Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Conversation with the PB (Part I)

When our Presiding Bishop was in Dallas recently, I had a chance to talk to her about our work on the 2020 Taskforce together. When I told her that I was disappointed that I had not heard much on this from her, she told me a couple of things of interest to me.

First, she mentioned the reorganization of the National Church Staff and the move of several offices to other parts of the country from NYC (more on this issue in a later post.) She also mentioned several other initiatives which connected to the eight 2020 areas. I was glad to hear this and incouraged her to speak more about these. It did not come up in her discussion with our clergy. We still remain publicly fixed on "the issues."

I would be the first to say that I think most of 2020 is dead in the water, but I continue to talk about these for two reasons. First, some day we will move beyond the current issues of sexuality and will want to go back to the mission of building the Church and making disciples for Jesus Christ. Second, I still believe that the eight areas expressed in the 2020 Report are the critical ones for the future - take for examples, reaching the new ethnic groups in the U.S. and developing younger ordained leaders.

How long will TEC continue to be dominated and pre-occupied by "the issues?" Until at least 2010. Remember two of my observations over the years: "Issues divide and Mission unites" and "In a polarized situation, the most strident voices dominate and moderate voices are pushed to the margins!" Sadly, this means that if I am right, we can expect our present unpleasantness will continue until at least 2010.


Nate Bostian said...

My best coach in high school always told me that "the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing".

I believe what you are hitting on is that we, as a Church, have let ourselves make much lesser things "the main thing". We have let things which are not addressed in the Creed, or the Commandments, or in the Liturgy, become "the main thing". In some cases, we have made "main issues" out of things that take up less than a dozen verses out of the 31,000+ verses in Scripture (that is less than 0.04% of Scripture, by the way!).

Our crisis comes from a wildly misplaced sense of what our priorities ought to be!

I think that the "main thing" we need to return to is exactly what you speak of: Participating with God incarnate- Jesus Christ- as His own Body, in reconciling the world to God through His atonement.

He is our main thing, and I believe that both the "left" and the "right" have largely forgotten, or merely paid lip service, to the "main thing" of Christ's mission. In fact, Christ's mission can be pursued in our own towns through our own parishes regardless of whether we disagree with a gay bishop in New Hampshire, or the bishop who will not ordain women down the street.

I think you will find that there are many who find the current ideological battles backward, counterproductive, and exhausting, and who long to get back to "the main thing": Bringing people to Jesus Christ.

I think that leads me to a final question (and my greatest question about our PB): Does she preach and teach the Jesus Christ who the Church has always proclaimed, and who is witnessed in our Scriptures and our Creeds?

Dean Kevin said...

Nate, I take it that your last question is a rhetorical one.

Unknown said...

Kevin, you write "Some day we will move beyond the current issues of sexuality and will want to go back to the mission of building the Church and making disciples for Jesus Christ." I may challenge your logic. It is my making disciple for Christ that the current issues will be addressed. The problem with TEC is that it's stopped making disciples and instead is issuing club memberships. In order to join the club you must abide by the rules and those rules do not make disciples. So until there is conversion of the TEC leadership, the crisis will continue.

There is no "moving on." The issues confront us symptoms of a disease and as we are learning, this is not a disease that can be treated with two asprin and a grapefruit. And it will not begin at the top. TEC is now marketing sin as a lifestyle and leading more people into lifestyles of sin.

If you are preaching the Gospel and teaching the Word and the laity are being coverted, you will turn this Church inside out. But it's mightily difficult if you are preaching one thing, and the franchise is marketing another brand.

The "issues" are a revolt from the laity of the church - the revolt is coming from areas of the church where there has been renewal and revival and the laity are no longer willing to be led blindly over the cliff by well-meaning but ill-advised clergy. That's what comes with discipleship.

We should be careful what we wish for, we might get it. "The issues" are a result of discipleship and conversion. The laity woke up.

-Mary, who remembers when you spoke at Truro's Retreat at Shrine Mont all those years ago. Guess we listened.

plsdeacon said...

I think a large part of the problem is that we (TECUSA) no longer agree about what "the main thing" is. So, it is easy to be united in social mission (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, visiting the sick and prisoners), but it is hard to join in making disciples (apprentices or students) of Jesus Christ because we no longer proclaim the same Jesus and no longer agree on what being a disciple of Jesus is.

Now we three (Nate, Kevin, and I) may agree on the major points of the person and nature of Jesus Christ (fully human and fully divine who died to save us from our sins and sinfullness and who rose again to defeat sin and death and that we share in that victory through our baptism and life in the Church) and that being his disciple requires certain moral and ethical changes to work in us - with our willing help by the grace of God. But I don't think that all of (or maybe even a majority of) TECUSA would agree with us on this.

Phil Snyder

Sarah said...

Hi Kevin,

Can you explain why we won't be pre-occupied by the heresy of TEC after 2010? Is there some reason why all dissent would cease by 2010?

I don't understand that date.

Further, I don't think you are correct about "mission uniting". For example, the mission of the national leadership in North Korea is quite different from the mission of the national leadership in the US. As a result, in that case, mission does not unite.

In the case of the two churches within TEC, mission cannot unite, because we don't share the same mission.

I think "common mission" may unite. But we don't have a common mission.

I personally think that the massive dissent in TEC will go on far far longer than 2010, and I think that the fond hopes of revisionists in TEC that folks like me will all be gone are . . . fond hopes.
; > )


Dean Kevin said...

What I was saying is that 2010 is the earliest that we can expect TEC to put aside the present divisions regarding human sexuality and return the more normal life of being the Church, making disciples etc. Do I think we will put it aside by 2010? It depends on what happens at Lambeth and at the 2009 General Convention.

Is it possible that we will continue to polarize beyond 2010? Yes, but if we do, we will have so fractured by 2015 that Bishop Schori will be the last Presiding Bishop who could claim to be Presiding Bishop of a "National Church" That is why my new book ends with a Chapter titled "The Last PB" in which I discuss who and when this will occur. (I am not generally optimistic about the future of TEC.)

You seem focused on the "heresy" continuing. That is another issue.
I was not writing about it. By the way, there are not "two churches" within ECUSA just as there is not one church among the dissenters.

Yep, mission unites and by this I mean the mission of the Church of making Disciples, worship, acts of compassion and love toward the needy, all the things inherit in Apostolic Christianity.

You could say we have conflicting visions, but I am more cynical than that. I think we have mostly competing agendas. Surely you don't think supporting the MDGs is a "Vision" for the church, nor does it equate with Apostolic Mission.

Dean Kevin said...

By the way, Baby Blue,
Nothing the Episcopal church has ever said or done at General Convention has EVER stopped me from witnessing to Jesus Christ and making disciples in his name. If the early church could withstand persecution at the hands of an evil tyrant and still remain faithful to their calling, so can we!

Nate Bostian said...

May we be blessed with a horde of modern day Athanasiuses (Athanasius', Athanasii, what IS the plural of Athanasius anyway???).

When good ol' Ath was confronted with a Christendom "that woke up one day to find itself Arian", he did not create a new denomination... Or spout self-fulfilling prophesies about how it was inevitable that the Arians were going to take over the Church... Or say the Church as we know it is bankrupt and must be abandoned... blah, blah, blah.

Instead, he stood for the Truth of Christ loudly and proudly and did not back down. Though exiled five times, and abused in many ways: He did not back down.

He stayed IN the Church and STOOD for orthodoxy (note: Orthodoxy in the "keeping the main thing the main thing" sense, not in the "upholding the greatness of the 1950's Anglo-catholic movement" sense).

His orthodoxy was distinctly Creedal and Christocentric, and he did not let anything distract him from upholding that. He knew Who the Core issue was, and he stayed there.

And, by standing firm on the bedrock of Christ, he won the day.

Too often we make Christ our MASCOT and not our Lord. We do this in subtle ways. Often implicitly, we think and say things like:

"Well sure, Christ is of utmost importance, but the REAL issue here is whether we will have gay bishops"


"Well sure, Christ is the main thing, but we REALLY need to worry about who gets the property in this deal."

or even

"Well sure, Christ is our Lord, but we simply MUST restore the Church to its pristine status in the [insert favorite era of Church here]"

I hate to say it, but in all of these ways of thinking, Christ is NOT the main thing. The main thing is a secondary issue, and Christ is raised up as a mascot to validate that secondary issue. Both the Left and the Right does this.

But in the end, I think all heresies and schisms are ultimately Christological. Certainly the first seven Councils were! And at the root of it, I think THIS era in our Church's life is Christological as well. For, if Christ is truly Lord and God, and we truly receive and begin to live into his Lordship, things will change.

But, if someone has not been converted- deeply converted- to the Lordship of Christ, then it does not matter what type of ideological or political coercion you hurl at them: They will not change. They will probably retrench themselves instead.

I think ultimately that what we are dealing with is a whole bunch of partially converted, or unconverted people, on BOTH sides of this debate. Yes, BOTH sides.

Because just as surely as denying the historicity, divinity, and resurrection of Christ are signs that a person is not converted, SO ALSO being filled with fear and hate are signs of not being converted. In fact, all of that can be read out of the five chapters of the letter of first John. That one little letter says that those who "deny" that Jesus is the Christ and has come in the flesh are "antichrist". But it also says that those who hate their brother and who are filled with fear cannot be filled with the Love of God.

On the revisionist side, I see plenty of denying the identity and Lordship of Christ. I see plenty of hatred for the "right" as well. On the conservative side, I see fear, doom-talk, and outright hatred for those on the "left".

Perhaps if we worked harder at mission- at converting people and families and neighborhoods where we actually live and minister- perhaps if more people were genuinely converted to the Lordship of the Risen Christ, then this whole thing would look different.

But both sides have abandoned mission for power politics. Instead of focusing on our local parishes and our local dioceses, we are consumed with a power lust to make ALL dioceses and ALL parishes act the way WE think they should act. We have abandoned the one thing we CAN influence (local mission) for the thing we CANNOT do anything about (the entire communion).

Both sides have crucified their Jesus-mascot on the cross of power-politics. Pretty much what happened to Jesus the first go-round, isn't it?

My advice: Get back to the main thing. Get back to Christology. Get back to the local mission of converting ourselves, our parishes, our neighborhoods, and our cities to Jesus Christ.

Be Athanasius.

Because if we do that, the cultural "battle" over the Anglican Church will take care of itself. Wasn't it Gamaliel who said "If this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them-- in that case you may even be found fighting against God!" (Acts 5:38-39)

Those who are not doing God's will, will atrophy and die off over time. Those who are doing God's will, will convert people and bring them to follow Jesus, who in turn will bring others to follow Jesus, who in turn will grow, and grow, and grow.

And all of that can be done regardless of whether the "left" or the "right" take over the Episcopal Church (or the Anglican Communion). All of THAT can be done regardless of whether all of our property is taken away, or we keep it.

That can be done because we still have our bishop, Christ's vicar. We still have the ordered ministry. We still have sacramental means of grace. We still have God's Word in text and in flesh. We still have the local Body working together for mission.

And if you think you need property, or even pomp and circumstance, to accomplish mission: Ask the Chinese Catholic Church. They seem to have survived and thrived in the last 50 years, despite systematic persecution. Ask the Russian Orthodox Church, who has at least survived after 80 years of systematic persecution. Both are Apostolic and sacramental.

My Lord and God, Jesus Christ: Please raise up Athanasiuses for our age! Please convert all of our whiners and nay-sayers into Apostles. Please convert us again, O Lord, that we may convert the world to you. Amen+

Sarah said...

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for the clarification. I also am not optimistic about the Episcopal Church, although anything can happen, for sure.

When you say "2010 is the earliest that we can expect TEC to put aside the present divisions regarding human sexuality and return the more normal life of being the Church, making disciples etc." how could we expect TEC to "put aside the present divisions regarding human sexuality"?

Wha would it take for TEC to "put aside" those divisions? I frankly don't see it happening. I can see them "putting aside" various and sundry "dissenters" but not the divisions, until all the "dissenters" are out. But I certainly think that will take much longer than 2010 -- for instance, I certainly intend to remain in TEC.

I'm genuinely curious.

Also, when you say "By the way, there are not "two churches" within ECUSA just as there is not one church among the dissenters" what does that mean?

If there are multiple churches among the "dissenters" than how many are within ECUSA, then, if not two?


Dean Kevin said...

Despite all the posturing on all sides, two events are important to our future. First, Lambeth will happen. I expect that the Covenant process (Windsor) will move forward. Then we will have the 2009 General Convention. At the convention two critical issues will be before us (no matter how many resolutions there will be)
First, do we wish to continue as full members of the Anglican Communion? (The majority of deputies will want to say "yes" to this) and will the progressive wing more forward with a rite for same sex blessing.

Depending on the outcome of these two items, TEC has three alternatives. 1. Progressives triumph and those unwilling to accept this leave. 2. We remain conflicted - the status quo. 3. Frustrated, we move toward an accomodation - a more Anglican solution. No one can safely predict which of these will prevail. 1 & 3 put the issues behind us.

One of the great myths of the TEC is that it is made up of conservatives and liberals or progressives and orthodox. We are actually made up of many groups. Orthodox or Conservative Episcopalains (made up of at least four groups) can only agree with how much they dislike the present direction. They share almost no common vision for what should happen. This alas marks the failure of the Network etc. and made "alternative Anglicans" a necessity.

These are my opinions, and thanks for asking. You may find my next post of interest because it takes on these issues from a different perspective.

Sarah said...

Of your three choices, my pick is #1:

"1. Progressives triumph and those unwilling to accept this leave. 2. We remain conflicted - the status quo. 3. Frustrated, we move toward an accomodation - a more Anglican solution. No one can safely predict which of these will prevail. 1 & 3 put the issues behind us."

I do not see any reason for them to change their M.O. after 2009 from their M.O. after 2003 or 2006. I just don't see any motivation or positive impulse/reason for them to "move toward an accomodation".

Thanks for chatting.


Tony Seel said...

Kevin, it doesn't sound like you are at all optimistic about the prospects of Common Cause. Given the history of the continuing church movement there is reason to be pessimistic, but could it be that God is doing a new thing through the Common Cause Partnership?

This issue of unity in mission came up in our former diocese (DCNY). The then new bishop came in with a visioning process and I said at the time to the Canon Visionary (yes, that was his title) that the only thing that could in any way unite us was social ministry since the diocese was divided on theology and the identity of genuine Christian mission. When one part of the church defines mission as MDGs and shows little if any interest for evangelism other than to boost the attendance and communicant numbers, I am not optimistic about common service.

As a CANA priest now outside pecusa, I can say we are making every effort to move from battling to building, as Bp. Duncan has recently put it. It is difficult, but we are trying to put aside the anxiety and reactiveness that we were surely apart of while in pecusa. As you state, it's not an easy process.

Dean Kevin said...

You are correct. I am not aptimistic about Common Cause. Two reasons leave me so. First is personalities. Put another way, who will be the next Bishop of some break off Anglican group?

Second is Theological. There is a far greater theological diversity among the Common Cause people then is openly admitted. Keeping ECUSA in your sights makes these seem minimal, but they are not.

Please do not confuse my opinions with my desires. I wish that all who are Anglicans by history or belief could learn to abide together.