Monday, September 03, 2007

This Labor Day, I will be thinking of Juan

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered a man asleep on an outdoor bench by the parking lot of St. Paul’s. He was sweaty, dirty, unshaven and unkempt. I decided he was homeless and was pretty sure that he was waiting for me. Well, not waiting for me exactly, but waiting for “the pastor.”
I touched his shoulder. He stirred.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
“I need a bus ticket. I have $65.00 and I’m trying to get to Oklahoma City.”
He had a gentle voice and spoke with an accent. I was pretty sure he was Mexican.
Homeless people come to St. Paul’s on a fairly regular basis looking for help. We have “regulars.” We also see our share of hucksters and scam artists. Trying to figure out who is a scam artist and who is not and how to respond to genuine needs is often no easy matter. That we have to deal with hucksters and scam artists at all is annoying. I know it colors how I approach nearly all those who come for help. I begin with suspicion. That the man in front of me admitted to having $65.00 of his own was a good indicator that he was not a huckster.
I will also confess that when someone asks for help to buy a bus ticket, I am often inclined to say yes. A bus ticket means that they will be leaving town. It is a quick fix. Somewhere, someone else will have to deal with him or her. I won’t, that is, if I buy the ticket and see them to the bus
“Do you want to take a bus today?” I asked.
“Si, if I can get one.”
“Let’s go,” I said.
I opened the passenger side of my car for him.
“Do you need to use a restroom before we go,” I asked.
“No, I’m okay.”
We got into the car. I headed toward the local Greyhound Station a few blocks away. It’s not a station really. It’s the dispatch office of the local taxi company. Greyhound busses stop there on their way up the east coast of Florida from Miami. There is a bench that seats two outside. Otherwise, people sit on the curb or stand around in the heat as they wait for the bus.
“Com se llama?” I asked as we drove south on Federal Highway.
“Why are you going to Oklahoma, Juan?....Por que Oklahoma?”
“To pick tomatoes…It’s tomato season in Oklahoma….I came here to pick beans, but the season is almost over. It’s not been very good. I didn’t make much.”
He had tried to get travel assistance from an agency in West Palm Beach that he had been told was supposed to help farm workers. He hadn’t been successful.
“I just want to get to Oklahoma where I can work and make some money.”
As I pulled into the parking lot, a Greyhound bus was already parked in front. The driver was checking the tickets of passengers preparing to board. Juan and I hurried into the office.
“I want to buy him a ticket to Oklahoma City,” I said to man behind the counter handing him my credit card.
“What’s his full name?”
“What’s your full name?” I asked Juan. He said his name and spelled it out for the agent.
“Tell him to ask the driver to wait while I do this,” the agent said to me.
Juan ran outside and began speaking to the driver.
“Does he have any luggage?” the agent asked. Juan had a plastic garbage bag slung over his shoulder. I didn’t think he would want to check it. I stuck my head out the door.
“Juan, you don’t have any luggage, do you?” I asked.
“Just this,” he said pointing to the bag.
The driver looked at me and said, “Tell him I don’t have any seats. The bus is full. He’s going to have to stand all the way to West Palm Beach.”
“Is that okay?” I asked Juan. He shrugged his shoulders. I went in and finished paying for the ticket. The agent turned the credit card voucher toward me to sign.
“My card information isn’t on the ticket, is it?” I asked, just to be sure.
“Nope, just on the receipt,” he assured me passing me the thick booklet of transfers that Juan would need to use to get him to Oklahoma City along with my credit card and receipt.
I went outside to Juan.
“Use your $65.00 for food,” I said to him. He took the ticket, looked me in the eye, smiled and shook my hand.
“Thank you, Padre”
“You’re welcome. God bless you,” I said turning back toward my car.
As I was pulling out, I waved to Juan, sweaty, dirty, unshaven and unkempt with a garbage bag of his possessions slung over his shoulder. He was about to board the bus where he would have to stand until he reached Palm Beach on his journey to Oklahoma City where he wanted to pick tomatoes and make some money.
I felt some sadness for him. I also felt thankfulness for the work he does and some guilt, too. As I drove away from the Greyhound Bus Station I thought about the plight of migrant farm workers and how much we, we, exploit them. I thought about how much hostility and prejudice our society directs toward Juan and so many other people like him even as we continue to eat the food they pick for us.
In the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer there is prayer for Labor Day. It reads, in part, Almighty God, you have so linked our lives with other lives that all we do affects for good or ill all other lives; So guide us in the work we do, that we may not do it for self alone, but for the common good; and as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work…
In our home, we usually have a barbecue on Labor Day and say that prayer before we eat. As I say the prayer for Labor Day this year and prepare to bite into a grilled hamburger topped with a juicy ripe tomato , I will think of Juan and give thanks for his labor and still feel a little guilty. Of course, Juan won’t be aware of any of this. On Monday, he’ll most likely be in the fields of Oklahoma picking tomatoes until it is time to move on to the next crop.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I Came Not to Bring Peace but a Sword? Challenged by God's Warriors

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church - Delray Beach, Florida
12 Pentecost - Proper 15 - Year C - August 18/19, 2007
Jeremiah 23:23-29; Ps. 82; Hebrews 12: 1-7 (8-10) 11-14; Luke 12:49-56
Preacher: The Reverend William H. Stokes, Rector

Over the years I have been a real fan of CNN’s Chief International correspondent Christiane Amanpour. Beginning at 9:00 PM on Tuesday of this week, CNN will air a three-part series developed by Christiane Amanpour titled God’s Warriors. On Tuesday night, she will focus on Judaism. On Wednesday night, she will focus on Islam and on Thursday night, she will focus on Christianity. [1] Each segment will be two hours long.
The material available on the internet promoting the three-part special indicates that the segment on Judaism will pay particular attention to the Jewish Settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, on places such as Hebron.[2] The section on Islam will pay particular attention to the emergence of Islamic militant fundamentalism in the Middle East. Some of this segment was filmed in Cairo.[3] On Thursday night, Amanpour will turn her attention to Christianity....Her segment will not be taped in Jerusalem, site of the Crusades...She will not go to Bethlehem, where a tiny Christian remnant is barely hanging to existence. She will not be in Bosnia-Herzegovina or in Nigeria where Muslims and Christians are equally divided and where there is great tension.
Instead, Amanpour and her crew will be reporting from the United States. They will be exploring the rise of Christian Conservatism in the United States and analyzing what has been labeled “the culture wars.”[4] In this Christian segment, Amanpour will explore a variety of recent expressions and trends within American Christianity.
One of her profiles will be of Pastor Gregory Boyd and Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul’s Minnesota where Boyd is Pastor. The Church is a so-called “mega-church” and has an average Sunday attendance of 5000.[5] A graduate of Yale Divinity School and Princeton Theological Seminary, Boyd created quite a stir in Christian Conservative Evangelical circles during the last election year. A story that appeared in The New York Times on June 30[6] a year ago reported the story as follows:
“Like most pastors who lead thriving evangelical mega-churches, the Rev. Gregory A. Boyd was asked frequently to give his blessing — and the church’s — to conservative political candidates and causes. The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?”[7]
“After refusing each time,” The New York Times report states, “Mr. Boyd finally became fed up…Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called ‘The Cross and the Sword’ in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns. ‘When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,’ Mr. Boyd preached. ‘When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.’”
Boyd is very concerned about the polarization of our society and is adamant in believing that the notion of having a “Christian” nation is wrong-thinking. Like St. Paul’s in Delray Beach, Woodland Hills Church is made up of people of all political stripes. Beneath the name of the Church on their church sign, it says “Tearing Down Walls.”[8] In Thursday’s Christian segment of God’s Warriors, Christiane Amanpour will profile Pastor Gregory Boyd and Hillside Church in St. Paul’s, Minnesota.
In that same segment, Amanpour will also profile Ron Luce who is the founder of a national teen ministry movement called “Acquire the Fire” and who, as a part of the Acquire the Fire[9] ministry, has created an event that is going around the nation and into Canada and Mexico called “BattleCry!”[10]
Amanpour and her production crew caught up with Ron Luce at a BattleCry event at AT&T Park in San Francisco...Luce is filmed in front of a crowd of 22,000 screaming teenagers and adults shouting out to the crowd, “Whoever speaks up the most gets to shape the culture...I’m looking at a whole army of young people who want to shape the culture...”[11]
Amanpour reports, “BattleCry is made up of …Christian Conservatives armed with their faith and prepared for battle in perhaps the most liberal city in America, ready to fight , what are to them the evils of secular society and pop culture: sex, drugs, violence and pornography on the airwaves, the internet and in video-games.” “They are,” Amanpour states, “God’s Warrior’s for Jesus.”[12] Luce says to that crowd of 22,000, and I am sure to every BattleCry crowd he speaks in front of, “We are hear to stage a reverse rebellion, We are here to rise up, to reject the pop culture and recreate it with the creativity that God has given us.” Luce refers to his opponents in American culture as “Virtual Terrorists.”[13]
Luce’s movement is strong and growing....He has a significant following, and especially among young people....There is a BattleCry website.” Of course, Luce has his opponents, those who see in him a person who is trying to impose a strident Christian agenda and, perhaps even, a Christian theocracy on American society, threatening freedom of speech and freedom of choice.[14]

I intend to watch all three segments of God’s Warriors, confident that it will be important, informative and thought-provoking...Having explored some of the material on the internet, I am already thinking and asking questions....
I find myself challenged by Boyd and Woodland Hills....He urges the church not to be “political,” but what happens when the “political” is profoundly moral, when the “political” issues are about justice, for example, which is a central theological category. Are racism and war and poverty and adequate access to health care for all people merely a matter of politics? Or are they also matters of justice that are of concern to God and that demand the attention and action of God’s people? Is the community of faith and its leaders to stay silent on these vitally important issues?
While I believe that there should be a clear separation of Church and State, and while I agree with author and Sojourner’s Magazine publisher Jim Wallis, that “God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat,”[15] with Wallis, I also believe that people of faith, and especially leaders, have an obligation and responsibility to speak up and make their voices heard on important societal issues. The voices of people of faith need to be heard in the public square.
Having said this I am, nonetheless, challenged by Ron Luce and his BattleCry events…I find myself in agreement with a lot of the concerns that Luce has about our culture and especially, how our culture is preying upon young children and youth. I believe the church has a responsibility to be vocal and to speak out against all of this, and even to take action...Despite this, however, I find Luce’s methods and militaristic rhetoric and imagery inflammatory and his stridency more than a little frightening....
What is to prevent this verbal warfare and militant imagery today, from emerging into real violence and actual civil warfare in years to come? How does our faith tradition guide us in these questions? What does Scripture have to say?

Sadly, today’s Gospel reading isn’t very helpful. "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49) Jesus says at the beginning of today’s Gospel... “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:50-51). Jesus doesn’t stop there, he continues, “From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law"(Luke 12:52-53). It is incendiary language. I wish Jesus hadn’t said it...I wish it weren’t in the Gospel.
The language of today Gospel reading is the language of exaggeration; it is the language of hyperbole used rhetorically to make a point. Jesus is speaking to his disciples and he is speaking with some urgency....His face is turned toward Jerusalem....Jerusalem and the cross (See Luke 9:51)....And he knows that this will be a time of crisis and decision for those who follow him.
As preacher and scholar Fred Craddock has noted in his commentary on this passage in Luke, “Crisis does not mean emergency, but that moment of truth and decision about life....To be placed in the situation of decision is critical, for to turn toward one person or goal or value means to turn away from another....According to these sayings,” Craddock writes, “God is so acting toward the world in Jesus of Nazareth that a crisis is created, that is to say, Jesus is “making a difference,” even within families. Peace in the sense of the status quo is now disrupted....”[16]
Well, okay, but how disrupted is this peace? More important, how are people to behave toward one another in the midst of this disruption?
Words like those spoken in today’s Gospel reading are easily misunderstood, twisted and distorted. Removed from their context, they can be used for evil purposes. Because they are attributed to Jesus, they give license to appalling attitudes and behaviors….We need to be very careful with these words, if we use them at all…. Perhaps, we even need to repudiate them.
They do seem, after all, to contradict other words spoken by Jesus. Think of the Great Commandment, for example “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength, and…love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31). Jesus words in today’s Gospel reading don’t seem to be in the same spirit as his words in the Sermon on the Mount when he says, “You have heard it said, you shall love your neighbors and hate your enemies, but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). How are we to weigh all this? What are we to do with these seemingly inconsistent thoughts and contradictory ideas?
I think the answers to these questions are critically important….The trends of polarization that have been established and continue to be fueled within our nation and within the Christian faith and even the Episcopal Church can only lead to ever increasing anger and deeper bitterness if we are not intentional and deliberate in countering this trend.
To be sure, we all have feelings, we all have opinions, we all have convictions, strong convictions....And I believe that our faith demands us to be clear about these convictions both personally and publicly, both in what we say and in what we do.
Nonetheless, we must never forget that we are all made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). We are called to honor that reality and to honor one another even when we disagree. The mission of the Episcopal Church as stated in The Book of Common Prayer is "to restore all people to unity with God and with each other and in Christ" (BCP Outline of the Faith p. 855).
We must be uncompromising in promoting a radical Gospel of love to a world where hatred and anger and bitter division is too often the norm....As today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrew’s urges, “Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
This past Tuesday, the Church calendar called for the observance of the lesser feast of Jonathan Myrick Daniels. Jonathan Myrick Daniels was a white seminarian enrolled at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[17] In March of 1965 he heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. call for people of all races to join in the civil rights struggle….Jonathan responded by going to Alabama as a non-violent protester in the march on Selma. He was arrested during the demonstration. Soon after the arrest, he and three others, including Ruby Sales, a 17 year old African-American woman, were released and set free alone and in danger.[18]
The group of four started to enter a small grocery store when they were encountered by a man holding a shot-gun who cursed out Ruby Sales, threatening her with the gun…Jonathan pushed her out of the way, just as the man fired the gun….The blast hit Jonathan in the stomach and killed him…It also injured a Roman Catholic priest who was with the group. Ruby Sales was knocked down but not injured by the blast….Today she runs an organization in Washington, D.C. called Spirit House which promotes justice and reconciliation and racial and gender equality.[19]
“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading. The witness of Jonathan Myrick Daniels is a concrete example of how that kind of division can be brought forward with love and courage and in keeping with the Great Commandment to love….To me, Jonathan Myrick Daniels exemplifies what the Christian witness should look like….“Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord,” it says in today’s reading from Hebrews.” That’s what Jonathan Myrick Daniels was doing…..
As I watch Christiane Amanpour’s special, God’s Warriors beginning this Tuesday, I expect to be challenged… I am sure I will struggle with a lot of the images I see and lot of the things I hear…I hope you will watch and struggle too….
But as you watch and are challenged, as you struggle, I also hope you will think with me of people like Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu, of Mother Theresa, Dorothy Day and so many, many others, countless throngs of saints…I hope you will remember that we are indeed surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses; surrounded by those who in their generations all through Christian history had the courage of their convictions, who ran with perseverance the race that was set before them (Hebrews 12:1)…Men and woman who fought the good fight and finished their races (2 Timothy 4:7), never losing their integrity, never compromising with evil, repudiating hatred and violence and never forsaking love. Above all, it is my fervent prayer and hope and longing that we may all be one in their company today and tomorrow and always to the greater honor and glory of God in Christ Jesus.

[1] See God’s Warriors on the CNN Website at
[2] God’s Warriors
[3] God’s Warriors
[4] God’s Warriors
[5] For information about Woodland Hills, visit their website at
[6] See Goodstein, Laurie “Disowning Conservative Politics, Pastor Rattles Flock” New York Times, June 30, 2006 at &partner=rssny
[7] Goodstein
[8] See Woodland Hills Church website at
[9] See “Acquire the Fire” website at
[10] See “BattleCry” website at
[11] God’s Warriors
[12] God’s Warriors
[13] God’s Warriors
[14] God’s Warriors
[15] Wallis, Jim God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco,2005).
[16] Craddock, Fred B Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Luke (Knoxville, John Knox Press, 1990) p. 166
[17] See “Jonathan Myrick Daniels” in Lesser Feasts and Fasts (New York: Church Publishing, 2007)
[18] Lesser Feasts and Fasts
[19] See Spirit House website at

A Sermon Preached in Response to Christopher Hitchens and god is not Great

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Delray Beach, Florida
11 Pentecost - Proper 14 - Year C - August 11/12, 2007
Genesis 15: 1-6; Ps. 33; Hebrews 11:1-3, (4-7), 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Preacher: The Reverend William H. Stokes, Rector

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen... Hebrews 11:1

If you go into a Borders Book Store or a Barnes and Noble, you will, no doubt see, prominently displayed, a book with a yellow dust jacket titled god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.1 Lots of people are reading it. This book is currently number three on The New York Times Best Seller List for non-fiction hardcover books.2
The author of god is Not Great is a Washington D.C. based intellectual and writer named Christopher Hitchens. Christopher Hitchens’s book god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything is a rant against organized religion. It bristles with anger....Let me add, that in many ways I share this anger and that there are many parts of Hitchens’s rant with which I agree. It is clear to me, and I think to us all, that religion can be poisonous and oppressive and even dangerous; history has proven that over and over again.
Still, in the end, while I have some sympathy with a lot of his critique of religion and some empathy with his anger about many of the things that are done by and in the name of religion, I found Hitchens’s book philosophically weak and intellectually unsatisfying.
To begin with, he spends very little time in his book actually wrestling with the question of God per se. When he does attempt to address the question and matter of the existence of God, he assumes only the most primitive and simplistic arguments so that he can easily dismiss them.3
Generally he has written a lampoon, which caricatures believers and their beliefs. When he comes across religious figures for whom he has some admiration, such as the 14th century theologian William of Ockham,4 German pastor Deitrich Bonhoeffer5 or American preacher and Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.6 he crudely twists and turns their lives in an attempt to separate the people and their actions from the faith and beliefs which animated them....It is a clear exercise in reductionism.
At other times he simply takes cheap shots, as he does, for example with Mother Theresa, whom he skewers for taking a trip to Ireland to oppose that nation’s consideration of amending the divorce law while neglecting to say anything at all about her work with the world’s poorest of the poor.
In his book, Hitchens makes many arguments. For example, he argues that "religious faith wholly misrepresents the origin of man and the cosmos…”7 When, in his intellectual “trash talking” Hitchens makes the sweeping statement that religious faith, “wholly misrepresents the origin of man and the cosmos,”8 we need to ask what he means? Is he lumping together the creation myths of all the world’s religions and just dismissing them? Is he speaking specifically of the creation myth in the early chapters of Genesis?
If he is dismissing the creation myths of all of the world’s religions, is he being so literal in his approach that he is blind to the truths they attempt to convey through story? If he is referring specifically to the first chapter of Genesis, in what ways does he feel this misrepresents the origin of man and the cosmos? How does he read it?
I understand the opening of Genesis to be a poetic story told to assert a theological truth: a truth which holds that at one time there was chaos and disorder in the universe; that out of this chaos and disorder was brought order and behind this order there is an Orderer who people of faith refer to as God.
Hitchens says of himself and his co-thinkers, “Our belief is not belief. Our principles are not faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason.”9 There are a lot of flaws in his argument....To begin with, despite his protests to the contrary, he does uphold science as an object of faith and he assumes that science is capable of absolute objectivity. This is problematic.
A couple of years ago, I went to The National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. They were running a special exhibit about the collusion of science and medicine and the Nazi’s final solution to exterminate the Jews. Throughout the exhibit, countless examples were given of the scientific and medical community’s use of science to prove the superiority of the Aryan race and the inferiority of the Jews to justify the Jewish extermination.10
I celebrate science.....I believe God gave us brains and calls upon us to use them but, as with all forms of human knowing and knowledge, science and scientific knowledge has its limits. When it fails to acknowledge this, and when society fails to acknowledge this, science can be dangerous, just as religion can be dangerous. Let’s face it, religion may have declared the Crusade, but it was science that invented the nuclear missile.
Yes, there are Christians, lots of Christians, who are absolute literalists about the Bible and believe that the Genesis account is a factual, historical account of what happened at the origin of the universe. I am not one of them. I can both read Genesis for the truths it offers and also accept the Big Bang Theory of the Origins of the Universe and also Darwin and his theory of evolution and be open to all forms of knowledge and knowing, scientific and artistic. As one of our Episcopal Church ads once stated, “there’s a difference between being baptized and brainwashed!”11
It is my conviction that religion is about the pursuit of truths and truth – absolute truth....One problem for Hitchens and anyone who holds a similar position, is that they cannot definitely account for what is behind all that is....What is the absolute cause?.... To them, it has all happened by chance. There is no cause or design or purpose....Though it is of a different type, it takes an enormous amount of faith to uphold and sustain this belief.
Attempting to characterize the position he and his co-thinkers hold, Hitchens writes, “We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.”12
It is striking to me that Hitchens cannot hear his own internal contradictions. He respects free inquiry, open-mindeness and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake, but his respect and openness is qualified....It ends at respect and open-mindedness where religion and religious inquiry are concerned.
In his younger years, Hitchens was strongly influenced by the thinking of Karl Marx and aspects of this show throughout his book.13 When I was in college I took a course in modern philosophy and read a lot of Karl Marx’s work. A short, but very memorable article of Marx’s that I remember reading was one he titled, “For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing.”
In this article, written in 1844, Marx was trying to imagine a new future for European society. He wrote that current intellectuals did not have any idea what the new future should be. In Marx’s words, the advantage of the new trend was “that we do not attempt dogmatically to prefigure the future, but want to find the new world only through criticism of the old....a ruthless criticism of everything existing, and that this criticism would be ruthless in two senses - that it must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of conflict with the powers that be.”14
Marx’s thought here is really quite intriguing but, as history has proved, and especially with respect to Marx and Marxism: it is much easier to criticize and tear down, than it is to propose and build up.
The same holds true for Hitchens. It is easy to offer a ruthless criticism of religion and attack it; it is much more difficult to propose a framework for values and understanding and build a civilization on it.
After Hitchens has a 275 page temper tantrum, he gets to his last chapter which is 7 pages long in which he proposes his solution to the problem of the “poison of religion.” In this last chapter Hitchens calls upon human beings to choose “doubt and experiment, skepticism and inquiry” over “faith and dogma” Again, I find myself puzzled at his need to understand these ideas and concepts as exclusive of one another.
Traditional religions are communities of revelation....That is, it is our belief that God has revealed God at particular times and places to and through particular people and events. In these particular times, places, people and events we believe sacred and timeless truths have been revealed. But these revelations have never been understood as frozen and static. Moreover, the timeless truths of the infinite God have been revealed to very finite human beings.
Theology has, as a consequence, always been a living and on-going conversation and argument. Often, the best and most lively thinking about the nature of God have come when we have questioned and doubted old assumptions and been led to a new understanding about the nature of God and the nature of God’s creation. Our reading of the Scriptures today has been richly informed by a spirit of skepticism and inquiry that have led us to see the old texts in new ways.
In his 7 page grand summary, which makes up the final chapter of the book, Hitchens calls for “a renewed Enlightenment” which will base itself “on the proposition that the proper study of mankind is man and woman?”15 It calls for, “The pursuit of unfettered scientific inquiry, and the availability of new findings to masses of people by easy electronic means, will revolutionize our concepts of research and development.”16
“Very importantly,” he writes, “the divorce between the sexual life and fear, and the sexual life and disease, and the sexual life and tyranny, can now at last be attempted, on the sole condition that we banish all religions from the discourse”17 and here we discover both that Hitchens is not for openness and free inquiry at all, and we also discover that his primary problem with religion has been with its attitudes toward sex! How Freudian!
He concludes his book with these words, “Only the most naive utopian can believe that this new humane civilization will develop like some dream of ‘progress,’ in a straight line. We have first to transcend our prehistory, and escape the gnarled hands which reach out to drag us back to the catacombs and the reeking altars and the guilty pleasures of subjection and abjection. ‘Know yourself,’ said the Greeks, gently suggesting the consolations of philosophy.”18
And in the last sentence of the book, Hitchens writes, “To clear the mind for this project, it has become necessary to know the enemy and to prepare to fight it.”19 In these last angry and inflammatory words Hitchens betrays that he is as narrow minded and dangerous as any religious ideologue he criticizes and this, I think, is regrettable. I think it is regrettable because, as I indicated earlier, I am sympathetic with a lot of what Hitchens has to say and with a lot of his critique of the world’s religious....I believe religious extremism or fundamentalism in any form - Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist – is dangerous and oppressive. I feel threatened by any person or groups - religious or not – who claim they have an absolute corner on truth.
Again, I am thankful that I am part of a church, the Episcopal Church, that is open-minded and upholds scientific knowledge and free inquiry. The late Paul Moore, former bishop of New York and one of my heroes in the faith, once described the Episcopal Church as a “catholic church in love with freedom.”20 It is an apt description and one I completely agree with.... It is also why I am saddened by those who are working now to undermine our openness and freedom...
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to those around him, “Do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). In Jesus’ preaching, the kingdom is the realization of God’s purpose, of God’s hopes and dreams for creation and the kingdom is intended to be realized in this world.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we constantly pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It is a prayer that God’s hopes and dreams might be realized by us in our world today and with our participation in helping to bring it about.....We are not there yet....And as Christopher Hitchens and many others make clear, religions and the religious are too often a part of the problem rather than the solution.....
Nonetheless, human beings are religious by nature....Religions are not man-made as Hitchens mistakenly argues21 ....While the form of religions have been shaped and constructed by human beings, religions are first and foremost a human response to the holy, to the divine....They are a human response to revelation, the revelation of Truth - upper case “T”....They are a response to that ineffable mystery we call God, whom we can only know because God stirs in us a desire to know him.
Following Freud, Hitchens reduces this to mere “wish thinking and projection”22 and perhaps he is right, but this dismisses the experience of hundred of millions of people over thousands of years. And how is he so certain that all of this does not have an external source or cause by design? Hitchens conclusions require a leap.....
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1) it says in today’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews. How true this is....It is often not easy to see signs of the kingdom in our world...our world which so often seems threatening and dangerous....We need to hear Jesus words over and over again, “Do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). More important, we need to work with God to bring help bring the kingdom, the peaceable kingdom, the kingdom of love, about.....It is not easy work....
Like Abraham of old, God calls us to journey together to a place we long for but do not know (See Hebrews 11:8)...We are not yet there and so we obey and continue to journey because a promise has been planted in our hearts and a longing in our souls....We desire a better country (Hebrews 11:16), a better world....We yearn for that state of existence promised as our inheritance...the heavenly city that God has prepared for us and for all people....We yearn for the kingdom, that it is God’s good pleasure to give us, if we will only continue to have faith and the will to persevere and see the journey through.....

1. Hitchens, Christopher god is not Great: How Religions Poison Everything (Boston and New York: Twelve Books – Hachette Book Groups, 2007)
2. See Best-Sellers – Non-Fiction in The New York Times Book Review- August 12, 2007
3. Chapter Six, “Arguments from Design” provides an array of examples of Hitchens addressing only the most simplistic silliness, but failing to grapple with serious contemporary systematic theologians such as Karl Rahner, David Tracy or Paul Tillich to name a few. Hitchens also fails to acknowledge that critical approaches to the Scriptures are a part of mainstream Judaism and Christianity and that the “historical-critical method” is taught as normative in today’s mainline seminaries.
4. See Hitchens pp. 68-71, 85-87 – Hitchens adapts “Ockham’s Razor” for his own purposes even as he diminishes Ockham’s own Christian faith and beliefs. Even though Ockham opposed the Avignon papacy, he was a faithful Franciscan throughout his life and was first and foremost a “theologian” which would necessarily puts him in opposition to Hitchens’ thinking.
5. See Hitchens p. 7 and 241. Here, in a clear display of arrogance, Hitchens dismisses Bonhoeffer’s Christian faith and understanding of “costly grace” and reduces his actions as something that was only in accordance with “the dictates of conscience” (see page 241).
6. See Hitchens, pp. 173-176,179-184. Hitchens where after his own peculiar summary of the New Testament, Hitchens declares of King that “In no real, as opposed to nominal sense…was he a Christian” (p. 176). In instances where he approves of a Christian for their actions, Hitchens separates the person’s actions from their Christian faith. This is clearly convenient for his argument but misrepresents both the individuals and presents an extremely prejudiced view of the Christian faith and other faiths.
7. Hitchens p. 4
8. Hitchens p. 4
9. Hitchens p. 5
10. The exhibit was titled “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race” – An on-line version of the exhibit can be found at
11. This ad was developed by the Church-Ad Project in Green Bay, Wisconsin
12. Hitchens p. 5
13. See Hitchens p. 151 - 152
14. Marx, Karl “For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing” in The Marx-Engels Reader 2nd Edition ed. Robert Tucker (New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1978) pp.12-15.
15. Hitchens p. 283
16. Hitchens p. 283
17. Hitchens p. 283
18. Hitchens p. 283
19. Hitchens p. 283
20. Moore is quoted saying this in a two-part video “The Story of the Episcopal Church.”
21. Hitchens p. 54
22. See Hitchens p. 4

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Response to Draft Anglican Covenant

Responses Offered by the Executive Board and
Clergy and Lay Deputations to General Convention
of the Diocese of Southeast Florida
to Questions contained in A Short Study Guide
to Aid the Episcopal Church in Responding to the Draft Anglican Covenant
as Prepared by the Covenant Design Group

The following responses are made in reference to the Draft Anglican Covenant which can be found at

(1) Do you think an Anglican Covenant is necessary and/or will help to strengthen the interdependent life of the Anglican Communion?

There is no easy answer to this question. On one level, the current crisis in the Anglican Communion seems to demand an Anglican Covenant if the Communion, as it currently is ordered, is to hold. On the other hand, the order of the Communion is in many ways only “apparent” and is, in any event, already ruptured.

The documents that have emerged from the Instruments of Communion, and above all from the Primates, have displayed a clear bias, placing blame for this rupture on The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. While this placing of blame is, in some ways, understandable, this rupture has come as a consequence of actions by many, not just the actions of The Episcopal Church regarding the treatment of gay and lesbian persons.

The Communion at large has failed to acknowledge that the treatment of gay and lesbian persons in the church is a justice concern for a significant number of Episcopalians and Anglicans. As such, it is a central theological issue for consideration for all Anglicans. It is unlikely that an Anglican Covenant which ignores the just treatment of human beings will be acceptable to the sizable minority of Anglicans for whom justice is a central Biblical demand.

Beyond this, an Anglican Covenant that is imposed by a determined majority at the expense of a concerned minority can only be viewed as a mechanism of coercion and oppression. This is especially true for a Covenant that contains mechanisms to effect this oppression.

At present, it does not seem likely that a majority in the Communion is willing to honor the dissent of the sizable minority that favors acceptance of gay and lesbian persons into the full life of the Church. Therefore, for this minority, an Anglican Covenant would seem to be primarily a means of manipulation and control.

The dangers of a Covenant were articulated with clarity in Section 5 of the March 2006 Joint Standing Committee Report “Towards an Anglican Covenant.” These dangers included: (a) concern that a covenant might alter the Communion to a narrow confessional family; (b) agreement to the covenant might become a test of authentic membership in the Communion; (c) a covenant might establish a bureaucratic and legalistic foundation at the heart of the Communion; (d) a covenant might put at risk inspired and prophetic initiatives in God’s mission or threaten Anglican comprehensiveness; (e) the Communion might become a centralized jurisdiction; and (f) the covenant might be too detailed and thereby become restrictive or inflexible to meet future challenges.

It is noteworthy, that neither the JSC Report nor the Report of the Covenant Design Group (including the Introduction and the Draft Covenant) directly addresses any of the dangers expressed in the JSC Report. These dangers remain worthy of consideration and should be addressed fully. Many of our comments address some of these dangers.

In order for an Anglican Covenant to enhance the interdependent life of the Communion, the Covenant will have to be permeated (in all its Sections) by a recognition and respect for the different historical and cultural contexts in which each of the churches of the Communion exist and from which each arose. The Preamble to the Draft Covenant makes a mere gesture towards this recognition (“proclaim more effectively in our different contexts the Grace of God revealed in the Gospel”), but the remainder of the Draft Covenant is silent on this crucial component to the health and functioning of the Communion. Respect among all the churches of the Communion for the differing contexts of the other churches is part of the bedrock upon which the Communion can develop healthy and spirited cooperation and interdependence.

The Episcopal Church, because of our own particular historical and cultural contexts, has come to its particular understanding of the Biblical imperative of justice for all persons. This understanding is different from the understandings of some of the other churches of the Communion. Mutual respect by all churches of the Communion for these contexts and understandings is critical to developing a workable Covenant. The current Draft is not grounded on and does not reflect this essential mutual respect.

(2) How closely does this view of communion [in the Introduction to the Draft Text] accord with your understanding of the development and vocation of the Anglican Communion?

The Introduction to a Draft Text for an Anglican Covenant presents a series of broad statements that, on the surface, appear acceptable. Most compelling are those that emphasize the nature of communion as “gift” and “calling.” Among the special gifts and charisms that have historically marked Anglicanism are its broadness and longstanding ability to accept and manage differences and diversity while maintaining unity of mission and ministry.

It is disturbing, therefore, that the Draft Covenant would compromise these gifts and charisms by acceding to pressures from those that seek to centralize authority in the person of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates’ Meeting. This centralization would be unprecedented in the history of the Communion.

The need for “discipline” in the Communion is identified in this Introduction, and no doubt discipline is important. “Discipline” can easily become, however, a tool of repression and oppression. The Episcopal Church is seen by some in the Communion as “breaking discipline.” On the other hand, The Episcopal Church believes that it has taken its steps in response to both the Biblical demands of justice and its conviction that gay and lesbian persons are created in the imago Dei and are full members of the body of Christ whose dignity we are called to respect. Accordingly, The Episcopal Church must also ask how the implementation of “discipline” in an Anglican Covenant will promote Biblical justice so that gay and lesbian persons will no longer be degraded and treated with contempt – as they are in so many parts of the Communion.

The Introduction states that “we covenant together as churches of this Anglican Communion to be faithful to God’s promises through the historic faith we confess, the way we live together and the focus of our mission.” The current disputes within the Communion raise genuine questions concerning the “historic faith we confess.”

Different parts of the Communion have strong disagreements about the “essentials of the faith” and about “core doctrines.” To some extent, these differences in understanding arise from the different historical and cultural contexts in which the churches of Communion developed and presently exist. It will not be productive to pretend these differences are not genuine by using phrases such as “the historic faith we confess.” The use of these phrases allows some in the Communion to argue that “the historic faith” means only their understandings and positions.

The harm of pretending that differences do not exist also applies to the statement made in the Introduction that “Our faith embodies a coherent testimony to what we have received from God’s Word and the Church’s long-standing witness.” To what are the authors of this statement referring? Are they making this statement about the Church’s historic position with respect to homosexuality? Does this statement shut the door on the listening process demanded by Lambeth 1.10? It certainly appears to.

(3) Is this [The Preamble of an Anglican Covenant Draft] a sufficient preamble for entering a Covenant? Why or why not?

The statement that this solemn Covenant is made in part to “proclaim more effectively in our different contexts the Grace of God revealed in the Gospel” raises questions about the meaning of the word “effectiveness.” How will such a Covenant contribute to effectiveness? Who determines the definition or criteria of effectiveness? Does “effectiveness” mean the same thing in the United States as it does in Nigeria? Certainly, The Episcopal Church believes that its core value of “inclusiveness” is a central means by which it “offers God’s love in responding to the needs of the world.” It is precisely this value, however, that has forced a crisis within the Communion. For many in The Episcopal Church, the words of the Preamble ring hollow.

It is also disturbing to note that, while emphasizing the importance of maintaining the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” the Preamble, as with all the documents that have emerged out of the present crisis, makes no mention of the Church’s obligation to “do justice.” The consistent failure to include the pursuit of justice as a significant theological and missiological concern of the Church seriously impairs the Preamble and the Draft Anglican Covenant. To paraphrase St. Augustine, without justice, there can be no real unity of the Communion.

As noted in the Response to Question 1, the Preamble is the only part of the Draft Anglican Covenant that even alludes to “different contexts.” We regard the recognition and respect for different contexts to be one of the central charisms of the Anglican Communion. To the extent the Draft Anglican Covenant gives only lip service to the reality and impact of these different contexts for living out the Gospel in the 21st Century, the Draft Covenant will remain fatally flawed.

(4) Do these six affirmations [in “The Life We Share”] adequately describe The Episcopal Church’s understanding of “common catholicity, apostolicity, and confession of faith”? Why or why not?

Insofar as Section 2, Items (1) through (4) restate the essentials of the faith in broad and general terms, they appear to be adequate descriptions of the “common catholicity, apostolicity and confession” of the faith from an Episcopal and Anglican perspective. Item (2) emphasizes that it is “the faith” which is “uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures.” Is there an accepted definition within the Communion regarding the content of “the faith”? Does “the faith” refer solely to faith in the Triune God and in Jesus Christ as the Second Person of that Trinity? Or is the intention of Item (2) to expand the scope of the “professed faith” beyond these core essentials held by all faithful Christians to other areas about which there is disagreement (e.g. matters of church governance and structure)?

If the statement goes beyond the most basic theological declarations, it is unacceptable. While the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament do contain all things necessary to salvation, critical approaches to Holy Scripture has taught many within the wider Communion that not all things contained within Scripture’s pages “pertaineth to salvation.”

Item (2) also fails to acknowledge that the context in which each church in the Communion arose and exists also affects the way persons in these churches approach and interpret Holy Scripture. This, in turn, has an impact on their understanding of the content of “the faith” as revealed in Scripture.

(5) The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (of the Church of England) are not currently authoritative documents for The Episcopal Church. Do you think they should be? Why or why not?

The statement “led by the Holy Spirit, it [i.e. each member Church, and the Communion] has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons,” is factually untrue and inappropriate for a Communion-wide Covenant.

While the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer may have been authoritative for the Church of England on American soil prior to the American Revolutionary War, they were never authoritative for the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States. Instead, in the post-Revolutionary War period, The Episcopal Church authorized a Constitutional Convention that developed its own Prayer Book (1789). This Prayer Book was influenced not only by the 1662 Book, but also by the Scottish Rites. It contained American Articles of Religion that modified the English Articles of Religion. Moreover, the “truthfulness” of several of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion is debatable (e.g. Articles VII, XIII, XVII, XVIII, XX, XXIX, and XXXIII). The validity of several of the Articles has been a subject of debate and doubt in The Episcopal Church since its inception. At no time were American clergy required to subscribe to them.

Asserting that the member Churches were “led by the Spirit” in developing flawed or false Articles of Religion is a serious problem that reflects a significant theological chasm between the drafters of the Draft Covenant and The Episcopal Church. If the truthfulness of the Thirty-nine Articles cannot be fully upheld today (and it cannot), then it follows that there never was a time when they were “true,” even if there are those who assert otherwise. Item (5) reflects a significant difference among the churches of the Communion in terms of their respective historical and cultural contexts, and it should be deleted in full.

If it is deemed necessary to cover this point in some way in the Covenant, language from Resolution 11, clause (d) of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral could be substituted in Item (5) by deleting the words “the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer” and inserting the words “the Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of God’s Church” in its place.

(6) Is each of the commitments [Section 3 of An Anglican Covenant Draft] clear and understandable with respect to what is being asked of the member churches and are they consistent with statements and actions made by the Episcopal Church in the General Convention? Why or why not?

6. Section 3 of An Anglican Draft Covenant is problematic on several counts.

The statement in Item (1) that the Church commits itself to “uphold and act in continuity and consistency with the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition, biblically derived moral values and the vision of humanity received by and developed in the communion of member churches” wrongly assumes universal agreement about the meaning of each of these terms. The current crisis within the Communion has occurred precisely because there is strong disagreement about the content of “biblically derived moral values and the vision of humanity received by and developed in the communion of member Churches.” Because this disagreement already exists, the attempt to resolve these disagreements by adopting language that assumes that there is agreement is specious, intellectually dishonest, and harmful to the process of developing true communion.

While Item (2) represents an ideal, realization of that ideal was compromised years ago when some parts of the Communion ordained women and other parts of the Communion declared a state of “impaired communion.” This raises the question: is the intent of Item (2) to encourage greater grace and wider latitude on the part of member churches in welcoming to the Lord’s Table those with whom they are in disagreement? Or is the intent to impose more restrictive practices and reduce inclusion by member churches so that only those who are in full agreement on all matters are welcome to share in Eucharistic communion? The words “in accordance with the canonical discipline of that host church” perpetuate and underscore the problem. An Anglican Covenant should state without equivocation that members in good standing of all signing churches are in full communion with one another and that all members of those signing churches are welcome to Eucharistic communion in other member churches. Anything less than this full welcome to Christ’s table seriously undermines the purposes of the Anglican Covenant.

Item (3), like many other parts of the Draft Covenant, assumes a level of common agreement and acceptance of terms which simply does not exist. Who, for example, determines that biblical texts are being “handled faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively and coherently?” Members of The Episcopal Church who supported the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire and advocate for greater inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the church have adopted these positions as a response to their “faithful, respectful, comprehensive and coherent” handling of Holy Scripture. On what basis and by whom will they be challenged? How does the Covenant decide who will arbitrate among conflicting “faithful, respectful, comprehensive and coherent” readings of Holy Scripture? Is it really necessary to have this kind of arbitration in order to fulfill the goals of communion? How are different historical and cultural contexts to be evaluated in determining whether an understanding of Scripture is to be respected by other churches in the Communion? How will differences among bishops and synods be resolved?

As Episcopalians, we have good reason to suspect the capacity of the Primates to be fair adjudicators of these issues because they each come from their own particular cultural contexts and many of them have made individual and collective public statements concerning these matters. Their pre-determinations of the issues have been evident throughout the current crisis.

The Episcopal Church certainly believes that “scriptural revelation must continue to illuminate, challenge and transform cultures, structures and ways of thinking.” It is these very things that led The Episcopal Church to consent to Bishop Robinson’s consecration and to greater acceptance of gay and lesbian persons in the life of the Church. The Episcopal Church’s decisions also represent our own fulfillment of Item (4), which states that each Church participating in the Covenant agrees to “nurture and respond to prophetic and faithful leadership and ministry to assist our Churches as courageous witnesses to the transformative power of the Gospel in the world.”

Similarly, as expressed in Item (5), The Episcopal Church is open to “a common pilgrimage to discern truth.” Unfortunately, some others in different parts of the Communion have not been willing to accept the fact that The Episcopal Church is also seeking an understanding of “prophetic and faithful leadership” and truth.

The Draft Covenant presents no fair or just way to resolve this dissonance and these competing claims to truth. It is not fair and just for the Covenant to provide that the only appeal in times of disagreement is to particular parts of the Instruments of Communion (i.e. the Primates’ Meeting) whose majority position on these matters is already known and with which The Episcopal Church is already at odds.

(7) Is the mission vision offered here [Section 4, “The Life We Share”] helpful in advancing a common life of the Anglican Communion and does this need to be a part of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?

Section 4 presents an excellent vision for the Communion that might easily be agreed to by all member churches. There could, in fact, be great benefit in proposing Section 4, with slight modifications, to be the substance of the entire Anglican Covenant.

(8) Does this section [Section 5, “Our Unity and Common Life”] adequately describe your understanding of the history and respective roles of the “Four Instruments of the Communion”? Why or why not?

Generally speaking, this Section adequately expresses the history and respective roles of the “Four Instruments of the Communion.” The statement that the member churches of the Anglican Communion are bound together “not juridically by a central legislative of executive authority, but by the Holy Spirit who calls and enables us to live in mutual loyalty and service” is accepted by The Episcopal Church, but does not appear to be given credence by significant portions of the Communion. Some others in the Communion have shown a distinct lack of trust that the members of The Episcopal Church (and especially those who participated in the General Conventions of 2003 and 2006) are faithful disciples of Christ who were acting prayerfully and in good faith under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Most of the Section’s description of the Primates’ Meeting appears acceptable, particularly the parts about assembling for mutual support and counsel and monitoring global developments. We have concerns, however, about the implications of the phrase “works in full collaboration in doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters that have Communion-wide implications.” If this is understood that the Primates will discuss these issues in a collaborative manner, this is consistent with the historic role of the Primates’ Meeting. We fear, however, that the phrase amounts to an attempt to codify, institutionalize, and give approval to the recent attempts of the Primates’ Meeting to arrogate power to itself and to exercise a conciliar authority that is unprecedented in the Communion’s history. This seizure of power and unprecedented use of authority represents a danger to the historic freedom of the member churches of the Anglican Communion and their heretofore accepted autonomy. The language of “collaboration” in doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters is belied by the evidence of recent experience. Some of the Primates are clearly attempting to exercise power and control over other Primates and their churches. This hardly represents “full collaboration.”

(9) Do you think there needs to be an executive or judicial body for resolving disagreements or disputes within the Anglican Communion? If so, do you think it should be the Primates’ Meeting as recommended by the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?

Unless the Communion were to adopt a constitution and canons acceptable and agreed to by all parts of the Communion, it makes little sense to establish an “executive body” or a “juridical body” to resolve disagreements or disputes. The proposal in Section 6 (5) can only have the effect of exacerbating already existing problems. Allowing the Primates’ Meeting to serve in the capacity of arbiter of “matters in serious dispute among churches” contradicts and undermines the historic democratic polity and structures of The Episcopal Church.

A juridical structure and mechanism as proposed in Section 6 (5) does not insure that there will be respect for the many and varied ways that churches of the Communion “proclaim in our different contexts the Grace of God revealed in the Gospel.” [Preamble]

As our House of Bishops stated in response to the Dar es Salaam Communiqué about the imposition of a Primatial Vicar upon the Episcopal Church, the establishment of such an executive or juridical body “is a very serious departure from our English Reformation heritage. It abandons the generous orthodoxy of our Prayer Book tradition. It sacrifices the emancipation of the laity for the exclusive leadership of high-ranking Bishops. And, for the first time since our separation from the papacy in the 16th century, it replaces the local governance of the Church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates” (See “Bishops’ Mind of the House Resolutions” and the accompanying “Communication to the Episcopal Church from the March 2007 Meeting of the House of Bishops.”)

There is no current provision in the Covenant for “checks and balances” in such a scheme and there is no mechanism for protecting the rights and dignity of oppressed faithful minorities within the church from the excesses of an overly-zealous faithful majority.

Section 6 also employs language that is both in dispute and is highly problematic. The churches of the Communion are, for example, not of one mind about “essential matters of common concern.” Again, it is the discord over matters of common concern that is at the heart of the current crisis. How reasonable is it for the proponents of the Draft Covenant to expect approval and acceptance of a Covenant that relies heavily on language that glosses over unresolved conflicts?

If one of the member churches of the Communion acts in ways that it faithfully believes promotes Biblical justice, how will the “common good” of the church and the Communion be determined (and by whom) if these actions are seen as contrary to the accepted “essentials” of other member churches that have different historical and cultural contexts?

With respect to matters of “openness and patience in matters of theological debate and discernment,” Section 6 (2) accepts the “myth of time” which the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, defined in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” as “the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills.” As King observed, “Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively.” In that same letter, Dr. King also recognized that “people of ill will have often used time more effectively than people of good will.” We should reject the portions of the Draft Covenant that establish a false or superficial unity at the expense of the demands of Biblical justice as faithfully understood in the historical context of The Episcopal Church.

Section 6, Item (5) proposes that the churches submit to structures of authority which have not been democratically selected by the member churches. There is no constitutional or canonical structure or basis of appeal in the proposed system. The Primates’ Meeting has already made evident its intention is to go beyond merely offering of “guidance and direction.” Instead, the demands from Dar es Salaam to The Episcopal Church amount to a raw exercise of power and authority. The Primates’ present arrogation of power already presents a serious challenge to the historical unity of the Communion and its bonds of affection.

Section (6), Item (6) is also a problem unless there is a previously agreed to constitution and canons for the entire Communion. The lack of checks and balances and the absence of mechanisms to protect faithful dissenting minorities both lend themselves to serious potential for the abuse of power and authority.

(10) What does the phrase “a common mind about matters of essential concern” mean to you?

The persistent use of vague and undefined phrases throughout the Draft Anglican Covenant is a significant flaw that erodes its credibility and undermines its potential usefulness. Indeed, the suggestion that there is a “common mind” for 38 churches around the world is not realistic either as a description or as a goal. Each church has its own historic and cultural context in which the Grace of God is active, particularly in those matters that involve the mystery of persons. Similarly, it is not at all clear that the churches of the Communion could agree on what constitutes “matters of essential concern.” The Episcopal Church has been diligent in not seeking to impose its understandings on others, and instead seeks to work by example. The Episcopal Church deserves the same respect from the other member churches of the Communion to live out our historic faith as it evolves in The Episcopal Church.

(11) Can you affirm the “fundamental shape” of the Draft Covenant? Why or why not?

In its effort to be comprehensive, the Draft Covenant is too long for the purpose it is intended to serve. There is nothing, however, about its “fundamental shape” that cannot be affirmed as long as “fundamental shape” refers solely to the document’s organization and flow. If “fundamental shape” refers to content in any way, then the Draft Covenant’s “fundamental shape” cannot be affirmed. The Draft Covenant is vague and imprecise. It includes presuppositions that are not agreed upon and makes faulty assumptions as bases on which to build the Covenant. As a result, the Draft Covenant can only result in damage to the member churches, their relationships with each other, and damage to the wider Communion.

(12) What do you think are the consequences of signing such a Covenant as proposed in the Draft?

The most significant consequence of signing such a Draft Covenant would be an Anglican Communion characterized by a narrow and centralized conciliar form of government presided over by an un-elected Archbishop of Canterbury and a curia of unaccountable prelates. For The Episcopal Church, signing such a document would compromise a lively democratic church in which governance is shared by all the baptized – laity, bishops, priests and deacons. Instead, we would have a more hierarchical church required to follow the dictates of a group of Primates, many of whom are accustomed to autocratic governance with little accountability to others.

The Episcopal Church is democratic, and is also catholic and apostolic. As such, it is a gift to the wider church, not just within the Communion, but beyond. Signing the Draft Anglican Covenant and living into its undemocratic polity would mar the vibrancy of The Episcopal Church beyond recognition.
The Draft Anglican Covenant assumes agreement about much that is currently unresolved. As a result, the outcomes to signing such a Covenant include: (a) full capitulation by The Episcopal Church on positions it holds dear and over which it has wrestled, debated and prayed for decades; (b) loss of its special and particular identity; and (c) subjecting The Episcopal Church to the “guidance and direction” of parts of the Instruments of Communion whose positions are already clearly stated and widely known. For The Episcopal Church, the predictable consequences would include the erosion of the human dignity (and place) of gay and lesbian persons in the Church and in society throughout the world. Given previous resolutions by General Convection, these outcomes are unacceptable.

(13) Having read the Draft Covenant as a whole, do you agree with the CDG’s assertion that “nothing which is commended in the draft text of the Covenant can be said to be “new”? Why or why not?

The statement by the CDG that “nothing which is commended in the draft text of the Covenant can be said to be new” is manifestly false. Indeed, developing a formal Covenant that attempts to hold together formally what has heretofore been an informal communion of people of good will united by love and affection is (in and of itself) altogether new. The Draft Covenant proposes an architecture of governance for the Anglican Communion and a centralization of authority with disciplinary power. This is unprecedented in the history of both The Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion. The Draft Covenant gives to the Primates’ Meeting authority that can only be described as “curial.” This is clearly “new.”

(14) In general, what is your response to the Draft Covenant taken as a whole? What is helpful in the draft? What is not helpful? What is missing? Additional comments?

Our general response to the Draft is negative. The Draft repeatedly assumes agreement to terms and understandings across the Communion where there is little or no agreement and great misunderstanding. Upon this weak foundation, the drafters build an architecture for the Communion that includes mechanisms for member churches to be disciplined. Within the Communion, there is no constitutionally- established body legitimately empowered to exercise and enforce this discipline, nor any agreed-to canons that establish a common set of understandings or uniform practices. Moreover, there is no system of “checks and balances” and no means to protect the decisions and actions of a faithful minority from the whims and excesses of a determined majority.

Given these architectural weaknesses, the Draft Covenant creates the possibility for capriciousness and the abuse of power, especially by those Primates of the Communion who have already shown themselves capable of excessive use of power across national boundaries.
The Draft Anglican Covenant is helpful insofar as it articulates the concept of communion as “gift” and “mission shared.” Section 4 (“The Life We Share with Others: Our Anglican Vocation”) was especially helpful and could easily become the basis for the Covenant as a whole.

Missing from the draft document is any real consideration of the place of “justice” in the life of the Church and how to protect the “marginalized” and “weak” whom Jesus clearly called the church to serve. The Draft Covenant states that each church commits itself to “nurture and respond to prophetic and faithful leadership and ministry to assist our Churches as courageous witnesses to the transformative power of the Gospel in the world.” It is ironic that The Episcopal Church has been vilified and condemned by many of the Primates for doing these very things.

Parts of the wider Communion, and some of the Primates, have acted toward The Episcopal Church in ways that are oppressive and repressive. They seek to force The Episcopal Church to stop its efforts to include all persons fully and its opposition to the maintenance of an unjust status quo. Allowing the human dignity of gay and lesbian persons to be diminished would clearly contradict the letter and spirit of Section 3, Item (4) of the Draft Covenant.

Additional comments

If the Covenant were limited to Section 4 of the Draft, it could be completed in the near term.

If, however, the covenant is to contain mechanisms for discipline and dispute resolution, a covenant drafted in a few months will not be sufficient to formalize the relationships of the member churches of the Anglican Communion with credibility and coherence.

Such a covenant would require a more rigorous worldwide process to develop a constitution and canons that can be agreed to by all the member churches. The constitution and canons would contain a common statement of the faith as understood and accepted by all members and would build an architecture of communion governance based on that common statement of faith. This architecture of church governance would have to include canons accepted by all member churches; executive, legislative and judicial bodies that have the consent of the governed to perform their duties; and mechanisms to protect the weak and to guard prophetic voices and faithful minorities from the excesses of tyrannical majority.


Recognizing the inherent weaknesses and serious flaws of the Draft Anglican Covenant as presented, and believing that adoption of this Covenant poses a serious risk to the polity, governance, effectiveness and witness of The Episcopal Church, we, the Members of Executive Board and Deputies to General Convention of the Diocese of Southeast Florida, strongly urge that no body or governing structure of The Episcopal Church be party to this Covenant, or accept or sign the current Draft Anglican Covenant.

Executive Board of the Diocese of Southeast Florida

These Responses are submitted on behalf of 27 of the 30 members of the Executive Board as follows: The Rev. Fritz Bazin, Mercedes Busto, Alan Campbell, Doug Dozier, The Rev. Christina Encinosa, The Rev. Matthew Faulstich, Liz Hallford Ward, Arnett Hepburn, Bill Hess, Tom Huston, The Rev. Ron Johnson, Harry McDaniel, John Meade, Juanita Miller, Thomas G. O’Brien III, John Oeler, Carol O’Neill, The Rev. Bernard Pecaro, The Rev. Jennie Lou Reid, The Rev. Andrew Sherman, The Rev. Lloyd Stennette, Marcia Sweeting-Somersall, The Rev. Drew Van Culin, Bonnie Weaver, Cynthia Williams, The Rev. David Wilt and The Rev. Winston Wright.

The Responses are also submitted on behalf of The Ven. Bryan Hobbs and The Ven. Mary Gray-Reeves, advisors to the Executive Board.

The following members of Executive Council dissented from the Responses: William Carr, The Rev. David Peoples and The Rev. George Ronkowitz.

Clergy Deputation to General Convention

The Ven. Mary Gray-Reeves, The Rev. William (“Chip”) Stokes, The Rev. Horace Ward, The Rev. Carol Barron, The Rev. Jennie Lou Reid (Alternate) and The Rev. Wilifred Allen-Faiella (Alternate)

Lay Deputation to General Convention

Thomas G. O’Brien III, Richard Miller, Char Vinik and LaVerne Comerie-Turck

Dated: May 31, 2007

Friday, May 18, 2007

Happy Mothers' Day! - Sermon for 6 Easter

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church - Delray Beach, Florida
6 Easter - Year C - May 12/13, 2007 (Mother’s Day)
Acts 14:8-18; Ps. 67; Revelation 21:22-22:5; John 14:23-29
Preacher: The Rev. William H. Stokes, Rector

Today, Mother’s Day, and also the 6th Sunday of Easter, I would like us to consider our use of language...I would like us to acknowledge that our use of language strongly influences how we view, not only the world around us and its people, but higher realities as well...realities such as God....
When we speak of “man” and “mankind” in our daily language, as though these refer to all persons male and female, the not so subtle effect is to linguistically render women both invisible and inferior.
When we use only male imagery for God, it forms in our subconscious a notion that God is male and has no female aspect. Again, the effect of this is subordinate female as a lesser entity, invisible and inferior.
The use of gender inclusive language about human beings and humanity begins to break down this dividing wall and brings about a greater awareness of women, the female and the feminine...It fosters a sense of the visible and equal....It does not argue that the female is the better or same as the male.....It does not argue that the male is the same or better than the female....There can be equality in difference...
I am also not suggesting that we forget all the traditional language and images of God that have shaped and formed us....A former professor at General Theological Seminary expresses it well.....
In a book titled Faith, Feminism and Christ1, Dr. Patricia Wilson-Kastner has written, “Language, as feminists are acutely aware, communicates affective dimensions as well as cognitive ones. Because of this phenomenon, inclusive language about God does not mean that each word or phrase about the Trinitarian-God must be sex-neutral, or have male and female (or exclusively female) terms side by side.”2
Wilson-Kastner states, “Inclusiveness requires that old and new language be used in worship, teaching and theological endeavors. Familiar language from Scripture, from the tradition is a part of our identity, and truly conveys a part of the divine mystery to which it invites us. But unfamiliar phrases from the tradition (such as the womb of the Father, our Mother Jesus, and the Holy Spirit who gives us of her own life), as well as renewed biblical images and new expressions from contemporary experience all belong to proper Christian theological and liturgical language.” 3
Wilson-Kastner sums up, “Above all, we are to remember that our words about Christ and the Triune God are not simply religious memorials to feelings and past experiences. Our language empresses our relationship in a living cosmos with an ever-living God. The richer our expressions of relationship to this God, the more we as a community open ourselves to fuller communication with God. As our awareness of an openness to the manifold dimensions of God increase, we draw ourselves and our world closer to the divine mystery which made us and for which we are made.” 4
I am in complete agreement with Professor Wilson-Kastner and so it seems fitting to me today, Mothers’ Day, to consider the “Motherhood” of God....
Earlier this month, on May 8, we observed the lesser feast of Julian of Norwich on the Church calendar. Dame Julian was an anchorite who lived a solitary existence in a house attached to a chapel not from Norwich Cathedral in England. Members of our youth group who made pilgrimage to England a few years ago had the privilege of seeing Julian’s house and the chapel and of hearing about this remarkable woman.
According to Lesser Feasts and Fasts,5 she was probably born in 1342. Few details of her life are known beyond that. This we do know, when she was 30 years old she had an extraordinary experience. She was visited with a series of visions, or “showings” as she referred to them, in which the love of God was revealed to her in dramatic ways.
Lesser Feasts and Fasts tells us that Julian had been gravely ill and was given last rites. Suddenly, on the seventh day, all pain left her, and she had fifteen visions of the Passion of Christ. These visions brought her great peace and joy. “From that time on,” she wrote, “I desired oftentimes to learn what was our Lord’s meaning, and fifteen years after I was answered in ghostly understanding.”6
Julian recorded an account of these showings and her reflections about them in her work, The Revelations of Divine Love which is recognized as a spiritual classic. It is also thought to be the first major written work by a woman in English.
As Lesser Feasts and Fasts states, “She became a recluse, an anchoress, at Norwich soon after her recovery from illness, living in a small dwelling attached to the Church of St. Julian. Even in her lifetime,” they note, “she was famed as a mystic and spiritual counselor and was frequently visited by clergymen and lay persons....”7
In her visions, Julian was blessed with deep and rich insights into the nature and fullness of God. She understood, for example, that God, as God, must comprise the fullness of maleness and femaleness...She understood God, not only as “Father,” but also as “Mother.”8
“Thus I saw,” she wrote in her Revelations of Divine Love, “that God rejoices that He is our Father, God rejoices that He is our Mother, and God rejoices that He is our true Spouse and that our soul is His beloved wife...” She later writes, “Thus in our creation, God All Power is our natural Father, and God All Wisdom is our natural Mother, with the Love and the Goodness of the Holy Spirit —who is all one God, one Lord.”9 Isn’t that good?
Julian not only perceived that God as God must comprise the fullness of male and femaleness, she perceived that Jesus, although certainly marked by the historical particularity of “maleness” during his earthly ministry, as one person of God and as Savior and Redeemer, had also to include in his being the fullness of humanity and the fullness of his divinity and so, too, the fullness of male and female. Julian’s reflections on this are both provocative and evocative.
Julian wrote, “…the Second Person of the Trinity [referring to Jesus] is our Mother in human nature in our essential creation. In Him we are grounded and rooted, and he is our Mother in mercy by taking on our fleshliness. And thus our Mother is to us various kinds of actions...for in our Mother Christ, we benefit and grow, and in mercy He redeems and restores us, and, by the virtue of His Passion and His death and resurrection, He ones us to our essence. In this way, our Mother works in mercy to all His children who are submissive and obedient to Him....”10
In a wonderfully rhapsodic passage Julian brings it all together, “As truly as God is our Father, so truly God is our Mother. And that He showed in all the showings, and particularly in those sweet words where he says ‘It is I’ — that is to say ‘It is I: the Power and the Goodness of the Fatherhood. It is I: the Wisdom of the Motherhood. It is I: the Light and the Grace that is all blessed Love. It is I: the Trinity. It is I: the Unity. I am the supreme goodness of all manner of things. I am what causes thee to love. I am what causes thee to yearn. It is I: the endless fulfilling of all true desires.’11
“This fair lovely word ‘mother,’” according to Julian, “is so sweet and so kind in itself, that it can not truly be said of anyone nor to anyone except of Him and to Him who is true Mother of life and of all. To the quality of motherhood belongs natural love, wisdom, and knowledge — and this is God…The kind, loving mother who is aware and knows the need of her child protects the child most tenderly as the nature and state of motherhood wills. And as the child increases in age, she changes her method but not her love. And when the child is increased further in age, she permits it to be chastised to break down vices and to cause the child to accept virtues and graces. This nurturing of the child, with all that is fair and good, our Lord does in the mothers by whom it is done. Thus He is our Mother in our human nature by the action of grace in the lower part, out of love for the higher part.”12 Pretty nice stuff for Mothers’ Day, don’t ‘you think?
In light of Julian’s reflections, I can’t help hearing “Mother Jesus” in today’s Gospel passage from John....Jesus is speaking to his disciples at the Last Supper....He is fully aware that his time has come, that he is leaving them.....His concern for them is deep, filled with love, as of a dying mother for her child. He is instructing them, but he is also assuring them, telling them not to fret...
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe” (John 14:27-28).
It was, of course, difficult and painful for them to hear this...In fact, truthfully, they couldn’t even grasp it....And in the days ahead, when Jesus was betrayed, when he was arrested, scourged, crucified and buried, if they remembered his words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not let them be afraid,” they must have considered them nonsense.....
Still Jesus feels it is necessary to say the words, to assure them, to calm and soothe them, and also to prepare them to look for God’s actions in their midst after it all takes place...."Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23)
“Remember who you are,” Mother Jesus is saying to them.... “Remember whose you are and be ready to see God at work....”
Jesus’ words to them do contain a promise, an assurance....They will not be left alone....The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will come to them, will dwell with them and in them, filling them, providing them with everything they need from God,. “...the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:24-27).
The Holy Spirit will be the living presence of Jesus in their midst....There is a reality of Jesus that will not die...That Jesus cannot die....
It is Mothers’ Day....It is also the week before the feast of the Ascension, a feast that commemorates Jesus being taken away, his ascending into heaven into the realm of eternity....And as we prepare for the Ascension and look toward Pentecost, which we will celebrate in just tow weeks, it seems to me the words of Mother Jesus are words we desperately need to hear...They are words we desperately need to accept in our world today which so often lures us into fretfulness and anxiety and neuroses and anger, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” Mother Jesus says....Perhaps it is difficult for us to accept what Jesus says, to believe him, to trust in him, just as it was difficult for those first disciples....
But you know what, he was telling them the truth....It all came out just as he had promised....To be sure, there were painful and difficult days....Good Friday happened....The cross was real.....But Easter came too....
And those frightened confused disciples, fretful and anxious, experienced the presence and glory and love of the risen Christ....And, just as he had promised, Pentecost came... They received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, and it assuaged their fretfulness and calmed their fear and emboldened them to go out and proclaim to all the world, the love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ.....
The gift of the Holy Spirit has been given to us as well.....Again, we will celebrate that gift in two weeks...If we trust in this, if we are open to it....if we allow it to, it can assuage our fretfulness and calm any fears we might have...It can fill us with the power of Christ and his love and embolden us to go out and proclaim to all who will listen the love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ,...
And if we sometimes have doubts, sometimes have fears, as the world of our daily lives challenges and threatens us, we might remember the assurance and revelation given to Dame Julian of Norwich long ago by Jesus in one of his showings to her: “I can make all things well; I shall make all things well; I will make all things well; and thou canst see for thyself that all manner of things shall be well.”13

Happy Mothers’ Day.

1. Wilson-Kastner, Patricia Faith, Feminism & the Christ (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983)
2. Ibid p. 134
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. See “Julian of Norwich” in Lesser Feasts and Fasts (New York: The Church Pension Fund, 1980), p. 214.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. See website for the order of Julian of Norwich at
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. See “Julian of Norwich” in Lesser Feasts and Fasts (New York: The Church Pension Fund, 1980), p. 214.