Dean Philip Linder: Debate over the soul of the Episcopal Church

Current Affairs / General Convention / Religion

The Dean of the Cathedral in Columbia SC has written an op-ed piece that has run in the “The State” newspaper. Here are the central paragraphs of his article:

“On the floor of the House of Deputies in Columbus, I witnessed the extreme factions of our church — represented in the dioceses of Newark and South Carolina — working from the posture of extreme liberalism and extreme conservatism for the same purpose. I believe that their goal coming into convention was to fracture the Episcopal Church’s place in the Anglican Communion to suit their own objectives, and that breaks my heart. I was stunned to see these two extreme sides actually voting in unison for opposite purposes.

Neither Newark nor South Carolina was interested in coming to what Episcopal priest and former Sen. John Danforth claimed as the ‘higher calling of reconciliation’ and consensus for the greater good of the church.

Since the convention, this has been further proven in the proclamation of the Diocese of South Carolina that it could not be under the authority of new Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Newark, too, stayed true to form by naming an openly gay candidate as one of the four nominees for bishop within its diocese, thus defying the resolution of General Convention that asks dioceses to refrain from such nominations and elections.

What is at stake here is the very soul of the Episcopal Church and Anglicanism. Our Anglican theology and heritage has held for centuries against radical liberalism or radical conservatism, maintaining that God’s truth is to be ultimately found in the tension of those extremes, and not in the extremes themselves. Today, human sexuality has become the front where those seeking to undermine Anglican identity for their definition of truth are waging the battle.”

I can say that I witnessed and will testify to the same events as he does. I might tone down the rhetoric a hair (ok – a bunch) but he accurately describes what is happening. The thing is that those of us in the middle need to own the fact that our willingness to not assert our political voice has gotten the Episcopal Church to this log jam.

Perhaps, now that we all can see the consequences of the decisions we have made and will make, everyone will be fully paying attention. I don’t think that anyone can predict at the moment about where this will all end up, but I do think we can predict that the debate is about undergo a change in the way and the place where it is conducted. Up until now there have only been two voices speaking. I think there’s a third one being added.

Read the rest here: The State | 07/06/2006 | Debate over the soul of the Episcopal Church

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Martha Blacklock says

    Well, Nick … maybe.
    Look closer at one sentence that, according to the commentator “proves” the stubornness of one of the edges:
    “Newark, too, stayed true to form by naming an openly gay candidate as one of the four nominees for bishop within its diocese, thus defying the resolution of General Convention that asks dioceses to refrain from such nominations and elections.”
    Is that what GC asked? No — the resolution asks the appropriate bodies not to confirm certain elections, it doesn’t ask dioceses not to go ahead with what is their proper responsibility, if they can get candidates to stand in that firing line.
    What is the middle’s position? (Of course I mean positions.) One possibility: Yes, we support the full inclusion of gay people, but only if … fill in the blank. (I’m serious. I’d like to know what people in the middle would put in that blank.)
    I guess what’s prompting me to write is what seems to be an increasing tenor of blame — like the people at the extremes should tone it down. Why?
    That ‘neither hot nor cold’ business makes sense to me. I’m not saying don’t listen, don’t consult, don’t seek harmony — just don’t sell out.
    I’d like to hear an articulation of middle positions that seem to speak for something, not just compromise.
    I’ve just tuned into your blog since GC, and really appreciate it. Thanks.
    Martha — gratefully retired.

  2. Thanks Martha –
    I agree with you about the election in Newark. The resolution spoke only to the consent process, not to the actual election process. (It had to be this way apparently because of the canonical difficulties otherwise.)
    “Filling in the blank” you mention – let me come back with a counter question –
    Does the full inclusion of gblt christians come down to their consecration as bishops? Is that the test? If so, would it make sense to say that full inclusion will happen when the whole Communion is able to do this? (Or does full inclusion happen when just one part does this?)
    As to the tone you detect when reading “people at the extremes should tone it down” – I agree with you. I don’t think the “extremes” should have to do so. They are speaking out of their convictions. (That’s why I mentioned that I don’t find the rhetoric in the linked article particularly helpful, even if the actions are accurately described.)
    I think the middle is speaking in favor of a catholic witness. (I consistently use that term to mean “universal” or “comprehensive”.) It means to me that we individually submit ourselves to the community for discernment – rather than believing that we, as individuals, should follow our own paths. Theo Hobson has this just right in his article yesterday.
    It’s not compromise I’m looking for, but collegial discernment of God’s will.
    What I do observe (rhetoric aside) is that the wings of the church will not abide by the voice of the community if that voice does not agree with the wing’s beliefs.
    I suppose a person would be right in saying the “middle” isn’t about taking a position on an issue, it’s about insisting on a process that would discern the truth of a specific position.
    How’s that?

  3. Martha Blacklock says

    How’s that? As thoughtful and irenic as I’ve come to expect from you. Thanks.
    “Does the full inclusion of gblt christians come down to their consecration as bishops?” This touches on one of the many ‘I don’t get it’ factors in my understanding. What’s so important about bishops? that we draw the line there? If it’s not OK for bishops why is it OK for anyone else? I’d say the full inclusion of glbt christians would mean that they weren’t excluded from anything — including however we’re currently defining marriage — for that reason.
    Maybe what’s so important about bishops is how they’re related to dioceses, which — in the old days — I understood to be the crucial ‘unit’ of the church, the reason we’re episcopalian, not presbyterian. And not catholic, in an organizational sense. When we start talking about a larger configuration, e.g., the Anglican Communion, or anything less than every scrap of the church — hmmm, militant — then where, and why, do you draw the lines? I like the diocesan scheme, and think we ought to find the middle in respecting it. It’s small enough to be responsive to the local culture/s, yet it requires all the discipline of living in community.
    Thanks again.

  4. I agree with Martha. Full inclusion means just that. Would we say that the full inclusion of women in the US is somehow based on whether or not Anglicans in XYZ do as we do? Of course not– though we may hope for that day. Similarly, I’d argue for the same for GLBT– which is why this approach confounds me so. When you’re part of the Church, you’re either in or you’re not.
    The paradox of the Communion (which I’m coming to realize is an invented term that describes a never realized event) is that each province is complete unto itself while also incomplete in a larger sense. The patchwork that is created when we our dioceses relate to each other is where we find our comprehensiveness– our catholicity, if you will. There’s no advantage in becoming carbon copies of one another nor in giving one another veto power over our local life.
    Here’s an excerpt from the same article I like very much:
    “True Anglicanism holds to the authority of scripture, tradition and reason. We are a church that believes that God‚Äôs truth is best discerned in the tension of extremes. We are also a church that invites all people of God to the one table as equals, and as such we believe in the full inclusion of gays, lesbians and women within the life of the Episcopal Church. All of this is hard at times and involves being with those with whom we differ and disagree. Yet when I read the Gospels ‚Äúliterally,‚Äù that is the place where I find Jesus Christ.”
    It’s not the GLBT reference that is important; it’s the part about being with those with whom we differ, the tension of the extremes.
    Why is it when we talk about the extremes that no one highlights one very important difference: those of us at the liberal extreme have never worked for excluding anyone at God’s table or God’s church and have never suggested that there’s not room enough for all of us– not matter how deep our disagreements. There’s that comprehensiveness again.
    I am sore every time I read someone who suggests that Newark (or some similar group) was working to fracture the church. Nonsense. We were working to maintain a place for everyone at the Table (local). If that’s up for grabs, then the liberals I know will always side for inclusion for everybody.
    In my experience, that IS the middle voice of the church– holding onto whatever it perceives are the extremes and freedom to partake in as much from either side as fits its local mission.

  5. Paul Martin says

    My bishop (+Grey, of Mississippi) recently released a pastoral letter which suggested that the “diverse middle” had begun to find its voice. I was struck by his choice of words, which I find particulary apt. The Network is quite united on this issue, and so is Integrity. It is easy for those folks to make a very clear statement of what they believe. It is more difficult for those in the middle, who are struggling for the inclusion of all sides. What statement can we make which could include more than one faction?
    The only solution I can see is to agree to disagree, to allow for considerable local option. I do not see any other means for the various dioceses to function in their respective local contexts otherwise. No bishop in Boston or Newark or San Francisco is going to be taken seriously who does not welcome the full participation of glbt people at all levels of the church. That is not an approach which will succeed everywhere, including some parishes in those dioceses. A little sensitivity to the context in which each of us is conducting our ministry would go a long way here.

  6. Hmmm. We have “full inclusion of women in the US”?
    That’s news.

  7. (And that’s not even just by diocese, you know. There are still plenty of Anglo-Catholic parishes in the United States that won’t ordain or accept women in the sanctuary.
    How come nobody’s jumping up and down about that? How come nobody’s insisting they do? What’s the difference between that, and what’s going on now?
    Inquiring minds want to know.)

  8. bls said, “What’s the difference between that, and what’s going on now?”
    There should be no difference, but for some reason there is. That’s one of my points. The big difference is that those who are against the practice of ordaining gays are now making their argument outside TEC to those provinces which also are against it, rather than staying at the Table here at home. So now there are foreign bishops making their case for them and calling it breaking the bonds of affection– an intriguing “innovation” in evolving Anglican polity.
    Could it be that they learned this lesson during the ordination of women process? If you can’t get your way at home (national church), make what counts as home a bigger place (international communion) where your position has more ground?
    The hat is slowly tipping in favor of women’s ordination in the Communion, so this would no longer work for that issue. Not so for gay ordination. So make it a multinational cause and ask everyone to gang up on the minority voice until they change their ways.
    Doesn’t this sudden cry for Communion-wide consensus strike anyone else as peculiar and just a little bit suspect?
    Indeed, where are the cries for conformity on the ordination of women throughout the Communion?

  9. rh –
    You ask “Doesn’t this sudden cry for Communion-wide consensus strike anyone else as peculiar and just a little bit suspect?
    Indeed, where are the cries for conformity on the ordination of women throughout the Communion?”
    I would answer that the consensus being sought is one about how changes which would beginn the process of reception of an innovation is to happen. I’ve got no sense that consensus means that everyone has to agree to do it.
    In other words, the Communion came to a consensus that women’s ordination was not a communion breaking issue. (According to the Windsor report’s version of events – not everyone agrees with this version of history.)
    The consensus that I’m talking about right now is a consensus to work toward a consensus similar to woman’s ordination. It’s a pretty weak thing all in all – and goes back to this talk about the “Covenant”.

  10. Um, the point was that women accepted incremental progress for sake of something that would last, and that would be good for everybody.
    Which is exactly what I’m suggesting. Silly me.

  11. And BTW, wow! How did you completely ignore my point about women?
    Which was: Why don’t we hear you screaming about San Joaquin, Ft. Worth, and Texas? Why is it acceptable to you that women cannot be ordained in those dioceses, and in many other parishes in the US? Why aren’t you freaking out about this, if you’re so concerned about the-principle-of-the-thing? The fact is that we do not have “full inclusion of women in the US”? How come that doesn’t bother you?
    Where are the “progressives” on this issue, if “full inclusion” is so damned important?

  12. bls, I’m assuming you’re speaking to me since I claim to be a “progressive.”
    My understanding of how women’s ordination came about is not the same as yours. It was incremental only insofar as that was all that was offered. I don’t think it’s accurate to say that women “accepted something incremental.” There was not another option available. And I believe we are still in the midst of that incremental process.
    But having said that, I also believe the ordination of gay persons has been rolling out in much the same way– with one important caveat: the church has ordained gay man for a long time but without acknowledgement. We continue to speak about +VGR as if he is the only gay bishop. He is not. We speak of ordaining gay persons as if it’s a novelty when, in fact, we’ve had gay clergy for many years– again without acknowledgement. So maybe this hasn’t rolled out in precisely the same way. Women’s ordination was new. Our grappling with gay ordination had the benefit (and added confusion) of being able to examine the ministry of closeted gay clergy who no longer would tolerate the closet. The fact that we had them and were benefitting from their ministry among us made the theological work both easier and impossible.
    I do believe where we have been in TEC is the “incremental” inclusion of GLBT in the life of the church. Just as it was nowhere mandated, neither was it prohibited. Local option gave us a window to start small without the havoc of wider acceptance. I know because I was one of those early gay clergy. We learned how to do it while watching the ordination of women take shape across the country.
    Am I outraged that women still do not enjoy full inclusion? Absolutely. But the canoncial work that makes it mandatory is in the place and the General Convention has made it clear that the church expects all dioceses to comply. The fact that that legislation isn’t being enforced is another matter. Do I believe all women should have equal access to orders? Yes. Do I believe we must all agree to it? No. How do we live that out and maintain our integrity as a community? I don’t pretend to know.
    I believe the difference with GLBT inclusion is that our internal process (which, in my opinion, follows much the same track as women) was interrupted when bishops from other provinces made a claim on the way we do our work, and asked that we pause/stop/reverse. From where I sit, that outside interference has been the source of progressive outrage, not the internal workings of TEC.
    I believe if the same case were being made against women’s ordination then all hell would break loose.
    The deepest sin of the WR is that it distracts us from our local work on these matters whilst we play out on an international stage where the rules and goals are very different.

  13. I believe the difference with GLBT inclusion is that our internal process (which, in my opinion, follows much the same track as women) was interrupted when bishops from other provinces made a claim on the way we do our work, and asked that we pause/stop/reverse. From where I sit, that outside interference has been the source of progressive outrage, not the internal workings of TEC.
    Yes, I agree with you that all of this is “out of the ordinary.” Do you not see why? Even the ordinary case for including gay people in the life of the Church hasn’t been made in most places yet; most Christian churches won’t even let us in the door. And as I said, we don’t even have same-sex blessings in the United States yet.
    The way TEC has gone about this has been “underground” – as you say, “disobedient.” But why? Canada is being open and aboveboard, and making the flat statement that yes: gay people are going to be openly included in the life of the Church, and here’s why. Canada puts its money where its mouth is.
    So what’s the problem with TEC? Why must everything be “disobedient”? This is the ethos of the 60s, I think, still carrying on inside the Church. Nothing has meaning unless it’s rebellious and anti-Establishment.
    We could change the canons. We could make some decent theological arguments – which are not based, BTW, in “inclusion” but in “Truth.” But we didn’t and don’t. The problem is that TEC can barely open its mouth when it comes to theology or any sort of argument; it seems to have nothing coherent to say. You know why? It is totally out of practice, because it’s been all about basing itself in “disobedience.”
    I’m sorry, but it’s time to grow up at last. Even the Declaration of Independence opens by declaring that we have to talk about what we’re doing to the rest of the world: “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
    So now we have a chance to declare our causes, which is going to help us – and every gay person in the world. We need to show why the world is wrong about this issue, and we need to do it openly and by making our case. Yes, even to the homophobes and bigots. Do you know how long it took women to do this? Susan B. Anthony didn’t even get to cast a vote before she died.
    It’s not enough to just sit on the sidelines delcaring how righteous we are. No one will listen.

  14. Dear friends,
    As a person who has committed himself to walking the middle way, and being committed to expressing it and teaching it in the parish I serve, I am convinced that it has nothing to do with selling out, with compromising for the sake of avoiding conflict, or any thing to do with lack of conviction!
    Being willing to walk the middle way means practicing a type of sacrifice where a person is willing to lay down their own opinions, and their own comfortable resting place within an ideology to be able to minister to all conditions of people. As a parish priest, I am called to minister to liberal and conservative, pro-life and pro-choice, pro-gay rights and pro-no special rights for homosexuals alike. I am not afforded the luxury of political opinions that I wear on my sleeve like some club membership pass. As the examination reads that Episcopal priests affirm before ordination…
    “…As a priest, it will be your task to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to fashion your life in accordance with its precepts. You are to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. You are to preach, to declare God ‚Äôs forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce
    God ’s blessing, to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ ’s Body and Blood, and to perform the other ministrations entrusted to you.
    In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ ‚Äôs people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come…”
    I don’t recall anywhere taking a vow to be a prophet. That doesn’t mean I don’t have standards or that I don’t call people to confession who are in need of repentance…But the reality is I’m not the one deciding who is in and who is out of God’s grace. I have simply and and times with some difficulty vowed to be a minister of it. It means being able to be very articulate about the differences between the priestly role and the prophetic role.
    And in that articulation between the priestly and prophetic role, Bob Duncan and Gene Robinson have failed miserably and oft times tragically. They are sacrificing the Church they have been afforded the privilege to help govern on their individual altars of self-satisfaction. These altars all too conveniently vested in the mantle of being lead by the Spirit. But God does not send a spirit of division…Only the enemy does.
    In the end, it is not about me or my opinions and it is certainly not about groups like Integrity and the Anglican Communion Network, it is about taking the Grace of God to a hurting and broken world, and bringing healing to the people through the Sacraments of the Church. And for those who choose to ride on the extremes wings of the Church and find they cannot in good conscience any longer be a part of the Episcopal Church as it is currently constituted…the middle way has always known the solution to your dilemma…its called being a non-juror…look it up! Because what you are currently doing by dividing spoils only shows your hand that lust for power is what you are after and not the faith of the Church.
    The middle way has nothing to do with being luke warm or indifferent…or walking an easy path…It is about a higher calling, a higher road that leads to self emptying so that we might be filled with the love of God.
    I remain, albeit sick and tired of taking hits from the right and the left, your fellow servant,

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