Wednesday, February 11, 2009
A Minority Opinion . . . .
. . . is still an important opinion.
I recently received this note from a member of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan, one Thomas J M Davis. His is a clear voice of dissent in the process to elect their next bishop.
While I disagree with many points of his position, I find his perspective reasoned and thoughtful. I asked Mr. Davis if I might post it here and on HOB/D for wider consideration. He has graciously allowed me to do that.
I post this here for your consideration and reasoned, thoughtful comments.
If you will entertain a voice from the other side of the aisle, I am in the diocese of N. Michigan and indeed do object both the process and the outcome of the "episcopal ministry discernment." I would ask the moderator to publish this in its entirety (it will be a bit long) or not at all. So that we are clear, I wrote to the discernment team a year ago, with my concerns- so what I have to say here should not take them by surprise. I have been given to know that my letter was discussed, however, I never received a response from the diocese or the discernment team, although I did receive a response from one of the local clergy. I am telling you this so you will understand I am not "blindsiding" anyone.
It is fairly clear that you and other posters here hold a substantially more progressive theology than I do. It is not my intent to engage in an argument over what I believe, nor to throw a verbal hand grenade. Certainly, I do not intend any remark I make to be interpreted as a personal attack against the Rev. Forrester, the late +Jim Kelsey, or anyone else in the diocese. I do, however, think it necessary to pose questions on whether the current leadership of the diocese is acting in the best interests of the Church, whether its theology is consistent with the requirements of clergy to adhere to the doctrine and worship of the Episcopal Church, and whether the process and its outcome are indeed "episcopal."
I do find it intriguing that you are approaching this from the perspective of diversity. I am not sure of your own background in science or statistics, but I would think that if one were to ask Dr. Jefferts Schori for her opinion as a scientist, she would react much like I would - most closed systems, whether biological, ecological or sociological will tend to have less diversity over time than open systems. Especially in cases where the original population or sample is small. The population is more likely to be diverse if occasional individuals are introduced from the outside. What we currently see in N. Michigan is that anyone with an ecclesiology outside the model that has been adopted has been excluded from consideration.
In the process itself, with a number of the members of the "discernment team" selected due to their non-elective positions, it is arguable that the team was not as representative of the diocese as it should have been. Certainly, one theological and ecclesial philosophy dominated from the beginning. It is also useful to remember that the discernment team was not only a "search committee" but indeed took it upon itself to redefine the meaning and structure of the episcopate, invent a governing committee outside the usual Episcopal Church bishop-standing committee model, which also inherently redefines the role of the standing committee. To date, if any canon has been adopted by the diocese to support these changes, it has not been published on the website or otherwise been made generally available.
Now, from my own position, and I will here confess to some of your readers that I am an old fashioned Anglo Catholic, son of a priest, and you can argue until you are blue in the face and the probability that you will change my mind on issues of sacramental theology is virtually nil. My own basic argument with the diocesan leadership in general and Rev. Forrester in particular, are over the denials of basic Nicene and Trinitarian positions as held by the Church catholic for the last 1700 years, over such sacramental innovations as communion of non-baptized persons, and over the violations of the rubrics of the BCP, both in dropping the Nicene Creed from the liturgy and the practice of non-authorized Eucharist liturgies. If you go to the diocesan website ( www.upepiscopal.org ) you will find examples of what I am talking about in the statements on Dar es Salaam and the St. Andrews draft of the Covenant, as well as in past issues of the diocesan newsletter. You may accuse me of being an old fogey if you want to, but statements that each of us is "an only begotten child of God", "incarnation of God", "incarnation of the Trinity", or "God is our redeemer....Do we believe this literally, of course not." are not acceptable within the doctrine even of most progressives I know. The Rev. Forrester is a signatory to, and a principal author of, each of those statements.
As stated earlier, in addition to nominating a candidate, the episcopal ministry discernment team redefined the office of bishop to that of an "episcopal ministry team". Which is to say that the office of bishop will actually be administered by a group of people. Since there is no real precedent for this in the Episcopal Church (that I am aware of), this is not so much a question of whether this is a good idea if one were building a church from scratch, but whether this is consistent with the polity of TEC. How does this change the role of the Standing Committee (which, canons of TEC aside, has NOT been the functional authority in the diocese since +Jim Kelsey's death, that role having been assumed by Rev. Forrester and the non-canonical "Core Team"), and is the change of the role of the standing committee consistent with the canons of TEC?
Prudence would seem to indicate that the GC might want to weigh in on these matters before the confirmation of a bishop elected under these circumstances, and have the opportunity for deputies and bishops to debate the finer points of this. Much of the reaction I have seen so far has unfortunately been along the lines of "if the candidate is progressive, I will support this" (or not) versus "this method is consistent with Canon X, Y and Z." (or not) The next diocese to adopt such a process might be completely different, and then you are stuck with a precedent allowing perpetuation of a particular theological position to become the "bar" by which all candidates will be judged, and only internal candidates considered. And, indeed, where dioceses will risk becoming "inbred."
I believe I have been sufficiently long winded. I would encourage any bishop or standing committee to thoroughly investigate the methods and circumstances of this election before giving consent to the candidate. And to ask themselves whether the theology and ecclesiology of both the nominee and the "episcopal ministry team" are indeed consistent with the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church, and whether an "episcopal ministry team" can indeed serve as a "bishop of the whole Church."
May the Lord be with you all,
Thomas J M Davis