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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Day 3, Post 1: Tom Woodward: Asked and Answered

Over at The House of Bishops in New Orleans, the lights are on but nobody's home.

That's because they are scheduled to do some construction work today.

No, not in terms of repairing any rips or frays in the fabric of the Anglican Communion or The Episcopal Church.

Rather, they are going out into New Orleans to lend a hand on a construction project as part of the on-going effort to rebuild that city after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and the even more damaging effects of the incompetence of this Administration. That is wonderful gospel work, and I applaud them.

That also means that it's probably going to be a slow news day. And, for that, I applaud them with even more enthusiasm.

Here's a delicious little morsel for all you "church news junkies."

Tom Woodward is a priest in the diocese of Rio Grande. He is a creative thinker and one of my favorite commenters on HOB/D (House of Bishops/Deputies Listserv)I NEVER hit "delete" when I see Tom's name, unlike so many of the others.

He has written some wonderful stuff for
The Episcopal Majority and has a great blog called "Turning Things Upside Down".

Catch his most recent essay "The Undermining of The Episcopal Church" which you can find either at TEM or on his personal blog.

One of the pieces of news that didn't get widely reported is that the Archbishop of Jerusalem, Mouneer Hannah Aris, addressed the House of Bishops with a stinging rebuke which ended with these words, "Please forgive me if I have said anything that offends you."

Well, here's Tom's response to that, which were originally posted on HOB/D and for which Tom has generously and graciously given me permission to repeat here. The text of Archbishop Aris' address follows.

See what you think.

1. The Muslims with whom we live will dictate the terms of what is essential in our faith and we dare not deviate from their judgment.

2. The American Church no longer values the historic Creeds, the Bible, Jesus or much else central to the Christian faith. What is the evidence for that? We just told you that it is so.

3. The Lambeth Conference, which at no time previous to its last meeting was ever considered a legislative body, has legislated the one and only one interpretation of seven verses of the Bible. If you don't agree with those interpretations, it is likely that, as others have told me, you are not Christian.

4. The Anglican Communion values diversity -- but only within the confines of uniformity. Some of my best friends are different from me.

5. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which enters into dialogue with complete openness to embracing our truths and discarding their own, the Americans have a real stake in the outcome of sitting around a table.

6. I am aware that I have hinted that you are a non-Christian religion and have been more than clear that you have no regard for standards or communion, but please forgive me if, by any means, I might have offended you.

In all charity, I can find little else.

Tom Woodward

NB: In all charity, here's the address of the good bishop of Jerusalem

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Thank you so much for inviting me here to come and listen to you and for giving me the opportunity to share my heart with you. I am very aware of my own shortcomings and weaknesses, but every word I want to say is out of love and concern for the unity of the Church of Christ.

I do not come with great authority, nor am I the primate of a province with a great number of Anglicans; I do however, come from a region where Christ walked and where the Church was born. I come representing the Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East.

The Church ion this region has faced many challenges since the first century. Our brothers and sisters in the early centuries were ready to sacrifice their very lives to stay true to the Faith they received from the Lord and his Apostles. Their blood was not in vain; rather it became the seed of the Church across our entire region. Many disputes and heresies took place in our region. In face of all the challenges, persecutions, and heresies our ancestors—people like St. Athanasius, St. Clement, Origen, and Cyril from Alexandria, along with Tertullian, Cyprian, and St. Augustine from North Africa—kept the faith of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. We are constantly learning from our ancient martyrs and forebearers how to serve the Kingdom of God faithfully.

Today our Anglican Church in the Middle East still lives within a very exciting and challenging context. We live among the Oriental Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox, the Catholics, the Jews and the Muslims. We greatly value our ecumenical relations and continue to work for unity.

We also deeply respect and appreciate our Muslim friends and value our interfaith relations while in no way compromise our faith. I have to tell you that many of these relations were severely strained after your decision to consecrate Gene Robinson as bishop in 2003. We are seen as the new heretics and this has hindered our ecumenical and interfaith relations as well as our mission in the region

My friends, like you, we want to be relevant to the culture in which we live. More importantly, we want to be salt and light to our societies. That is not an easy calling but it means we must remain distinct and humble at the same time. Without being distinct we cannot be salt and light; without humility we will not represent the one who said, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” We are also continuously challenged whether we should allow the culture to transform the Apostolic Faith we once received, or if we should allow the Gospel of Jesus Christ to transform our culture as it has in the past. As we struggle to answer this question we must never divorce ourselves from the faith that countless men, women and children died to protect. I believer that if we faithfully serve the Church of Christ, He will continue to fulfill his promise that the gates of Hades will not prevail against her.

Rupertus Meldenius said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity”. Our hope is to be united on the essentials of faith which are defined only by the whole church. WE are not in any way trying to impose rigid views on you. Like you we celebrate diversity, but we believe that such diversity should not be unlimited and should not contradict the essentials of our faith. We are not schismatic, but we are diligent to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. We want unity but not unity at any expense.

Anglicans are aware with humility that we are not “the” church but we are one member of the body of Christ, the one Holy Catholic Church. We proclaim this every week in our churches. This places upon us the responsibility to listen to and respect our ecumenical partners.

My friends, you may believe you have discovered a very different truth from that of the majority in the Anglican Communion. It is not just about sexuality, but about your views of Christ, the Gospel, and the authority of the Bible. Please forgive me when I relay that some say you are a different church, others even think that you are a different religion.

I understand that it is difficult for you in your context to accept the standard teaching of the Anglican Communion. That is why you refused to accept Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10. You also ignored all the warnings of the Primates in 2003, 2004, and 2005. Your response to the Windsor Report is seen by the Primates as not clear. You cannot say you value being a member of the Anglican Communion while you ignore the interdependence if the member churches. The interdependence is what differentiates us from other congregational churches. I would like to remind you and myself with the famous resolution number 49 of the Lambeth Conference of 1930 which declares “the Anglican Communion is a fellowship of churches that…are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference.” With respect, I have to say that those who would prefer to speak of laws and procedures, constitutions and canons, committees and process: you are missing the point! It is our mutual loyalty and fellowship, submitting to one another in the common cause of Jesus Christ that makes us of one Church one faith and one Lord.

It is clear that you actions have resulted in one the most difficult disputes in the Communion in our generation. You may see them as not core doctrinal issues. Many like me see the opposite but the thing that we all cannot ignore is that these issues are divisive and have created a lot of undesired consequences and reactions. For the first time in centuries, the fabric of our Communion is torn. Our energies have been drained and our resources are lost and it is difficult for both of us to continue like this.

My friends, if you really believe that the truth revealed to you is different from that shown to the rest of the Communion, then you need to uphold that claim with boldness even at the risk of losing unity. If you think it is right and necessary to ordain and consecrate practicing homosexuals and that you should bless same sex partnerships or even marriages, you should be true to what you believe is right and accept the consequences.

However, if you appreciate being members of the global Anglican family, then you have to walk along side the members of your family. Those who say it is important to stay together around the table, to listen to each other and to continue our dialogue over the difficult issues that are facing us are wise. We wholeheartedly agree with this, but staying around the table requires that you should not take actions that are contrary to the standard position (Lambeth 1.10) of the rest of the Communion.

Sitting around one table requires humility from all of us. One church cannot say to the rest of churches “I know the whole truth, you don’t”. Archbishop Rowan reminded us in his paper “Challenge and Hope” that “the whole truth is revealed to the whole church”. Sitting around one table requires that each one should have a clear stance before the discussion starts. It also requires that true openness and willingness to accept the mind of the whole. We do not have to be in the communion to sit around the one table. We do so when we dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox and with other faiths. It would be extremely difficult to sit around one table when you have already decided the outcome if the discussion and when you ignore the many voices, warnings and appeals from around the communion.

Today I appeal to you to respond with great clarity to the requests that were made in Dar Es Salaam. If you accepted the Primates’ recommendations, would you be able to give assurances to the Executive Committee of the General Convention of TEC would ratify your response? It is the responsibility of the bishop to guard the faith as we promise during our consecration. In many of not most parts of the Communion and the historic churches, present and ancient, matters of faith and order, is the responsibility and therefore the authority of the Bishops to safeguard and teach.

If you don’t commit yourself to the Dar Es Salaam recommendations would you be willing to walk apart at least for a period during which we continue our discussions and dialogue until we reach a common understanding, especially about the essentials of our faith? Forgive me when I say that for many of us in the Communion, we feel that you have already walked apart at least theologically from the standard teaching of the Communion.

I know that you value personal freedom and independence. The whole world learns this from you. You need to demonstrate this by securing freedom for the American orthodox Anglicans who do not share your theological direction. Show your spirit of inclusiveness when you deal with them. I am afraid to say that without this more and more interventions from other provinces is going to happen. No one wants this.

I pray for wisdom and grace, for myself as well as for you, and I pray that God will lead us both in the right direction. Remember the illustrious history of God’s church and remember future generations who will sit in judgment on us. Remember also that the whole world is waiting and watching what you do.

Please forgive me if I have said anything that offends you.

May the Lord bless you.

+Mouneer Egypt


muerk said...

I don't think Tom Woodward's post is a charitable or fair assessment of what Mouneer Hanna Anis said and I'm very glad you posted his actual speech.

Nor do I think Anis' speech (as I read it) was a 'stinging rebuke' to TEC but I do think it was an honest explanation of how many in the Communion see TEC's action in ordaining Bishop Robinson.

Maxit said...

So this is the part to which I say, AMEN!

If you think it is right and necessary to ordain and consecrate practicing homosexuals and that you should bless same sex partnerships or even marriages, you should be true to what you believe is right and accept the consequences.

With one addition, which is not only ordaining and consecrating "practicing" homosexuals, but also those of us whose practice has made us, assuredly, knowing that God loves us.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Of course you don't, Muerk. Your post is only more evidence of the obvious: TEC is now in schism, thanks to the hard work of the conservative, orthodox, evangelical neo-Puritans.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Maxit -


Liz+ said...

Tom's synopsis is both clear and accurate. He has cut through the thinly disguised and incredibly offensive address of Mouneer Hanna Anis. To not recognize it as offensive is to agree with with Anis.

What this is boiling down to is a quickly emerging relativistic discussion: TEC must adapt to the cultural needs of those Akinolites and their sympathizers who call us non-Christian; at the same time, they accuse and condemn us of being cultural relativists ourselves.

Can we say crazy-making?

Maxit said...

God loves us. We know this. Our prayerful meditation and practice of our faith has let us know. We who are called to holy orders, to marriage, can answer the call. If Anglican Communion walks away,as a consequence, it walks away. But God will make everyone reconciled and so this is not a consequence I fear. That's all I meant.

Peace, snd thank you for your continued writings.


Mike Mayor+ said...

After getting past my own ire at the thinly veiled rage in +Mouneer Hanna Anis's address, I reread it and was shocked at how quickly and easily he glosses church history to support his argument for orthodoxy. Many of the "fathers" of the Church he lists contradict one another, and one of them (Origen) was deemed a heretic for centuries. His basic message appears to me to be that we're already on the outside and all this meeting is is window dressing. It's so very sad.

The saddest piece of the whole thing is that he, like most conservatives choose to define membership in the church by what excludes rather than by what includes. If I remember correctly from my seminary days the difference between Jesus and the religious authorities of his time was his radical inclusivity in the face of their exclusivity.

Oh well, I've gone on too long. Thanks Elizabeth for your blog, I read it daily!

Peace and Joy,
Mike Mayor - Salt Lake City, UT

muerk said...

Mike Mayor+

I really didn't get any indication of Anis' rage from reading that speech. It was blunt, but I don't think blunt has to equal rage.

Likewise I disagree with you about Anis' reference to the church fathers and Origen.

Pope Benedict XVI (a whole hearted "conservative", known for his orthodox/traditional theology) stated that "Origen succeeded in effectively promoting the "Christian interpretation" of the Old Testament, brilliantly countering the challenge of the heretics, especially the Gnostics and Marcionites..." And that Origen was "a brilliant theologian but also an exemplary witness of the doctrine he passed on."