Sunday, January 5, 2020

Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time? The UMC Separation Proposal, Explained

I try to keep these blogs under 3,000 words and
that's no lie...it seems to make my readers sad
each time I try.
Back in the 1990s, Crusty was in a relationship that just wasn't working out.  We both knew it, but neither had the courage to say it.  I was at the train station, heading back to where I was going to school, and just couldn't take it anymore.  I called the person up on a pay phone from the station (hard to imagine a day before cell phones?) and told her I just couldn't do this anymore.  There was silence on the other end, and she said, "I didn't think you'd be the one to say it."

These lines from the Delfonics R&B classic popped into my head, and I said to her, "Didn't I blow your mind this time?" 

The lines came back to me as Crusty read about the separation proposal unveiled earlier this week by leaders in the United Methodist Church, and had his mind blown.  So COD put on his playlist of greatest R&B and hip hop breakup songs of all time as I prepped this blog.  (With this soundtrack on as I wrote this blog, I did not mean in any way to trivialize the events involved.  Division in the church is contrary to God's will, and always a difficult thing.  Yet unity also cannot be grounded on injustice or at the expense of the marginalized. Far from trivializing it, for me this grounded the sadness from this division in some of the greatest music ever written.) 

The text of the Separation Agreement can be found here, along with a news release and FAQs.



If you don't like then just go Crusty on it...
--A little background on me: Many, many years ago I served as assistant ecumenical officer, then ecumenical officer, to the Presiding Bishop from 2001-2011.  I've served on the United Methodist-Episcopal Church official dialogue team since 2002.  I was one of the primary drafters of the full communion proposal, "A Gift to the World: a Proposal for Full Communion", which can be found here, and the summary theological statement produced in 2010, "A Theological Foundation for Full Communion," found here, which gives greater historical and theological background to the proposal.  So when it comes to United Methodist-Episcopal Church relationships, no worries Queen Bey, Crusty can walk and talk at the same time.

--A little background on how we got here...Crusty explained this in depth in a previous post, but since COD pretty much encapsulates TL;DR, I'll summarize it below and you can read it all in depth here.

The United Methodist Church has language in its governing document the Book of Discipline which specifically states that "The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."  The Discipline also has language specifically forbidding clergy from performing same sex marriage ceremonies.

Proposals to change or amend this language have been made at the last several United Methodist General Conferences (equivalent to General Convention in the Episcopal Church).  Despite this language, there have been numerous examples of openly gay persons being ordained, and celebrations of same sex marriages, as local authorities have found work-arounds, for lack of a better term, for the language in the Discipline.

After extended, passionate, and wrenching debates at the 2016 General Conference about these sections of the Book of Discipline, the delegates asked the bishops to try to find a way forward despite the deep divisions in the church.  The bishops eventually decided to call a Special General Conference to deal solely with trying to determine a way forward on the issue of human sexuality, prior to the regularly scheduled General Conference to be held in 2020.  

The bishops put forward three plans for consideration at the Special General Conference.  The Special General Conference, held in February of 2019, approved the Traditional Plan. This Plan strengthened current provisions.  For instance, it called for mandatory sentences for persons found in violation of the Book of Discipline and required local boards of ordination to certify all persons for ordination were complying with the language in the Book of Discipline.  (Since the language was around "self-avowed and practicing", in some areas a kind of "don't ask-don't tell" emerged.) 

There were other proposals, and modified versions of some of the above proposals, in the mix as the Special General Conference opened.  In the end, after a lot of voting and
The Persuaders' version, not the Pretenders'.
debating and parliamentary manuvering,
 the Traditional Plan was adopted by a margin of 54 votes, 438 in favor, 384 opposed.  The debate became very intense, and emotional, and in the end Crusty found himself thinking "So here I am in a state of shock...I guess actions speak louder than words."


Several things to keep in mind:

i)  The United Methodist Church truly is a global church, and is becoming more so.  It has jurisdictions in Europe, Asia, and Africa and an enormous overseas presence.  In 2004, 19% of delegates to Annual Conference were from overseas conferences, called Central Conferences.  In 2016, that was over 40%.  I tell Episcopalians, "Imagine if nearly half of the Episcopal Church lived in Province IX or non-US dioceses." While far from being monolithic, the Central Conferences overall tend to be conservative theologically.  For those USA-based General Conference representatives, approximately 60-65% of delegates have voted to either remove the restrictive language or against plans to enforce these aspects more stringently.  A minority of USA-based United Methodist delegates, combined with a majority of overseas Central Conference, have reaffirmed the language, and so the Traditional Plan passed. 

ii)  These overseas jurisdictions, the Central Conferences, have substantial autonomous self-governance.  The can legislate for themselves.   However, the US-based United Methodist Church does not have this provision for self-governance. The Central Conferences thus can vote on measures in General Conference which are binding on the US-based church, but not on themselves, while the US-based church does not have this ability.

iii)   The United Methodist Church has a Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) which can issue binding decisions on whether what is passed by General Conference is in violation of the Book of Discipline.  The Episcopal Church simply has nothing even remotely close to this.

Since then, some Annual Conferences (roughly equivalent to dioceses) have announced they will not comply with aspects of the Traditional Plan.  The provisions are set to come into effect in 2020.  And the regularly scheduled General Conference of 2020 could revisit all of this and consider any proposals which could come before it.  

With all of that, a group of United Methodists met over the past several months and negotiated a proposed a plan of separation.  

--Who was involved?

Both LGBTQ+ affirming and conservative groups were present, along with bishops and a professional mediator with extensive experience.  They are listed as "Traditionalists", "Centrists", and "Progressives," representing both annual conferences, congregations, and affinity/advocacy groups.

--What are they proposing?

It's kind of mindblowing, but here it is, in a nutshell.  Crusty is not an expert in United Methodist governance or polity, and welcomes any necessary corrections:

1)    General Conference in May of 2020 (in four months!) will vote on enacting the provisions of the Separation Agreement;

2)    United Methodist entities will have until May of 2021 to form new Methodist denominations;

3)    The default position is remain in the United Methodist Church; that is, if an Annual Conference or congregation does nothing, they remain United Methodist.  If an Annual Conference or a congregation votes to leave, it must be by a majority vote of 57%.  This number seems to be a compromise between 50% + 1 on the one hand and 67% on the other.

4)    $25 million is set aside for a Traditionalist United Methodist denomination to get started.

5)    $2 million is set aside for other denominations to get started.

6)    The provisions of discipline on openly LGBTQ+ clergy and same sex marriages will voluntarily not be enforced.

7)    Everyone keeps their pensions.

8)    Congregations that leave keep their property and assets.

9)   $39 million it set aside "to support communities historically marginalized by the sin of racism...The goal of these earmarked funds shall be to strengthen ministries by and for Asian, Black, Hispanic-Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander Communities."

10)  The parties involved agree to stop supporting any other plans and advocate for this one.

11)   Annual Conferences will not to close any churches between now and May 2020 General Conference.

I'm sure that's not all, and that I didn't get or phrase everything correctly, but I think the summary captures the overall sense of the Proposal.

--What's Next?

Some observations:

--It's pretty mindblowing that those communities impacted by racism, named in the agreement, and who have $39 million allocated...were not present in a formal way in the drafting of the Agreement.  Yes, there were persons of color involved in the negotiations.  But "Asian, Black, Hispanic-Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander Communities" did not have their networks present in any formal way, as, say, the Traditionalists were represented by the Wesleyan Covenant Association.  For a denomination that had institutional racism and segregation written into its history, that's pretty mindblowing.  (The Methodist Church split in 1844 over whether bishops could own slaves or not; in 1939, when the northern and southern branches reunited, the demand was for legislated segregation and the creation of all-black conferences for African American congregations as a condition for reunion.  Not to mention historically African American Methodist Churches were created precisely because African Americans were not treated equally or justly in the then Methodist Episcopal Church.)

--By my count, at least one of the more progressive, LGBTQ+ affirming groups was not formally part of the negotiations.

--This is all a handshake agreement until May of 2020.  Nothing was voted on, these are individuals and members of affinity/advocacy groups.  All of this will depend on the goodwill of all parties involved between now and the General Conference in May.  That may be a lot to ask, given some of the passion, vitriol, anger, and hurt that have marked the past 45 years of debate over this question within United Methodism.  We
And so my heart is paying now for things I didn't do.
already know somebody manipulated the voting at the Special General Conference by using credentials of people who weren't there.  There have been examples of groups at times unwilling to demonstrate respect for others, grace, and goodwill.  Can they hold it together between now and May?  Or are some "shackled to a memory, and drifting apart" despite caring for each other?


--While not officially stated, it would appear that the $2 million for other, non-traditional denominations is intended for affirming and progressive United Methodists who will feel this proposal, and any United Methodist Church which emerges from it, will still not been fully inclusive of LGBTQ+ persons -- and that this money is for a liberal, progressive future Methodist denomination.

--What happens if it doesn't pass?

If this proposal is not accepted or approved by the 2020 General Conference, then I think we will end up with more or less those same Methodist bodies I outlined above, just with a lot more lawsuits, pain, anger, recrimination, and hurt spread out over a longer period of time.  It has seemed to me United Methodists have already been going through a kind of slow motion, cold war schism for the past 25 years.  The division is already here; it's just a question of how it plays out.

What'll happen next?

Being an outside but engaged observer to this for the last 18 years, included as an invited ecumenical observer to three General Conferences, it had become clear to Crusty then tensions within the United Methodist Church were too great for it to hold together.  I thought 10 years ago that some kind of separation was likely.  Given the depth of division within the United Methodist Church, combined with its increasingly global footprint, I just didn't see how it could all hold together.  Like some breakups, while still sad and not something to celebrate, it seemed inevitable.  To do otherwise would be asking somebody to do something they simply could not.

By Crusty's guess:

--There will be a centrist/progressive United Methodist Church of maybe 4 million or so members.  This could potentially be the largest LGBTQ+ affirming denomination in the country.

--A conservative, traditionalist Methodist denomination with 2 million - 2.5 million members in the USA, which will likely form either a new denomination including the overseas central conferences or form their own, USA-based denomination and have a very close covenant partnership with the majority of the overseas conferences.

--A couple of smaller denominations in the 250,000 or so member range.  One more conservative than the larger traditionalist body that emerges, and one that feels the centrist/progressive larger Methodist denomination does not go far enough in full inclusion.

What does this mean for the Episcopal Church-United Methodist full communion proposal?

Since the proposal was released back in 2016, there has been the significant concern raised about the Episcopal Church entering into full communion with a church that does not affirm LGBTQ+ persons.  

--It is my hope that the 2021 General Convention will approve the United Methodist full communion proposal in an amended version.  In the proposed agreement, The United Methodist Church agrees to adopt the historic episcopate, and full communion for Episcopalians is on the basis of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.  (If the Episcopal Church wants to make full communion be on the basis of something else, it needs to say so and outline exactly what the basis should be -- the Quadrilateral has been reaffirmed a dozen different times by General Convention as the basis for full communion.) This amended version would have an affirmation of full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons and would state that we will be in full communion with any Methodist body which adopts the same proposal without amendation.  

I believe the Episcopal Church should vote first for two reasons.  One is that historically ever single ecumenical outreach between Anglicans and Methodists has been rejected or put on hold by the Anglicans, from William White's response to Thomas Coke in the 1790s to the Church of England-British Methodist Church proposals of the 1970s, to the Consultation on Church Union in the USA.  

The second is that it will take several years for things to settle if this separation proposal is enacted by United Methodists, and it will likely be until 2024 before the contours really begin to take shape, with the new denominations formed and Annual Conferences and congregations sorting themselves.  Voting in 2021 will allow Episcopalians to stand in solidarity with those Methodists willing to be in common witness and ministry; otherwise we'd be waiting until 2027.

--This could create a mutual full communion partnership between the United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Episcopal Church.  This would create an LGBTQ+ affirming network of nearly 9 million Christians.  At a time of weakening denominational affiliation, this is potentially a seismic reordering of American mainline Christianity.

--It is also my hope the Episcopal Church will continue to take seriously this commitment to full inclusion. We do not have full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in our own church, and are in full communion with other provinces of the Anglican Communion which do not support inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons.  Many of our bishops will go to a Lambeth Conference which did not invite the spouses of openly LGBT bishops.  How can we demand something from our ecumenical partners we are unwilling to demand in our own communion?

On a personal note, it has been hard, as an ecumenical observer these past 18 years, to see the tension and discord among and between fellow Christians in the United Methodist Church.  Methodism has been a movement within Christianity that has understood itself as a fellowship and connection: what Episcopalians would call "clergy in good standing" Methodists call "elders in full connection."  To see those bonds of fellowship and connection in danger of being broken is a difficult thing.  

We in the Episcopal Church have gone through some of our own tensions, but it has not been anywhere on the scale of the United Methodist Church.  We have had significant conflict, with five dioceses attempting to leave the Episcopal Church, along with parishes attempting to leave their dioceses.  While not minimizing the degree of that conflict, it has been 5 dioceses out of over 100.  This is on a greater scale:  the United Methodist Church breaking more than in half.  I told an Episcopal colleague once the closest thing the Episcopal Church has had to this kind of disruption has been the American Revolution and its aftermath, which almost destroyed Anglicanism in what would become the United States.  It has been hard to see LGBTQ+ persons have their dignity, worth, and very being at times called into question as members of the body of Christ.  I have, and will continue, to hold my United Methodist friends in prayer.  I also have, and will continue, to pray that our churches may have the courage to join in common witness and ministry and come together in full communion for the healing of the world and adopt this full communion proposal.

And BTW, the greatest breakup song of all time is a tie between "Katie's Been Gone" by The Band and "When You Were Mine" by Prince.

Monday, September 2, 2019

The Collapse Is Here.

Crusty has noticed some buzz in the interbloggerwebotwitfacesphere around the Episcopal Church's release of annual membership statistics. The news, friends, continues to be not good, very bad, alarming, four horsemen of the apocalypse, dogs and cats living together, bad.

Hey!  I wrote that sentence in 2016!  

Turns out the super rich are more numerous than Episcopalians.

Hey!  I wrote that sentence in 2011!

Collapse, my friends.  That's what's coming. 

Hey!  I wrote that in 2012!


In what is becoming a Groundhog-Day esque experience, the Episcopal Church has once
As Phil predicted: It's going to be cold, dark,
and last the rest of your life.
again released its membership numbers, and once again, it is VERY bad.


Some of the current cover-your-eyes numbers:

From 2008-2018, average Sunday attendance has dropped nearly 25%, to about 562,000.  By comparison, in the year 2003, it was 858,000.

We have more parishes with an average attendance of less than 10 persons than we do with congregations with attendance of 300 or more.

And this is not taking into account other demographics, such as we are about 87% Anglo when the United States is about 62% Anglo, and the average age of an Episcopalian in 57 in when in the United States the average age is about 37.  We are old and white in a missional context that is less old and less white.

The numbers continue to be terrible overall.  Some provinces have declined 30% in average Sunday attendance in the past decade.  To be sure, these are aggregate numbers.  A couple of dioceses have shown small growth.  Some parishes, no doubt, are growing.  But overall we simply cannot ignore the trends.

In the past decade I have blogged on these issues here, here, here, herehere, and probably some other places I've forgotten. I've also given presentations at clergy conferences and even at a state Council of Churches annual meeting on issues of denominational collapse.  

I've noticed a kind of cycle here. When the membership and attendance numbers get released, what usually happens is there is a flurry of debate about the "reasons" for the decline: some of it on target, some of it ridiculous, but despite a general understanding of the state of our situation, overall a general state of unwillingness to engage the issues in any substantive ways has settled in.  The Episcopal Church membership statistic release conversation is almost like the way American society has its gun debate after mass shootings:  a flurry of the same statements being made, then the whole conversation just goes away in a week or so.

Here's a brief rundown of some of the reasons for the decline:

1)  The Episcopal Church did not keep up with movements in population.  Approximately 12-13% of Episcopal Churches were founded after 1968.  We have had massive population shifts to the South, Southwest, and West, and simply never kept up with those shifts.  New Haven, CT has a population of 130,000 and 7 Episcopal churches.  Mesa, Arizona, has a population of nearly 500,000 and 2 Episcopal churches.  (Yes, I know New Haven has a greater metro population -- but so does Mesa.  Not an exact analogy, just an illustration.)  I once was living in a diocese whose generally population had nearly doubled in 30 years but had not planted a single successful church in those 30 years.

2)  Demographics.  As noted above, we are older and whiter than the society as a whole.  Of course we're shrinking when we're old and white in a country that's less old and less white.  There's a similar dynamic in seminary enrollments.  Looking at the aggregate numbers of the 200+ seminaries accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, the number of people enrolled in accredited seminaries has dropped.  Yet if you look at the seminaries that are the most diverse, their numbers have increased.

3)  Conflict.  This one gets spun a lot: the whole canard that liberal churches are shrinking and conservative churches are growing, and liberal churches are shrinking because millions are leaving over disagreements on human sexuality.

Conservative churches are shrinking.  The Southern Baptists have been losing members for nearly a decade.  The Catholic Church's Anglo-membership numbers track very closely with the Episcopal Church's losses, and the Catholic Church is only barely holding steady because of growth among non-Anglo members.

Yes, the Episcopal Church has lost members due to conflict.  We shouldn't be pollyannish about that.  But making it somehow the central, core reason simply doesn't hold up to any reasonable demographic or statistical scrutiny.  For instance the single biggest drop in Episcopal Church membership in the past 40 years -- 400,000 + members -- has come not from conflict, but from former overseas missionary dioceses becoming either independent or linking up with other Anglican provinces (Philippines, Panama, Liberia, etc.).

4)  Secularization.  Church attendance collapsed in Europe in the past 75 years as it has become a largely secularized, post-Christian society.  It has collapsed Ireland in the past generation, going from having one of the highest rates of church attendance of any culturally Western society to now looking more and more like the rest of Europe.  We are well into the post-Christian secularization in the United States.

5)  Toxicity of Christianity.  To a large portion of the un-churched culture, Christianity is seen as toxic.  The Pew Research Forum and Barna Group have both done extensive studies of un-churched attitudes towards Christianity.  In a Barna Group survey, the top words associated with Christians by un-churched persons are "hypocritical" and "judgmental".

6)  The end of denominationalism, with the whole model established in the 1500s coming to the end of its historical life cycle.  (And BTW -- good riddance, denominationalism!  It was birthed out of empire, ethnicity, class, and regional differences.  We can still share our different Christian charisms and leave that balkanization of Christianity behind!)  In fact, we need to go all-in on ecumenical cooperation and collaboration precisely at a time when many are privileging our distinctivenesses.

This is not an exhaustive list, there are many other factors; nor have I done justice to all the aspects and elements of the ones I outline here.  Scroll through the old blog posts referenced above, check out the very good work of Pew and Barna in these areas.  (Note: while Barna does important demographic and statistical analysis, I do not often agree with the strategies the suggest for addressing the decline.)

So we actually don't need a lot of think pieces:  members are dying and we are not replacing them.  It's pretty straightforward.

And what's even more terrifying: the many folks just don't seem to care.  I've been in parish ministry for several years now and frankly have been terrified by most of the reaction when we have conversations about this stuff.  It seems to fall into several areas, these are comments I've heard in various places in the past 4 years since I've been in parish ministry:

--Refusal to engage.  I had a clergy person stand up and say (paraphrase): "Attendance doesn't matter, what matters is the ways in which we are changing the lives of our members
Actual photo from most church conversations
about membership statistics.
for the better."


--Technical fixes.  Another colleague who said, "What we need is a new hymnal, people don't like old hymns from the 1800s."

--Understanding the situation perfectly well but not caring.  Another colleague said, "I'm only 5 years from retirement I just don't have the energy to do any of what we need to do to grow the parish."

--Knowing perfectly well what needs to be done but unable to do it.  I have a bishop who's a friend who said, "I need to create yoked congregations and pair up about half the parishes in my dioceses yet given our polity hardly any of them will do it so they're probably just going to close and we'll have a bunch of empty buildings in 25 years."

--Worshipping our governance as a way forward.  I've seen dioceses reorganize their deaneries thinking that'll do it. We spend millions on General Convention which has done next to nothing on church revitalization and growth.  We decided to be "nimble" and got rid of all almost all of the Committees, Commission, Agencies and Boards (CCABs) in 2012.  At the end of the 2018 General Convention, we had re-created and re-established more task forces than we had CCABs in 2012.  We were also spending more money on them than we did in 2012, and all without the clearly defined mandates, membership composition, and lines of accountability that the old CCABs had.  General Convention does what it is set up to do, and addressing our collapse is not one those things.

In his systems theory work, Ed Friedman identified two aspects of anxious religious systems that come back to me again and again:

--Just because you may be right about something, don't think that will get you anywhere or convince anyone.

--A system may clearly know exactly what they are facing, may be well informed as to their options, and may still choose to do nothing, or even choose the option that will lead to their death.

Crusty sees plenty of both of these behaviors Friedman noted in many explicit and implicit statements and actions, both in the Episcopal Church and with ecumenical partners.

So after 8 years of blogging on this, and four years on the front lines in parish ministry, I have become more convinced that we are well into The Collapse.  I wrote this from the blog several years ago:

------------------

For Jared Diamond [in Guns Germs and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies], there are a number of reasons why societies collapse.  Some are outside, unexpected, and catastrophic:  how would Native American cultures, some large and elaborate like the Aztecs, know that in a few years some outlandish looking people from out of nowhere would suddenly arrive and decimate 90% of their population with germs they had no immunity to?  Many, many societies, however, collapse due in large part to decisions of their own making.  For instance,

Societies collapse because they can presume the out-of-ordinary to be normal, and are unwilling or unable to adapt when things change.  As an example of this he cites Native American civilizations in what is now the American southwest.  Scientists have been able to demonstrate that, at times, the American southwest suffers through catastrophic droughts, lasting years and years, almost like the seasons on Westeros (read Diamond to see the science, read George R.R. Martin to learn more about seasons on Westeros).  Native American cultures overbuilt during good years, and, when the drought set in, were unwilling to believe what was happening or unwilling or unable to adapt -- and thus the civilization died out. 

So one problem is taking the blips, the anomalies, to be normative.  COD is convinced that the Episcopal Church has, in a way, done something similar.  We have taken the period from 1950-1990 (give or take a few years) as somehow a normative and determinative time period -- what it means to be the Episcopal Church is what occurred during this period -- when, in fact, it was a blip, an anomaly.

Any perusal into the history of the Episcopal Church prior to this period will reveal a litany of concerns.  Just to name a few:  For one, it wasn't until the period around WW I that the Episcopal Church had more ordained clergy than lay readers.  The church had a chronic and persistent clergy shortage for most of its existence, which, in turn, impeded its ability to engage in domestic and foreign missions, which, in turn, impeded effort at growth.  For another, there were chronic struggles adequately to establish institutions.  Colleges, schools, and seminaries opened and closed.  William Augustus Muehlenberg, considered one of the foremost presbyters of this church in the 1800s, founded a series of institutions that flopped for every St Luke's Hospital that eventually thrived.  Dioceses were established that were unsustainable and had to be re-merged with other dioceses (Duluth; Western Nebraska; we could name some more).  Seems, at times, we have forgotten all of this.  The thought of a diocese merging with another is seen as some unimaginable failure rather than something which happened not unfrequently.  We fret about finding enough resources to meet missional needs, without remembering that the first incarnation of the DFMS was so woefully underfunded that the whole thing was scrapped.

The experience of Anglicanism in the United States has been one of chronic struggle for most of its existence.  The same William Augustus Muehlenberg presented a memorial (in essence a resolution) to the 1853 General Convention lamenting that the Episcopal Church was simply missing the boat on what was happening in the USA and was going to lose out on the opportunities for mission and evangelism, thus jeopardizing its future (any of this sound familiar?).  The General Convention referred it to a committee, and, three years later, rejected any of the suggestions for more dramatic, structural changes and basically only approved the option of allowing Morning Prayer and the Communion service to be used as separate and distinct forms of worship (at a time when MP, Litany, Ante-Communion/Liturgy of the Word, and Communion were often the order of the day on communion Sundays).  Hmmm...General Convention reluctant to act on a proposal for significant change in the face of struggles of the church to accommodate to massive changes in society?  Thank goodness that'll never happen again.

So one major problem is that we embrace the blip -- 1950-1990, when the church grew, in part because of positive steps and actions taken, but in part due to factors utterly beyond our control, like a population surge in our core demographic -- as normative.  This includes taking things like establishing a large centralized church organization headed by a CEO in New York City as the normative way to organize for mission, because the 1950-1990 period was also a time of consolidation and coordination by centralized institutions, in both church and society.  We look back on this period from 1950-1990 as normative, when one could argue, if anything, it was out of the ordinary for our experience.  For almost all of its existence prior to 1950, the Episcopal Church was a collection of affinity based networks (dioceses, missionary organizations, etc.) loosely connected and coordinated.

It's important to note there's nothing inherently wrong with assuming the anomaly is normative, it happens to almost all organizations and cultures at some time.  It's how you react when the real normal comes back, or when a new normal emerges, which is important.  

In fact, if you want to draw the circle even wider, one could argue that we are witnessing the end of another blip:  the whole period from 500-1900 or so when Christianity held a privileged place in North American and Western societies.  First beginning in Europe in the 1800s and 1900s, waves of secularization are coming ashore in the USA.  This is going to wash away many notions in the West of what the church should be: a building belonging to an organization people join and hire a clergy person to minister to them which in turn is part of cluster of churches holding vaguely similar beliefs that pretends the culture as a whole thinks it has something to say.  That blip is over as well. 

COD finds himself thinking that restructuring is so 2011.  The scope of change we are looking at in the next 50 years is so profound, and, on the other hand, how utterly incapable governing structures currently are at shaping a discussion about what is needed (a quick run-through of the Blue Book Report shows that nothing of substance will likely emerge from this General Convention this summer, brought to us by the same people who can't use Excel properly).


Collapse, my friends.  That's what's coming. 


So COD offers the following:


1)  Realize the blip is not normative, and that the much of the structures we have cannot be tweaked because the structures are part of the blip.


2)  Dismantle national church structures to be solely canonical governance.  General Convention is going to be unsustainable eventually, anyways. Begin to end it now; shut it down but do so in order to 


3)  Begin a process to fully empower dioceses, provinces, networks to do mission, formation, and evangelism.  We have some assets:  $250 million in endowment funds held by the DFMS; property in New York; a series of networks which, at times some more successfully than others, coordinated by denominational staff; a network of over 7,000 parishes and 100 dioceses and many, many affiliation based groups and networks.  Empower the networks fully instead of having them have stuff periodically dumped on them every three years.  We will still do many of the things we used to do, but in different ways, with broader buy-in and support -- maybe Forma (formerly NAECED) or provinces would hire Young Adult & Youth Ministry network coordinators to work with congregations and dioceses instead of what 815 used to do.

Or, maybe like those germs which devastated the Aztecs, maybe a whole new and unexpected way of doing church is going to emerge.  Or maybe it's already here and we can't fully empower it blowing millions on a building in New York and on holding a once-every-three-years meeting.
  
4)  End those parishes as clubs for members, provide a congregational hospice chaplain to minister to them, set up as Ponzi schemes for committees, which sees recruitment as getting people to serve on committees.  Would many of the towns where our Episcopal churches are located even notice, or care, if they were to close?  How many of our parishes function solely as clubs for the gathered?  How many dioceses have 10%, 15%, 20%, of their parishes on diocesan support?  How many dioceses are struggling to function?  We have to change not only the diocesan structure, but fundamentally reshape what it means to be a parish and a diocese.  Some of many options which are available, should we be willing to pursue them:

A cursory study of the history of the Episcopal Church shows that at many times people lamented whether it would survive, and at other times showed a constant litany of concerns about growth, organization, governance, and finance.  

Yet we can also learn from the past that, despite all of this, many believed the Episcopal Church and Anglicanism have a charism to tap into something greater.  By being a church catholic and reformed; by not being tied to a particular ethnic group; but not defining itself solely by theological confessionalism; by combining historic catholic order and representative governance.   People like William Augustus Muhlenberg, William Reed Hungington, Julia Chester Emery, and others argued this in the 1800s.  In our own time people many are pondering whether Anglicanism is missing out on exploring how it can tap into a new Great Awakening in the religious trends sweeping our way, instead wrapped up in internal squabbles.

We can do so again.   However, the only way to be resurrected is to die.
------------------


So I wrote that part years ago, in 2012.  The Collapse continues to unfold, and, as a whole, we continue to do not much about it.  I'm honestly not sure why every single meeting of Diocesan Convention, every single diocesan Standing Committee,  every single meeting of Executive Council, does not have the membership numbers report given to them as an agenda item and have a discussion on how we are going to outline a coordinated churchwide effort at renewal and evangelism. 

I wrote what follows years ago as well:

-------------------------------

Crusty at Thanksgiving dinner (warning: not actual photo).
So it's not about one generation over and against one another.  Since we [all] are the church, we need to BE the church together.  Millennials need to understand how institutions are helpful in furthering goals -- you can put up all the online petitions you want, but more substantive organization is essential to effect change.  Boomers need to get just how different things are, this isn't like not knowing how to work a DVR or which input button lets you watch DVDs on TV.   Xers, I think, can serve an important bridge function in how we straddle the divide between Boomers and Millennials -- I said to a colleague once I felt my whole ministry might be like the Steward of Gondor from Lord of the Rings (well, without the homicidal mental illness): striving to preserve something until someone else (the Millenials and Gen Z) comes to claim and transform it.   How much of the church can we preserve, how can we let what we have and know and are, be resources to the Millennials and Generation Z?  The church has looked very, very different from age to age:  from house churches in Dura Europos in the third century to a Gothic Cathedral in the 13th to Methodist circuit riders in the 19th, and so on.  The 21st century church will look very, very different from the 20th century church.

And I say, God help us.  Will we leave rubble, or will we leave a foundation?  The next decade, and the way we can embrace these transformations, will determine much of that. 

-------------------------------------

And hey, I've practiced what I preached: I became academic dean of a seminary I thought would not survive, and realized that resurrection was the only option. I worked with many other faithful, committed folks to merge it with another seminary and transform it from a nearly 100% residential model to 100% low-residential model (online courses, short-term intensives).  It didn't make everybody happy, to be sure, but the seminary survives, has more than tripled its enrollment, and is serving people most of whom would not have been able to engage theological education.  I've been in parish ministry for four years and through lots of effort we are holding the line, not growing but not shrinking; winding down some legacy programs and outreach but beginning new efforts; all in a town that has not seen any overall population growth in 20 years.  

I've written and blogged and presented on these issues for nearly a decade, and now have realized I have moved into acceptance mode.  And let me clarify what I mean here:  this is not weak resignation to the evils we implore, as the hymn warns us.  Acceptance does not mean I am OK with the church's generational failures in mission, evangelism, and formation.  I am going to go down swinging.  I have, however, accepted the fact that a good portion of the church will choose to die rather than change or adapt.  That is the acceptance I have come to.  It's why I don't blog on structural change or give the kind of long breathless General Convention recaps that I used to.  Because our dioceses and congregations are going to close or merge and Convention will look different in 20 years by necessity.  

I said years ago I thought around the year 2035 the Episcopal Church's attendance numbers would bottom out in the 400,000 attendance range, and will have closed 20-30% of the parishes to give us south of 5,000 congregations.  It's then that the church will either begin to slowly rebound, or continue to slide towards irrelevance.  

The church as we know it is dying.  But the church itself is not dying, because it can't.  The church is God's creation.  It's not ours to kill; God help us we probably would have already if we could have.  And that rebound in the 2040s, if there is one, will be because have seen the new way of being church that God is calling us, and have embraced it.

So I ask again: for those of us active now, to whom God has entrusted the church in this transitional moment: will we leave rubble, or will we leave a foundation?



Wednesday, May 1, 2019

They Can't Help Themselves: Oops, TLC Did It Again

Look, despite what you may think, Crusty doesn't really enjoy going on rants.  People who know me seem to say I'm generally rather pleasant.  The last thing COD wanted to do on a semi-hiatus is comment on the work of The Living Church yet again, given that they tried to fundraise off the criticism I gave them last fall for a poorly written piece riddled with errors of fact.

But they did it again.  Another simply poorly written, inaccurate, misleading article, this time on "The PB's Ecumenical Moment."  You can read it here.

Unfortunately, as has become my custom in pointing out their shoddy journalism, Crusty first needs
TLC b all like.
to address the errors of fact and poor sourcing of this article.  They did it again!

1.      Corrections and Items in Need of Clarification

A.   "Back in October, ecumenists from the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church released A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness, which invites the two denominations to formally share in Communion and interchangeability of ordained ministry. It also commits TEC to recognize the UMC’s episcopate as possessing equal apostolicity."

The document was actually released back in 2017, not in 2018.  Here's my blog post that breaks it down.

These weren't "ecumenists".  Full disclosure:  I am on this dialogue team.  I am a full time parish priest.  None of the members of the Episcopal Church delegation are formally ecumenists.  We have one retired seminary professor, parish clergy, and an active bishop.  Ecumenical staff serve as consultants and resource persons.  These were Episcopalians nominated and appointed to represent their church.  Serving on a committee does not make you a professional.  Going to a PTA meeting does not make me an "educator."

Also:  there is a significant difference between recognition and reconciliation, which the document noted here itself points out.  We can recognize another church's ministry, but that does not mean we have a reconciled ministry.  We recognize the ministerial orders of the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, but since we do not have a reconciled ministry, a Catholic priest can't serve in an Episcopal Church.  While the document recognizes the ministries of The United Methodist Church, it crucially proposes a process for reconciliation, including a means by which The United Methodist Church may share in the historic episcopate.  That's an essential element of the document not noted here.

B.   "Another historic agreement that was celebrated when I was in seminary was the Joint Declaration on Justification by Faith."  

This is not the name of the statement.  It is the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.  Here is an important resource for this article.

C.  "These feelings of dislocation only intensified when African Anglicans were patronized and vilified during the events of 2003 and afterward as the Anglican Communion began to fracture."

Crusty, too, has been moved by powerful experiences of Christianity in other parts of the world; in my case, time I spent in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s and seeing Christians emerge from Communist persecution.  However, choosing 2003 as a date when the Communion "began to fracture" seems jaw-dropping when we look at the concerns raised over the ordination of women in the 1970s and the consecration of women bishops in 1989 and following.  

African Anglicans were indeed at times patronized and vilified.  We must reject any and all efforts to talk about a monolithic "Africa" and be aware of how colonialism, imperialism, and racism have led to these horrific caricatures of Anglicans in other parts of the world.

However, many African Anglicans and others have also vilified, demonized, and dehumanized LGBTQ persons.  I myself was told by an African bishop, to my face, personally, that I was "A false teacher, no Christian, and there is a special place in hell for you for the souls you are leading to damnation by your blessing of homosexual perversion and all the children corrupted by it."

There has been hurtful rhetoric employed all around, and to single out one side seems disingenuous.  

Speaking of disingenuous, let's talk about the photos presented as the smoking guns here.  

D.  "What is missing — or rather, whom — in these pictures? What kind of person would be unlike the others? Hint: the dialogue group with the Methodists gets some credit."

Whom is the object of a verb or preposition, and here "who" is properly a predicate nominative -- "who is missing".  Hey, TLC, do you have copyeditors?  This is an unhinged blog with a Geocities look and a staff of one and I try my best to, you know, do grammar goodly.

Several photos are presented as evidence that these are white people talking to white people.

The photograph on the signing of the JDDJ has nothing to do with the Episcopal Church's ecumenical work.  The Anglican Communion was not even a signatory in 1999 when this photo was taken. 
Proof that all hip hop is all white?
These are representatives from the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church.  Why is this photo here?  Is this lack of knowledge of ecumenism, incompetence, or deliberate efforts to mislead?  There's really no other option.


The other photo is from a joint Canadian-American meeting, not the full Lutheran-Episcopal Coordinating Committee.  It does include a blind person.  There are many kinds of diversity. The United Methodist dialogue photo is a year old, and does not include current membership, which does has more persons of color.  There are no photos of the Presbyterian-Episcopal bilateral dialogue and Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in the USA, both of which have persons of color in membership.

E.  "From my perspective, TEC’s ecumenical agreements, both consummated and proposed, seem a little like liberal white people of mostly English heritage and liberal white people of mostly German heritage (okay, with some Swedes and Norwegians thrown in) agreeing that their doctrinal differences aren’t really important and that Jesus is okay with them not sharing what is, in fact, most important to them (institutional power, assets)."

Then perhaps you should broaden your perspective, and maybe you are the white person only interested in agreements with white persons. Like, if you can't find the mark at the card table, you are the mark. The Episcopal Church has full communion agreements with the Mar Thoma Church of India and the Philippine Independent Church, including sharing of ministries.  The Philippine Independent Church has two dioceses in the USA, and there is a Concordat Council that meets to look at areas of joint cooperation.  These are two churches almost entirely non-Anglo, and have very few people of English and German descent. 
  
A noted historian of American religious history has called The United Methodist Church "the fourth major historically African American Methodist Church," because of substantial African American and African constituencies.  18 of the UMC's 46 bishops in the United States are people of color.  The glibness here is combined with a demonstrated lack of familiarity, a truly toxic mixture.

F.  "We are blessed with a leader who is winsome, good for the brand, eloquent, erudite (Teilhard de
I think Fairport Convention when I think winsome.
Chardin at a wedding? Really?), and focused on racial reconciliation as a primary concern of his nine-year ministry. And, well, he’s
black."

For someone supposedly transformed by an experience in Sudan, I would not expect flippancy with regards to the racial dynamics which are supposedly so important.  Expressing surprise at a well, black man's use of de Chardin recalls to mind Joe Biden's remark that Barack Obama was "bright and articulate." 

G.  "Is this not the acceptable time, the auspicious hour, the ecumenical moment for TEC to form binding, unitive agreements with historically black denominations like the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the AME Zion, and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church?  We are in contact with historically black Methodism only through the 11-member Churches Uniting in Christ."

The Episcopal Church has been involved in multi-lateral dialogues with the historically African American Methodist Churches as part of the Consultation on Church Union and its successor body, Churches Uniting in Christ.  The Presiding Bishop preached at the CUIC gathering Dallas in 2017.  This is not just "contact."  This is over 50 years of ecumenical dialogue.  In 2017, at that gathering in Dallas, the member churches recognized one another's ministries (though, as Episcopalians, we do not yet have reconciliation of ministries and sharing in the historic episcopate).  

Also, to equate "contact" with "ecumenical dialogues" leaves out common work on the National Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission, World Council of Churches Faith and Order and other committees and commissions, common lobbying efforts with our Office of Government Relations, and a host of other areas.

H.  "In the denominations I mentioned, there are often bishops who wear Anglican collars and purple shirts. They have seminary-trained clergy and a venerable, robust theological tradition that branches off from ours."

If the color of clergy shirts is a marker of ecclesiastical union, then it looks as though we may not have interchangeable ministries with Archbishop Justin Welby or the literally hundreds of Anglican
When the Anglican Communion really fractured? #PurpleUp
bishops worldwide who do not wear purple shirts.  Giving the increasing numbers of non-seminary trained clergy in the Episcopal Church and the broader Anglican world, I also am not clear as to why this is lifted up as a basis of seeking visible unity.


The Episcopal Church enters into discussions on full communion on the basis of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, not ecclesial haberdashery.

I.  "What would the argument against interchangeability be? What about full visible union?"

See comment above -- Quadrilateral, Chicago-Lambeth.   That's the basis.  Also, it's in the Prayer Book.

J.  "And we have an asset that we can share: money."

This is just astonishing.  We really have nothing else to share other than money?  That is all we are
I think I prefer the previous pictures than this vision of ecumenism.
offering to historically African American Methodist Churches?


K.  "We could leverage the Church Pension Fund (CPF) for the cause of racial reconciliation. It is an open secret that CPF has massive uncommitted reserves (assets in excess of what even a liberal estimate of the fund’s liabilities would require to cover them). TEC could offer to include clergy of the historically black denominations in Churches United in Christ on equal terms in the pension plan. Credit for years served in the pre-uniate denomination would be automatic, and all new entrants to CPF would be instantly awarded a HAC (Highest Average Compensation) equal to their current salary or the highest they’ve earned within the last seven years (instead of an average of the last seven)."

First of all, "uniate" is considered by most Eastern Rite churches to be on the level of a kind of slur, and is hardly ever used in ecumenical discourse.

Second of all, it is shockingly presumptuous to offer the terms and basis of unity without first being in partnership.  Perhaps historically African American Methodist Churches might want to put this into other areas?  One of the elements of dialogue is, you know, to be in dialogue, not show up with suitcases of cash and tell people what we'll do for them.

Third of all, it is an incredible oversimplification of the state of the Church Pension Fund.  What is an open secret is their Annual Report, which they, you know, publish.  And the very first page of the Church Pension Fund's 2018 Annual Report notes it received $97 in assessments and paid out $383 million in benefits.  So there's a gap of almost $300 million in what is taken in through assessment and what is paid out.  The reserves cover that gap.  And, with fewer clergy overall, and more part-time clergy, combined with a surge of retirement of Baby Boomer clergy, this gap will increase.  Yes, the Pension Fund does have more than enough assets to meet its obligations.  But it's not Apple.

We also might consider some of the economic injustices within our own church, where women and clergy of color are paid less than their male counterparts, maybe figure out how to support bivocational clergy.  We also have a two-tiered system, where full time lay employees do not receive the same pension benefits. Is economic justice in pensions a zero-sum-game?

L.  "Progressives in TEC might be discomfited to be confronted with conservative views from their African-American brethren who are supposed to be liberal about everything of importance, and whose spirituality they consider more admirable from a distance. Grumblings that TEC should take back Gift to the World in response to the UMC Special General Conference’s vote on marriage and sexuality underscore this progressive ecumenical sore spot."

Hey, not all white people are progressives on matters of human sexuality, and not all African Americans are conservative on matters of human sexuality.  Huh.  Just like we shouldn't be monolithic about Africa, maybe we shouldn't be monolithic about what "white" people and "African American" people think about human sexuality.

Also, where would we take A Gift to the World back to?  It is a proposal for offered for feedback and discussion, and has not been formally put on the table anywhere in the Episcopal Church.  

M.  "A frequently mentioned stumbling block in TEC’s ecumenical endeavors has been a perceived “Anglican arrogance,” especially on “Faith and Order” issues. When it comes to white denominations such the ELCA, UMC, and PCUSA, I’ll admit to it, and I think it’s justified."

40% of the UMC's membership is non-white, taking into account overseas jurisdictions.  16 of its 46 bishops in the USA are people of color.  It's not a white church.  

N.  "Nevertheless, as an Anglo-Catholic I can truly say — with God as my witness, I do not lie — that if being called Pastor Price instead of Fr. Price would achieve real union with my African-American brothers and sisters in Christ in another denomination, then I would never allow someone to call me Father again. And that goes for a suspension of the Ordinal."

I'm not sure what in God's name this means.  Do we really think that forms of address form the basis of full communion, like the color of bishops' shirts?  Seriously, please, please look at the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.  It says what we are willing to forego, and what we consider essential.  We entered into full communion with the ELCA and everyone is still free to address their clergy however they would like. 

Also: it's not suspension of the Ordinal.  It's suspension of the Preface to the Ordinal.

And: it was passed by over 90% of the both Houses of Convention at two separate Conventions, so it does look like there was broad consensus on this matter. Not a lot of debate about whether to suspend it or not.

And: it's not "giving it up."  It's a suspension, for one time only.  All subsequent ELCA clergy had to be ordained under the provisions of Called to Common Mission.  We didn't give it up.  It's still there, and still in effect.

And: we only did that once, and once only, with the ELCA.  The proposal with the Moravians and United Methodists does not propose suspension to the Preface to the Ordinal, but offers other ways to share in the historic episcopate.  

O.  "I can think of no greater practical, concrete, costly act of racial reconciliation than for TEC and a historically black denomination to reach an agreement leading to full, visible, sacramental, and hierarchical union. I recognize that this would go far beyond the goals of TEC’s current ecumenical paradigm."

Once again, our goals are based on the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.   What goals are being referenced?  Please provide a citation. 

Also: I do not know what "hierarchical union" means.  This is not a term in usage in the ecumenical movement.  

Also:  "Sacramental" union is incorporated into full visible unity and full communion by the definition of those terms in ecumenical agreements, and is a redundant term here. 

P.  "And our presiding bishop is precisely the leader who could make credible overtures and apply the kind of pressure a real effort in this direction would require."

Presiding Bishop should be capitalized.

Wow, that's a lot of questions for clarification and corrections of errors of fact in a roughly 1650 word article!  Nicely done.  I got all the way to the letter P, I thought I was going to have to start outlining points as AA, BB, etc.

OK, with that done, let's move on to Part 2:

2. Thing is: I agree with the central point here.  

Our ecumenical endeavors must address issues of race and racism as church dividing issues, otherwise they are empty and meaningless.  An entire section of the United Methodist Church-Episcopal Church report from the first round of the dialogue addresses this.  I know because I wrote it, along with colleagues committed to these efforts.  You can find it here.

This Episcopal Church has a long legacy of institutional racism.   We must name it.  African American congregations were not given voice and vote in diocesan conventions until the 1860s.  We created de facto segregation with the creation of "Colored Convocations."  The suffragan bishop canon as originally passed specifically denied vote in the House of Bishops to suffragans because Southern dioceses intended to elect African Americans as suffragan bishops for African Americans.  After the Civil War, formerly enslaved persons in South Carolina sought to form congregations, and asked that clergy be ordained for them.  The diocese refused, and several of those congregations joined the Reformed Episcopal Church, which did ordain clergy for them.  And we could go on and on.

We must confront our own sins here, and must address race and racism as a church dividing issue.  I was Assistant Ecumenical Officer from 2001-2009, and Ecumenical Officer of the Episcopal Church from 2009-2011.  We held three ecumenical dialogue sessions with representatives from historically African American Methodist Episcopal Churches from 2006-2010.  Yes, the Episcopal Church must make racial reconciliation part of our ecumenical work.  We are trying.  We have not been perfect, by any means.  We must continue to reach out.  And we must do so in a spirit of humility and seeking common ground in mission and ministry, not what color shirts we wear and what we call our clergy.

And The Episcopal Church must also address its own institutional racism and systems of white privilege, otherwise we will have very little legitimacy as a dialogue partner.  There is no mention of this at all in this article.  

While I agree with the central point, does what is proposed here actually move this conversation forward?

It proposes the following things.  Read the article.  This is what is actually proposed.

--That the Presiding Bishop do this.  It is his "moment."  Well, the church as a whole must get behind this, not just the Presiding Bishop.  He is not some sort of Bagger Vance magical African American who can show us the way and lift us above ourselves.

--That we throw money at historically African American Methodist Churches.  Perhaps we should be in dialogue and build relationship? 

--That the color of clergy shirts indicates common ground, and giving up a title of address no ecumenical agreement would ever ask anyone to do is somehow going to bring about visible unity.

While I agree with the central argument of this piece, this article is just appalling.  

It takes more than insipid, flippant, insouciant, poorly sourced articles with minimal actual engagement with our ecumenical endeavors, full of a number of errors of fact, to address the issues raised in this piece.