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

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.  

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