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Why the Episcopal Church has

F. Earle Fox

See also Episcopal Tragedy

The piece below has been sent to The Living Church, an Episcopal weekly magazine, meant for the Reader's Viewpoint column in response to Bishop Winterrowd's article of June 4.  The title as sent is that below, to echo the title to which I was responding.  The one above is more informative to the new reader.   So far as I know, it will not be printed.  A few changes have been made from the original. 

In both Head and Heart

Bishop William Winterrowd ("In the Head, but not the Heart" 6/4/06), makes, I think, precisely the error which has brought the Episcopal Church to its demise -- pitting the legislative against the reconciliation mode, thus putting unity above truth.

Bishop Winterrowd apparently believes that the legislative mode is contrary to reconciliation. That is not a Biblical notion. The Bible, more than any other Scripture, is founded squarely on objective truth because without truth, there can be no stable unity. Biblical revelation is grounded in history, particularity, fact, reality, not in feeling good. Without stable truth, neither love or compassion can survive. Fighting comes not because truth is sought, but because people seldom know how (or want) to submit themselves to honest discussion and truth-seeking.  Winning is then more important than truth.  And unity becomes coerced, not freely joined. 

Several years ago when leading an Exodus "ex-gay" (helping people out of homosexuality) ministry in the Washington, DC, area, I was invited by an enterprising young man to speak to his gay and lesbian club at T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia. To keep the discussion from descending into brick-throwing, I suggested that we put our focus on getting the truth of homosexual issues, not on personalities.  Hands shot up, "Sir, truth is relative."

I responded that across the Potomac River was a big-domed building in which laws were being made for all of us. I said, "You want one kind of law on homosexuality and I another. If truth is relative, why would anyone care what laws were passed?"

Then I said that we both care because we know that laws are either/or, not both/and. Laws are meant to enforce or forbid some behavior. So each side wants its way in the legal system.  And that means that it is impossible to avoid either the "objective truth" issue or the "objective morality" issue.  All law is based on someone's morality, someone's idea of right and wrong. Like it or not, we had better get it right.

At General Convention, the same principles hold. No community, religious or political, can survive without boundaries which define its identity. There are limits, boundaries, to being a Christian. There are some people whom any of the present contesting parties would reject from their midst. The "liberals" are enforcing boundaries on the women's ordination issue, and will soon be enforcing boundaries on the homosexual issues. That is because they are (oh, awful, illiberal word!) winning.

Elijah, four centuries before any philosophers showed up in Greece, had it right. "How long will you go limping on two opinions? If Baal be God, then we will go with Baal. But if the Lord be God, we will go with the Lord." (I Kings 18:17 ff.) A stunning appeal to logic, followed by an up or down empirical experiment to find out who really was God. Either/or, not both/and. Logic and fact.

"Come, let us reason together..." (Isaiah 1:18) is God's standard procedure for drawing people toward Himself. We seldom show up for the discussion because truth scares us to death. And when we do, our fear and anger generally lead to the crucifixion.

But God does it anyhow because our survival depends on it. Truth counts. Who is our source of being? Who is Lord? and What is He saying to us? are life and death issues. Jesus paid a horrific price for us to get it right.

The bishop quotes Benedictine monk, David Steindl-Rast, that faith is more about believing in someone than something. There is truth to that. Biblical religion is inherently personal. But it is precisely our personal relationships which make truth absolutely imperative.

If I live in my own personal cosmos with no relationships, I can make up my own truth. Who cares? I have no one to contradict me, no obligations, no relationships to which I must be faithful. Faithfulness to relationship more than anything else demands respect for truth. Any relationship ignoring truth will quickly crash. Not only faith, but faithfulness, demands clarity of truth and morality.

So, being "pastoral" or "conciliatory" does not mean being mushy, they require intellectual clarity. 

A legislative focus can be abused. But legislation (boundary drawing) is necessary to the integrity of any community. The American Constitution, now mostly ignored, was written precisely to ensure Godly outworking of that process. We would do well to resurrect and apply those principles to our religious communities.

A legislative focus does not, as the bishop thinks, make our identity be "determined by who is right", in some noxious sense. If we honor "defending our position" more than seeking the truth, yes, that will happen. But the Way of the Cross means giving up our right to be right, and letting the truth and the Lord of truth speak for themselves -- through the available evidence.

There is no other road to unity.

An honest (Jeffersonian) liberal is one who liberates through new truth with open discussion. An honest conservative is one who conserves the hard-won truth from the past. Both are focused on truth, and so are part of the same family. They cross-check each other, and are both necessary for a healthy community.

But today we have liberals who do not liberate with truth (believing there is none) and so focus on feeling good. And we have conservatives, who think there is a truth, but either believe they have it all, or are too timid to stand up and defend what they believe. So our present debates are not between seekers after truth, but between feel-gooders and either position-defenders or position-compromisers.

Such people will never be in unity. When truth is subverted (see Romans 1:18 ff.), the drift is always away from graceful discussion and toward tyranny, mind-control, and coercion, because there is no longer any honest way of deciding between contesting opinions.

That is why the Episcopal Church is self-destructing.  We have abandoned truth, and therefore also the Lord of truth. 

Bishop Winterrowd suggests the contemplative mode as the way through. And what are we to contemplate? Fog? Mist? Indecisiveness? or truth? We do not escape the truth issue by contemplating the presence of God. That only makes the matter worse, because that Presence speaks revelation, which requires truth-clarity, and law united with grace, more clarity.

The bishop's suggestion might work in Eastern religions where truth meanders off into the mysterious unknowable. Contemplation works in Biblical religion for exactly the opposite reason, because truth is the focus. Head and heart are a team -- some things are both/and. We can know real truths about God.

The problem is therefore not the legislative mode, which is necessary for community survival. The problem is the collapse of our focus on truth -- the only possible foundation for unity. A recovered focus on truth will lead to deep spiritual renewal across Western Christendom.

See also Episcopal Tragedy

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