House of Bishops – Day Four – Sunday

I presided at the Eucharist and preached at a small mission congregation in the Diocese of Louisiana this morning.  Before the liturgy, I led an adult forum with about 15 folks around a table in the parish hall. After an overview of the House of Bishops meeting and a little bit on our ecumenical relations, I opened the floor for their questions.

Lots of concern about the “September 30 deadline” (which, of course, is not a deadline but as the Archbishop of Canterbury has reminded us “perception is reality” in real life). I spoke of my hopes that we will find a way forward, and then said something like:

“Two things I hope you’ll hold in tension: I want you to be concerned about these larger issues, about the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and all the rest of it. But, bottom line, no matter what happens at this House of Bishops meeting, it doesn’t have to derail your local efforts. The cutting edge of our mission and ministry is the local congregation and you need to build a healthy and vital congregation!”

A 40-something big guy, with a red face and tears in his eyes said, “I disagree with you. What happens does affect our local congregation! I invite people but nobody in this part of the world wants to come to a church where, when you open the paper, is all about gay bishops and being thrown out of the world wide communion!”

I conceded that there are local consequences, but reminded him that I was only arguing for some balance in all this…that we shouldn’t be consumed by “the issues” but dedicate ourselves to mission. Then we went on to the predictable argument about “do we believe the Bible or not…why won’t the bishops defend the plain Scriptural truth…why is the Episcopal Church going against worldwide Christian opinion on these matters, etc., etc., etc.”

So, I did what bishops do every Sunday in the 50 minutes we are given in adult forums like this…trying to summarize decades of biblical scholarship, cultural differences, Anglican polity — things which parish clergy should have been doing for years in little places like this! In the end, I think I did OK. They trusted me enough to come to the liturgy, listen carefully to the sermon, receive the sacrament. All in all, it was a good day.

But, over a glass of wine at lunch with the rector and his wife,  I had to confess that I do not know if we can hold this fractious Church together. Where I live, in New York, we bishops will be pilloried if we make any concessions in a conservative direction. An 815 staff person walked out on Katharine Jefferts Schori after she reported on General Convention Resolution B033. It was too conservative.

Finally what we will have to do, over these next two days, is say our prayers…listen deeply to each other…come to a consensus decision which is faithful to what this church is and what this church desires to become…and offer it to the larger Church.

As we said in an earlier communication from this House: all we can offer you is who we are. Not who you might wish we were.

22 Responses to “House of Bishops – Day Four – Sunday”

  1. Jody+ Says:

    Bishop, I appreciate your comments, but as a parish priest who is serving in a small southern mission congregation (only four years old and troubled by the loss of their founding priest to the Roman Catholic Church), I can tell you that this is “derailing” our local efforts in many ways. I have had three members of my mission council leave the Episcopal Church since I took over at this congregation in July. All three cited the conflict as a primary reason for their departure. I believe one person spoke for them all (as well as many others in the congregation and in our church as a whole) when he said that his heart just wasn’t in it anymore. He had come to the conclusion that he had no desire to invite people to our mission because he didn’t trust the Episcopal Church and what they might hear or be taught. These weren’t former “fundamentalists” (as is their current priest), but in at least two cases cradle Episcopalians (as is their former priest who has been received into the RCC).

    Before I was appointed to this position, I heard the fears of congregants, saw their tears and heard one cradle Episcopalian tell me that her greatest fear, and what would break her heart, is to have a priest stand in the pulpit and tell them that Jesus was a nice man–perhaps a prophet–but is not the way (or the only way) to the Father.

    I have to admit that I was somewhat concerned by this portion of your comment:

    So, I did what bishops do every Sunday in the 50 minutes we are given in adult forums like this…trying to summarize decades of biblical scholarship, cultural differences, Anglican polity — things which parish clergy should have been doing for years in little places like this!

    This comment seems to assume several things as givens that simply aren’t. First, it assumes that biblical scholarship will necessarily change our teachings on morality. As a young priest (I’m 26) who was actually brought back to the Church by textual criticism, I can attest that there are many of us who are simply “post-critical,” and, when confronted with textual criticism or social science etc… still believe it begs the question “why should this change the church’s teaching again?”

    Secondly, and more importantly, it assumes that the people in our congregations (to say nothing of the priests) have been here for years to hear such teaching. Despite a solid core of cradle Episcopalians, the majority of my congregation is made up of former ______. Some were members of other mainline churches, but most were not. Most were members of churches that we often dismissively label “fundamentalist.” Certainly there is much that they can learn about the Episcopalian and Anglican ethos, but there is also much they can teach. And we shouldn’t assume out churches are closed “schools” where the social experiments of the past three or four decades can safely be played out. For most of these folks, those of us in the parish are “starting fresh.” The argument that parish priests haven’t done the work doesn’t hold water. Perhaps in part that is because it is a work that shouldn’t be done! At least not in the manner it’s been attempted.

    I thank you for your honesty, and for posting to this blog. I pray for your deliberations, and I pray that our Lord will guide you and all our Bishops. But please don’t underestimate the need that people have for a relief from the psychological stress and anxiety they have been under–this goes for people from all sides.

    What we need is a way to rebuild trust in each other and in our ecclesial institutions. Trust is simply absent right now. We need space. I pray that you can find a way to work for it. Please work for it.

    I have so much more to say, but I don’t have the words at the moment. Our congregation has offered the thoughts of our heart to our Bishop, and I know he’s carried them with him, along with those of the rest of the Diocese to NO. I pray they will be heard.

  2. ecubishop Says:

    Thanks, Jody, for this very helpful perspective/ reminder.

    And, we appreciate your prayers and that of your congregation!

  3. Monday Morning News Of The HOB « Drell’s Descants Says:

    […] Bishop Epting had to face a congregation in the Diocese of Louisiana regarding the presenting issues, and at least we know what part of the problem is – the 815 office itself: […]

  4. Drell’s Descants » Monday Morning News Of The HOB Says:

    […] Bishop Epting had to face a congregation in the Diocese of Louisiana regarding the presenting issues, and at least we know what part of the problem is – the 815 office itself: […]

  5. Fr. Tony Clavier Says:

    Thus far there has been no significant fall out in the parish I serve, one which includes all segments of contemporary opinion. At the adult education class yesterday the discussion was more about how we manage to keep everyone together than about advocating this or that opinion. I have found that if I at least appear not to be anxious -no easy thing – rememebr a sense of humor and to pray for all sides, this does have an effect.

    I am with +Rowan here in praying for patience in an impatient world, for suspension of judgement in a world of instant response and in realizing that to no “side” yet perhaps has the “right” solution been vouchsafed. We may all be seeing “puzzling reflections in a mirror” as St. Paul put it to that divided Corinthian Church.

  6. rwk Says:

    I think Jody+ also touched on a key issue, trust. The progressive wing of the Episcopal Church holds the levers of temporal power. Conservatives have past promises, like the ones regarding women’s ordination chipped away at. Quite frankly, we lack trust that 815 will keep its word. Where there is not trust, I’m quite sure it will be difficult to build anything at all. Trust can only be rebuilt slowly, there are no quick fixes here.

  7. CBNYC Says:

    Bishop Epting-

    I admire your work, the generous spirit with which you write. But this entry – sweet and kind as it is – is almost more than this New York City Episcopalian can bear.

    It’s frankly demoralizing to be under leadership so impotent as to fear being “pilloried” by locals. Butch up! It’s a mess of this institution’s own making, having reduced the beautiful mystery of the church – with all its flaws and God-breathed charisms – into just another social service organization fighting for truth, justice and the American Way (which is, as Bishops around the world have noted, too often “My way or the highway”).

    Oh, for a church where the Bishops feared God as much as they fear men!
    Oh, for a church where the Bishops believed God to have feelings and the ability to suffer as much as they believe in the God-potential of feeling, suffering humans!

    The incarnation elevates all of humanity, yes; but it also reveals a God who can be pierced and wounded by (and for!) our transgressions. The incarnation is the root of our liberty, the foundations of our justice, and also the ground of our fear. We should fear offending God as much as we fear offending gay and lesbians or fear offending any child of God, be they poor Africans or rich English, who all bear the divine image, every last one of them. God feels, hurts, suffers alongside ALL of us. Gays and lesbians aren’t the only victims here; Christ himself is a victim, too.

    The sheep need shepherds to lead them, not to cower in cuckolded fear. You Bishops are not hostages to (sometimes) irrational outbursts by parishoners of any stripes. It’s not your job to speak truth to power; you are power. How are you using it? (And your stand with gays and lesbians or your mission work with foriegn jurisdictions are not the only measures.)

    The dynamic is deeply dysfunctional. Bishops – be they elected or appointed – are charged with leading. You’re not sock puppets for Jesus, blindly parroting scripture; NOR are you sock puppets for the institution, blindly parroting church canons or General Convention resolutions. (Or, for that matter, social science findings, interest group platitudes, press release talking points or self-help pablum.)

    As you “stand with your lesbian and gay brothers and sisters”, you trample on other brothers and sisters. Anyone who dissents is silenced or labeled “bigot” or “homophobe”. It has a chilling effect. I think Archbishop Rowan and Bishop Katherine understand this, and have tried to gently coax others into self-sacrifice that mirrors Christ, who uses his power to woo, not assault (or, I might add, to sue in court).

    You refuse to achieve unity “on the backs of gay and lesbians”, yet you don’t hesitate to impose diversity on the backs of the Orthodox who came before you — the men and women who built glorious churches, filled them, and collected enough wealth to endow the political and social dabblings of this current generation of spoiled ingrate dilettentes. You hate the doctrine of your parents, supposing you know better than they do on matters theological and social; but oh, how you love their money.

    You may be quick to preach the welcoming embrace of the Father hugging his prodigal in the biblical parable; but you forget that God made room for that prodigal without casting out his sniveling elder brother. Both the prodigal and the brother have “issues,” we could say; but there’s room for both in the Father’s house — not just room for the PROPERTY of both. Oh, for a church where the Bishops fight to keep people as hard as they fight to keep peoples’ assets!

    At the same time you have no qualms about driving away more conservative members, you cower in the presence of irrational types – such as the hurting woman you referenced at 815. Such persons deserve compassionate ministry, to be sure. But must the children of God who act out in such an immature matter set the agenda for the broader family? Radical welcome is one thing; radical agenda, quite another.

    The employee you described at 815, storming out because of Bishop Schori’s good fatih efforts, should no more be acommodated than Bishop Akinola and his Eucharistic hissy fits. TEC leadership seems to understand this in the case of the latter; they are utterly blind to it in the case of the former.

    I live in NYC. I’m a member of the Episcopal church. I attend every Sunday, and three or four times during the week (evening prayer and noon eucharists). The Episcopal Church is a sad place to be, here in its vibrant center. We’re living off of the faithfulness of the generations before us, drawing down their endowments, dressing up in their costumes, taking pride in the beauty of the buildings they built. Even a congregation as large, wealthy and storied as St. Thomas on Fifth Avenue could not support itself or its ministry if it weren’t for the endowment provided by our spiritual parents.

    We’re trust fund babies; when are we going to grow up and pay our own way?

    And yet – instead of humility, a sense of self-doubt or willingness to examine its own heart, motives and actions – the Episcopal Church as an institution has insisted on shoving through their agenda, silencing the voices not only of bigots, but of Christian men and women with loving hearts and pure motives.

    I would say to you, Bishop Epting, and all the other well-intentioned leaders of The Episcopal Church: I believe that you’re doing your best, trying your hardest, standing true to your convictions. This is to your shame, not your glory. You’re working so hard, and accomplishing so little.

    You’re not even doing a very good job of evangelizing (or welcoming, if evangelizing is too strident a term for some) the gay and lesbians you claim to champion. The gays are plentiful in New York City; we have welcoming priests and bishops, safe places to come and worship every 9 blocks in the city. Why has the church been so ineffectual in its life and witness?

    It is precisely because you’re faithfully caring so much and working so hard and reaping so little that you need to step back, prostrate yourselves, and submit yourselves as servants not only to the people of God, but to God himself. God is not the problem; orthodox in this diocese are not the problem — the compassionate innovators have all the power. God will build and restore the church; not gays and lesbians, liberals or conservatives or any other human faction or interest group. And certainly not the present batch of Bishops.

    Why don’t we honor our fathers and mothers — those faithful saints who built the church and raised the capital we’re so happy to spend? Why don’t we love their doctrine as much as we love their money and aesthetics? In doing so, we’ll not only honor God and serve Him; we’ll honor our spiritual parents and also best serve our flock, living long in the land the Lord our God has given us.

    The Episcopal Church’s self-confident stand with gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is inspired in theory but poorly executed. The idea of civil disobedience is to stand with the marginalized so you can bring those on the margins into the full life and fellowship of the whole.

    From a spiritual perspective, God goes to the margins – at great cost, even self-giving life unto death – with the goal of bringing the marginalized back into whole and abundant life in community. Christ carries the self-generating life of God with him.

    The Episcopal Church today carries the props and costumes, the bells, smoke and whistles, but has abandoned the chief Actor in staging its self-aggrandizing public display of works righteousness – the Grand Stand with the Gay and Lesbian Baptized.

    The Episcopal Church’s Grand Stand is suicide. We may rejoice in our suffering at the hands of the mean, inflexible Orthodox; we may conveniently judge such dissenters to be (a) not as enlightened or spirit-led as we; or (b) bigots. But such posturing is pride. We suffer, but not all suffering is redemptive; we may sacrifice, but not all self-sacrifice is wise or giving. Sometimes it’s vain and ineffectual.

    Not all disobedience is civil. Not all indignation is righteous – that’s true for African bishops and it’s true for American ones as well.

    And not every baptized person – regardless of their unquestionable dignity and worth – carries the fullness of what the self-emptying God in Christ lived and died to bring.

    I thank you for your care, concern and hard work. While I am demoralized by the overall ineptitude of the Episcopal Church leadership, embarrassed by its arrogance, and appalled by its ungraciousness, I am committed to praying, committed to giving (time and resources) and committed to staying on this sinking, stinking ship. I serve a God who can bring the dead back to life and who is made strong in our weakness. Seen from this perspective, the rank negligence and breathtaking incompetence of the church leadership gives me great hope in God. May God bless and multiply your best and even your most dismal efforts!

  8. AnglicanXn Says:

    “Where I live…”

    That is another reason for “815” to move to Kansas City — to get to where real people live.

  9. dwstroudmd Says:

    New York, New York, it’s a hellavu town! for theology. I don’t seem to recall any pillories in Times Square, but hey, maybe they’ve added on recently.

    Perfect statement of capitulation to culture. Paul wouldn’t pay the desired bribes to Felix or successors and lost his head over this Christian stuff. Our Bishops can’t risk disapprobrium.

    Onward ECUSA/TEC bishops with the gospel of New York! So nice to have the gospel finally defined.

  10. dwstroudmd Says:

    that would be “dis”approbrium, of course

  11. NBS Says:

    Bishop Epting–
    Why wasn’t the parishioner who spoke to you entitled to the same honest answer you gave the rector?

  12. scruff Says:

    Dear Bishop Epting,
    Thank you for your sincere comments.

    However, I must demur over what you said about what you regard as an unmet need to teach “decades of biblical scholarship and cultural difference” to parishioners.

    As a factual matter, many of those who hold to historic Christian teaching are fully aware of biblical scholarship. For instance, I was just reading this week Hayes’ “Moral Vision of the New Testament” — a landmark scholarly study, not nearly matched by any other work I know of. I read Hayes NOT for his anaysis which supports orthodox teaching on sexual morality, but for his insights into hermaneutical method and his resulting insights into the core, balance, and diversity of the various NT witnesses. I am not a religious professional, but a social scientist, but I read theology and biblical studies as an interested and educated Christian. The small fully orthodox Episcopal church I went to for 11 years in another city when I lived there had a rector who regularly contributes to N.T. Journals. There are more African bishops with earned Ph.Ds than US bishops. Many who uphold historic Christian teaching on faith and morals, even persons without advanced or even college degrees, know a lot about the bible and even biblical scholarship.

    Thus, your implication that those who disagree with your position are lacking in the scholarly sophistication of those who agree with you is simply incorrect. Further, the rhetorical device of implying that one’s opponents hold their views through ignorance is insulting and does not seem to display any deep commitment to speaking the truth, nor to speaking in love.

    This kind of dismissive, patronizing talk is standard among the current HoB: we are told that those who disagree with revisionist positions on the deity of Christ, or the resurrection, or the ethics of marriage, family, and sex are “Biblical literalists” and “fundamentalists.” This is plain wresting of the truth. I have never yet met a Biblical literalist or fundamentalist, that I know of, in decades of being in “conservative”, biblically-rooted, Episcopal churches. Nor have I met people of that sort often among any college-educated orthodox Christians, no matter how conservative. The positions that you disagree with are the standard teaching among Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Reformed churches. Are you arguing that J. Ratzinger, et al. are unaware of “decades of biblical scholarship”?

    But further, scholarship is not the main issue. Believe it or not, Jesus did not come mainly for the Scripture scholars, but for ordinary men and women, children and youth. People’s lives are transformed by orthodox Christian faith, now as in past centuries; and people are able to read the Bible’s message with understanding and discernment even when not highly educated. As one who has worked a lot for and with people who are poor or uneducated, here and in Asia and Latin America, and studied the Bible with them, I do not find such people less perspicuous in their insights into Scripture than the educated elite. Again, as one who has — for reasons that have nothing to do with the current debates in Anglicanism — worked with African and Asian clergy, both Anglican and from many other traditions — I do not find them less, but more, well-trained and adept at discerning use of the Scriptures than American clergy with more education than them.

    Again, it seems to me, the underlying presupposition that only the highly educated understand the basic meaning of scipture, and that disagreement with the HoB’s positions is due to lack of education is very contrary to the understanding of scripture that “not many wise” or wealthy according to the standards of this age, and that God hides the truth from the wise and reveals it to babes. Such statements as you make seem to patronize not only Christians who have exposure to modern scholarship, but those who do not, both in this era and in past eras.

    We could also ask: where is the wonderful fruit of this kind of revisionist teaching and its allegedly great scholarly sophistication? Actually, the scholarship in sociology of religion indicates that the spread of biblically oriented Christianity in Latin America and elsewhere, Pentecostal and otherwise, gives people much better family relations, less family violence, more self-control, better work habits, more tendencies to democratic activity, and so on. And such faith in Christ among simple people has spread fast in many locales. I find similar redemptive effects in people’s lives here in the states. Certainly, here as abroad, churches which stick to a Biblical message bring many to Christ; while the remnants of churches like the Episcopal churches, equivocal about the plain teaching of scripture, wither. Where are the fruits of your approach?

    At root, though, the objections serious biblically minded Christians — who hold to the ancient teaching of the church that, before recently, reformed, anabaptist, anglican, roman catholic, and orthodox churches held in common — have to the kind of teachers HoB produces is not primarily over morals, but over basic theological teaching. When Spong denies the resurrection, the deity of Christ, and even God’s existence, people like Aspinal lionize him, and the HoB finds nothing to object to. When AHRedding declares herself a Muslim there’s no serious sanctions taken against her priesthood. but when someone transfers jurisdictions, that’s a big deal to the HoB.

    We have no trust in you for these reasons

  13. Richard Kew Says:

    Bishop,

    I was deeply saddened when I learned that my old friend, Jeffrey Steenson, has had enough and is going to Rome, but your little blog here saddens me almost as much. Down there in Louisiana you came face-to-face with the sort of thing that many of us have been dealing with in ministry for the last four or five years. These have been some of the hardest in my nearly forty years of ordained life.

    There have been some thoughtful responses to what you wrote, and that in itself is a real blessing, I hope that you will listen carefully to them because they reflect the heart of the caring believers at the grass roots, and yet are the people who most of the time are not listened to.

    I remain a priest of the Episcopal Church, but after 31 years I came back to England a few weeks ago because I was given an opportunity to make a difference for the Kingdom, something it is more and more difficult to do in the Episcopal Church today. I don’t know how many more active years the Lord is going to give me, but I sure don’t want to waste them. While my new work is challenging I weep regularly for the church in America that I sought to serve God in for so long.

    I work today among some of the brightest people I know in the Anglican world, creative, scholarly, Christ-focused, and determined to serve the Lord Jesus with every nerve and sinew. Several are among the finest produced by the Episcopal Church. Why are they (we) here? The answer is simple, there seems little place for such a charism in the Episcopal Church today, if there were these folks would have been gobbled up.

  14. UndergroundPewster Says:

    I have to weigh in on the side of the “red faced man.” What happens nationally affects those of us on the front lines, in particular those in mission Churchs. As I try to hunker down and stick with local issues, I find that the news reports about TEC do affect people. I cannot adequately explain some of the recent decisions of TEC to people in my southern community. It is the general impression of these non-Episcopalians that our Church is falling apart. Real leadership is needed to pull things together so that we all may be one as the title of this blog says.

  15. scruff Says:

    Dear Bishop Epting,
    I hope you will not mind my speaking further my reactions to your statement.

    Indeed, I greatly appreciate that you are speaking frankly and openly, and giving people a chance to reply. Yet it would scarcely be, it seems to me, a proper recompense to your gracious and open door in this respect if those who disagree were to fail to state their views out of some misplaced sense that disagreements must be swept under the rug. Rather, in taking the opportunity to speak honestly what many feel, I hope to be expressing my respect and thanks for your opening up dialogue here.

    I apologize for the last paragraph of my last post, which was abrupt, and perhaps muddled and unhelpful. I had to leave my computer quickly, and made the mistake of posting an unexamined ending. Please forgive me.

    Yet it is the case that the kind of reactions you got in the parish you visited are ones which are very common amongst Episcopalians I know. The fact that the man you spoke to was red-faced and crying, and perhaps not able at that time to articulate the basis of his dismay in scholarly fashion does not mean that his feelings, and the feelings of betrayal of many orthodox Christians who are or were Episcopalians for many decades is emotional or lacks logical and sound theological support. The very reverse is the case, in my view. I’d like, as part of the listening process, to tell you why.

    There are many reasons why those who believe the historic Christian faith are distrustful of the HoB, and of those who hew to its line, here and abroad. In my view the HoB and its PBs repeatedly give and then violate their word. In my view there is an almost complete unwillingness to engage in real discussion of issues, rather than one-sided sound-bytes. There seems to be a commitment to people who advocate gay concerns in the church, without any counterpart concern for those — whether heterosexual or resisting SSA in obedience to traditional church teaching — who equally feel that their identity is found in the gospel, and they cannot give up its teachings. There seems to be no sense of fairness to those who disagree with what’s now the HoB/HoD consensus, about elections, fair ways of speaking, providing minimal benefits to those who leave, compromise on property, and many other matters. Those who hold to historic church teaching — who have plenty of scholarly arguments on their side, and have advanced these again and again — do not receive any kind of reasoned reply. While KJS et al. claim that only a “tiny minority” want to leave, the scorched earth policies toward those who do want to leave clearly show that they realize that absent these huge disincentives, many, many more might leave. There is no willingness to look, in light of reason, at why the redefinition of the family and of sexual norms might be something that, even apart from biblical or theological concerns, has very bad human consequences for those who engage in it, and for those who are subject to it: abandoned spouses and kids, and children generally. But none of these things, in my opinion, is the *core* reason why the current TEC and its HoB is something that those who believe historic Christianity do not trust.

    The core reason has to do with the core of the gospel.

    To explain why I must take a brief detour to explain what seems to believers in the historic gospel obvious, but what seems to be not presupposed by those who find historic Christian belief a matter that can be optional.

    [B]Either it is true[/B] that Jesus Christ is indeed one of the Holy Trinity, the eternal Word and Son of God the Father, and that Jesus, fully God and fully a human being, died to rescue humanity from our sins and from the death and destruction that would, apart from his saving incarnation and death and resurrection, be the inevitable consequence of sin, [B]or it is not[/B].

    Several consequences logically follow.

    (1) If Christ’s Deity and death for our sins (I Cor 15) is true, those things, logicaly speaking, [B]cannot[/B] mildly important. If false, they should be eschewed, no matter how nice a picture they present. But [B]if true, they clearly are the central truths in all the world[/B] — both in their ontological and moral purport per se, and also in their implications for human welfare.

    If there is a God who lies eternally, who created all things in love and who is the only possible source of good, truth, beauty, love, life, and being, and our sins separate us from God, and this God has become incarnate to bear our sins, this is the thing most important for every human being, and for humanity as a whole.

    But then if one holds a post — a teaching and/or pastoral post — in a Christian church it is one’s duty to promote and defend this teaching, which is the basis of the life of the church. If one does not hold these beliefs, and especially if one implicitly or explicitly wishes to deny, fudge, or downplay them, then as it seems to me the only honest thing to do is to resign. And if another denies these beliefs, that person surely must be asked to resign.

    (2) If Jesus was indeed the eternal Son of God, who did and taught just as his Father told him rather than acting on his own — if Jesus was the eternal Word, the full expression of the Father, then the teaching he left us is true. The idea of the Eternal Word being unable to communicate clearly is an absurdity too silly to discuss. However his teaching was transmitted, if the message was somehow not conveyed by the apostles and their successors, clearly the one who left the message was not the eternal Word, the Son of God and Savior of the world.

    Thus the basic teaching of the Bible about God & about Christ, about our lives, and that life’s most important thing is to trust Christ and follow hiim, even though this means denying ourselves, and perhaps going to the cross, to shameful and painful death. Our life now is but for a moment, but those who are faithful, Jesus clearly taught, will be raised to life eternal, and such good things as surpass human imagination; while those who turn from God, whether they conceptualize it in those terms or not, will find themselves outside, cut off from God the only source of love, truth, joy, peace, life, and light, wailing and greatly distressed. Thus nothing is more important than that we, as communities and individuals, should live in faithfulness and obedience to CHrist. And Jesus indicates, as do all the NT authors, that central to that obedience is believing in him and what he taught.

    (3) For those who follow the historic and biblical Christian faith on these points, what is essentially distressing about the HoB and their allies — even semi-allies — is that many of them seem to be very willing to deny these foundational truths, and that none of the rest seem to be willing to speak up against such a practice. But if Christ’s deity, incarnation, teaching and life, death and resurrection are the fundamental thing that saves the world, and each human being who is rescued from sin and death, how can proclamation and defense of this truth not be the most important thing in the world? (And if that is NOT so, how could one with integrity continue as a professing Christian, saying the creed in public, and so on.)

    Yet when Spong denies all the tenets of CHristian faith (and insults those who believe them), no one on the “left” in the HoB speaks up against this in the slightest. When Bennison says the church can rewrite the Bible there is no outcry. When Jefferts-Schori is equivocal on whether Jesus is, as He said, the way the truth and the life, the HoB makes no objection. This kind of thing has been going on at least since James Pike — and gets more and more extreme. In fact, and this is crucial, Spong is invited to Episcopal seminaries to teach, for clergy retreats by KJS, to teach in Australia by Aspinal, to teach in England by various bishops, and no one from the “liberal” party in the church objects.

    But if in fact, the source of our salvation, and the truth of the universe, is that Christ died for our sins, and is one of the Holy Trinity, those who use church office to deny and undermine this claim are leading souls to perdition, and tearing down the church which Christ bought with his own blood. Whereas if, in fact, all this is untrue, it is disingenuous and dishonest for those who believe or know that it is untrue to be officers in a church that is pledged to proclaim these truths.

    This, at core, is why the faithful in Christ — those who actually believe simply the core of the Gospel — cannot trust the HoB. That is why a relatively minor (though important) flashpoint issue such as deviation from the historic Christian teaching on marriage, family, and sex becomes a signal for us. That is a very large part of why we think we have to take a stand somewhere. And that is why the positions of the HoB and its overseas allies seems to us wholly self-inconsistent, and even disingenuous. The struggle over revision of historic Christian conceptions of marriage and family becomes so fundamental in large part because it is emblematic of the institutional Episcopal church’s — the HoB’s — indifference to wholescale abandonment of the core of the Christian faith.

    When I moved from where I had been, for job reasons, two years ago, I looked at many non-TEC anglican churches. They were not talking about sexuality issues much, but on basic Christian teaching, in faith and morals: Christ’s power to heal lives, learning to eschew self-righteousness, care for those in need, the cross as objective sign of God’s work and as operative in our own lives and Christian walks, and so on. I moved two or three times, in my new work, before taking a permanent post; this was consistently the case. Apart from this personal experience, the public speeches of those who hold the historic Christian faith, and oppose redefinition of marriage, are full of the core themes of the gospel, when one reads them on the net. The reverse is true of the speeches and sermons of KJS and others of her persuasion.

    [But for years before, increasingly, when I visited TEC churches other than my own, on biz trips and so on, not only was there little of this kind, but often revision of the liturgy, preaching against the Bible, unwillingness to use the BCP liturgy, and so on and so forth.]

    [B]The faithful do not trust you because we see the gospel abandoned — and abandoned, moreover, with patronizing contempt for those who hold it.[/B] When you come across parishioners who don’t use words like “emblematic”, “eschew”, “apophatic” and “proleptic”, don’t read theologians and biblical scholars, this does not mean that they don’t understand the core issues. Christ came not for scholars, but for the ordinary people, and the basic issues are not beyond the reach of ordinary believers.

    Only in Christ is there hope for humanity. Only in the faithful proclamation of the historic Christian faith can the church serve either its members or others. Of course this includes works of mercy and even (at times) social and political advocacy; I’ve spent my life not on theological issues, but on trying to promote economic developent for the poor, understood by me as part of Christ’s mandate for us to love others. But when the leaders of the church turn away from historic Christian truth — moral and theological — they are destroying the gospel and savaging those for whom Christ died.

    The current issue over family, marriage, and sex is only a symptom of that.

  16. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    With respect, Bishop Epting, TEC’s seminary interpretations of the Bible and socialist theology are so riddled with holes that no reasonable thinker, much less a deep thinker, can accept them.

    http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/

  17. Milton Says:

    Impenetrable arrogance, spiritual blindness and deafness, +Epting, these are what Scripture warns us against and what your condescending words on this blog and at that service at what you obviously consider a small, insignificant, bigoted, ignorant, backwoods church display. Try asking the Holy Spirit what He (not it or she) has to say to your soul, not in a group of bishop-lemmings, but in solitude and silence and actual listening instead of finishing His sentences for Him. If you have the courage… Kierdegaard said that it was a terrifying enough thing to be left alone in a room with the New Testament!

  18. scruff Says:

    Dear Bishop Epting:
    Mary Ailes (aka BabyBlue) reports that the songbook for the Bishops in NO includes a song called “Mothering God” with these lyrics.

    Mothering God,
    you gave me birth
    in the bright morning of this world.
    Creator, source of every breath,
    you are my rain, my wind, my sun.

    Mothering Christ, you took my form,
    offering me your food of light,
    grain of life, and grape of love,
    your very body for my peace.

    Mothering Spirit,
    nurturing one,
    in arms of patience hold me close,
    so that in faith I root and grow
    until I flower, until I know.

    Is she making this up, or was such a song in the songbook for worship of the Bishops? If it was, how is this kind of radical theological innovation acceptable? Are the Bishops ashamed of this? Are they going to state that that was wrong? Are they upset that this news got out?

    If this song was there as part of your worship materials, and there was no protest to such a thing, how can people believing the historic Christian faith not conclude that the Bishops put on a public face of preserving the faith, while each new innovation they make openly only disguises more radical revisions of historic Christianity.

    What happens to your complaints that parishioners are ignorant of biblical criticism of recent decades, and need to be taught by the bishops, when the bishops are promoting lyrics utterly at odds with Biblical teaching? This kind of thing is not a first: we run into this kind of promotion of things that almost any believing Christian — and any honest atheist scholar of Christianity — would regard as completely at-odds with historic Christianity, the Christianity that brings people to church and helps their lives, and the teachings of the Bible?

    How can you expect any Christians to believe HoB teaching about what the Bible says, or to trust the HoB in any way, when the assembly sings such songs, which are making up a new a-historical faith, based not on any bible scholarship, or any heritage from the past, but on uncritical importation of extreme strands of goddess-theology from a few academics who advocate such extreme changes in the Christian faith. Of course we see this as irresponsible, unscholarly, unfair hijacking of the Episcopal Church.

    Can’t you see why we consider that we, and Christian faith, and those who gave to build the Episcopal church in past generations, have been betrayed?

  19. Marshall Scott Says:

    Blessed Scruff:

    The hymn cited was not created ex nihilo for the Bishops. In fact it is in the Mennonite Hymnal (Hymn 482). Moreover, suggestions that God in Christ might show compassion and care like a mother is in fact well documented in Scripture – whether in the prophet’s vision of God nursing Israel at the breast, or in Jesus’s cry for Jerusalem: “How often would I have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks; but you would not.” The images were collected and highlighted in the visions of Julian of Norwich, on whose work this seems specifically based.

    Now, you may not like the hymn. However, its theology is indeed scriptural. Some of our hymns can show questionable theology. One of my favorites as a singer was “Once to every man and nation comes a moment to decide.” It’s an exciting text, but bad theology, for God calls us to repentance again and again and loves us each time. I have heard hymns honoring the Blessed Mother that included references to Roman Catholic doctrine that is not received in the Anglican tradition. Moreover, the hymnody of the Church is not significant of our theology in the same was as the Book of Common Prayer. So, while we might disagree with a given hymn, I think we might need to step back before allowing it to sum up all our concerns.

  20. bls Says:

    Thanks so much, all, for assuming that we who live in Blue cities and states aren’t “real people.” I hate to mention it, but there are a lot of us, and I think we’re as valuable as you all are.

  21. bls Says:

    (And I hate to mention it, but many of us in TEC are happily faithful to the faith as expressed in the Creeds.

    In which there is nothing whatsoever about homosexuality, BTW. I think it’s really time to stop conflating these things, don’t you? And maybe try to see it from our point of view? You folks literally have your pick of any Christian church in your town or city – of any church anywhere in the country, in fact. You can walk out of one and into another all day long and be welcomed.

    Gay folks have the Episcopal Church – and that’s pretty much it. The Church has been violent towards us for literally centuries, and it’s amazing to watch people begrudge us even the tiniest refuge. I’m really very sorry for you all.)

  22. Idetrorce Says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

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