Thursday, October 15, 2009

Some of Us on the Right Can Publish Private Correspondence, Too

[(Unfortunately Necessary) Warning: the following is a parody -- (UPDATE: except for the fact linked to in the postscript below, which is real). No one's private correspondence was purloined in order to write this post, and no email confidences were breached.]

To the Members of my Council of Advice:

Please read the enclosed "Manifesto" recently declared by the Right Reverend John Shelby Spong, the resigned diocesan of Newark. In it, he says, in part:

I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is "an abomination to God," about how homosexuality is a "chosen lifestyle," or about how through prayer and "spiritual counseling" homosexual persons can be "cured." Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy. . . .

I will no longer act as if the Papal office is to be respected if the present occupant of that office is either not willing or not able to inform and educate himself on public issues on which he dares to speak with embarrassing ineptitude. I will no longer be respectful of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems to believe that rude behavior, intolerance and even killing prejudice is somehow acceptable, so long as it comes from third-world religious leaders, who more than anything else reveal in themselves the price that colonial oppression has required of the minds and hearts of so many of our world's population. I see no way that ignorance and truth can be placed side by side, nor do I believe that evil is somehow less evil if the Bible is quoted to justify it. I will dismiss as unworthy of any more of my attention the wild, false and uninformed opinions of such would-be religious leaders as Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Albert Mohler, and Robert Duncan. My country and my church have both already spent too much time, energy and money trying to accommodate these backward points of view when they are no longer even tolerable.

I make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be. Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us. Homosexual marriages will become legal, recognized by the state and pronounced holy by the church. "Don't ask, don't tell" will be dismantled as the policy of our armed forces. We will and we must learn that equality of citizenship is not something that should ever be submitted to a referendum. Equality under and before the law is a solemn promise conveyed to all our citizens in the Constitution itself. Can any of us imagine having a public referendum on whether slavery should continue, whether segregation should be dismantled, whether voting privileges should be offered to women? The time has come for politicians to stop hiding behind unjust laws that they themselves helped to enact, and to abandon that convenient shield of demanding a vote on the rights of full citizenship because they do not understand the difference between a constitutional democracy, which this nation has, and a "mobocracy," which this nation rejected when it adopted its constitution. We do not put the civil rights of a minority to the vote of a plebiscite.

I will also no longer act as if I need a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body in order to bless, ordain, recognize and celebrate the lives and gifts of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church. No one should ever again be forced to submit the privilege of citizenship in this nation or membership in the Christian Church to the will of a majority vote. . . .

I know that all of you will join me in expressing support for the strong stand taken by our colleague on an issue that is so important to the mission and life of the Church in these difficult times. But I do not write you to ask for anything so obvious.

My problem comes from a question raised by one of my staff: Has Bishop Spong, through this Manifesto, expressed his renunciation of his ordination vows? Should I accept his declaration as the written statement which Canon III.12.7 requires for me to pronounce that he is "released from the obligations of all Ministerial offices, and is deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God's Word and Sacraments conferred in Ordinations"?

I cannot find in the Manifesto, although I have searched its language carefully, anything equivalent to what Bishop Jack Iker wrote, and which I accepted as his statement of renunciation. Some of you may remember his statement, which was as follows:

Katharine Jefferts Schori has no authority over me or my ministry as a Bishop in the Church of God. She never has, and she never will.

Since November 15, 2008, both the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and I as the Diocesan Bishop have been members of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. As a result, canonical declarations of the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church pertaining to us are irrelevant and of no consequence.
This was a clear affront to my authority, and thus constituted a renunciation of Bishop Iker's ordination vows under the Canon. I accepted it as such, and released Bishop Iker from all ministerial obligations. Note that, while Bishop Spong does not overtly reject my authority in the way that Bishop Iker did, he says that he will no longer act as though he "needs a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body" to authorize him to do certain things. Is this an indirect slap at the House of Bishops?

I also did not find in Bishop Spong's Manifesto another clear indication of renunciation -- namely, a denial of any intent to do so. You will recall that Bishop Wantland had written to me, and said:
I am not resigning my Orders, nor am I abandoning the communion of The Episcopal Church, being a member of a sister Province of the Anglican Communion, in compliance with the provisions of Canon IV.9. However, because I am no longer a member of The Episcopal Church, although residing within its jurisdiction in Oklahoma, I am no longer eligible to be a regular member of its House of Bishops. I therefore request that I be admitted as an honorary member of the (TEC) House of Bishops.
This was about as clear a statement of renunciation as anyone could wish for, and I treated it as such. I did the same, you will recall, in the case of Bishop Henry Scriven, who had written to tell me he was resigning from the House of Bishops to return to be a Bishop in the Church of England. That, too, was a clear renunciation of his ordination vows when he joined this Church, and so I released him from all of his ministerial obligations.

I have some fears that with all of the current controversy in the Church, some will accuse me of applying a double standard if I do not accept Bishop Spong's statement as a renunciation of his vows. Hence this letter to you, and my request for your formal advice. Bishops Iker, Wantland and Scriven were easy cases, compared to this. It seems to fall between the clear lines of renunciation which they represented, and the equally clear lines of non-renunciation, as when Gene Robinson announced he was horrified by the "specifically and aggressively Christian" prayers used for past presidential inaugurations. Despite the rumor started by an unscrupulous blogger, I did not treat his statement as the renunciation of his ministry which some thought it was.

Please give this letter and its enclosure your careful and prayerful consideration, and then let me know what you think. On the one hand, I welcome this affirmation of principled support for our gay and lesbian friends and colleagues. But on the other hand, I wish that John had not couched it in such terms of ecclesiastical disobedience. As with those protesters who have to face the consequences of going to jail, I fear I may have to let Bishop Spong pay the price of his conscience.

Yours in Christ,


P.S.: You will remember from my earlier letter to you that Bishop Keith Ackerman, the resigned diocesan of Quincy, wrote me last July to inform me that he would be working for the Diocese of Bolivia in the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. This is an easy case, and parallels that of Bishops Iker, Wantland and Scriven mentioned earlier, and I am glad to report that all of you agreed with that assessment. You will shortly see my official announcement accepting Bishop Ackerman's renunciation of his ordained ministry. The Episcopal Church may be a constituent part of the Anglican Communion, but we simply have no mechanism by which I can permit one of our bishops to serve in another province of the Communion. The fact that Bishops are ordained into "the one holy catholic church" does not change the fact that as your presiding bishop, I decide who stays and who goes.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Mr. Haley,

    Spong's comments suggest to me that either St. Athanasius or St. John Chrysostom were correct in their opinion of the use of the skulls of bishops as pavers after the Last Judgment. (Or perhaps both saints made almost identical comments.)

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer