1/12/2009

The costs of church life that is both reasonably inclusive and democratic....

It ain't easy. Attempting to be inclusive and democratic at the same time is costly.

The Diocese of Fort Worth (the one that is part of The Episcopal Church) is reforming and pulling its life together. It's hard. Katie Sharred over on Desert's Child writes about the difficulties in worshiping without former friends, in rented spaces, on the go, without a sense of place. She writes,

"Worshipping in a temporary space, where you have to haul in an altar, linens, prayer books, hymnals, etc. for every service because there is no place to store things on site; worshipping, in some cases, with a different priest every week; worshipping without those loved ones who have chosen to leave the Episcopal Church -- all this means that the emotional weather can get heavy indeed.

Waves of grief can be followed by gusts of anger which in turn can be followed by sweet breezes of optimism -- all in the space of an hour or less.

Weariness makes everyone more susceptible to heart sickness. So people work to ward it off by doses of love and humor.

Most of the time it works.

Other times, one sits alone, waiting for the whisper of the honeysuckle."

It is not all joy and peanuts in Episcopal land. Struggle takes many forms, including grief and heart sickness.

The continuing Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is apparently also struggling within its own membership about agreement on a bishop to provide episcopal oversight. Stand Firm has acquired information concerning the possible candidates for the position and they report that two bishops have been considered but not found appropriate for the wide variety of remaining Episcopalians. If that is true it is no surprise. Working through what it means to remain part of the Episcopal Church is in many ways not as easy as following monochromatic leadership off into yonder Southern Cone land. In dioceses inclusive of a wide variety of opinions and positions on various matters easy choices are rare. And so they keep looking.

Meanwhile, the clearly un-inclusive and less than broad diocese in the Southern Cone, also called the Diocese of Fort Worth, continues to operate in la-la land. The former bishop of the real Diocese of Fort Worth
wrote the Presiding Bishop accusing her of crossing boundaries into the Province of the Southern Cone by coming to Fort Worth and convening a Convention of the Diocese. Resigned Bishop Iker is conducting a mad juggling act, maintaining on the one hand that he is no longer part of The Episcopal Church and therefore the Presiding Bishop has no jurisdiction, maintaining on the other that he has not resigned and demands a trial under Episcopal Church canons, and maintaining (and here is the hard part) with a third hand that he and the Diocese of Fort Worth are part of another jurisdiction (the Southern Cone) and that the Presiding Bishop has no right to be in his jurisdiction at all.

The website of the community that has left the Episcopal Church and still calls itself the Diocese of Fort Worth states that the diocese is "
is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, consisting of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces and regional churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Old and New Testaments and expressed in the Book of Common Prayer."

The Preamble to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church states that The Episcopal Church is, "a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer."


The reader will note the surface differences - the inclusion of "in the Old and New Testaments and expressed" replacing "as set forth." But that is just surface.

The Iker Diocese believes that it is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. That is an interesting but unsubstantiated belief.

The listing of "duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces and regional churches in communion with the See of Canterbury" is found in the end pages of the Church of England Canons. There, and also on the Anglican Communion web pages, there are listed a very few specific dioceses recognized outside the context of regional and national churches. The Iker Diocese of Fort Worth (IDFW) is not one of them.

Furthermore, as a part of the Province of the Southern Cone, it is the PSC that is the constituent member of the Anglican Communion, and the IDFW part of that Province. In listing the dioceses of that Province the Anglican Communion pages do not list the IDFW or any of the other groups who have left the Episcopal Church.

The IDFW is in limbo, a place only known to Anglo-Catholics of the old order and their Roman brothers who retain the middle-ages Catholic way. IDFW is not part of the Anglican Communion outside its participation in the Province of the Southern Cone, and it is not recognized by the Anglican Communion as a diocese within it. So much for "in communion with the See of Canterbury."

Bishop Iker is dashing his head against a reality that he does not like: The Episcopal Church is no longer his home, he is not in communion with the See of Canterbury, the Roman Church will not take him in as bishop, the Orthodox ought to wonder about his stability, and he is barking over a bone that is not easily his, even if he has worked some slight of hand and put the property in a link-up corporation for which he is chair.

The cost for leaving a reasonably inclusive and democratic church is autocratic polity and isolation.

All is not easy for progressives either. A great deal of railing against President elect Barack Obama has taken place regarding his decision to have Pastor Rick Warren give the invocation at the swearing in. Now it seems there are other more progressive voices being heard at prayer, including Bishop Gene Robinson who will be offering the prayer at the January 18th "inaugural kickoff event." ENS has coverage HERE. The New York Times has an article HERE.
It is not clear the extent to which the push back against the Warren choice had an effect on the decision to include Bishop Robinson, but the reality is clear: if Pastor Warren is included for breadth of field, so must Bishop Robinson be included, and so must other ministers representing the range of religious belief and conservative / progressive stances. So far, so good. Or is it?

In a supposedly secular state the choice of religious prayer-makers has become part of the storm center of the interest in the presidential mind. Where will he go to church? Who will he ask to pray? What does he really believe? It goes on and on. All of this is totally contrary to the spirit of the separation of church and state and the specific legislation against any religious test being required for those holding office.

In this case the cost of church life that is both reasonably inclusive and democratic is fairly clear: One the one hand Episcopalians believe that we are not the answer to the question, "What is the true church?" Rather we believe we are one way of expressing what the one church is about. So we ought to be open to the possibility that others have equal access to saying that they too are church. More, we Episcopalians are often of the mind to say that in a reasonably inclusive and democratic society other religions ought to have a crack at prayer making and a time on the stage. We ought, in other words, be asking for greater inclusion and more democratic expression of the breadth of religious sentiment in society. More, we ought to be questioning the desire by people to make the president's religion a civic matter.

The cost, however, is still there: If we call for greater inclusion we limit the occasions for an Episcopalian, much less a progressive one, to be front and center. If we wallow or even just dip in our own pride we take pleasure in an Episcopalian being on stage, and if we are progressive actual delight that it is Bishop Robinson.

No one seems to be asking if a Jew or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist is included in the prayer-making party. As far as I can find no one in the ecumenical and interfaith community is making much noise about the possibility that the Democratic and Republican Party have both bellied up to the bar and asked for a glass of Christian milk in deference to the great prohibition in actual political use of religion - which is to make it Christian.
And of course no one in Episcopal-land is raising the question as to whether the national obsession with religion and therefore the President's religion is actually contrary to civil society.

For a reasonably inclusive and democratic church, these are tough times. The temptation is to give in to grief, or the hurting heart, or to make the inclusive and democratic church the enemy when it does not cow-tow to the interests of the right or the left. We get into difficulty when we confuse breadth of inclusion for progressive. And we for sure get into trouble when we stop at the borders of our own church or for that matter our own faith. If we are a reasonably inclusive and democratic church we need to act like it.

Fort Worth may pick a conservative bishop, its radically exclusionary bishop having left. People may live with grief and heartache at times. We may carp about the affront afforded us by the inclusion of someone on the podium we don't like. We may take pride in the inclusion of someone we do like. But the deal is, friends, the inclusive and democratic crowd in our way of being Christian requires that we put up with one another.

Back when the century was younger, say 8 years ago, Gay and Lesbian leaders in The Episcopal Church were asked what they would do if things did not go as they had hoped at General Convention. I remember the response: "We are here to stay." I have often wondered just why anyone would stay for long where they were greeted with mixed messages at best and hatred at worse. But stay they did.

The cost of church life in a church both reasonably inclusive and democratic is that we have to put up with people who are not like us, don't believe as we do, and don't necessarily like us, or we them. That's the way it is. It is what reasonable people do - put up with one another. We have to model in our own lives the civic virtue of breadth. The gamble is, of course, that if we gather at the Table and share in the sacramental life of Christ and practice Incarnation it will all come out well in the end. It will. You can bet on it.

As to an Episcopal Church stance in the larger society, as a religious community it is hard indeed to suggest that the national co-opting of Christianity has no place in the civil order and that we want none of it. But that may be what is required of us to say. But that is for another day, or perhaps this coming week.

9 comments:

  1. I'm still wondering when someone will take the Province of the Southern Cone (PSC) to task for violating their constitution that says that the Province of the Southern Cone is composed of contiguous dioceses within South America. That constitution cannot be amended except with the assent of the Anglican Consultative Council (which would, IMO, be unlikely to assent to a boundary-crossing change).

    So, actually, according to the PSC constitution, the Diocese of Fort Worth is literally NOT a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. It is not a member of any communion at all.

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  2. You write "No one seems to be asking if a Jew or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist is included in the prayer-making party."

    Actually, one person I've seen pay some attention to the sensibilities of non-Christian praying folks has been Bishop Robinson. He told the Concord Monitor that he "doesn't yet know what he'll say, but he knows he won't use a Bible.

    'While that is a holy and sacred text to me, it is not for many Americans,' Robinson said. 'I will be careful not to be especially Christian in my prayer. This is a prayer for the whole nation.'"

    I suppose some may attck him for this. I honor him for his delicacy in a diverse, secular democracy.

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  3. With respect to the US President being one who follows the teachings of this or that ancient teacher, if Jesus is that teacher for President Obama, I cannot help but wonder how he can faithfully exercise his role as commander in chief. Can one who can order people to kill other people be faithful to Jesus who clealy calls his disciples to lives of non violence? Jesus never says, Come be a Christian. Rather he says, come take up your cross and follow me. Perhaps the churches and the nation are broken because so many who claim to love Jesus have "forgotten" what he says to them.

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  4. Leaving out the growing (and taxpaying and military-serving) population of non-Christians from the inauguration protocols is a big mistake and disappointment. The invocation should be given by someone other than the usual representative of evangelical Christianity, our de facto state church. It would be much less efficient and the TeeVee Networks would not like it, but I think several invocations are called for beginning with a representative of the President's own faith and continuing with priests of many types (including Hindu), a rabbi, an imam, a Buddhist monk, and a blessing from the Navajo or the Lakota, or whomever. Canceling the invocation would not solve the problem, and only privilege the secularists over everyone else (as evangelical Christians are currently privileged to pray on behalf of all the rest of us at state functions).

    I would not be surprised if the Episcopal remnant in Ft. Worth chose a conservative bishop. I would not be pleased, but then, I don't live in Ft. Worth and I can live with the decision. Inclusive and Progressive are indeed not synonymous.
    Even though every Christian institution across the whole spectrum of belief and opinion has its selection processes, ideally we are not supposed to select our traveling companions in faith through this world. We are supposed to travel with whoever shows up.

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  5. I guess I am endlessly astounded that the ABC doesn't at least SAY SOMETHING about Iker, Duncan, et al. How can he just watch from afar as people's parishes are torn apart and people are wounded by these egomaniac schismatics? Even if he thinks TEC is too far 'out front,' he ought to support our polity and our leadership...

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  6. Re: the violation of the PSC constitution

    I wrote this on another blog, but I think it might be relevant here:

    An imaginary interview with Venables (let's call the interviewer Frost):

    Frost: "Are you saying that the head of the Southern Cone can do something ecclesiastically illegal?"
    Venables: "What I'm saying is that when the head of the Southern Cone does it, it's not illegal."

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  7. No one seems to be asking if a Jew or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist is included in the prayer-making party.

    I am, but I wasn't inclusive enough. At first I limited myself to suggesting that Obama find a nice rabbi or imam, but I left out the Buddhists, Hindus, and Native Americans. The problem becomes that we see that we cannot be inclusive enough.

    I'd like to see the prayers out of the inauguration ceremony altogether.

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  8. I am wondering when it will sink in to Mark, Fr. Craig, Tom Sramek, and many others that the ABC does appear to be saying something about the PSC, Duncan, Iker, etc. And it's not at all what you want him to say. Seems to me at some point the lack of change on a certain website listing bishops of certain dioceses might make a point.

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  9. Oh, Yawner....

    I noticed the other day in the Anglican Cycle of Prayer that Rodney Michel is still listed as the Suffragan Bishop of Long Island. (Rod and I were young priests in Nebraska a thousand years ago.) Bishop Michel retired in 2007 and is now, I believe, assisting bishop in Georgia.

    This suggests to me that the folks at the Anglican Communion Office are not trying to "make a point" in their listings of bishops. They just aren't very good at their job.

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