Giant Invisible Friend in the first place?

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  4. My favorite line in this "guide" is:

    Use Sunday school curriculum endorsed by TEC leaders so that our children are raised up to support the ethos of TEC.

    We have an ethos? We have curriculum "endorsed by TEC leaders"? When did this happen? Seems like more than a wee bit of conspiracy theory there. Somehow I can't imagine TEC as the Borg ("resistance is futile...you will be assimilated...")

    Now if I could only find more Sunday School teachers....

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  5. And what is the basis for the fanciful statement that Bishops Iker and Duncan would refuse to permit (as if they could) other information/argument about all of the options? 815's position is that congregations have no right or ability to make such choices. Do you think there are parishes in those dioceses where that position/opinion is not known? What keeps 815 from flooding those parishes with whatever information 815 deems relevant? While you are it Malcolm, you might just as well tell us that Iker and Duncan were shooters on the grassy knoll in Dallas that fateful day in November 1963.

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  6. Yea, Katie. I cannot respond on her blog because she does not allow anonymous posting. There are many who will be grateful to stay inthe Episcopal church and be grateful when Iker is gone. Marilyn

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  7. I don't think either of them were old enough at the time.

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  8. Dear Anonymous,
    If Bishop Iker allowed an alternative voice, he would not accuse those voices of "stealing" public parish directories. (BTW, legitimate members of those parishes provided the directories.)
    Yes, there are parishes in the 21 counties spread across Texas who have been kept out of the loop and have been for years. There are still some Texans who have only recently been able to easily (read inexpensively and quickly) access the blogosphere. It is amazing, here in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, how many parishioners are now contacting each other through the Internet asking: "What's happening to my church?" At last, the other side of the controversy is being at least investigated and discussed. Rectors and Vicars are being questioned and there are parishioners who are not satisfied with the answers.
    815 sends most of it's information to the parish address only when requested - it saves resources. Even if some information is mailed, the parish office takes care of distribution - flood control is easy when one controls the flood gates. (Hopefully, they recycle.)
    Assassination conspiracy has little to do with control of the dissemination of information. George Orwell’s “1984” is a more appropriate but much darker reference.

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OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.
Rule: PLEASE DO NOT SIGN OFF AS ANONYMOUS: BEGIN OR END THE MESSAGE WITH A NAME - ANY NAME. ANONYMOUS commentary will be cut.