Thursday, January 28, 2016


This week one of our seminary professors shared a blog post by Chris Hedges on The Suicide of the Liberal Church.  I like Chris Hedge’s work. His book, War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, is an honest account of militarism as a religion. And there is much in his Suicide article that rings true, particularly that the Church is always at risk of selling out to the powers and principalities of the prevailing culture and market. Whether the Church has declined in institutional vitality because of such a sell-out is another question, one that that I am not sure is even helpful to ask. If we are to be faithful to our identity as the Body of Christ, which we recognize because “the Spirit of the Lord is upon (us) upon us because she has anointed (us) to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free,” then we should not do those things because they are good for out bottom line, but because they are what God calls us to do. Our mission is not a marketing strategy. It’s who we are.

My real problem is not really with Hedges’ suggestion that “the liberal church,” by which he means mainline denominations, have committed suicide by being too conservative. I object to his underlying premise. It is that we are fatally flawed by the very fact that we are the Church. He cites Paul Tillich to the effect that all institutions, including the Church, are inherently demonic, and Reinhold Niebuhr who claimed that churches were inherently morally weak while individuals alone have the spine to be moral. Hedges thereby implies that the Church should commit suicide in order to set us each free to live the moral and meaningful lives we would live if we were solitary individuals on desert islands. If I read him wrong I apologize, but if that is not what he is saying, I assure you plenty of people in the Church are.

I have spent long stretches in solitude wrestling with my inner demons. I was quite disappointed to discover that I am every bit as spiritually muddled on my own as in a group. Christianity has known that for a long time. See, The Lives Of The Desert Fathers. The heroic individual I thought I was (because Tillich and Niebuhr told me I was) was invented by Soren Kierkegaard as a philosophical construct in the 19th Century before he died on a Copenhagen street refusing the sacraments of the Church he did not deem moral enough to comfort him. 20th Century thinkers from Tillich and Niebuhr to Neil Diamond extolled that solitary man.

The problem is: that solitary man does not exist. We do not give birth to ourselves, manufacture our own DNA, speak only to ourselves in our own language, drive on roads we have made, read books we have written. We live in the human milieu. Other people influence us as we influence them. Plato defined “being” as the power to influence others and the capacity to be influenced by them. To separate ourselves from community would in Plato’s’ terms be to destroy our very being. That would be suicide.

We make meaning in relationship. Ubuntu theology says so. See, Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu. Object-relations psychoanalysis and systems psychology say so. Aristotle said so. "Man is a political animal." Politics. John Donne said so. "No man is an island." In Democracy In America, Alexis de Tocqueville said our social and political interactions were necessary in order for us to live well and grow into better people. The New Testament says so, particularly in Paul’s metaphor of The Body of Christ.

I confess (with some chagrin) part of what bothers me about the Suicide post is that I want the Church to be intellectually respectable and it embarrasses me when we are 20 years out of date. I want to ask some of our seminary professors and clergy if they have noticed that post-Christendom is passé. We are now living in the post-secular era. Professor Luke Betherton writes of this persuasively in Resurrecting Democracy. It’s time to get with the program of the 21st Century and move on.

I live in Las Vegas, the capital of American secularity, but even here, I see faith communities proclaiming good news to the poor, release to the captives, and letting the oppressed go free. We joined hands – Catholic, Protestant, Black Church, White Church, Latino Church, Muslim, Jew, and Unitarian – to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, defend the abused, to pass an omnibus anti-trafficking bill, to fund public education, and to extend home health care to double the number of disabled people who can live in their homes instead of institutions. When religion is profaned by violence, it is the faith communities – those “demonic” churches, mosques, and synagogues – who come together to affirm our brotherhood and commitment to peace. How is our bottom line doing? We have always lived on the edge and we are still on the edge – none of those endowments whose shrinking Hedges mourns – never had ‘em; but by and large I’d say we are doing just fine thank you, breathing in and breathing out, putting one foot in front of the other, and doing the work God has given us to do.

I hear too many seminary professors, bishops, and priests whose heads are still stuck in the outmoded individualism of the past, who are out of step with the current decade, who are downright eager to see the Church die. This disturbs me. If there is a suicidal tendency in the Church, it is this collective self-abasing urge to close the doors of our churches to let those heroic individuals each create their own religion and live it out on their own. But individuals create lousy religions to stoke their own egos. The real deal religion that calls us to carry the cross and speak the truth is hammered out in the real world where people – complex, messy, flawed people – join hands to work for the common good. Communion is the sacrament of our common life. Common prayer is pouring out of our common longing. What we long for is the Kingdom of God, which Jesus taught us to seek in the relational space between us. That is why Luke Betherton reminds us, “The cure of souls and the cure of politics are intertwined” and St. John of the Cross taught us that “God has so ordained that we are sanctified through the frail instrumentality of each other.”

Friday, January 15, 2016


Here is a message from Bishop Curry about the Primates Meeting. The best explanation of what transpired this week is in this blog post. It is straightforward, coherent, and accurate, but many readers who are unfamiliar with the workings of the Anglican Communion (and that would be most of the world) may need even a bit more context in order to makes sense of it all. I want to help with that. So here goes.

1. The Anglican Communion is a network of 38 Provinces around the world. The Episcopal Church is one of them. We consist of 15 nations. Other Provinces usually consist of only one nation. 

2. The Anglican Communion is not a law making body ruling the Provinces in the sense that the Vatican is such an authority for Roman Catholics. The Provinces are connected to each other by common mission and “bonds of affection.” The authority to make decisions resides in each Province. In The Episcopal Church, most authority resides in dioceses and dioceses regularly entrust most of the authority for daily church life to parishes. So we are connected but not by a dominating central authority. For theological reasons as well as adherence to tradition, such a central dominating authority would not be “the Anglican way.” The previous Archbishop proposed an Anglican Covenant that would have established some limited central authority, but it was soundly defeated by almost all the Provinces. 

3. Membership in the Anglican Communion is determined by connection to the four “Instruments of Communion” or unity. They are:

A. The Archbishop of Canterbury
In order to belong to the Anglican Communion, a Province must be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Episcopal Chruch is the only church in the United States in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

B. The Lambeth Conference
Roughly every decade or so all the Anglican bishops have met for fellowship, Bible study, and theological reflection.

C. The Primates Meeting
From time to time the head bishops of the Provinces gather, as at this week's Primates Meeting.

D. The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC)
This is a board that actually directs the activities of the Anglican Communion. It is somewhat analogous to a parish in which the Archbishop is in the role of rector and the Council is in the role of the vestry.

4. The Anglican Communion is governed principally by the ACC, which appoints some administrative committees to implement its directives. However, the main action of the Anglican Communion is in “networks.” You can learn about the networks at their web site. I was hoping you could learn about the “committees” that are the point of controversy this week. However, I cannot find anything about the committees on their web site except one committee that administratively implements the policies of the ACC between their sessions. Half of that committee is appointed by the Primates and half by the ACC. That raises the issue that the Primates do not actually have the authority to bar The Episcopal Church from committee positions that are in the jurisdiction of the ACC. However, I predict we will not contest that issue. 

What happened this week? 

The Primates Meeting is one of the instruments of communion. Six of the Primates threatened to walk out (thereby impairing but not completely breaking communion with the rest of us) unless the Epsicopal Church was sanctioned — the desired sanction being to exclude Bishop Curry from the meeting. The Primates just were not going to do that. But in order to placate the six angry Primates and get them to remain part of the Primates Meeting, a majority of the Primates voted to exclude us from working on committees for three years. So, in terms of our relationship status within the Anglican Communion:

1. We are still in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

2. We attended the last Lambeth Conference and will attend the next one. Some of the Provinces who are angry over women’s ordination and LGBTQ inclusion did not attend the last Lambeth but we did and there is no plan to disinvite us or for us to miss it.

3. We are still part of the Primates Meeting, which was unanimously affirmed by the Primates this week. Even the six angry Primates agreed to that.

4. We are still represented on the ACC. After the Eugene Robinson controversy, the Primates asked us to absent ourselves from the ACC for three years. We did. That was a much bigger deal than being excluded from committees. But we did it. We then returned and carried on as before.

5. Networks are not officially “instruments of communion” but they are where the mission of the Communion is actually carried out so they may matter as much or more than the official instruments of communion. We are still part of the networks. 

6. Partnerships are relationships between dioceses in different provinces. This knits us together even more than networks. Nevada has been and remains in partnership with the Diocese of Santiago, Philippines and the Diocese of Makuene, Kenya.

In the words of Bishop Chilton Knudson of Maryland, "the sky is not falling." This is my reaction to the Primate's action: if being excluded from committees for three years is the price we have to pay for full inclusion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, it is a price I would pay many times over. If our not serving on committees for three years preserves the bonds of Christian fellowship that constitute the Anglican Communion, I am more than willing to pay the price for that good purpose as well. Our union in Christ does not depend on committees but on our love of God and service to God’s people in common mission. 

We are in the media limelight this week as a result of the Primates’ action. We are receiving cyber hate mail from the anti-religious and the fundamentalists alike. (We are also receiving a great deal of appreciation from unchurched people for our inclusivity.) All this is to be expected and goes with the turf of being the middle way. I do not mind that at all. One thing I am seeing in the media does disturb me. Some Episcopalians have reacted by calling on The Episcopal Church to withdraw funding from the Anglican Communion. I understand the hurt that lies behind such a response. But I am disappointed that we have so utterly failed to teach stewardship. We don’t give or withhold the money God has entrusted to us in order to exercise power or claim status. Our commitment to the Five Marks of Mission is far more important that any pique we feel about not being appointed to committees on a temporary basis. I am confident the Episcopal Church will turn the other cheek and continue to support the Anglican Communion. If any of your people talk of withholding money from Canterbury, please urge them to prayerfully reflect on Philippians 2: 1-17; Luke 23: 34; Colossians 3:13. 

Even in our congregations and dioceses, we continue to deal with the basic problem of people using money and power to enforce their moral perspective. At stake is a fundamental question of the world's ways of wealth/ power versus relationality as as opposing ways we might seek to influence each other. The Church has a duty to show "by word and example" the superiority of the Sermon on the Mount way. We will better lead in the Communion by modeling the way of Jesus extending forgiveness rather than retaliation -- particularly in the context of wealthy Americans using wealth against Provinces that are so poor. I believe the dynamics in the Communion are not really about sexuality. At Lambeth the African bishops demonstrated little interest in the subject. It is actually a protest arising out of a sense of powerlessness, a legacy of Western imperialism. Assertions of wealth/power by us would only deepen that divide and further entrench them.

Yesterday, one non-Episcopal social media commenter, observed that now the Episcopal Church will know how LGBTQ people have felt for years as they were excluded from family gatherings and social fellowship. That comment stays with me. Any sense of exclusion we straight Episcopalians may feel pales by comparison to what our LGBTQ brothers and sisters have long endured. This small token of ostracism should teach us compassion for them and deepen our resolve to extend healing through full inclusion. The calling of this moment is to grow our compassion.