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Friday, December 12, 2008

As the Anglican World Turns - Episode 152 (Or, is it 163? I lose count)

I've found myself praying, off and on today, for the legal proceedings happening in the Diocese of Central New York.

I've been praying that, despite who claims to be right and who is judged to be wrong, justice will be done and the truth will have out.

The long and the short of it is that the clergy, wardens and vestry of Church of the Good Shepherd, Binghamton, NY who have left the Episcopal Church for the more 'orthodox' uber-Calvinist (but apparently accepting of the ordination of suitably obedient, subservient women) Anglican Church of Kenya, are in a bit of a legal wrangle with the Bishop and the Diocese of CNY over - guess what? - the property.

You can read a brief synopsis of the situation here. I don't know all the details, so I won't comment, but I'm certain of one thing: It's all more complicated than the alleged victims would have us believe.

Fast on the heels of all this drama, comes a note from a certain retired but still very active uber-orthodox bishop on the HOB/D listserv.

He was shocked - SHOCKED, I tell you! - about the news release, published 25 October, about the cost of the legal proceedings.

There was the distinct sound of annoyance in his note that no one personally picked up the phone and told him, as well as the hint that, somehow, the leadership of TEC was withholding this information.

Not only that, he said this:

"Of course, some cast the blame for this matter on those clergy, and congregations, and now, dioceses, that felt abandoned by the leadership of TEC, and concluded they could no longer remain in this Church, and chose to leave. Then there are others, myself included, who see this Church as having abandoned 4,000 years of Biblical teaching and doctrine that has been upheld by the Church of Jesus Christ for 2,000 years, and is still upheld by the rest of the Anglican Communion, and most of the rest of Christendom throughout the world.--that sexual relations outside of marriage, between a man and a woman, are wrong in the sight of God, and contrary to His Will.

As for who is ultimately right, and who is wrong in this matter , I believe,
we will need to wait on that one, for the ultimate judgement (sic) of Almighty God, and may He bless us all."

As Bishop Spong once said, "Literalism in any form is little more than pious hysteria."

(I love that quote, don't you?)

Well, at any rate, I fear it pulled my last, poor, tired nerve.

Here's how I answered him:

"Yes, bishop, some of us did see that news release. And, with all due respect, sir, the two issues you present do not create a situation of 'cause and effect."

Of course, the two are not unrelated, but TEC is not "paying" for its actions. You didn't say that. You also didn't say this, but neither is it God's judgment against TEC. Although it is a shame and there's lots of blame to go around, this is not about "shame and blame". It is decidedly unhelpful - if not flat-out wrong - to frame the situation in that way.

You have an absolute right to your opinions and beliefs about my suitability for ordained ministry on the basis of my gender and my sexual orientation, both of which are God-given, I might add, as are yours. You also have the absolute right to your opinions and beliefs about the "correct" interpretation of scripture, or liturgy, or how to interpret the rubrics, or anything else in this church.

Obviously, I don't agree with you, but that's not the point. The point is that at the heart of classical, traditional Anglican Spirituality is an understanding of gracious accommodation of a variety of beliefs, all held in tension.

That has eroded over the past 10-15 years as the voices on the right side of the aisle have become more strident in their insistence on the notions of conformity and purity, and the voices on the left side of the aisle have become more insistent on enacting the messy notion of the inclusion of all the baptized in all of the sacraments and sacramental rights of the church.

We now find our selves in a lamentable situation of schism in The Episcopal Church and, sadly, in The World Wide Anglican Communion.

The folks who have earnestly disagreed with the direction of TEC also have a right to leave and find - or create - a home where they can believe and worship whatever they wish. And, they can call themselves whatever they wish. There is no copyright on the brand 'Anglican'. That does not make them Anglican, but they have the right to call themselves that.

All of these rights are, to turn a phrase, 'self-evident'.

What the folks who have decided to leave don't have is the right to is this: church property. I would submit to you, good sir, that THIS is the problem. THIS is what is causing the obscene legal fees. It is the arrogance and hubris to assume the right to church property based on the fact that you think your theology is 'right'.

Being theologically 'right' has never been the basis of assumption for legal right.

In this lamentable situation, 'possession is not 9/10 ths of the law'.

That would be enough difficulty, in and of itself, but the infamous Chapman Memo makes it clear that this is part of the strategy of those who have been plotting and scheming to form their own identity, cause TEC to be shunned by the rest of the WWAC, bankrupt TEC, and then supplant her as the Anglican 'franchise' in North America.

It is sad in the extreme to note that this obscene amount of money has been spent on legal fees. It is tragic that, over the next decade, more money will need to be spent on legal fees. It is and will be, however, our reality.

It is my prayer that as these dissident groups continue to splinter off, the Tree of Life in TEC will be healthier and happier for the pruning and better equipped for mission and ministry.

I also pray that those who understand their beliefs to be 'orthodox' will also flourish and grow so that all who see their works will give glory and praise to God, in the name of Jesus.

Even so, TEC will 'keep the porch light on' for those who wish to return - as some reportedly already have. I have no doubt that more will return. I rejoice in that possibility. They will be welcomed home not to sign onto or lock-step to a 'liberal progressive' agenda; rather, they will keep us more faithful to the essence of what we claim to be at the heart of what it means to be Anglican.

I submit to you, bishop, that it is unhelpful, unfair and flat-out wrong of you to frame the issues of our theological and ecclesiological disagreement and the status of the finances in TEC as cause and effect with such bold strokes, heaped with shame and blame.

However, if you insist on doing so, please make sure the offending sacristy slipper is on the right foot."


David@Montreal said...

I think you might have forgotten the '0' at the end of the episode number.

What wearies me is the willful mis-representations and outright lies- almost as much as the mysogeny abuse flung at ++Katherine, and the lies and insults about & to our blessed Bishop of New Hampshire.

Your retort is both articulate and brilliant. I think it's important to call these imposters on the Chapman Memo, and just how closely they are adhering to it. But most importantly perhaps is the need to publically challenge them on each one of their pronoucements and mis-representations.

I hereby knight thee 'Defender of the Faith' a title you share with another Elizabeth, among others.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I am humbled, by dear David. Thank you.

JCF said...

Well-done, Lisbeth.

ninjapirate said...


My name is Tom Abbott, and I was two years ahead of your daughter at Simon's Rock (entering class 1995). I recognize that this is an inappropriate forum for this, but I was wondering if you could contact her and tell her that Joli and I would love to hear from her. My email address is I apologize for using this blog in this manner, but have been unable to contact her for the last several years.

Thank you very much.


Brother David said...

The thing that makes this case in NY different than others is that they, through their lawyer, are arguing that the Dennis Canon was not actually passed by General Convention in 1979. Because Mr. Conger says that when he went to the archive in San Antonio he found the records incomplete from that Convention. So they claim that TEC has covered up that the canon was not approved at Convention, put it into the canons anyway, and have been lying to everyone all these years!

The word verification is alickfu. English is my second language and that sounds really dirty!

Muthah+ said...

The problem with the CNY property is that when Good Shepherd vacates, the property will go fallow. The diocese does not have the will to administer the property. St. Andrew's, Vestal property stands vacant now with little hope of sale because normal maintenance is not being done. It is this lack of stewardship that is as scandalous as the pirating of property of the uber-right.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Will do, Tom. No problem. I'm sure she'll be thrilled to be back in touch with you.

Unknown said...

Someplace over at Matt-land there's also reference to an endowment of (as I remember) $600,000, which was clearly given to the Episcopal Church on Conklin Avenue. While the building might be worth something if and when it could be sold, the endowment to the Episcopal Church on Conklin Avenue is worth something today.

One can argue that the diocese is being mean spirited or that it is misguided (heavens, to listen to Father Mass Progeny, the poor people in Binghamton will have no place to turn to if their church is shuttered and will probably starve!), but I fear that Matt (and Fr. Tony, to some extent) have been responsible for the media story being told, and the diocese should perhaps tell its story with equal prowess and boldness.

And perhaps the other churches in the area need to also join in to say that justice and equality are the path that they have chosen to follow, and that the poor of Binghamton are still being fed, the lonely still do have places to go and the Good News of Jesus Christ is being proclaimed, and it's a message for all, not just those who read the Bible in a narrow and mendacious manner. But I fear that the leadership of the diocese will be more interested in telling stories of other lands and other streams than the stream of justice and freedom and equality.

Now where was I? Oh yes, back to my Diocese Convention... Go Steelers! Let's hear it for the Real Diocese of Pittsburgh! Booya! Woof!

Frair John said...

The Little General is a flim-flam man, gleefully spreading lies and hate because he thinks that ends justify means.
This faux shock and dismay is really just an example of his long standing feelings of disdain for any Christian who is unwilling to bend to his will.
His misogyny and mean spiritedness is legendary in Texas - in particular since they were always accompanied by a smile.
I've heard stories of his condescension and clueless hamfistedness that took my breath away. I was confirmed several years after he left the Diocese in a bit of a financial lurch and there was still a massive amount of anger stored up, even among many of his former "conservatives."

Suzer said...

Though I am aware of the complexity of all this, and the danger of setting a precedent that could be taken advantage of in the future, my general feeling is to let them have the property. Agree to a smallish (even token sum) to "buy" the property, if we must, but give them the property and let them go in peace.

I know my opinion will outrage many loyal Episcopalians. And, Libra that I am, it does bother my sense of justice and fairness. However, it seems to me to be healthier in the end for the Episcopal Church to allow the dissenters to go, even with property, than to keep fighting costly battles that only drag us further away from what we should be focusing on - caring for the poor and hungry -- whether literally poor and hungry, or those who are poor and hungry for God's Love, who would otherwise be cast out and abandoned by some of the loudest dissenting voices.

It seems to me that if Jesus said to leave one's possessions behind and follow him, then perhaps TEC can set a good example by doing just that. Let's follow where Christ is leading us, wish those breaking off to other congregations peace and good luck, and get on with the ministry the world so desperately needs.