Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Must Read: Kendall Harmon offers essential Critical Analysis of the orthodox Anglican movement and the crisis of The Episcopal Church

In fact, Kendall Harmon offers a magnificent overview of the entire Anglican crisis in his talk, now featured at StandFirm here (part one) and here (part two). But this section, just put up, really caught my attention. What Kendall calls "careerism" we might call "clericalism." It flies in the face of the renewal movement in the Episcopal Church where the emphasis turned the Church upside down - we are the priesthood of all believers. The job for the clerical order, as it were, is to train up the laity to the ministry (not the other way around). Careerism or clericalism is infectious and it leads to assumptions that the laity will just blindly follow. Well, take it from here - that is an unwise assumption. We remain Episcopalian here at the cafe for a reason - we want assurances that we are not simply reinventing the same problem, just with a different cast of characters. We know the cast of characters we've all ready had, we need assurances that we will not just move from the Broadway Cast to the West End Cast instead. It's time to change the play. We must recognize that the DNA is in us, brought to us by the Mother and Daughter branches of our larger fellowship. Kendall offers tough self criticism but it is necessary. Part of the problem is that we will want to put it off until things calm down. It doesn't work that way. Repentance is what brings calm.

Kendall, who still remains inside The Episcopal Church, writes as one still inside The Episcopal Church. In the Anglican District of Virginia (which blends both CANA and Uganda congregations and their bishops) we have maintained that it is essential that we remain in as close as communion as possible with our Episcopal brothers and sisters. This is not easy and sometimes it has to be intentional, for all our sakes.

Here's a sampling from Kendall's talk - and we do encourage you to read it here and read it all.

What an amazingly scary thing happened right before the first Common Cause meeting in Pittsburgh. Now we really go to stepping on toes.

I'm sitting there, I'm reading, and out of nowhere, all of a sudden ALL of these new bishops are being announced in the Common Cause partnership. All my friends are bishops all of a sudden! The Common Cause partnership has more bishops per communicants than the Episcopal Church, and I've been complaining for years that the Episcopal Church has too many bishops and overtuffs too many bishops at Lambeth, compared to the rest of the Communion. And the Anglican orthodox movement has re-duplicated this same purple fever among us! HELLO?! We've got to look in the mirror folks. This is scary stuff. Something about that isn't right. There are too many people who have been consecrated, in too many places, too quickly. And that's a symptom of something worse under the surface.

We live in a church, the Episcopal Church, where LEADERSHIP is appallingly absent. It's amazing to me - we were talking about this last night at dinner. I mean, the level of leadership of the average diocese is just amazing. I read more diocesan newspapers than most people do in a year in a week, because I'm editor of the "Anglican Digest". The main phrase I would use to describe the ministry of the Episcopal Church in terms of its bishops is this: VAPIDITY. Business as usual, maintenance, bureaucracy.

If you read what people write, it's about "us' and "ourselves" and the "next program" and the "next choir" and the "next thing we are doing at the church camp". There is no deep theological reflection, there is no engagement in mission, and there is absolutely NO call to evangelize people who don't know Jesus and need to come to know Jesus! So we have a vacuum of genuine leadership.

Now, that's not to say we don't have a number of good people involved, "Kendall said all the bishops were bad people." I didn't, be careful. I said we have a vacuum of leadership in the Episcopal Church. One of the things that a number of people have asked me repeatedly is "How in the world did Katherine Jefforts Schori get elected Presiding Bishop? I'll tell you the answer, and the answer is, "Because the field against which she competed was so miserably bad". That is the real answer. The real scary thing is that none of the others could get enough votes to even compete with her. It's actually not so much a statement of her as about the leadership system as a whole. It's sad, really sad.

And so you look at the American conservative movement and what do you get? Where are the leaders? I mean have you actually sat down and thought about what our bishops have been able to do? It is amazing to me. They are so inadequate, so incapable of doing what needs to be done. Bob Duncan's life is miserable, mainly because he has to deal with other Episcopal bishops.

The first significant meeting of this whole movement, which happened at Truro Church, in the underground, in the Underloft, at the end of July 2003, so this was BEFORE General Convention. There are three groups of people gathered in that room; one was a group of Anglican primates from around the Global Communion, especially the Global South. No surprise. Among others, the Archbishop of Sydney was there, the Archbishop of Nigeria etc. People like that. Another group were faithful clergy and lay people, but especially clergy, from the Episcopal Church. Many of the names would be names you would recognize, somebody like John Yates, for example was there. And then the third group of people were bishops from the Episcopal Church - Bob Duncan, John Howe, Ed Salmon, etc, etc, etc. So we start this day and we have all this crucial stuff to do.

And what happened?

The Anglican primates were outstanding. They were by far the best. They're leadership was inspiring, they were terrific, they were eager, they were able, they were clearly able to get the most done the fastest, and set the tone for the whole meeting. They were the best.

Second best were the clergy and the lay people. A lot of good discussions. Someone like Ron McCrary, who works with D.O. Smart was there, and was very articulate and effective. Martyn Minns was effective. John Guernsey, who was there, was effective. There was great energy in the room, we were all doing this stuff, and the agenda has, you know, - we get these questions, and the primates deal with it, the clergy have to deal with it, the lay leaders have to deal with it, the bishops have to deal with it . .

We're sitting there, and the bishops go into another room, and you hear YELLING, you hear silence . . . It took them. . . They could not get anything done.

The rest of us were done not only with what we were assigned, but we were dealing with other things, because we ran out of time, and they were still stuck. It was so bad that the whole meeting nearly ground to a halt, because the bishops got in such a donnybrook with one another that they couldn't function! And that's merely one illustration of the struggle of leadership among the Anglican orthodox bishops.

Is there a message here?

We live in a church with a leadership vacuum and we have a movement with a leadership vacuum. The whole way we go about raising leadership needs to be called into question. The whole way we TRAIN leaders needs to be called into question. Hello? Is anybody listening?

How about this: We're in a church which is under indictment because we have immorality practiced by our leadership; in fact we sanctioned it at an official level in 2003. Well, that's great. I'm not going to comment about the case in Colorado because I'm going to be much disciplined in my comments, but I will comment about the situation with two friends of mine, just as illustrations of the fact that, guess what? The Anglican orthodox movement is in a mess over the practice of immorality at a public level.

My friend Sam Pasco, who's involved in the AMiA, and a great missionary, gospel guy in northern Florida, who was part of Grace Church, and then went over to the AMiA, it's announced, that he's having an affair, and all of a sudden he's got to be disciplined, bang, bang, bang. And then there is my friend Purveen Bunyon. I'm sitting there one day, and I'm reading, you know, the standard, non-stop streaming internet stuff, and there it comes. Purveen's been involved in an inappropriate relationship, and this and that, and I'm sitting there, thinking; "Now this is just in the last year and a half!" I'm not making this up. You can look it up. Now don't get mad at me, it's out there! Those are two leaders. So we're in a church where we're mad about the practice of public immorality by leaders, and look, you talk about the need for self criticism, and the need to face some tough questions?

And how about this last one?

Nothing bothers me more about the establishment leadership of the Episcopal Church than its own lack of self criticism. It's amazing. They're dying, they're ineffective.

They're in an organization that has all kinds of questions that need to be raised about them. And what are they doing? They're doing the whole Rob O'Neill thing - everything is fine. That's obviously, self-evidently not true, I mean by any reasonable criteria. But the other thing they are doing is spending all their time criticizing the orthodox. I mean if you read some of the liberal blogs, for example, one in particular I'm thinking of, almost every single day, he's got something else he wants to say about the conservatives.

Now, look, we need criticism, and we've got to become more self critical, but it is amazing to me that in a church, which is under this much judgment, and clearly needs so much self assessment, it's not being self-critical. I mean where are the bishops who are asking hard questions in these blogs? It bothers me.

Then we come over to the Anglican orthodox movement, and we're doing the same thing. We're not asking hard questions about ourselves. We're not asking presuppositional questions. Have you got my theme? Do you see what I'm doing? Careerism, leadership vacuum, the practice of public immorality, the lack of self-criticism, all of which is true of the Episcopal Church, is also true of us. So when I say, "We have to die, and be purged", I am dead serious.

One of the things that was GOOD about Plano was that there was a feeling of repentance that was there. I was blessed by D.O.'s story about Ridgecrest, I was not there. I am glad some of the bishops got down and repented. I will tell you this, very forcefully, that is the beginning of the kind of thing we need to be doing much more often going forward, or we're not going to get to where God wants us to go. There is a lot of public repentance and re-doing things that we ourselves have to be involved in before we are going to get to the future. So let me ask you just three very personal questions, and then I'm going to get to this passage.

Can you trust yourself no matter what that God knows what He's doing in history, and give up your desire to control the future the way that you want? That's a really hard question that all of us have got to face. There are parts of every one of us that have got a grip on some way that God has got to work His will on. Remember the story of Abraham and God, and Abraham kept getting into these interesting situations, and people would say things about his wife, and Abraham kept trying to do God's will for Him. Remember that part of the story; Abraham would kind of help God. He would say, "Well, she's not really my wife, she's my sister. I mean, you know I just kind of help God out." That's the temptation. And that's got to be given up.

Some of us need to die to a sense of careerism. Some of us need to die to a sense of an institution that nurtured us, and therefore has some special place. If God wants to take it and do with it what He wills, well, we've got to give it up.

Again, read (or listen to) Part One here and Part Two here.

The Rev'd Dr. Kendall Harmon, Canon Theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina, was the keynoter speaker for the Communion Clergy and Laity Fall conference in the Diocese of Colorado, November 3, 2007.


Rolin said...

"I mean, you know I just kind of help God out."

Rolin said...

That's my very first instinct. I'm ready to do that in a heartbeat. It takes an enormous amount of discipline to hold back from doing something until you've really heard from God.

Like the the one buzzard on the tree said to the other one: "Patience, hell! I want to kill something."