Saturday, December 11, 2021

Caste Away the Works of Darkness


In 1985, the Bishop of Olympia, Robert Cochran, appointed me the official exorcists of the Diocese. He told me that traditionally the bishop was the exorcist of the Diocese but that he delegated this to clergy who he trusted. He told me that his concern was that the priest who did this could discern the difference between psychological issues and demonic affliction. He also shared with me that this work had increased when he moved to the Pacific Northwest because of the number of cults located there. Finally, he shared that when clergy in the Diocese had a concern, he would refer them to me.

What did I learn in doing this ministry? First, I learned that there was a greater need for both the discernment and the ministry.  Second, I learned most clergy who experienced an evil manifestation were overwhelmed when forced to deal with this. Third, I learned that most clergy had been either poorly trained or not trained at all to do this work. Interestingly, I did little of this work directly because I would coach my fellow clergy in both discernment and what to do when they discovered the present of evil.

Readers will note that I titled this blog with a phrase from the collect for the First Sunday of Advent. I did this because the phrase “cast away” captured my most common experience in this area. This work demanded an energetic, powerful, and positive response to the phenomenon of evil. I think the phrase is better than the term exorcism with its loaded imagery compounded by books and movies of the past 30 years.

Let me give an example of this kind of work. A priest called me because parishioners had complained to him that they kept experiencing strange events in their new home. It seems at moments pieces of furniture and other objects would just move. So, I asked the priest, “Do you believe them?” “No, I didn’t” he responded, “till I went to visit them.” He explained that while he was sitting in their living room trying to reason with them about why such things don’t really happen, a side table lamp suddenly flew across the room and smashed against the wall.

He went on to tell of other similar experiences when visiting with them. The family would always react to such unusual things with “See, we told you! What causes this?” So, he asked me, “Do you have any idea what is going on?” I responded, “sure.” At that point, he became very excited and said, “I can’t believe that I am asking this, but is this possibly something evil?” “Of course," I responded.” Then he said, “How do you know?” and repeated “How do you know it is evil?” My simple response was, “I can hear it in your voice. You're afraid.” “I am” he said, “I’ve never experienced anything like this before and I don’t know what to do.” I directed him in what to do. A week later, he called me and said, “It’s gone.”

Let me pause because this series is about evangelism and its relationship to our understanding of the Atonement.  What did I know that my friend did not? And how was I able to respond to his situation calmly and without fear?

What I knew were two things that came from my past experiences and my belief in the Atonement which is center on what Gustaf Aulen taught in his classic work “Christus Victor.” In a time when most fellow reformed and evangelical clergy believed almost entirely in the substitutionary doctrine of the Atonement, Aulen carefully documented from scripture what he termed “the Classical Doctrine of the Atonement.” This teaching of Christ the Victor straightforwardly says, “the reason the son of God came into the world was to defeat the power of evil.”  Verse by verse, Aulen reminded his fellow protestants that as Paul said, “On the cross Jesus defeated the principalities and powers of this world.” So, the Christ proclaims at the end of his crucifixion, “It is finished” which in the Greek means “the battle won.” 

Of course, this was not original to Aulen. It is throughout the teachings and preaching in the New Testament and was the dominate doctrine held by the early church and the Church Fathers. It is why the Apostles including Paul continued Jesus’ work of casting out demons and liberating new believers from the power of evil. It is why Christianity made such headway in a superstitious culture that constantly sought relief from the power of darkness. This doctrine of the Atonement is about power, liberation, and freedom from the power of sin, evil, and death. And as I had learned, it is the dominate doctrine of the Atonement held by most Asian and African Anglicans!

So, I shared with my priest friend what I had learned from them. As one Ugandan Evangelist said to me as he “caste out an evil presence” in a person. “No fear Fr. Kevin, No fear!” Later he debriefed the experience with me by saying, “You are a priest, a baptized Christian, no matter how they manifest or how they resist, in the name of Jesus and the power of his Spirit, they MUST leave!”

Many people who believe in this doctrine also believe in the Apostolic practice of healing. “If there is any among you sick, let them call upon the elders of the Church who will lay hands upon them and the prayer of faith will heal them.” I am an advocate of the Church’s healing ministry and have practiced this for almost 35 years. Again, this is the power of the Spirit to heal.

For me as an Episcopalian/Anglican, I appreciate all the theories of the Atonement and recognize that each has a truth. All should be taught, and the ignoring of any diminishes what Christ accomplished in his ministry and work on the Cross. I do believe for the Church to be fully Apostolic; the foundation of our work must be Christus Victor.  This is the power and light of God to work in the brokenness and darkness of our world. Let me add these two observations.

First, demonic possession as in the man “Legend” living among the tombs is a very rare situation. However, demonic affliction, demonized is the meaning of the Greek word, is more common than we Westerners want to admit. We need more priests to be sensitive to this issue.

Second is that the secularization of our society is not necessarily the triumph of reason. It is also the opening of our society to a re-paganization often passing as religious experimentation. Not all of it is good and therefore the reality of Christus Victor will be of growing concern for the Church in the days ahead. Just check out the growing number of cable television programs dealing with the paranormal and the growing audience of younger generations attracted to these.

Let me close by reminding you that if you or your church is going to do evangelism, you had better sort out what you believe about the Atonement and find ways to present this to an increasingly non-Christian society. And if you have never read Aulen’s book, it is a very helpful tool.

 

 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Progressive Theology and Evangelism

 

“In the name of our Loving, Liberating, and Life-giving God,” these are the words Bishop Curry normally uses in beginning a sermon. I suspect most Episcopal clergy hear this as a Black Preacher’s use of alliteration, one of their amazing skills in preaching. I also hear few other clergy ever use this. I like it, but for a specifically theological reason which I will come to later.

We Episcopalians understand rightly that Bishop Curry stands within the Progressive Theological community. What most white clergy do not understand is how he is distinctive from the general school of Progressivism taught in our seminaries. Our Bishop stands in the Black Progressive tradition. The one that Gardner Taylor preached. Taylor is in my opinion one of the best preachers of the last century and I would strongly recommend that all our clergy read some of his sermons. They are short, sharp, and clear articulation of scripture seen through the eyes of the Black experience in American.

Most of our Progressives stand within the emerging tradition that now dominates life and preaching in Episcopal Churches. I want to make clear that I identify with many of the issues that Episcopal Progressives have championed, and I respect their passion and commitment to justice and equality. I will be saying some critical things about their theological viewpoint in this blog, but I count many as friends and as brothers and sisters in Christ. My primary issue with Progressives is their departure from the classical Anglican position that the Church should hold together various theological viewpoints. To paraphrase Rowan Williams, “Anglicanism may be the only consensual alternative to Roman’s arbitrary unity.” Anglicanism is not a place on a map of Christianity, it is the whole map; an attempt to be the whole Church. Progresses in TEC have long abandoned toleration of other Anglicans in the U.S. who have as much claim to Anglican roots if not more so than Progressives.

What is wrong with TEC’s current version of Progressive theology? This view is often expressed with punchline phrases like “Love Wins!” or “Why can’t we just learn to love one another?” The strongly espoused values of this school are the need for the Christian community and especially TEC to become a fully diverse and inclusive Church, “a beloved community.” One would wish they could at least make this “a community of the beloved” which would open a greater possibility for evangelism, but I doubt they would understand the distinction.

I will pass over briefly the painful truth that the longer this view has dominated TEC the less diverse we have become except for gender diversity. Bishop Curry and other Black Episcopal clergy are a small remnant of a once larger and vibrant number of Black Episcopalians. Black clergy have told me on many occasions that young black leaders do not find the Episcopal Church attractive today. There are, thank God, several exceptions to this assessment, but in numbers this is certainly true.

When it comes to our Progressives and the Atonement, they stand in the “Moral Example” school. This contends that Jesus is the incarnation or example of God’s love, and we are to follow his example. This is often articulated around the theme of the Kingdom of God, or as Progressives prefer, “God’s reign.” Another expression Progressives like is that “The Church preaches Jesus, but Jesus himself preached about God’s Kingdom (reign). What is wrong with this? It certainly sounds nice and has a thread of truth in it.

What is wrong in this is primarily threefold. First, it is a serious reimaging, to use a favorite Progressive term, of the Jesus of Scripture and the Church. It simply ignores the many Christological passages of the New Testament.  It also ignores that books of the New Testament, especially Acts and Paul’s letters do not proclaim what Progressives assume is so obvious. Paul’s mission to the Gentiles most certainly does not follow the moral theory and none of the Gospels end with the statement that Jesus was the model of God’s love, and we are to follow that model. They end with the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection as the son of God and savior of the world. Progressives have a reductionist view of Jesus not consistent with the Apostolic tradition.

Second, it ignores the obvious answer to their plaintiff “why can’t we just learn to love one another?” If humans could figure this out on our own, we would not need a savior. The answer why from the classical Christian view is that humans are sinful, self-centered, and subject to temptation and even evil. As one famous theologian has said, “The Doctrine of Original Sin is the only provable Doctrine of the Church.” I call this kind of progressive theology the Rodney King school because its proposition is as naïve as a black man beaten senseless by angry police officers who made such a statement in the face of such systemic evil. Progressives are naïve about the human condition which afflicts them as well as everyone else.

Third, the moral example theory without the other complimentary theories of the Atonement becomes merely moralism. Inclusiveness and diversity have become recruiting tools for TEC to attract “people like us” who value inclusiveness and diversity. It is in the end a worldview of college educated, middle class, and dominantly while people. Progressives do not want evangelism; they want TEC to recruit people “like us.”

What Progressivism needs is what Bishop Curry offers to it and to all of us. Remember the “liberating” part of his invocation? Bishop Curry stands in the Black Progressive school which is at its heart Liberation Theology. Why is it not obvious to most Progressives that the human heart to love needs liberation? Or that racism, classism, and all isms are extensions of human fallenness? That is what Christ offers! Remember that Christianity spread most quickly in the Roman world where 80% of the population were slaves, and where Roman women and non-Romans were treated as second class humans.

As a student of Liberation Theology in my younger days, I find much of Progressivism as preached today without power to change people. This realization came to me when an Episcopal Bishop argued on late night TV that “exodus makes no sense because in my theology (sic) God loves the Egyptians as much as God loves the Jews.” The testimony of the Bible is that God loves and acts on behalf of the oppressed. Or as Garner Taylor once expressed this while speaking at Yale, “The Bible teaches that God is out to win back what belongs to God! The oppressed, afflicted, broken, and discarded of this world are God’s.” Most Episcopalians should probably tremble at that biblical truth.

So, the Episcopal Church is declining not just because of changing demographics, but because most of our proclamation lacks the transformative and conversionary power of the Cross! What is preached in many Episcopal Churches today is a combination of therapy and progressive politics. It is not the loving, liberating, and life-giving Gospel.

This brings me back to what I believe about the Atonement. It is the power of the Cross to defeat the powers of sin and evil and to liberate us to lead a new life through the power of the Holy Spirit. More of this in my next blog.

 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Theology of Evangelism

 

Because I believe in Evangelism, over the years, I have asked clergy and especially new seminary graduates this question. “I am sure you studied the various theories of the Atonement, which one makes the most sense to you?” I usually receive two answers.

The first and most common is an articulation that Jesus’ death on the cross brought the forgiveness of our sins and reconciled us to God. The second which I began hearing in the nineties and has grown in belief is not an answer to my question, but really a rebuttal. It is that the cleric or student learned that the Church has put too much emphasis on the cross and salvation and not enough on the Incarnation.

The first is, of course, based on some version of the substitutionary theory of the Atonement. Simply said it is that Jesus died for me and in my place, and I have received forgiveness of my sins. The second is, in case you have not guessed, code language that “I am a Progressive.”  I am going to deal extensively with the issues generated by Progressive theology and evangelism in my third post. In this blog I want to share why I ask this question.

My experience in doing evangelism is that we apply the doctrine of the Atonement. So, for most American Evangelicals, the application becomes “We are all sinners facing God’s judgement and hell. If we repent of our sins and accept Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for our sins, we will be forgiven and given the assurance of eternal life.”  My Baptist grandmother’s favorite hymn expresses this, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, oh what a foretaste of glory divine.”

Classic Evangelical Churches such as First Baptist in Dallas present this message every Sunday and offer “an altar call, or invitation” to come forward to repent and receive Jesus. Some more contemporary Evangelical churches present this message along with modern music, drama, and a charismatic preacher in a softer and gentler tone. Some of these are the largest Churches in America. There the theological underpinning is the same. One important exception to this is found in Pentecostal Churches. Unfortunately, mainline clergy wrongly group these together with classical Evangelicals, but more on this in a later blog.

How do most Episcopal Clergy evangelize who articulate this theological position? Few do evangelism the way Evangelicals do because after all “we are not that kind of Church,” and we offer the rich worship, liturgy, and lectionary of historic Anglicanism. I believe that such clergy think that people who attend our churches, get baptized or were baptized as infants, and receive the Eucharist will get the message eventually. Some try one of the methods of evangelism that Episcopalians have found effective such as Alpha. These programs usually come pre-packaged and are effective evangelistic tools if the local church has enough energy and conviction to put them on. Evidently, few do. We should note that this focus largely ignores non-Christians and focuses on church members.

I have heard from many long-time Episcopalians that they are thankful that our Church does not have altar calls. When I hear this, I just quote the words of Cranmer, “Ye who do earnestly repent of your sins, are in love and charity with you neighbors, and intend to lead a new life following the commandments of God…” Then I point out that for Episcopalians, every communion service has an altar call. Putting this into practice, this is the way I invited people to communion at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas. At the offertory, I would say.

“Our service now continues with the Eucharist or Holy Communion. We invite to our altar rail to receive this bread and wine all those who wish a greater knowledge of God and a deeper relationship to Jesus Christ.”

Notice that I omitted reference to “other denominations” or even baptism because these only confuse non-Episcopalians and non-Christians. Following the example of Cranmer, I wanted the invitation to apply to visitor and member alike. I see receiving Communion as one of our most important evangelistic opportunities.

For me, there are also two definite moments when in the context of liturgy an invitation to accept Jesus as savior follows naturally. The first is Palm/Passion Sunday. The second is Good Friday. In the Churches that I served as Rector or Dean; we offered the three-hour watch at the cross on Good Friday containing the seven words attributed to Jesus during his crucifixion. I almost always had those who would respond to hearing these events of the passion presented response to an invitation to accept Jesus as savior. Who would not!

The word that I am driving at here is, of course, intentional. I learned that evangelism is the intentional effort to present Jesus as Savior and Lord in ways that people could accept him and follow within the fellowship of his Church to paraphrase TEC’s official definition of evangelism. Yes, we do have one.

It might surprise my readers to discover that while I appreciate what the substitutionary understanding of the Atonement is and what it especially does for souls troubled or burdened by their sins, this is not my primary understanding of the Atonement and why I did those services in Seattle.

But before we turn there, we need to return to the dominant theological position in TEC today, that of the “moral example.”  I will begin this in my next blog, by quoting my favorite Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

I Believe in Evangelism


This is the first of a series of blogs about Evangelism. Many in the Church use this term, but my experience is that few Episcopal leaders have ever done evangelism beyond sharing the faith one on one on a few occasions.  In the first blog, I am going to discuss why I believe in Evangelism and what I learned about doing evangelism.

In 1984, I became the Rector of St. Luke’s Church in Seattle. Then it was considered the “light house” church of charismatic renewal on the west coast. The previous Rector was the Rev. Dennis Bennett author of “9 O’clock in the Morning” and one of the most influential authors and teachers of the 20th Century. I say this with no hesitation because I learned how extensively his work touched thousands of Christians worldwide.  Sad to say, today younger Episcopal clergy do not even know who he was. As his successor, I learned to love him, and he was of tremendous help to me as I attempted to follow in his very large footprints.

As to his influence, once while I was teaching at the College of Preachers, I sat across from the then Presiding Bishop. When he learned that I was Rector of St. Luke’s, he said, “That little congregation has had more effect in the Episcopal Church than and other congregation I’ve known.”  To this he smiled and added, “And I am not sure I am really happy about that!” That was offset by an African Archbishop who told me that Dennis’ book was the single cause of a large evangelistic movement in his Church that had brought thousands to Christ.

I was astonished to be called to St. Luke’s. I was 38 years old. I had no national reputation, but it remains for me one of the greatest experiences of my nearly 50 years of ordained ministry.  What I did not know when I accepted the call was that St. Luke’s had a weekly Wednesday night “Evangelistic Service” and I would spend the next six years of my life leading it!

I had never done such a service before, but the staff were quick to bring me on board with it.  I should make it clear especially to Episcopal clergy that this was not a Eucharistic service, nor was it taken from the Prayer Book.  It was simple in form which I will describe in a moment. It was advertised on a local Christian radio station as a time when Christians could bring non-Christians and seekers to hear a clear presentation of the Christian life and receive prayer. In the six years, we never had less than 5 people accept the invitation to accept Christ at the end of the service and often we would have over 20.

Here is what we would do: 

First, we began with a welcome and a music group would lead the congregation in some simple Christian choruses.

Second, we would read a passage of scripture.

Third, I or one of our other clergy would give a 20-minute teaching on the scripture and on what it means to receive Christ and be empowered by the Holy Spirit. (We avoided church jargon and complex theology these are not helpful to non-Christians.)

Fourth, a lay member of the congregation would give a 10 minute “testimony” of how they had come to Christ. We were adamant about the 10 minutes and instructed our folks to present three things.

1st. What my life was like before I encounter Christ. 2nd. What happened when I encountered him. 3rd. How my life has changed since receiving him.

Finally, I would extend an invitation to those who would like to receive Christ and experience the Holy Spirit’s presence to come forward to our altar rail where team of lay leaders would pray from them. They were also invited to come forward for healing prayers if they needed them. 

I would say that through this experience and being invited to speak in other churches, that I have led more people to a commitment to Christ than almost any other living Episcopal priest. I do know a small group who have done more, and I am delighted to have ministered with Carrie Headington, the Evangelism Officer of the Diocese of Dallas who continues this work.

Compare this with the typical “attempt” of evangelism in TEC. This is believing that if people attend our services, they will eventually figure this out. Or some places make some attempt to present this in baptismal or confirmation instruction although quite frankly most of the time we are explaining to people why they should be Episcopalians – the emphasis being on church membership. 

One thing we learned when I led church planting in the Diocese of Texas was that when a new plant started with public services about half the congregation would be new to the church. Consequently, the clergy needed to start off by preaching a series on the basics of the Christian life and bypass the Lectionary.  The truth is that the Lectionary jumps around too much to give a comprehensive view of this to new people.  It worked in helping the Diocese become the fastest growing Diocese in the Episcopal Church for 7 years in BOTH percentages and actual numbers.  I have heard many clergy say that TEC just doesn’t do evangelism. I try to share with them that the Anglican Communion does, and we did! In a future blog, I will discuss why I think we are so bad at the task of evangelism.  In this one, I want people to know that we have done it.  And I learned to do it. Furthermore, evangelistic teaching and preaching is like any other skill.  It can be learned if there is a motivation to do so.  I was motivated by my own Christ encounter, and I found mentors and teachers who helped me along the way.

During my time at St. Luke’s, the congregation became the largest it had ever been. This was because of two things. First, we learned that an increasing number of people coming to us had no church experience or community, so we learned we had to not only proclaim Christ but also form them in Christ. Second, we had a strong lay led small group ministry that was part of this formation.  New Christians need follow up, formation, and often pastoral care. Small groups are a tremendous resource for this.

I cannot tell you the absolute joy that comes from leading people to Christ. New Christians are excited by their newfound life in Christ. They are not jaded about how church should be done. They are eager to learn. Most significantly, their friends are often not Christians either and they are excited about sharing their new faith with them.

Why don’t more Episcopal Churches do evangelistic ministry? I will explore this in future blogs, but I can start with this simple and painful truth; our seminaries do not value evangelism and do not teach students the foundations of evangelism and the practical things that work. As one of our former Deans remarked, “It’s hard to graft an evangelistic vine on a universalist tree!”

Lastly, we had a tremendous advantage in doing evangelism in the 80s at St. Luke’s. Seattle was the least Christian and churched city in America. Of course, today most of our society has moved toward secularism with Christian churches declining. Hence, most American cities today are more like Seattle in those days. Strangely, the larger the number of non-Christians, the poorer TEC’s ability to reach them.

Episcopal leaders today talk much about diversity and inclusion. Bishop Payne often observed that evangelism was the most inclusive and diverse ministry of the Church.  He got that idea from the pages of the New Testament. The story is still there to read!

In my next blog, I will share what I believe is lacking in the Church’s ability to do the work of evangelism.

                                                                                               

 

Monday, October 18, 2021

As We Come Out of Covid 19, Remember these Two Dynamic

 

I continue to be amazed at the terrific work that parish clergy have done during the Covid pandemic especially in finding ways to offer worship and other services via live streaming. I would estimate that only a handful of churches offered services on-line before Covid and now easily a majority of churches offer this. At the heart, clergy are in the people/relationship calling and not the technology or media presentation building, but they have learned. This learning continues. For example, my home congregation, Grace in Georgetown, Texas has daily services and Sundays live streaming. This is great, but now that we are gradually coming out of the pandemic, you will want to pay attention to two important dynamics.

First, there is a dramatic upturn toward the need for human touch. Early in the development of computers and on-line services psychologists coined an important concept. “High Tech leads to High Touch.” What they noted is that the more people interfaced with computers and other technology, the stronger their desire for human touch.

This came back to me in a conversation with a colleague. She noted that despite the continuing demand for masks and distancing in the wave of delta, people were coming to in person events and staying longer. She noted this in Sunday services and in funerals she had performed. I had noticed this too in returning to church, but I had not fully realized what I was seeing and experiencing. Our people were longing, not just for in person worship, but for connectedness. My suspicion is that we clergy are so focused on Sunday as a worship event and anxious to get back to “normal” meaning what we know that we may not be responding to this deeper need.

Simply said, we have often confused community and fellowship with the coffee hour. I often remind folks what I learned from one of my professors 50 years ago. He pointed out that the New Testament Greek word translated fellowship has become a weak word for Christians today. The better word, he suggested, is solidarity. “When one suffers, we all suffer, and when one rejoices, we all rejoice,” as St. Paul stated. Whatever this means, it does not mean superficial greetings.

My point is this, attend to ways to make the need for high touch realized among our people. Yes, of course, continue to provide alternatives to live events, there are folks who will need this. More importantly, we have learned to connect to a wider community via media to people who may never intend to attend a Sunday service. The church got a crash course in catching up with the 21st century and especially millennials and younger generation folks, however, remember that high tech leads to the need for high touch. And this is true for clergy as well as our laity.

Second, there is a distinct difference in seeing people on Zoom, sending them emails and filming You-tube, Instagram messages, and in being physically present with people.  This distinction has profound implications for the church as well as for our culture. 

I learned this from the young tech professional who, in a workshop, commented about Facebook. He made this observation. “Sometimes Facebook confuses us because we think being connected is the same as being in relationship!” He went on later to say that sending “an email to someone may connect us, but it doesn’t bring us into relationship!”

For example, because of my writing, teaching, and speaking at conferences, I have over 850 “friends” on Facebook. Truth is that I have about 20 real friends on FB with most everyone else an acquaintance. Having 850 people that I connect with on Facebook often confuses me about my need for real friendship which almost always involves real contact.

As we move to a post-pandemic world, let’s remember these truths. We need to create opportunities for our people to relate in meaningful ways and to create more and deeper relationships. Of course, worship especially the Eucharist is important, but passing the peace and going to coffee hour is hardly solidarity with our fellow members of the body of Christ.

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Audit, the Report, and Our Future

 

This is fourth in my series of blogs in response to the audit done in TEC on racism. In this one, I want to start with some observations following on the audit. Then I will turn to what I will called TEC’s missed opportunities. I will conclude by summarizing what the future holds for us if current trends continue. 

I was finally able to get a copy of the full report on the audit and their recommendations. I want to go on record that I think all our leaders and should read this revealing and helpful report. I recommend at least reading the executive summary.  I have a copy if you have trouble finding it. Of course, given our history and the fact that we remain a denomination predominately “white” by 90%, we have a great deal of introspection and work to do if we are to become more of the Church Jesus created and his mission compels us to be.

The recommendations based on the data found in the report best comes down to “continue to do the initiative we have begun toward becoming “the beloved community” and working on racial reconciliation.  It is with these conclusions that I have some reservations or at least counter thoughts.

When national leaders responded to the initial report, the consensus seemed to be expressed by our Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies. This was that the report was disappointing and revealed that we still have much work to do.  Fair enough, but if one digs further into the actual data, there is a stunning fact. Although 90% of TEC is white, 23% of our leadership is made up of “people of color.” Nothing is made of the simple fact that people of color are represented in leadership by twice the percentage of their membership.  This should have been explored more fully. Instead, we are told how much more work is needs to be done in this area, and sadly it is implied that people of color are often placed or elected in leaders for token purposes. 

I agree that people of color feel at times because of their lack of numbers to be placed in leadership as token representatives, but the report seems to me to point us toward a different conclusion. First, it is difficult for me to believe that our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is a token leader. I have known him for many years and always as a leader. I saw him as the best person with the right gifts to be in this office at this time.

Second, if we add to the percentage of people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, and, as I pointed out in my first blog, the significant movement of women into leadership since the 1970s, a much different picture emerges. Granted that these often intersect in one person as with the newly elected Bishop of Michigan, but the numbers reveal that TEC may already be the most inclusive and diverse Church in North America especially when it comes to leadership.  This is something to be celebrated by the Church and especially the Progressive leadership who have champion these issues.

It also reveals why so much of our conversation sounds like, as one astute commentator has suggested, the faculty lounge chat. This means language and words used, not in the mainstream of public life, but in the circle of college educated people.  Sad to say, TEC continues to be largely a community of elite people no matter what we think of our diversity or how hard we work toward inclusion.

This leads me to state a painfully obvious fact. The leaders of TEC today have been more evangelized and converted by secular culture than we have been able to evangelize and convert people from this culture.  We seem better at spreading doubt about faith and belief than we do about affirming its value to our society. Put another way, TEC is best educated to reach the least churched segment of our population, and yet we have failed badly in our efforts at apologetics for the place of religion, faith, and even Jesus to this group.

The outstanding counter example of this is the Presiding Bishop who gives such a compelling message of reconciliation, forgiveness and love, the values of the Jesus Movement, every opportunity he gets. My question is simple this. Why do so many leaders in our community who admire him, fail to do a better job at following his example?

When I studied evangelism many years ago, I learned that it is easier for people to evangelize those who are more like them. Teachers called this “picking the low hanging fruit first.” Has not TEC done exactly this related to leadership? We have done our best work of including in our leadership women and gay/lesbian people because they were already in our membership.

I have already pointed out that one kind of low hanging fruit for TEC is Hispanic ministry, but even though they are close at hand, we have stumbled in the vast opportunity before us. Dare I ask if the issue here is not that they speak Spanish, but that many of them are not college educated? Think further, if we continue to require leaders in the Hispanic community to earn a college degree before entering the ordination process, is our elitism showing?  Every time I have asked this question among other Episcopalians, someone always says, “We can’t create a second-class order of priest. They will never be accepted among the other clergy.” If you cannot see the elitism in this statement, you are blind to our fundamental prejudice in TEC.  The real issue is not whether Hispanic clergy need to be accepted by the rest of our clergy. The issue is whether they can do ministry and be accepted by Hispanic people.

Where will the future find us? You will not find the answer in the Report or its recommendations. You will find it painfully written in our current trends.

If things continue as they have for the past two decades and as they are now, where will TEC be in the next two decades? The first answer is painfully GONE! Contrary to much of the Anglican Communion, we will be in a quickening cycle of decline with churches closings until the only thing left is General Convention managing the decreasing resources of a dying progressive denomination. 

The future for the Episcopal Church lies not in a inward preoccupation with our racial makeup but in having a compelling message of Jesus Christ and his movement.

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Winning and Losing


In my first two blogs, I have been exploring the nature of TEC as it relates to the values of inclusiveness and diversity considering the recent study on the racial makeup of Episcopal leaders.  My second blog explored the tremendous change in our community of the role of women in leadership.  In this blog, I will be exploring how diverse we were before decisions around gender and after. This is an extremely sensitive issue in our Church, so allow me to say that I am not going to attempt to revisit these decisions but rather how these affected the character and make up of TEC.”

Please let me begin by clarifying my position related to gender issues. we have after all moved in an extraordinary way toward inclusion in issues related to gender identity. I was late to understand the cause of marriage equality, but I have always been on the side of the full acceptance in the Church of all people. In the mid-90s, I was a Clerical Deputy of the Diocese of Texas. There was a resolution before General Convention that the Episcopal Church formally apologize to our Gay and Lesbian members for the way the Church and Church members had treated them.  There was hot debate. At the end, each order filled out the paper ballot on our vote.  All our lay deputies and 3 of our 4 clergy ones voted no. I voted yes. Since I was considered theologically conservative, a term I never apply to myself, my fellow Deputies seemed confused by my vote.  Then the self-identified “most liberal clergy Deputy,” who voted no, asked aloud, “Kevin, did you not understand the resolution? You voted yes!” As the rest of the deputation listened, this is what I said. “I voted yes because I served as the Rector to a large parish in Seattle. About 35% of my members were single, and many were gay or lesbian, and I learned firsthand how badly they were treated by their families, friends, and churches. How can we not apologize for such behavior and such lack of Christian compassion especially for our own children?”

Since then we have grown in diversity and in inclusiveness! Unfortunately, we often did this at the expense of other Episcopalians especially those whose theological viewpoint was different from the Progressive one. Fast forward to the vote on the consent to the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop. The vote on consent passed by a large margin in the House of Bishops. In the House of Deputies, the vote passed but the margin was just over the 50% necessary to approve to consent.

The day after the vote, I was observing the House of Bishops and happened to be sitting behind one of the leaders of Integrity who I had known and liked for many years. A group of Integrity members came in and sat by him to complain that a resolution that they had supported had failed to pass one of General Convention’s many committees. My friend looked at them with astonishment and said, “Don’t you understand? With the consent for Gene Robinson, we won everything!”

Confirmation of that came at the next General Convention, the last one where I served as a Deputy.  When the first resolution that was supported by Progressives came to the floor. The deputies voted almost 80% in favor. There was a low murmur when the vote was announced because many of us realized what this meant.  Sure enough, every resolution put forward by Progressives that reached the floor passed. But even more telling, the fact that several conservative Dioceses had withdrawn from the Church or refused to attend gave the majority of Progressive Deputies more than enough votes to cut off debate on any issue. And they did. A resolution would be presented. Pro speakers would move to one microphone and con speakers would move to another. The first pro speaker would “move the question.” A motion to move the question which ends debate takes precedent and debate ended.  I want to repeat this, so you are clear. Every resolution supported by Progressives after this passed with no debate because Progressives had more than enough votes to meet the 2/3rds necessary to close debate.

Near the end of the Convention, a long-time Progressive Deputy asked for a point of personal privilege and was recognized. He painfully pointed out the behavior of his fellow Deputies and decried the complete shutdown of any dissent whatsoever. Despite his long service, he was booed loudly and walked away.

I return to the statement “We won everything…”

Around 1990, Forward Movement published a brochure about the constituency of the Episcopal Church. The insightful and knowledgeable writer pointed out the TEC was made up of several different theological viewpoints that represented both the history of and movements within Anglicanism.  The writer identified 6 groups.  Progressives were one and so were Anglo-Catholics. Identified were also Renewal/charismatic members and Evangelicals who leaned toward the Calvinistic side of historic Anglicanism.  Another strong group were historic Anglophiles who loved the high English culture represented by the Prayer Book and our DNA of high culture regarding music and the arts. Like the English Church, TEC had existed by accommodating these diverse theological and cultural viewpoints under what many called “the Large Tent.” Many of us Episcopalians identified with more than one point of view because we had been touched positively by more than just one viewpoint. I personally have been affected by the Oxford Movement, the liberal/Progressive Movement, and the Renewal Movement. I loved the fact that TEC like Anglicanism itself had learned the wisdom of holding these together using the same Prayer Book. Anglicanism in most of the world is a force for ecumenical affirmation and Christian unity.  In such a body, what did it mean to win?

It did not mean that the Church divided as some contend. It meant that Progressives now dominated and could force their viewpoints through the decision-making body of the Church. The result was that the Church fractured into its separate parts.  What did unite some of these, the ACNA for example, was their mutual anger held by these now disenfranchised members of the old coalition. And while this is hard for many Progressives to understand, many of our disenfranchised brothers and sisters had genuine theological objections. Objections that were once dominant in the Anglican Church and that in many Communion Provinces still are. This win made compliance with it a matter of conscience for those of other theological views.

The result has left TEC, unlike the most of Anglicanism, identified with one theological viewpoint.  The failure of Progressives to find a way of compromise and allow these other points of view to remain under this tent marks a turning point for the Episcopal Church. Let me be clear. I am not defending the behavior of some of those who left self-righteously condemning TEC. There is plenty of blame to spread around.

Why should Progressives have found another way forward?  First, they threatened to divide the Anglican Church which ironically is much more racially diverse than TEC. This has led to posturing around the Communion for the past 15 years that still reflects the potential for further fracturing. More importantly for TEC as it continues is something that few think about. Our leaders after the Robinson consent and the win, should have remembered the substantial research done by places like the Alban Institute on church conflicts. Thanks to Speed Leas and others (I was one), consultants were able to point out the effects upon a church or denomination that came to the 4th step of conflict – fight or flight – and resolved it by one group winning.

The literature was and is extensive. The result is that all parties involved lose energy and momentum and decline afterwards.  Progressives believed that the full inclusion of all people meaning gender diversity would open the doors of the Episcopal Church to hundreds of thousands of new people as one Bishop boldly declared. It never did.  Holding a position on social issues is not evangelism. It does not call people to follow Jesus as one of his disciples. It is, in fact, exclusive not inclusive resulting in a less than diverse community when it comes to Christian theology and unity. Further holding this position does not in and of itself attract secular people and it does not recruit them to TEC.

The present decline of the church combined with the loss of so many GI generation loyal Episcopalians leaves us where we are today. Where is that? We are a declining mainline denomination with remnants of Anglican culture and a singular theological viewpoint unable to attract new members in any significant numbers and yet our leaders believe repeating their intentions to be inclusive and diverse will make us so. Many Progressive leaders of the Church deal with all issues by repeating their intentions and failing to see the consequences of their behavior.

Today, our church is less ecumenical, less Anglican, and less diverse. In my next blog, I will suggest what alternatives lie before us.  It is clear, however, that expanding our community with a larger number of racially diverse people has proven beyond our reach. The report on racism in our denomination only confirms this. Remember, insanity can best be described as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.