Thursday, January 01, 2009

Why the Venom? – A response to a question about Stand Firm in Faith

A woman who posts at StandFirminFaith wrote me twice in the comments section of an earlier entry on this blog, inquiring about my take on the animosity towards me at that web site. Here are my thoughts about the animosity expressed towards me at Stand Firm:

1. Early on Matthew Kennedy from SF launched a four part attack on a piece I wrote for The Episcopal Majority on "Falsely Accused," in which I debunked the charges of SF and others against the Episcopal Church. As I responded to Matthew's various points, the responses to me on Stand Firm took on an ugly, personal tone. That has continued.

2. From time to time I have offered on StandFirm an alternative point of view about theology, the authority of the Bible and about church property. A few have engaged in that conversation, but most have responded with close to vitriol, as though I had slimed their mothers. What has angered most has been my suggestion (it is not just mine: it has been a staple of Anglicanism for centuries!) that there are differing points of view than their own.

3. The third reason, I believe, is that whenever someone challenges anything held by what Veblen called "The True Believer," the fear and resentment level for the True Believers reaches an incredible pitch -- and rather than deal with the challenge, itself, they attempt to eradicate the source of their discomfort.

4. The fourth reason is that the SFiF site has served for many as a dumping ground for disaffection and hatred -- and when that stream of "Ain't They Awful" is interrupted, any disrupters are quickly and soundly punished. I don't think this trend has been there for the full life of SFiF, but when you read through almost any string there are recurring themes:

-- ++Katharine Jefferts Schori is a fake and a heretic;
-- Anyone leaving TEC is a hero;
-- Any moral, ethical or theological viewpoint (no matter how well grounded in historical Christianity or contemporary scholarship) that differs from the narrow outlook of the SFiF leadership is "heretical," "apostate" or of Satan.                          -- Anyone challenging the Stand Faith sense of their own orthodoxy must be annihilated and there is no limit to the sarcasm, personal attacks and wild charges used to accomplish those attacks. Witness irenic, conciliatory remarks by me and others are invariably met     by further personal attacks – their latest characterizations of me have been "heretic," "fraud," "abuser of my former parishioners," and other, worse, terms.

5. Lastly, there is the SF assumption that any of their staff and regular contributors can do no wrong in their personal attacks – and that when I, or others, draw attention to the scurrilous attacks, we must be discredited. That is often followed by references to what happens at the House of Bishops/House of Deputies list serve as "much, much worse" – a charge that is demonstrably wrong.

These, of course, are my own observations. I have had some meaningful conversations with Matt Kennedy through emails -- though he has informed me that if I showed up at his church he would not give me communion. I believe there are descriptive words for such an attitude and behavior, but they are not for me to throw around!

The voice of conservative Christianity is a voice which deserves to be heard and taken with utmost seriousness – but this use of it to tee off on those not of the same mindset is a cruel distortion of Christian conversation.

(adapted from the response at:



Ann said...

I don't bother to go to that pit of venom. I decided when they used my words from HOBD without permission that there was no honor there and a waste of my time to read what they had to say about me. If there was any hope of conversation - it might be worth it - but anyone who deviates from the party line is immediately attacked. Even Kendall Harmon has suffered their wrath.

+clumber said...

Oh dear, you actually commented there? Oh my. I only use SF and KSH and Undercurrent and the rest as sources of amusement. You simply cannot take them seriously. Just remember, you are always welcome to take communion here in the Real Diocese of Pittsburgh! And remember, Matt± is still wet behind the ears, full of himself, and thinks he's actually on the side of truth, justice, and purity. Time is not on his, or any of the SF'ers side. God's will will be done.

Thomas B. Woodward said...

As I read so many of the strings at Stand Faith and am confronted with snide upon snide, character assasination upon character assasination (almost always with unbounded glee) -- and then see the rejoiner, "We are gentle and kind - you should see what happens at HoBD!", the Biblical refrains rings through my aging ears:

"Eyes they have but see not: ears they have but hear not," to which I would add, "hearts they have but the care not."

Thomas B. Woodward said...

+clumber -- now I know why I supported your elevation to the Episcopacy! Wisdom befits you.

Why do I post there? I did a longer piece earlier on this blog, but the simple answer has to do with this:
When someone lives in the muck long enough, the muck begins to look like the only reality there is. In my own presumption, I dive into the muck to remind the mucksters that there is another, brighter and more accepting world.

+clumber said...

Perhaps the next time I return to Their Fair City, I shall endeavor to participate in a communion service to see if they allow me to receive without checking my brain at the door. I once lost my mind and registered at SF, but just found the level of discourse so thoroughly disgusting that I resigned without so much as a growl or whimper. I applaud your courage in trying to participate there (as much as I can with paws), but fear that you are speaking to people as dense as Nicodemus. They cannot see the light and prefer staying in darkness, even if it's them who blew out the candles.

Thomas B. Woodward said...

Clumber -- On one of the latest strings (one attacking Elizabeth Kaeton), the string of attacks was interrupted several times by people begging for an end to the personal attacks and for Christian moderation.
Will wonders never cease.

Grace said...

Thanks, Father Tom for responding.

God bless!

Martial Artist said...

Rev. Woodward,

You have repeatedly denied that anyone has documented that your attack on Mr. David Hicks was unwarranted, if not scurrilous and pusillanimous. I post this comment, at your express invitation, for the purpose of demonstrating your lack of truthfulness in doing so. If you choose to deny approval for this comment, I will find it necessary to make copies available to the staff of StandFirm to do with it as they see fit.

On Tuesday, January 13, 2008, on this thread at the much reviled weblog StandFirmInFaith, you posted the following comment justifying your attack on Mr. Hicks: "My comments about Mr. Hicks had to do with the veracity of his attacks on Bishop Robinson. That is a matter of perspective and information. Hardly scurrilous. He needed to be called to account for the false charges against Bishop Robinson. Read the account just published by SF—there is nothing there to contradict what I noted, nothing new that would substantiate what Mr. Hicks alleged."

The article in question by Mr. Hicks, which it is my understanding prompted your personal attack on him, was published on 9th August 2006 on the StandFirm website. Bishop Robinson's sermon, released to a member of the public by the Diocese of New Hampshire on April 21, 2008, via this memo a link to which can be found here. The actual full text of Bishop Robinson's entire sermon, preached in 1992 to the students in grades 9 through 12 at St. Paul's School, Concord, NH, and transmitted under the memo cited above can be found here. Therefore, having the evidence readily to hand, let us examine the allegations made by Mrs Hicks in his article, to which you so strenuously objected, and compare the two documents in an effort to discern who was telling the truth, and who was not.

Mr. Hicks stated in his article that "The only time I ever heard the now Bishop Gene Robinson speak was at a Vespers service at St. Paul’s School in the fall of 1992. His topic appeared to be God’s gift of love, a phrase he often repeated in his talk, but his point conflated love with sex, and he urged the girls and boys of St. Paul’s to share their sexual gifts 'either with someone of the same sex or someone of the opposite sex.'"

Bishop Robinson's sermon included the following statement [correction added] "if you are physically, sexually active with someone, whether with a person of the opposite or the same sex, you can remember or discover for the first time all the wonderful ways of being sexual with another person.
without having intercourse. without risking your life. We parents and we in the church have been so busy preaching
'just say no,' that we have forgotten to celebrate this God-given gilt of sexuality and to rejoice in this incredible means
of communicating with a beloved. l3ut there are many ways of communicating physically and sexually with another
person short of intercourse.

"Fourth, if you are having intercourse or oral sex with someone, whether of the same or the opposite sex, love
yourself and love your partner enough to protect yourselves (f)rom this virus."

Now, that may or may not be viewed as an unqualified encouragement to have sex, but no person literate in English and sound of mind could view it as anything other than acceptance, and therefore, at least tacit encouragement of sexual activity on the part of children between the ages of roughly 14 and 18. It is certainly the case that any Christian parent with whom I have ever been acquainted would be, at bare minimum, noticeably upset were their child to receive such a message from clergy.

Your comment on the weblog of The Episcopal Majority on 8th August 2006 contained the following characterization of Mr. Hicks statements: "a sleazy bit of baseless attack on Bishop Robinson," "such baseless slurs," "[i]t may be that this is something Mr. Hicks conjured up out of his own imagination," "if his words had any relationship to the truth, the Headmaster of St. Paul's would have dealt with it in a way that the respect the people of that school, that diocese and the others…" and "I write as one who has been victimized in similar manner to the way Mr. Hicks has victimized Gene Robinson." Furthermore, your reference to the Headmaster of St. Paul's witnesses to your ignorance of the situation, the reference brother's position as headmaster of "a neighboring Episopal prep school" notwithstanding. Unless I am misinterpreting the information on St. Paul's website, the school's headmaster is referred to as the "Rector." At the time of the occurrence of Bishop Robinson's sermon (1992) Mr. Hicks was the Rector of St. Paul's! This is a fact which can be readily ascertained by a straightforward statement in the second paragraph of his article.

I will await your apology to Mr. Hicks, although not with bated breath, as I have some doubts about the integrity of anyone who would launch the sort of truly and factually "baseless attack" on Mr. Hicks as you have not only perpetrated but continue to maintain is fully justified. I believe Mr. Griffith's recent unflattering characterization of you is overly generous.

Keith H. Toepfer

Thomas B. Woodward said...

Dear Keith ("Martial Artist")

First, I appreciate your willingness to engage in this conversation here. I will do my best to respond.

You are right - I did miss that David Hicks was Rector of St. Paul's. I do not remember my missing that -- I assume it was because I was reacting to the Subject Line of the piece at StandFirm. Even so, I believe, as Rector of St. Paul's, Mr. Hicks approved Gene Robinson's appearance at the school -- and given Gene's prominence in the Diocese of New Hampshire, should have been aware of Gene's preference for talking directly to young people.

But to the substance of my criticism of David Hicks' public excoriation of Gene's talk:

Hicks neglects to quote Gene's strong advocacy of abstinence at the beginning of his sermon. He also does not mention the context for the sermon and the reason for Gene's invitation. Both are critical for the rest of the sermon -- and both omissions illuminate the kind of conclusions Mr. Hicks made and promulgated.

I have read and reread Gene Robinson's sermon and he simply does not say what David Hicks attributes to him.

Gene first makes a strong case for abstinence. Second, he makes a similarly strong case to those engaged in sexual relationships to return to a relationship without sexual intercourse. What he does say is that two people can express their affection for one another in many wonderful ways that do not involve sexual intercourse. That point, in my opinion, is never explicated by sexual libertarians or strict moralists -- and too bad that it is not.

The next thing he says he says to those who are having sexual intercourse -- and probably not going to give it up (remember, he just recommended giving it up). What he says is what every pastor worth his or her salt should say: if you are going to continue on this road, you must use protection so you do not cause sickness or death to others.

Now is that "encouraging young people to have sex?" No. And David Hicks should have known better than to say it was. His characterization of what Gene said was consistently skewed and wrong. I was correct in reading what Gene had said, in reading how Mr. Micks mischaracterized that in a way that would cause people to distrust and castigate Gene, and in characterizing Mr. Hick's attack as "sleazy" and "scurrilous."

At no point does Gene, out of the blue, encourage young people to share their sexual gifts with one another. You could, as Hicks does, take things out of the larger context as well as the contest in which certain phrases are used, make a case for much worse -- but that would be dishonest, as Mr. Hicks is intellectually dishonest here.

The long excerpt that you note is anything but an endorsement of sexual intercourse by unmarried people. It is what parents have been telling their own teenagers for twenty five years -- if they expect their teenagers to listen to them. I'm sorry but to stand in front of teenagers and say only "Just say no" or "any more sexual contact and we won't have anything to do with you" is to waste time and to cut off any communication with those who most need it.

I do not know why David Hicks' tenure at St. Paul's was so brief or why his career seems to have nosedived. It may be that he mischaracterized too many things in too short a timespan.

Keith, I have read and re-read Gene's sermon -- and he simply did not say what Hicks' says it did. I do not know Hicks' motives, I only made the only reasonable assumption I could find. When Mr. Hicks' apologizes for the smear job he did on Gene Robinson, I will reach out to him in the spirit of conciliation; but there really is nothing for which to apologize at this point.

Mr. King said...

In reference to the "nosedive" of David Hicks' career, the answer can be found if you had ever met the man. He is, above all else, a narcissist and believes that he, and he alone, holds exclusive access to "the truth." To find out what Hicks did after St. Paul's, please research his tenure at Darlington School in Rome GA, where he persecuted and attacked Rev. John Merchant and was exceedingly dishonest with those under him that tried to defend his baseless and terrible attacks on Father Merchant. He installed a fundamentalist Christian cabal at the school, and tried to unlawfully force out Father Merchant after Merchant wrote an article in the school newspaper, at the students' request, to explain how a Christian denomination could allow an openly gay Bishop. That's right. Gene Robinson has been a bit of an obsession for David Hicks for many years. Father Merchant wisely wrote an article explaining that while some denominations (read: southern fundamentalists) prefer a literal interpretation of the bible, mainstream American Episcopals had adopted a more contextual relationship with the bible, and that Robinson's spirituality trumped his sexuality for the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire. He did not advocate either position. Just explained. And for that, and for that alone, Hicks proceeded to persecute and force out unjustly an officer of the school who simply spoke the truth. Hicks is a reprehensible man who deals with deceit and half-truths. He has an unnatural obsession with Gene Robinson, and this blog was absolutely correct in assailing his venom.