8/27/2009

Somehow it is refreshing: PB expands on GC Sermon

The Presiding Bishop got a lot of flak concerning her sermon at the beginning of General Convention. She could have let it all just wallow in the swamps of past snotty Internet mumbling. Instead she chose to respond and to expand on what it is she was trying to say.

I liked her sermon when it was first given. I like this as well. But most importantly I like the fact that she is willing to continue the conversation about her thinking with those who found it difficult to receive what she had to say. So, here is what she wrote in response to the various comments on her sermon. It is on ENS HERE. I find it very helpful that the Presiding Bishop is up for doing this. This is a very different day from the distance of the past. Still, I am sure critique will follow.


Here is what the Presiding Bishop said:


I always am delighted when people listen to what I say in a sermon or address. Sometimes I am surprised by what they hear.

In my opening address at General Convention, I spoke about the "great Western heresy" of individualism (see the full text here). There have been varied reactions from people who weren't there, who heard or read an isolated comment without the context. Apparently I wasn't clear!

Individualism (the understanding that the interests and independence of the individual necessarily trump the interests of others as well as principles of interdependence) is basically unbiblical and unchristian.

The spiritual journey, at least in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is about holy living in community. When Jesus was asked to summarize the Torah, he said, "love God and love your neighbor as yourself." That means our task is to be in relationship with God and with our neighbors. If salvation is understood only as "getting right with God" without considering "getting right with (all) our neighbors," then we've got a heresy (an unorthodox belief) on our hands.

The theme of our General Convention, ubuntu, was chosen intentionally to focus on this. Often translated from its original African dialects as "I am because we are," ubuntu has significant biblical connections and warrant. The Hebrew prophets save their strongest denunciation for those who claim to be worshiping correctly but ignore injustice done to their neighbors (e.g., Amos 5:21-24), and Jesus insists that those who will enter the kingdom are the ones who have cared for neighbor by feeding, watering, clothing, housing, healing and visiting "the least of these" (Matt 25:31-46).

In my address, I went on to say that sometimes this belief that salvation only depends on getting right with God is reduced to saying a simple formula about Jesus. Jesus is quite explicit in his rejection of simple formulas: "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven" (Matt 7:21).

He is repeatedly insistent that right relationship depends on loving neighbors – for example, "those who say, ‘I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen" (1John 4:20). The Epistles repeatedly enjoin the followers of Jesus to "give evidence of the hope within you" (1Pet 3:15ff), that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:14-26), that our judgment depends on care for brother and sister (Rom 14:10-12) and that we eat our own destruction if we take Communion without having regard for the rest of the community (1Cor 11:27-34).

Salvation depends on love of God and our relationship with Jesus, and we give evidence of our relationship with God in how we treat our neighbors, nearby and far away. Salvation is a gift from God, not something we can earn by our works, but neither is salvation assured by words alone.

Salvation cannot be complete, in an eternal and eschatological sense, until the whole of creation is restored to right relationship. That is what we mean when we proclaim in the catechism that "the mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ" and that Christian hope is to "live with confidence in newness and fullness of life and to await the coming of Christ in glory and the completion of God's purpose for the world." We anticipate the restoration of all creation to right relationship, and we proclaim that Jesus' life, death and resurrection made that possible in a new way.

At the same time, salvation in the sense of cosmic reconciliation is a mystery. It's hard to pin down or talk about. It is ultimately the gift of a good and gracious God, not the product of our incessant striving. It is about healing and wholeness and holiness, the fruit of being more than doing. Just like another image we use to speak about restored relationship, the reign of God, salvation is happening all the time, all around us. Where do you see evidence?

-- The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori is presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

25 comments:

  1. Sir, I have read what the PB has written....does she address directly her earlier remarks which sit uncomfortably with Romans 10:8-11?

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  2. I think she's right.

    The choice that we are always presented with these days between the lone wold in the cold wilderness and the anonymous drone in the beehive is no choice at all. Individualism means nothing without community, and there is no community without individuals.

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  3. I understand what she is getting at, but her original speech was far less clear, and also derogatory to conservatives.

    Of course merely reciting a formula does not make one a Christian (nor does merely being baptized inherently do so). Of course one is saved into a Christian community, and one cannot truly live as a follower of Jesus without depending upon and contributing to others, and without aiming to affect the world for the Lord Jesus.

    But I, as an evangelical Anglican, take exception to two things: 1) her statement, "Individualism (the understanding that the interests and independence of the individual necessarily trump the interests of others as well as principles of interdependence) is basically unbiblical and unchristian." If that is the proper definition of individualism, then individualism is not a Christian stance. But - do we conservatives really use the idea of individual, personal relationship with the triune God in that way? The answer is quite simply, no. Either she does not know what conservatives believe, or she is knowingly accusing them of something she knows is not true. (I would bet highly on the former.) 2) The idea of a personal relationship with God being antithetical to life in the Body of Christ is nonsense. Conservatives hold that, while everyone's experience in coming to faith is different, a person needs, as an individual, to place his or her faith in the Lord Jesus. That is what is spoken of in both baptism and confirmation; if individual faith were not part of being a Christian, then why do we have such rites and sacraments?

    The Presiding Bishop has made her position far more clear than it was in July. She has not, however, made it more acceptable to conservatives.

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  4. Far from the expansion being refreshing, I find it to be confusing!

    There is no engagement with the role of 'faith' in salvation (but, contrastingly, has plenty to say about the role of works).

    In this sentence, for example, "Salvation is a gift from God, not something we can earn by our works, but neither is salvation assured by words alone" helpfully clarifies that we cannot earn our salvation by works, but unhelpfully says nothing about how we actually connect with this gift from God.

    With these words, "Salvation depends on love of God and our relationship with Jesus," the Presiding Bishop speaks truthfully, but neither in the remainder of the sentence, or elsewhere, offers a positive account of how we enter into a relationship with Jesus.

    To assert this: "In my address, I went on to say that sometimes this belief that salvation only depends on getting right with God is reduced to saying a simple formula about Jesus. Jesus is quite explicit in his rejection of simple formulas: "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven" (Matt 7:21)" begs at least two questions!

    (i) where, in the specific context of TEC, or ACNA are Episcopalians/Anglicans reducing "getting right with God" to "saying a simple formula about Jesus"?

    (ii) surely responsible engagement with Scripture (much quoted by the PB in this piece) requires at least a note, if not an engagement with Romans 10:8-13?

    The crucial point of Paul in Romans 10:8-13 being in verse 10, "For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." An evangelical confession of saving faith is deeper than "saying a simple formula about Jesus". But of the faith of the heart we learn nothing from the Presiding Bishop.

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  5. When I was in England the year after seminary I was on a panel with a new young evangleical who said that now that he had accepted Jesus he didn't have to go the church anymore. While individualism of the sort that the PB called heresy may be rare among Amglicans evangelicals, it is certainly easy enough to find it in the US religious landscape. Google "sinners prayer" and see an indication of reducing the faith to formula.
    I find it interesting to read conservative condemnation of gay marriage because it is an expression of the radical individualism. E.g., this from Christianity Today editor Mark Galli: "Gay marriage is simply a bad idea, whether one is religious or not. But it’s bad not only because of what it will do to the social fabric, but because of what it signals has already happened to our social fabric. We are a culture of radical individualists, and gay marriage does nothing but put an exclamation point on that fact." I wonder if Mr. Galli knows any gay couples, especially ones where one partner stayed by the other as he died from AIDS while everyone in his family abandoned him. Hardly raidical individualism.

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  6. Brothers Hiram and Peter:

    I am happy for your testimony. That said, there certainly are those who have criticized the Presiding Bishop (and others in the Episcopal Church) specifically and solely for not focusing on saying "Jesus is Lord," almost to the exclusion of other concerns. Some significant portion of those folks specifically have over the years tried to dismiss care for the world as "social action" as if that were in contradiction to proclaiming the Gospel.

    I'll accept that neither of you is in that category, and that the category does not fit evangelical Christians of your acquaintance, nor even most folks who consider themselves evangelical Christians. I have, however, known such folks - folks whose conviction that the a specific content and process of assent encompasses the Gospel, and that those who proclaim Christ differently are not Christian. Beloveds, they do exist; and their failure to love those with whom they disagree is no more acceptable than those who believe that the Gospel is encompassed in works of merit. Yes, the Christian life calls for both - as the Presiding Bishop said.

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  7. Every time I hear our Presiding Bishop speak, I find new understanding of my faith, and new encouragement to live into my faith more fully. I find it incredible that anyone is unable to understand she is saying, or would think she was being "derogatory" in any way.

    I don't buy the complaints. I believe there are people who are on the watch for any comment that can be dissected, judged, and found wanting. If a person is unable to find anything wrong in what she says, then it is in what she failed to say. It's a "no win" for her.

    With all the criticism that has been thrown her way, I am amazed at her ability to remain calm and unruffled. She listens to what is being said, and she is always gracious in her responses. I can't imagine anyone else in the position where she is right now. I suspect for some, that she is resented as a woman in that role.

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  8. Peter and Hiram,

    Not to pile on, but I think that you are missing the PB's point somewhat. Not only is there, as other commenters have pointed out, a substantial body of American Christianity that stresses the individual relationship with God to the exclusion or almost total exclusion of community, but wasn't the PB also defending TEC from the accusation that its social justice concerns were unconnected with faith, and that TEC was more of a social work club? She quite properly rejects the cleavage of the two.

    Faith over works? Certainly; but a living faith will bear fruit, and that fruit will not be for me alone. As I recently pointed out at my own place, Bernard Shaw argued powerfully that the complicity in injustice by Christians is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to the Church in its efforts to represent Christ to non-believers. Participation in the Inquisition, persecution of heretics, slavery, persecution of Jews, persecution of gays and lesbians (I'm looking at you, Peter Akinola) do not reflect the Word we profess. Yet the individuals behind these enormities were and/or are "orthodox" in their belief. right?

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  9. Hello various commenters,
    I may be missing the point, even several points, but I do not think it is (e.g.) dissecting every statement of the PB to observe that when she takes up the opportunity to clarify her first statement (which second statement, alone, tells us that not all is well with the first) there is still a failure to engage with the role of faith in being put right with God.

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  10. "I wonder if Mr. Galli knows any gay couples, especially ones where one partner stayed by the other as he died from AIDS while everyone in his family abandoned him. Hardly raidical individualism."

    Father Weir speaks truly, and I know a number of people who did exactly that. Caring for a dying partner abandoned by his family is not my idea of Ayn Rand's "Radical Selfishness."

    Speaking of "Radical Selfishness," June Butler of "Grandmere Mimi" fame over at her blog "Wounded Bird," reports on her experiences attending a town hall meeting on health insurance reform with Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. She asked one of the protesters what she thought the moral issue was in this argument. The woman answered that it was about not having to share her hard earned wealth with a bunch of deadbeats. With almost 600,000 new unemployed last week alone, that's a lot of deadbeats.
    I encounter that outlook a lot in my own family. It is a hopeless, frightened, and deeply misanthropic view of the world. Like all hopeless misanthropic outlooks, it is self-fulfilling. If you approach the world and your neighbors with hate and suspicion, then don't expect love and trust in return.

    I remember some Ayn Rand followers I knew years ago would regularly quote to me Cain's question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" They seem to have forgotten God's reply,"Where is your brother Abel? What have you done?"

    No one crosses the River over into the Promised Land alone. We help each other to cross and all go together, or not at all. The only place where we go alone by our own efforts without any help is to the Grave.

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  11. Christopher (P.)29/8/09 11:33 AM

    Hiram and Peter--

    I few points of disagreement.

    Hiram--re your use of "conservative." What you describe is not conservative, per se, but instead, evangelical. That is, one may be quite conservative on many topics but have a rather more "catholic" understanding of one's faith.

    Peter--in what way does trying to clarify a statement indicate that the statement is wrong ("all is not well"). You set that bar pretty high--St. Paul had to expound on the nature of faith in many different ways and to continue to refine his understanding--well, then, I'm certainly not expecting the PB to be on par with St. Paul. Perhaps you shouldn't either!

    The strong reaction to your criticisms is, I am afraid, the residuum of the regular "conservative" (and I think I use the term correctly) statements that the PB exemplifies the apostasy of the Episcopal Church (regularly preached from the pulpit where I attend, unfortunately).

    I only wish to respond further to one criticism: that the PB does not "offer a positive account of how we enter into a relationship with Jesus." Would that any of us could! I admire the reticence that calls this a mystery. For every Christian who feels "the heart strangely warmed" and drawn up the aisle to the altar, there are those (like me), who are finding and deepening their relationship with Jesus through contemplative methods of Ignatian spiritual direction or centering prayer. Others find their relationship with Jesus deepened in their encounters with the poor and needy. The PB is the head of the institutional church and a pastor to its people, but she is not their spiritual director, and I think that she wisely foregoes specifying the path to Jesus--different for each of us--in favor of describing the results of living faith: "healing and wholeness and holiness." By their fruits you shall know them.

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  12. I think the flashpoint in the Presiding Bishop's GC address was her choice of using the word "heresy". Bishop Katharine's latest explanation mentions she is sometimes surprised at what people hear in her addresses. I think she should have anticipated evangelical Episcopal listeners hearing themselves described as heretics with her deliberate choice of this word. Those comments are fighting words (at least, they are perceived as such by some). I have mostly found her words to carefully chosen, so I was dismayed by this description that she used at the GC. Her latest explanation also falls short because she doesn't doesn't directly explain her use of the word heresy, if there were heretics among her listeners at the GC, and how such heretics can be made right again.

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  13. Peter,

    I don't find Bishop Katharine difficult to understand, and I'll wager she often sees many things through a lens of faith that is much different from mine (perhaps not, I've never sat down for a talk with her).

    I might be able to give you a certain starting point, however. I believe we can agree Anglicans are Trinitarians, and that as Christians we accept in our faith that Jesus was fully human yet fully divine (and that is something that requires faith, it doesn't make sense in a scientific world).

    As Christians we are required to see the Trinity as an equilateral triangle. Ignoring the powerful role of Jesus in our faith skews the triangle to another shape. Placing too much emphasis there does the same, and certainly is not what Jesus taught us to believe. A person of life-long faith has made a basic choice in that matter Let's say I'd never belong to a church that ignores Christ as Savior, nor would I attend one that pretty much talks about nothing else. This frees me to concentrate on how Jesus taught us to live our lives, trying my best not to simplify His many messages that emphasize the two great commandments.

    (As you might know, I was raised Episcopalian in the days of the 1928 Prayer Book. I am an Episcopalian today. But I have spent my time with the Wesleyans and Calvinists, and not only the progressive ones).

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  14. Vince,

    Mark posted your comment while I was composing mine to Peter. This thread seems to have a bit more conversation and a little less anger, and I'll try to be direct without sounding dismissive. I'll probably fail in some way.

    Bishop Katharine touched, briefly, on something very important. So important, in fact that it is the tie religious to a very close friend who is a devout Roman Catholic.

    On to more personal views and rhetoric....

    I feel that "progressive" Christians are as free to speak of heresy as their more "conservative" brothers and sisters. Actually, I've often heard the phrase apostate used by those who disagree with her (and me, in many ways). Bob Duncan speaks to his followers in their language, and he doesn't include lengthy lessons from the Church Fathers as he criticizes the majority of Episcopalians. While that may be a difficult comparison, he is the one who asserts the support of about 80% of the world's Anglicans.

    If we think of Christianity as fabric, we need the woof of faith/love for God - and the warf of love of neighbor/"Christian" good works (etc.). Without both, we have two long and useful skeins of yarn, but not Christianity. I'm not a particularly linear thinker so that's the best I can do (I'd say our fabric is knit, not woven).

    Evangelical Protestant thinking - including Biblical literalism - is relatively new thinking in the world of Christianity. Bishop Katharine speaks of the old, not the new. If you cast aside the issues of women and gays in the church, she's quite the old-fashioned Christian.

    Just an opinion.

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  15. Christopher (P.)29/8/09 5:59 PM

    Vince--

    So you mean that some in her audience might have had a moment of conviction? And like many having similar moments, they might have resisted it?

    As I have been taught, the path to being "made right" involves conviction, regret, confession, repentence, restoration, and prayer. No other way exists!

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  16. You can read any number of Orthodites of whatever flavor; conservative, evangelical, anglo-catholic or fundamentalist, at STIF, T1:9, or VoL spouting the claims that the leadership and supporting membership of specifically TEC and the ACoC are heretics, apostates and anything but Christians.

    Let the PB refer to a western heresy and direct it at no one in particular at all, and these same folks are up in arms.

    Amazing. They never stop amazing me.

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  17. Part of the reason I and other conservatives are dismayed by Bp Schori in her opening address and in her explanation here is that she has quite a track record of deficient theology. Her doctrine of sin is almost non-existent, as is her doctrine of the atonement. Her Christology is deficient. I could go on; someone did a long analysis of her theology as it can be known from her public statements, and cataloged quite a few heterodox and even heretical positions, compared to the doctrines hammered out by the early Church Fathers and the Reformers. She may, of course, believe better than her public statements, but her public statements are what we have to go on.

    Personally, I find her statements very hard to follow, and they often sound very condescending to those who are not as enlightened as she is.

    As for engaging in social action - someone said (I wish I could remember who) that conservatives are often engaged in social action in a wide variety of ways (the founder of Habitat for Humanity was a theological conservative), while (apart from some soup kitchens) theological liberals mainly engage in trying to get the government to accomplish their goals for society.

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  18. Thank you Mark for making this available to us! It is good to read KJS' words, especially when one feels beset and inarticulate. Rock on, Poo Bah Kate !!

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  19. Some comments here are intriguing as they seem to imply the PB can never be wrong in her pronouncements and these pronouncements should never be criticized. There is a theological word for such theological unassailability: infallibility!

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  20. she has quite a track record of deficient theology. Her doctrine of sin is almost non-existent, as is her doctrine of the atonement. Her Christology is deficient.

    The arrogance of that statement just takes my breath away...

    If Hiram had said, "In my view...", it would have been one thing. But that kind of qualification appears to be beyond con-evos. They declare who is "in" and who is "out," because they appear to have gotent a different word from God than the rest of us. One that requires no thinking or engagement--just acceptance of what they tell us is "adequate" (or even "perfect") doctrine and theology.

    Never mind that the most ancient expression of the Christian faith is still to be found among the Orthodox (big "O"), who would likely find Hiram's "doctrines" of sin and atonement, as well as his Christology, "deficient" (if not downright repugnant).

    someone said (I wish I could remember who) that conservatives are often engaged in social action in a wide variety of ways (the founder of Habitat for Humanity was a theological conservative), while (apart from some soup kitchens) theological liberals mainly engage in trying to get the government to accomplish their goals for society.

    And some of us manage to do both things--because we believe in acting locally, but we also know that individual charity is not sufficient to meet the overwhelming needs of our fellow human beings.

    After all, we, the people, ARE the government. Why shouldn't we use the advantages of government (economies of scale, provision of services in areas where there would otherwise be none, and ensuring that people are not left out of the social safety net because they have "deficient theology") to achieve what is, after all, the commandment of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ: to care for the "least of these" in His name?

    Pax,
    Doxy

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  21. Peter--nobody has said the PB is infallible. Least of all me--I have my own issues with her.

    What I AM saying is that con-evos' criticisms of her are often theologically inaccurate (or reflect an appalling ignorance of vast swathes of Christian theological history), spiritually arrogant, and are probably deeply rooted in sexism/misogyny.

    I doubt you'll like that any better, but I hope I made my objections to the critics clearer.

    Doxy

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  22. Hi Wormwood's Doxy
    Thanks for your response.
    I do have a difficulty with this aspect: "probably deeply rooted in sexism/misogyny".
    In general when commenting on the internet we cannot possibly know that to be true of another commenter. Why even think the thought? The psychological roots of our contributions to discussion matter little, the content matters much.

    In the particular matter at hand - the PB's original address and more recent expansion - she is speaking as the primatial teacher of the faith in TEC. Gender has nothing to do with asking the question, is this set of teachings a fair and fulsome account of the topic?

    In my estimation the commenters here are responding to the content of the teachings not to the gender of the teacher!

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  23. I'm not sure that the psychological roots of any position can be ignored with impunity. The roots of a person's position may very well point to the validity of their position in the first place!

    The unfortunate reality is that anyone can argue any position. What is important is whether that person makes the position worth engaging in the first place.

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  24. I do have a difficulty with this aspect: "probably deeply rooted in sexism/misogyny". In general when commenting on the internet we cannot possibly know that to be true of another commenter. Why even think the thought? The psychological roots of our contributions to discussion matter little, the content matters much.

    Peter--as a woman, I don't have the liberty to ignore institutionalized sexism (whether it's in people's heads or in the structure of the church). It affects almost every aspect of my life. Would that it did not...

    And "psychological roots" CREATE content. Why else are we having this discussion?

    The simple fact is that many conservatives can't stand +Katharine Jefferts Schori first and foremost because she is a woman. Read the comments about her at Titus 1:9 and Stand Firm. If you cannot see the sexism in them, I cannot help you.

    Maybe in this wildly antagonistic era--when misinformation and outright lies can be spread around the world in a matter of seconds--the PB's speeches were destined to become the targets of the heretic-hunters in the conservative camp, regardless of her sex.

    But the refusal of many to call her by her title (referring to her as "Mrs. Schori," for instance) and the refusal of others to take communion with her screams "sexism" to those with ears to hear.

    Pax,
    Doxy

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  25. Hi Wormwood's Doxy
    If someone with their words, perhaps even their implied words ("reading between the lines") signals a prejudice against (say) the Presiding Bishop of TEC, by (eg) naming her "Mrs Schori", as indeed happens on blogs/sites such as Titus One Nine, Stand Firm, and (possibly the most egregious offenders here) Virtue Online, then, indeed, some consideration of the psychological aspects of the situation is in order.

    But this is Preludium. Some conservatives misogynists stray over here, it is true, but on this particular thread I judge that the commenters critical of Presiding Bishop Schori's speech and expansion to be engaged with her content, not her gender.

    There is a danger in what you say that people of good will and good faith will be discouraged from seeking to engage on sites such as this with important issues raised by leaders in the Anglican Communion because one line of response will be to question the psychological state of the issue raisers.

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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.