Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Letter to the People at Stand Firm in Faith on the Occasion of My 45h Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood

On this, my 45th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church, I want to share with you a couple of reflections - mostly in response to direct questions from several of you "Why do you continue to post to Stand Firm?"

My first introduction to Stand Firm was when Matthew featured his four part response to an article I had written for The Episcopal Majority, "Falsely Accused." In the back and forth with Matthew (and later) I found the basis for discussion and dialogue. I think most of my time here has been with the hope of that in mind.

So, why continue? A major element of my service to the church over the years has been my work in building bridges between the church and groups of people outside the church (that has always been part of the church's charge to our deacons) and between groups within the church. This ministry has been a traditional part of our campus ministries -- so with 23 years in campus ministry it is part of my being.

I don't think I have been successful here at Stand Firm, but in other venues I have. At the last General Convention the Network endorsed my candidacy for Trustee of the Church Pension Fund -- I was also backed by the Deputies of Color and the consortium of liberal groups such as Integrity, The Episcopal Peace Fellowship and the rest. I have relationships of trust with Kendall, Chris Cantrell, Dan Martins, several of the most conservative bishops in TEC, Don Perschall, John Liebler and many others. Needless to say, we all have had to work at this and be committed to building and maintaining relationships of trust and respect with those with whom we differ most. It probably goes without saying that in the heat of things we all say or do things that threaten those relationships. As an example, my choice to post "An Ode to Stand Firm in Faith" on my blog rather than deal with my anger with Sarah Hey and others directly (actually there is no means for doing so really directly) resulted in hurt in people at SF who have reached out in kindness and respect -- so I am taking it off by blog and not posting it elsewhere.

There is something in this that is very important. One of my heroes in the life of the church has been Will Campbell. He is a modest Southerner who came out of the Southern Baptist tradition into the Episcopal Church. As you look at some of the old pictures of the civil rights marches involving Dr. King, you can usually find Will on the first or second row. In the early 70's Will addressed the national gathering of Episcopal campus ministries. He began his talk this way: "The only reason I've come here to talk with you all is that I want to remind you that Spiro Agnew (much hated by liberals of all stripes) -- Spiro Agnew is your brother." We were furious at Will for that – absolutely furious – but we knew that he was right. No human voice has touched me deeper. So I have continued to post at Stand Firm because Greg and Matt and Mousetalker, Sarah and Jackie and all the rest of you are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have not always lived up to that -- and neither have you all. When Will Campbell was not walking with Dr. King, he was often waiting tables at a KKK gathering -- because, as he said, even though we despise what one another does, we are still brothers in Christ.

Neither I nor you is the KKK -- and neither of us is MLK, Jr., but we are all part of the Body of Christ through His invitation and incorporation. It is through the adoption as His children and His continuing grace and forgiveness that we continue in that embrace -- even as we too often believe that we, alone, belong. I believe the Anglican tradition is the best incarnation of that reality -- even as we struggle for what we believe is the best in that tradition.

To paraphrase what Sarah observed a couple of days ago, we seem to believe in different emphases in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I admire the way you represent the tradition of holding the purity of the church and its individuals as primary. That strain has not always been visible in the Episcopal Church -- as it has been visible in the peace churches, the early Methodists and the Assemblies of God and the Church of the Nazarine. That, I believe, is a crucial part of the Gospel, but is not all of the Gospel. I come out of a different, but equally important strain of Anglicanism – one that values the sacramental presence of Jesus Christ in the world and is focused on being the hands, legs, vision and heart of Jesus Christ as we interact with the world around us, often moving beyond comfortable boundaries in His service. Again, that is a crucial part of the Gospel, but not all of the Gospel. The better each of us does our calling and vocation, the stronger the church will be -- and the more praise to our Father.

So, when I return to SF, it will be to discern what I can appreciate in your vocation as fellow members of the Body of Christ – not to defame or demean you. I will leave the wisecracks behind. That is all I can control. If some of you reciprocate, so much the better. I can assure you that my faith is strong and it is deep -- and I have been teaching the Nicene Creed longer, I think, than most of you have been alive. Like it or not, I am your brother.
Tom Woodward

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ode to Stand Firm in Faith

As a gesture of good will towards the people of Stand Firm in Faith, I have deleted the Ode, itself, while keeping the comments open.

I have, instead, posted a reflection on my time with Stand Firm as my celebration of my 45th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.
Tom Woodward

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Body and Soul – Audition Script from Scene 1

Body and Soul – A Play in One Act by Thomas B. Woodward

A cutting from Scene #1 for use as an audition script:

The Play: Body and Soul begins with two gay men. Then, as the conversation between them reaches a critical point, the two take a break -- and when they return to the stage to continue the conversation, one of the male characters has been replaced by an identically dressed woman and the conversation continues, though as a heterosexual dialogue. Again, the dialogue reaches a breaking point and the two take a break (for cell phones) – and when they return to the stage to continue the conversation, the remaining male has been replaced with an identically dressed woman and the conversation is resolved by the two lesbian women. The play is largely comic, though with strong and direct confrontations between the characters.

SETTING – BILL has sat down on a park bench and is beginning to hit on HARRY, a stranger, for some kind of sexual relationship. BILL has just told HARRY that he has been tossed out of his gay relationship because his partner had converted to a fundamentalist Christian group which had convinced him the relationship was evil.

BILL Yeah. So here I am. It's my birthday and I'm out here all alone and nowhere to go.

HARRY That's awful!

BILL I'm sorry, what did you say?

HARRY I said, that's awful. That's really awful.

BILL Oh, thank you.(moving closer to HARRY) You really are nice.

HARRY No, not really.

BILL No, really. You are very, very nice. In fact, I am beginning to feel a really deep connection with you.

HARRY You're feeling a really deep connection with me?

BILL Yes, I think something really important is happening between the two of us.

HARRY You "think there is something. . . ?" Are you hitting on me?

BILL Am I hitting on you? Do you mean spiritually . . .or sexually?

HARRY I don't know which would be worse.

BILL I'm sorry. I really don't want to offend you. But guess what?! It just occurred to me -- this may be our first argument!

HARRY (moving away from BILL) "Our?" "Our first argument?" Are you out of your frigging mind? There is no "our" here.

BILL Oh, damn! I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. I've been under so much stress lately and you are so kind and understanding. And despite all that stuff with Larry, I feel like I've been saving myself for someone. . .(softly)someone exactly like you.

HARRY Wait! Wait! Wait. All this talk about a "really deep connection" with me and saving yourself for "someone exactly like me." Haven't I heard those lines before?

BILL (Evasively) Maybe.

HARRY "Maybe what?" Where have I heard those lines before?

BILL I got them from the Dr. Phil Show.

HARRY You got them from Dr. Phil?

BILL Yeh, Dr. Phil.

HARRY Then why don't you leave me alone and try your shtick on some guy who looks like Dr. Phil?


Body and Soul – Audition Script #2

BODY AND SOUL - THE PLAY The play begins with two gay men. Then, as the conversation between them reaches a critical point, the two take a break -- and when they return to the stage to continue the conversation, one of the male characters has been replaced by an identically dressed woman and the conversation continues, though as a heterosexual dialogue. Again, the dialogue reaches a breaking point and the two take a break (for cell phones) – and when they return to the stage to continue the conversation, the remaining male has been replaced with an identically dressed woman and the conversation is resolved by the two lesbian women. The play is largely comic, though with strong and direct confrontations between the characters.

SETTING – BILL, a jerk, has been hitting on HARRIET. For the first time in an extended conversation, she admits she does have some feelings for him.

HARRIET Bill, I don't know why, but I'm. . .I'm also developing feelings for you. (catching herself) Despite everything.

BILL (seductively)
So you are a "spiritual" relationship with me? I'm touched. I'm really touched and I want to be completely open to you. . . and I mean open in every way.

I'm not sure I get this.

I want to be completely open to you. . . in every way.

Hold on. Let me get this straight. We've just met and want me . . .to allow you . . . to be inside me? You expect me to be involved with you on the most intimate of levels?

Is that so bad?

Is that so bad? You want to touch my most private parts, to violate my deepest intimacies – and you ask, "Is that so bad?" You don't even know my name!

Who cares? We're both adults – and we're not getting married are we?

You have no idea about who I am, do you?

OK. So what do you do?

I'm a city employee.

Hey! So am I!

I'm on the police force.

Really? So you're taking a break from handing out all those tickets?

Not really. I'm a vice cop.

You're kidding.

Yes, I'm kidding.

Thank God. So what do you do?

I'm a priest – an Episcopal priest.

Oh, God. I'm sorry.

Sorry? You're sorry for what? Two minutes ago I was some kind of a piece of meat and now I'm some kind of holy person?

Well . . aren't you?

Honey, we all are. We women are all holy. You screw with me and you're screwing with God.

BILL (after a time of bewilderment)
That's very scary.

HARRIET What's scary?

I'm scary . . (catching himself). . I mean, I'm scared.


Saturday, December 06, 2008

Forgiveness – from Matters of Life and Death


From the play, "Matters of Life and Death," by Thomas B. Woodward.

Susan has come into a tobacco shop out of desperation – to talk with someone acquainted with death. After a good bit of banter with Harry, the shopkeeper, she decides to share her secret with him. Later in the play there is a suggestion that Harry may or may not be God.

Susan whispers her secret in Harry's ear. Harry listens thoughtfully, then looks directly at Susan:


You're right. That's bad. In fact, that's really bad; but look, I'll forgive you for $100.


You will forgive me for $100? Are you making fun of me?


Am I making fun of you? No, I'm not making fun of you. I said I would forgive you for $100 and I will. And if that is making fun of you, OK. I'll forgive you for $500.


You will forgive me for $500?


Do you want to hear me say it again?


O God, No. I just don't understand.


It's simple: I've got what you need - and you've got . . .




The amount is not so important.


But you just. . . .


I said, "The amount is not important."


Then what is important?


That you know it doesn't come easy - that it's worth something.

Long pause while SUSAN makes several attempts to pull something out of her purse.

Here's the $500 . . . but what difference does it make if you forgive me!


Well, who else is there?


The people I hurt.


Sorry. If they forgive you - that's for them. . . not you. If they forgive you, that allows them to go one with their lives. It really has nothing to do with you.


Can you say that again?


Honey, I'm not sure I said anything that smart the first time.


Are you saying that if they forgive me - that lets them go on with their lives? But it doesn't do anything for me?




But that doesn't seem fair.


That doesn't seem fair?


No. It's not fair.


What's not fair about it?


Well, for one thing, they are forgiving ME . . .but I don't get anything out of it! I'm not part of it!




I don't get it.


Exactly! You don't get it. They can't give it to you.


So I'm stuck.


You're not stuck, you're. . . .No, I take that back. You're stuck. . . But maybe there is something that can loosen that up a bit. . .

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Charge that our PB is Denying the Uniqueness of Christ is Not Unique

Earlier today I received a comment regarding my piece about what I considered to be a slanderous attack on our Presiding Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. The concern of the writer is that our PB has denied the uniqueness of Christ -- I assume by responding to someone challenging her understanding of John 14.6 ("I am the way and the truth. . ."). The comment is well intentioned and generous, but it does have problems.

I believe our Presiding Bishop has been consistently precise in her statements regarding literalist interpretations of John 14.6 which seem to hold that no one who does not have a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as saviour will enter the Kingdom of God.

I don't have her quotes anywhere handy, but I believe that what she has said, more than once, is that we cannot rule out what God may choose to do -- including membership in the Kingdom. Interestingly, her position is also the orthodox position of the Roman Catholic Church! It is, I believe, those who want to impose limits on God's grace and embrace who are the unorthodox.

There is so much to say to this point -- let me say a little:

First, the witness of the Christian Scriptures is that Jesus honors the faith and the holiness of many who would be excluded by this translation of John 14.6. My favorite in this regard is the Syro-Phoenican woman -- there are many others. Likewise, Jesus broadens the notion of the saved in Matthew 25 where the blessed are referred to outside of a faith relationship to God through Jesus. The same seems to be true with most of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. Now I believe that those who do believe in Jesus Christ have something that others do not -- and that he is the reliable way to the Father -- but Jesus indicates over and over again that his vision of the Kingdom is broader than what the author of John's Gospel attributes to him.

Second, Jesus does talk about "other sheep which are not of this fold."

Third, St. Paul in Romans 9-11 writes that God has designated the Jews as the People of God and that God does not break promises. The Jews continue as the People of God and, writes Paul, through Christ we Gentiles have been grafted into the Jewish Holy History. So, are the "orthodox" in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion urging God to break the central promise made to humankind? Isn't that somewhat similar in intent to suborning perjury??

Fourth, there is a clear and consistent theme in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) of Jesus commenting that those who believe themselves to be IN the Kingdom are usually OUT and those who believe themselves to be OUT or excluded from the Kingdom are actually IN. One of those in the latter category was probably Levi, who was called to be an apostle while he was still a tax collector (no, there is no record of his repentance, though one can safely assume that came later).

To explain my fifth concern here I go back to a radio broadcast I hear decades ago. As a teenager and young adult I loved to listen to Garner Ted Armstrong hold forth on what were often strange and bizarre notions of religious faith and practice -- his delivery was so smooth and his tone of voice was so convincing. He was like a religious Ronald Reagan. But on the day in question, he was talking about inclusion and exclusion and the Kingdom of God. He talked about a remote village in Africa where a young mother wanted her mortally sick son baptized so he could be with God through eternity.

The problem was that the jeep carrying the priest from the city to the village had a flat tire -- and no spare in back. It was hours before the flat tire could be fixed -- and by the time the priest had arrived in the village, the child had died. "Are you going to tell me," shouted Garner Ted Armstrong into his microphone, "Are you going to tell me that because of a flat tire that child will be excluded from the Kingdom of God and the fullness of God's love through eternity?"
Do we want to give a flat tire on a jeep on a treacherous dirt road that kind of power?

Once we are here, the other questions come in -- those having to do with those who have lived faithfully in response to whatever of God's truth that has been revealed to them. One thinks not only of the spiritual big shots like Gandhi and Gautoma Buddha, but the men and women living in their wake. What about those we do not reach with the vision of Jesus Christ who might have believed? Should we be gleeful that we believe in a God who consistently slams the door shut on all those millions and millions of people? Perhaps we should all become Mormons so we can provide them with posthumous baptisms! We can join the Mormons in their twenty-first century baptisms of all the Jews Christians murdered in the Holocaust -- believing it is in our province to strip away their dignity as Jews, as the ordained People of God.

It is so much easier to admit that God is God and that if grace, mercy and forgiveness are at the heart of the Being of God then we may not invoke a single -- and I believe an incorrect --interpretation of a Biblical verse as gospel truth. Those of us who are Christians and desperate for certainty and certitude flock easily to the simplistic reading of the majestic words in John 14.6 -- but that desperate need leads not to truth, but to a triumphalism that Jesus rejects over and over again.

Jesus Christ is unique. We call him the Word of God -- that is, he embodies and he is what God wants to say. The problem here is with what is revealed about eternity through the uniqueness of Christ.

It is time for Christians to reject what our Presiding Bishop and hosts of the best of our Biblical scholars have rejected. It is time, simply, to insist that God is God -- just like it says in the Bible.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

10 Reasons Why Now Is Not The Time To Realign

Bishop Jack Iker recently published his Ten Reasons to leave the Episcopal Church. What follows is Bishop Iker's list with responses from John S. Morgan. The quotes are from my four part series, "The Undermining of the Episcopal Church," published by The Episcopal Majority. The series can be found on this blog as well as

BISHOP IKER: Our 26th annual convention is approaching, and a momentous decision is before us as a diocese. At last year's convention, your clergy and elected delegates voted by majorities of around 80 percent each to remove language in our Constitution that affiliates us with the General Convention of The Episcopal Church (TEC). This year, clergy and delegates will be asked to ratify that decision to separate.

RESPONDENT: Friends of mine recently returned from The Province Seven Synod meeting. They listened to the goings on of a vibrant, healthy church. They listened to glowing reports of the effectiveness of the small indaba groups that replaced the rancorous and divisive legislative promulgations of previous meetings, returning the Lambeth Conference to the kind of fellowship, prayer, and mutual learning arena for which it was originally intended. No wonder that Bishop Iker, illegally removed Fort Worth from Province Seven. Their role in disputes within dioceses, their view of the larger church, their serving as a springboard to higher office in the church, was yet another type of awareness of the larger church that had to be curtailed.

Have you ever seen in Forward in Mission a description of an interpretation of Scripture that did not support the party line? An advertisement of a visit to the diocese from the president of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church? Have you ever seen any constructive or positive information about the Episcopal Church in Forward in Mission? Do you know that the Episcopal Church mails out an award winning monthly newspaper? That the Episcopal Church provides a service where-by Forward in Mission could be bundled with Episcopal Life and mailed to all communicants of our diocese? Do you know that outreach by the Diocese of Fort Worth is among the lowest of any diocese? Information has always been tightly controlled by the diocese. This is the reason that you may have only a one sided view of your national church. Perhaps this is why you have questions and uncertainties now.

BISHOP IKER: "Why now?" someone might ask. "Why is this the time for our diocese to separate from the General Convention of The Episcopal Church and realign with another Province of the Anglican Communion?" Here are a few of the thoughts that come to mind:1. This is God's time – our kairos moment – and it has been coming for a long time. We believe that God the Holy Spirit has guided and directed us to this particular time and moment of decision. Some might well ask, "Why has it taken us so long to take definitive action, given the past 30 years of the shenanigans of The Episcopal Church?" We have explored every avenue and exhausted every possibility. Now is the time to decide to separate from the moral, spiritual, and numerical decline of TEC.

RESPONDENT: If God the Holy Spirit has guided and directed the diocese to this particular time and moment of decision, where will he lead? Temporarily to the Southern Cone in violation of both the Constitution of the Southern Cone and that of the Episcopal Church? Eventually to pursue the formation of an orthodox, but presently nonexistent, Province in North America as Bishop Iker wishes or to the Roman Catholic Church where four of the senior priests of the diocese want to go, asserting that a critical mass of priests in the diocese are with them?

The Book of Common Prayer (September 1979) says on page 513, Ordination: Bishop: "When the reading of the testimonials is ended, the Presiding Bishop requires the following promise from the Bishop-elect" "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I, N.N., chosen Bishop of the Church in N., solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church." "The Bishop-elect then signs the above Declaration in the sight of all present. The witnesses add their signatures."

Does a bishop who remains in office yet fails to resign when first he realizes he is unprepared to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church represent the kind of moral and spiritual decline mentioned above by Bishop Iker?

BISHOP IKER: 2. Actions of the General Convention have brought crisis and division to the whole Anglican Communion, not just TEC. More than 20 of the Provinces of the Communion have declared themselves to be in a state of broken or impaired communion with TEC because of the ordination of a homosexual bishop living in a sexual relationship with another man and the blessings of same-sex unions in many places throughout this church. We need to dissociate ourselves from the bishops and dioceses that are violating the teaching of Scripture by doing these things.

RESPONDENT: The above sounds like the pot calling the kettle black. This diocese has declared itself to be in a state of broken or impaired communion with numerous Episcopal groups and individuals – with any diocese that ordains women; [inclusive partners in the Anglican Communion Network] with anyone who has ordained a woman; with anyone who participated in the Ordination of Gene Robinson.

Father Woodward says, "This is not all about sex and human sexuality. It is about our understanding of the sacramental nature of all of life. When that kind of understanding and faith gets squeezed into codes and rules, it is no longer faith. St. Paul, at his best, noted that we are to work out our salvation by fear [respect] and trembling; he sensed the complexity and the richness of our faith. He knew, as our church has known, that our faith is rooted in a living relationship with an ever-present God, not in a rule-book or set of codes."

BISHOP IKER: 3. The heresies and heterodoxy once proclaimed by just a few renegade bishops – like James Pike and John Spong – are now echoed by the Presiding Bishop, who is the chief spokesperson for TEC and speaks on behalf of our church to the rest of the world. She does not reflect the orthodox beliefs of Episcopalians in this diocese. The greatest problem we face with Katharine Jefferts Schori is not that she is a woman, but that she is not an orthodox bishop.

RESPONDENT: Neither Bishop Spong nor James Pike represents the center of the Episcopal Church, nor does their teaching represent a replacement for the Catechism of the Episcopal Church.

Father Barber says, "The Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, has taken a lot of grief over a brief answer she gave in a Time interview.

When asked if belief in Jesus is the only way to get to heaven, she responded, 'We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.' ++Katharine gave that answer in July of 2006, and it has been a favorite quote of the conservatives in our church who say that we cannot stay in a church where the chief pastor has such thoughts.

Personally, I would be astounded if the past several presiding bishops did not agree with her thinking. And let me go further, I believe that most priests and most lay people in the Episcopal Church would also agree with her. And, you would find a good number of Christian, orthodox theologians who would find her statement acceptable."

Archbishop Venables of the Southern Cone, when he was speaking in our diocese, made a statement regarding people's religion, that, at the death of a person when he doesn't know about that person's religious convictions, he leaves it "up to God" to determine what happens to that person's soul. That sounds similar to what Katharine said, that it is God who decides. Does not even Archbishop Venables reflect the orthodox beliefs of Episcopalians in this diocese?

BISHOP IKER: 4. If we do not act now, we will lose our momentum and lose our God-given opportunity. Many laity and clergy who have been standing with the Diocese, as a beacon of hope, will give up and leave for other Anglican bodies. We will never be stronger than we are right now! We will never have another chance to act with such a strong majority. The Episcopal Church many of us were born into or became members of many years ago no longer exists! It has been replaced by a liberal, revisionist sect that does not deserve our allegiance or support any longer.

RESPONDENT: Father Tom Woodward says, "As Episcopalians, we are part of a wonderful whole, with a full spectrum of witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ." "We have liberals, moderates and conservatives and everything in between, all celebrating a common faith. May we never be reduced to commonality – for the same reason I would never go to a circus which had only thirty-five elephant acts. I want the trapeze artists, the clowns, the jugglers and lion tamers. We have them all in the episcopate and in our congregations."

"Beware, when church leaders want to claim the whole of church for themselves, whether of the right, left or middle. Beware, especially, when those who believe they, alone, are the orthodox begin talking about the real orthodoxy as 'the faith first handed down to the saints.' Up until thirty five years ago, 'the faith first handed down to the saints' meant no women on vestries, no women allowed in church without a hat or head covering, no remarriage after divorce no matter what the circumstances, separate churches for Black people, no use of birth control measures, and a thoroughgoing marginalization of gay and lesbian people and others."

"That quasi-fundamentalist approach to Scripture, so often found in the 'orthodox' rants is one, but only one of many strains of Anglican approaches to Scripture – and a recent strain at that. Many in The Episcopal Church believe that approach does not honor Holy Scripture, tending to take a dynamic revelation and reducing it to a dictated document, tied to an ancient culture."

"Change and reassessment of our understanding of Scriptures and our tradition has not been an enemy of the Christian Church over the past several decades. Our task as the Church of Jesus Christ is to hold onto the core of the Gospel handed down to us by the faithful of previous generations, while letting go of the parts of that tradition which contravene and contradict Jesus' commandment of Love." "All anyone has to do is to visit our seminaries, listen to the preaching and teaching of our clergy, read through the Catechism at the back of the Book of Common Prayer and the liturgies of the Prayer Book. It all hangs together, even though it is not lock-step uniform."

BISHOP IKER: 5. TEC is not turning back and matters will only get worse. General Convention is out of control and beyond reform. The Deputies seem to think that they can do whatever they want as long as they can muster a majority vote, even if what they propose is contrary to Holy Scripture. We will not accept majority votes of the General Convention that compromise the Christian ?faith. The more they change the teachings of the church, the less tolerant they are of dioceses such as ours. By the time I retire (in the next 7 to 13 years), this diocese will be unable to elect an orthodox bishop to succeed me.

RESPONDENT: When the Bishop says, "this diocese will be unable to elect an orthodox bishop to succeed me," he is talking about the cart that drives the horse. The realignment is all about Bishop Iker's fear that standing committee consents from other dioceses will not be granted to a bishop, compatible with his views on women's ordination, who would succeed him.

The General Convention is composed of a House of Deputies AND a House of Bishops. The House of Deputies is divided into two groups: The priests and the laity.

Before ratification of any resolution, it is required that it passes BOTH houses – bishops and deputies. Many resolutions require the assent of all three groups before adoption, the bishops, the priests and laity. Bishop Iker seems to think that the bishops, the priests and laity, sent by every diocese to represent the entire Episcopal Church can do whatever they want… even if what they propose is contrary to Holy Scripture.

Although the bishop says he will not accept majority votes of the General Convention that compromise the Christian faith, what he really means is that he knows more than all of the other bishops and other priests and laity who were called upon by all of the dioceses to represent the Episcopal Church.

What he really means is that he will not accept majority votes of the General Convention that compromise his interpretation of what might constitute the Christian faith.

BISHOP IKER: 6. TEC is coming after us, and they are the ones that brought on this crisis. In October 2006 the chancellor to the PB wrote a letter to our diocese demanding that we change our Constitution to remove the clause that says that we will not accept General Convention dictates that are contrary to the Bible and the apostolic teaching of the church. In addition, we were instructed to remove provisions stating that all church property in this diocese is held in trust for the use of our congregations and to state instead that our property ultimately belongs to TEC. If we don't make such changes, the letter asserted that the Presiding Bishop would have to determine what actions she must take "in order to bring your diocese into compliance."

RESPONDENT: Bishop Iker is the one that brought on the crisis. As a requirement for being constituted as a diocese, agreement was given in written form that the diocese would give unqualified support to the canons of the Episcopal Church. Such an agreement is required of all dioceses.

The Constitution of The Diocese at its inception read:

The Church in this Diocese accedes to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, and recognizes the authority of the General Convention.

In November of 1997 it was revised to read:

The Church in this Diocese accedes to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, and recognizes the authority of the General Convention of said Church provided that no action of General Convention which is contrary to Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Teaching of the Church shall be of any force or effect in this Diocese.

The bishop says In October 2006 the chancellor to the PB wrote a letter to our diocese demanding that we change our Constitution to remove the clause. The diocese was told to remove the clause which puts it in conflict with the national canons.

BISHOP IKER: 7. At this time there is nothing in the Constitution or Canons of TEC that prevents a Diocese from leaving. Oh, I know that General Convention officials claim that dioceses cannot leave TEC, but you will not find that anywhere in the Constitution and Canons as they presently stand. So we have this window of opportunity to do what we need to do, for you can be sure that the next General Convention will close off this option by adopting amendments that will make it even more difficult to separate in the future.

RESPONDENT: The constitution in 1789 and the canons adopted in the second session have this provision:

Constitution: Article 2

". . . If the Convention of any state should neglect or decline to appoint clerical deputies, or if they should decline or neglect to appoint lay deputies, or if any of those of either order appointed should neglect to attend, or be prevented by sickness or any other accident, such state shall nevertheless be considered as duly represented by such deputy or deputies as may attend, whether lay or clerical. And if through the neglect of the Convention of any of the churches which shall have adopted, or may hereafter adopt this constitution, no deputies, either lay or clerical, should attend at any general convention, the church in such state, shall nevertheless be bound by the acts of such convention."

BISHOP IKER: 8. The vast majority of our younger clergy, those ordained in the last 10 years or so, are in favor of the decision to separate and realign. They are the voice of the future of this diocese; they are the leaders who will take us into the next decade and beyond. You will notice that most of the clergy leaders opposing this move are already retired or on the verge of retiring. This is not their battle; they have had their time to lead. Now it is time to let this next generation step forward and lead, as we prepare a future for our children and our grandchildren.

RESPONDENT: But, young or older and more experienced, just where will the Diocese be going? The Bishop says temporarily to the Southern Cone and then later to a new North American Province.

But the Reverend Canon Charles A. Hough, III [Canon to Bishop Iker for 15 years], The Very Reverend William A. Crary, Jr., The Reverend Louis L. Tobola, Jr., and The Very Reverend Christopher C. Stainbrook don't want to end up in the Southern Cone and they do not want to end up in the Anglican Communion

These priests said in their very recent secret communication with the Roman Catholic Bishop Vann of Fort Worth:

We believe the Anglican Communion shares the fatal flaws of The Episcopal Church" · "…it is apparent that the Archbishop of Canterbury is incapable of providing decisive leadership." · "…we have concluded that the difficulties we have faced in The Episcopal Church for the past thirty years will not be remedied by the Anglican Communion."

Where do they want to go?

"Our best guess is that approximately 59 clergy are willing to pursue an active plan to bring the Diocese of Fort Worth or a significant portion of it into full communion with the Holy See, if this be God's will."

How do they think the laity will react?

"We also recognize that it will take time to bring the laity on board with this proposal. While the clergy have come to recognize the truth which it held by the Holy See, we have much work to do with the laity."

Anyone can join the Roman Catholic Church. So you want to realign; you better read the fine print. There isn't much room for lay decision with this group.

BISHOP IKER: 9. We have international support for making the move at this time. Not only has the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone made provision for us to join them on a temporary basis as full members and partners in mission, but several Global South Primates are standing with us and have expressed their willingness to support us in this bold move. They have stuck their necks out for us and offered their encouragement, assistance and support. We must now have the courage of our convictions and act! What a joy and relief it will be to be part of a Province where we are not always under attack and on the defensive. We will then aggressively pursue the formation of an orthodox Province in North America in conjunction with the Common Cause Partnership.

RESPONDENT: You can find the Constitution of the Southern Cone at:


The Anglican Church of the Southern Cone….is composed of the Anglican Dioceses that exist or which may be formed in the Republics of Argentinia, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay…"


For any changes or amendment to this Constitution, the following procedure is to be used:

4.3 The proposed change shall be submitted to the Anglican Consultative Council for consideration and then to each Diocesan Synod for approval.

No such proposed change will be sent to The Anglican Consultative Council. The Anglican Communion is VERY territorial. Nor does the Episcopal Church permit a diocese to withdraw from the Episcopal Church without consent from the General Convention.

We don't know if the ABC will recognize a non-geographic province in North America.

BISHOP IKER: 10. Most importantly, this decision is about the truth of the Gospel and upholding the authority of the Holy Scriptures. We believe in God's full self-revelation in Jesus Christ, not in the speculation of humanist Unitarians who have been elected to high offices in our church. Many leaders of TEC are teaching a false Gospel and leading people astray. Now is the time for us to take a bold, public stand for the biblical faith and practice of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

RESPONDENT: Holy Communion service is celebrated throughout the Episcopal Church much as it is in Fort Worth. The same creeds are recited and similar Biblical gospels and Epistles are read.

Most of the Bishops, priests, and laity who have been elected to high offices in the Episcopal Church would take offense to being described as "humanist Unitarians" and Bishop Iker has no intention of welcoming any of them to visit this diocese so you can see for yourself.

Father Woodward says, "…all the while accusations have been hurled at us, the Episcopal Church has continued to reverence Holy Scripture, to teach the Christian faith in its fullness, to celebrate the sacraments handed down through the ages, to represent the moral and spiritual vision and life of Jesus Christ in the world we live in, and to embrace the entire creation as the focus for our mission and ministry. What occurs in our congregations and in our dioceses is what has happened decade after decade, generation after generation and century after century. How awful that our faith and life as Episcopalians is now being characterized as "pagan" by a movement that reflects the very worst of Biblical fundamentalism, Puritan moralism, and a recent wave that distrusts ambiguity, doubt, mystery, and the presence of the Holy in human experience."

"In the End, It is the Trashing of the Incarnation"

"We are being victimized by a sophisticated kind of "bait and switch" in which codes and rule books are being substituted for a faith based on the Incarnation. The attack is upon our understanding of life as sacramental."

BISHOP IKER: Now is the time to decide. Our cause is right, and the choice is clear. Let us act together, decisively, and with courage, faith and charity.

The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth
September 2008

Respondent: John S. Morgan

Saturday, September 27, 2008

David Virtue, With Another Stupid Attack

    In one of the silliest and most moronic attacks on our Presiding Bishop, David Virtue has graced us with a sophomoric attack by the "orthodox" rector of St. John's Church in Savannah, Georgia, Fr. Dunbar. The title of the article is "Orthodox Episcopal Priest Goes Head to Head with Presiding Bishop over Biblical Interpretation."

    At issue was our Presiding Bishop's meeting with the clergy of that diocese when she asked the clergy to meditate on Mark 1:11, "You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased," the words spoken by "a voice from heaven" to Jesus at his baptism in Jordan. She has used this approach during most of her visits with diocesan clergy around the church, asking the clergy to hear those words spoken to them.

I was present when ++Katharine Jefferts Schori used the same Scripture when speaking to the clergy of the Diocese of the Rio Grande. Individual responses to the meditations seemed to be along theological party lines. The conservatives were not able to hear the words of affirmation or blessing without qualifications. What they seemed to want was a qualified statement from God, e.g., "You are my beloved if you believe that John 14.6 means what the Network bishops say it means." On the other hand, the progressives were touched by the power of the words for themselves and for all those in the room – and many noted that the meditation helped them in affirming those in the room with whom they disagreed. The conservatives seemed to be left with "yes, but. . ."

Fr. Dunbar, along with those who commented on Virtue's article, were incensed that words which, in Mark, were addressed to Jesus would be taken to apply to anyone else. I would ask Fr. Dunbar, David Virtue and their cohort to re-read Matthew 5. When Jesus looks out at the crowd and says "You are the light of the world," he is not saying "I am the light of the world" or "If you believe x, y and z you may be the light of the world." He says to the crowd "You are the Light of the World."

    What Jesus is saying to us in Matthew 5 is so very close to "You are my beloved. . . ." It echoes, as well, the blessings pronounced at the beginning of Matthew 5, the Beatitudes. If there are Bible classes nearby, I would urge the Dunbar-Virtue crowd to join one of them to study this crucial part of the Gospels. This is where Jesus is unequivocal about those who are Blessed – and there are no creedal statements required, no right wing litmus tests to pass. That is probably why Matthew is referred to as "Gospel."

Shame on these continuing attacks on ++Katharine Jefferts Schori. Time after time they reveal the theological and Biblical bankruptcy of the right wing of the Episcopal Church. It really does take a theological moron to take a meditation which reflects Jesus' own statements and turn it into an attack on the one leading the meditation.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

David Virtue Gets It Wrong – Way Wrong!

David Virtue wrote a series of observations/rants about what horrifies him about the Episcopal Church (can you imagine making what horrifies you about the Episcopal Church your life's work?). I noted that his reference to "Mrs. Schori" was a slight beneath the dignity of anyone in any church. In response to his hand wringing about all the money being spent on the lawsuits over property, I noted that the Episcopal Church is bound to protect its ownership of its property and, as countless others have seen, if those leaving the Episcopal Church would be civil and decent enough not to take property that does not belong to them there would not be the occasion for lawsuits.

I noted as well that there is no ownership of church property by those who make charitable gifts to the church, either through pledged support or capital gifts. If David Virtue had supported the church financially at any time over the past two decades he would have known that, as Church Treasurers have to note in their parish giving statements that nothing of value, other than spiritual value, was provided in exchange for the contribution to the church. Thus, if you claim a tax deduction for your pledges or capital gifts and then claim the property belongs, in part, to you – you can count on receiving free meals at a Federal facility or paying a large fine and penalty for violation of Federal law.

One of the first to respond was Cennydd, from Los Banos, California in the breakaway group John David Schofield engineered out of the Episcopal Church:

Re: Virtue Article - Orthodox Parishes Win In VA -- Schori Will Attempt to Depose Bp. Duncan.

TBWSalinas, David isn't the only one to refer to your "Presiding Bishop" as "Mrs Schori." And we are perfectly within our rights in doing so, since we do not believe that she is a validly-ordained member of the clergy. Yes, The Episcopal Church claims that she is, since your Church ordains women. This diocese does not, a fact of which I am sure you are well aware.

The lawsuits you mentioned....every single one of them....were brought against faithful orthodox Anglican Christians who want nothing more than to remain in the spiritual homes which they paid for and have maintained, where they were married, where their children and grandchildren were baptized, confirmed, and married, and yes, even buried from. The Episcopal Church filed those lawsuits; no one else did, and you know it!

In most cases, the dioceses and the Church have not contributed a dime to the purchase and upkeep of these properties; the people themselves having contributed gladly and with no thought that they would ever be sued in court simply for wanting to remain in their church properties....again for which they paid.

You will no doubt say that "faithful Episcopalians" also want to remain in their church homes, and you'd be right. I was once a faithful Episcopalian, and I never dreamed that I would one day leave the parish in which I had spent so many years of my adult life.

But when the Church I once loved decided to begin ordaining women to the priesthood and to do nothing to discipline +John Spong and +James Pike for their heresies (Pike got his hand slapped and was told to not do it again), and when they consecrated your present leader as Presiding Bishop....a woman who openly stated the "there is more than one way to God than through Jesus," when Jesus Himself said "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He who hath seen Me hath seen the Father,"I knew that I had to make a decision. You know by my avatar what decision I made.

Yes, the lawsuits can stop, and they should! It has been said that Christians don't sue Christians. Certainly, Christian churches don't, but The Episcopal Church has chosen to ignore that message, and have diminished themselves in the eyes of the rest of Christendom. It is a proven fact! The issues of ordaining known non-celibate homosexual persons and of same-sex "marriage" are merely "presenting issues." The real issue is one of remaining faithful to 2000 years of teachings of the Church through Holy Scripture.

The Episcopal Church was once a great and highly-respected part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Sadly, by its own actions, it is no longer.

I hope the IRS does not see your response, Cennydd. They believe that when you donate money to the church, you give up control over it -- otherwise no tax deduction. When the dissidents assert, as you seem to, that you have bought and paid for the parish churches you are stealing from TEC you are violating federal law and every principle of Christian Stewardship.

Please don't try to fool me into believing that you believe all of "2000 years of teaching of the church. . ." If you read early church history you are aware that there were many theologies and ethics for a long time -- and little of early Christian ethics and understanding of the church's place in culture survived very long -- but then you may be in favor of the subjugation of women, the institution of slavery and approval of polygamy -- and what about women having their heads covered in church, etc., etc..

Isn't it odd that the women who were the only followers of Jesus who remained faithful through his crucifixion, who were the first witnesses to the Resurrection and leaders in the early church are branded by you and some others as unfit or unqualified for priestly or episcopal ministry in the church of Jesus Christ. So much for Jesus' witness regarding the place of women in his living and dying.

Cennydd, I believe your vision of the mission and identity of the church lacks the compassion, generosity, vision and witness of Jesus Christ. And those who agree with your understanding of John 14.6 are a marginal group, with few Biblical scholars to back them up. Jesus seems to disagree with you. Paul, even in Romans, disagrees with you. The Roman Catholic Church disagrees with you. You have made what you see as correct belief a substitute for faith -- and in the process have turned faith into a work, losing any sense of Grace. What you have is salvation by works -- that has been declared a heresy over and over again.

I wish you well in your brand of Christianity. I wish for you the joy and peace that is the Christian Gospel -- but to gain that you are going to have to let go of Christianity as a Country Club for the guys -- and straight guys only, at that.

Thomas B. Woodward

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A Communion Sidetracked by a Morality of Works

In the church as in life, how easily we get sidetracked. Nowhere is that more evident than with our current struggles within the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion.

It seems clear to me that a good part of our problem throughout the church stems from treating Christianity as a moral code. People in all parts of our church are struggling with different moral codes -- and identifying them with the Christian gospel. This was a major error of the Eames Commission, reflecting the notion that Christianity is a set of rules and regulations to which one gives assent rather than a response in faith to the revelation in Jesus Christ. This error then led to an enormous amount of mischief and grief.

The Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Church is not alone with this misconception. Here is a brief excerpt from Jacques Ellul's book The Subversion of Christianity: "When I say that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is against morality, I am not trying to say that it replaces one form of morality with another. . . Revelation is an attack on all morality, as is wonderfully shown by the parables of the kingdom of heaven, that of the prodigal son, that of the talents, that of the eleventh-hour laborers, that of the unfaithful steward, and many others. In all the parables the person who serves as an example has not lived a moral life. The one who is rejected is the one who has lived a moral life. Naturally this does not mean that we are counseled to become robbers, murderers, adulterers, etc. On the contrary, the behavior to which we are summoned surpasses morality, all morality, which is shown to be an obstacle to encounter with God." p. 71

What we now have before us is a morality of works, a litmus test replacing the grace and love of God. However, the parables of Jesus are subversive -- often as with the parables of the Leaven, Mustard Seed and Prodigal Son they subvert the authority of the purity code. They also subvert the kinds of divisions in this church around human sexuality. We are not talking about Paul's distinctions between sarx (flesh) and the Spirit. We are falsely labeling some spiritual relationships as though they were sarx (the way of identifying ourselves with the world), thus undercutting the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

While we humans seem to have a penchant for the security of rules and proscriptions, Jesus refused to give into that penchant. Instead he spoke of human qualities in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), as Paul did of the marks of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5. In what we have in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks in hyperbole and metaphor, but not with rules and regulations.

As Christians, we are not governed by rules and proscriptions. We are governed by a Vision and a Life lived and given. As Paul notes, we work out the details in fear and trembling, but always in the context of trust and acceptance. That is the opposite of deciding the future of our Communion on the basis of a morality rooted elsewhere than in that Life. Living morally as a Christian is full of doubt and discernment and struggle --and absolutist versions of Christian morality detract from that vocation and eventually subvert and destroy it.

Put simply: our moralities are responses to the revelation of God through Jesus Christ, but they are not that revelation.

We have become so enthralled with the argumentative possibilities in defending our favorite morality or in attacking others' that in arguing about morality we really have come to believe that we are dealing with revelation and the content of our faith (relationship) in God. Not so.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Response to Fort Worth Canon Theologian’s Attack

Following my talks to the Via Media and Remain Episcopal groups in the Diocese of Fort Worth, the Canon Theologian wrote what I believe is a scurrilous and intentionally misleading attack on me and on the essays I wrote for The Episcopal Majority entitled "The Undermining of the Episcopal Church" (found elsewhere on this blog). This response is meant, initially, for members of the HoBD list serve as I promised one member of that group a copy of this response. I am not of a mind to republish Fr. Heidt's attack - you can find that on-line.

Dear Canon Heidt,
I welcome fair criticism of my work, but I must object to your mischaracterizations, misunderstandings and distortions of what I wrote in "The Undermining of the Episcopal Church."

That pamphlet was written for The Episcopal Majority, an organization formed not to declare "open warfare," as you state, but to counter the misrepresentations of traditional Anglicans perpetrated by those who claim to be "orthodox." I certainly have no wish to fight my "enemies to the death." All I want is for there to be honest dialogue with respect for the truth. If you knew anything at all about me you would know that I have a long and distinguished career built on building bridges within the church and between the Episcopal Church and those outside it.

Again, had you read Undermining with any care you would recognize me as fully Trinitarian, with no tolerance for what you charge me with – confusing or identifying the church's Trinitarian God with "the nature of all life."

No place do I or my cohorts assume "the world is in some sense divine," as you charge (reflective of your irresponsible and wrong comments about pagan origins). Likewise, I do not know where you find license to drag the red herring of "the spirit of the times" or the church as "subservient to the culture in which it finds itself," unless you are referring to your own theological underpinnings – they certainly are not mine and are not reflected in my work.

Again, nowhere do I state or assume that "all life is sacramental," in anything like the simplistic way you characterize that notion. Here, as elsewhere, you make broad generalities take the place of responsible citations or quotes of a work you are attacking. While your belief that the sacramental action and presence of God seems to be limited to the church's official sacraments, you must be aware that your limitations are not reflected in traditional Anglicanism or classical Christianity which holds that there are at least these seven sacraments. I do not understand your statement that "God alone makes the sacrament of unction along with the other sacraments."

Your notion that God comes into the world from outside and beyond this world is wildly heretical on several counts, among which is your making God an object as well as separating God from the Creation. Better not to use that notion in countering me or anyone else – just as with your earlier criticism of me for holding the Johannine doctrine of the love of God.

In (2) you note correctly that I report that the church has been constantly changing its beliefs and practices through history. That is not rocket science. We did not start out believing in a Trinitarian God. Our understanding of marriage has changed radically over the centuries. The same is true of our moral codes regarding procreation, slavery, the dignity and equality of women, and on and on and on. However, I never said we must not look to the past – why would you impute that to me? Why the misleading information?

You have not given any indication of my objections to the reintroduction of the 1662 Prayer Book as normative for our theology – or the context for those remarks. They are pretty important. Instead, you wave another generalization that has no relationship to what I argued. Do you, in fact, disagree with my analysis of the dangers of using 1662 as normative? That would be a discussion worth having.

Again, you have grossly mischaracterized my remarks about the current use of John 14:6 as a litmus test. I believe you will find that most Biblical scholars of the 20th and 21st century mirror my analysis. Even Roman Catholic doctrine contradicts the stand of those who now claim to be the "orthodox."

I do poke fun at those who parade around the notion of "the faith once delivered to the saints." The term, when first used, refers, of course, to the Hebrew Scriptures, not to authors of the New Testament. I stand by my clear exposition that those who use the phrase use it not to proclaim early doctrine, but their own peculiar (often very peculiar) notion of a Christianity as they would like it to be. Quite contrary to your statement that I fail to realize the diversity of faith within the whole, I quoted with great approval the work of David Rhodes to that effect.

When you charge me with being fast and loose with the facts, you do not quote me. You do charge me with saying that St. Paul is not part of our Bible – that is completely untrue. It is a scurrilous misrepresentation or lie. I nowhere say that St. John is irrelevant. That is another lie. When I say that "so-called conservatives" are throwing away centuries of biblical scholarship, I give specifics. You choose not to address those specifics: that is sloppy and irresponsible scholarship. I wrote you an email about the facts of the matter regarding property. That was made clear in Undermining – and the courts have consistently held that to be true – and that is very clear in the State of Texas, which is a deference State.

In (4) you throw around a lot of words and phrases that are not linked to anything I wrote or believe. You completely misrepresent my Prayer Book understanding of the ordained orders of the church and of Baptism. Why do you do that? What I wrote about the authority of the laity in the Episcopal Church is straight Prayer Book and Constitution and Canons. If you want to attack them, do so – but don't attack and misrepresent me for following them.

Do check out the ordination and consecration vows in the Prayer Book. It does specify obedience within the Episcopal Church. Period. Why would you think differently? I do chastise foreign bishops for invading our own church in the United States. That practice was first outlawed at the Council of Nicea – and has never been changed or altered. Check it out. The history and practice of the Episcopal Church in Europe is very clear. That is all above board and in compliance with Nicea and the rules and regulations of other groups where we are located.

I have no interest in casting out anyone, as I note clearly in Undermining. I have a great interest in combating misinformation and the practice of demonizing, which I find present in your article. I am happy, though, to kneel at the altar next to you.

Contrary to your claim, St. Paul clearly speaks his mind that people who have sex with members of their own gender shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Do you know something about Michelangelo and Sir John Gielgud that others don't? Under Paul's teaching, they and the millions upon millions of gay and lesbian people who have loved Jesus Christ and have served Him sacrificially have no place in heaven – no matter what Jesus said.

I pray that you will apologize publicly for your misunderstandings and misrepresentations – as well as for your libelous characterization of me as Unitarian and "new religionist." Throughout (5) you again throw out a bunch of accusations with nothing to support them – because there is nothing to support them. They are wrong. I believe your own descriptions of God are wrong – and wrong by all standards of traditional and classical Christian theology and philosophy.

I am grateful that you have, finally, in (6), actually referred to something that I did write. I have not lumped scripture, tradition and reason all together. Check it out. They exist in a dynamic relationship, as Hooker noted and established for Anglicanism. Your characterizations of my understanding of the Bible and the authority of the Bible all come from your own mind and musings. They are deliberate distortions of what I wrote in Undermining and what I clearly believe.

I was very clear about Christian morality. You have chosen to ignore that for another scurrilous attack built against a figment of your imagination.

In conclusion, I am very disappointed in what you have written. I am angry about your lies and misrepresentations. I am offended that such sloppy work has been disseminated in the church, especially under the title of "Canon Theologian." I believe what you have done is a poor job of Swift Boating me. I would be happy to engage with you in honest discussion or dialogue about any of the issues raised in Undermining. As for now, I remain convinced that it is those who claim the loudest to be "orthodox" who are undermining classical and traditional Christianity.

Tom Woodward

Response to Fr. Wooten’s Attack

Following my talks to the Via Media and Remain Episcopal groups in the Diocese of Fort Worth, Fr. Steve Wooten, a priest in that diocese, published a two part series attacking me and the essays I wrote for The Episcopal Majority entitled "The Undermining of the Episcopal Church" which can be found elsewhere on this blog. As promised to the HoBD list, I am posting my response to Fr. Wooten here:

Dear Fr. Wooten,

I have listened to the first of your two responses to the essays I wrote for The Episcopal Majority and have several concerns, especially as your responses have been widely circulated. I wish you had been able to attend my talk in Wichita Falls – had I more notice about that part of my schedule I would have invited you personally, as I had invited Christopher Cantrell and Dean Ryan Reed to my talk in Fort Worth.

I am not going to engage with you in debate here: however I feel it necessary to clarify some misinformation, mischaracterization and unnecessary confusion.

First, I did not come to Fort Worth from the national church. No one at the national church was consulted about my visit. I came by invitation from individuals who expressed the hope that another point of view could be articulated respectfully within the diocese. I asked Bishop Iker for an appointment before my talks to ask him if he had any concerns about my speaking in his diocese. He was very gracious in meeting with me and he told me of his concerns – which I share. It is my hope and prayer that I honored his concerns and that I mirrored my respect for him to those who attended the talks, including several of your parishioners.

You have my biographical history all wrong. You could have checked it on line at the Church Pension Fund site or in any Clerical Directory. I am a Harvard graduate, cum laude in philosophy, and was graduated from The General Theological Seminary. I have taught at the seminaries in Berkeley, California as well as at Nashotah House. Seabury Press has published two books I've written – one on theology and the other on an intergenerational approach to Christian Education. My work on the Parables of Jesus was published recently in the Sewanee Theological Review and has been under review by Fortress Press.

Your characterization of my work in the Diocese of the Rio Grande was completely wrong and foolish as well. After a disasterous Diocesan Convocation in which Network clergy and laity hurled nasty and scurrilous epithets at moderate and liberal members of the Convocation, Bishop Steenson assembled a group of leaders in the diocese to serve as a Task Force on Communion. They were to help guide the diocese towards a more loving and respectful community and Convocation. The level of venom in the original Task Force was so high that all the liberal members resigned, leaving only one moderate. Bishop Steenson, knowing of my reconciling work in the Diocese of El Camino Real, asked if I would serve on the Task Force. Being a tough old buzzard I agreed to serve. Despite being asked to resign three times by the chair of the Task Force for raising uncomfortable issues and concerns, I ended my service with profuse gratitude from Bishop Steenson and the diocese.

My stance has never been as you characterize it, "if you don't agree, get out." No one has worked harder in this very conservative diocese to hold people and congregations together, except for Bishop Steenson. I have spent over forty years working to build bridges within the Episcopal Church – and many of my closest friends in the church are among the most conservative. Check your General Convention materials: the Network endorsed my candidacy for Trustee of the Church Pension Fund at the last General Convention because their leadership knows me and trusts me, even as we disagree.

I believe there is room in the Episcopal Church for the full range of people in the Network. What I objected to in my booklet is the defamatory language often used by leaders of the Network which is present all the way through the DVD, "Choose This Day." I object in the strongest terms to the use of the slanderous and ugly language that I noted in my booklet. We may have deep disagreements about many things, but neither of us is "non- Christian" or "pagan." That kind of language has no place in your mouth or mine.

I object to your characterization of my understanding of the authority of Scripture and of the nature of revelation. You misquoted me in your talk as you have repeatedly done in your comments on Fr. Cantrell's blog. I believe your view of revelation as a sophisticated kind of divine dictation has not been honored in the history of Anglicanism, though it has its followers among Biblical literalists. My understanding of revelation as a response to the mighty acts of God in Hebrew Scripture and as the response to the life, ministry, teaching, incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has been pretty standard for centuries. To characterize my understanding as that of God speaking to me through the beauty of a forest has got to be a deliberate and mean-spirited misunderstanding.

The tensions among Scripture, Tradition and Reason are far deeper than your fairly peculiar notion of Scriptura sola. I don't know of a single responsible Biblical scholar or historian who would would say, in your words, "Scripture trumps all." The Scriptural norm of polygamy, which I object to in the strongest terms, does not trump anything. Let us pray that it never will – and that is one of hundreds of examples. It was, as you know, the church which decided the Canon and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit which helps us to understand it.

I object in the strongest of terms to your use of various red herrings to defame the Episcopal Church. The Buddhist, Hindu and Wicca examples you used have all involved depositions or inhibitions by resident bishops. They represent an unacceptable expression of the church – we both know that. Your using them in the way you did would be the equivalent of my referring to the havoc wreaked by Don Armstrong as typical of people in the Network (Don has been a friend of mine, but I find his financial misbehavior terrible).

Your mischaracterization of my concerns about puritanism was unfortunate. Your statement that I and others have no regard for rules is laughable. My life in the Episcopal Church is full of upholding rules – and holding our church and others acccountable to Scriptural norms. Take a look at my piece on "Forty Years of Ordination" at

We do have much to talk about regarding the neo-Puritanism that I believe marks too much of the new "orthodoxy." My concern is that the rules and objectification in your rule dominated ethics and morality have undermined our traditional Anglican understanding of the sacramental nature of life, and thus of our understanding of Trinitarian faith. It is a serious argument and ignored at your peril. Your mischaracterization continued in your calling me a "Christian anarchist." The quotes about God as Love comes, of course, not from Augustine but from I John I. To characterize my discussion of Divine Love as having to do with an old geezer having sex with a 13 year old girl is way, way beneath you. I was happy to hear a parishioner cautioning you that you were confusing agape and eros.

You noted that "If God does not have codes and rules, why did Jesus have to die?" I believe if you look more closely at the Synoptics that you will find that it was largely Jesus' attack on the purity code and its grip on the People of God that led to his crucifixion – not his reiteration of the Ten Commandments. We had plenty of rules and regulations long before the Incarnation: what was lacking was Paul's notion of Grace and Law and Jesus' transformation of the Law into a new ethic. By the way, I do not know a liberal theologian or ethicist anywhere who says anything like what you tag me with, "Don't worry about anything, Grace will cover you." I read Bonheffer: where did you find that???

Again, your statement that I am advocating that the Holy is "found in human experience: just try everything once and you will find God" is gross distortion and has nothing at all to do with what I wrote or what I believe. I am pretty strictly Pauline on the matter of the revelation of the holy in human experience. Your literalism is what is bizarre.

When you begin talking about my discussion of Bedrock, you seem to align me with those advocating gay marriage. Please be careful: you are wrong. You accuse me of "throwing out tradition and discarding the Book of Common Prayer:" again, you are wrong! It would have been helpful for your parishioners to have heard about the traditions I did mention, such as the subjugation of women embedded in our prayer books for centuries.

You told your parishioners I called you a charlatan for accepting your paycheck. Wrong. I wrote of the conflict between being paid by an institution one is working actively to undermine or replace – and how similar that is to a husband who reaps the benefits of being married while plotting with a woman he is having an affair with about getting out of his marriage. I think the moral standard is that one works to preserve the marriage – and when that is impossible, then one leaves the marriage. Period. Bishop Steenson realized he had a deeper conflict with the Episcopal Church than he had previously thought, so politely he announced that he was renouncing his orders. He did that within weeks of his realization that he would be joining the Roman Catholic Church. He left with the good wishes of liberals and conservatives – certainly of my own. I believe that should be the norm – but that's me.

I certainly agree with you that the message of salvation can be "got" by all, despite the nuances of Scripture. Some of us hear that message differently from others. As I took great pains to note, there are different strains in the Gospels about the requirements for salvation. It is clear that you find the major strains of the Synoptics uncomfortable and so not part of the Biblical message. I said that what you are affirming is affirmed in the New Testament – and so is what I am affirming also affirmed there. There is no "winning" here.

I hope you are more respectful to our Presiding Bishop than your use of "Kate Schori" indicates. I know many of the clergy in your diocese disparage her regularly, but I want to remind you that her stance regarding John 14.6 reflects traditional Anglican understanding of salvation and is fully within the understanding of the Roman Catholic church of that scripture as well. Your slur reflects on you, not her. It is that kind of slur against women in authority that has led to a host of terrible consequences for women. You owe your parishioners better.

One last thing ( I know I have gone on too long): you accuse me of Marcionism, claiming that I "do not want your people to read Paul, John, Leviticus or most of the New Testament." On the contrary, I want nothing more than for your people to read those books. I want them to know the difference in quality between the Purity Code and the Holiness Code in Leviticus. I want them to read Galatians 5 and all of Romans. I want them to read of the expansive love of God in the Johaninne letters and in the Parables of Jesus which, over and over again, undercut the moralism which you seem to champion. Read the Parable of the Prodigal Son, The Leaven, The Mustard Seed and on and on. They represent a different picture than the one you draw. Note that I am not saying your picture is wrong: it is one among many. That concept is hard for a literalist, but easy for one reads the whole Bible.

If you want to have an open and honest discussion with me, I am up for that. From what I saw and heard in Wichita Falls, so are your people. They know that there is more than one respectable point of view on these important matters – I think they are tired of the others being so disparaged. Check with your bishop to see if such a discussion would be a possibility. Check with the leadership in the Network – John Liebler, Kendall Harmon, David Virtue, Bishop Little and others: they will tell you about my integrity and good faith. They will tell you that I make every effort to be fair and kind – and that when I step over the line I apologize honestly and profusely. I hope to be treateed with the same respect.

Tom Woodward

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Stand Firm Dialogues

After pretty unsatisfactory attempts at clarification and dialogue at Stand Firm, I have invited people from that blog community to TTUD. I welcome your questions, challenges and everything else and will attempt to keep up with my end.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Beatitudes Turned Upside Down

It does boggle the mind, with bishops in our church and others,
absconding with funds given by ECUSA to their dioceses,
tolerating priests sexually abusing parishioners,
invading other dioceses,
demonizing their own clergy,
subjecting their own people to prison and death on the basis of their sexual orientation,
inflicting their own mental illness on their dioceses,
calling fellow bishops "apostate" and "imposters,"
showing complete disrespect for our Presiding Bishop,
involved in sexual misconduct, themselves,
refusing to get help for serious addictions,
involved in financial mismanagement of their dioceses
and on and on . . .
 Bishop Gene Robinson,
who has served this church faithfully and without incident at home and abroad,
a saving spiritual icon to thousands of Episcopalians and others in this country,
elected by his own diocese who has known him for many years, etc., etc.
is not invited to the ABC's gathering of bishops.

I do not understand how the moral weighting is done in Canterbury,
but it sure ain't by Biblical standards or by any of the recorded statements of Jesus.
This is sort of "The Beatitudes Turned Upside Down."
A DISCLAIMER:  Don't get me wrong -- I believe our bishops, as a whole, are the best.
They serve faithfully and courageously. So many are truly gifts from God to this church.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Does the United States Get a Free Pass on Immorality?

At times over the past few weeks it has felt unbearable listening to the smug attacks from both liberal and conservative news commentators on remarks made from a Christian pulpit, critical of the United States of America. The firestorm has centered on outtakes from a very few sermons by Barack Obama's UCC pastor, The Rev. Jeremiah Wright (who, incidentally has one of the most compassionate and most generous congregations in all of American Christendom).

Oddly (and tragically) the one remark by Pastor Wright that has proven most controversial seems to me fairly basic to a responsible understanding of the Christian faith. Stripped of the emotion and the phraseology, he is saying that the United States of America stands under God's judgment for our actions in just the same way that we believe other countries stand under God's judgment.

What could be more basic than that? Isn't that much of the heart of our Holy Scriptures, that Israel stands under the same judgment that other nations do? If I remember my prophets and historical books correctly, what we have been told as clearly as clear can be is that since we have been entrusted with the identity of the People of God, we will be judged even more harshly than "the nations."

The reality in this country is that we who really believe that we are that city built on a hill, the new Jerusalem will resist and in the process demonize anyone who reminds us that we stand under the judgment of God. How hypocritical! How counter to the revealed Word of God, spoken through the prophets and even by Jesus Christ, himself.

Surely we don't think we get a free pass on the torture we have inflicted in our current as well as past wars, the bombings of civilian targets, resorting to armed combat for economic reasons, our long years of practicing slavery, our condoning of marketing merchandise by images which degrade women, our deference to corporate power over the needs and the rights of the poor, and on and on.

We should all be seriously depressed at the depth of the civil religion practiced in this country that would exempt us from being held responsible for our national sins. We should be furious at those commentators who assume we can sever our prophetic roots from the Christian religion -- and who demonize one of the greatest pastors in our church for speaking the truth.

So what are the odds that Christian preachers have used this occasion to call our church back to its roots? Probably not very good. Why is that? Is that we really do prize being liked? Or is it that despite our words of reverence for the Bible, we have simply forgotten its words and message?

Don't you just love the way so many leaders of the "reasserters" claim to be the only ones in the Episcopal Church who care for the Bible and its authority while standing by as Pastor Wright is crucified by the left and the right? They are not "reasserting" anything: they are ignoring it. Those on the liberal side are not much better. We talk about the "unfortunate language" of the sermon excerpts, forgetting that we have not used ANY language in attacking our national sin. We, too, like the evangelicals are more comfortable in dealing with "personal" sins.

I had thought of including a few trenchant quotes from the prophets to sum up this short piece, but the only thing adequate would be to include the whole of the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Judges, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, and all the rest. Maybe, since this is Holy Week, words from Jesus as he neared his own death in Jerusalem might be appropriate:

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (Matthew 23:36-38)

We who claim the identity of Jerusalem for ourselves have a major task of repentance ahead of us.