Thursday, December 31, 2009
We can’t keep the pews filled with “cradle Episcopalians” unless we start breeding a lot faster. We need converts from other denominations, other religions, or from no religion.
Here’s a story about how one Episcopal priest responded to an opportunity to rope in a potential convert:
Given my spiritual longing, I decided it was time to explore places of worship. Being a secular Jew, my first step should have been a temple. However, the synagogues around here are practically recruitment stations for Obama (aside from the Orthodox ones, but I don't speak a word of Hebrew). So I decided to experience church on Christmas Eve.
Checking out churches online, I found almost none that offered political neutrality. Most heralded their progressive credentials, welcoming the transgendered, but not conservatives.
I was pleased to find an Episcopal church whose website focused on religion, not ObamaCare. I left a message for the priest that I was looking for a church that didn't press a political agenda because I wasn't a liberal.
I received an icy reply from the priest, the Reverend Lucy, who said with barely-contained disgust, "I don't think you should check us out."
You can read the whole article here.
There is a happy ending (of sorts) to this story. The writer did find a church where she felt welcomed:
Beyond the music and pageantry, what moved me the most was being with hundreds of people who loved God. Maybe some were questioning his presence or feeling abandoned. But they showed up, and that's half of life.
It was a stirring night for this wandering Jew who has traveled from east to west, from Left to Right. As the Sufi poet Hafiz wrote, "This moment in time God has carved a place for you," and sitting in the sanctuary, I felt that place.
Even though I didn't know the right words, or the hymns, or how to pray, it didn't matter. All the differences among people -- race, class, politics, even religion -- vanished. Faith, I realized, is the ultimate uniter.
And in a heartbeat, I understood why leaders from Marx to Mao try to keep people away from God, and why they will always fail. I flashed to an image of those mothers who somehow find the superhuman strength to lift up a car and free their children.
On Christmas Eve, I learned that this same unstoppable power exists inside all of us, especially when we stand together. As Jesus himself taught, faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain.
The whole article is here.
I’m saddened a little that she found this welcome in a Roman Catholic church, not an Episcopal one. Aren’t you?
Happy New Year from the Godfather.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
And please note -- this is not a question of 'conservative' vs. 'liberal.' Not at all. Neither is it one of 'progressive' vs. 'traditionalist.' No, this is a question of creedal/catholic Christianity vs. something altogether else.
Bill Carroll writes:
I'll respond in terms close to Karl Rahner's theology, because I think that Fr. Forrester's theology often is a distortion of Rahner (and Eckhart). At the same time, there are certain tendencies in Rahner that I would not want to endorse, because they might plausibly lead in KTF's direction.
With regard to 1, I could affirm it provided that "all is of God" were glossed "every creature as such is of God." Human creatures of course can turn away from their own true being in sin, and sin is not of God. As privatio boni, sin doesn't properly speaking exist, but a clearer subject is needed for the sentence than "all."
With regard to 2, I would want to insist with Rahner that the human creature as such is the possibility of incarnation and that the Holy Spirit is always, already present as prevenient grace and charity. Nevertheless, even the most radical permissible doctrine of the totus Christus better preserves the distinction between head and members. Moreover, whatever the merits of the theory of anonymous Christianity, the strong identification of someone as a member of Christ in the NT, depends upon his or her Christianity taking on a tangible, categorial ecclesial form.
With regard to 3, every creature as such is certainly a reflection of the uncreated Word and hence related to Christ, the incarnate Word, who sums up in his person all that is good in the created order. It is also true that the Holy Spirit is present in every human creature as actual grace (gratia gratis data) and therefore, in a sense, that Christ is present. But to have Christ living in oneself (as wrt #2) in the Pauline sense implies specific commitment to visible, tangible ecclesial communion through baptism and Eucharist, confession of articles of faith, and acceptance of the discipline of life in Christ.
With respect to 4, this is the root of the problem, ignoring the distinction between the only begotten Son, the second person of the Trinity, who becomes incarnate in our Lord Jesus Christ, and God's adopted children by grace, on the one hand, and between the vestiges of the Creator in every creature and the human being as God's image and likeness, on the other. A pet peeve of mine is that you don't get to call someone a child of God until they are a brother or sister in Christ. It doesn't mean that other people aren't in the image of God and therefore of infinite dignity. The grammar of the NT requires that child of God be restricted to an ecclesial sense.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
By Eric Von Salzen
I was fascinated by the article about CERN and the God particle (the Higgs Boson) that Greg posted recently. Serious scientists are actually talking about particles that travel through time to affect human activities. As a commenter said, “And people think we're weird for believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.” As if that weird science weren’t weird enough, other serious scientists are debating whether the movements of galaxies and galactic clusters – which don’t make sense according to the laws of gravity – should be explained by assuming that 90% of the matter in the universe is stuff we can’t see and know absolutely nothing about (“dark matter”), or by changing the laws of gravity to fit the observations.
This all brings to mind an impression I have that belief in God is more prevalent in some scientific disciplines than in others; specifically that cosmologists and quantum physicists are more likely to believe in God than are biologists.
I’ve done no research on this, and maybe I’ve just been overly influenced by books I’ve happened to read – like God and the Astronomers by Robert Jastrow, on the one hand, and practically every book that Stephen Jay Gould wrote, on the other. If anyone has any actual data on this, I’d love to hear about it.
But for the time being, assuming that this impression is correct, it makes sense to me that this should be so.
Cosmologists and quantum physicists deal with matters that are right on the edge of human comprehension, as the discussion of the Higgs Boson illustrates. I don’t mean merely that I don’t understand these subjects; there are myriad things I don’t understand, from the popularity of rap music to why anyone would eat Manhattan clam chowder if they can get New England. What I mean is that the most powerful human minds are stretched to the limit to puzzle over what happened in the first micro-instants of the Big Bang, or why galaxies are the shape they are, or what it is that makes a quark charming.
A scientist who has to face the possibility that what he’s trying to discover may lie, unknowable, beyond the blue event horizon, might find it possible to believe that there’s something beyond the edge of human comprehension, and that something might be “God”. I don’t claim that every cosmologist or quantum physicist believes in God – that’s probably a minority position at best, and even those who believe in God may more likely be Deists than Christians – but I think that belief can be found in such company.
Now for the biologists. If I’m right that they are the least religious of scientists, there’s good historical reason for their being so. A central tenet of biology -- evolution through natural selection – has been the battlefield on which believers and secularists have waged their campaigns against one another for a century and a half. In this country in recent years the fight has been over “teaching evolution in the schools”. If you were a biologist, your opinion of religion could not help but be affected by the fact that it was religious people who were trying to get the school board to ban evolution from the high school science curriculum, or add a unit on “creation science”. You could be excused for seeing faith as an enemy of science.
And it’s not just biologists for whom Biblical literalism is a stumbling block in the way of religious faith. Many educated people in this modern world are going to hesitate to embrace a belief system that demands that they reject what they have learned to be the established consensus of scientific thought.
Frankly, Christianity makes claims that are pretty tough for people brought up in this modern secular world to accept – that God became embodied as a Jewish carpenter who performed miraculous healings and other feats, was executed in a gruesome manner, and then rose bodily from the dead. We Christians make it much harder for such people to accept the Gospel if we insist that they also have to swallow the claim that all the animals, birds, and fishes were created just as we see them today in seven days six thousand years ago.
I’ve often felt that the Episcopal Church, tiny as it is in membership, may be called to bring the Gospel to intelligent, educated, modern people, who are turned off by the excesses of the Protestant fundamentalists on the one hand, and the rule-bound Romans on the other.
That’s not a bad ministry to have in the United States today. Unfortunately, though, some church leaders – even a bishop or two – seem to think that the way to make the church acceptable to modern people is to dilute its religious content. That hasn’t worked, and it shouldn’t be expected to work. What would draw a modern secularist to a church that said the same things he/she heard all the time from the modern, secular world? Oh, maybe some people will come for the music, or the incense, or the pretty gowns the clergy wear, but that’s not a rock on which to build a church. The only reason for significant numbers of modern, secular people to become part of the church is the kerygma, the Gospel, the Good News. Without that the church is just another venue of the secular world. It doesn't help to tell them that we don’t question the Theory of Evolution, but we have our doubts about the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. If they want evolution without Resurrection, why go to church? They can get plenty of that in the world around them, and sleep late on Sunday.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
But, again, that's not the point. To some the fact that they had only one candidate from which to elect may be a big deal -- but not necessarily. It begins to look like a small group has effectively appointed the bishop elect, and then had a convention ratify their appointment, but I suppose that could be alright.
What really bothered folks about the person elected in Northern Michigan was not merely the process, but the result. According to his own published works of theology, the man elected did not uphold the doctrine and discipline of The Episcopal Church according to what is made clear in the Prayer Book, Hymnal and canons. Simple as that.
The reason why the leadership of this tiny diocese, which consists of a few hundred persons in average Sunday attendance, may have difficulty in understanding why their appointment fell through is because it appears that they share the theology of their appointee -- and seem to have no sense of awareness of what the wider Episcopal Church teaches and values as regards the essentials of the Christian faith.
One has only to look at the vision statement of the Diocese of Northern Michigan. It says:
We envision a world in which all people live together in peaceNow, this may not be such a bad statement at all, if there were anything about it that seemed to say this vision was rooted in the basic Christian proclamation. It is not inherently clear that this vision is particularly Christian -- or even theistic, for that matter. Very possibly this vision could be put forward by someone who is neither Jewish, Muslim nor Christian. Indeed, as well, it seems like no Buddhist or Hindu would necessarily firm all of it -- because I wonder whether they do recognize that every creature has eternal significance.
and in harmony with all of creation, where all can contribute
and the gifts of all are joyfully received, nurtured, and supported,
where our diversity is celebrated in community, and every creature
is recognized as having eternal significance.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Search for elementary particles hindered by time travel
By: Irma Zhang
Posted: 10/29/09More than a year has passed since the world's largest and most expensive physics experiment shut down due to technical difficulties. With intense maintenance and painstakingly tedious corrections, the infamous Large Hadron Collider is back to working standard, and is expected to start once again in December. But according to two physicists, the repairs may have been for naught and the original breakdown was destined to occur.
After observing several strings of bad luck, such as cancellations or breakdowns, that have haunted other supercolliders, physicists Holger Bech Nielson of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics, have proposed that the sought-after product of the collider is so destructive to nature that it travels backwards through time to stop the collider before it can even be created.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's largest particle accelerator, with a 17-mile circumference that lies 570 feet underground near Geneva, Switzerland. The accelerator was built by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, for the purpose of finding forces and particles that existed in the first trillionth of a second of the Big Bang. The LHC has been in the works for 15 years and has cost $9 billion so far.
Protons within the collider are accelerated until they reach a peak energy of seven trillion electron volts, and then collide together to form primordial fireballs.
Although some doomsday theorists speculate that planet-consuming black holes would subsequently form, physicists believe that the collision would instead generate what is known as the Higgs boson, the "god" particle that supposedly explains the origin of mass in the universe.
Nielson and Ninomiya have published multiple papers with titles such as "Test of Effect From Future in Large Hadron Collider: a Proposal" and "Search for Future Influence From LHC." According to the New York Times, in an unpublished essay, Nielson claims, "One could even almost say that we have a model for God," since the very existence of the Higgs is so contrary to the nature of the universe.
This negative influence of Ninomiya and Nielson's proposed Higgs product could be one possible reason that the United States Superconducting Supercollider, also designed to find the Higgs, could have been canceled back in 1993. Furthermore, they predict that all other future Higgs-seekers will be blocked by fate.
However, Neilson and Ninomiya's theory has been met with much criticism. "When I heard about this proposal, I thought it was either a tongue-in-cheek parody or an attempt to see how many people were gullible enough to believe it," Barry Blumenfield, a professor at Hopkins specializing in neutrino physics and hadron-collider physics states. "I don't believe this proposal any more than I believe a field goal kicker missed in the last 2 seconds because of ripples going backward in time that prevented him from making it."
Furthermore, some argue that it's possible that the Higgs boson already exists, but as far as we can tell, the passage of time has not been altered. "Cosmic rays hit nuclei in our atmosphere at higher energies than person-kind will produce [at] the LHC. If the Higgs particle exists then cosmic rays will be producing them all the time," Bruce Barnett, a professor in the Hopkins Physics Department who performs research at the CERN Large Hadron Collider, said. "The possibility of a Higgs being produced does not cause cosmic rays to stop coming from outer space into our atmosphere."
Although it would seem that such a ridiculous-sounding theory would be immediately dismissed by the physics community, the fact that the two proposers are prominent thinkers in the field of particle physics makes their ideas even more controversial. Nielson, for one, is one of the founders of string theory, which combines quantum mechanics and general relativity to explain the most basic components of the universe.
Undaunted, however, Neilson and Ninomiya have proposed a test, using a random-number generator to distinguish bad luck from events prohibited by the future.
The LHC is scheduled to start accelerating protons to an energy of 3.5 trillion electron volts by the end of this year, and then build up to 7 trillion electron volts by the end of 2010. But according to Nielson and Ninomiya, even if it does reach 3.5 trillion electron volts, the energy will not be large enough to generate a Higgs. But no matter what happens at CERN, for elementary particle hunters, the theory is the ultimate statement of pessimism.
© Copyright 2009 News-Letter (Johns Hopkins)
Monday, October 26, 2009
Indeed, it appears to be exactly the kind of left-handed spear toss that this pope has been practicing for decades, at least since his time as Grand Inquisitor of the Roman Catholic Church (yes, he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which until 1965 had the name, 'Holy Office of the Inquisition.') Of course, this spear has three points, and only the first strikes at Rowan Williams. The second tine jabs at all Anglicans who cherish the reforms that occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries, including our restoration of early catholic models of authority in which the bishops of the church were collegial brethren, and the other orders of the church had a degree of shared authority in their representation at church councils. ('Conciliarism') And the third barb cuts back upon at those in the Roman Catholic Church who actually appreciated the movements developed at the Second Vatican Council, and have lamented the backward-movement of the Roman Catholic Church's leadership under the influence of then Inquisitor, now Pope Benedict.
This is the same Pope, who just two years ago on his own initiative (motu proprio) issued a decree allowing the Latin Mass to be used by any priest who wants to do so, following a minimum of criteria. The purported motivation behind the decision was the pope's desire to reconcile with those traditionalist Roman Catholics who did not approve of the changes to the liturgy and theology of the church coming about in Vatican II. This was the same purported motivation behind the pope's decision earlier this year to restore to communion to several extremely conservative Roman bishops -- including Richard Williamson. Williamson, for those who don't remember, has actively denied the Holocaust. These chaps had originally been excommunicated for their involvement with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the founder of the Society of Pius X, a rabid critic of Vatican II and its changes in Roman Catholicism. Lefebvre was also, by the way, a supporter of the Nazi-friendly Vichy government, and the fascist regimes of Franco and Pinochet.
The pope's decision to allow the Tridentine mass and the reinstatement of the leading figures of anti-Vatican II Roman Catholicism back into the fold may also be seen to be theologically and ecclesiologically connected to his decision to receive disgruntled Anglican clergy and laity into the Roman Catholic Church via the creation of personal ordinariates. The connection consists of Benedict's long-held antipathy for the conciliar/collegial vision of authority pointed to by Vatican II -- and his long-held preference for the supremacy of papal authority. Benedict is the chief architect of the re-emphasis of central papal authority.
The debate between Cardinal Kasper and then Cardinal Ratzinger over the relationship between local and universal church -- between local bishop and pope -- which occurred some ten years ago -- has clearly been decided in the election of Ratzinger to the throne. He is simply enforcing his top-down, centralized model of imperial authority for the papacy that Kasper and Vatican II opposed. Father Hans Kung, the famous Swiss Roman Catholic theologian and professor who openly repudiated papal infallibility in 1971, and was stripped of his authority to teach doctrine by the Vatican in 1979, writes in the Guardian (UK):
Pope Benedict is set upon restoring the Roman imperium. He makes no concessions to the Anglican communion. On the contrary, he wants to preserve the medieval, centralistic Roman system for all ages – even if this makes impossible the reconciliation of the Christian churches in fundamental questions.The relationship between the authority of the papacy to the authority of the bishop's of local churches shared by Pope Benedict XVI is as follows: The Fullness of Church Authority reside in the Pope; the province/archdiocese/diocese is under the authority of the Pope; the province/archdiocese/diocese's own particulars are far less important than the universals of the whole church; therefore the Pope should tell the local churches what and how to do; their input is of minimal importance.
Of course all of this goes quite against what Anglicanism is essentially all about -- which is to say collegiality, subsidiarity, and conciliarism. In this model, the authority of Jesus Christ resides in all the members of His Body, but each order within the body is called to different ministries -- some with a greater degree of oversight than others, but none with supreme authority. Conciliarism holds that church councils (sometimes called conventions, synods, or even vestries in a sense) share the authority of God by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when we meet together as representative leaders of the Body of Christ. Roman church imperialism says, no, the authority of God in Christ has been given to the pope.
Indeed, the best thing about the recent actions from the Vatican is that it reminds me how glad I am that the English Church experienced the Reformation in the 1500s, and that bad old Henry VIII may have done us a favor.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
According to the Associated Press,
"Pope Benedict XVI has created a new church structure for Anglicans who want to join the Catholic Church, responding to the disillusionment of some Anglicans over the ordination of women and the election of openly gay bishops.
The new provision will allow Anglicans to join the Catholic Church while maintaining their Anglican identity and many of their liturgical traditions...The new church structure, called Personal Ordinariates, will be units of faithful within the local Catholic Church headed by former Anglican prelates ... Those Anglicans who have approached the Holy See have made clear their desire for full, visible unity in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. ... The new canonical provision allows married Anglican priests to become ordained Catholic priests — much the same way that Eastern rite priests who are in communion with Rome are allowed to be married.The announcement was kept under wraps until the last moment: The Vatican only announced Levada's briefing Monday night, and Levada only flew back to Rome after finalizing the details at midnight."
Joint Statement by The Archbishop of Westminster and The Archbishop of Canterbury
Tuesday 20 October 2009
Today's announcement of the Apostolic Constitution is a response by Pope Benedict XVI to a number of requests over the past few years to the Holy See from groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Roman Catholic Church, and are willing to declare that they share a common Catholic faith and accept the Petrine ministry as willed by Christ for his Church.
Pope Benedict XVI has approved, within the Apostolic Constitution, a canonical structure that provides for Personal Ordinariates, which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of distinctive Anglican spiritual patrimony.
The announcement of this Apostolic Constitution brings to an end a period of uncertainty for such groups who have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church. It will now be up to those who have made requests to the Holy See to respond to the Apostolic Constitution.
The Apostolic Constitution is further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition. Without the dialogues of the past forty years, this recognition would not have been possible, nor would hopes for full visible unity have been nurtured. In this sense, this Apostolic Constitution is one consequence of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.
The on-going official dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion provides the basis for our continuing cooperation. The Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) agreements make clear the path we will follow together.
With God's grace and prayer we are determined that our on-going mutual commitment and consultation on these and other matters should continue to be strengthened. Locally, in the spirit of IARCCUM, we look forward to building on the pattern of shared meetings between the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales and the Church of England's House of Bishops with a focus on our common mission. Joint days of reflection and prayer were begun in Leeds in 2006 and continued in Lambeth in 2008, and further meetings are in preparation. This close cooperation will continue as we grow together in unity and mission, in witness to the Gospel in our country, and in the Church at large.
+ Vincent + Rowan
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Friday, October 9, 2009
By Eric Von Salzen
I don’t read the New York Times anymore. (That once great newspaper was always dull, but it used to be the place to go for reliable, in-depth reporting of national and international news. Now it’s just dull.) So it was only by chance that I saw the Times article a few days ago about Francis S. Collins, MD, the director of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Collins is controversial because, you see, Dr. Collins believes in God.
As the Times explains, “many scientists view [Collins’] outspoken religious commitment as a sign of mild dementia.”
Collins is a scientist, the former head of the Human Genome Project, and a Christian. His 2006 book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, does just what its subtitle claims. It’s a fine book for intelligent Christians and open-minded skeptics.
The Times says that in this book Collins “preaches about his belief” in God. “Preaches”. Do you get the sense that that word – “preaches” – is meant to be just a tiny bit pejorative, that it’s somehow unseemly for a scientist to “preach”? Maybe I’m overly sensitive. I would say that Dr. Collins “discusses” his faith in the book. But that’s just me.
One of the scientists quoted by the Times, physicist Robert L. Park , says that Dr. Collins’ description of an event that started him on his faith journey “is enough to cause concern”. Here’s what Dr. Collins said about this event in his book.
When he was a third year medical student and was working in a hospital with sick and dying patients, Collins was struck by the fact that in many cases the patients’ faith “provided them with a strong reassurance of ultimate peace, be it in this world or the next, despite terrible suffering . . . .” He goes on:
My most awkward moment came when an older woman, suffering from severe untreatable angina, asked me what I believed. It was a fair question; we had discussed many other important issues of life and death, and she had shared her own strong Christian beliefs with me. I felt my face flush as I stammered out the words, “I’m not sure.” Her obvious surprise brought into sharp relief a predicament that I had been running away from for nearly all of my twenty-six years: I had never really seriously considered the evidence for and against belief.
So young Collins started reading about religion, and before long he came upon C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. You can guess the rest.
What does the scientist Dr. Park say about this event, which causes him “concern” about Dr. Collins? He says that Collins, as a man with a medical degree and a Ph.D. in chemistry should have realized that “the moment was nothing but a hormonal rush” and should not have given it “a higher meaning”. Please re-read what Dr. Collins said about this experience. Did he say that his face flushing (that must be the “hormonal rush” Park talks about) was a message from God or in any other way was freighted with “higher meaning”? No, really he doesn’t. In this part of Collins’ story, he’s moved by the faith of some of his patients to begin reading about Christianity. Is that really evidence of mild dementia?
(I’d bet Dr. Park never even read what Dr. Collins wrote, except that Dr. Park is an eminent scientist and would never reach a conclusion without considering the data.)
The rest of the times article portrays Dr. Collins on the defensive, claiming that he has no “religious agenda” for NIH, and that he supports therapeutic cloning. He promised not to let faith interfere with scientific judgment. “I’m a scientist”, Dr. Collins says, “I have a lab”; also, “I drive a Harley”. He played guitar with Joe Perry of Aerosmith. He went on the Colbert Report. When Stephen Colbert asked him to take off his glasses and shake out his hair “to make science sexy and cool”, Dr. Collins did so.
What is wrong with this picture? Is believing in God so freakish that you have to drive a Harley and play the guitar to prove that you’re normal?
Around 80% of Americans believe in God, perhaps 1-2% are atheists or agnostics. Who’s out of step? Who needs to justify himself?
That’s a rhetorical question. No one in a just society should have to justify his/her faith or lack of it. No one should have to drive a motorcycle and play a guitar in order to get away with being a Christian.
I can't play the guitar. And I drive a Volvo.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
In the recent case of All Saints Church Waccamaw v. Protestant Episcopal Church, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that All Saints Church of Waccamaw had lawfully withdrawn from the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina and taken its property with it.
As a real estate lawyer, I found this a fascinating case. As a loyalist Episcopalian, I found it disturbing.
The history of All Saints parish goes back to 1745, when Percival and Ann Pawley transferred some 60 acres of land to George Pawley and William Poole “forever in trust for the inhabitants on Waccamaw Neck for use of a chapel or church for divine worship of the Church of England established by law.” All Saints Parish was established on this land in 1767 and has conducted services there ever since.
In August 2003, “prompted by events that are not relevant here,” the Court’s opinion says (but I suppose we can guess), the congregation appointed a committee to recommend whether it should leave the Episcopal Church and the Diocese, and by a two-thirds vote in January 2004, the congregation voted to amend its corporate charter to separate from the larger church. This being America, lawsuits followed.
The state Supreme Court faced two issues. Did the parish own its real estate (so it could take the property out of the Episcopal Church) or did it hold it in trust for the Diocese or the national church? And did the congregation have the corporate power to take the parish out of the Episcopal Church? The trial court had answered both questions in the negative, that is, in favor of the Episcopal Church and Diocese. The Supreme Court reversed and decided in favor of the break-away parish on both issues.
First, the Court had to decide what rules governed these issues. When civil courts are called on to decide disputes involving churches, the courts must tread carefully. Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the government may neither “establish” a church nor deny any person the right to freely exercise his/her religion. This means that courts must steer clear of resolving religious disputes on religious grounds – the Court could not decide this case, for example, by determining which side of the dispute was more consistent with Episcopalian doctrine.
The U.S. Supreme Court, according to the South Carolina Supreme Court, has said that there are two valid approaches that the civil courts can use in deciding church disputes: the “deference approach” and the “neutral principles of law approach.” The South Carolina Court described the deference approach as follows:
Under this approach, a court must only determine whether a church is “congregational” or “hierarchical” in nature. If the church is congregational, the court will resolve the dispute by deferring to a majority of the congregation. However, if the congregation at issue is part of a hierarchical organization, the court will defer to the decision of the ecclesiastical authorities.Under the neutral principles approach, however, the decision does not depend on the organizational structure of the church.
Rather, the neutral principles of law approach permits the application of property, corporate, and other forms of law to church disputes.Which approach you take in this case is going to determine the outcome: If you use the deference approach, the Diocese and the national church win; if you use the neutral principles approach, the parish wins (for reasons that I’ll get to in a minute). According to the South Carolina Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a state can adopt either approach. This seems strange to me, but I’m not a First Amendment lawyer. If anyone reading this knows anything about this issue, please comment. Also according to the South Carolina Supreme Court, it had adopted the neutral principles approach in a previous case in 1996, and would take that approach in this case.
To apply neutral principles to the property dispute, you start with the deeds on record, of which there were two, one from 1745 and one from 1903. The 1745 deed conveyed the property to George Pawley and William Poole as trustees for the benefit of the inhabitants of Waccamaw Neck. Under an old English law called the Statute of Uses, enacted by Parliament in the reign of Henry VIII, where land is conveyed to one party “for the use of” another party, the title is treated as though it was conveyed directly to the second party. This statute has been incorporated into the real estate law of most U.S. states, including South Carolina. If George Pawley and William Poole had been “real” trustees, with actual duties to perform with respect to the management of the land, the Statute of Uses would not have applied, but the South Carolina court concluded that they weren’t “real” trustees – they had no duties to perform other than holding nominal title to the land - so the Statute of Uses applied. The Court also held that “inhabitants of Waccamaw Neck” meant All Saints Parish, so the 1745 deed gave the parish title to the land in question.
The other deed was issued in 1903, from the Diocese to the parish, and transferred to the parish any interest that the Diocese might have in the parish’s property. With that, I’m not sure the Court even needed to bother with the Statute of Uses (but that’s the sort of arcane material that lawyers and judges can’t leave alone).
So applying “neutral principles” of real estate law, the parish owns its real estate, and the Diocese and the national church have no interest in it. When the Diocese amended its canons in 1987 to declare that all parishes held their land in trust for the Diocese and the national church, and in 2000 recorded notice in the land records to that effect, those actions had no effect because the Diocese had no ownership in the land, and you can’t declare a trust over property that you don’t own.
As for the second issue, the authority of the congregation to amend its charter and withdraw from the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina, under neutral principles that becomes a question of corporate law. The parish was incorporated as a non-profit corporation under South Carolina law. It adopted its charter amendment withdrawing from the Episcopal Church in accordance with the non-profit corporation act. Nothing in the articles of incorporation of the parish corporation gave the Diocese or the national church any say in the manner. Although at canon law the parish might be subordinate to the diocese, as a matter of corporate law it was an independent corporation, not a subsidiary.
Thus, applying neutral legal principles, the state Supreme Court held that All Saints Church Waccamaw properly withdrew from the Episcopal Church and could take its real estate with it.
When I was in law school, a classmate and I wrote a song about the ancient doctrines of land law that we were studying. It was set to the tune of Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land, and the first verse went like this:
This land was your land, but now it’s my land
Thanks to a writ of novel disseisin [*]
And through abuses
of the Statute of Uses
Your land will all belong to me.
[* Don’t Ask.]
As the Episcopal loyalists who used to be congregants of All Saints Church Waccamaw look for a new church home, they may feel that they’ve been abused by the Statute of Uses.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
Sept. 14, 2009
Dear Deputies and First Alternates,
It has been two months since I brought the gavel down to close the House of Deputies at the 76thGeneral Convention in Anaheim, but the remarkable spirit of those ten days has stayed with me. During our time together in the House of Deputies, we worshipped and prayed, shared some very deep feelings about the controversial issues that confront our Church, learned new skills through the Public Narrative Project, and acted on an extensive legislative agenda that will shape our Church for decades to come. Watching the sensitive, respectful way that deputies went about their business, observing the efficient committee work, and listening to the well-informed debate made me appreciate once again the wisdom of our founders, who determined that all orders of ministry should share in the governance of our Church.
We are living in difficult times, but the members of the House of Deputies have indicated that they are ready to make even stronger commitments to the work of God’s church. It is my hope that we can bring this new energy to bear on a new set of challenges. During this triennium, we must do more with less. We must determine how our interim bodies—the Commissions, Committees Agencies and Boards on which clergy and lay people have extensive representation—can continue to play a vital role in the governance of the Church. We must create ways to continue essential mission initiatives, even without the Church Center offices that once sustained this work. And we must begin to formulate our response to the Anglican Covenant once the final draft becomes available.
For my own part, I would like to begin the new triennium with three announcements:
1. In response to our financial situation, I have decided to reduce the size of my Council of Advice from 14 members to 8. Each member of the council will have a specific portfolio or project and will be supported by his or her own network of informal advisors whom I will call upon from time to time as the need arises. I believe this is the most cost-effective way for me to remain well-informed and advised.
2. This week I am sending letters to various lay and clergy leaders throughout the Church inviting them to serve on the Commissions, Committees, Agencies and Boards that play an essential role in the governance of the Church. In extending these invitations I paid special attention to balancing the new energy and insights of an emerging cohort of lay and clergy leaders with the experience and institutional memory of veteran deputies. Once the invitees have responded and rosters are complete, they will be posted on the General Convention Office Web site.
3. Circumstances including our impending consideration of the Anglican Covenant and the need to sustain the work of our CCABs in the face of reduced budgets suggest a need to speak clearly and convincingly about the distinctive way in which authority is exercised in our Church. To that end, I am appointing the House of Deputies Study Committee on Church Governance and Polity to examine and explain the history, theology, political structure and practical realities of the ways in which we believe God calls us to govern the Church. This group, whose membership I will announce shortly, may also make recommendations to the next General Convention on strengthening our self-understanding.
After this General Convention, I am more convinced than ever that it makes little sense to speak of governance and mission as two different things. Our Church is able to enlist the energy and talent of every member in building God’s Kingdom precisely because we make room for the Spirit-seeking wisdom of all orders of ministry in the governance of our Church. The relationship is symbiotic, it is a relationship of UBUNTU. I urge you to remember that deputies are deputies even when General Convention is not in session. Please remain involved in the life of your congregation and your diocese, and don’t hesitate to inform me of any developments you find significant. I am always available to you at email@example.com. Soon I will reactivate the HOD communications tool in the form of the deputy online forum that served us so well prior to General Convention. We will use it as a place for us to share information and opinions about matters pertaining to our work together as the House of Deputies on behalf of the Church.
As always, you are encouraged to share this communication with all the alternates of your deputation and other people of your diocese and beyond.
Thank you again for your participation in an inspiring General Convention...
Here are some of his answers to questions posed before the election by the Diocese of Georgia:
1. What are you passionate about in your ministry, in your personal life, and in the world around you?
I am passionate about leading congregations that begin to see God’s vision for the creation in the Gospel of Jesus, embrace that vision, and then shape their work to be congruent with that vision. The spiritual energy created by such work is contagious. Once a significant number of people in a congregation begin working together for the Gospel (and not for their own agendas) then miraculous results happen. I have seen this happen in each parish I have served and I am humbled by it. It is a holy ground experience. This does not happen every day and my experience tells me it takes years of patient work to see it happen, but because I know it is possible, I remain passionately committed to the Church’s ministry. Some might see the Church as inconsequential to what God is up to in the world. I disagree. The Church is at the heart of what God is up to.
In my personal life I am passionate about my wife, Kelly, and our children. Kelly is just amazing. I am more in love with her now than when we were married 25 years ago. She is my rock and a special blessing from God. Our children are smart, funny, and becoming adults and it is quite entertaining (not all the time, mind you) to watch that process. They are good young adults who care deeply about God’s world. Their spiritual and moral centers are strong.
And I am also passionate about God’s world, even though some might think me naïve, or at least, not paying attention. That may appear pollyannish to some given all the blood in the ink of the headlines. I always try to see the world as God sees it, but that doesn’t mean I’m in denial about the world’s reality. God has never been in denial about the world God created. The cross of Jesus is God’s statement of acceptance of the world as it is. And the resurrection of Jesus is God’s declarative statement that the world (as it is) is unacceptable to God. The cross and resurrection help us all keep God’s big picture in mind, which means we can say with Dame Julian of Norwich that “all things shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
2. Please elaborate on an occasion or experience, during your ministry, of significant personal growth or change.
As Rector of St. Paul’s Church, East Cleveland in 1986, the Bishop gave me the charge of transforming the parish from an older white congregation to one that was predominantly black, reflecting the composition of the neighborhood. The congregation 20 years earlier had been over 1000 and all white. By 1986 the city neighborhood had completely changed and the congregation had dwindled to 40 mostly elderly white folk. My first day the Treasurer placed the parish checkbook on my desk and said: “Goodbye.” The parish was in financial free fall. I had to terminate the secretary and organist because we did not have the funds to pay them. Nothing I had ever trained for or experienced prepared me to deal with this situation. A few days later, six members (most of whom were over 65) came into my office and said: “We love God and we love our Church. We want to be a witness in this community. Whatever you need us to do to make that happen, just let us know.” I was amazed at their selflessness and their willingness to give up power and control for the sake of the Gospel and the witness of the Church. And they were true to their word. I have never met a group of people who were so intentionally committed to the Good News and less concerned with their own agendas. Their act and witness made possible the change and growth of the parish. For the next five years, we became a predominantly black parish. The white leadership humbly took a support role and worked diligently with me to build up new leadership within the parish.
My experience there transformed me personally and taught me a lot about my leadership role in the Church. In order to lead, people have to be willing to follow. In order to follow, people have to trust you and share a consensus with you about where we are headed. And then, we all need to stay focused on the essentials of our shared vision and avoid private agendas. When that happens, the church flourishes. Because this experience happened to me so early in my priesthood, it has stayed with me and been a guide for my leadership in the Church since.
3. What are the touchstones in your faith that will guide your responses to the issues now facing-some would say threatening-the Episcopal Church and the world-wide Anglican Communion?
I’m grounded by a humble faith in Jesus Christ as Lord & Savior of the world. Because Jesus is Lord and God is sovereign, I believe it is not my role to try to manipulate outcomes, especially during the current unpleasantness. Yes, it is messy now, but God is giving us an opportunity. This is a challenging time in the Church and culture. We are experiencing a massive shift. The “modern world” has given way to the “post-modern world.” People are reacting to this change differently. Some are resisting it at all costs. They have drawn a line in the sand and said: “no more.” Others are all too eager to adopt whatever the culture offers with no critical perspective. Still others are just plain stressed out by change.
Like everyone else, we Episcopalians are along for this ride. But we can bring something important to the public square as our culture endures this sea change. And this is where my personal practice of faith guides me. We can live into our common future by being more Elizabethan, that is by helping one another develop a capacity to attend to one another’s differences with a spirit of love (that’s the Anglican Via Media, that Queen Elizabeth helped create). This may be the most important call God is giving us as a Church right now: to stand between the virulent fundamentalists (no matter their religious stripe) and the cultured despisers of religion by witnessing to the reconciling love of Jesus.
I have no illusions about how challenging this is. It will mean that we will have to take seriously what it means to be people grounded in the Gospel. Such a call will have less to do with just trying to be nicer to strangers or more understanding of those who disagree with us. Rather, such a call from God will ask us to wade deep into troubled waters with both friend and stranger.
That’s a Church I want to belong to: a Church that takes Jesus seriously when he teaches us about love for enemies, forgiveness in order to be forgiven, and hospitality to the stranger. Being a disciple of such a Lord will be the hardest work we will ever do. Of course, the alternative for us is forget our Anglican roots and identity, hunker down, and become privatized in our religion; doing our religious ritual on Sundays and trying to pretend that what’s happening around us will go away if we just wait it out. We have the opportunity to be witnesses to a different way of being Christian: one that takes discipleship in Jesus seriously, but also one that is open to the new things the Holy Spirit is up to in the world. My hunch is there are a lot of Georgians who think they have only two choices: adopt the fundamentalist agenda hook, line, and sinker or reject Christianity as being irrelevant. Wouldn’t it be compelling to show them a different way of following Jesus?
Monday, August 31, 2009
I always am delighted when people listen to what I say in a sermon or address. Sometimes I am surprised by what they hear.
In my opening address at General Convention, I spoke about the "great Western heresy" of individualism (see the full text here). There have been varied reactions from people who weren't there, who heard or read an isolated comment without the context. Apparently I wasn't clear!
Individualism (the understanding that the interests and independence of the individual necessarily trump the interests of others as well as principles of interdependence) is basically unbiblical and unchristian.
The spiritual journey, at least in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is about holy living in community. When Jesus was asked to summarize the Torah, he said, "love God and love your neighbor as yourself." That means our task is to be in relationship with God and with our neighbors. If salvation is understood only as "getting right with God" without considering "getting right with (all) our neighbors," then we've got a heresy (an unorthodox belief) on our hands.
The theme of our General Convention, ubuntu, was chosen intentionally to focus on this. Often translated from its original African dialects as "I am because we are," ubuntu has significant biblical connections and warrant. The Hebrew prophets save their strongest denunciation for those who claim to be worshiping correctly but ignore injustice done to their neighbors (e.g., Amos 5:21-24), and Jesus insists that those who will enter the kingdom are the ones who have cared for neighbor by feeding, watering, clothing, housing, healing and visiting "the least of these" (Matt 25:31-46).
In my address, I went on to say that sometimes this belief that salvation only depends on getting right with God is reduced to saying a simple formula about Jesus. Jesus is quite explicit in his rejection of simple formulas: "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven" (Matt 7:21).
He is repeatedly insistent that right relationship depends on loving neighbors – for example, "those who say, ‘I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen" (1John 4:20). The Epistles repeatedly enjoin the followers of Jesus to "give evidence of the hope within you" (1Pet 3:15ff), that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:14-26), that our judgment depends on care for brother and sister (Rom 14:10-12) and that we eat our own destruction if we take Communion without having regard for the rest of the community (1Cor 11:27-34).
Salvation depends on love of God and our relationship with Jesus, and we give evidence of our relationship with God in how we treat our neighbors, nearby and far away. Salvation is a gift from God, not something we can earn by our works, but neither is salvation assured by words alone.
Salvation cannot be complete, in an eternal and eschatological sense, until the whole of creation is restored to right relationship. That is what we mean when we proclaim in the catechism that "the mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ" and that Christian hope is to "live with confidence in newness and fullness of life and to await the coming of Christ in glory and the completion of God's purpose for the world." We anticipate the restoration of all creation to right relationship, and we proclaim that Jesus' life, death and resurrection made that possible in a new way.
At the same time, salvation in the sense of cosmic reconciliation is a mystery. It's hard to pin down or talk about. It is ultimately the gift of a good and gracious God, not the product of our incessant striving. It is about healing and wholeness and holiness, the fruit of being more than doing. Just like another image we use to speak about restored relationship, the reign of God, salvation is happening all the time, all around us. Where do you see evidence?
Sunday, August 23, 2009
In other words, they went perhaps farther than the Episcopal Church recently did at its convention, either in the direction of including gay persons living in relationship, or in terms of ecumenism, and, to be clear, they are a much bigger denomination than we are. Indeed, the Lutherans and Methodists are both much bigger than we are.
Yet, surprise, there was nothing at all in today's paper about it. And when I googled the news last Friday, I also came up with relatively little in the media.
So here's my question: why do Episcopalians get so much press on all this kind of stuff, and the Lutherans very little? Is it because Garrison Keillor controls the media?
Friday, August 21, 2009
- Click here for Lutheran statement on sexuality which has passed their churchwide assembly yesterday.
- Click here about full communion with United Methodists entered into by Lutherans (ELCA)
- As well, it appears that the ELCA have also approved same sex blessings in a vote today.
- Also, persons in same sex unions have been approved by the assembly to be eligible to serve as clergy.
Atlanta Journal Constitution reports:
Pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America can bless same-sex unions after a vote Friday by delegates at the Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis.
“I’ve been a life-long member at Redeemer Lutheran Church [in Atlanta], and I was never comfortable asking my church to bless my relationship,” said Bob Gibeling, who is at the assembly.
“This offers great hope to me that when I find a future life-long partner, my own beloved congregation will want to bless that union.”
The change in the Evangelical Lutheran Church does not require pastors or congregations to bless same-sex unions, but allows those comfortable with it to do so.
Friday, August 7, 2009
It may not come as a surprise that much of what we are seeing in today's divisions stems from differing values about what constitutes and who constitutes authority in the church. To be sure, the Church of England is still an established old-world church, and The Episcopal Church is the first Anglican Communion church to arise in a context of classical liberalism -- what more need be said?
The Church of England still has crown-appointed bishops. As well, in other parts of the communion, especially in the GAFCON provinces, for example, we see Anglican churches constituted in national contexts where classical liberalism has hardly taken any hold at all. Classical liberalism, again, is that particular bundle of ideas which gave rise to the United States' constitution, etc.
I find it no surprise at all therefore, that we see structural differences which are pretty major. What is amazing, in fact, is that more than two centuries ago the Archbishops of York and Canterbury consecrated William White to the episcopate, presumably knowing that he was the author of our deeply 'liberal' ecclesiastical framework.
Now, this all being said, I am still not sure that we in The Episcopal Church need be at all smug or superior vis a vis the depth of classical liberalism in our ecclesiastical dna. Indeed, the individualist ideology at the heart of liberalism, and the very 'political' machinations which describe so much of our own goings on, are edges where faithful critics of our church might have a good place to start.
I don’t care what anyone tells you. I don’t care what the hymn says. We do not come to the garden alone.
We come racing with Peter and John, close friends of Jesus, to see the empty tomb. We come with Mary Magdalene, in the middle of the night, trying in vain to care for his body.
We also come with Christians in their billions. Today, they are gathered in
So, no, my friends, we do not come to the garden alone. We come with many brothers and sisters. We come as a worldwide community, the Body of Christ, the Church.
We come for many different reasons, carrying many different burdens. Some of us are troubled by the burden of sin. Others by the prospect of impending death. Still others come imprisoned by the past and the shackles of memory. We come heavy laden with anger, resentment, and grief. We are fearful and anxious about our future. We worry about finding work or losing a job, perhaps even losing our home. Maybe this has happened to us already. Perhaps we are facing a difficult family situation or life-threatening illness. Perhaps we are bone tired, worn down by hard work and many cares. But, no matter what the reason or burden, no matter how heavy or light, and even if we are among those lucky untroubled few, we come today looking for a word of hope and resurrection joy. We are looking, in a word, for JESUS.
And so, we come. Early in the morning on the first day of the week, we come. We come to the garden tomb with Mary Magdalene. Spices in hand, we come, ready to bury our friend and Lord. We don’t expect much from Jesus. We certainly don’t expect to see him alive. But we have come here in the wee hours of the morning to do what we can.
Mary has spent the night weeping. She must be exhausted. Hours ago, she was already at the end of her rope. Now, she is numb with grief, nearly past the point of caring, in desperate need of sleep. But, when she arrives, there is no body. Insult is added to injury. Even this comfort, however small, is denied her. They have taken his body from her.
And so, she begins to weep. And first the angels, then the mysterious stranger, ask her why. In both cases, Mary’s answer is the same: “They have taken my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” Supposing the stranger to be the gardener, she asks him “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
But then, the stranger, who is Jesus, calls her by name. “Mary,” he says. And she turns to face him. “Teacher!” she replies. Jesus calls her by name, and she responds. Her turning is more than a simple bodily movement. It is a complete change of life. It is conversion. She is leaving sin and death behind her—to serve the living God. Jesus has appeared to her—ALIVE—so her grief gives way to joy. Having been called and sent, she runs to tell the others: “I have seen the Lord.”
No, we do not come to the garden alone. Our faith is built on the foundation of the apostles. It is built on the testimony of Mary Magdalene, who saw and touched the Lord. It stands upon the testimony of a great cloud of witnesses, throughout the world and throughout the ages, who have encountered the Living One and been changed by him forever. Jesus calls person after person into his Body, the Church. We come to him through his community.
Even those of us who have our doubts—who doesn’t?—can glimpse in broken fragments the meaning of Easter. Every sign and symbol we use, every story we tell, points beyond itself to the Great Mystery. We see it mirrored in the flowers and smiling faces. We hear its echoes in our thunderous hymns of joy. We even taste it and smell it in the bread and wine made holy. We feel it in our bones, in the HOPE this Day gives us—in God’s frightening yet exhilarating offer of freedom. For, on this Day, Christ is risen, breaking the power of death. On this Day, he sets us free from all the powers that enslave us. He calls us and sends us in his Name.
The Christian vision of life is very realistic. “The three sad days have done their worst,” and they cannot be undone. We do not deny sin, suffering, and death. In Christ’s presence, our burdens remain real, but they lose their power over us. Easter does not undo the evil that crushes Jesus; it unveils the saving power of his Cross.
On this Day, God imparts a sure and certain hope the world can’t give. God gives us a knowledge born of love. The whole Day testifies to things unseen—to the victory of God—to the grace and mercy that are now claiming our world, from the bottom on up.
For God chooses the weak and despised of the world, and makes of us a kingdom. God chooses sinners, and makes us beloved children. God chooses the fallen, and makes us stand.
The same stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
My brothers and sisters, come to Jesus the Living One, who is that very stone, and lay your burdens down. For we have been born anew to a living hope by his resurrection from the dead.