Sunday, October 25, 2009

Open Letter to the Diocese of South Carolina

    After several people from around the church objected to proposed actions about to be taken at the Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina, Kendall Harmon, the Canon Theologian for that diocese asked this of me and others: "Why don't you all read the bishops address and see what he really said?" This is where you will find that address:

My response to Canon Harmon and the leadership of the Diocese of South Carolina:
    I have read Bishop Lawrence's address to your convention and find it repeatedly marked by untruths (whether intentional or not), misunderstandings, misstatements and ignorance of the issues he references. On the whole I believe it represents a betrayal of trust towards the people entrusted to him by General Convention.
           Let me be specific. First, when he talks about my and others' "false understanding of the Christian faith" which is "founded upon human speculation rather than divine revelation" he does not know what he is talking about. There is no revelation separate from human experience and discernment. Neither Bishop Lawrence nor his Canon Theologian has an inside track on some Gnostic sort of revelation unknown to the rest of us. It would be interesting to hear about Bishop Lawrence's theory of direct revelation unaffected by human experience, intellect or judgment – such a theory would be an innovation of the first order.
           Second, what he attacks as "the Gospel of Indiscriminate Inclusivity" actually predates his ordination. That Gospel goes back to Jesus' Parable of the Marriage Feast in which Jesus points us beyond our notions of the chosen to two different levels of the excluded. That teaching runs through several of Jesus' parables (available on request). It is also reflected in his actions and in his other teaching. The Gospel he attacks has also been dominant through history, beginning with the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Book of Acts and later with such indiscriminate inclusions of Blacks, women and now gay and lesbian people. What is disturbing – and foreign to the teaching of our Lord -- is his Gospel of Discriminate Exclusivity (which, conveniently or not, matches his own proclivities).
           Third, he seems to claim that traditional teaching about Grace, Unconditional Love and God's preferential love for the poor and marginalized have somehow challenged "the doctrine of The Trinity, the Uniqueness and Universality of Christ, the Authority of Scripture, our understanding of Baptism and. .our Constitution and Canons." Where have Lawrence, Harmon and their advisors been when our PB has painstakingly clarified and corrected the incessant and almost instantaneous distortions of her sermons and speeches by the right? Where did they learn there is one and only one understanding of the authority of Scripture? One which, ironically, is closer to that of the Southern Baptists than traditional Anglicanism. As I noted in my "The Undermining of the Episcopal Church" (found on this blog), the real threat to our traditional understandings of the Trinity, the Universality of Christ, the Authority of Scripture and our Sacramental Theology comes from the self-styled "orthodox," themselves.
           I am one of the least of many, many pastors, lay people and theologians who have shown why tradition, Scripture and reason do not support the bishop's claims.  Does he not read anyone outside his own perspective?  
           His charge that "TEC was moving inexorably in what seemed an increasingly unbiblical direction" is the precise charge made by the pro-slavery people in the church against the abolitionists. I do not believe or infer that Mark Lawrence is a racist, but the similarity of arguments and claims should bother him.

I believe the last piece of his address is so wrong it is beyond laughable – and I enjoy a good laugh as much as anyone.  To quote, "When some were taking radical actions, disregarding the creeds and the canons, the defenders of orthodoxy were gentleman (sic) still fighting according to Marques of Queensbury rules. Those pushing the agenda were more like street-fighters."  What is there to compare to the libelous and scurrilous attacks of the DVD "Choose This Day" which was produced to undermine the trust of faithful Episcopalians in their church? Do you remember the language of that production, funded and produced by the people you and your bishop hold up as heroes of civility and fairness? Do "counterfeit religion," "enemies of Christ," "the church has been hijacked," "a foreign and alien and pagan religion," "a non-Christian religion" ring any bells? How about our "ignoring the cross?"  While some of the rhetoric on both sides has been harsh, nothing can compare to that still unrepudiated Trash Document "Choose This Day," followed by the on-going echoes of its irresponsible rhetoric by Bob Duncan and others.

While Bishop Lawrence's allies and others have accused those with whom they disagree as heretics and worse, I believe those so charged have consistently either defended themselves against the charges – or responded saying traditional Anglican comprehensiveness has made room for both our views. No one is pushing Kendall Harmon or Bishop Lawrence out of the Episcopal Church – there is room for both. What is asked of them is that they will cease battering others who, on the basis of our traditional understandings of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, hold a more traditional view of Christian theology and ethics.

Finally, when Bishop Lawrence charges that General Convention "has replaced a balanced piety in this Church with the politics of one-dimensional activism" he simply is terribly, terribly wrong. This claim of his is, strictly speaking, libelous as he is publicly and maliciously attacking the spiritual integrity and faithfulness of the vast majority of bishops, priests, deacons and lay people in this Church. An apology is required.
    I do not question Bishop Lawrence's devotion to our Lord, Jesus Christ or the sincerity of his beliefs. I know him to be a kind and pastoral person. I fault him on repeating slights, misunderstandings and untruths and for directing his diocese on the basis of those errors. My prayer is that he will read things like Tobias Haller's new book as well as the discussions on the more responsible blogs and websites, including Mark Harris's Preludium and others.