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.  




Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Inclusive/Diversity Paradox

In my first blog in response to the release of the report on racial diversity, or lack of it, in the Episcopal Church, I explored the missed opportunity for greater inclusiveness and diversity among Hispanics.  In this blog, I want to focus on what I call the Inclusive/Diversity Paradox.  What do I mean by this?

For the past three decades, no one can doubt that the strongest theological worldview in TEC is Progressive.  For the last two decades, theological progressives have held almost every office of leadership on the national and diocesan level.  Almost all the Bishops elected during this time hold this perspective. The two words most associated with this view are “inclusiveness and diversity.”  It was out of a concern for diversity that the Church ordered an independent audit of the racial makeup of our leadership.

While the report is both useful and insightful, it also raised a serious question about what the progressive leaders of our Church have really accomplished despite three decades of emphasis on these two goals.  On the surface it seems that the more these two values have been consistently put before the Church, the less inclusive and diverse we have become.  I have heard a number of conservatives say this.

We have had several of initiatives aimed at addressing diversity and racial reconciliation taking place. These often fall under the discussion of becoming more the “beloved community,” a phrase often used by progressive leaders to describe what the Church is called to be.  No one can ignore that we have made racism, racial reconciliation, and social justice a high priority in recent years especially considering the Black Lives Matter movement.  Yet ironically the Episcopal clergy who have joined marches in support of these causes represent a Church that the audit shows being 90% white and has many examples systemic racism.

Sadly, these 30 years of progressive leadership has been marked by a decline in our racial diversity.  I have been an Episcopal Priest for almost 50 years, and I remember when we had strong African American congregations like the Cathedrals in Newark and Detroit. These were led by outstanding black clergy.  Many of our black clergy and lay leaders were active leaders in the civil rights movement during the 60s and 70s.  Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is a next generation example of this leadership.  Where are those churches now? Well, the more we focused on diversity, the whiter we became. The paradox is this. The more our Black leadership should have been affirmed and advanced, the more our leaders of the past 30 years failed to build on what we once had. 

Again, since diversity and inclusion have been the constant stated intentions, what kind of contradiction does our current situation hold up.  Some would say that on a fundamental level, our Progressive leaders have failed. I would not.

Where has the Church shown a fundamental shift related to inclusiveness. There are two areas that clearly stand out. I want to focus in this blog on the greatest area of change within TEC during the last 30 years. This is the incredible advances in women’s leadership. Since the official ordination of women in 1979, we have moved in a steady direction of full inclusion of women on all levels of the Church. Some may say that it has not been fast enough, but it has been extraordinary and a great blessing to us. Remember that before 1970, girls were not allowed to be acolytes and women could not serve on Vestries in most of our churches. Women were not allowed to be on Standing Committees or General Convention Deputies. From 1970 to 1980, TEC experienced massive change in the role of leadership for women.

There was considerable resistance to these changes, but this was proven to be a vocal minority. When in 1979 women’s ordination was passed by both Houses of General Convention, the place, and gifts of women in the Church exploded. In recent years, the number of women elected bishops has grown steadily.  This includes women of color.

As someone who has supported women’s ordination since seminary, I have seen this greater diversity among our clergy and lay leadership unfold.  Progressives have often pointed out that women’s ordination was an extension of the civil rights movement. I think this is true, but Episcopalians may want to question whether our gains in this area deflected our focus on the place of our black members. This could account for part of the diversity paradox.

When the ordination of women was affirmed in 1979, outspoken opponents to this claimed that we would see a major division and exodus from the Church. There was some, but it was small.  Initially some diocese accepted a “conscience clause” and did not ordain women, but their number diminished quickly.  While many of the supporters of women’s ordination were, like me, folks who do not call ourselves progressives, Progressives played a major role in changing the leadership makeup of the Church. Historically, this may be their greatest accomplishment in both word and deed.

One place that never accepted women’s ordination was the Diocese of Fort Worth and their Bishop Jack Iker. That diocese continued to hold their position long after most of the Church had fully accepted it. The House of Bishops failed to take any action against either the Bishop or the Diocese. The Diocese of Fort Worth eventually voted to leave TEC. This happened amid the controversy related to the acceptance of gay and lesbian clergy and marriage equality.  For those of us who knew Bishop Iker and the clergy of that Diocese, we know that women’s ordination was always the issue that led to their defection from TEC. I mention this because it is worth noting how dysfunctional that Diocese was and probably still is. Ironically, several ACNA dioceses allow the ordination of women. 

As Anglicans, we try to avoid the idea of winners and losers in our community of faith, but from a historical perspective, there have been no greater winners in the past 30 years than women of leadership in our community.

In my next blog, I will explore how gender issues have contributed to the ongoing Inclusive/Diversity Paradox. I content that this paradox is real despite some accomplishments and that a deeper exploration of it involves a better understanding of who we really are as a community and what our way forward might become.  I do know this, racial makeup is not the most significant dynamic of our Church. And, by the way, Episcopalians need to remember that African Anglicans are the largest racial community in the Anglican Communion.  Episcopalians today make up less than 1% of our wider community.   






Thursday, May 6, 2021

Episcopalians, How Racist are We?

Recently, the Episcopal News Service released a story on racial diversity in our Church.  It was based on an independent study and report done for the Episcopal Church. The major lead was that we remain a Church that is 90% white and that the report confirms that we have implicit and explicit systemic racism. There were no details given and unlike their typical articles, it has not been repeated on the regular news releases.

They did quote a few of our leaders including our Presiding Bishop who said the results were disappointing and showed that we still have a long way to go in our efforts at diversity and inclusion. I would like to read the whole report, but I have yet to find it. 

A particularly insightful observation by some of our black leaders helps us understand what it is like to be a minority in our community. Often, they feel their presence is “simple ignored.” On the other hand, they are at times left to feel as though their presence becomes merely a token of diversity.  Both situations seem to me something that the rest of us should hear and take very seriously. 

The article did not give many details of the report, but perhaps its release will be more helpful when it is fully available. My initial reaction was “so a denomination that remains 90% white has racism issues? Thanks Captain obvious!” We are also older than the population and the average age of ordination continues to climb even with several intentional actions by some of our Bishops to recruit younger leadership. These too are issues badly needing to be understood.

My most direct encounter with racism in our church and its systemic nature came in my work with Hispanic members first in the Diocese of Texas working with Bishop Leo Alard, and more directly when I became Dean of the Cathedral in Dallas where 60% of our worshipping community attended our Spanish language service. My dear friend and colleague, Fr. Tony Munoz, Canon Pastor of the Cathedral for Hispanic work, helped me understand many of the issues our Hispanic members faced both in the Church and in the wider community.

Around 2000, when we were still having conversations about doubling our size by 2020, I wrote an article based on my experience with Hispanic ministry in Texas. I contended that the best way for us to accomplish this goal would be to focus strongly on reaching new Hispanic members.  I pointed out five proven missionary and evangelistic strategies that other denominations had used and how we could adapt them. I also pointed out how this would enrich our common life and put the Episcopal Church on the front line of racial reconciliation with the ever-growing Hispanic portion of our population.  I was not prepared for the reaction.

I got support from many Hispanic leaders, but almost none from others. The response that shocked me the most was when one national leader wrote me to object to my suggestions. In his letter, he said this, “Yes Kevin, we could do what you wrote about but if we succeeded, we would no longer by a diverse Church. We would have too many Hispanics to have true diversity.” I have kept the letter to remind me of another of our failed opportunities to live out both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

In this first blog on the issues raised by this article, I want to make two observations:

My first observation is this: We are not 90% white. We have a richer diversity than this found in our Hispanic membership and among some of our outstanding Asian and native American members. I know firsthand that many of our Hispanic people are simply not counted and I suspect this is true of other ethnic groups. For Hispanics attending our Church, there are some external and legal reasons for this, but mostly they are not seen and certainly not taken seriously enough.

My second observation and one I will explore more fully in further blogs is this: even if the 90% label is right, this is one of the least helpful things to know about the Episcopal Church today.

I will end with this further observation. Hispanic ministry remains one of the Episcopal Church’s greatest potential mission fields and one of the most fruitful ways we could extend our inclusiveness and diversity.  Sadly, it remains clear that racial inclusiveness and diversity remain values that many of our leaders hold dearly but have little idea how to obtain it even when even, as with Hispanic ministry, it continues to stare us in the face every day!

If we had taken the initiates that I outlined or the actions recommended by the Evangelism Commission of General Convention in 2003, we may not have doubled the size of the Church from where it was in 2000, but we would be double the size we are now!