Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Episcopal Church's Lost Causism

Though I'm a full time parish priest, I still do some teaching at Episcopal seminaries, have taught a little bit of everything on the history front but most of my teaching has been in Anglican & Episcopal Church History.  About 20 years ago I became concerned with how the Episcopal Church generally told its history around race and racism, which I summarize to my classes like this:

"We usually skip from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and skip over everything in between.  We talk about Absalom Jones then slip to Jonathan Myrick Daniels because we don't want to talk about how the church's complicity with racism and slavery and want to pat ourselves on the back and only tell what we think are the good parts."

This at times willful refusal to look at our own history of race and racism has shaped some of the received historical narrative of the Episcopal Church.   

Here's one:  "The Episcopal Church is the only/one of the few denominations that didn't split over slavery."

My response to this is usually something like, "Blithely asserting the Episcopal Church did not split over slavery, when, in fact, it did, has been our own version of the Lost Cause: a whitewashing and rewriting of the past by those in power to avoid confronting systemic racism."

There are a number of problems with asserting the Episcopal Church did not split over slavery.

Problem 1)  Yes, on one level, the Episcopal Church did not split in the 1840s or 1850s like Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, and other denominations.  But that's largely because the Episcopal Church did not take a stand, at times viewing slavery as a "political" issue and not one the church should come down on.  When Kansas Territory was being torn apart by armed conflict between pro- and anti-slavery factions in 1856, the General Convention refused to say anything about the violence or about how slavery was tearing the country apart.  It issued the following statement: the Church has “nothing to do [with] party politics, with sectional disputes, with earthly distinctions, with the wealth, the splendor, and the ambition of the world.”

So while perhaps technically true at best this statement should reveal deep shame: that unlike many Protestant denominations, the Episcopal Church did not split because it did not take a stand.

Problem 2) But there's another problem: this statement simply isn't true.  The Episcopal Church did split, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States was created, issued its own Prayer Book, approved a Constitution, chose Presiding Bishop, reorganized some its missionary districts, and elected a bishop, among other things.  

See, it's the parsing that "splitting over secession" does not equal "splitting over slavery" that is the tell that reveals something.  Secession WAS over slavery.  We know this because lots of people said so at the time.  Southern senators and representatives resigned from Congress, and, in their resignation speeches, cited the legal and God-given right to own their slaves as the reason for secession.  We know this because the Confederate Constitution permitted amendments, except in one place: the right to own slaves could never be changed or amended.  Also, regarding the question of extending slavery to any territories required:  the Confederate constitution automatically extended slavery to any new states or territory acquired, even if the people resident there did not want it (so much for states rights!).  So, you see, "States Rights" really means "the right to own slaves." We also know this because Confederate politicians on more than one occasion propounded the "correction" theory: that with the Confederacy, the mistakes of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution could be corrected.  And that mistake? That African Americans could ever be considered people and not an inferior race whose proper status was servitude.

This is parsing to avoid saying the separation in the Episcopal Church is our own piece of the broader revisionist history of the Lost Cause movement: an effort for over 100 years to rewrite the history of the Civil War to be about "states rights" and downplay slavery.  Even when most historians had already been debunking this for decades, Ken Burns helped to give this continued life by making Shelby Foote's half-baked drawling Lost Cause nostalgia somehow the centerpiece of his epic Civil War television documentary in the 1990s.  You know, Shelby Foote -- the guy who had a picture of Nathan Bedford Forrest, first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, on his wall.

We see the Episcopal Church's version of Lost Causism reflected in another piece of folk history.  It's often stated: "The Episcopal Church quickly and seamlessly reunited after the Civil War, denominations like Methodists and Presbyterians took decades to reunite, and some never did, like Northern and Southern Baptists."

Guess what?  Same two problems!

Problem 1)  Perhaps technically true with some parsing.  Yes, several Southern bishops attended the 1865 General Convention.  Yes, the one Southern bishop elected in the Confederate Church was seated in the House of Bishops, even though that bishop's election had not been consented to by the General Convention.

But:  Sure, three bishops attended the 1865 Convention.  The rest didn't, and one Southern bishop had been under house arrest by occupying Federal troops because he told his clergy not to pray for the Union, since he considered the Confederate government to be the legitimate government in his state.  Several other bishops did not attend General Convention until they met as a rump group in late 1865 and 1866 and formally dissolved the Confederate Church.  They didn't attend because they believed that since they had left the Episcopal Church and joined another body, they could not return to the Episcopal Church until that body had been formally dissolved.

Problem 2)  That reunion was at the expense of the marginalization and oppression of freed African American Episcopalians.  After the Civil War, Black Episcopalians exited the denomination in the South in massive numbers.  In some dioceses, there had been thousands of Black communicants, nearly 50% in the diocese of South Carolina, for instance.  We can
The actual reality is all there in plain sight. 

wonder at how much these persons were "Episcopalians," since many had no choice in the matter and were baptized Episcopalian because the slave chapel had been built by their Episcopal master.  Yet we do know of many Black Episcopalians who did want to remain Episcopalians, and asked for Black clergy to be ordained for those congregations.  And we know that, by and large, bishops did not comply: only about 20 African Americans in the entire church, north and south, were ordained between 1866-1876.  We know that six congregations were formed by freed African Americans in South Carolina alone.  These congregations chose to be received into the Reformed Episcopal Church in 1875, which ordained clergy and a bishop for them, because the Episcopal diocese refused to ordain Black clergy for those congregations.  The refusal to ordain Black clergy was rooted directly in white supremacy: the reasons given were that Blacks were barely removed from barbarism and savagery, and were not fit to serve in any kind of leadership.  They said it, plainly and clearly, in writing.

The Episcopal Church's Freedmen's Commission, set up in 1868, wound down its operations by and large in 1877 and 1878 -- in part because Southern dioceses resented "national" church intrusion into their internal affairs, an echo of the resentment against Reconstruction.  In 1883, the southern bishops met at Sewanee and debated several different proposals to bring to General Convention to establish, by canon, segregation in the church.  

While the so-called "Sewanee Proposal" of 1883 never did get passed and never did set up formal separate missionary districts for African Americans by canon, some version of it was introduced at every General Convention until 1940.  Southern dioceses pioneered the concept of "provinces", introducing proposals in the 1890s and following that would, in essence, allow for a church-within-a-church, another blatant effort to find a mechanism to allow for legislated segregation.  One proposal put forward for provinces by Southerners would have created a Province which encompassed most southern dioceses, and each Province would have its own Archbishop/Presiding Bishop, and the General Convention would meet once every 10 years solely to deal with the Constitution and Prayer Book, with Provinces allowed wide leeway to manage their internal affairs.  

Eventually the Episcopal Church, as a whole, acquiesced to this "unity," after the Civil War but at the price of a segregated church.  "Colored" convocations were eventually established in the South, and, through the establishment of the office of Suffragan Bishop, two African Americans were ordained bishop to minister to African American Episcopalians.   Sometimes students ask, "Why were only two Black suffragans consecrated?"  The answer is, "Because when the bishop of South Carolina called for the consecration of a third Black Suffragan in his diocese, a white supremacist gunned him down and murdered him in his office, and no proposals for Black suffragans were made after that.  White supremacy had to be enforced by violence and murder to be most effective."

Yet we should not assume this was solely a "Southern" phenomenon.  Blacks were routinely denied admission at Northern seminaries, northern dioceses were rigidly segregated and it would have been unthinkable to have African American members or clergy in a predominantly white church.  And not in the past, by the way.  An African American clergy person who was ordained in the 1970s  shared with me that he was told by his diocesan bishop that he would likely need to take a secular job for a few years because "there were no black parishes available."   

So that's where this is coming from: these two shibboleths 

"The Episcopal Church didn't split over slavery" and

"The Episcopal Church quickly reunited after the Civil War" 

are the Episcopal Church's own version of the Lost Cause because they are rewritten versions of history by the those in power to downplay or ignore addressing issues of systemic racism.

Sometimes people ask, "Where did all of this come from? How did this version of history happen?"

This is part of the pernicious poison of revisionism.  There's nothing more baffling than when people say, "We can't judge people in the past because things were different in the olden days" because PEOPLE AT THAT TIME judged their fellow people in the past.  People in the 1850s said slavery was wrong, barbaric, inhumane, and unjust.  People at the time it was happening pointed out and condemned southern states for disenfranchising African Americans in the 1870s and onward (again, it was all out there in plain sight; over 100,000 African Americans were registered to vote in Louisiana in the 1870s and 1880s and barely 1,200 were registered to vote in 1900).  People pointed out that white mobs routinely murdered African Americans (Wilmington; Atlanta; Memphis; New Orleans; Rosewood; Tulsa; Chicago; New York and on and on and on and on and on...) without anyone being held accountable.  The first federal anti-lynching law WAS INTRODUCED INTO CONGRESS IN 1900.  (And, by the way, today, in 2020, we still do not have a federal anti-lynching law.) When Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to the White House Residence for dinner in 1901, a Southern Senator openly said "How many will we have to lynch to remind them of their proper place?"  Of course we can judge the past because people at the time knew damn well what was happening was wrong.

In the Church, there were Episcopalians AT THE TIME who saw and named exactly what was happening with the inhumanity of slavery the failure of Reconstruction, and the abandonment of African American Episcopalians in the 1870s: Alexander Crummell, George Freeman Bragg, and Anna Cooper, among others.  They wrote about these issues, organized, and lobbied.  There were white abolitionists, too, most notably the Jay family of New York, but overall the number of abolitionists in the Episcopal Church was less than in other denominations with a significant northern presence. 

This is the true evil of revisionism:  it rewrites the past, and, when that narrative becomes the received narrative, it somehow absolves those in the present from responsibility. Voila!  Erasing the past allows those with power and privilege in the present to vacate responsibility, thus ensuring justice is never done.

These two statements around splitting and reuniting are reflected in the mid-century historiography of the Episcopal Church.  The standard church histories used in seminary history classes well into the 1980s were written in the 1950s and 1960s.  I don't want to imply in any way that these Epsicopal Church history texbooks invented this revisionist history: rather, they reflected the way Lost Causism had become such a part of the air that people breathed, and that the marginalized voices had been completely erased.  

Let's see what they have to say!

A)  One standard history of the Episcopal Church was published in 1967 and was used widely into the 1980s.  This text devoted 6 pages out of 366 to slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.  All three of these in their entirety covered in 6 pages out of 366 pages in the book.  These three topics do not even get their own chapter, they are combined with one that also covers 19th century domestic and foreign missionary expansion.

In this text, the Southern Church is purely an accident of circumstance, as the author notes that after secession the southern bishops "were in full authority in their dioceses but no longer in the United States of America" and "under the necessity of reorganizing the general structure of the church."  Just an accident of history!  This text also states "Many denominations were permanently divided...the Episcopal Church in the North and South never declared a separation."  

While spending 6 pages on the Civil War and Reconstruction, and never mentioning the segregation of the church, this text spends 26 pages in a single chapter on the history of the Oxford Movement in the United States, and 4 pages alone on prominent Episcopalians who became Roman Catholics.

This text does not mention the Sewanee Conference of 1883, and Alexander Crummell's name does not appear once.  Like Voldemort, racism and prominent Black voices Are-Not-To-Be-Named.

B)  A second widespread standard history, published in 1951 and going through several later editions over the years, is more balanced.  It speaks of the "malignant cancer of slavery" and openly states "the Episcopal Church never split on the issue of slavery because it refused to take any position."

Yet it has some interesting explanations of why the Church refused to take a position.  One explanation is because the whole question was just so gosh-darned complicated: "The heritage of slavery had created a situation for which neither the diagnosis nor the remedy of the Abolitionist was adequate...it was hard to see, even from a Christian point of view, what ought to be done with three or four million slaves in the midst of a white population."

But the gravest concern of all has nothing to do with what the author had named as the "cancer" of slavery.  

The author solemnly concludes, "Strongest and perhaps worthiest of all motives to avoid pressing for a verdict on slavery was the dread of schism in the church."

Here the author is not just recounting a historical fact -- that many at the time did in fact cite this notion that schism was to be avoided -- but editorializes, calling this "perhaps worthiest" of reasons.  There's another "tell".  We have no better example, right there on the written page, prizing the unity of white people at the expense of the marginalization and genocide of Black Americans.  Gosh, slavery might be bad, but [clutching pearls] WE CAN'T HAZ US A SCHISM.

Say their names: Anna Haywood Cooper

And, despite acknowledging this "cancer" of slavery, this text asserts "When division came it was...the actual fact of secession."  While spending 10 pages of 390 pages in the book on slavery and the Civil War, this text also spend 8 pages devoted entirely to life and career of Bishop William Lawrence of Massachusetts.  This text does not mention the Sewanee proposal and Alexander Crummell's name does not appear.  Erasure is not just an awesome 80s British pop group: segregation and African American voices are simply erased in these histories.

This shows the intentional historical constructs white supremacy creates: it not only edits the past, it erases the voices and witness of marginalized peoples, and ignores the fact that plenty of people about it at the time talked about all of this stuff quite openly.  

Where did I find out about the real narrative of those times?  In two places!

A)  I learned about it by reading about the white supremacy in plain sight, in their own words.  Racists aren't hiding out in caves, meeting in secret.   They are shouting their racism, in public, for everyone to see, then and now, BTW.  The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States issued its own Pastoral Letter which clearly spells out what it is and what it stands for.

The Southern bishops in their Pastoral Letter themselves helped to establish this narrative, noting they were "Forced by the providence of God to separate ourselves from the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States" and "Believing, with a wonderful unanimity, that the providence of God had guided our footsteps, and for His own inscrutable purposes, had forced us into a separate organization..." and "With one mind and with one heart we have entered upon this blessed work, and we stand together this day a band of brothers, one in faith, one in hope, one in charity."  Separation is due to secession, and this, in turn, is part of God's will and Providence.  Never mind that secession was about slavery, which northern and southern political leaders openly named at the time.

And even better -- as part of God's providence, there is the wonderful opportunity that comes with slavery!  They write, "The religious instruction of the negroes has been thrust upon us in such a wonderful manner."  

Slavery is inherent in the apartheid, white supremacist nation they were fighting to establish.  According to the bishops, slaves "are a sacred trust committed to us, as a people...While under this tutelage He freely gives to us their labor, but expects us to give back to them religious and moral instruction."  God appointed slavery for Black people to give whites their labor, in return for religious and moral instruction.  They make a quick move into whataboutism, noting "The systems of labor which prevail in Europe and which are, in many respects, more severe than ours."

And, there's more to be thankful for with secession as a gift from God's providence! Previously, in this work of ministering to slaves southern Christians had "been hindered by the pressure of Abolitionism; now we have thrown off from us that hateful and infidel pestilence."  "Infidel" is a key tell here: an infidel is a non-Christian.  Abolition is infidel, and thus non-Christian, because slavery and racial superiority are part of the Christian God's will and providence for the ordering of creation and the church.

We have them all in their own words, over and over again, that secession was about slavery and white supremacy.  I have an original copy of the Journals of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States.  There are numerous, numerous sermons from clergy which were collected and published.  I could go on, but it really gets spiritually draining reading pages and pages of this racist s**t.  You can read the Presiding Bishop of the Confederate church's sermon for a Day of Prayer and Fasting proclaimed by the Confederate government here. Please, just trust me that I have the receipts.  

B)  And I learned about all of this this by reading African Americans Episcopalians.  W.E.B. duBois' chapter on Alexander Crummell in "Souls of Black Folk" is one of the more powerful historical essays I have read.  I always think of these words duBois writes about Crummell: "The more I met Alexander Crummell, the more I felt how much that world was losing which knew so little of him. In another age he might have sat among the elders of the land in purple–bordered toga; in another country mothers might have sung him to the cradles. He did his work,—he did it nobly and well; and yet I sorrow that here he worked alone, with so little human sympathy. His name to–day, in this broad land, means little, and comes to fifty million ears laden with no incense of memory or emulation. And herein lies the tragedy of the age: not that men are poor,—all men know something of poverty; not that men are wicked,—who is good? not that men are ignorant,—what is Truth? Nay, but that men know so little of men."

Other important texts for me have included George Freeman Bragg's "History of the Afro-American Group of the Episcopal Church" and "The Episcopal Church and the Black Man."  Born into

Say their names: George Freeman Bragg 
slavery in 1863, serving in the ministry of the Episcopal Church for over 53 years, Bragg wrote several definitive histories of the African American experience and was the leader for generations of African American Episcopalians. In just one of his several books, Bragg spends over 30 pages talking about the Reconstruction years alone.  Unlike the other mid-20th century histories, he mentions the Sewanee Conference of 1883, noting "Of course no Negroes, clergy or laity, were invited to participate."  And he names the Sewanee Proposal for what is was, that it "authorized the segregation of the colored people under the direction and authority of the diocesan."  All there, on the written page, by someone alive at the time the events happened and who lived through it all.


I knew all these historical folkways were untrue because I read Bragg, Alexander Crummell, Anna Cooper, and others.  I certainly don't mean to limit the contributions of African American Episcopalians to those three, there are many other voices important in the life of the Episcopal Church.  Their writings, the organizations they founded, the lobbying they did -- the real narrative was always there for those to see, if not for the barriers erected by our Lost Causism.

We can see the damage this kind of revisionist history can do in so many ways we live out our lives in the church.  Here's a couple.

I remember an incident from a seminary I was involved with.  I've taught at 5 different seminaries and attended 3 different ones, and  I don't want to name the one where this took place and single it out, because, frankly, I think it could have happened anywhere.

There was an end of year gathering, with students and some faculty present.  It then kind of morphed into a talent show, very unplanned and impromptu.  Some people sang or played instruments, recited poetry, that kind of stuff.  Then a group of students stood up and started singing.

With a jolt a realized they were singing "Dixie." I was stunned and looked around and saw only white faces in that entire room. I got up and walked out, went into the next room where the food and drinks were.  I just couldn't believe what had happened, and that nobody seemed to notice or care.  Someone came in, apparently I had gotten up and left rather abruptly, and asked if I was OK, perhaps thinking I wasn't feeling well.

I said, "I have ancestors who enlisted and fought in the Civil War to preserve the Union, there is no way in a million years I am going to sit in a room and have people sing the de facto Confederate national anthem nostalgically."

The person frowned, thought for a moment, then said, "Well it's part of their heritage, like your ancestors serving for the Union is part of yours." 

I said, "An all white group of people singing that song to a room full of only white people doesn't get to define the heritage of that song."

Here's another!  I had someone come to me saying they were thinking of proposing a resolution to add W.E.B. duBois to the calendar of commemorations, and if I was interested in writing in support of that.  I said, "DuBois wrote that  [this is a paraphrase of the quote] 'Of all denominations, the Episcopal Church has done the least for Black people.'  His chapter on Alexander Crummell in 'Souls of Black Folk' is a searing indictment of the racism of the Episcopal Church at the turn of the 20th century.  Adding him to the calendar without specifically lifting up and naming that, and without the church committing to take real, tangible steps to right the wrongs of the systemic racism duBois named, would be just historical whitewashing."

The person did not forward their resolution after our conversation, but was surprised to hear this about duBois, saying, "I didn't know all of that."  Again, this shows the ways in which history can be an extension of white privilege: how could someone put forth duBois for the calendar of commemoration and not be familiar with his writings on race and the church??

In order to counter these false narratives of revisionism, we have to name the systemic white supremacy what it is.  We also must lift up the voices of the marginalized to accurately tell the story.  We must also remember that issues of white supremacy and racism are not confined solely to this Church's relationship with African Americans: similar dynamics are present in interactions with Hispanic/Latinx, Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans/First Peoples.  The Episcopal Church's missionary work with Native Americans expanded in the 1870s and 1880s -- the funding from the Freedmen's Commission was folded over into this missionary work.  Yet this missionary work was an extension of white supremacy and cultural genocide: Native American children were sent to church-run boarding schools; converts were required to take a new, white, Christian name and give up their Indian name at baptism; cut their hair; wear Western/American/European clothes, and forbidden from speaking their native languages.  

Thankfully, there have been a number of really great histories written in the past 25 years, efforts to correct the systemic racism in how we have told our history:  Prichard's "History of the Episcopal Church," Hein & Shattuck's "The Episcopalians" among them.  There has been a number of works specifically on the history of race and racism in the Episcopal Church.  Harold Lewis literally wrote the book on this subject in "Yet With a Steady Beat."  Gardiner Shattuck's "Episcopalians and Race: Civil War to Civil Rights" is a conscious effort to right some of the historiographic wrongs I note in this post.

But it's also clear that we have not done enough.  The sheer number of people who say "The Episcopal Church didn't split over slavery" and sheer number of people who do not know the Church's complicity with racism, slavery, and white supremacy are evidence of that.

We must name these aspects of telling our history that fail to challenge or acknowledge our systemic racism.  We have to stop teaching people in confirmation classes "The Episcopal Church never split over slavery."  One of the reasons statements like these persist, despite the fact that most Episcopal Church historical scholarship for the past 40 years has not said this, is because repeating them has nothing to do with history, and everything to do with something else, mainly, the unwillingness and reluctance to address issues of systemic racism.  (A related issue, for another post, is the continued repeating of the whole "The Episcopal Church Constitution is based on the U.S. Constitution and was written in the same city by some of the same people."  This is utter nonsense, and persists because it reflects the lust for the Episcopal Church to be a quasi-established national church that was a fever dream of much of the 19th and 20th century.  But again, another post for another time, only reinforcing the notion that the real reasons for the persistence of patently un-historical folk wisdom has nothing to do with history, and everything to do with our own prejudices.)

It is far, far past time to abandon the lazy racism that allows whites to avoid addressing the systemic racism of our church.  It's past time because it NEVER should have had its time.  Faithful voices throughout the ages called these issues out when they were happening.  It is the Church that is complicit in constructing this apparatus that fails to challenge this systemic racism.

As part of my history classes, I also present the demographics of the Episcopal Church.  In 1960, the Episcopal Church was about 89% white.  In the 2010s, it was about 84% white.  Sometime students ask, "Why is that?" and my reply is, "Because for the overwhelming majority of our history, that's exactly how the church wanted it, because of systemic racism, segregation, and denial of opportunities for African Americans."

It is far, far past time to stop prizing unity at the expense of the marginalized.  The statement the Episcopal Church reunited quickly and seamlessly after the Civil War stands as a monument to prizing unity over justice.  It is far, far past time because we repeat that sin time and again: with the ordination of women and with full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons, when those who were marginalized were told to wait at the expense of preserving so-called "unity."  We will continue to repeat it.  I also do not want to think we should confine this solely to history, and we should also be asking ourselves how our theology, liturgy, polity/decision making, and other elements of the church have also been shaped by white supremacy and the erasure and marginalization of other voices.   

Unity cannot be built on the blood of the marginalized so as not to trouble those in power.  That is called oppression, not unity.

In this kairos time of broader conversations about race and racism, with the witness of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is time for the Church finally to answer this question: These are the legacies of our past; will they continue to be our future? 

Monday, September 7, 2020

#ChurchToo: Close the Loopholes in 2021

 

Sir Isaac Newton  famously invented calculus during a pandemic, which has often been trotted out as a kind of pandemic-shaming -- I mean, what are YOU inventing during this pandemic? -- but having had to try to calculate the volumes created by shapes being spun around axes, Crusty has always seen this as more of a sign of the dangers of pandemic boredom.  Who knows what this pandemic may inflict on

And let's not forget the awesome album
Fiona Apple dropped
#GenXForever

us like the 1665-1666 pandemic?  Thankfully, TSwift dropped the awesome Folklore, which already shows us that this pandemic will not have the same legacy as the Great Plague.

So what did Crusty invent during lockdown?  Hardly anything rising to the level of "Folklore", but I did finally complete a project I had been working on.

Crusty revised Title IV to include accountability for sexual misconduct and sexual harassment for lay persons and clergy serving from other churches on the basis of full communion agreements.

This has only been, oh, 15 years or so in the making.

A quick review!

1.      In the mid-2000s, the Episcopal Church was working on revisions of Title III, Canons which cover ministry, and Title IV, the clergy disciplinary process.  The 2003 and 2006 Conventions dealt with the bulk of the Title III revisions, while the 2009 General Convention handled the bulk of the Title IV revisions.

Crusty was Assistant Deputy to the Presiding Bishop for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations at the time, which, even though I was a Deputy, sadly, did not come with a badge.  As such, our office was consulted on the Title III canons which relate to receiving clergy from other churches.  The Deputy (I was but a lowly Assistant Deputy) and I both had several conversations with folks on the then-Standing Committee on Constitution and Canons working on the Title III revisions.

Among our discussions, I raised the question of accountability for misconduct by clergy serving from other churches under ecumenical agreements, and whether that

I mean even Deputy Fife
got a badge.

would be part of the Title IV discussions that were just starting.

Nothing ever came out of those discussions.  There was no mention of accountability for clergy serving from other churches in the Title IV revisions presented to the 2009 General Convention.

On the other hand, there had been provision for including lay persons in the initial drafts of those Title IV revisions -- yet these provisions were removed in the draft form and were never made it to the floor of General Convention.   Title IV still only concerns clergy.

2.  In 2017, the President of the House of Deputies appointed a Special Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation, part of an effort for the Episcopal Church to address long standing failures around accountability for sexual misconduct and sexual harassment.  The Special Committee issued its report, along with a number of resolutions.  I discussed this Report and these resolutions in a blog post just before General Convention 2018, and specifically endorsed the proposals in the report to make lay persons and clergy from ecumenical partners serving under full communion agreements accountable for sexual misconduct and sexual harassment.

The Special Commission's proposals were not acted on by 2018 General Convention with regard to lay persons and clergy from ecumenical partners serving under full communion agreements.   We still are limited in our options.

We essentially have one recourse when it comes to lay persons and misconduct: Civil and/or criminal actions.

We essentially have two recourses when it comes to clergy from other denominations serving under full communion agreements for misconduct: Civil and/or criminal actions, and reporting them to the disciplinary process in their own communion.

3.    So why have these efforts failed?

The main objection that I have heard basically boils down to this: "Uh, we can't do that.  It's, like, complicated, or something."

The answer to this objection is quite succinct:  "Of course we can.  We have legislated on all sorts of really complex and complicated matters.  We just need to have the will to do so, and do the necessary work."

In another sense, perhaps it's no wonder it's never happened, because, of course, the church talks endless about justice but all too often is much less willing to, you know, actually DO anything to bring about that justice. 

To dig a little deeper, we need to acknowledge there are more fundamental issues which will need to be addressed in moving towards accountability for sexual misconduct and harassment for lay persons and clergy from ecumenical partners.

--That this not be a tool or instrument to harass or oppress lay persons.  We know this can happen because we already have a tool for lay discipline: refusing Communion to persons living an "evil life," and we have already seen this tool abused.

"If the priest knows that a person who is living a notoriously evil life intends to come to Communion, the priest shall speak to that person privately, and tell him that he may not come to the Holy Table until he has given clear proof of repentance and amendment of life."

And I say we know this can happen, because there are examples precisely of this disciplinary rubric on p. 409 of the Book of Common Prayer to be used to oppress, harass, and demean lay persons: specifically in refusing Holy Communion to persons who were openly LGBT persons.

This is a real concern, and why there needs to be a careful, nuanced, approach which addresses it.

This is why I am suggesting discipline of lay persons be limited only to sexual misconduct and sexual harassment: matters which are defined by civil and criminal law and in the Constitution and Canons.

Yes, there is always a danger that the disciplinary process could be abused.  But you know what?  When Title IV was overhauled in 1994, it allowed for confidential charges to be brought by single individuals.  At the time, some clergy objected, concerned this would be used by disgruntled parishioners to retaliate against clergy, or that baseless charges would could ruin a clergyperson's reputation.  But you know what?  We built in due process and safeguards, and in my nearly 30 years of active engagement in the church every incidence of baseless charges being brought to be vindictive (and I do know of these situations) have never gone anywhere and the system has worked.

We didn't decline to hold clergypeople accountable because of concerns about potential misuse of the disciplinary process, and we should not use the same excuse for lay persons.  We absolutely must build in proper safeguards and due process.

--Another objection is, "We can't hold lay persons accountable."  This objection is both lazy and poor theology.  

It's lazy because we hold lay persons accountable for all sorts of things and can fire them or remove them from volunteer positions.  Of course we can hold lay persons accountable, and do in all sorts of ways.

It's poor theology because Title III clearly grounds all ministry in baptism, and we speak of the Baptismal Covenant as guiding our actions and decisions in any number of General Convention resolutions.

When I was academic dean at a seminary, we developed a Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment policy in our student handbook.  As part of my research for that, I looked into ordination and discernment manuals in various dioceses, and was struck by the fact that several dioceses that I looked at had no policies for sexual misconduct or sexual harassment as part of their ordination process.

We published our revised handbook and a bishop called me and said, "You can't do that, you can't have a sexual misconduct policy.  What if you discipline someone at the seminary but they are in the ordination process in this diocese?"

My response was, "Well, we HAVE to do this, because it's the law and sexual harassment and sexual misconduct are crimes.  And because of Title IX, which requires equal opportunity and access and forbids discrimination or harassment.  And if we did have to discipline someone, well, you'll have someone in your ordination process who has been held accountable for sexual harassment or misconduct."

But the bishop just kept saying, "You can't do that."

I must say, I just don't understand this.  Of course we can.  Now, you need to do so fairly, with a proper system in place, and inform people of the kind of conduct they are committing too and consequences of their actions.  As Rector of a church, our Personnel Handbook has a sexual misconduct and sexual harassment policy, and, by action of the Vestry, we have extended those policies to also cover all volunteers or anyone acting in any official capacity on behalf of the church.

I said to the bishop, "Of course we do it.  The seminary is its own community.  To be part of it is to agree to abide by these mutual parameters governing our common life together and to be held accountable.  Instead of saying, 'You can't do that,' I think you should be asking, 'Why doesn't this diocese want to do that?'  You hold your postulants and candidates accountable for all sorts of things as part of the ordination process, after all."

So of course we can hold lay persons accountable by basis of their baptism, with the responsibilities and commitments that make up our baptismal covenant.

There are a couple of objections on the matter of clergy serving from other churches on the basis of ecumenical agreements.

--This wasn't part of the original agreement we signed.

That's true.  But those agreements (I have drafted several of them) also say that clergy service in the other communion is always according to the polity of that communion, while we can't change our agreements already signed, we certainly have every right to change our own governance and polity.

--We do not have the right to try or judge clergy who did not agree to abide by the Constitution and Canons and subscribed to them at ordination.

This is also true, but very easily worked around.  Other than occasional (filling in for the pastor on a given Sunday) clergy service is on a contractual basis, clergy from other communion can't become Rectors, they can be assistants, interims, associates, or other positions on a contractual basis.  Since it's on a contractual basis, we include accountability for sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in ever letter of agreement a clergyperson from another church signs. 

We also are not judging them: disciplinary cases would be referred back to their own communion.  But clergy service in another communion is a privilege, not a right, and we can refuse to permit service of someone who is judged to have violated that clause in their letter of agreement.  They would remain clergy in good standing in their own communion, but a letter would be sent to every bishop in the Episcopal Church and to their home communion saying they had been held accountable for sexual misconduct and/or harassment and are not permitted to serve in this church.

It is time: as part of our commitments to #ChurchToo and all the work done at the 2018 General Convention, we must close the loopholes for accountability for sexual misconduct and harassment for

Ah, to go back to 2006. "Think twice, that's my
only advice."

lay persons and clergy from other churches serving on the basis of full communion agreements.  It's been nearly 15 years, since 2006 and the previous round of Title IV revisions, that we have not shown the ability to address these issues of accountability. 

And I have to add the reason I have been advocating for this for nearly 15 years is because of stories I could tell about misconduct committed by lay persons and clergy from other churches that has been swept under the rug because of the lack of any formal procedures.

An ecumenical colleague told me about a disciplinary case with a clergy person from another communion serving under an agreement, and, as she reported the situation to the cleric's home communion, she did some digging and found the cleric had served short stints in other full communion partners, and other complaints had been made.  The cleric had basically worked their way through all that church's full communion partners, gotten bounced out of each one, charges were reported to their home communion, who never took any action.

Someone shared with me when, as a minor under 18 they reported a lay person for sexual misconduct, the bishop replied, "This is he-said, she-said thing, there's nothing I can do.  And since you have civil or criminal options available to you, I cannot discuss this with you any further without having an attorney present."

It CAN be done.  It MUST be done.  For these stories and so many others.

And, to show it can be done, here's a link to proposed revisions to Title IV.  I am not an attorney, but I have taught Constitution & Canons at the seminary level for course credit for 15 years and I did have a hand in drafting several of our ecumenical full communion agreements, and the accompanying policy manuals for exchange of clergy.  I know full well this draft is not perfect and certainly not ready to be enacted as written.  But just don't tell me it can't be done, because I came up with a proposal in an afternoon.

The question is not whether this is possible, but whether we, as a church, have the will.

Jesus spoke these kinds of choices we would be called to make:

"What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ ‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went. The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go. Which one of these two did his father’s will?”

Which kind of church will we be?

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Coronavrius Chronicles 2, Electric Boogaloo: What do we do next?



I find myself muttering every morning, as I head upstairs to my home office and endless Zoom meeting, "What are we going to do today, Brain?  The same thing we do everyday, Pinky."

It's been almost six weeks of the stay at home lifestyle here in Massachusetts.  We have now had a
Sometimes you make my head hurt, Pinky.
stay-at-home advisory since March 26.

We have not had Sunday worship in the church since March 8.  I suspended in-person worship on March 11 even before the bishop and the diocese did so.  As it seems that we are reaching the peak in Massachusetts, I am getting a sense here that I think we all will at some point:  this will end at some point. (Keeping in mind the very definition of a peak means half the cases come on the downslope.)

Thing is, difficult times do come to an end.   The Jewish exiles in Babylonia were allowed to return and build the Temple.  Sometimes it ends unexpectedly: I've done research into Christianity in Eastern Europe post-Communism, and in the oral histories I recorded the persons I interviewed all said they had no idea that in barely 2 years, from 1989-1991, the Iron Curtain and Soviet Union would collapse. My mother grew up with a sense America had always been in deadly crisis, at war, with the survival of the nation at stake.  She had grown up in elementary school knowing nothing but rationing and air raid sirens and blackout curtains and people on the block getting telegrams that would make her mother rush over to the person's house.  When she heard the cheering and came downstairs and found out it had ended in August of 1945, she asked my grandfather, kind of stunned, “Well, what do we do now?” 

It's a question we all need to ask, at some point:  "What do we do now?"  We will emerge from our various shutdowns and stay-at-homes and suspension-of-worship.  My diocese, the Diocese of Massachusetts still has the suspension of in-person worship through May 31, and, while it could be relaxed, parishes are told to plan as though this is the case.  I've been doing my best to try to continue the mission, ministry, worship, and outreach in the midst of all of this.

It’s time to begin thinking about how we will re-start church after this suspension of all in-person church activties.

As we do, let's start with this:  I think it is essential to say that this will not be flipping a switch, and we will not be able to go back to the way things were, until there is a vaccine and/or some kind of approved, recognized, effective treatment.  When there will be a vaccine and/or treatment is anyone’s guess, but likely 12-18 months before there is a vaccine and/or a recognized, effective treatment.  I've had parishioners tell me they can't wait to have a big, huge celebration back in the church the first Sunday we are worshipping there again.  I've said to say, gently and kindly but clearly, "If you think we're going back to have 200 people packed into the church the first Sunday we're back, we are not.  It's likely we will not be able to do that for Christmas in 8 months, let alone the Sunday in a few weeks when we can resume worship.

Pandemics and crises have at times profoundly reshaped how society functioned and was ordered.  The Black Death of the 1340s had enormous political, cultural, social, economic, and theological impacts on European society.  The teenage years my Mom grew into after the war were in many ways different from her childhood years before and during the war.  The Christians in Eastern Europe emerged into a post-Communism society that ended up looking very little like their pre-Communist pasts.  We are not going to come back from this into the same pre-pandemic world, and, like our predecessors in the past, we don't know exactly what that new world is going to look like.

As I think have been thinking about planning, I have had roughly three different models in mind of what the restart might look like.  I didn't invent any of these, they are culled more or less from reading actual, reliable information and listening to competent, trained experts in the area.  My diocese has been extraordinarily helpful in having clergy Zoom gatherings with public health and epidemiologists available for discussion.  

a)         A best case scenario:  We have slowed the spread.  With less strict social distancing, some kinds of limits on gathering size, widespread testing for antibodies to see who has had the virus and may have immunity, along with rapid testing, tracing, and quarantining when cases emerge, we can moderate future spread and contain the virus when it does pop up until treatments and a vaccine are available.  Many things will be able to reopen with physical distancing, testing (temperature checks, etc), and limits on numbers of people gathering.

b)         Less than best case:  We have occasional, significant flareups as the virus spreads again when restrictions are loosened. Between now and when treatments are available we could have several 4-6
Yes I'm that guy who never does the wave at baseball games. Sit the he** down!
week (or longer) periods of shutdowns. This is what some call the “wave” scenario, where we may go in and out of shutdowns for 12-24 months until a vaccine and/or treatment are widespread.

c)         Worst Case Scenario:  Virus comes roaring back after we come out of this, we have to return to strict distancing measures, and are essentially on some kind of shutdown through the rest of 2020.

What does this mean for churches?  I have been thinking of this as I read my own parish for what post-shutdown life may be like.

It is important to point out that churches have been hotspots.  This is why we have to take this seriously and address what changes we may need to make.  In South Korea, France, California, New York, and other places we have epidemiological evidence through tracing of contacts from infected people that churches were significant spreaders of the virus.  In South Korea, a single infected person attending her church infected 37 other people.  Congregations often have larger numbers of persons in high risk categories and thus the potential for more complications.  I have been particularly shaken by seeing on social media how funerals have led to illness and death for those who attended either just before, or in spite of, stay-at-home orders.  One of the nation's largest African American congregations, the Church of God in Christ, has seen its leadership devastated, with literally dozens of bishops and senior clergy succumbing to the virus.

As we move forward over the next 12-18 months, churches will need to be ready to respond to a situation that may change several times, sometimes rapidly.  This will likely not be a linear, smooth trajectory from pre- to post- pandemic church life.  We may need to make decisions again and again based on subsequent flareups or changing situations.  Rather than constantly be reacting, I have been proposing the following to my own parish as principles for a values-based decision making process as we look into future where we cannot know exactly what will happen:

--Jesus summed up the entirety of what it meant to be his follower as “Love God with all your heart, love your neighbor as yourself.”  We will continue to look to God as our strength, our comfort and our hope.  And we will love our neighbor as ourselves.  Loving our neighbor means looking out for them, caring for them, and holding onto something other than own individual needs or wants.  And Jesus also closed a loophole in his Parable of the Good Samaritan by reminding us that everyone is our neighbor.  Everyone.

Decisions we make should place on emphasis on how those decisions are loving actions towards our neighbors. All our neighbors.

--Jesus said we will be judged by how we treat the most vulnerable in this world: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”  Churches have disproportionate numbers of persons who are in at risk categories.  We also need to keep in mind you cannot know if someone is in at at-risk category just by looking at them.

Decisions should be based on an abundance of caution as a guiding principle, with the care and safety of people as paramount, especially the most vulnerable, without assuming or judging who is vulnerable or not.

The Rev. Cotton Mather led the drive toward smallpox vaccination in Boston nearly 300 years ago.  Church buildings have installed fire prevention alarms and sprinklers.  Religious groups have adhered to and followed governmental public safety mandates, ordinances, and regulations.  Churches should lead and model this
"A monarchical modalist says 'what'?"
behavior in our current context.  This is why, when the stay-at-home advisory was issued in my state, I switched to live-streaming from my living room rather than from the church.  It feels weird, like a middle aged episode of Wayne's World, but I thought it simply essential to lead by and example with regards to the stay-at-home advisory.

We will abide by recommendations and guidelines issued by state and local Boards of Health.

As Anglicans, we are part of a larger community: members of a diocese, of the Episcopal Church, of the Anglican Communion.  We are mutually accountable to one another in those relationships, as well as being able to share resources and best practices.

We follow all directives from the diocese.

I've been thinking about the above to guide decisions my Vestry and I need to make.  Well, what kind of decisions might we need to make?

What follows are some considerations I have offered to my Vestry to discuss.  This is not meant to be comprehensive, exhaustive, or take into account every possibility.  We will likely receive guidelines and recommendations from our states, from county Boards of Health, from our dioceses or judicatory bodies that will impact and shape our actions.  These were just a starting point for us as we think about how we are going to have to do some things differently for the foreseeable future.   

Worship:         We may need to implement distancing within the church based on our overall capacity.  Like that tape on the floor in the supermarket.
                        No physical passing of the peace.
                        No kneeling at the altar rail:  single file, socially distanced, coming up for communion.
                        No more intinction.  Seriously, despite what people think, CDC studies have shown it is less sanitary than drinking from the cup.          
We could add a service that is only for those who are in high risk groups, like those early morning shopping hours at the supermarket.
Continue to record/livestream worship since there still may be members who may not feel comfortable attending in-person worship for some time.
No physical passing of collection plates.
We may not be able to have every service be a celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
No more social hour/coffee hours after services.

Operations:    Implement social distancing requirements for all other outside groups using the church, revising our building use agreements to incorporate this requirement.  Just like groups can get booted if they use thumbtacks that wrecks the paint job on the wall, or steal the church's coffee, we need to make groups accountable for implementing physical distancing and abiding by group size limits.

Formation & Christian Education:  For Youth Group and Sunday School, follow and adapt whatever models the public school systems might implement.  Consider continuing to hold other activities (Bible Study, for instance) online, or in larger spaces with physical distancing. 

Finances:       This is going to profoundly disrupt our financial picture.  Many churches will likely have suspended in-person worship for 10+ weeks.  That's 20% of the year.  This impacts plate offerings.  This impacts other sources of revenue -- our church has two major fundraisers that we may not be able to hold, as well as a Thrift Shop that has been closed for weeks.  Members' ability to give will be impacted by job losses.

How do we deal with these disruptions in ways that are fair and justice?  I have blogged here before on the profound economic disparities we have in the church between full-time clergy and part-time clergy, and between clergy and lay employees.  In many settings, lay employees are treated little more
Even Scrooge's employees got Christmas off.
than serfs, with hours manipulated to prevent benefits being offered and sometimes laid off with no severance (and normally unable to file for employment, though not in this current context given recent legislation passed).

We cannot speak to the financial injustices of our society if we treat our own employees no differently.

I have deferred a salary increase for 2020 so that we do not have to consider reducing lay staff hours at this time.  I'm not a martyr or a hero, am not humble bragging, and am not fishing for praise.  I think over the years on this blog it should be pretty clear I don't care much what other people say (Lord knows I've burned enough bridges, but mostly to places I didn't want to visit, anyway).  I just don't see how I could have the integrity to comment on the injustices of our society with a full time job with a raise and a pension and health care while cutting part time lay staff who do not have the same kind of benefits or hours.

And I have seen it in the church when we have had to deal with other kinds of crises.  I served in a church setting where I was laid off and my department's budget was cut.  While that happened, other departments did not lose a single staff person, and others had the temerity to lobby for increases while people were losing their jobs.  

I lived through the 2008-2009 financial collapse and saw its impact on all levels of the church -- local, diocesan, and national -- and often the size of your endowment or or how well connected your supervisor was ended up being more important than any considerations about priorities, goals, or mission.  I was actually re-hired after being laid off.  Two previous positions had become one position, and the budget for program work was 30% less than it had been in 2001.  Yet not once was there ever any kind of strategic discussion about what to prioritize or do differently.

I will not remain silent this time around if those with closer access to power and privilege in our church are shielded and cuts are on the backs of the marginalized, less connected, and less powerful, or when there are no strategic discussions about how we will do things differently, or set goals and priorities to guide the difficult decisions we may make.

For instance: as of today, April 19, 2020, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2021 is basically two weeks: 10 legislative days plus organizational committee meetings beforehand and travel days on either.  

If we think we are going to get several thousand people together for a 14 day meeting in the midst of financial collapse and global recession, with perhaps no vaccine in place, we are out of our freaking minds.  We have simply rejected every reform proposal and refused to do change much of anything about General Convention.  No other Christian denomination, even ones larger than the Episcopal Church like the ELCA and United Methodist Church, have their governing bodies meet this long. 

Rather than being too long and costing a ton of money, a Convention held in the circumstances of a major recession and global health crisis would be a mockery and an affront, the Episcopal Church's own version of those people holding "My body my Choice" signs while refusing to wear masks in public.  Are we honestly going to ask people from dioceses closing churches and laying off staff to pay for people to spend 14 days rewriting resolutions already submitted by Executive Council and Task Forces?

If we think we're all going to jump back on planes to go to meetings where we talk about what to do about climate change, we are out of our freaking minds.

Repeat "if we think..." as necessary.

I said on this blog years ago much of our structure will not change, because most folks don't seem to want it to.  Some people even derive their power, privilege, and status by their connectedness to our structure and ability to navigate it.  The 2015 General Convention eliminated almost all Standing Commissions and other committees.  By 2018, they had added back EVEN MORE committees, spending MORE money for them to meet, and without the clear lines of communication and mandates that the prior canonically defined commissions and boards had.  

I also said years ago on this blog that we will not reform our structure or governance because so much of our church is just addicted to meetings, so rather than change eventually it will just cease to be able to function.  I have written more times than I can count how in many ways the collapse is already in here, in slow motion, all around us.

This pandemic may be the impetus that brings much of it all tumbling down.  The extinction event has begun.

As my Mom said on August 14, 1945: "What do we do next?"  

It's time to ask the question.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Crusty's Coronavrius Chronicles: We Have What We Need

Welcome to what I expect will be an occasional posting from Crusty's Coronavirus Chronicles, or:

C - C - C!

As has gone around the intertwitterfacesphere, people finding things to do when isolating during times of has been quite common throughout history: from Boccaccio's Decameron to
C&C Music Factor was only one C short...
some of Shakespeare's plays to Newton discovering how the world works to Nobel Prize Laureate Bob Dylan and The Band making some of the greatest music ever recorded while Bobby was recovering from his motorcycle accident.  I'm keeping a personal diary as well, but in the spirit of self-isolation will be offering an occasional more public reflection on where we find ourselves in these strange times.

There's a mantra I've been saying to myself as I wake up in the morning.  It's what helps get me through the day, then the week, and whatever next steps in this unfolding reality we find ourselves in.

Here it is, goes something like this, though the words may vary.  "We will get through this.  We will get through this because God has already given us all we need.  We will love God, we will love each other.  You're the same priest you were (last week) (two weeks ago) (insert upcoming length of pandemic).  You just need to take all that made you the priest you were then and find ways to be that priest now."

It's worked so far, helped give me some perspective.  I've used it to close out a number of my sermons in the streaming worship service we are doing on Sundays.

And it builds on other things I've talked about in this blog over the years, this notion that we are not entirely destitute or bereft in situations we find ourselvews. In various postings over the years, where I've talked about the challenges the church is facing right now, I've often noted that we have all the tools we need to face this secularized, post-Christian world in which we find ourselves.  The real challenge is how we look to our past, our tradition, our theology, our liturgies, figure out how we adapt to this new reality.  The church has done it time and again, and we are called to do so now in our own time and place.

Here's something that has sticking in my head, in the midst of figuring out how to be a parish priest while under a stay at home advisory:

The damage that our eucharistic piety can do.  Now please here me out:  I am NOT anti-Holy Communion.  These past few weeks are the longest I have gone without receiving Holy Communion in nearly 30 years.  But I do think the past 50 years of the Episcopal Church has moved almost TOO far in the other direction, to the notion that somehow the only way we can be church is the celebration of Holy Communion.

This movement has had two consequences that loom large in our current situation:

i)  This has led to a clericalization of ministry and parish life:  a bishop of as diocese with a lot of small, rural parishes he was struggling to fill once said to me, "How did they ever do this back in the late 1800s when a lot of these parishes were founded?"  I replied, "Because the lay people did everything: they raised the money, they organized the Sunday School, they helped the poor in the parish, a lay reader read Morning Prayer.  Women had important roles in all of this, way before women's ordination was on the horizon, along with an occasional deaconness.  A priest would come by every 4-6 weeks to baptize and celebrate Communion."  The rapid domestic expansion of the Episcopal Church from the 1880-1960 period happened in many places in spite of a chronic shortage of clergy and because of a massive expansion of lay ministries.  We now need a great mobilization of lay ministries, and in many ways are hampered because of the clericalization of worship and ministry through the hegemony of eucharistic worship.

ii)  It has led to a loss of our other, non-Eucharistic traditions of worship.  I was serving in a diocesan school for ministry once and was on the committee planning graduation and commencement.  The commencement would be on a Sunday afternoon around 5 PM.  I said, "Since everyone will have gone to church in the morning for Sunday services, why don't we do Evensong for commencement?"  A student instantly said, "I didn't go to this school for three years and give up so many weekends just to graduate at Evening Prayer."  No one else on the committee said a word, and we just plowed ahead with planning another celebration of the Eucharist.  The derision with which many view non-eucharistic worship is combined with ignorance that any alternatives exist, at times a truly potent 1-2 combination.

Well, like it or not, we are looking ahead  to weeks of an enforced Eucharistic fast for many in the church.  My own diocese has suspended worship through May 31, so I am now looking at a possible 11 weeks without celebration of Holy Communion.  Let's ask, then: what is there in our past that can help us in the present?

First of all, some perspective.  The centrality of eucharistic piety is pretty recent, within the last generation or two.  It was not until the 1979 Book of Common Prayer that celebration of the Eucharist was declared the principal act of worship.  In the parish I currently serve, it was not until the late 1970s that Morning Prayer stopped being the main 10 AM worship service.  So people were able to figure this out as recently as when Steve Martin classic The Jerk premiered in cinemas.

Second of all, we have plenty of tools in our Anglican toolkit.

So here's something from our Anglican toolkit: very infrequent Eucharistic reception was the norm in Anglicanism for hundreds of years.  In the 1700s and into the 1800s, quarterly celebration of Holy Communion in parish churches was the standard.  Communion would be celebrated only four times a year.  And:  Confirmation was a pre-requisite for receiving Communion in the Episcopal Church until 1967.  For nearly two hundred years, from 1607-1785 or so, during the colonial period of Anglicanism in this country, eucharistic reception was even more infrequent.  For one, some parishes did not have regular clergy.  For another, the whole quarterly communion thing.  Plus the fact that there never was resident bishop and hardly anyone other than the clergy had been confirmed.

There's two aspects to this nearly 200-year period of infrequent communion that I think can be of help to us as we are engaged in a eucharistic fast right now.

a)  They developed workarounds.  A common workaround in colonial America involved the concept of intention as outlined in sacramental theology, a concept dating back to Augustine in the 4th century.  If someone wanted to be confirmed, but couldn't through no fault of their own, shouldn't that mean something?  So many Rectors would do Confirmation instruction and keep a list of those "desirous of Confirmation".  Those persons would be able to receive communion, even though they hadn't been confirmed contrary to the discipline of the church, because they had received instruction and were "desirous" of Confirmation if it had been possible, building on understandings of intention in sacramental theology.  Augustine had not been thinking about 17th century colonists, but lo and behold, his development of the centrality of intention as part of sacramental theology was helpful in developing a workaround in a very different context.

b)  They leaned into the infrequency of Holy Communion and explored the spiritual dimensions of that.   Since communion at most would have been four times a year, it became a special, important, sacred occasion that needed preparation. There were devotional guides people would read as the next celebration approached to prepare themselves spiritually.  This is the reason for the lengthy exhortations to Communion in prior versions of the Book of Common Prayer.

So let's think about what we can mine from these aspects of this previous experience in Anglicanism:

c)  What workarounds can we think of?    And I am not talking about drive-thru Communion; I see that less as a workaround and more trying to take the models we have and force them into a different situation, like how the first suitcases with wheels were just regular suitcases they attached wheels to and didn't actually redesign the suitcase.  I had one of these and it just fell over all the time. I'm not talking about that.

Here's an example in what I'm doing for Palm Sunday:  The Bible doesn't say they are actual palms that are spread in front of Jesus, and until clergy supply companies began shipping them to churches, parishes didn't use palms unless they were locally available.  Most people would just use whatever was lying around in their particular context.
You must bring us...A PALM SUNDAY SHRUBBERY

Intention matters.  It's not whether you have a palm or not -- for me some kind of drive up Palms is not only not encouraging social distancing, I think it's fetishizing the palms -- it's your intention to enter into that Holy Week experience.

So I'll be encouraging folks in my parish to get whatever leafy branch they can find as part of the streaming Palm Sunday worship we'll be doing.  (I recognize that context is essential:  I minister in a largely suburban/rural area where most people have a yard, or, if not, can find a tree of some kind, and this helps with the workaround I'm developing.)

d)  How can we lean into this eucharistic fast?  What can it tell us about ourselves, about our relationship to Jesus?

I lived in Moscow, Russia, for 6 months in 1990 in the last days of the Soviet Union.  I had to cobble together different kind of worship experiences, even though some restrictions on religion had been eased, it's not as if there was a church on every corner.  I would sometimes go to the local Orthodox Church down the street from my dormitory, but I could not receive Communion there since I was not Orthodox and it was in  archaised Russian Church Slavonic (kind of like Shakespearean English but not an exact analogy; I could only follow about half of it).  I would sometimes make it to services at the Church of England chaplaincy, but the chaplain at the time was an evangelical Anglican more interested in altar calls than Holy Communion.  I received Holy Communion once, when I went to a Sunday service at the New Zealand Embassy.

I spent 6 months only receiving Holy Communion once.  But I didn't wither and die inside.  In fact, I learned a lot about who I was as a Christian and what it meant to be a Christian. I talked to Russians whose faith had survived decades of persecution.  I remember one old woman telling me she remembered when there were only 5 open, functioning churches in the entire city of Moscow during the height of the Stalinist purges against religion.  I experienced forms of worship I never would have otherwise.  Ironically I was a STRONGER Christian after 6 months of a forced eucharistic fast.

That's where Crusty is right now, friends.  Be safe, take care of yourselves, remember that you don't constantly have to be doing something all the time, and make room for how Jesus might be present in the midst of our sorrows as well as our joys.  We'll get through this: by loving God and by loving one another.

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.