Sunday, March 15, 2009

New questions raised over 'Buddhist' bishop

From Religious Intelligence:
In the Episcopal Church, diocesan bishops are elected either by the diocesan convention, or through an election organized by the House of Bishops or Province. While Canon III.11.1 permits each diocese to order its election according to local rules, it does require a “process of election.” Critics charge that in Northern Michigan no valid election took place as delegates to the special convention were asked to affirm the selection of Dr. Forrester by the Episcopal Ministry Discernment Team (EMDT) — led by Dr Forrester, and no other candidates were permitted to stand for election.

Following his selection last month, The Living Church magazine reported that the bishop-elect had received “lay ordination” as a Buddhist and according to the former Bishop of Northern Michigan, the Rt Rev James Kelsey, “walk[ed] the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism.”

In an interview with the Diocese of Michigan’s The Record, Professor Fredrica Harris Thompsett of the Episcopal Divinity School, an advisor to the Northern Michigan discernment team, said there were already a “number of bishops in the current House [of Bishops] who engage in and have experience of Buddhist practices of mediation."

In a prepared statement Dr Forrester clarified his relationship with Zen Buddhism, writing “lay ordination has a different meaning in Buddhist practice than in the Christian tradition. The essence of my welcoming ceremony, which included no oaths, was a resolve to use the practice of meditation as a path to the truth of the reality of human suffering. Meditation deepens my dwelling in Christ-the-healer.”

He also denied that he followed two faiths, telling the Marquette Mining Journal, “there’s one faith and it’s Christianity.” His Christian faith had been “deepened by my meditative practice and I’m eternally grateful to Zen Buddhism for teaching me that practice and receiving me as an Episcopal priest.”

While the bishop-elect’s Buddhist musings were a source of titillation and outrage on the right, others have raised concerns over the way the election process unfolded, and Dr Forrester’s fidelity to Christian doctrine.

At his parish, St Paul’s in Marquette, Michigan, Dr Forrester often substitutes home-made rites for the authorized liturgies. The Eucharistic prayer that the bishop-elect wrote for Easter season 2008 stated: “In the ancient days, at the dawn of time, You leaned over creation scooped it to your breast and breathed the moist breath of life. ... The fire of your Spirit kindled a love between Mary and Joseph; a fire that became the roaring flame of eternal compassion—the heart of Jesus.”

On March 13, the annual convention of the Diocese of South Carolina urged Dr Forrester’s election be rejected arguing it was not “confident that this is someone who will preach and uphold the apostolic Trinitarian Faith.”

South Carolina urged the “Bishops and Standing Committees of all other Episcopal Dioceses,” a majority of whom must affirm the Northern Michigan election, “carefully and thoroughly to study especially those writings, statements, and sermons of the Reverend Kevin Thew Forester pertaining to the Doctrine of the Trinity and the nature of God.”

The Executive Board of the Diocese of Dallas on March 10 questioned the legality of the election, saying no valid election had been held.

In planning the election Northern Michigan said its new bishop would not be given the authority of a traditional bishop, but would be part of a 12-person Episcopal Ministry Support Team (EMST). “While the Bishop will carry out the roles designated by the Constitution and Canons such as ordination, confirmation, and attendance at the House of Bishops, other “episcopal/ apostolic/ oversight” roles will be fulfilled by members of the [EMST],” the discernment committee said.

The Northern Michigan discernment team stated it would choose a single candidate for bishop and present that person to the diocese. “It is the team’s hope that the people of this diocese will also discern and agree that this person is truly the best fit to share the ministry here in this diocese. At the election a yes vote would affirm the election of the new Bishop/ Ministry developer and ministry support team. A no vote would stop that process and we would have to go back to discerning once again.”

Such a process “raises significant concerns,” Dallas said. “There was no election in that diocese as Fr Forrester was the only candidate put forward. [Dallas] consented to an election in the Diocese of Northern Michigan, not the appointment of the bishop by a small committee.”

By asking the Diocesan Convention to “affirm the election of the new Bishop” chosen by the discernment committee, the Northern Michigan process on its face violates canon law, legal commentator AS Haley noted.

“Truly, it was an election designed by a Zen Buddhist,” Mr Haley wrote. “The choice was to vote for one: you may (a) choose the Rev Kevin Thew Forrester and the team of Ministry Developers, or (b) choose the team of Ministry Developers, including the Rev Kevin Thew Forrester. Such a choice is the electoral equivalent of the sound of one hand clapping,” he said.
Read the whole thing here.

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