Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Northern Michigan

The Diocese of Northern Michigan is starting a new process to identify and elect a bishop. They admit to reeling after the failure of their last bishop-elect to receive necessary consents. This must certainly be true. The difficult part to sympathize with is the understanding the leadership of that diocese have of what exactly transpired in the case of Kevin Thew Forrester's consents. The head of the standing committee has intimated that some of the trouble may have had something to do with their failure to amply communicate to the wider church the ins and outs of their internal process of discernment. In other words, it seems they think that if they had told everybody why they only had one candidate, everything would have worked out fine.

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 peace
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.
Now, 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.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Very interesting. I think you are spot on in terms of naming a key sticking point for people in our church - we tend to abide by the t-shirt slogan that says "no matter what you believe, someone else in the Episcopal Church believes it too." This is funny, and fine on a t-shirt, but there does need to be *some* central doctrines that we affirm, in order to give shape to our Faith.

    I had not really carefully examined this statement, but I think your comments are very helpful...

    (and, I do wonder about the "every creature has eternal significance"...I wonder about the theological roots of this statement. In Zen Buddhism, there is the famous koan which asks, "does a dog have Buddha-nature" ... I would hope that a dog would have eternal significance, but I don't know...

  3. Well, I certainly hope to see my old dogs again on God's eternal shores...

  4. Well, of course you will, Greg, it wouldn't be Paradise otherwise!

    On a more serious note, the meaningless, feel-good language you quote from the Michigan vision statement is all too familiar. You see stuff like this all the time from "religious" folks. When put to good music, you have "Imagine", but what you don't have is anything specifically Christian.

    Jesus told us how all people can live together in peace and harmony, but as the rich young man discovered, it's hard. "Envisioning" it isn't enough.

  5. I would add (and this admittedly is thanks to my Wesleyan leanings) that it is grace and how we live our lives within that grace that (should) define us a Christian community.

    In addition to many other aspects, It is grace that takes us on the journey of going from the acorn to the oak tree.

    Is there beauty in all of God's creation? Of course. Is there a holy presence in creation? I tend to believe so (and certainly hope so). We who subscribe to the New Covenant tend to find God in the person of Jesus and the grace extended therefrom. Our reaction and, yes, transformation stemming from this grace is what defines us.

    I tend to think that any community of faith that strays from the beauty and transforming power of God's grace is missing the mark. If we're attempting to find such grace beyond the person of Jesus, then I think we're a little off base.

  6. I tend to believe in the concept of natural law and that God speaks to all people in His Creation--Jew, Hindu, Moslem, Shintoist, extra-terrestrial--in some, unknown fashion. To those to whom the fullness of the message has been conveyed, more is expected and it is properly understood that such people should "get" what it is God is talking about. The thousands of years of Hebrew history tells us folks still can fail to grasp certain key tenets of the faith. But even those to whom the message has not yet been sent, or those who culturally cannot even begin to try and understand Christ let alone follow Him are not necessarily lost. I believe they can still follow God as they understand Him and live their lives in accordance with what the prophet Micah stated long ago.

    The folks in Northern Michigan, though, seem to be keeping the central tenets of the faith, which--contrary to some denominations are there for all to see and espouse--at arm's length, and that is troubling on an esoteric level, but more saddening on a personal and communal level. TEC is going to right its ship by confessing what it stands for more clearly and more often, not with more of this relativist, post-modernist "feel good" stuff. What they are saying is fine, but made more in keeping with TEC through adding that this is what Chirst came to teach us, and which goes as far back as Micah and Deuteronomy 10: 12-14.