Saturday, June 30, 2012

Have you ever been stung by a dead bee?

One of my favorite classic movies is To Have and Have Not, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (in her first motion picture).  Bogart plays the captain of a sport fishing boat, operating out of Martinique, an island that, at the time (1944), was under the rule of Nazi-dominated Vichy France, which provides the source of the movie's intrigue.

Walter Brennan, in one of his best character roles, plays Eddie, the perpetually drunk ship's mate.  Eddie has the annoying habit of asking each new person he meets, "Have you ever been stung by a dead bee?"  In response to the other person's inevitable question, Eddie explains, "Even a dead bee can sting you if you step on it, especially if it was mad when it died."

Nine bishops of the Episcopal Church just got stung by a dead bee this week.

Bishops Edward L. Salmon, Jr., Peter H. Beckwith and Bruce MacPherson received word that a complaint had been filed against them under Title IV of the Episcopal Church's Canons for signing affidavits in opposition to a motion for Summary Judgment in the Episcopal Church's lawsuit in the Diocese of Quincy.  In a similar action, Bishops Maurice M. Benitez, John W. Howe, Paul E. Lambert, William H. Love, Bruce MacPherson, Daniel H. Martins, and James M. Stanton were informed that a complaint was being brought against them for filing an Amicus Curiae (Friend of the Court) Brief in the Episcopal Church's lawsuit in the Supreme Court of Texas involving the Diocese of Fort Worth. 

As Attorney Allan Haley (The Anglican Curmudgeon) notes, the Bishops are being charged merely for expressing an opinion that differs from the Episcopal Church's litigation strategy.  I encourage you to read Mr. Haley's blog for an excellent analysis of all that this means.  My concern is the most basic one:  The Episcopal Church is now pressing charges against bishops (and could presumably press them against any member of the clergy) merely for expressing an opinion that differs from the Episcopal leadership's party line.

Is the Episcopal Church frightened that the disagreement of a few bishops could jeopardize its case?  It cannot be argued that the Episcopal Church is taking this disciplinary action to keep the rest of its bishops in line.  Of the nine bishops being charged, five are already retired; and there aren't any other bishops left in the Episcopal Church with the slightest inclination to question its litigation strategy.  So where is the threat?

A sociologist has observed that one sign of a dying organization is that it will try to exercise increasingly tighter control over its shrinking membership. 

Average Sunday attendance across the Episcopal church in 2010 was 657,831 in the United States. That compares to 856,579 in 2000 (a 23% decline in only ten years).  In contrast the Anglican Church in North America now numbers over 1000 congregations and reported an increase in Average Sunday Attendance of 15% in one year (2010-2011).  The ACNA also reported that 13% of its congregations were in the process of planting a church during 2011. 

My purpose is not to make much of these statistics other than to observe that all the signs of life seem to be on one side.  Meanwhile the Episcopal Church is headed toward a General Convention in Indianapolis next week where it is sure to approve rites for blessing same sex marriages.  The main reason this won't provoke a sizable exodus is that there aren't that many conservatives left to leave.  There is a disagreement not merely over the denomination's budget but even how the budget should be presented and by whom.  Then, for good measure, there is an official "Lament Over the Doctrine of Discovery" being thrown in, complete with prayers by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies.  For the uninitiated, this means repenting for the fact that European settlers came to America.

The "Lament" is being described as:

                         A prayerful gathering, in a Sacred Circle,
                                     with readings, stories, prayers, songs, reflection,
                                     giving and receiving;       
                        In acknowledgment of and response to the tragic consequences
                                    of the Doctrine of Discovery; 

Just for fun, try Googling the term "Sacred Circle" and notice how many of the results refer to anything even remotely Christian.  (Hint: it's a nice round number, i.e., zero.)  

I have had numerous discussions in recent years with Episcopal bishops, including most of the nine named above, against whom charges are now being preferred, regarding whether the Episcopal Church was salvageable or a lost cause, and about whether its present condition was the result of incompetence or active malignancy.

To these fathers in God I would simply say,
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  (I Peter 4:12-14)
With regard to these same bishops, I know that my thinking tends to be too "bottom line" oriented for those who have spent their entire lives in the Episcopal Church and who have become wedded to it through long and intimate association.  In my reckoning, if the Episcopal Church is going to be out of business by 2050, it is already dying now; and we should not mistake its death throes for signs of life.  Though the Episcopal Church still has the power to sting, it is only the sting of a dead bee.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

South Carolina Standing Committee Releases General Convention Statement

The Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina has released a statement concerning what appears to be the inevitable outcome of the 2012 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, that is, the official approval of a rite for the blessing of same-gender unions.

The Very Rev. Paul Fuener, President of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina, had this to say in issuing the Standing Committee's statement:
The position of this Diocese on these matters has been clear and consistent.  We continue to affirm and assert our calling to seek to "make Biblical Anglicans for a Global age," and we declare that we will not walk with the General Convention down the road they are choosing.
The statement establishes the position of the Diocese that,
We hereby repudiate, denounce and reject any action of the Episcopal Church which purports to bless what our Lord clearly does not bless.  Specifically, we declare any rite which purports to bless same-gender unions to be beyond the authority and jurisdiction of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and without force or effect.
You can read the entire statement here.  (A PDF document will open in your browser.)

The Episcopal Church's General Convention, held every three years, will be meeting in Indianapolis from July 5-12, 2012.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


(in-ep-toc'-ra-cy) - a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers. syn- socialism.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Address by Metropolitan Jonah to the ACNA Assembly

The following greeting and remarks were delivered this afternoon by His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, of the Orthodox Church in America, to the Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America, meeting in Ridgecrest, North Carolina. 

There is one Body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope in God's call to us: One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God and Father of all. 

 Brothers and sisters in Christ, It is good to be here with you again, three years after I first was with you in Bedford, Texas.   I bring you greetings and, I hope, encouragement, from the Orthodox Church in America.

Over the past three years our churches have conducted a theological dialog, discussing the issues that separate us, issues that are not so much OCA vs. ACNA, but issues that separate Anglicanism from Orthodoxy.  This has focused on the issue of the filioque, the addition by the Roman Church to the Nicene Creed, forced on the entire Western Church in the 11th century, and this, disrupting the unity of the confession of the Catholic Faith.

I would remind you that the root and foundation of the Church of England is not “Roman” but rather, the broader Orthodox Catholicism that prevailed until the Roman Church began massive changes in the Second Millennium.  The English Church was a local Orthodox Catholic Church in communion with Rome and the rest of the Churches for most of the first millennium.  Part of the English, and even continental, Reformation was intended to bring the Church back to its original roots, free from the changes that occurred during the isolation of the Western Church in the Dark Ages and Middle Ages.   The Orthodox see the Reformation as having gone awry, and reinforced the very elements that made the Western Churches’ theological positions idiosyncratic, thus isolating it even more from Orthodoxy.

My hope is that we can roll this back.  You have the opportunity to return your Church to its original heritage, and thus actualize the rich inheritance of English Orthodox Catholicism, in communion with its root tradition.   This means the overcoming of generations of schism, a schism which was forced on the English Church, and then a perpetual state of schism for itself and the churches established by it in its colonies and missions. This needs to be healed.

The ecumenical hope is to overcome the schisms of the West, so that the English and Roman Churches can again take their place within the communion of the One Orthodox Catholic Church.  You have an immense role and opportunity within this.   Removing the filioque is not simply a nice gesture of ecumenical solidarity; it is, rather, an affirmation of the ancient faith of the Undivided Church.  


There is another element in this which is of immediate importance, and directly follows on the above.  As was written about by Robert Terwilliger, a great Anglican divine of the 20th century, there is a coming realignment within Christianity, one which we can already see the strains of.  Whenever schisms happen within the Church, they are generally because certain individuals lead a group out of the Church, being disobedient to the Faith and Doctrine, and refusing to submit to the authority of the hierarchy, which is trying to discipline them and call them to repentance.

What is happening now is somewhat different: a split between those who hold to traditional, biblical faith as interpreted by the Fathers of the Church and the ecumenical councils; and those who espouse a secularized belief, subject to the rationalizations of the scholars according to contemporary philosophy, who dismiss the Fathers and the Councils as no longer relevant, who dismiss the moral teachings of the Scriptures and Fathers as culturally relative.  This could be called, by one side, a break between traditional Christianity and post-modern worldly philosophy.   Or it might be labeled as the freeing of people from fundamentalist oppression to the light of their own reason.

This is not the protestant/catholic divide; it is not the evangelical-charismatic vs. mainline divide.  It cuts across all communities in the West, even affecting the Orthodox and Roman Churches in some degree.  As Anglicans, you are no strangers to this: it is the reason you are here, and not in TEC. It is creating a massive realignment within Christianity; those who hold to the traditional Scriptural and patristic Faith and discipline of Orthodox Catholicism; and those who reject it, criticize it, and I will add, as you well know, persecute it.  You and the ACNA are part of that realignment.

There is a radical cultural shift away from traditional Christianity, toward something unrecognizable.   The “Secularists” (for lack of a better, non-pejorative term) reject the virgin birth of Christ, the resurrection, even His Divinity; that His words are recorded in the Scriptures and that the Scriptures are even relevant to our days; rather they are oppressive and keep humans in darkness.  Another Episcopalian bishop, a certain Mr. Spong, wrote that “Christianity must change or die,” referring to traditional orthodoxy, espousing the radical secularization of the Episcopal Church and all Christianity.   It is my prediction that it is not the Orthodox Churches that will die.

Solzhenitsyn said that “what the Soviet death camps could not do, Western secularism is doing more effectively.   In Russia, 20 million died in the last century as martyrs for the Orthodox Faith, and countless millions of others were thrown in the gulag, for standing up against militant secularism.  Many perished because they resisted the Renovationists whose schism distorted the Orthodox Faith. Whether you call it Soviet atheism, or Western secularism, it is the same enemy.

Our battle is against secularism.   His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, has called for us to stand together against this enemy.  This is the realignment: to stand together for the faith once delivered by Christ to the Apostles, and thence to the Bishops, without alteration, without change, without revisions; against those who would submit their faith to the current of the age, the wisdom of this world.   We must stand together, and we cannot stand alone.  Even the immense Roman Church is buffeted by the militant secularists, who defy authority and criticize that which they know not, and we can see in this country how increasingly fragile their unity is.

 Brothers and sisters, we must embrace the Cross of Jesus Christ, the foolishness of the Gospel, the wisdom that is not of this world.   We must rejoice in the salvation that God has given us in His Son Jesus Christ, who was crucified for us and rose from the dead. We glory in His Resurrection, and await His Coming Again.  We must overcome the divisions that separate us, so that we can stand united in one mind and one heart, confessing that God has come in the flesh to raise us to heaven.  We must live according to the moral and ethical commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ enshrined in the Gospel, and reject sin and recognize its corruption.  This is the orthodox faith of the Fathers, the Ecumenical Councils and the undivided Church.  We will have to accept the scorn and derision of those who are of this world, even those who call themselves brethren, being cast out of their synagogues and ridiculed, sued in civil courts, and count all things as worthless that we have lost for the sake of Christ.  This, my friends, is our cross.   We have to support one another in bearing it.  The closer we come, the greater our mutual support will be, and we will not lose heart, or forget that Christ has already won the victory: He has overcome the world.  By accepting to go by way of His Cross, we too will share in His Victory.

Let us listen to the words of St. Paul:
10 I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.   11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren.  12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”  13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? …  17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”  20 Where is the wise man?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the debater of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?   21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17-25, Revised Standard Version)
Beloved, Christ is Risen!