Thursday, April 2, 2009

South Dakota Bishop Candidates and "Inclusion" - theory and reality


With South Dakota's bishop election coming up, I encourage folks to read this timely article at Just Genesis.

It is an analysis of last week's speech by Bishop Gene Robinson at Emory University (the speech is linked in the article).

Bishop Robinson is the openly homosexual bishop of New Hampshire. Apart from any of our predispositions on that "issue", there are important implications for God's people in South Dakota as we seek our next Bishop:
  • + Beware of sales pitches with no evidence. Robinson was elected on a promise that his status would cause church growth. We were told that his election would fill our churches with young people and that many secular people would come to faith because of him. But what really happened? His own diocese has declined and he had to lay off diocesan staff. The recently published Blue Book of the Episcopal Church General Convention gives solid statistical and survey analysis showing that his election has caused conflict and loss of members across the church.
  • + Beware of hidden agendas. Robinson promised that he would be "just the Bishop of New Hampshire, not the 'gay' bishop." But he's on the activist lecture circuit more than in his own diocese. Read the Emory speech and you will see that his agenda is to bend the church to the faction he represents, not to help the whole church.

In our diocesan profile, "inclusion" is stressed as a value. But the flaw there is that the word can hide an agenda. After all, who is against "including people", especially when one of the other questions on our survey was about bi-cultural ministry? "Inclusion," if twisted into the definition used by Bishop Robinson, is a code word for a narrow, factional agenda.


How should we look at this? Our church is in conflict, divided into factions that don't talk to one another and have little common language of faith. That's not Tim Fountain's opinion - that comes from research by the House of Deputies over the last several years. It is the stated analysis of the Episcopal Church in its own published material.

Thus, a truly inclusive candidate can tell us how he built constructive Christian relationship with people who are his opponents on church issues. But if "inclusion" is just code for "I favor Bishop Robinson and his agenda," expect our diocese to suffer the same fate as New Hampshire. We will get a bishop who is fawned over in a few media outlets, while our congregations shrink and our ministries stagnate.

The real "inclusion" question is not, "What's your standing in the gay movement?" but, "As bishop, how will you be leader and pastor for those with whom you disagree? And what is the evidence from your ministry so far to back up what you are saying?"

As far as the South Dakota candidates on the issue of including all at the table:

Tarrant has been gracious and communicative with me at a time when other clergy engage in petty shunning and gossip. He also posted an article defending a "middle way" in his local newspaper.

Floberg has worked closely and constructively with national church leaders (including Presiding Bishop Schori) of very different theological views. And his diocese (North Dakota) took a generous approach to one conflict by allowing an outside bishop to visit a disgruntled congregation.

Dunn carries a question mark because his parish suffered a significant drop in attendance since the Gene Robinson controversy. We will need to know more about how he handled or mishandled this. His diocese (CO) has not handled the Robinson controversy well and has suffered from severe internal conflict, including lawsuits.

Stebinger has authored two books (see "Peter's Books" tab at his parish site) exploring how very different kinds of congregations can be healthy. His web site articulates the traditional "middle way" - "The Episcopal Church is the American branch of the Anglican communion. Anglicans are Protestants who have retained much of Catholic worship. Episcopalians value open-mindedness and listening to the views of others, and trusting God for answers." But it is worth noting that his diocese (CT) suffered badly from the Robinson election fallout, including lawsuits. We should ask how he interacted with polarized groups in that situation.

No comments: