Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How Many Warning Signs Can One Bishop Include in Four Paragraphs?

In my post of last week, I came up with a list of ten warning signs to look for if you suspect that your church might be cheating on you. Applying that list to a recent pastoral message from my Bishop Waldo of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina has me looking for a divorce attorney.

Below, I have highlighted the words and phrases which match up pretty closely with a few of the ten warning signs. I will add the reference number(s) of the warning sign(s) in parentheses. 

From the Bishop's Status Update on the Diocese July 2013
The Bishop’s Task Force on Unity
(Strategic Vision: “The Church as a Community of Prayer, Worship and Dialogue”)

"Being in fruitful relationships (4) even when we disagree (5) is among our Lord’s deepest challenges to the church in response to his command that we love one another (4) as he has loved us. I called the Bishop’s Task Force on Unity together following General Convention 2012 to address those challenges with regard to disagreements in the church around the matter of same-sex blessings. The task force has met seven times since October 2012 and hopes to finish its work by late fall this year or early winter next year (1)."

"A structure for what we present to the Diocese upon the completion of our work is beginning to emerge and will include a pastoral letter from me and a curriculum created by the Task Force for congregations (5,9). We hope this structure will challenge people of all perspectives to examine assumptions, engage the issue more rigorously—biblically, theologically and morally—and to stay in community and in conversation (4,5) throughout."

"My pastoral letter at that time will detail how we will address same-sex blessings in this Diocese. Our way forward will, as I have written and said on several occasions over the last year or more, include a path for congregations who seek to allow same-sex blessings (3,10) as well as my support for those congregations who cannot in good conscience allow them."

"It is my most profound hope that we will succeed in shifting our diocesan conversation (5) away from secular vs. sacred polemic to a deeper engagement with the sources of our faith and a more profound trust in God’s reconciling presence with us as we struggle with hard things. It is my most profound prayer that our work may draw the diocesan community into a deeper unity in important areas of our common life (6), even if, as expected, we remain in disagreement on this particular issue (5)."
To save you the trouble of clicking back and forth or to and from last week's post, let me post the warning signs I find in Bishop Waldo's Dear John pastoral letter here updated notes in parentheses:
1) Theological/doctrinal waffling and indecisiveness.

Why, for-instance, should it take decades (in this case over a year) for the Church to resolve where it stands on marriage, human sexuality, etc? If your Church is having problems saying in clear and understandable language where it stands and how it got there, then it might be cheating on you.

3) Adopting unusual practices in worship.

Clown Eucharists, Labyrinths, Talismen, Solstice liturgies, need I say more? (Add same-sex blessing rituals) If you are invited to Mass by someone in a clown costume wearing an evil eye, then your church might be cheating on you.

4) When you hear, "It is all about relationship."

This is a big red flag. It usually means that there are serious theological and doctrinal differences brewing. The cheater will argue that you should live with this infidelity and focus on continuing and preserving the relationship, which of course just allows the Church to continue on its wayward path. If you hear, "It's all about relationship" then your Church might be cheating on you.

5) When you hear, "We can be together although we deeply disagree."

This is a variation of #4, but in reality means, "We need to talk, You must listen." If your Church suggests you engage in a listening process, then it might be cheating on you.

6) When you hear, "We should be focusing on mission."

(The famous ill-defined mission is one of "the important areas in our common life" that Bishop Waldo is talking about) This also indicates an avoidance of the underlying theological or doctrinal issues dividing the Church. If you hear your Church say, "We are missional," or "We should focus on mission" and that mission is not clearly stated to be to spread the good news of Christ crucified and resurrected, then your Church might be cheating on you.

9) Embracing heresy. 
(Would a faithful pastor allow Bishop Waldo's curriculum into the halls of their church?) Worse yet is to have false teachers invited to preach or to have their books studied in Sunday School. If your Church embraces a study of any book by the likes of Marcus Borg or John Shelby Spong, or asks them to speak at a church gathering, then your Church might be cheating on you.

10) Blessing Sin.

Don't expect your Church to say that this is what they are suggesting, but if you see warning signs 1-9, you can look forward to this one, and in that case you can be certain that your Church has embraced another and is definitely cheating on you.
I guess I can fire the private eye since this particular cheater e-mails his own evidence of being caught "In flagrante delicto" directly to my inbox.

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