Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shiny Metallic Purple Armour

Anger, he smiles, towering in shiny metallic purple armour...
Bold as Love (Jimi Hendrix/lyrics John Mayer)
Over at Stand Firm, we have another Episcopalian Bishop whining that anybody who criticizes the Bishops is "angry" - by which he means "neurotic."
Christians are vulnerable to this sort of manipulation. We fear that anger is in and of itself a symptom of sin, and so we try to be meek and mild - to a fault.
Let me offer a few thoughts about Christians and anger, then a few more about why Christians in The Episcopal Church should be angry.
I. Christian anger
  • + We are made in the image of God. Anger is one of God's own attributes, so it is one of ours as well. Jesus, human and divine, manifests it.
  • + Because we are marred by sin, our anger can be evil. We must be very careful, because anger can be a mere outburst of our own selfish nature.
  • + But anger is not in and of itself "sin." One can be angry, yet not sin.
  • + It is right to be angry about obvious evil. Jesus and his followers show us this throughout the New Testament.

II. Why Episcopalians should be angry.

The Episcopal House of Bishops just issued an - dare I say? - angry Pastoral Letter about the economy. They rightly condemn "Unparalleled corporate greed and irresponsibility, predatory lending practices, and rampant consumerism..." (They might have included abdication of responsibility, profiteering and pork spending by government officials, but that bit of hypocrisy can be dealt with some other time).

But while our Bishops are quick to assemble and direct their anger at this or that group, they irresponsibly betray the trust of God's people.

I will give just one major example: Bishop Stacy Sauls of Lexington, Kentucky.

As I begin, I should note that Bp. Sauls was a seminary classmate, and once kindly offered me a position when he was a Priest in another diocese and I was looking for a place to serve.

Today, however, he is the poster child of why Episcopalians should be angry with their House of Bishops and other national leadership entities. His is just one of many awful leadership stories from around the church.

On his watch, the Diocese of Lexington is withering.

The diocese itself issued a report, warning among other things that Bishop Sauls has contributed to an "unhealthy" state of affairs there and that he spends too much time away from the Diocese.

Where is he spending his time and effort? Sauls is the major advocate for suing dissenting churches and clergy. He leads a "Bishops' Task Force on Property Disputes" which has, among other things,

  • - Exceeded its spending representations by more than 1,500%;
  • - Grabbed money from the Church budget through a bureaucratic committee rather than a public vote of the General Convention;
  • - Included in its membership Bishop Charles Bennison, later found by a church court to have covered up the sexual abuse of a teenage girl, and Bishop Mark Andrus, caught on film at a pornographic parade.

And what did Bishop Sauls get for damaging his own Diocese and working on a fiscally and morally corrupt "task force"?


So, still think anger is just neurosis? Or can it express the voice of God when holiness is betrayed - worst of all, betrayed by the church?

If you are angry, and you should be, there are sober actions which you can take. Certainly, gather and share information with other Christians you know. A good place to start is this Primer for Those in the Pews. It gives plenty of evidence and some good advice:

'What can individual parishioners do? Here are some practical suggestions:

1. Find out where your money is going. Ask your parish treasurer the amount that your church contributed to its diocese last year, and ask him or her to break it down into unrestricted funds, and funds designated for a specific purpose. Also, ask for an itemization of what your diocese contributes to the national Church, broken down in the same fashion.

2. Give no more money for lawsuits. Give your treasurer a letter specifying that no part of the funds you donate is to be used to support lawsuits at either the diocesan or national level. If the treasurer cannot guarantee they will not be so used, stop giving unrestricted funds to your church. Write a restriction on every check you give, such as “for parish salaries only”, “for Church utilities only”, and so forth.

3. Become involved at the local level. Get the word out, and get others behind the simple proposition that churches do not sue other churches, they mediate disputes as Christians. There are ways to share Church property and assets among differing groups that do not force a “winner-take-all” outcome.

4. Do not vote for convention deputies who want to see the lawsuits continue. This may be the most important thing you can do at the local level. Parishes elect deputies to diocesan conventions, and diocesan conventions elect deputies to General Convention. If those who elect the deputies insist that they commit to oppose any funding for lawsuits, then the Church will have to use other means to resolve its differences.

5. Become involved yourself, and get others to do likewise. It is your Church that is at stake here. Litigation is the last resort for most people, and it should not be the first resort for Christians—particularly against each other. Litigation is driven by emotions, not reason, and it is fueled by money. Withdraw the money, and refuse to legitimize the emotions, and the lawsuits can and will be settled. There is no other alternative, because the lawsuits will end up swallowing the Church as we know it.
Finally, spread the word! Get this information into the hands of as many of your fellow parishioners as possible. There are many links in this article to useful information."

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