Friday, November 21, 2014

The Virtue of Tolerance

During a recent discussion online about the Episcopal National Cathedral offering space for Friday night Muslim prayers, a colleague of mine made some very good observations, but then made this intriguing remark,  “Of course, tolerance for its own sake should never be an end in itself.”   

As a student of history and particularly church history, I would like to suggest tolerance like any virtue can and should be exercised as an end in itself.  Further, tolerance of other peoples’ religious beliefs may be one of the greatest contributions of Protestantism.  What do I mean and why am I saying this? 

The word tolerance has seemed to fall in disfavor in recent years.  Perhaps it is because when we say we “tolerate” someone or someone’s beliefs it tends to sound condescending.  It seems to imply “you may be wrong, but I graciously have chosen to tolerate you in spite of this.”  If this is what you think, then recapture the development of this important virtue.   

The history of all denominations and indeed faith groups are often replete with examples of intolerance.  Catholics did not tolerate Protestants. Protestants persecuted and murdered Catholics. Lutherans did not tolerate Calvinists.  Anglicans did not tolerate Congregationalist, Presbyterians and even Methodist.  However as these different churches emerged from bloody wars and acts of repression and then found their way to places like the new world, they learned, sometimes painfully, the importance of toleration.  And in cultures and countries where religious liberty is truly exercised, as opposed to merely given lip service, religious leaders have learned that the defense of someone else’s right to their beliefs is defense of our own.   

In the U.S., the two clear early beneficiaries of tolerance were Roman Catholics and Jews.  I do not say this to deny the often deeply held anti-Catholic and anti-Semitism that existed in American history, but the truth is that over time, the toleration given between Methodist and Baptists as well as other protestant bodies, created a religious umbrella that allowed these two groups to exist and most importantly to exist without state sponsored repression. Today, the Roman Catholic Church is the fastest growing and largest Christian body in the U.S.     

Let me underscore what I just said.  The learning by religious leaders that in defending the free religious beliefs and practices of others they provided a strong defense of their own religious freedom was a direct result of the practice of the virtue of tolerance.  Tolerance carries an implied two way bridge, a kind of covenant, that I tolerate your religious values because it insures a wider context of religious freedom that benefits us all.   

This is why I am prepared to say unequivocally that tolerance for its own sake is worth it.  In other words, even if Christians learn nothing else about the beliefs of Muslims and their practices, our ability to provide an attitude and even a place of tolerance is a significant accomplishment.  Of course, few early religious leaders in the U.S. could have imagined the religious pluralism that exists today in our nation. Now we have a significant number of Muslims as well as other non-Judeo-Christian traditions, but it is a natural evolution of the virtue of tolerance that it is extended to this wider circle. 

Further, and this is the really provocative thing that I have to say, in the face of growing secularization and a more vocal and hostile atheism, Christians, Jews, and Muslims have an overwhelming stake in religious toleration.  Imagine a society in which religion is allowed as a personal freedom, but public displays, such as corporate worship, holidays, and tax free worship spaces are denied.  I think this is not hard to imagine and could happen within one generation!  I continue to fight this battle by pointing out that separation of Church and State is something I value as a citizen of this nation, but that for Christians, Jews and Muslims, separation of politics and religion is impossible.  As a Christian, my beliefs in Jesus and his teachings have social, ethical, cultural, and political applications.  I cannot separate my personal beliefs from my public behavior.  If the early Christians could have done this, all of them would have been happy to burn incense to the current Caesar!    

So, in the unfolding relationships between religious groups including Muslims in the country, I vote for toleration.  It is possible that I may learn more about the religion of Islam in doings so, but I do not have to do this to justify toleration.  Neither must I become syncretic or Universalist in my own religious views to do so.  In fact it is exactly the defense of my own views, those of my Church, and of my fellow citizens that compels me to exercise toleration. So I say “Tolerance for its own sake” is something to affirm just as all virtues are good in themselves.  

 I do know, of course, that there are plenty of Christians in this country that take the view that Islam is a false religion and its adherents are at best deceived and at worse evil.  They point constantly to the atrocities of ISIS and other extremist and Jihadist groups as examples for their beliefs, but this is wrong.  We can no more do this than to have people point to the evils of extremist Christian groups as justification for condemning all Christians.  As Karen Armstrong has argued, at the heart of all religions and at their best stand the equivalent of the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you yourself wish to be treated,” and the truth that compassion comprises the deepest expression of the Spiritual Life.  The virtue of tolerance provides the environment for the best in religion to flourish. This seems to me to be a worthy end in itself.     



Sunday, September 21, 2014

The TREC and Renewal, Revitalization and Restructuring

 Given all the challenges before The Episcopal Church, is restructuring important?  

Leaders of the Episcopal Church are fond of using initials, hence “PECUSA” which became “ECUSA” which is now “TEC.”  The powerful fiscal committee of the Church is Program, Budget and Finance which is almost always referred to as “PB&F” which I always thought sounded like a sandwich you would order for lunch.  The latest set of initials is TREC or The Taskforce to Reimagine the Episcopal Church.  This high level taskforce with many capable leaders was established at the last General Convention to come up with recommendations to enhance the structures and mechanism of the Church for the more effective accomplishment of the Church’s Mission.  While this seems to imply a whole re-thinking and re-visioning of the Church, this is not exactly what is now before us.  In their initial reports, clearly the taskforce members have given some thought to the challenge of doing this, but their recommendations point more toward the issue of restructuring the Church, I think that is because the essentially the driving force for this work comes from three different dynamics. 

First is the long standing lack of clarity about the relationship of the Presiding Bishop’s Office, the Staff of 815, the President of the House of Deputies and the relationship of all these to the Executive Council along with the Council’s relationship to the General Convention.  Second is the immense cost and continued complexity of General Convention with its extensive committee structure and the overwhelming number of resolutions generated each three years.  Lastly there is the unfolding challenge of funding the budget and establishing priorities given the shrinking number of members and congregations. 

The Taskforce set out to do its work deliberately and with much energy.  The Taskforce’s very existence along with its interim reports have been meet with much discussion, debate, criticism, resistance, and some outright cynicism.  The Taskforce members seem enthusiastic about their work and have clearly done some in depth reflection and strategic thinking.  Their latest report shows that they are taking seriously the work of restructuring the church to make it more efficient, to clarify relationships among important groups, and to give increased power to both the office of Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council which is consistent with the greater centralization of the Church in the past several decades.  The suggested move toward a more centralize role for the Executive Council (reduced in size) and greater clarification of the role of the PB as chief executive of the Church are not surprising and reflect the long historic development of the PB’s office.  In recent years, the on-going tension and power struggle between the current PB and the President of the House of Deputies have accentuated the need for clearer lines of authority and accountability. 

I do not intent to comment much in this blog on the merits of the individual recommendations.  Essentially, I believe that such restructuring and clarification have been badly needed and in summary I believe the Taskforce has done a credible job.  I personally would agree with the reduction in Executive Council members, but would prefer Provincial representation rather than election at large.  I also applaud their recommendations about the reduction in the time of General Convention, the elimination of most join Committees, and as a consequence the reduction in the huge number of resolutions.  The Taskforce is rightfully trying to make the main thing the main work of General Convention. 

As I read the criticism and cynicism regarding their work, I note two general themes.  The cynicism is rooted in an essential truth, namely, restructuring is not the same as re-visioning or revitalization.  While it is right to point out that restructuring will not lead to the kind of re-vitalization that our declining community needs, I believe it is unfair to lay this at the Taskforce’s feet.  Renewal, Revival, Re-vitalization, Re-visioning, and even Resurrection is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit and greatly dependent on our need for a new generation of visionary leaders.  When such movements do occur in the Church they almost never come from the center of power and decision making, but rather on the fringes of the Church and among creative (and often controversial) outliers.  Yet, as the Taskforce rightfully points out by the example of the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus then commands them to “unbind him” and the work of the Taskforce is an energetic effort to unbind the long outworn structures of a once larger Church and morass of committees and commissions that were extensions of creations of an 18th century community. 

Does TEC need revitalization?  Only those totally caught up in institutional denial would think it does not.  Unfortunately, we have a goodly number of such people including the current PB still in elected and appointed offices.  I am not saying that all is wrong with our community.  I see much creativity, experimentation, and a willingness to try new methods and model to carry out our understanding of God’s Mission.  Yet as a whole, we are clearly a declining community still living in the after math of a substantial conflict and subsequent divide.  What I am saying is that one significant part of this is creating a Church with a structure that serves our members, congregations, and dioceses in efficient and effective ways.  I pray that TREC’s work succeeds in this necessary work.

The other issue the Taskforce faces is a predictable resistance to the changes by those who currently are most vested in the status quo.  Who are these people?  First are the Senior Deputies who control so much of the mechanisms of General Convention.  Second is every Deputy who sits on these joint committees and commissions.  The resistance is highly predictable; when has any legislative body voted to reduce its perceived power and influence?  I note with interest that on the internet it is often Senior Deputies and long-standing Church functionaries who are warning of the centralization of power and the elimination of vital participation.  I think we should call this what it is, the knee jerk reaction of those in power. 

In summary then, I think the work of TREC is important, worthwhile and should be received and acted upon by the wider Church.  Will it fix all that is wrong?  No it will not.  Will it address the core issues that are really at stake in “reimagining” the Church and its mission? Not directly though it is a start.  In addition to the example of the raising of Lazarus, let me offer another Biblical example.

When David set out to take on Goliath, Saul offered David his armor to wear.  David refused and the usually understand is that the armor was too large and bulky for the young David.  Perhaps a more insightful understanding is that the young charismatic future leader of Israel understood that one cannot fight the battles of today with the already defeated tools of the past.  This may be the greatest insight that the Taskforce has placed before the whole Church.  I pray that this is a word that we are prepared to hear. 

Note: The Task Force to Reimagine the Episcopal Church (TREC) will convene a church wide meeting on October 2 at 7:30 pm Eastern time (6:30 pm Central/5:30 pm Mountain/4:30 pm Pacific/3:30 pm Alaska/1:30 pm Hawaii).



Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Thoughts on The State of the Church

Each year the President delivers a “State of the Union” message.  This usually is a combination of celebrating who we are, what has been accomplished in the last year, and the President’s agenda for the next year.  Last night had all these elements.

Over the years the Presiding Bishops of TEC have given the same kind of talk at the beginning of General Convention with about the same content.  In addition, at each convention we get a report from the Committee on the State of the Church.  While our Presiding Bishop’s message is usually filled with reassurances that all is well, the committees of late have been fairly direct about the problems and issues before TEC.  Of course, few people, especially Deputies and Bishops pay much attention to these reports but a re-reading of them for the past ten General Conventions will pretty much describe how depressing things are. 

Obviously, I have no position of authority to give such a “State of the Church” speech, but I do have 42 years of experience as a priest and many years of ministry to congregations and clergy.  Here is my general sense of “the way things are.”

When I think of TEC, I have very divided feelings and thoughts.  When I think of TEC on a national level especially concerning “815”, the House of Bishops, and our many Committees and Commissions, I get discouraged.  We are in serious decline and I do not see the present leaders who got us into this situation as able to get us out of it.  I am hopeful about two dynamics. 

First is the Committee on Restructuring the Church.  We have needed such work for a long time and I am mildly optimistic about their work. I find it predictable that the greatest resistance to their work is coming from some of the Church’s most long-term progressive leaders.  My observation is that, having fought so long to take charge of the Church and occupy its structures, this group is strongly reactionary when any change is proposed.  What they most want is for our leadership to continue the focus on justice issues and marriage equality and to reassure them that all is well. 

The second dynamic for me is the number of new and younger leaders in the House of Bishops.  I think these leaders are much more in touch with “our current realities.”  I am not so sure they know what to do about them, but I hear good reports from a number of dioceses. 

In summary, I am generally pessimistic about the future of TEC.  As I have often said, “Until a new generation of leaders emerge with a new vision for our common life, what you see now is what you get.”  What you see is declining numbers, an aging constituency, smaller and fewer congregations, and current leadership committed to the status quo while repeating clichés about multi-culturalism and inclusiveness. 

When I think about congregations, I feel much differently.  Everywhere I have traveled in TEC, I have seen vibrant and exemplary congregations of all sizes full of committed, dedicated people, carrying out extraordinary ministry to their communities. 
While I see these congregations, I think it is also true that they comprise only about 20% of our communities. Whether this 20% can sustain the rest especially the near 60% in serious decline seems doubtful.  Yet, we do have healthy and vibrant places and they can be and should be models to us of what the future could be.

What is clear to me is that we need to radically rethink the preparation of people for ordained leadership of local congregations.  Now, let me be clear.  I am not arguing against our current seminary education, nor do I think seminaries can add more to their present demanding work.  What I believe we need is the creation of a “Mission Training Center” pre/post seminary that would educate ay leaders and clergy in the best practices of building congregations and recruiting unchurched people. 

All over the Church we have town parishes that once maintained a “pastor size” congregation with a full time ordained priest.  Now these congregations have 30 to 50 folks on a Sunday and are supplied with part-time, bi-vocational, and retired clergy.  The problem is that seldom does this mode of leadership build up churches.  It is mostly intended to sustain and maintain them. 

I have floated the idea of such a Mission Center to several church leaders.  Most admit we need something like this, but there remains little energy or resources to do it.

In summary, while we have many vibrant congregations, TEC as a whole looks like the aging downtown church that is living off its endowments, losing members, and will soon have to dedicate all its resources to maintenance.


Sunday, December 1, 2013


Those of you who follow my blogs have noticed that I have not been posting lately.  This is because of my leaving my position in Oklahoma and taking further retirement by moving to Georgetown, Texas.  After the first of the year, you will see more from me in my two blogs.

My "Kevin on Congregations" will continue on the theme of leadership and congregational development.  I've much more to say on this topic.

My "Dean Kevin" blog is one I use on my general themes.  I've some things that I will be sharing in this blog especially on what I see as the future of The Episcopal Church and Anglicanism.  You will find more opinion posts on this one.

Thanks for waiting.  As always, I will be eager to hear your comments and responses.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Evangelism and Inclusion

            Evangelism and Inclusiveness are complimentary values that when separated often produce a dysfunctional community.

            In recent years Episcopalians in conversations, publications, and on the internet in blogs and networks, the word “Inclusion” and its value of “a Church that is open to all people” has become dominant in our common life.  I would content has it has become one of the defining terms of our current identity.  Take the issue of “open communion,” or giving communion to non-baptized people.  Those who practice this justify it as an inclusive action. 

            At the same time, we hear less among Episcopalians about “Evangelism.”  One reason for this is that our community has never been too comfortable with the “E” word.  Despite the Decade of Evangelism and the 2020 Resolution, evangelism still does not seem to be much of an Episcopal thing.  Add to this, the defection of many Episcopalians who identify themselves as Evangelicals and we can see that the word seems, well, a bit alien for us.  As a result, the word inclusive seems to fit our temperament much better.  However, I would like to contend that inclusion and evangelism are not the same thing; that both belong as values of the Church, and that apart from one another, they can lead the Church to unhealthy and dysfunctional behavior.  In a healthy Christian community, evangelism and inclusiveness should be seen as complimentary values, the kind of values that enhance each other.

            There are many in TEC who have embraced the concept of inclusiveness and use it as a substitute for evangelism.  They argue that a truly inclusive church expresses what the early church meant by evangelism.  An inclusive church reaches out and accepts all people regardless of race, economic status, gender and, even for many, creed.  Isn’t the good news of the Gospel that God accepts and loves all people?  Yet, is inclusiveness enough to express what the church is called to do in evangelism?  Is the Great Commission, “Go therefore and be inclusive of all people?”  I would content that inclusiveness makes much more sense when it is related to the Great Commandment “to love one another” than “to make disciples.”

            Also, we should admit that for many in our church the word inclusiveness does not extend to everyone.  It is a code word related to gender inclusiveness.  An inclusive parish is one where GLTB folks are accepted and allowed to be open about there sexuality.  It is a community that champions same sex marriage, and is committed to advocate full rights for all such people in both society and the church.  This is certainly the way that Integrity uses the word.

 Further, the word inclusive can be used in another code way.  In this way, it means that we are an inclusive church that welcomes all inclusive people.  In other words, we are open and welcoming of those who see themselves as inclusive in the political, social, and intellectual landscape of America.  This seems to me to be the way our Presiding Bishop uses the term.  Not included and certainly not welcomed in such churches are people who are perceived to be non-inclusive. These two uses of the word are basically exclusionary.  However, I do not think this is what most Episcopalians want it to mean. We genuinely want to be a community that is open to all people.  “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” as our signs once said. 

            But if a church community such as ours is to be truly inclusive in the boarder sense, if we intend to be a diverse church made up of people across ethnic, racial and gender boundaries, then evangelism is central to this goal.  This is because the work of evangelism involves strategies to reach just such people.  Evangelism must be intentional, planned, and often strategic.  When the Church in Antioch decided to do the work of evangelism, this multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and inclusive community prayed, set apart leaders (Paul and Barnabas who were good at reaching Gentiles) and sent them to advance the gospel among non-Jewish people.  As one Bishop has said, “Evangelism is the most anti-racist thing the church does.” 

            Let me give an example from the Cathedral Church in Dallas.  30 years ago, the Cathedral decided to reach out to the increasing number of Hispanic people who were immigrating into the Dallas area.  They set out a strategy that first involved starting a Spanish language service.  Next they hired a Hispanic missioner to give leadership to this fledgling group.  Today, over 60% of our worshipping community Sundays attend our Spanish service.  We strive hard to remind ourselves that we do not have two congregations, but are one church.  I would content our success in becoming a diverse and more inclusive church has been the direct result of evangelistic outreach. 

            Is it possible that evangelism can be a code word for “people like us?”  Of course it can.  In many larger evangelical communities in America, this is exactly what it means.  The congregations grow in numbers, but they grow by methods aimed at reaching more people from the same socio-economic class who share many of the same values before they ever arrive at their churches.  While there are outstanding counter examples of this among Evangelical churches, the stereo-type of the former exists because such churches exist.    But, as I hope the Cathedral illustrates, this does not have to be either the strategy in evangelism or its fruit.  True evangelism always makes the church more not less diverse.

            The important thing is to realize that evangelism and inclusiveness are complimentary values.  The two, existing together in creative tension, force us to evaluate our intentions and results, our methods and their consequences.  I have been an advocate for evangelism within this community for many years. I remain concerned about the decline of our denomination and its inability to do the work of evangelism effectively.  Yet, at the same time, I am also concerned about the fruit of our present behavior.  I see the word inclusive justified and used more and more in the exclusive sense, so that its meaning is becoming “people like us.”  I fear we are becoming an elitist community that looks with contempt or pity on those who are not as enlightened as we are. 

When I was a young priest, it was said of the Episcopal Church that we were the Republican Party at prayer.  More recently, it was said that we were NPR at prayer.  Now I fear we are becoming at prayer.  It is clear that we are not yet the kind of community that Christ has called us to be.  To become this, we must follow that path that leads to both evangelism and inclusiveness.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Should TEC Restructure?

Last week the Episcopal News Service sent out an announcement that 20 people had been selected by the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies to serve on the Structure Committee established by the last General Convention.  This committee was established to deal with current challenges related to organization and budgeting for our community.  This is considered to be an especially important group gleaned from the over 400 clergy and laity who had expressed interest in the work.  In other words, it is considered the critical edge for the future of TEC.  I have some comments on this work. 

My first observation is that this is important work.  Our denomination has declined from a high point of 3.6 million members in 1965 to now less than 2 million today.  Reorganization is well past due, and the need for strategic thinking for the future is critical.  We can expect that such a group will begin with the fundamental question of the mission of the Church since structure relates to how we organize to do what we believe is critical.  Most of our leaders have probably realized by now that talking about The Millennium Goals or pointing to The Five Points of Mission is not the same as Mission itself.  The list of members seems to be the kind of group that is willing to wrestle with this. 

It remains to be seen how many sacred cows, in particular committees, commissions, and interim bodies, will actually be considered.  There is also the critical issue of how many Dioceses should we have given this shrinking community.  I remain somewhat skeptical about how far this group will proceed given our radical need for change and the many vested people and groups in the present structure.  John Kotter points out that the primary reason efforts at change fail in organizations is “too much satisfaction with the status quo within the organization.”  My concern is that the present denomination office and members of a committee or commission are highly invested in the status quo. However, if you are going to make such changes, a blue ribbon panel has at least the potential to do this. Therefore, I remain open to see the fruit of their work.

Let me also say that this is for me a matter of stewardship.  Having the right structure is important because having the wrong one is both ineffective and costly. From my experience,  I know how important having the appropriate structure is in having effective ministry. I do believe this work is important and it needs to be done.  And yet something else needs to be said.

I begin with this question: Is the primary problem TEC faces today a “structural problem?”  While we clearly have structural issues, I do not think we have yet come up with the right diagnosis.   I would point to two issues that are symptomatic of our situation.

First, we have been involved in serious conflict for the past decade that has held the attention of our leadership, led to an acceleration of our decline and costs us millions of dollars in litigation.  Like it or not, this conflict is related directly to our theological and missional identity, namely who are we and what we are called to do.  I would caution that just because one side in the conflict seems to have won, this does not mean that we have determined an identity and way forward, especially a way that is significant to our wider cultural context.  If the Episcopal Church is to have a future other than shrinking numbers, budgets, and congregations, we must be able to reach people in our society and draw them into this part of the body of Christ. 

Second, there continues to be a major disconnect between our corporate structures and the local congregation.  We continue to hear from denominational leaders that recent decisions have made us more viable to new generations and new ethnic groups which is making us a more inclusive and multi-cultural church.  However, the numbers of declining congregations and the reality in the field is that local congregations are not, nor are most becoming, the kind of church that General Convention and the Executive Council say we are.  Of course, we have some congregations that reflect this, but they are far from the norm of our local congregational life. I have spent much time over the last ten years visiting Episcopal Churches and making presentations on congregational development.  I observe that many of our congregations are struggling with basic survival issues.

Given these realities, we need to ask ourselves if “restructuring” will deal with these systemic issues. These issues may lie beyond the view of this committee, but they still remain the pressing issues before our community. 

So, should we work at restructuring?  Yes, we should by all means.  And yet, we still need to explore the question of our current identity and mission and how this relates to our mission context particularly in North America.  Then we need to manifest this throughout our dioceses and congregations.  If we think about it, we would realize that our denominational structures beyond the diocesan level are artificial constructs.  They have an important place, but they are not “the Church.”  As our Prayer Book points out, the Church is where the baptized gather and do ministry. 




Friday, June 22, 2012

TEC - A Reflection on 41 Years of Ordained Ministry

             On my last official Sunday at the Cathedral, the Acting Dean, Neal Michell, did an interview with me during the adult education hour.  Most of the questions were fun, but one question deserved a more serious answer.  Here is the question and my response.
Q.  You’ve seen many changes in 41 years of ministry – Bishop Hines and the Special Convention Program, a New Prayer Book, Women in leadership including ordination, a change in the church’s teachings on divorce and human sexuality, can you share with us your perspective on all this change? 

 First, I want to talk about how our leadership and culture have changed.
 I became a member of the Church in 1958 which was the year of the greatest number of new members joining the Church.  By 1965, we had 3.8 million members and then began to decline.  When I joined the Episcopal Church, I would say that the majority of members were what I would call traditionalists.  By this I mean that most Episcopalians were people who valued high English Culture, including and especially, the English language, the arts and music.  While the Episcopal Church was never a State Church as in England, still we had an embracing attitude toward education and the arts.  I like to say that we were the State Church of the educated including scientists and artists.   

The leaders of the Church in those days were remarkable people who survived the Great Depression and the Second World War, often bringing out of their experience a strong determination to give back to society.  They were in every way the greatest generation.  Take Bishop Hines who you mentioned for example.  While Bishop of Texas, he started several high quality Episcopal Schools, he launched a seminary, he oversaw the planting of over 40 new congregations, and he gave good and progressive leadership to the wider community.  Like many of his fellow leaders, he believed in an active Christian engagement with society.  As presiding Bishop in 1968 when many of the inner cities of America were literally on fire, he determined that the Church could not sit back in its cultural place of privilege, but rather must engage the issues confronting our society. 

I believe his impulse was both necessary and courageous.  He was a dynamic preacher and outspoken leader especially regarding racial equality.  Unfortunately, he made several mistakes. For example, in dealing with urban issues and civil rights, he largely bypassed the already existing African-American clergy leadership in the Church.  He even ended up funding radical groups and organizations in dioceses directly against the wishes of local bishops.  When he realized that he had lost the confidence of his fellow Bishops, he resigned.  

He was followed by Bishop John Allen, another remarkable leader.  Within five years, Bishop Allen had won back the 44 dioceses of TEC that had stopped funding the national budget.  While conservative on the issues of a new prayer book and women’s ordination, he oversaw the Church’s affirmative actions and implementations in both these controversial areas.  He urged the Church to hold together and it largely did.

In the early 1970s, I could point to a number of outstanding leaders in TEC, not just leaders of the Church, but leaders of society.  These included Bishops Hines, Allen, Bayne, Professor Massey Shepherd, and Dean Urban Homes just to name a few.  I want to underscore the ability of these leaders to value intellectual conversation and engagement with culture.  

Things have changed and I think not for the better.  For example, as a seminarian I attended the General Convention held in Houston.  I remember the hearing held on the proposed new Baptismal Rite.  It started with a 20 minute presentation by a leading theologian and seminary professor on the need for changes.  This was followed by a 10 minute “response” by another theologian from a different perspective.  This theologian began by affirming a number of points made in the initial address, and only then did he respectfully present a differing opinion.  This was followed by a panel discussion among a group of outstanding leaders and thinkers.  Only then was the discussion open to deputies in the audience who could ask questions. 

Compare all this to a discussion at the General Convention in 2000 over the issue of ordination of gay and lesbian persons in same-sex relationships.  The initial resolution that would be taken to the floor of convention was read by the Chair of the Committee and then members of the audience were invited to give testimony limited to two minutes.  Participants went to a set of microphones labeled either pro or con.  I saw a seminary dean given only two minutes to speak to the Church’s theology of marriage.  This was followed by a two minute personal sharing by a woman who was married to a transvestite on how accepting their local parish had been.  I sat watching as a once thoughtful and intelligent community that valued substantive engagement with issues reduced itself to a community of passionate partisanship who reduced discussion to a superficial series of slogans and clichés.

Second, I want to discuss our present political climate.
In the 1970s, Forward Movement produced a short booklet on the different groups, movements and worldviews that were represented in TEC.  I remember that they identified at least seven of these.  The main point of the booklet was not the differences, but rather the community that could embrace such a number of differing perspectives.  I would say that we were an “Embracing Community” that recognized that Christianity allowed for numerous and different worldviews and all of these contained some truth that needed to be embraced in the fullness of the Church.  While I had begun as a part of the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church, been active in the social action wing, and had become an active part of the Charismatic Renewal Movement, I still felt fully included in the Church’s life and listened to with respect. 

As the Progressive Wing of the Church began to grow with its concern for the full inclusion of all people including race and gender, things began to change.  Those who had other views and concerns began to be discounter.  Since then, I have spent many years as an Episcopal clergy person being marginalized by so-called “Inclusive” people.  By the mid-1990s, the Church was being divided between conservative/orthodox and progressive/liberal people.  This fight was largely won by the progressive/liberal folks when Bishop Gene Robinson received consent as Bishop of New Hampshire while living in a same-sex partnered relationship.  By the 2006 General Convention, progressive/liberal clergy and laity made up 70% of the House of Deputies.  Since then the losers in this struggle have either left TEC or have been completely marginalized by the denomination.   

In many ways, this move from an Embracing to Inclusive Community has been a bitter pill to swallow even for a social moderate like myself.  In the last 10 years, we have lost 1/3 of our membership and we are now living with a number of crises created by this decline including a major financial shortfall that is leading to a major restructuring of the Church’s budget with decreasing commitment to Christian education, seminarian training, evangelism, and stewardship while increasing the salaries and support to the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies so that they can continue their “advocacy” ministry. 

Of course from what I have already said, I want us to return to the kind of thoughtful and engaging community that was embracing of true diversity and stop being an agency for essentially a limited agenda of advocacy.  Having said all this, you may be surprised to know that I remain hopeful.  I see new leaders emerging in the House of Bishops that can provide this kind of leadership.  I also think that the decline in membership and decrease in financial support have created a kairos moment that could bring about a new sense of mission and direction for TEC.  My prayer is that the present crises will turn us in a more positive direction and move us toward an intentionally more embracive community.