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.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Dispatches from the Sunken Place: United Methodist Special Conference

Well, like Michael Corleone in Godfather, Part 3, it looks like everytime I think I am out, something drags me back in.  I have been taking a blogging hiatus, but, after spending the past 3 days watching the proceedings of the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church, and having spent 17 years of my life as a member of The Episcopal Church-United Methodist Church bilateral dialogue team working for a closer relationship between the two communions, I found I kept looking longingly at the keyboard, compelled to say something.

It was a tweet from a delegate attending the Conference that pushed me over the edge:


For those of you have not seen Jordan Peele's horror masterpiece which is a devastating and terrifying take on race and racism in contemporary American society, stop reading this and go watch it. 

OK, now that you're back, you can understand the depth of sadness that this tweet represents:  that a church convention is similar to that place where one is completely aware but helpless in the face of violence and terror being inflicted.  Yet after listening to hours of discussion and debate at the Special General Conference, I have to say this tweet nailed it exactly:  in many ways the United Methodist Special Conference WAS the sunken place.

In the course of just one day delegates did the following:  a)  voted for legislation even though they quite likely knew some aspects of it would be later struck down; b)  accused other delegates of bribing people for votes; and c) compared another's position to a virus infecting the church; and d)....I just can't go on.  There was lots more.  And that was what was said in the Convention hall in front of thousands of people!  Following social media, and some of the awful things said there, was even harder to bear.

(This is, BTW, one of the reasons why I took a hiatius from this blog.  I came up with the character of Crusty Old Dean in 2011 and the distinctive voice of this blog after watching Stephen Colbert's character on the Colbert Report.  Dismayed by some of the rhetoric I heard in the church, I created this blog and character as a kind of metacommentary, going over the top in mimicking what I heard around the church while trying to make my points.  I took a hiatus, in part, because I couldn't bring myself to do it anymore, given the level of discourse in the church and in our society had become so poisonous that the character I was playing was no longer out of the ordinary or event over the top.  I'm also writing a book, which is the other main reason.)

So, a quick explainer:

1)  How in God's name did we get here?  What was up with that Special General Conference?

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."  (Although despite many assertions that this has always been the teaching of the church, FWIW this language was not adopted by General Conference until 1972.)  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.  Despite this language, there have been numerous examples of openly gay persons being ordained, and celebrations of same sex marriages.  Most notably, one jurisdiction elected an openly gay, partnered person as bishop.  The church's highest body found this to be a violation of the language in the Discipline, yet did not have the authority to nullify or remove the bishop, so in turn referred those matters to the local authority which had jurisdiction.  The same body which elected her is the body that has authority to discipline her, and has declined to discipline her despite the ruling.  This is but one example of the ways various local authorities have found work-arounds, for lack of a better term, for the language in the Discipline.

After more debate at the 2016 General Conference, 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.  (Various bodies have provisions to hold special meetings in between regularly scheduled ones.  The Episcopal Church held a Special General Convention in 1969, for instance, in between its regularly scheduled 1967 and 1970 General Conventions -- which was also a trainwreck, BTW -- and my parish held a Special Parish Meeting to vote on what to do with a large bequest.)

The bishops put forward three plans for consideration at the Special General Conference (all of these summaries are necessarily truncated, giving the overall gist of the plans, some of which were quite lengthy and complex):

i)   The One Church Plan (OCP).  This would have removed the prohibitions in the Book of Discipline against homosexuality, and allowed local annual conferences (roughly equivalent to dioceses) and congregations to decide on whether to permit same sex marriages and ordination of openly LGBT persons.

ii)    The Connectional Plan.  This would essentially have done away with a single United Methodist Church and created three non-geographical grouping that congregations could choose to affiliate with.  Though never explicitly spelled out, these were envisioned to be a Traditionalist (no same sex marriages or openly LGBT clergy), Affirming (not only permitting but affirming and endorsing full inclusion of LGBT persons), and a Moderate/Centrist.  An annual conference would choose one of the three bodies, and congregations within those annual conferences could in turn choose a different one.  So if your Annual Conference (roughly = diocese) chose the Traditional, your congregation could still vote to join the Affirming.  And you could have three United Methodist Churches in the same town, each belonging to a different jurisdiction.  Unfortunately this one borrowed heavily from the church's segregated past.  In the 1939 merger of the northern and southern branches of the Methodist Episcopal Church which split in 1844 over slavery, the price for reunion was legislated segregation, with African American churches placed in a non-geographic jurisdiction.

iii)   The Traditional Plan (TP).  This would have strengthened current provisions.  For instance, it would have implemented mandatory sentences for persons found in violation of the Book of Discipline and required local board 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.)  It was, in essence, a doubling down on current prohibitions and actually strengthening them.

The Council of Bishops forwarded these three proposals to the Special General Conference, and indicated they were endorsing the One Church Plan.

iv)  In addition, The Simple Plan (SP) was drafted and put forth by the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus.  This would have removed the language concerning prohibition of homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teaching from the Discipline and made no other structural changes of any kind.

There were other proposals, and modified versions of some of the above proposals, in the mix as the Special General Conference opened.

2)    So what happened in St. Louis at the Special General Conference?

Several things to keep in mind before proceeding:

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.  Many are also located in areas which have bans against homosexuality.  Russia, for instance, has laws banning "homosexual propaganda" and in my time there doing research on Christian churches, many are concerned that being connected with an American, LGBT-friendly church could open them to financial liability (fines may be levied against organizations into the thousands of dollars for "homosexual propaganda"), or having their licenses to function as churches revoked.

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.

So:  what happened?

Functioning as a committee of the whole, the Conference decided to move forward only with consideration of the TP.  However, certainly parliamentary efforts resulted in the SP and the OCP also being considered.  Some delegates seemed openly to adopt an effort to try to offer as many amendments to the TP and parliamentary procedure steps to try to run out the clock and have the Conference adjourn without approving any plan. In a church that had for years not been able to muster a majority to change the language in the Discipline, it seemed to be a very high bar to find the votes to pass the SP or OCP, and it seemed most likely some version of the TP would pass.

In the end, with about an hour left before mandatory adjournment, the Traditional Plan was adopted by a margin of 54 votes, 438 in favor, 384 opposed.

However, the situation remains in flux.  The SJC ruled parts of the Traditional Plan unconstitutional when it was initially considered on Monday, Feb. 25.  On Tuesday, Feb. 26, a number of amendments were presented trying to fix those issues.  The SJC in turn ruled some of those unconstitutional.  Additional amendments were proposed.  The Traditional Plan was passed without final rulings on constitutionality of some matters.  The SJC is meeting in April, and could rule some aspects of what was passed unconstitutional.

3)   So what's next?

--It is likely a good number of United Methodists will be considering leaving, both conservatives who do not think the Special General Conference went far enough, and those affirming of LGBT persons who feel they cannot comply.  The Wesleyan Covenant Association, an organization which "connects orthodox churches" and which endorsed the TP, is meeting February 27 and 28 to determine their response to the Conference.  Had the Conference not passed the TP, it was predicted by some that the WCA would announce the formation of a new, traditional church organization.

--The SJC will likely weigh on provisions of what was passed, including a key provision which would have allowed congregations to leave the denomination and under certain conditions keep their property.  If this aspect gets ruled unconstitutional, all hell breaks loose and lawsuits over property will abound.

--The regularly scheduled General Conference of the United Methodist Church is scheduled for May 2020, and everything passed at this Special General Conference can be up for a vote again.

4)  So what are non-United Methodists to do?

First of all, prayer for our brothers and sisters in the United Methodist Church.  I served as ecumenical officer of the Episcopal Church and have been to a number of General Conferences.  I've told Episcopal Church colleagues that what was coming in the United Methodist Church would make the conflict the Episcopal Church had over Gene Robinson look like the Council of Nicaea by comparison.  I knew it would be bad.  But the Special General Conference was even worse than I imagined, with a level of hurt, anger, vitriol, and despair that was truly hard to witness.  Many people are shocked, angry, hurt, and feel abandoned by their church.

Second of all, resist the urge to say "Hey, come to our church!"   Many United Methodists are grieving.  They love being United Methodists.  It's a bit of an extreme example, but the first thing you say to someone who lost a child is NOT "You can always have other children!"  Listen.  Pray for and with.  Express support.

Third, let's not forget the mote in our own eyes as Episcopalians.  We have dioceses which do not fully incorporate LGBT persons in the life of the church and same sex marriages rites are still not openly available to all.  We still have significant gender disparity in leadership.  We are part of a global communion which is mostly opposed to full inclusion of LGBT persons.  We lagged far behind other denominations in incorporation of LGBT and women in the church.  The ELCA endorsed same sex marriages, for instance, in 2009, six years before The Episcopal Church.

Fourth, let's also remember the way in which unity is often built on the marginalization of others.  Anglicans love to talk about our "Elizabethan Settlement" and diversity and tolerance of Anglicanism.  Elizabeth executed over 300 people for religious reasons and people would be fined for not coming to church.  Marriages of non-Church of England members were not recognized as legal until the 19th century, and England abolished the slave trade before it let Jews and Catholics vote.  Episcopalians like to talk about our seamless reintegration of the church after the Civil War, we do not talk as much about the fact that the price for this was segregation and consigning African American Episcopalians to second-class status, including being refused for admission to Northern seminaries.  While noting that the UMC is now essentially demanding marginalization of LGBT persons for the sake of unity, may we also be willing to see where that has happened and continues to happen.

5)   What does this mean for the proposal for full communion between the United Methodist Church and The Episcopal Church?

There is an official proposal for full communion, including interchangeability of ministries, between The United Methodist Church and The Episcopal Church.  This is scheduled to be considered by the 2020 General Conference and the 2021 General Convention of The Episcopal Church.

Frankly, it remains to be seen whether this full communion proposal can proceed.

From the Episcopal Church side, it would be difficult to accept full communion with a church that would not recognize our openly LGBT clergy and marriages.

From the United Methodist side, can a church which voted down proposals to allow for difference of interpretation on homosexuality (the SP and OCP) get a majority vote to enter into full communion with a church that has widespread acceptance of LGBT persons?

I have been a member of this dialogue since 2002, and after attending my first General Conference in 2004 it was clear to me that the United Methodist Church, as constructed, would not survive intact.  It seemed sad but likely that there would be either a de facto schism -- which was what the Connectional Plan above offered, in effect -- or the formation of one or more new denominations. 

If have read this blog, you should know I think denominationalism is dead, a relic of nationalism, racism, classism, and colonialism, and that God is calling Christianity to new ways of being in the 21st century.

My hope is that if there is a significant break within the United Methodist Church,and there is the formation of new church bodies  -- and I believe there will be -- that the Episcopal Church and progressive, affirming elements of the United Methodist Church can consider creating a new body.  Not "Methodists are welcome to become Episcopalians!"  But healing the schism of the 1700s that should not have happened had there been greater patience and charity on all sides, and bringing a potential abundance of resources and opportunities to mission, evangelism, and ministry. That God could be calling us to something transformative, and not flogging the dead horse of denominationalism.

However, I realize that is likely a pipe dream.  It's hard enough to get two local congregations to hold a joint Ash Wednesday service, let alone create a new denomination.  Nearly 20 years after Called to Common Mission brought about full communion between the ELCA and Episcopal Church, we have hardly any substantive joint seminary collaboration, and next to nothing on shared positions on the diocesan staff or denominational staff level.  Many in our denominations are far, far more interested in preserving the husk of our denominational relics as long as possible, and there are still so many wedded to the power and privilege they enjoy in their denomination, and many fearful of loss of identity.

Failing that, the Episcopal Church should be willing to enter into dialogue with Methodist bodies that would be willing to do so on the basis of the full communion proposal which is the product of nearly twenty years of discussion.

At the very least, the Episcopal Church can affirm the recognition of the ministerial orders of persons ordained in the United Methodist Church and be ready to offer space in our churches, or in our seminaries, or to join in our national, diocesan, and regional social service and justice agencies and organizations.

To fail t do any of these would show us to be hypocrites, more interested in our own survival, and that as allies were are little more than an ecclesial version of "thoughts and prayers" with no actual, substantive support.

That said, we also need to note some limitations.  While we popularly may talk about "valid" or "invalid", that is not how the Constitution and Canons or our ecumenical agreement speak of ordained ministries of other Christians.  We can recognize another church's ministry as being an occasion of God's grace without yet having a reconciled ministry which allows interchangeability of ministers.  We recognize the ministerial orders of the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, but a Catholic priest can't stroll in off the street and preside on a Sunday morning because we do not have a reconciled ministry.  Similarly, we don't, for instance, think United Methodist baptisms are invalid or persons whose weddings were blessed by a United Methodist elder have had only a civil marriage.  Yet we do not have a reconciled ministry, which is what the full communion proposal is for.  So while we can invite our United Methodist colleagues to preach, and assist with baptisms and weddings, they cannot yet preside at the Eucharist or at other sacraments in the Episcopal Church.

It is my conviction that we are in the midst of a massive reshaping of Christianity, the most wide ranging since the upheavals of the 1500s we call the Reformation period.  Differences on human sexuality and of the place of LGBT persons in the life of the church is part of what is also an ecclesiological issue, dealing with questions of authority, interpretation of Scripture, and globalization, among other factors.

It is my prayer that we will not be trapped in this Sunken Place, but can see where God is calling people to new and different ways of being church: that we who sow now in tears may reap with songs of joy.  These next few years are going to be crucial ones as to whether we are more interested in resuscitation or truly are willing to believe in transformational resurrection.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A Note from Crusty: Taking a Hiatus

Since this is the first day of the General Ordination Exams, I am re-posting my blog from last year.  This blog will not be hosting any GOE commentary this year, for reasons outlined below.  And, since Crusty always buries the lede beneath a sea of words, I have added to last year's post a note at the end I will be stepping away from the blog overall for the foreseeable future.



I was talking with someone a few weeks ago who was not particularly a fan of these General Ordination Exam blog postings, and even thought I was undermining collegiality with my fellow members of the General Board of Examining Chaplains by continuing to post them. It was a good, open, honest conversation: despite the character I play on this website, I like to
My favorite Beatle.
 think I’m open to discussion and engaging with people who may hold different opinions than I do. I reminded my colleague that I abide by all the confidentiality and social media guidelines established by the Board: I do not share the questions 
with anyone. For the past two years, I did not write a word of these postings, I do post them, but only after all persons have finished the examination. I have violated none of the established standards of confidentiality or social media guidelines. My colleague reiterated that these blog postings were not to their liking. Finally I asked,

Do you know why I started doing this?” There was a pause. “Actually, no,” the person replied.

It’s not to be mean, or difficult, or to undermine collegiality,” I said, “though I realize I have to take responsibility for the reality that I may have offended people, and I need to hear that. I started doing this back in 2012, the first year I served as an administrator. I came up with the idea to post and dissect the questions for two main reasons. (And, BTW, I have stated these reasons over the years on the blog.)

The first is that taking the GOE was one of the most miserable experiences I’ve had in the church. I had no idea how to prepare, I thought some of the questions were confusing and others unfair, and, then when I got my evaluations, my evaluators said some things I thought were unacceptable, making assumptions about me I thought grossly unfounded. And I had no way to respond to any of this: I had no agency in the matter at all. Some people I didn’t know wrote an exam, other people I didn’t know evaluated it, and I was stuck with the results. I thought, at that time, if I can make this experience a little less isolating and lonely in the future for other people taking the exam, then I’d do it. Lo and behold, 18 years after I took the GOEs, I found myself in that position as academic dean at an Episcopal seminary. So I kept my promise and tried to make the exam a little less isolating, tried to create a shared sense of community among those taking the exam. That’s one reason.

The second is that the General Board is not accountable in any way, shape, or form to the broader church in any real way. Sure, we submit a report to General Convention, and sure, dioceses can vote with their feet and decide they don’t want to use the GOE. But for something that’s been around for so long and the vast majority of clergy have taken, it’s a bit shocking there’s no systems for discussion, evaluation, or feedback of the examination. If a question comes out that is confusing, or poorly written, or unfair – there’s no recourse. If an evaluator says something that is inappropriate -- there’s no recourse. If there’s a discrepancy in data – for instance, if there’s a question where there is a huge gap in pass rates between men and women, for instance – there’s no feedback loop. There’s more mutual accountability with my parish budget at monthly Vestry meetings as a simple country parson than an exam that impacts people’s lives and considered part of fitness for ordination. We had more mutual accountability when I was academic dean at the seminary. As a seminary professor, every course by every professor gets a course evaluation. Almost every event, public or private, that the seminary did, from alumni day to new student orientation, we sent out an evaluation. We don’t solicit feedback for the GOE in any way, shape, or form. I started this blog for this second reason – to try to raise issues and concerns around mutual accountability, because it’s not happening in anywhere else in any kind of tangible or transparent or recognizable way.”

That’s what I said to my colleague. These are the two reasons I started doing this, although I have not been involved the past two years in these blog postings after I was elected to the General Board. And I clearly hit a nerve, these are some of the more popular blog posts of the year.

I have concluded that it’s time to bring these postings to a close, and I will not be posting or hosting any GOE discussions. I’ve concluded that because the two reasons I started doing this six years ago, as outlined above, are no longer possible.

With regards to making the exam takers feel a little less anxious and isolated by providing a communal, shared experience: given the changing nature of the GOE, this just isn’t possible anymore. More and more people take the exam asynchronously apart from the four-day period in early January, given the changing nature of theological education, with more bivocational persons and persons trained locally and not in seminary programs. To maintain the integrity of the examination, in good conscience I cannot post anything until everyone has completed the exam, which is now often weeks after the majority of individuals have taken the exam. This is why in 2017, the postings came out up to two weeks after the exam began, and almost ten days after the bulk of people completed it. Given the asynchronous way the exam is now taken, the postings can no longer function as that kind of communal experience, because of the need to safeguard the integrity of the exam process.

The second is that substantive accountability cannot be brought about by online commentary alone. Online commentary can raise awareness, but often does not bring about substantive change on its own – it has to be combined with structural engagement. This is why I agreed to be nominated for the General Board of Examining Chaplains, the group that prepares, administers, and evaluates the GOE. I agreed to be nominated because another colleague asked me, point blank, “Are you just going to complain about the GOE, or do you want to have the opportunity actually to do something?” I admitted the colleague had a point, agreed to be nominated, and was elected by the 2015 General Convention to the General Board of Examining Chaplains, and am halfway through my six-year term.

As I have said repeatedly in these postings, the exam is improving. We could list many improvements: the move to a simple proficient/non-proficient evaluation, central to a competency-based testing process; the inclusion of an evaluation rubric that both the exam taker and the evaluator receive; the move towards open resources on all questions, including electronic resources; and more. To be sure, the examination still has room to 
Byzantine mosaic of Nyssa's epektasis.
improve. 
We all do. I’ve been preaching regularly for over 20 years and believe me I can improve. St. Gregory of Nyssa believed that we continued to grow and develop spiritually after our deaths as our souls move into the eternal peace of God. It has improved dramatically and substantively thanks to the faithful work of the members of the Board, who, like me, take this ministry to which we have been entrusted seriously. But it, like all of us, always has room for continued improvement.

I cannot speak for others, only myself, but here are some of the ways I think accountability to the church can be strengthened: by asking exam takers, Commissions on Ministry, seminary faculties, and other constituencies to evaluate the exam yearly just like we evaluate every single course at seminary; if a question has a pass/proficiency rate differs dramatically from other questions (for instance, if every other question has a pass/proficiency rate above 80% and one has a rate of 50% – that’s something to flag), to do a post-mortem on possible reasons why; to collect additional data, such as proficiency rates by gender and ethnicity (to see if, despite best intentions, there may be a gender or racial gap in the exam).When looking at mutual accountability gathering feedback is essential, as well as having systems in place to address what we might find. We do it for almost everything else in the church. For God’s sake, I’m a parish priest, and I didn’t move the placement of the announcements in the service without gathering feedback from parishioners.

Higher education has changed dramatically in the past twenty years, and one of the most important aspects has been the emphasis on measuring outcomes and gathering feedback from constituencies, largely pushed by accreditation agencies. If you ran a seminary in 1990, you had to explain what degrees you offered, how you offered them, and demonstrate you had the resources (faculty; library; financial stability) to offer them. A massive change in the late 1990s and early 2000s was to demand that you show that you were actually doing what you said you were doing, and to be able to back that up. You say you have adequate financial resources? Show me your student loan default rate. You say you are preparing your students for parish ministry? Do a survey of recent graduates and ask them how well prepared they feel. And what happens if you find out you have a high student default rate? What steps will you take to address it? And so on. Collecting data and doing surveys is 
Add a question from the Bobs on Annual Reports?
pointless unless you have systems in place to process the feedback and inform how you do what you do. Has this gotten burdensome at times? To be sure. But overall it has been tremendously important in requiring seminaries to create a feedback loop to inform best practice and establish procedures and policies to address issues that might arise. 
Imagine if we asked parishes to do something similar, to take any kind of step to see if what they believe they are doing they actually are doing, and what systems they have in place for changing course if need be.

The GOE has improved by leaps and bounds in the past 5-7 years, in part because the General Board has begun bringing best practices of current educational and testing methodology to the exam. An important next phase will be to bring in evaluative and feedback best practices to continue to improve the exam – and, as such, Crusty is committing himself to this process. To put it real simple: if we can improve accountability to the church in structured, institutional ways, we won’t need rambling, pop-culture referencing blog posts to shriek into the wind to hold the exam accountable.

Let me be clear: I have not been formally asked in any way to stop blogging the GOEs. If this had been demanded of me, I would not have complied. I am doing this solely on my own volition.

Let me be clear: I stand by every word I’ve written on this blog or posted by others. I engage the readers in the comments and have answered personal emails sent to me because I believe in being held accountable for what I say and do as I try to hold others accountable.

I am sorry if my words here over the years may have hurt people or been cause of offense. Really, I am. I have a thick skin and let most criticism slide off me, while at the same time having a circle of close colleagues and a peer group I check in with. At times that may make me seem insensitive to others, and not realize how much words can have an impact. I am sorry for any offense. However, while offering that apology, I also would ask anyone who may take offense to think long and hard about how much of their offense is reaction to hearing negative feedback. Developing standards of mutual accountability, and being willing to process critical feedback, is sadly one of those areas where the church lags behind the secular society we often presume to think we are above.

To all of you disappointed there will be no blogging of the GOEs, I am putting my hope in the possibility of living in a world where blogging the GOEs may some day no longer necessary.

I also be stepping away from this blog for the foreseeable future.  My thanks to all of you who have read over the years, I am continually amazed anyone has any interest in what a verbose, rambling, expletive-laced, pop culture name-dropping blog that looks like a GeoCities website from 1996 has to say.

So let me close out one more time:

Well, friends, it's time for Crusty to ride off into the sunset for good on GOE blogging.  Thanks for joining me for the ride, and special thanks to Dread Pirate Crusty for filling in for the past two years.

And despite what you may think, and what Crusty has been accused of by some people, COD is not opposed to the GOEs.  Crusty loves the fact the Episcopal Church has always had a competency-based system, ever since the Course of Ecclesiastical Studies introduced by William White.  There's never been a single standard, unlike, say, the PCUSA or ELCA or Roman Catholic Church where degrees are normative, even written into polity in some cases.  With a competency based system, we have an inherit flexibility -- should we ever choose fully to embrace it -- in how we train persons for the ordained ministry. 

So be good, people.    Remember to stay grounded in prayer, Christian discipleship is hard and the only way to make it is to develop and cultivate a life of prayer.  Exercise regularly, it's the only free and 100% effective way to avoid numerous health problems. And have at least one minor vice to show the world you're human.

Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do more than we can ask or imagine; Glory to God from generation to generation in the church, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever.