Sunday, March 1, 2009

A few more thoughts on why I'm not down with the proposed bishop for Northern Michigan

1) Congregations used to be the primary "pressure release" in The Episcopal Church. An array of congregations gave space for differences and even eccentricities within dioceses and the denomination. Becuase something was "over in that other parish", one didn't have to fight about "it" so much if it wasn't foisted on other congregations. But Bishops represent the whole diocese and are leaders for "the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church." (That is stated explicitly in the ordination service for bishops). Giving wide church oversight to someone with a really tangential point of view blows up the accomodating system that used to exist in TEC... although maybe that is the point of the Northern Michigan action.

2) The Book of Common Prayer is our unity, or so even "progressives" used to argue. But now we are elevating a guy who cuts out or rewrites the parts he doesn't like. Either folks were lying about unity, or this is just a dumb choice for bishop.

3) The would-be bishop bases his teachings on something the rest of us can't get at - his "soul work" in meditation. Common authorities like the Bible, Prayer Book and even church canons (rightly used) give people the opportunity to consult the same sources, debate on level ground, and even agree to disagree. With this would-be bishop, how is that done without personalizing any criticism of what he says? How do you get past him saying, "Well, you just don't understand what I experienced" when it comes to a disagreement? Really, really bad move for any organization to base leadership on one person's secret experiences.

4) Change in any organization needs time for digestion. We are still conflicted about the homosexual bishop. Why are we now forced to wade into another eccentric action?

There are days where I think that God has no investment in The Episcopal Church - if he did, he wouldn't have allowed such self-destructive leadership to emerge throughout the denomination. We don't need a "Biblical miracle" to destroy TEC - we are doing it to ourselves.

We need a Biblical miracle to heal TEC. On my better days, I pray for that.

God's will be done.


Rev. Shel Boese said...

You may seen this well-written letter from a lay-member...

Eddie Swain Writes the Standing Committee of Southern Virginia Concerning the Buddhist Bishop-Elect
from Stand Firm by Sarah Hey:

Dear Bishop Hollerith and Members of the Standing Committee:

I am a parishioner of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Onancock, recently completing my three-year term on the Vestry of that parish and having served for three years as the parish's delegate to Annual Council.

I am writing to request that each of you review very carefully a situation that you will be facing within in the next few weeks.

As you may be aware, the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan has recently elected the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester as its next bishop. This election requires consent from a majority of bishops with jurisdiction as well as a majority of standing committees.

There are several reasons why both the Bishop and the Standing Committee of Southern Virginia should deny consent to this election.

First, and most importantly, the Rev. Thew Forrester is an avowed practicing Buddhist. In 2004, then Bishop of Northern Michigan, the late Rt. Rev. James Kelsey announced in his diocesan address that Forrester had received “lay ordination” in Zen Buddhism. In fact, the Buddhist ceremony in which the Rev. Thew Forrester took part is called the "jukai," and it is roughly analogous to the Christian sacrament of Confirmation.

During the "jukai" ceremony Buddhist adherants take vows of "refuge" in the "Three Jewels" or "Refuges" of Buddhism. Specifically, during this ceremony, Rev. Thew Forrester would have vowed:

I take refuge in the Buddha
I take refuge in the Dharma
I take refuge in the Sangha

Christians are supposed to seek refuge in Christ alone, rather than any other diety or earthly creation. Certainly, a bishop in the Christian Church should be expected to uphold this basic tenet of the faith.

Clearly, the Rev. Thew Forrester is doing and has done much more than simply dabble in Buddhist style meditation practices. He has taken vows to adhere to the beliefs of a non-Christian faith and pledged himself to the tenets of that faith. This fact alone makes him unqualified to be a Christian bishop.

There are additional important reasons to consider as well. The simple doctrine of fairness comes to mind when one considers that, within the past five years, two well-publicized and strikingly parallel cases have emerged in which Episcopal clergy have been inhibited for practicing non-Christian faiths. In 2004, the Rev. Bill Melnyk was inhibited by the Bishop of Pennsylvania for proclaiming that he was a practicing Druid in addition to being an ordained Episcopal priest. In 2007, the Rev. Ann Holmes-Redding was inhibited by the Bishop of Rhode Island for proclaiming herself as a practicing Muslim as well as an ordained Episcopal priest.

Surely, if these two priests can have met the severe fate of inhibition in such recent times, it would be radically inconsistent for the Episcopal Church to elevate a practicing Buddhist to the office of Bishop.

Further, it is the policy of our current Presiding Bishop to declare that clergy who assume roles in religious bodies outside of the Episcopal Church have “abandoned the communion of the Church” and to discipline them. During the controversies of the past several years, the Episcopal Church has made a practice of inhibiting and deposing over one hundred priests as well as several bishops for "abandonment of the communion of this Church" simply because those clergy had joined another Province of the Anglican Communion (all of which the Episcopal Church claims an inter-Communion status). None of those priests or bishops can be accused of openly practicing a non-Christian faith. In fact, they all claim to be Anglican.

If clergy transferring to other Provinces of the Anglican Communion can be deposed, how can a practicing, ordained Buddhist be elevated to the office of Bishop?

Finally, in 2006, General Convention passed Resolution B033 that called upon all "Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."

Surely, being an adherent of a non-Christian faith such as Buddhism, a faith that denies the existence of God (or any god whatsoever), would qualify as a "manner of life" that would present such a challenge to our brothers and sisters in the rest of the Anglican world.

As Bishop and Standing Committee of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, it is your solemn ecclesial duty under Episcopal Church canon law to prayerfully and carefully judge whether or not any person elected to the office of bishop in another diocese of the Episcopal Church is qualified to hold such office. As leaders of the Church, it is your solemn ecclesial duty to uphold and defend the Christian faith which claims that Jesus Christ is the only means to God and salvation if it claims nothing else. As elected leaders of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, it is your solemn ecclesial duty to uphold standing resolutions of General Convention, including Resolution B033 from General Convention 2006.

Under any of these duties, I believe it would be impossible for any of you to consent to the election of the first Buddhist bishop in the history of Christendom with any integrity whatsoever.

I urge you to evaluate the facts of this situation very carefully when you are faced with this important and historic decision.

You will all be in my prayers as you discern your responsibilities under the will of God in this situation.

In the Joy of Christ,
Eddie Swain

TLF+ said...

Yep, that is a great letter, Shel. There are people all over the country being alerted to this. God bless Eddie and all who are trying to sound the alarm - and God help some of these Bishops and Standing Committees to understand.

Thew Forrester might be the nicest guy in the world, but there are severe problems with his suitability to serve as episcopos for a Christian church.