Confession time

It appears that no matter how often I have said that my remarks about consents for Kevin Forrester are not about the specifics of this or that person voting, or about their level of honesty and fidelity to a discernment process, etc, very few have heard that. Instead they have heard my comments about a climate of fear as a direct attack on those who voted not to consent. So something is wrong: either my friends and foes alike are unable to get what I was saying, I was saying it badly, or something else.

This afternoon Tobias Haller, priest and brother, a friend I hold in high esteem, wrote this in a comment on one of my posts on Forrester:

"Mark, I personally have no knowledge of any "progressive" who voted No on the consent to the election of KTF in order to prove he/she was orthodox. Your experience may be otherwise, of course; but it seems to me that whatever your experience in this regard you are painting with a very broad brush, and making judgments about the character and ethics of a broad swath of people.

Standing Committees were asked to testify (solemnly and without partiality) that they "know of no impediment on account of which" the bishop-elect "ought not to be ordained" as a bishop. You are suggesting that a number of people may have essentially perjured themselves by refusing to sign the consent, in an effort to appear more "orthodox" -- to someone, I can't imagine who.

On the contrary, in my experience people refused to consent on the basis of a belief that there was or were impediment(s) at play; and in spite of any partiality they might have felt in sympathy with KTF's personal character, declined to consent."

I took his comment to heart and have been involved in a bit of self examination on the matter.

I want to confess that my concerns were motivated by a variety of experiences in which my beliefs have been called into question, not by people of no or other faith, but by fellow Christians. Those not of the Christian faith have challenged me in direct but mostly polite and respectful ways. My Christian challengers have shown no such regard.

Because of that I looked at the trajectory of Forrester's rise and fall from a prejudiced position. I have seen him as suffering more fully a fate that I might well have suffered to some extent in other context. Thus I have written in ways that may not have served to illuminate. I have written with unexamined prejudice.

I am prejudiced against confinement. There. I suppose that is it. This is not the same as understanding and assenting to being one under authority. That I have agreed to and honor. It is the confining judgment of others that I strongly abhor. I saw that echoed in Forrester's treatment a stronger reverberation of things I have felt and experienced.

Several examples:

My ordination to the Priesthood was delayed because in part I was an unknown foreigner (from the US) and considered a hippie. Fellow Christian clergy and lay people did that. (As a result I will never catch up to my priest "age" with my friend Bill Wood. (sigh))

Years ago in Delaware an investigation to consider asking for my resignation as Chaplain was demanded because I supported the Gay Student Union. How could any Christian minister do that? The Episcopal Church Women asked that. The Diocese came to my defense.

I took part in the Philadelphia 11 Ordinations and had to face the possibility of reprimand. In the rest of The Episcopal Church people were getting dealt with severely. I was a very small grasshopper on the edge of the field, so when the fires came the passed me by.

Over the years a wide range of people have tried to convert me to Christianity, assuming and sometimes clearly stating, that they did not believe I was a Christian. Sometimes the reason was simple: I was an Episcopal Priest, and "you know about them." Sometimes the reason was because I wasn't a Christian the way they were a Christian. On at lest two occasions it was because I was a priest of the Episcopal Church, rather than another Church in the Anglican Communion. On some occasions their challenges helped form my faith, but often it just made me mad.

In recent days I understand I may have been accused of being ungentlemanly and engaged in conduct that was likely unbecoming a clergyperson.

So all in all my reaction has been just that - reaction - on the basis of personal experience. I have to say, all things considered, that I have been treated kindly and mostly justly by the Church. And, since I own my obedience to the Church, this is a good thing. The Church has mostly supported my being a Christian as I have understood being a Christian. The church has not been the confining factor, rather it is some people and movements in the Church who have taken on that task. And of course my experience is only a fraction, a small fraction, of the experience faced by people on the forward edge of the Civil Rights movement, the movement for GLBT rights, for the end of apartheid, for the people of Palestine, and on and on. I have not suffered, but I have been made, let us say, more sensitized.

It is always a shock to realize that there are people who are out to catch me in error, or to show that I am not a Christian, or to find some way to discount me.

When as a result there are those who want to say that The Episcopal Church is un-Christian, or no longer Christian, or un-orthodox, I take it personally.

When there are those who suggest that I am not a Christian, I take it personally.

When they say it about someone else who I believe is a Christian, I take it personally as well.

So, I confess that I am not particularly well fit to comment on Forrester. Its too damn personal. I wish him well and hope that having been challenged, he challenges back. More I hope he delights in living, and finds his home always with Christ Jesus. I don't think I have helped him or anyone else very much in this process.

Some of you commenting have made considerable headway in parsing out the realities of this process. I have not. I'm again' the whole miserable thing.

As for me, with forgiveness always a possibility, I am moving on to General Convention, ready to see sausage made and the Kingdom come.


  1. Fr Harris, with a quote from William Stringfellow fronting your blog, I've never taken you for anything but Christian. Indeed, enjoy many of your postings.

    And I appreciate that you have continued to ask questions about our motivations, always an important role in such proceedings. But I really do think that some on the left in our Church have mischaracterized this whole affair in such a way that all who oppose consents do so because 1) the process by which he was elected is unusual, or 2) Fr Thew Forrester practices ZaZen, or 3) we need to prove our own orthodox credentials, or most strangely 4) so we can show we don't just keep gays out of the episcopate.

    I found the process unusual, and perhaps not one to recommend, but that would not have led me to withhold consent were I a bishop of on a Standing Committee. I find nothing wrong in practicing ZaZen, as some fine Christians have done so. I think of Thoams Merton.

    No matter what I do, I will never be able to do enough to show my orthodox cred to many "conservatives". That doesn't stop me from caring about theology, which is not just the preserve of the right.

    I'm gay and partnered, so the fourth argument sounds very silly, as if no gay people might have theological reservation.

    Again, asking us to self-check is important, and you've been asking admirably to make sure we're not simply scapegoating.

    Some of us oppose consents because Fr Thew Forrester's theology falls outside our rather generous bounds and because he changed up the central rites of our Prayer Book, including the Baptismal Covenant, Eucharistic Prayers, and the Apostles' Creed. No matter what some say, our Church is committed to the Quadrilateral. And to our Prayer Book. Is it a bit conservative? Yes. But part of the call to being bishop is to make sure that the gospel is fully proclaimed. There is a conservatism and radicality in that--even the consecration promises contain both movements simultaneously. Holding to the doctrine of Trinity and Incarnation is conservative and radical. I think of AngloCatholics in the London slums or William Stringfellow standing up to the powers that be.

    I would add that several who have voiced/blogged concerns are Gen X'ers or Gen Y'ers, people who tend to be attracted to the Episcopal Church precisely because of a rich tradition and traditional take on liturgy (both in terms of celebration and how changes are made--i.e., slowly and communaly) and to serious theological engagement with our creeds and rich tradition of divines--that we hold to something. This combines often with an ascetical and contempaltive bent that bodes well, for example, in thinking radically about ecology. So suggestions that the Church will die unless we "get with it" in the manner of Fr Thew Forrester seem off. We might even call this orientation "green martyrdom".

  2. Mark,
    Wow. The quality of your self-scrutiny is remarkable to me--I too have felt a need for serious self-reflection on my own comments over at Episcopal Cafe, where I parsed this issue in terms of a politics of fear. Though I do think there is plenty of fear right now to go around, I did not accurately register my own fear, for reasons quite similar to you. I have practiced zazen, even participated, many years ago, in tangaryo, a form of entry as a lay Zen student. And I felt personally attacked, though I share many theological views with folks like Tobias, Christopher, Bill Carroll and others. I regret that my fear caused me to impugn motives with such a broad brush and ask they and others in our church, which I know we all love, to forgive me for having done so.
    Yours in Christ,

  3. Thank you, Brother Mark, for this. I quite agree with you about the atmosphere in which the Forrester consent process has taken place; and frankly I lay most of the blame for it at the feet of the rabid right, many of whom are no longer even part of TEC. Beginning with their somewhat off-the-wall overreaction to the "Buddhist thing" they spread false and misleading slanders against KTF at the beginning, and perhaps they poisoned the well, or tinted the glasses some other hue than rose. I don't think many of those who actually had votes in this were terribly swayed by the histrionics from the far right, as the slanders were largely shown to be just that in fairly short order.

    It is also true, as you said, that this cast a harsh spotlight on KTF -- but believe me, having sat on the Consecration of Bishops legislative Committee in 2006, there are plenty of spotlights out there, and any person thinking of being nominated for Bishop had best be prepared for a higher level of scrutiny than has been customary in the past. (But, seriously, is it all that much more extreme than the process through which we put people seeking ordination to the diaconate or priesthood -- many of whom are turned down early in the process? What does discernment and scrutiny mean if it doesn't mean that sometimes an impediment or inadequacy will in fact be revealed?

    Let me also make a confession: part of the reason I was taken aback by your earlier comments about "the badge of orthodoxy" rationale for saying No, stems from the fact that similar accusations have been made by some over at "Schadenfreude in Freefall" -- that is, that progressives are only voting No on KTF so that they can have that badge of orthodoxy; that is, KTF is the poor bargaining chip in this high stakes game of one-churchmanship, in which those who in good conscience voted not to consent "just can't win."

    So I confess that I was reading your negative comments in part through a tainted lens, and I regret if I caused you more angst than I intended. God bless you, my brother in Christ -- and let us keep pressing against the boundaries, but with both feet on the ground; the leverage is better that way.


  4. Thanks, Mark. I appreciate your forthrightness and sharing. This whole damn mess has been very enlightening on many many levels for me. It has caused me to look at what I believe and what I respect and the politics of this church that I care about deeply. It continues to be quite a ride and I'm not the one in the hot seat. Have a wonderful GC. Peace.

  5. Kahu Aloha12/6/09 7:17 PM

    Mark, I think Tobias Haller makes some very good points. I also hear you and understand and sympathize with how your "ecclesiastical social location" influences your take on the matter. If it is any consolation, I believe there are a couple of names on the Church Calendar celebrating people who also failed to receive the necessary consents to their election to the episcopate. Maybe it is the Church's version of the "Miss Congeniality" award.

  6. Well said, Mark. Thank you. We're almost always better to start an 'apology' of what we believe from within our own context of life experience.

    Word verification: hariump.


  7. Mark,

    I resonate with what you are saying here. One year at my diocesan convention, I was told that I was "mocking God," because of my support for LGBT persons.

    I continue to disagree with you about the consents for Fr. Forrester. I think that the vast majority of those who voted, yes or no, did so with integrity. I am glad for this clarification from you. I believe that passions are running high about this issue, because it points to some fundamental issues about who we are as a community. No one has a monopoly of love for this Church. It is only through conversation with one another that we will have whatever partial glimpse of God's truth we are allowed to have.

    God bless the mess! And God bless you.

  8. Just a thought -- isn't every prayer book revision the result of somebody doing something a little differently, saying it a little differently or even adding to/subtracting from what is already there?

    I wonder if Cranmer would have passed the test?

    Thanks for always speaking your truth. Even on the very rare occasions I find something to disagree with, you present your arguments with patience, clarity and most of all charity. God bless.


  9. Mark, I understood your first comments on the Forester situation. I too believe that the win-lose atmosphere that permeates TEC at present. When I talk to young clergy today I hear lines being drawn in the sand in their theology,, in their scripture interpretation. There is no sense of being able to discuss theology over a couple of beers anymore. It costs priests their cures, their livelihood. And when we "guess wrong" on the people we place in the purple we alienate whole generations. Forester was the victim of an attitude in the church that we may say anything on line about anyone at anytime. I have always found that what you say is measured and respectful. That you might bring difficult issues to the fore is part of our training and the conviction that honesty is part of the truth that makes us free.

    I too was put off from ordination when I applied because I didn't fit the nice girl image but the good sisters taught me perseverance. It might be part of our ETS/EDS heritage but I do think it is part of the calling of Christ.

    If Forester is called to be bishop of N MI, he will become bishop. There is nothing that will frustrate God's call unless he gives up. If the process is flawed, then we as Church need to call it to account.

    That you are self-reflective about what you say on this site just says more about your character than it does about what others might say.

  10. Heaven knows that I am in a different kingian quadrant to you Mark, but I appreciate the level of insight and honesty in your piece. You can be assured that the same mechanisms apply around me.


  11. I figured that that was what was going on. We all have reactive minds; it's ingrained.

    This has been hurtful to me because I really have tried to be fair. I practice Zen, my brother just told me that he considers himself a Buddhist and an Episcopalian (once in the Air Force, once considered Baptist seminary and is in his 50's, raised in South Georgia, so, not a hippie!), and one of the priests here I most admire also considers himself to be practicing the Buddha's path. But, I didn't feel that could be allowed to cloud what I was seeing.

    It was when I saw the prodding and fomenting, the obvious relish in our internal disagreements from the most reactionary elements that I realized I had to drop it and stand with the rest, whether he became bishop or no. We stand with family, even when they make bad decisions.

    Thank you for what you've written here.

  12. Wow! Being in the wilds of Nova Scotia, I sometimes begin to think that I'm the only priest who has feelings like that! I try to be a good priest, although to the dismay of my parishioners, I seem unable to stop being human. Being an American in Canada and a Gay man in the middle of wilderness, it gets particularly painful at times and I forget to weigh my words and actions. I particularly liked your last paragraph-the soul of wit!

    Thank you, Mark.

  13. Mark,
    Thank you. Having had my own candidacy for ordination delayed because I was indicted for draft resistance and having heard the Episcopal Church accused of promoting "satanic religion," I have had a hard time not reacting thoughtlessly to situations like this. The failure to recognize how our contexts influence our decisions can lead us to arrogrant dismissal of the convictions of others.

  14. Mark, your blog is the first one I come to every day, and it always sets a high bar for the others I might read! (If you just posted Scripture I'd get a daily Bible reading done much more regularly, I just realized... ::chuckle::) But anyway, you have my deepest respect for your thoughtfulness and care in what you post and how you post it.

    (I volunteered to help at GC--I'll be one of the many "public safety" volunteers apparently. I have NO idea what that means--if a brawl breaks out in the HOB do I get to break it up? ;)

  15. I thank God every day these days that I am an unordained pew-sitter. I don't see how you or other collar wearers do it sometimes, especially now.

    I leave it to God alone to parse out just who is what in terms of being faithful.

  16. Just to quibble - "unorthodox" isn't at all the same as "not Christian."

  17. Mark,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts in such an honest and reflective way. I feel much like Counterlight - happy that I can separate my religious life from the professional. It would be very painful to be called apostate if I were a deacon or priest; it's difficult enough as a layperson.

    I wonder if my secular outlook has found me lacking compassion for Forrester. In my mind he took some risks, and did what he thought was right. Not all things that are "right" bring the rewards we hope, however

    Forrester, his family and the U.P. church are in my prayers.

  18. Nevertheless some form of boundary marking has been taking place, for good and for ill, and individuals are entitled to compare Kevin Thew Forrester's story with that of their own.

  19. Mark, I admire your "Confession", which is honest, courageous, and generous.

    If I'd had a vote, I'd have withheld consent for KTF, also. I saw the "Buddhist bishop" nonsense for what it was, and I'd have tossed that aside as not worthy of consideration.

    The single candidate was a bit troubling, but considering the character of the diocese, that would not have been a deal breaker.

    The rewriting of the liturgy for the sacrament of Baptism, was another thing altogether. In addition to its radical departure from the historic liturgy of the sacrament, in my humble opinion, the rewriting was bad writing, always a danger when we set off on our own tangent from the prescribed prayers for liturgies central to the faith like Baptism and the Eucharist.

    Although I am viewed as progressive and even radical by brother and sister Episcopalians, my beliefs in the basics of the faith are quite orthodox.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, 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.