Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reflections on a Buddhist Bishop-elect

The thing that has struck me ever since the matter of the Buddhist Bishop-elect became news is that the blame (if I may use that word) for where he is does not ultimately lie with him. The ultimate responsibility for a Buddhist Bishop-elect and a Muslim Episcopal priest (and countless other permutations of syncretism and unbelief among clergy that simply haven’t come to light) belongs to an Episcopal Church where probably NO ONE along the path of their journies ever said to them, “This is wrong. Here are the claims of authentic Christianity, and you can’t reconcile them with Buddhism or Islam.” In fact, Kevin Thew Forrester’s late Bishop even commended him publicly for walking the path of Zen Buddhism and Christianity together.

The most tragic dimension is that Kevin Thew Forrester and Ann Holmes Redding learned Buddhism and Islam from people who were true believers and enthusiastic practioners of those religions, while they learned a deconstructed, demythologized, desupernaturalized version of Christianity from teachers who had long since surrendered their belief in authentic Christianity (if indeed they ever believed it) in the face of challenges from Christianity’s “cultured despisers” (to use Schleiermacher’s term). (The lesson here is that liberal Christianity is no match for the challenge of other religions.)

So, presented with an eviscerated version of Christianity on the one hand, and a sincere expression of Buddhism and Islam on the other hand--in the midst of a pluralistically, multiculturally-oriented church where merely being a “spiritual person” is enough to become a priest, and you have what we are seeing in Kevin Thew Forrester and Ann Holmes Redding.

But the ultimate responsibility for these two examples (and, to repeat myself, countless others like them that aren’t in the spotlight) lies with the parishes that raised them up, the clergy who mentored them, the discernment process that sent them toward ordination, the seminaries that trained them, and the Bishops who ordained them. You cannot raise up true leaders in a faith that you yourselves do not possess. And that is the real tragedy of this whole affair.


BillyD said...

Why does the Episcopal Church get trashed for ordaining Ms Holmes-Redding, but not commended for deposing her? In spite of your charge, someone - Bishop Wolf - did in fact stand up to her and tell her, "No."

Robert S. Munday said...

I wrote this post several days before I received news of Ann Holmes Redding's deposition. I did not come back and write another post commending the Episcopal Church for her deposition for two reasons:

(1) I take no great pleasure in the fact that Ms. Holmes Redding has been deposed. I wish her no ill personally, and I hope that her deposition was preceded by some earnest pastoral conversations about why it is impossible for someone to be both a Christian and a Muslim. I also hope someone tried to show her what she has been missing about a relationship with Christ that apparently led her to believe she needed to seek fulfillment in Islam.

(2) The systemic problem that has allowed Kevin Thew Forrester and Ann Holmes Redding (and others like them) to become Episcopal clergy still remains. The fact that an Episcopal bishop (Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island) has now taken the sad but necessary step of deposing one of those clergy is nothing to crow about.