Monday, July 9, 2012

"Let us try to recover our commitment to genuine inclusivity"

The Very Rev. Ian Markham, Dean of Virginia Theological Seminary, has written an interesting piece on why General Convention needs genuine inclusivity and diversity. Here's what he has to say:
The theme of inclusivity has dominated many of the recent General Conventions.  Grounded in a sensitive reading of Scripture, the Episcopal Church has advocated the inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians at every level of our shared life.  The vision has been a church for all people.  It has been a powerful vision.  We are the Church that refuses to exclude.   
Yet the powerful vision is disappearing. There are those who are using the language of inclusion to justify exclusion. There are voices that insist that anyone who has the temerity to believe in traditional marriage, confined to man and woman, should not be allowed in the Episcopal Church; there are voices that want to advocate an unthinking vision of Eucharistic hospitality, which would result in the madness of inviting a Muslim who does not even believe that Jesus died on the cross to a table that remembers our Lord’s death; there are voices that want to cut ties to the Anglican Communion family because it had a problem with our progressive stance; there are plenty of voices who want to exclude in the name of inclusion. 
Living with disagreement is tricky. The desire to make the Church pure is so strong. We are so sure we are right that we don’t welcome conservatives. We are so sure that our progressive stance will be vindicated that we insist that those who want to “move less quickly” are ignorant appeasers. 
Let us try to recover our commitment to genuine inclusivity. Let us continue to welcome our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as an intrinsic part of the Church; but let us also extend a warm and affirming welcome to our conservative brothers and sisters. Let us try something new: Let us try to resist the tendency for purity and separation and instead live in a place that is more ragged and interesting. 
Conservatives are important for two reasons. The first is that we need their voices. Conservatives keep asking the very basic question: Are we sure this is of God? A church is neither the “United Way at Prayer,” nor a social pressure group. Instead the Church is the Body of Christ and therefore the vehicle of God’s will in the world. 
Everything we do should be tested by Scripture. We need to have our biblical reasons for the positions we take. If we lose this perspective, then we are just another dying cult that invites individuals to create whatever faith suits them. 
The second reason is that there are many hurting conservatives who are feeling that this Church is not welcoming. Numerically the majority of the Episcopal Church is in the South. Many of the larger churches are evangelical. We need these conservative congregations and conservative dioceses. South Carolina is the only diocese that is growing: we need South Carolina to stay in. 
I know it is easier to be small and pure; but it is much more exciting to be large and genuinely diverse. Let us hope we opt for the exciting route rather than the exclusive route.

I think that Dean Markham is absolutely right that "there are plenty of voices who want to exclude in the name of inclusion."  And I find what he says about why we need conservatives in the Episcopal Church to be generous.  But can there really be a "genuine inclusivity" that doesn't by necessity exclude some people's beliefs and agendas?  I doubt it.

For the sake of being "inclusive" and "relevant" in a post-Christian culture, I note that we Episcopalians are increasingly willing to jettison traditional understandings of Christian faith and practice.  By definition, that excludes conservatives (and even many moderates).  It's really hard to see how the current trajectory of the Episcopal Church as charted by General Convention can possibly recover a commitment to "genuine inclusivity" that actually includes persons who adhere to a traditional, orthodox approach to Christianity.

In response to Dean Markham's piece, one of my conservative colleagues said: "Too little, too late."  And in another response on Facebook someone wrote: "I agree that [this piece is] excellent.  But let's not kid ourselves.  I don't care who says it, it's not being heard."


Rob Scot said...

Fr. Owen, would you mind if I include your blog on my own blog list? I've just started a new blog at
in large part because of the very concern expressed by Dean Markham. I've been seeking to discern a call to ministry, but the more I've engaged in serious prayer and study, the more concerned I've become about the future of the Episcopal Church. I find myself increasingly drawn to an Anglo-catholic expression of the faith.

Michael Gillum said...

I believe the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas is growing. And whether the quoted article is "too little, too late" doesn't make it less true.
If we and our judgements and decisions are of God we will endure.mgec

Bryan Owen said...

Hi Rob. I would be delighted for you to include my blog in your blog list! Blessings to you in your discernment and journey with Christ.

Bryan Owen said...

Hi Michael. I don't the stats on the Episcopal Church in the diocese of AR, but I would be delighted to know that y'all are growing over there.

Sadly, that's not the case throughout the Episcopal Church. And given the stark reality of catastrophic decline in much of the Episcopal Church, it strikes me as very odd that we talk more and more about being "inclusive" and "diverse" as we get smaller and smaller!

Tregonsee said...

Any organization must, after due consideration and consultation, pick a path. Otherwise it simply wanders aimlessly. All the sincerity of the dissenters does not make this invalid. On this single point, I don't fault TEC, except that under the current PB it has moved from attrition to punitive action against dissidents.

This is not to say I agree with its direction. I am a cradle Episcopalian who after 58 years departed for more faithful pastures and pastors.

C. Wingate said...

You can find the old stats on the dioceses here and here, and while they do show a small bump for Arkansas in 2010, that's against a steady trend of decline over the decade, just like every other diocese. The only dioceses that are doing not so terribly badly are a handful in Province 4, led by South Carolina. One doesn't have to be much of a statistical prophet to guess that the 2012 numbers are once again going to show substantial losses as the next group of fed-up people look elsewhere.

Rufus said...

As a cradle Episcopalian and a moderate, I recall a delightful old Episcopal ad that said "Christ died to save us from our sins not our minds." I fear that the direction in which the national church's leadership is now headed is an attempt to save us not from our sins but from any mind with a dissenting view.

The Reformed Reinhardt said...

Father Owen

Isn't it unnecessary for others to build an altar to 'inclusiveness' in the first place when the 'work of the Cross' was already open to all people prior to 2003 (when we didn't know what 'haters' we were)? I remember a line from the film Citizen Kane when his old friend Jed, drunk and full of bitterness at his estrangement, tells Kane: "You don't care about anything except you. You just want to persuade people that you love 'em so much that they ought to love you back. Only you want love on your own terms. Something to be played your way, according to your rules." In effect, isn't this what the revisionists are telling God, and all this talk about 'inclusion' is just a ruse for this sentiment?


Small Farmer in The City said...

I have to say that this whole uproar has been very enlightening - I see now there are folks who worship Bible and folks who worship God and most folks don't know for sure which is right but wish the two ends would just go away and let them get back to business as usual.

Seems to me the real problem is theology and the need to be right...which may be what James came up with hence his emphasis on doing not believing...I note, as an educator, that many folks beliefs evolve and even if beliefs do not change, their underlying reasoning to support their beliefs do change - in some cases quite radically. And the changes are chaotic and tend to be driven by events and challenges to "what has worked" heretofore.

My thought is, if you see a chance to work together, do so. If not, not. Worry less about a person's theology and more about their being a human being - Good Samaritanism anyone? I say we can focus on doing good for one another without worrying about holding of "corrct faith"...thoughts?

Small Farmer in The City said...

BTW, Reinhardt, God knows what is said and why and I am surprised that folks who claim to love God so much that they try to verbally crucify other Christians can be so narrow in their capacity to understand the breadth and depth of His love...

Bryan Owen said...

Hi Small Farmer in the City. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

You wrote: "I have to say that this whole uproar has been very enlightening - I see now there are folks who worship Bible and folks who worship God ..."

I'm so struck by what I cannot help but regard as an oversimplifying over-generalization here that I simply cannot get past it to the substance of the rest of your comments. That's my failure, no doubt. Perhaps others can chime in.

Small Farmer in The City said...

Actually, Bryan (and thank you for reading my note) I find that in many respects it is simply this simple - some folks worship the Bible and make it their God.

And some folks worship God recognizing that the Holy Spirit is with us and that while a person should be sensitive to Tradition, it should not be used to ignore other leadings particularly when they further the Kingdom of God.

Yes, I know, the first group would say the second isn't hearing or listening properly to the Bible or the Holy Spirit and the second would suggest the first have stopped their eyes and ears with their understanding of the Bible so they can remain oblivious to reality.

I say worry less about the letter and more about the Spirit....

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for offering clarification on your original comments, Small Farmer in the City.

" ... some folks worship the Bible and make it their God." I suppose that could be true in some cases. But too often this charge is leveled, not against idolaters, but against Christians who have a high view of the authority of Scripture. It's not that they are worshiping the Bible. It's more that they believe that biblical teaching on faith and morals is binding and not subject to change merely because the culture doesn't like what Scripture has to say.

" ... some folks worship God recognizing that the Holy Spirit is with us." No doubt this is true! However, I don't see how affirming the presence of the Holy Spirit among us is incompatible with holding a high view of Biblical authority. I note, for example, this statement from the catechism in The Book of Common Prayer: "We understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the Scriptures" (BCP, pp. 853-854). It seems to me that that teaching in the Prayer Book holds together both the authority of Scripture (about which earlier it affirms "God still speaks to us through the Bible") and the presence of the Holy Spirit among us.

"I say worry less about the letter and more about the Spirit ...." Very good, but how do we know if what we are experiencing and being led to is, in fact, of the Holy Spirit? How do go about the work of "test[ing] the spirits to see whether or not they are from God" (1 John 4:1) apart from Scripture and Tradition?

I realize that all attempts to classify Christians by groups run risks of oversimplification and over-generalization, but I wonder if a better way of framing the matter is in terms of Jude 3 vs. John 16:13 Christians.

Small Farmer in The City said...

Thank you for your response, Bryan.

I appreciate that folks can highly value the Bible without becoming bibliolaters. What I find, though, is that sometimes folks who hold a high view of Bible take their reading of Bible as THE reading and consider any deviation from their opinion to be the work of the devil. I note that seems to be less prevalent among Red Letter Christians, but they seem to be few in number.

I would offer the thought that the Conservative Quakers have shown the ability to hold the Bible in due regard yet not allow the letter to overwhelm the teaching of the Holy Spirit among them.

I appreciate that there are clearly differences in their ecclesiology and ours, but I find myself wondering if we made a point of listening for the leading of the Holy Spirit if we would have so much contention as we have now?

And in answer to you question, I would say that you have done a brilliant job of summing up differences noting some folks are Jude 3 oriented and some are John 16:13 oriented...I only add we ought all to agree on living Mark 12:29-33 as followers of Christ Jesus

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for continuing to thoughtfully engage in this conversation, Small Farmer in the City.

I agree about the critical importance of "listening for the leading of the Holy Spirit." And as I noted in my previous comment, that work of listening also needs to include the work of (corporate) discernment in accordance with the counsel of 1 John 4:1. That seems to be particularly important in light of the reality that we have rival claims truth as revealed by the Holy Spirit going on within Anglicanism. I commend Joe Carter's essay "Is the Holy Spirit a Relativist or a Colonialist?" along these lines.

I quite agree about the importance of emphasizing the Great Commandment. Yet I also note that the Great Commandment alone can't do all the heavy lifting when it comes to discerning the right thing to do, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, etc. Along those lines, I commend Fr. Jonathan's blog posting "What Love's Got to Do With It."

Small Farmer in The City said...

And thanks to you, Bryan, for your continuing engagement on this topic with me!

I understand Joe Carter's argument (btw, very well written), but I offer the thought that 'either/or' may not be the whole Word: that it may be 'these AND these are the words of the Living God' to borrow an old rabbinic teaching.

For example, note that all Christians did not eschew slavery at one time, nor was the need for giving up circumcision or kashrut "obvious" to all in the early church. In techie circles you hear of folks being "early" adopters and "late" adopters (think of the parable of the man paying laborers the same wage irrespective of when they started working) - perhaps the Holy Spirit meets folks where they are and encourages them along the Way at a pace that is best for them individually as well as corporately?

As for Fr. Jonathan's article, he writes "For liberals, the Gospel is something that we do for the world. For traditional Christianity, the Gospel is something that Jesus Christ alone does freely for us."

Perhaps the matter might be better framed as follows: There are two points on a continuum regarding the Kingdom of God. One point is that the Kingdom of God is here, now, but we see it as in a mirror darkly. It is our calling to clean the mirror so the light is properly seen. And we do this by our loyalty to the Great Commandments.

The other point is that the Kingdom of God is yet to come, that we must focus on keeping faith in God's promise of return so we can merit being part of the Kingdom. We cannot bring it on, we can only try to make ourselves worthy of the reward.

Folks fall somewhere along that continuum and colors their understanding of what Christ calls them to and how they are to 'work out their salvation with fear and trembling.' I also note folks move back and forth along the continuum throughout their lives...again, it is by their fruits that you will know them.

So, it seems to me that how one 'does' Christianity is not all or nothing; as I read scripture and look to my own life and those of friends and family, God does amazing things, usually through ordinary people, toward, as I believe, a greater peace within Himself...thoughts?

Bryan Owen said...

My apologies for taking a while to respond to your last comment, Small Farmer in the City. There's a lot packed into what your saying, and more than I can fully respond to, but I'll offer what I can.

You wrote:

" ... I offer the thought that 'either/or' may not be the whole Word: that it may be 'these AND these are the words of the Living God' to borrow an old rabbinic teaching. ... perhaps the Holy Spirit meets folks where they are and encourages them along the Way at a pace that is best for them individually as well as corporately?"

That can certainly be true. But once again questions of moral epistemology and discernment arise. How do we know that it is, in fact, the Holy Spirit meeting folks where they are and encouraging them along the way and not some other "spirit"?

Take the current issue in the Episcopal Church of blessing same-sex unions. I am aware of a bishop who decided a year ago to allow for such blessings in his diocese, and the reason he gave for making the decision had nothing to do with his reading of Scripture or Tradition. It was because, during a time of prayer, he clearly and distinctly heard God telling him "Move ... now!" I note that, on the basis of their understanding of Scripture and Tradition, many others claim to be hearing God say, "Stop ... now!"

The fact that so many others hear something diametrically opposed to what this bishop claims to have heard should be an occasion for deep pause about doing anything without additional discernment and 'testing of the spirits.' Both messages can't be right. So unless we're willing to believe that God is lying to some people while telling the truth to others, it's a red flag that someone is very wrong!

This is not about embracing an "all or nothing" approach to practicing the Christian faith. Rather, it's about acknowledging the critical role of corporate discernment under the authority of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, not as three separate sources of authority (as though it's a matter of two-out-of three much less one-out-of three winning), but as one authority.