Grace and peace to you in Christ Jesus.
First, thank you to all rectors, vicars or wardens for taking time out of your services to read this pastoral letter to your congregation on this First Sunday in Lent. In the interest of preserving the rhythm of your transition into Lent, this letter hopefully will be relevant to that transition.
Many of us have, in recent years, felt disturbed by the tone and content of public discourse, whether in church or in politics. What we sometimes call dialogue more often closely resembles a shouting match, filled with accusations, assumptions, blame and condemnation. This reality of our age is a visible demonstration of the depth of human sin and alienation and is something of which we should be ashamed. Jesus, on the other hand, called his disciples to a different standard of relationship, telling them that such “is not [to be] so among you; [for] whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44). His words are especially startling when we admit that many faithful Christians have given in to discourse that destroys, and they participate willingly in language that even condemns other brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to show the world a better way.
In the Ash Wednesday liturgy, we prayed that God will “Accept our repentance” for “all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us.” In the current climate, this is a prayer worth taking to heart. Lent is an appropriate time to meditate on a more Christ-like and compassionate way to treat brothers and sisters with whom we disagree.
This past December, with the approval of the Diocesan Executive Council, I called for a special convention that will be held on Friday, April 8th and 9th, at Christ Church in Greenville, a convention we are calling the 1st Theological Council of the Episcopal Church in Upper South Carolina. The purpose of this Council befits the Lenten themes of repentance, reconciliation and restoration. Tensions in the Episcopal Church have persisted around several issues in our common life, and we either ignore them in hopes they will go away, or we struggle, with difficulty, to hear with compassion how and why others disagree with us. And we make uncharitable assumptions about people. We become indifferent to whether they stay or leave. The Theological Council in April is the beginning of a conversation intended to bring a new and more faithful discipline to our common life and discourse.
At the recent Pre-Lenten clergy retreat, we discussed the upcoming Theological Council, and a priest asked me very simply, “Bishop, what’s at stake for you in this Council?” I believe that many things are at stake, but one thing seems to me to be the very heart of it: Many people hear us say that Christian faith is about love and unity. But it is not always what they see. When we are in tension or disagreement, the face we too often show the world is one of disdain for each other. We do make false judgments. We do hold tightly to uncharitable thoughts. We do show prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us. In the 1st century A.D., Clement of Rome wrote his own First Letter to the Corinthians, saying love for one another, “does not provoke schisms or form cliques, but always acts in harmony with others.”
So, if we proclaim something but cannot do it, the world will, at best, be disappointed and see us as hypocrites. But, at worst, our actions will make them question the truth and power of the gospel. —The gospel is at stake. — Simply put, we are called to be living witnesses to the truth of the Gospel, in and out of Church, in thought, word, and deed.
The Council I’ve called will help us to articulate as clearly as possible scriptural standards for how we are in relationship with each other. We will then engage them on a difficult topic: same-gender relationships. Decisions on blessing such relationships are on the horizon for the Episcopal Church’s General Convention at Indianapolis in 2012. If we are to meet the challenge that those decisions will place before us with grace, unity and flexibility, we need to know who we are, and to love each other more deeply. The 1st Theological Council will begin our conversation about standards for Christian community. It will engage those standards as we begin to explore what is at stake for each of us—personally— as we continue to encounter challenging issues in the larger Church around gender and sexuality. We will conclude the Council by discussing how we can live up to Christ’s standards without asking each other to sacrifice our deeply held convictions. We will discuss how we can bring what we learn back into our churches throughout the diocese.
The announcement of this Theological Council has inspired many fascinating conversations from which I have learned a great deal. Many people who are not included in the Council have asked to attend. In order to facilitate the most authentic conversation we can, we must create a safe environment, which means limiting who can come. I thank you in advance for understanding and respecting these limitations.
Our expectation is that, following the Council, a similar format will be offered in congregations in order to begin a more open and authentic dialogue and deepen relationships in Christ throughout the diocese. So, I ask that each of you reflect on who you are for each other and for this world. How have you participated in things that separate and destroy? What can you change within yourself that makes the way of Christ more visible? In the meantime, I ask your prayers that this new beginning will not just be fruitful, but that it will be energizing for all of us, no matter where we stand on the issues.
May God bless and keep you and yours in this holy season, and may our celebration of the resurrection at Easter fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Your brother in Christ,
The bishop will lead us to live with the findings of the next Episcopal General Convention in 2012 by first getting us to agree to not argue over matters, or at least if we do disagree, to respect those who have bought into the "New Thang."
Should we respect a bishop who would condone of heresy?
Should not that bishop himself be called for what he is, or should we remain polite and live and let live?
When someone starts preaching a gospel that is not the gospel that has been handed down to us through the apostles, I think they must be called out. Waldo is headed down the path to getting a major calling out from this pewster.
Yes, there are times one has to get angry, and those are the times when the very Gospel itself is in danger, and I believe that we are in those days. The Aspostle Paul, when dealing with the false teaching that had entered the church in Galatia, used these strong words:
You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offence of the cross has been removed.St. Paul wrote that in the context of circumcision. I wonder what description he might choose for those who preach the blessings of homosexual unions?
I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves! Galatians 5:7-12
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