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.  




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