Tuesday, November 27, 2012

ACI to Bishops: "Restore the Good Order of our Church!"

Close on the heels of my last post about dysfunction permeating the leadership of the Episcopal Church (USA) comes this devastating indictment of the Presiding Bishop and her cohorts from the three clergy members of the Anglican Communion Institute. The facts recited deal only with the Diocese of South Carolina, and as such represent but a tiny portion of the lawlessness which the Presiding Bishop allows to guide her actions in the whole Church, as you may read about in the links just on this page.

This call should move any Bishop who truly cares about the "good order" of the Church, and who takes seriously a bishop's responsibilities to shepherd and maintain that good order. Copies of it should be sent to every diocesan office in the Church, to the reporters who are covering the story in South Carolina, and to any other newspaper outlets which will print a story about it. These three brave clergy are putting their own careers in the Church on the line in order to call their own Presiding Bishop to account! When has that ever been done before, since the unhappy end of Pope Urban VI?
We disagree with those among you who think the Presiding Bishop and her agents have done no wrong. As our Appendix demonstrates, the evidence is overwhelming that they have violated canons and engaged in discussions deceitfully. We disagree with those who accept the evidence, but think the matter inconsequential. If our leaders will not follow the canons and formal procedures of the church, not only in letter but in spirit, they forfeit any trust they may hold and undermine the mutual trust of the church as a whole. We disagree with those who think that such disregard of letter and spirit is merited by the misbehavior of Bishop Lawrence. Canonical violation and deceit will never produce peace in the church or render a just outcome. Further, the diocese of South Carolina has, for a long time, struggled to maintain its unity as a conservative Christian body and to remain within The Episcopal Church. Bp. Lawrence was given a tightrope to walk from the moment of his election and did so successfully and honestly. He did not jump from this difficult position but was intentionally pushed by the Presiding Bishop and the Disciplinary Board in ways that were neither necessary nor responsible. We disagree with those who believe that, in any case, all this is of little importance for the future of The Episcopal Church. The departure from The Episcopal Church, under moral duress, by one of our strongest and few growing dioceses, taking with it a range of energies and vital witness, threatens to subvert the hopes and good will of thousands of faithful members of our church and discourage the willingness of younger leaders to come forward in our midst. Indeed, all this constitutes a crisis for The Episcopal Church of the gravest kind. 
For those among you who, by contrast, have taken stock of the actions of the Presiding Bishop and her agents, we believe that you are obligated by solemn vow to respond forthrightly that they have violated canons and engaged in discussions deceitfully. We believe that you are called upon to pursue all canonical and spiritual means to bring these matters into the light before your college and the church at large. Your vows require you to rectify misdeeds that have been committed. You are called upon to rein in the misuse of authority and canons by those, like the Presiding Bishop and her legal staff, who have supervised the squandering of our human and material resources. We urge you as agents of reconciliation to do all in your power to rebuild the bridges of genuine Christian understanding and communion with both those who have left The Episcopal Church and those drifting in that direction. We urge you, in short, to be faithful to your calling and to be true and not false pastors of the people and the Gospel God has entrusted to your stewardship. The Lord does not ask that you succeed in your efforts, only that you stand as a sentinel before the people themselves.
Yours in Christ, 
The Rev. Prof. Christopher Seitz
The Rev. Dr. Philip Turner
The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner
The only thing missing from this indictment is an instruction manual on how to bring charges against the Presiding Bishop under the new Title IV. For a step-by-step guide to the new procedures (and charges may be filed by anyone, inside or outside the Church, clergy or lay), see this earlier post.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

ECUSA, ECUSA: Dysfunction Everywhere

Could things get any worse within the Episcopal Church (USA)?

Yes, of course they could -- but that admission does nothing to mitigate the sorry, sorry state of affairs that persists in that Church already.

This is still calendar 2012 -- barely six months since the last meeting of General Convention. Since that time:

ECUSA has lost another Diocese -- and not just "another" Diocese, but one of its largest, healthiest and most vibrant.

ECUSA's House of Bishops, spurred on by its Presiding Bishop, is preparing to depose one of its most orthodox and spiritual members ever, in a triumph of mediocrity over mission.

ECUSA points the blame at the Diocese (of South Carolina) -- but for doing what? According to ECUSA and its oh-so-wise attorneys, the Diocese hasn't left; only its people (and its Bishop) have.

So ECUSA, through its hopelessly conflicted Disciplinary Board for Bishops, blames the Bishop for the actions of the Diocese -- even though he had no vote on them to begin with, and no Constitutional power to set aside the acts of the diocesan convention.

And then the Presiding Bishop, while trying with one hand to lure Bishop Lawrence into further mediation talks, uses her other hand to sign a certificate restricting his ministry -- and then still wants to continue talks as scheduled while keeping his restriction "confidential." (Oh, yes, that would certainly work.)

To top it off, she then claims that "her hands were tied," and that once she received the certification that he personally had "abandoned" ECUSA by the actions the diocesan convention took, she had "no choice" but to restrict him.

Well, that is indeed the way the Abandonment Canon now reads -- but don't forget: it was Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori who decided she did not need the consent of the "three most senior Bishops in the Church" to restrict Bishop Duncan back when the Canon (before its amendment in 2009) still required such consent. Could she have obtained that consent to restrict Bishop Lawrence in 2012, on such flimsy charges?

I doubt it entirely. But she wanted the provision eliminated, and she got her way. So she now owns this process, and must take responsibility for bringing about the mess that exists in South Carolina today.

Meanwhile, she is also proceeding apace with the charges against the nine bishops who dared to disagree with her in open court, even though she is hopelessly conflicted in that situation, as well. (She sees nothing wrong with being (1) the person supposedly wronged; (2) the person charged with determining whether the charges are valid; (3) the person who decides what disciplinary remedy to impose; and (4) the person who actually imposes that final disciplinary remedy.) Prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner all in one? Move along, move along -- nothing to see here, just more dysfunction.

As for the complainants who filed the charges against the bishops, never mind that they are the chief opponents in court of the parties who wanted to use the bishops' testimony as part of their case. So now we have two lawsuits in civil court, in which the Episcopalian litigants seek to punish their opponents for using the same kind of expert testimony which they were using. And they see absolutely nothing wrong with that!

So also with those puny South Carolina Episcopalians who were complaining about Bishop Lawrence for what their own Diocese was doing. Do you see any signs of apology or regret for the trials and tribulation which their extreme minority views have now brought upon the Diocese? Again, move along, now; I said, move along! -- nothing to see here but still more dysfunction.

Then we come to the other bishops in the House of Bishops, and the other Standing Committees across the whole geographical span of the Church. Though a few here and there have published statements of regret for what has happened, the biggest single note that has been sounded is one of utter silence. The Standing Committees have not voiced any objection to the Presiding Bishop's actions taken in defiance of the jurisdiction of the diocesan standing committee in a diocese which she claims has not left the Church, and the Bishops are just biding their time until they can hide behind an anonymous voice vote to remove Bishop Lawrence next March.

Dysfunction, dysfunction everywhere, as far as the eye can penetrate.

To this long-time Episcopalian, it seems that the time has come to say, with David:

To the choirmaster: according to The Sheminith.1 A Psalm of David.

12 Save, O Lord, for mthe godly one is gone;
for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.
Everyone nutters lies to his neighbor;
with oflattering lips and pa double heart they speak.

May the Lord cut off all oflattering lips,
the tongue that makes qgreat boasts,
those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail,
our lips are with us; who is master over us?”

“Because rthe poor are plundered, because the needy groan,
sI will now arise,” says the Lord;
“I will place him in the tsafety for which he longs.”
uThe words of the Lord are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.

You, O Lord, will keep them;
you will guard us2 from this generation forever.
On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among the children of man.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Scripture for a Saturday with Ominous Forebodings

This morning's Scripture readings for the Anglican Daily Lectionary spoke with unusual strength and clarity about the gathering warclouds around Israel. We had gone to bed last night after noting the troubling story that the terrorists of Gaza had lobbed two shells at Jerusalem, and after praying (fortunately, not with the Twitter following -- or consequences of doing so -- of Ms. Kim Kardashian) for all the people of Israel. (Note that when someone queried the Hamas Secretary of State about their random rocket firing endangering also the Palestianians who live in Jerusalem, the answer was: "We don't care about them; they shouldn't be there.")

Thus it was, when we turned to the Psalms appointed for today, our first point of resonance with the situation awaited, in the verses of Psalm 87:

A Psalm of lthe Sons of Korah. A Song.

87On mthe holy mount nstands the city he founded;
the Lord oloves the gates of Zion
more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.
pGlorious things of you are spoken,
qcity of God. Selah

Among those who rknow me I mention sRahab and Babylon;
behold, Philistia and Tyre, with tCush1
“This one was born there,” they say.
And of Zion it shall be said,
“This one and that one were born in her”;
for the Most High himself will uestablish her.
The Lord records as he vregisters the peoples,
“This one was born there.” Selah

wSingers and xdancers alike say,
“All my ysprings are in you.”

Normally, this Psalm (which forms the basis of the great Anglican hymn Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken [set to Haydn's music; traditional Anglican version here]) is interpreted to forecast the time when all races shall gather as one in Jerusalem, regardless of where they were born. (It is said to tie into the words of the preceding Psalm, especially 86:9.) But in light of the continued rocket attacks and threats of "more surprises" this morning, the words of Psalm 87 took on a very contemporary tone -- especially when one notes that "Rahab" in verse 4 is another name for Egypt, "Philistia" and "Tyre" are regions of Lebanon and Syria, and "Babylon" of course refers to the Persian empire, i.e., Iran.

The Psalm seemed to be describing the gathering around Israel of all of those who have historically been its enemies, with stress upon the national pride of each that underlies their hostile intent toward Israel. This sentiment of gathering danger was then reinforced by the passage from the Old Testament, Joel 3:9-17:

Proclaim this among the nations:
sConsecrate for war;1
stir up the mighty men.
Let all the men of war draw near;
let them come up.
10 tBeat your plowshares into swords,
and tyour pruning hooks into spears;
let the weak say, “I am a warrior.”

11 uHasten and come,
all you surrounding nations,
and gather yourselves there.
vBring down your warriors, O Lord.
12 Let the nations stir themselves up
and come up to wthe Valley of Jehoshaphat;
xfor there I will sit to judge
all the surrounding nations.

13 yPut in the sickle,
zfor the harvest is ripe.
aGo in, tread,
afor the winepress is full.
The vats overflow,
for their evil is great.

14 Multitudes, multitudes,
in the valley of decision!
For bthe day of the Lord is near
in the valley of decision.
15 cThe sun and the moon are darkened,
and the stars withdraw their shining.

16 dThe Lord roars from Zion,
and dutters his voice from Jerusalem,
eand the heavens and the earth quake.
But the Lord is fa refuge to his people,
a stronghold to the people of Israel.

The Glorious Future of Judah

17 g“So you shall know that I am the Lord your God,
hwho dwells in Zion, imy holy mountain.
And Jerusalem shall be holy,
and jstrangers shall never again pass through it.

Now the readings were really getting my attention. Why on this Saturday, O Lord?

Our Bible Study reading for the day required us to review chapters 6-9 of Genesis -- the story of the flood. The review questions brought out the differences and contrast between Genesis 6:5-8 and 8:20-22:

bThe Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every cintention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And dthe Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it egrieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah ffound favor in the eyes of the Lord.

God's Covenant with Noah

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled kthe pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again lcurse1 the ground because of man, for mthe intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. nNeither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 oWhile the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, pday and night, shall not cease.”

Notice that man's nature did not change before and after the flood; God's intent as to what to do about man's nature did. Implicit in the covenant God made with Noah was His promise to send His only Son for man's redemption, and His recognition that only by such an act could man escape the fate to which his nature inclines him. Never again would all of mankind be destroyed by God's wrath: those who, like Noah and his family, remained servants of the Lord, thereafter through the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ, could and would be saved.

And that saving promise echoed back on the second Psalm for this Saturday, Psalm 90:

From Everlasting to Everlasting

sPrayer of Moses, the tman of God.

90 Lord, you have been our udwelling place1
in all generations.
vBefore the wmountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
xfrom everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust
and say, y“Return, zO children of man!”2
For aa thousand years in your sight
are but as byesterday when it is past,
or as ca watch in the night.

You dsweep them away as with a flood; they are like ea dream,
like fgrass that is renewed in the morning:
in ithe morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it jfades and kwithers.

For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have lset our iniquities before you,
our msecret sins in the light of your presence.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span3 is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?

12 nSo teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 oReturn, O LordpHow long?
Have qpity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the smorning with your steadfast love,
that we may trejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have uafflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your vwork be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the xfavor4 of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish ythe work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!

Moses' prayer is especially appropriate for those who find themselves besieged in the Middle East today -- whether Jews in Israel, Copts in Egypt, or Christians in Syria and Iran. He reminds us, just as did St. Peter (2 Pet. 3:1-13), that all things are ultimately in God's hands, and that our duty is to be prepared:

The Day of the Lord Will Come

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them gI am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, hthat you should remember the predictions of ithe holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come jin the last days with scoffing, kfollowing their own sinful desires. lThey will say, “Where is the promise of mhis coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth nwas formed out of water and through water oby the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed pwas deluged with water and qperished. But by the same word rthe heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and sdestruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and ta thousand years as one day. uThe Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise vas some count slowness, but wis patient toward you,1 xnot wishing that any should perish, but ythat all should reach repentance. 10 But zthe day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then athe heavens will pass away with a roar, and bthe heavenly bodies2 will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.3
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, cwhat sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 dwaiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and ethe heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for fnew heavens and a new earth gin which righteousness dwells.

Which duty of vigilance and preparation today's Gospel passage once again underlines (Luke 12:35-44):

You Must Be Ready

35 a“Stay dressed for action1 and bkeep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are cwaiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and  d knocks. 37 eBlessed are those servants2 whom the master finds eawake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, fhe will dress himself for service and ghave them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 hBut know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour ithe thief was coming, he3 would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be jready, for kthe Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
41 Peter said, “Lord, lare you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is mthe faithful and mwise nmanager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 oBlessed is that servant4 whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you, phe will set him over all his possessions.

Truly, the Bible speaks to us in our day and age. And truly, we ignore it at our peril.

Deo sit gloria!