Sunday, April 10, 2011

Reflections from the First Theological Council of Upper South Carolina

This past weekend, a number of us attended a special convention of the clergy, wardens, and delegates of the diocese, the "First Theological Council of Upper South Carolina."

This "Council" was called by the Bishop of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, Andrew Waldo. As he explained to all present, the reason for the convention was because of the upcoming General Conventions of the Episcopal church in 2012 and 2015 and what we all expect to come forth from those conventions, which should be some form of endorsed trial liturgies or materials for same sex blessings in 2012 and perhaps some sort of authorized version in 2015. Bishop Waldo identified his fear that "we" might "lose people" as a consequence of the actions of General Convention. Our gathering was intended to help us develop a means to discuss the touchy subject of same sex blessings in a manner that would not result in such a loss. We were divided into groups of 6 per table for small group, "facilitated," reflection on the various "meditations" that Bishop Waldo presented over the 24 hrs of the convention. Ground rules for table discussions included confidentiality and speaking only in the first person singular.

We began, as planned, with reflection on the Introduction to the proposed Anglican Covenant. This discussion did not appear to be intended to come to any theological conclusion on the merits of the Anglican Covenant, but was likely intended to give everyone around the table (especially the facilitator) a glimpse of how your particular group interacted while examining a question. In particular, the question of how you interact with someone who you think is wrong. Bishop Waldo had opened the convention by talking about opposing truths. I think he said something to the effect of "my truth may not be your truth." In our small group, I pointed out the fact that there can be no "my truth" and "your truth," there can be but one Truth. I can't say that there was universal agreement with that truth, but I do think it may have planted a seed in a few minds.

Following the table discussions, an open microphone "plenary" session ensued where the Bishop tried to enforce the ground rules, in particular keeping to "I" statements. Everyone seemed to agree that it was pleasant to discuss things freely. One Priest was especially thankful that there were no "jerks" at his table.

Oh, if only I had the luck of being the other jerk at that table...

On Friday night, after most of those who spoke during the plenary session had finished, Bishop Waldo took up the microphone and expressed his disappointment that one voice seemed to be missing from the session, and that was the conservative voice (Uh..oh.. he went and used a label. Shame on you Andrew). He then proceeded to let the conservatives know that they had nothing "to fear" and that he had hoped this would be a safe place for them to express themselves.

Silence reigned.

At this point, "I" felt that the Bishop, by using the "fear" word, was baiting his conservative clergy and delegates. If someone had taken the microphone at that point and gone into a tirade, the conservative cause would not have been helped. Andrew must not understand that most who hold a conservative stance on the issue of same sex blessings in the church have no reason to fear, for they are walking with the Lord on this matter. Besides, it was late, and most of us were ready for the real discussions at the Phoenix Literary Society which followed the evening session.

The following day, the train seemed to jump from the track as we deviated from the originally planned reflections on the scriptures when Bishop Waldo began the sessions with his reflection on how he has arrived at his personal position on same sex relationships and blessings. If it had been a secret to anyone that he favors including these things in the life of the church, it should be secret no longer. He cited as his reasons for supporting the full inclusion of the LGBTs and the blessings of their pairings, personal experience, the "shellfish argument," his understanding of the scientific/genetic argument, the idea of "sexual orientation," and the "oppression" argument.

None of these are new to those of us who have been studying the issues, but for many lay delegates, who for years have been told that we are mission oriented and not issue driven, delegates who have not done the theological reflection and study needed to make a decision but instead are using their hearts for guidance, the favorable judgement of the Bishop regarding these arguments carries great weight. For many, once the Bishop has given his sweet, loving, soft spoken reasons, the issue is settled and there really is no need to do the hard work of Christian formation which, in my case leads to the conclusion that Bishop Waldo is an enaging but false teacher. I know that name calling was not allowed yesterday, but he is what he is.

Then the bishop threw in a little caveat, that he "might be wrong." if this attempt at sounding like a "moderate" is at all helpful.

What kind of shepherd is this who selects his green pasture, explains to his flock that this is where he wants to go, but then flusters and tells them that that he could be wrong? Here is a truth: Our Bishop is no Moses.

After the table "reflections" another open mike plenary session allowed people to get up and express their feelings, and that was pretty much what we got, feelings. It appears that the liberal mind is convinced that the "love thy neighbor as thyself" commandment means that since personal happiness in fulfilling your "sexual identity" is a sign of the Holy Spirit in action, that to "deny" others the all important self actualization attained by living in a committed homosexual union blessed by the Church would be to break Jesus' commandments.

It would take more than a few open mike speakers and more than the few minutes alloted to straighten this bunch out.

In the afternoon meditation, Bishop Waldo began by stating that people had misinterpreted his earlier comments. He now claimed that he believes that the burden of proof for going ahead with same sex blessings in the Church lies with those who favor such blessings. To top it off, he firmly stated that he has not seen any convincing theology to support same sex blessings.

Somebody got to him during lunch.

In any case, he had earlier stated that he had already formed his personal opinion on the need for full inclusion of the LGBTs and for same sex blessings. I suppose this leader of the church does not base his personal direction on solid theological work.

Then he should shut up until he has done the work!

The convention muddled on after our Bishop's backtracking.

During the plenary discussions, we did hear at least two calm, concerned conservative voices at the microphones. No one threatened to leave...except one liberal priest. That was the priest who I described earlier as thankful that no "jerks" were at his table. This particular priest stood at the microphone and told of his 17 year commitment to the cause of same sex unions, and that he has sworn an oath to renounce his orders if these blessings were not approved in his church.

Hope springs eternal.

To give you a little flavor of the high theology that was discussed at the First Theological Council of Upper South Carolina, I will throw in two choice quotes.

1. "We have to take into account past, present, and future sexualities." (From a certain table discussion).

2. "The continuum is pretty much continuous around the room" - Bishop Waldo.

A couple of take home points:
First, people will leave the church over the next several years as these things progress (remember that church time and regular time are two very different things, church time tends to run a lot slower than regular time). We should not worry that "we will lose people." I am not worried about those that seek God elsewhere because of the actions of the Episcopal church for they are truly children of God.
The second and probably most the important thing I took home from this convention is that our Bishop, the shepherd's shepherd, has placed the desires of his heart above the Word of God, and that this Bishop wants to see same sex blessings happen in spite of the Word. The fact that he has not done his theological work and cannot provide solid theological evidence behind his personal decision, but goes ahead and pronounces his opinion, wearing the vestments of his office while presiding over a convention of the church, tells me that he is leading his flock astray.

He is a false teacher, and as such, he must be rebuked.
Article XXXIV. Of the Traditions of the Church.

It is not necessary that the Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word. Whosoever,
through his private judgment, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the Traditions and Ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak
Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, Ceremonies or Rites of the Church ordained only by man's authority, so that all things be done to edifying.
Bishop Waldo, I rebuke thee!

Acts 2:40 "He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, 'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.'"


  1. ToilNotSpin3:29 PM

    UP Thank you for that clear and cogent description of the Theological Council. said nothing at the open microphone? When Bishop Waldo called on conservatives to speak up, you did not do that? I am not being critical; but I have admired your stand in this blog so much that I thought you would surely speak as strongly as you write. Or perhaps you are the person who "got to him during lunch"?? At any rate, you are right that the Bishop needs to be rebuked in some theological way.

  2. Agreed! It might do well for the Bishop to read article 20 of the Articles of Religion as well. Good job, Pewster!

  3. TNS,

    I am sorry.

    I was open to the Spirit, but He told me to let the liberals feel that this was a safe place for them to vent their desires. I was prepared for a tirade, but I think that would have served the evil one's purpose. Better to demonstrate the peace and joy of submitting oneself totally to God's will; which is what I did in our small group. In my opinion, the amount of teaching required for the larger group was greater than I could provide.

    As far as the demon that infects our Bishop, "This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting" (Mark 9:29) and never in my life have I prayed for him as I did that day.

    I am afraid that I forgot to fast.

  4. Galetta,

    This convention's purpose was to set norms for conversation and not to come to any conclusions.

    I believe that everyone present had already formed a conclusion. All who conclude that same sex blessings should be part of the life of the Church had better take a close look at Article XX. especially,

    "yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God’s word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another."

  5. ToilNotSpin6:55 PM

    Dear UP, what a difficult position to be in! But you are certainly right, if the Spirit led you to speak in your small group and not in the larger arena. The evil one can certainly use good people to incite dissension and turmoil, and you avoided that. My prayers are with you, now and retroactively, since God's time is His own:).

  6. I'm not going to condemn you for failing to speak at the conventions "open mike night." The purpose and result was foreordained.

    It was announced at the outset.

    This was not about discussion, nor compromise, nor truth-seeking. It was about identifying those who refuse to accept the new orthodoxy.

    If you wish to stay and fight incognito in your denomination and congregation, then you did the right thing. I would criticize you (as a brother) only if you intended to leave TEC but didn't speak up.

    Not that my thoughts carry any weight.

    Cheers, my friend.

  7. Are you saying that the Bishop failed to mention such arcane notions as sin, repentance, forgiveness and redemption? I'm SHOCKED----SHOCKED I tell you.

  8. Cato,

    Therein lies the problem. To the liberal mind when "My idea of sin" does not agree with "your idea of sin" we have a stalemate. The Bible won't help in that situation as it is discredited by the liberal mind. No need for redemption either, because there is no sin. Besides, to name a behavior sinful would create "sinners" and such name calling was expressly forbidden.

    My answer to the stalemate would be for the Bishop to spend a few days with a good de-programmer or perhaps Robert Gagnon rather than the few seconds I could have engaged him during lunch (I was praying for a whole afternoon with him, but I now see that would not have been enough).

  9. Anonymous9:00 PM

    I did speak up at the "sex retreat," but not on Friday, on Saturday. My point was that we need to build up traditional families. I am not sure I was heard well, but I hope those who needed to hear heard. What was interesting was that at my table one man with a practicing lesbian sister and the self-identifying homosexual both opposed the same sex liturgies, and then one with a self-identifying homosexual son and one who claimed no homosexual associations approve of the unions.

    The self-identifying homosexual was against SSB's, and it did not move the unafiliated man. . . that was interesting.

  10. Anonymous9:12 PM

    My sermon today points to how we think differently. I began one verse earlier in the Romans passage;

    "Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires." Romans 8:5 (NIV)

    We don't think the same when you're degenerate, not submissive to Christ and place yourself on the throne being in judgment of God, your mind is on the sinful nature. When you are regenerate, submissive to Christ and accept His judgment from His throne, your mind is on what the spirit desires.

    We don't think the same. We have to think of our conversations with Revisionists as an apologetic with the degenerate, those who may have heard part of the message, but have not submitted their life to the Lordship of Christ.

  11. Thanks Anon 9:00pm, That is interesting. It would have been interesting to have heard those in the open mike plenary sessions.

  12. Anon 9:12,

    We have an immediate opening for you.

  13. Anonymous5:25 PM

    Dear UP,

    Were you at the same convention that I was? We had 8 people at our table - one was one of your disciples, two were priests and one was homosexual who has been in a committed loving relationship for more than 40 years. The rest of us were Episcopalians from all walks of life. We discussed everything, did not always agree, however, we were able to pray together, laugh together and commune together. All of us came away from the weekend filled with the Holy Spirit and a glorious feeling of peace and community.

    I am SO SO SO sorry that you were unable to experience the same thing I did and I pray that the good Lord and his Son, Jesus Christ will reach out to you and help guide you to a much better and more peaceful journey with God and your follow Episcopalians, no matter who or what you believe them to be.

  14. Anon 5:25pm,

    Our table got along swimmingly well, but we kept to the rules of not talking about others and maintaining confidentiality.

  15. Anonymous5:00 AM


    RE: "All of us came away from the weekend filled with the Holy Spirit and a glorious feeling of peace and community. I am SO SO SO sorry that you were unable to experience the same thing I did . . . "

    UP provides an analysis of the content of the "theological council" -- and another Episcopalian claims that UP did not end up with the glorious feeling of peace and community that he did and didn't come away "filled with the Holy Spirit."

    How does he know? As nearly as I can tell from numerous conversations, conservative Episcopalians had immense peace and community with fellow conservatives in our diocese and certainly came away filled with the Holy Spirit. One really may be saddened over the theological vacuity of revisionists in TEC and yet still experience all the wonderful things that anonymous revisionist asserts that he experienced.

    Isn't that wonderful? I'm sure anonymous revisionist is pleased to know that.


  16. Anonymous9:57 AM

    I must note that one interesting dynamic for the weekend was that the Friday plenary was to report how your table interacted, that is, are you getting along, and Saturday was to report only for yourself, so as not to give any indication to the larger group what your group might have been thinking (to avoid any sort of vote.)

    Also interesting, in conflict management the major task when dealing with an issue is to depersonalize it, but the whole point of this weekend was to personalize an issue, making it even harder to come to any sort of resolution that will not result in losing people.

  17. Anon 9:57 am,

    Correct, and by creating a personalized issue, it is all the harder to express disagreement without coming off as mean spirited, hateful, or as some other negatively inclined person.

  18. Anonymous12:11 PM

    Well, the thing I found most disconcerting was the overall emphasis on NOT THINKING. Though it was supposed to be a "theological council", no one was allowed to actually speak about theology, or speak about how one thinks about theology. It was all about "personal feelings". Feelings aren't theology, and frankly this whole issue isn't about how we feel. I think the proper response to that is, "who cares?" Rather, these issues actually require thought and discernment - which comes from using scripture, tradition, and reason in tandem. But hey, anon, glad it felt good for ya. More importantly, did you have any actual substantive talk at your table on the issues using any of the three-legged stool tools that TEC has traditionally used to deal with such issues? Or did you stick to the easy, feel good stuff?

  19. Anon 12:11 pm,

    You know, when the three legged stool came up in my table's discussion, I tried to educate the others that a three legged stool was not what Hooker meant and that scripture seems to come out on top.

  20. Anonymous5:39 PM

    UP, I don't know if you have the authority and power to rebuke a bishop. However, God certainly does.

    God rebuke Bishop Waldo.

  21. You know things are going off the rails when the emphasis is emotions and feelings. To so emphasize requires a focus on the Self and it's desires, instead of a focus on God and His Commandments and Will. Thus, is the Scripture ignored, because there is no doubt that God's Word and Will will conflict with and contradict our feelings 99 percent of the time. That's why we humans sin. It's our nature, born of Adam's rebellion.

  22. Anonymous4:59 PM

    As before, you folks need to get out of the "cult" while the getting is good!!!!!


  23. Anonymous2:17 PM

    Anon 5:25,
    "I pray that the good Lord and his Son, Jesus Christ will reach out to you and help guide you to a much better and more peaceful journey with God and your follow Episcopalians"

    Seems the lack of peace involved the latter, so I'm not sure why you felt the need to list God there. It seems those who blithely disobey God's commandments are the ones not at peace with God.

    And do you really think it's virtuous to be "at peace" no matter what is happening to your church? I suggest you read the book of Galatians, if you think so.

  24. R. Sherman wrote: "To so emphasize requires a focus on the Self and it's desires, instead of a focus on God and His Commandments and Will."

    To which I feel compelled to inquire whether or not it occurred to R. Sherman that such may have been the explicit intent of the person who dictated the focus on emotions and feelings?

    In my experience, anyone who has reasonable leadership skills knows how to avoid the resulting confusion if a focus on God's will is the desired outcome.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  25. Martial Artist,

    I wonder if, to the modern "progressive," theology is the discussion of personal feelings. Our current leader may actually believe that he is "doing" theology. I use that descriptive with the full understanding of the potential negative implications of "doing" something (like doing drugs, etc).