Tuesday, February 26, 2019







CLOSED HEARTS, CLOSED MINDS, 
CLOSED DOORS





The United Methodist special conference voted today adopting the Traditional Plan by a vote of 438 to 384. This affirms the church's ban on "practicing" gays in the clergy and on same-sex marriages in the church. The conservatives were well-prepared and railroaded the vote through.

The old motto of the Methodists must now be revised. It is no longer Open hearts, open minds, open doors. Methodst message to gays---we do not want you. We do not respect your human rights. 

This is a sad day in the history of the long struggle for freedom, justice, and equality.  

Prejudice and discrimination are not Christian values. All human beings are created by God in the image of God. It is our job to care for all of creation. The Methodists will eventually do the right thing but only after doing the wrong thing and inflicting hurt on others along the way.

Saturday, February 23, 2019





WILL BISHOP LAWRENCE BE INVITED
TO THE LAMBETH CONFERENCE?




The archbishop of Canterbury has sent out the invitations for the 2020 Lambeth Conference. Bishop "Skip" Adams was invited. Bishop Mark Lawrence was not invited. Why not? Will he be invited at some time between now and the meeting? Let's look at these questions as they are important in understanding the schism in South Carolina.

The archbishop of Canterbury, now Justin Welby, is the host of the Lambeth Conference. He gets to choose whom to invite and whom not to invite to his big party. As a general rule, the archbishop invites all the current bishops of the provinces of the Anglican Communion. At the moment there are 861 bishops in the forty provinces which count some 85m baptized members. However, the invitations are entirely at the discretion of the archbishop. He does not always invite all the AC bishops. In 2008 he refused to invite the bishop of New Hampshire. The archbishop also traditionally invites all of the bishops' spouses. This time he has pointedly dis-invited three of the legal spouses.

It is also true that Archbishop Welby invited the head of a non-Anglican Communion body, Foley Beach, of the Anglican Church in North America, as a non-voting observer in the primates' meeting of January 2016. The primates' meeting is one of the Four Instruments of Unity in the Anglican Communion, along with the Archbishop, the Lambeth Conference, and the Anglican Consultative Council. Will Archbishop Welby invite the bishops of the ACNA to Lambeth?

We have to go back to the simple fact that the Episcopal Church in South Carolina is part of the Anglican Communion and the Diocese of South Carolina is not part of the Anglican Communion. This is not a difficult concept to grasp. It is black and white. One of the most regrettable aspects of the schism in South Carolina is that the leaders of the breakaway diocese carried on, and are still carrying on, a major campaign to convince their followers they are part of the Anglican Communion. This is at best misguided, and at worst outright deceit. In any case, it is wrong.

From the moment of the schism in 2012, Bishop Lawrence and the other leaders of the breakaway diocese insisted they were Anglicans and part of worldwide Anglicanism. In my history of the schism, I dealt with this at some length and so will not repeat all of it here. At first, Lawrence clearly implied the diocese was an extra provincial diocese of the Anglican Communion. In fact, since the schism, DSC has not been, and is not now, a part in any way of the Anglican Communion. Yet, he worked hard to convince his followers that they were fully Anglican. In his addresses after the schism he repeated the words Anglican and Anglicanism countless times as if repetition would make them true. In his official address to the 2016 diocesan convention, he did not say the word Episcopal one time, but said the words Anglican and Anglicanism twenty-five times. 

To be sure, Lawrence and the others leaders parsed their words carefully. They did not say outright they were parts of the Anglican Communion even while obviously implying it. For instance, the DSC website today says this:  "The Diocese of South Carolina is recognized by Anglican Dioceses and Provinces around the world." Find it here . This is really a meaningless sentence. What does "recognized" mean? It could means all sorts of things. In this context, it seems to me the diocesan leaders are trying to get their followers to believe they are part of the "Anglicans" in the "world." Who could miss the point?

Some of the parishes that went along with the schism made, and still make, the outright false claim that they are parts of the Anglican Communion. On St. Philip's, of Charleston, website today is this flatly untrue statement:  "St. Philip's is an evangelical parish in the Diocese of South Carolina, which is a constituent member of the worldwide Anglican Communion." Find it here . In simple fact, the DSC, and St. Philip's, are not in the Anglican Communion. The clergy of St. Philip's should be ashamed of themselves. 

So should the clergy of St. Helena's, of Beaufort. On their website today is a nearly identical statement:  "St. Helena's is an evangelical parish in the Diocese of South Carolina, which is a constituent member of the worldwide Anglican Communion." Untrue. Find it here . The word "constituent" appears in both statements. What does "constituent" mean? Constituent, in this context, means "a component part of something." They are saying the Diocese of South Carolina is a component part of the Anglican Communion. Absolutely false.

The clergy of St. Michael's, of Charleston, are more subtle but no less misleading. They omitted the statement made by St. Philip's and St. Helena's but under Home > About > we find "Anglican Communion" (find it here ) with links to "The Worldwide Anglican Communion" that goes directly to the AC homepage, and The Archbishop of Canterbury that goes directly to the archbishop's homepage. In fact, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said very clearly that he is not in communion with the Anglican Church in North America and that ACNA is not in the Anglican Communion. The DSC is part of the ACNA. The clergy of St. Michael's should be ashamed too.

The clergy at Holy Cross, on Sullivans Island, also tried to be clever with their wording:  "As Anglicans, we are part of a global communion of churches established over the centuries by the Church of England." Find it here . "Part"? What does that mean? I think we know what they mean.

Thus, it is perfectly clear that the diocesan, and at least some of the parochial authorities in the Diocese of South Carolina have deliberately perpetuated and promoted the myth that their diocese is in the Anglican Communion. I imagine if one asks the typical person-in-the-pew at any DSC church, he or she would be certain their church is in the Anglican Communion. The natural tendency in this situation is to trust what their authorities have told them. The average person cannot be expected to know all the intricacies of the institutional organizations in the Anglican world.

Now, it is true that some parts of the Anglican Communion have strongly advanced the Anglican Church in North America. In fact, GAFCON has made Foley Beach, the archbishop and head of the ACNA, the next chair of their council of primates. GAFCON has rejected the legitimacy of the Episcopal Church and has declared ACNA to be an Anglican province. Actually, GAFCON has no authority to declare anyone in or out of the Anglican Communion. While it is true the DSC is "recognized" and supported by some Anglican provinces, it is not true that it is recognized and supported by the Anglican Communion. Big difference.

Now, back to our first questions. Lawrence has not been invited to the Lambeth Conference. We know this because Welby has said he invited the bishops of the forty Anglican Communion provinces. Lawrence is not in one of the forty provinces. 

Second question, will Lawrence be invited at some point in the future? Well, invitations are entirely up to the archbishop of Canterbury. It is possible, but extremely unlikely that Welby will relent and invite the bishops of the ACNA. If he does choose to do this, it would only be because of extortion from GAFCON. Since the three hard-right GAFCON primates have already declared they will not attend, they have lost all leverage with the archbishop. Present and future leverage would be with the rest of the GAFCON primates. So far, they seem reluctant to go along with the hard-liners. If Welby did change his mind and invite non-AC bishops, the disturbance he is in now on the same-sex spouses issue would seem like a picnic. It would blow up the whole Conference. I think there is nil to zero chance he will invite the ACNA bishops to Lambeth. They can call themselves "Anglicans" all they wish. They are not in the Anglican Communion and many of those who are in the AC would not stand for this invasion. After all, Welby is working hard to keep the Anglican Communion together. Inviting the ACNA bishops would destroy it. No doubt he is well-aware of that.

The breakaway diocese now using the name Diocese of South Carolina is claiming itself as Anglican. This is a charade. It is Anglican in name only. It is not in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is not in the Anglican Communion. Its umbrella, the ACNA is not now, never has been, and never will be in the Anglican Communion. As far as the theology and practice of religion in DSC goes, at best it could be called a fundamentalist manifestation of Anglicanism. Classical Anglicanism is a three-legged stool, reason, scripture, tradition. The leaders of DSC have discarded two of the three legs in favor of only one, scripture. A one-legged stool will not stand.  

The main point of all of this is that the people in South Carolina should get the reality that the Episcopal Church diocese is in the Anglican Communion and the breakaway diocese is not in the Anglican Communion. Lawrence will not be joining the Anglican bishops at Lambeth. What people do with this reality is up to them.

Friday, February 22, 2019





SHOULD THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH BISHOPS BOYCOTT LAMBETH?




Should the bishops of the U.S. Episcopal Church stay away from the Lambeth Conference of 2020? This would be in protest of the actions of the host, the Archbishop of Canterbury. At first, the archbishop said, in a prominently posted video, all Anglican Communion bishops and their spouses would be invited to the conference. Then, he pointedly dis-invited the same-sex spouses. The secretary general of the Communion announced the news of this on the Internet, on 15 February. To defend this action, the secretary general cited a resolution passed by the 1998 Lambeth Conference that condemned homosexuality. So, under the new arrangement, the archbishop is inviting openly gay bishops, while very publicly dis-inviting their legal spouses. In addition to the problems of glaring hypocrisy and illogic, there is the bigger issue of moral failing involved in this, from the archbishop of Canterbury no less. No one has spoken about this more eloquently than Gay Jennings, the president of TEC's House of Deputies. Find her statement here .

If you have been following this thread lately, you know the Internet is lit up with commentary about the archbishop's action. Some social media commentators are calling for the American bishops to boycott Lambeth in protest. I disagree with them. Let me tell you why.

Now, do not get me wrong. What the archbishop has done is morally reprehensible. It is a failing on his part. I have added my little voice in criticism of him. However, I still do not think the bishops should boycott.

The Anglican Communion is in a sort of state of war. The fight is over whether open ("practicing") homosexual persons should have equal rights and full inclusion in our form of religion which is that of the Anglican tradition. On one side, the American Episcopal Church led a great revolutionary movement for rights and inclusion which was clarified and enacted institutionally in the 1990's and early 2000s. The Anglican Church of Canada moved along at the same time. Soon thereafter other western provinces began moving along the same track, most notably the Scottish Episcopal Church. On the other side, in the 1990s, a counter-revolutionary movement sprang up in an alliance of anti-gay rights American Episcopalians and equatorial African bishops. In time, this union formed GAFCON, explicitly created to condemn gay rights in the church and to replace the American and Canadian branches of the Anglican Communion with a new church specifically created to oppose rights for homosexuals in the church (Anglican Church in North America). Thus, GAFCON declared war on the pro-gay rights western provinces. In an effort to appease GAFCON, the archbishop of Canterbury refused to invite the openly gay American bishop, Gene Robinson, to the Lambeth Conference of 2008. Since then, the battle lines have hardened. The Episcopal Church moved on to the blessings of same-sex unions and adoption of same-sex marriage. GAFCON stepped up its counter-attack on the Americans-Canadians-Scots. GAFCON is threatening to break up the old Anglican Communion into two parts along the fault line of homosexuality. It would get the majority and leave the minority under the old Anglican Communion headed by the archbishop of Canterbury. Three equatorial African primates have already said they will boycott next year's Lambeth Conference and the bishops of two of those provinces have said they will boycott as groups. The war is heating up. The archbishop of Canterbury is trying to keep the Anglican Communion intact.

In a situation like this, we should keep in mind the big picture and the little. We have to weight the two and choose our battles. One cannot fight every battle. One has to choose and should choose on which battles gain more for the ultimate goal. Off the top of my head, I can think of numerous examples in history where leaders had to balance the big and small picture. The great ones knew this and succeeded at it.

A couple of examples. In the Civil War, as Sherman was making his march through Georgia from Atlanta to Savannah, he made some hard choices. Thousands of former slaves, who did not know what to do or where to go, began tagging along behind the Union army. Sherman cut them off every time. If the army crossed a river, he had the crossings destroyed leaving the desperate blacks on the opposite bank. He also learned of a prison camp of unimaginably bad conditions, not far south of Macon. Walking skeletons were stumbling in. Instead of diverting the army to free the thousands of dying Union prisoners at Andersonville, he pressed on to Savannah. Thousands of sick and starving men died in the few months to come before the end of the war. Sherman made his choices because he kept the big picture in mind. He knew that ending the war as early as possible would be best overall.

In another example, in the Second World War, the British had the secret German code machine, "Engima." They deciphered the German secret messages throughout the war. The Germans did not know this. Churchill went to great lengths to protect this secret often having to refuse actions that would have saved lives. There is a story that one time, early on, a message came over the machine for the bombing of Coventry. Churchill had to decide whether or not to save Coventry. If he did, the German would know he was intercepting their secret messages and would destroy the machine. Churchill decided to do nothing. The Germans bombed the daylights out of Coventry. Some historians have denied this story but even if untrue there were other cases when Enigma had to be protected. In the big picture, Churchill was right to preserve Enigma's secrecy because the machine proved to be incredibly invaluable later on in the war, as in D-Day. The British and American authorities knew exactly what the Germans were thinking and doing. The Normandy invasion was hard enough. It would have been much, much harder, perhaps impossible, without Enigma. Churchill made hard choices that turned out to be right. He kept the big picture in mind.

I could go on, but my point is:  when one is at war, one should always keep the big picture in mind and judge the trees in terms of the forest. Sometimes, trees have to be sacrificed for the sake of the greater good of the forest. Yes, what the archbishop did to the spouses was despicable. But, there is a much greater wrong bearing down in the impending destruction of the Anglican Communion at the hands of GAFCON.

So, here is my unsolicited, and humble, advice to the American, Canadian, and Scots bishops:  go to the Lambeth Conference. Make your voices heard. Speak out loudly and continually against the immorality of prejudice and discrimination. Respect the person-hood of those who have declared war on you but witness to them the errors of their judgments. You will be far more effective for your positions than you would be by staying home and silent.

Bishops, pick you battles wisely. Keep the big picture in mind. Keep the Anglican Communion intact. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019





ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY 
CALLS PRIMATES TO MEET




News broke yesterday that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has called a meeting of the heads of the forty provinces of the Anglican Communion. It is to be 13-17 January 2020, in Amman, Jordan. Find the Anglican Communion News Service report here .

The purpose of the meeting obviously is to hold together as much unity as possible in the run-up to the Lambeth Conference of 2020 on which the archbishop seems to be staking his entire legacy. This is a risky gamble in view of the fact that GAFCON has already signaled a massive boycott of the conference. Last year GAFCON made an impossible demand on the archbishop:  that he not invite the bishops of the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Scottish Episcopal Church, and that he invite the bishops of the Anglican Church in North America. ACNA is not part of the Anglican Communion. The head of GAFCON said if Welby did not go along with this demand, the bishops of GAFCON should seriously consider not attending (aka boycott) the Lambeth Conference. Three equatorial African primates then announced they would boycott, Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda. Two convocations of bishops, Nigeria and Uganda announced they would not go to Lambeth. In terms of membership, these are two of the largest provinces of the Anglican Communion. The archbishop seems desperate to have a good turnout for a meeting that he has worked to hard to bring about.

The archbishop did not accept the GAFCON demand. He invited all of the current bishops of the forty provinces (even the ones he knew were openly homosexual). He did not invite non-Anglican Communion bishops, as those of ACNA. As we know, at first he invited all of the spouses to attend and then reneged and dis-invited the spouses of the bishops in same-sex marriages. How this came about, we do not know yet. This, of course, has been all over the news in the past few days only adding more problems for the archbishop in his quest for a "successful" conference.

The stated purpose of next January's meeting, at least according to the ACNS, is for the primates to "decide the agenda [of the Conference] together" and to discuss the work of the Archbishop's Task Group. This was established in the January 2016 primates' meeting in which the Episcopal Church was given a slap on the wrist (three year semi-suspension) for adopting same-sex marriage. The Episcopal Church more or less ignored the slap much to the chagrin of the equatorial Africans who remain adamantly opposed to equality for and inclusion of homosexuals in any part of the Anglican Communion. They are particularly steamed at TEC, hence the GAFCON demands on the archbishop of last year and this year.

Interesting to note the timing of the archbishop's call. The public announcement was made yesterday, 20 February, just seven days before the GAFCON leaders are set to convene in Dubai. 

What is going on here? Here is what I think. This whole business is a tug-of-war between the hard right of GAFCON (the equatorial African provinces) and the archbishop. They are fighting over the rest of the GAFCON/Global South orbit, most of which is not so strongly devoted to a fundamentalist, anti-gay-rights agenda. If three GAFCON primates have announced they are boycotting Lambeth, that leaves many others who must decide whether they will go along with the hard right or with the archbishop. They are the ones under pressure now. To boycott, or to attend? This is certain to be the overriding issue in the Dubai meeting. Only time will tell us who wins this tug-of-war. Will it be Okoh and allies, or Welby?

In the bigger picture, there is much more at stake here than who will attend the next Lambeth Conference. What is at issue is the future of the Anglican Communion. Welby wants to preserve the traditional Anglican Communion. It is forty independent churches under the nominal head (in communion with) of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The leaders of GAFCON want to divide the old Communion into two adversarial parts along the lines of the issue of homosexuality. They have been working on this for two decades. If the old AC splits, the majority will be in the anti-homosexual-rights wing led by GAFCON. The Archbishop of Canterbury would be irrelevant. Only the minority, the pro-homosexual-rights wing would continue the old AC and recognition of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is not over-statement to say that the life and death of the Anglican Communion is the real issue at hand.

__________________________________

Follow up on last several blog entries:

A group called OneBodyOneFaith in England is stepping in to right the wrong that the Archbishop did by dis-inviting the same-sex spouses. They are inviting these spouses and are working to provide accommodations and support for them in hopes all of them will be present at the Lambeth Conference. See the article on this here . Thank you, OneBobyOneFaith for this much needed show of moral courage. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019





GAFCON PILES ON; 
APPEASEMENT SET TO FAIL




Gafcon reacted yesterday to the public relations disaster Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury has made for himself. It posted an anonymous article on its website, "Lambeth 2020 Descends into Confusion." Find it here . If the archbishop thought that dis-inviting the same-sex spouses would bring the rebellious Gafcon crowd around to attending next year's Lambeth Conference, he got a clear response yesterday. Gafcon is reveling in the archbishop's self-made disaster. For more than a decade now, it has been Gafcon's mission to weaken the archbishop of Canterbury's authority and split the old Anglican Communion into two adversarial parts, the Gafcon-led anti-gay rights and fundamentalist majority versus the old First World, pro-gay-rights dominated minority Anglican Communion. Gafcon asserted that recognition of the Archbishop of Canterbury is not necessary for Anglicans. It is in Gafcon's interest to diminish the archbishop in the Anglican world. They are taking this opportunity that he has handed them. 

In the first place, Gafcon points out that the archbishop has reneged on his original invitation to all spouses. Welby made a promotional video for the conference last year. It is dated on Youtube at November 22, 2018, but scenes were shot in a summer garden, presumably that of Lambeth Palace in London. Those scenes would have to have been made a couple of months before the date. The archbishop declares clearly in the video, "bishops' spouses will be invited as well as bishops" as he goes on to describe activities for the spouses. Find the video here . Go to 3:50 to find his remark. 

At some unknown time in late 2018 or early 2019, Welby communicated by telephone or letter with the three bishops who have same-sex spouses and told them their spouses were not invited to the conference. Then, he left it to the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Idowu-Fearon, to announce the news to the world via the Internet on 15 February 2019.

In the second place, Gafcon points out the illogic of inviting the openly homosexual bishops while dis-inviting their legal spouses and justifying this by the Lambeth Resolution 1.10 of 1998 that condemns homosexuality:

The depth of theological confusion is revealed by the fact that Dr. Idowu-Fearon defends the decision to disinvite spouses in same-sex marriages on the grounds that such relationships are contrary to Lambeth Resolution 1.10, while at the same time making it clear that the bishops who have contracted such unions will be invited.

On what possible moral or Scriptural grounds can such discrimination be practiced? The bishops who are being invited share the same lifestyle and the same beliefs about marriage as their spouses.

One has to admit, Gafcon has a point here. In the end, Gafcon stuck to its guns and reiterated their demand that "those who fail to uphold the biblical standard," e.g. the Episcopal Church, should be excluded and "those who uphold it," e.g. ACNA, should be included in the Lambeth Conference of 2020. They continued, "Instead, we have a token acknowledgement of Lambeth 1.10 which is shamelessly used to exclude a few same-sex spouses while bishops from five provinces which have formally recognized such same-sex marriages are welcomed." Appeasement rebuffed.

It should be recalled that on June 22, 2018, Gafcon sent a letter to the churches urging the archbishop of Canterbury to 1)invite to the Lambeth Conference the bishops of ACNA and the breakaway Anglican church in Brazil, and 2)not to invite the bishops of the provinces who have supported gay-rights. Find the letter here . It went on "In the event this does not occur, we urge Gafcon members to decline the invitation to attend Lambeth 2020 and all other meetings of the instruments of Communion." The bishops of two provinces, Nigeria and Uganda, subsequently announced that they would not attend the Lambeth Conference.

It is entirely possible that Welby simply was not thinking about same-sex spouses when he said, rather offhandedly, that the spouses would be invited. However, he said it in a video that his office placed prominently, and still keeps, inexplicably, on its "Lambeth Conference" website. Find it here . He should have known what would happen. If Welby's remark were only an unthinking slip, he handled it badly. If it were not a slip, but a deliberate reversal, it is more serious. It shows that it was a calculated move to please the Gafcon opposition who were possibly putting pressure on him. Now, the timing of Idowu-Fearon's letter of 15 February is curious in light of the fact that the Gafcon leaders will be gathering in Dubai on 25 February. Is reversal of policy ten days ahead just a coincidence? I suspect not.

If Welby's ploy is to soften up the resistance of Gafcon by throwing the same-sex spouses under the bus, well, we will just have to wait and see how effective it will be later this month. I think we can all take a wild guess about that. If yesterday's statement from Gafcon is any indication of the response to come in a few days, we may suspect, with good reason, that this clumsy attempt will fail. Appeasement does not work. It never works. The archbishop of Canterbury should have known that. All indication is that he has made things worse for himself. He has the pro-gay-rights bishops upset with him. At the same time, he has played into the hands of Gafcon and made their opposition to him even stronger. This is the opposite of what he should want. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019




A SELF-MADE DISASTER




On one hand we have to feel sorry for Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Today, everybody is denouncing him, and I mean EVERYONE (except the paid authorities under him). On the right and the left he is under withering attack, a perfect storm of slings and arrows. On the other hand, one cannot feel sorry for him. He created this disaster himself, out of the blue. He has no one to blame for this debacle but himself. He has managed to offend everyone and please no one. This is not a place an archbishop of Canterbury should want to be.

The news hit the world on Friday, 15 February, in a letter of Josiah Isowu-Fearon, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. He announced that the archbishop had invited all current bishops of the forty Anglican Communion provinces to the Lambeth Conference next year, but had told those with same-sex spouses that the spouses were not invited. All opposite-sex spouses were invited.

The media world lit up immediately with loud reaction from the most lofty newspapers, as The Times, of London, down to the most lowly Internet bloggers (ahem). If one Googles the subject, one will find a long list of reactions to the news. Other than The Times (requires subscription), Reuters carried an important story describing the reaction, "Anglican Church Slammed for Excluding Same-Sex Spouses from 2020 Conference." Perhaps the best article on the Internet now, that I highly recommend is the Episcopal News Service story. Find it here .

Lest one think only the pro-gay-rights side denounced the Archbishop's action, one should scan the opposite side. Perhaps the best statement from the anti side is Stephen Noll's, "Lambeth Hypocrisy: Disinviting the Spouses." Find it here . Of course, what the GAFCON crowd wants, and is in fact demanding, is that not only gay bishops be banned, but the U.S. Episcopal Church be banned and replaced at Lambeth by the homophobic Anglican Church in North America. This is not going to happen, but what is going to happen is that many bishops of GAFCON will stay away from Lambeth the way they did in 2008 when they created the anti-gay-rights GAFCON. 

So, Justin Welby, the ABC, has made a mess of things. Everyone is criticizing him. No one is defending him. If he is trying to hold a feuding Communion together, he is finding it far more difficult than he imagined. In fact, he added fuel to the fire. One lesson he should learn from this is that every decision he makes regarding homosexuality has huge consequences. He should make these with the utmost of caution and reason. The problem here is that he is approaching homosexuality as an administrative issue when it is a moral issue. As the archbishop of a major Christian tradition, one would expect him to choose morality first. The church as an institution flows, or should flow, from morality, not the other way around. Is it moral for the church to discriminate against and exclude open homosexual persons? I think not.

Perhaps the biggest take-away from this bruhaha is that homosexuality is still the fundamental issue facing the Anglican Communion today, as it has been for the last twenty-plus years. The five schisms in the Episcopal Church loudly pretended that their actions stemmed from theology not social policy. Only lately did Bishop Lawrence admit that he left the Episcopal Church because of the transgender issue. Actually, the evidence is overwhelming that the issues around homosexuality directly led to the schisms as it is leading to the division in the Anglican world today.

Where the Anglican Communion goes from here is very much an open question. First World provinces are moving quickly and decisively to human rights for and inclusion of gays as their cultures are doing. Equatorial Africa is fighting a counter offensive demanding that Anglicanism condemn homosexuality as their cultures have done traditionally. GAFCON has institutionalized homophobia in the guise of fundamentalism. While reiterating their loyalty to the Communion, the GAFCON leaders have in fact been working to break it up into two blocks, an anti-gay majority and a pro-gay minority. This is what the Archbishop of Canterbury is trying to prevent. His experience of the last few days should tell him he has a lot harder job than he had thought and he needs to reevaluate the way he is going about this. Above all he needs to do the right thing. Years from now, history will judge him on whether he took the morally courageous stand, not whether he kept the Lambeth Conferences going.

Monday, February 18, 2019





ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY 
TO SAME-SEX SPOUSES:  STAY AWAY




The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is wringing his hands these days ahead of next year's Lambeth Conference which GAFCON is threatening to sabotage. The bishops of two of the largest provinces of the Anglican Communion have committed themselves to boycotting the Conference, Uganda and Nigeria. GAFCON will hold a conference later this month, "G19," in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 25 February to 1 March. The attendees are sure to discuss whether to attend the Lambeth Conference. The chairman of GAFCON has already signaled the fierce response of GAFCON. We can expect more boycotts.

In an apparent carrot gesture to GAFCON, the Archbishop of Canterbury has privately communicated to the Anglican bishops with same-sex spouses that the spouses are not invited to the Conference. All opposite-sex spouses are invited.

This was actually announced not by the Archbishop, but by Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. Find his statement here . He wrote:

It would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference. The Archbishop of Canterbury has had a series of private conversations by phone or by exchanges of letter with the few individuals to whom this applies.

There are several aspects of this that are disappointing. In the first place, why cannot the Archbishop make his own announcements instead of hiding behind others? ABC, show some courage. You are the ABC. In the second place, what is the purpose of this? Does the ABC seriously think this will attract more anti-gay rights bishops to attend? Absurd. In the third place, this is appeasement. The ABC, as a student of British history, should know better than most the danger of appeasement. It only emboldens the aggressor.

As hurtful as this is to the same-sex spouses, this kind of shameful discrimination certainly cannot be new to them. However, this does not excuse it or make it any better. The ABC should be ashamed.

The ABC is trying to have it both ways on a highly contentious issue. This will not work. He either stands for the human rights of homosexual persons or he does not. He is not going to keep the Anglican Communion together by trying to straddle the fence. The Anglicans who condemn homosexuality are not going to meet the other side half way. They are not going to meet at all. As an old, white southerner, I can tell you about the hold that deep-seated prejudice and discrimination can have on people. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury should seize the moment and do the morally right thing, become a champion of democratic rights, preside over the Lambeth Conference, and declare victory. Banning same-sex spouses from the Lambeth Conference makes him look, well, to be charitable, petty and weak.  

Saturday, February 16, 2019





SCHISMS AND MEMBERSHIP




A new article in The Living Church (find it here ) raises again the question of the effects of the schisms in the Episcopal Church on membership. The authors' thesis is that the Anglican Church in North America is growing and has good potential to become a serious rival of the Episcopal Church as the Anglican presence in North America. However, the data they present contradict this thesis, at least in regards to the five diocesan schisms in the Episcopal Church. The five schisms:

San Joaquin, 2007
Pittsburgh, 2008
Quincy, 2008
Fort Worth, 2008
South Carolina, 2012

All of these secessionist dioceses are now parts of the Anglican Church in North America. 

The ACNA does not release the details of its membership data, in contrast to the Episcopal Church which freely provides minute reporting. It has posted a brief report, "Congregational Report to Provincial Council 2017," with some membership figures. Compiling data from the article cited above, the ACNA 2017 report, the Episcopal Church statistical tables, and diocesan annual journals, here is what we find:



SAN JOAQUIN

Pre-schism diocese had 10,276 baptized members, in 2007. 

2007---Anglican Dio of SJ=App. 7,000 members.

2013---Anglican Dio of SJ=5,543 members

2015---Anglican Dio of SJ=5,118 members

2016---Anglican Dio of SJ=4,848 members

2017---Anglican Dio of SJ=3,981 members

2007-2017, overall decline of 6,295 members (-61%). Counting just the local churches of the ADSJ, loss was app. 3,000 members, or -42% in the decade after the schism.

By the latest figures, the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin is 39% of the pre-schism diocese.



PITTSBURGH

Pre-schism diocese had 19,198 baptized members, in 2008.

2008---Anglican Dio of P=app. 10,000 members

2014---Anglican Dio of P=7,937 members (app. 20% outside of old diocesan boundary)

2017---Anglican Dio of P=7,720 members (app. 20% outside of of diocesan boundary) 

2008-2017, overall decline of app. 14,000 members within the boundary of the old diocese. Counting just the churches of the Anglican Dio of P=loss of 2,280, or -23%.

By the latest figures, the churches within the old diocesan boundary of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh amount to 26% of the pre-schism diocese.



QUINCY

Before the schism, the diocese listed 1,823 baptized members. App. 1,200 members left with the schism.

Of the 30 local churches listed in the Dio of Quincy, about 12 are outside the old diocesan boundary. This makes it impossible to know the changes in the church membership within the old diocese. In the 2017 ACNA Congregational Report, it listed 2,105 members in 2015, 2,080 in 2016, and 2,493 in 2017. Perhaps a third of these numbers would be members outside of the old diocese. 



FORT WORTH

Pre-schism diocese had 17,457 baptized members, in 2008.

2008---(Anglican) Dio of FW=app. 12,000 members

2014---(Anglican) Dio of FW=11,758 members (some outside of old diocesan boundary)

2015---(Anglican) Dio of FW=10,939 members (some outisde of old diocesan boundary)

2017---(Anglican) Dio of FW=10,667 members (some outside of old diocesan boundary)

As Pittsburgh, Ft. Worth is an extra-territorial diocese with about a dozen churches of its forty-eight local churches beyond the old diocesan boundary. This means perhaps 20% of the above numbers are not in the area of the pre-schism diocese.

2008-2017, overall decline of 6,790 members, or -39%. The Anglican churches have lost app. 1,300 members, or -11% since the schism. 

As of 2017, the (Anglican) Dio of Fort Worth was 61% of the pre-schism diocese.



SOUTH CAROLINA

Had 27,670 communicants in 2008.

2011---50 churches of later (Anglican) Dio SC=21,993 communicants.

2016---(Anglican) Dio of SC=14,694 communicants.

2008-16, overall decline of Diocese of South Carolina of 12,976 communicants (-47%). 

The 50 (of the 71) local churches that went along with the schism counted 19,338 communicants in 2008. In 2011, the last year before the schism, they listed 21,993 communicants. In 2016, they reported 14,694 communicants, a loss of 7,499, or -34% from 2011 to 2016. The schism occurred in 2012.

As of 2016, the (Anglican) Dio of South Carolina was 53% of the pre-schism diocese.



CONCLUSION

Of the five schisms, four provide meaningful membership statistics. All four of these show significant and constant decline. Every one has lost members every year since its schism. Not one has show any year-to-year growth. The fifth, Quincy is the only one to show any growth and its figures are impossible to discern in terms of the old diocese. 

The most serious fall has been in the Anglican Dio of Pittsburgh that is now just over a quarter of the size of the pre-schsim diocese and at least a third smaller than the Episcopal Dio of Pittsburgh. In terms of membership, the schism in Pittsburgh has been a disaster. 

South Carolina has also seen precipitous drop. The (Anglican) diocese is now about half the size of the pre-schsim diocese and has seen relentless and continuous declines in communicant numbers. Official statistics show that the churches of the (Anglican) diocese of South Carolina lost a third of their communicant numbers after the schism.

The Anglican diocese of San Joaquin has lost 42% of its membership since the schism.

The (Anglican) diocese of Fort Worth has lost 11% of its membership.

To recap, all four measurable schisms are down significantly from their pre-division numbers. The breakaway dioceses: San Joaquin down 61%, Pitt down 74%, South Carolina down 47%, and Fort Worth down 39%.  Considering just the local churches that went along with the schisms, we find San Joaquin down 42%, Pittsburgh down 26%, Fort Worth down 11%, and South Carolina down 34%. Thus, there is across the board, relentless decline in membership numbers within the breakaway dioceses. San Joaquin has seen the most severe loss, South Carolina next.

Therefore, for anyone to believe that the Anglican Church in North America is growing, one would have to ignore what has happened in the five schisms in the Episcopal Church. In terms of membership, they have seen a dramatic fall, the trajectory of which portends imminent disaster.

Bottom line, the schisms created church decline. One should recall that the original goal of the Anglican Realignment movement in the 1990's was the destruction, or drastic diminution, of the Episcopal Church. If this were indeed the motivation of the five schisms, they have turned out to be kamikaze missions.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019




LEGAL NEWS --- 2-13-2019




There was a bit of legal news today, 13 February. Judge Richard Gergel, of the United States District Court, in Charleston, amended the scheduling order in the case of vonRosenberg v. Lawrence. He changed the date of a possible trial from March 1, 2019, or after, to May 1, 2019, or after. 

No explanation was given for setting the new date. There could possibly be several reasons for the change. For one, it could mean that Gergel is giving himself more time to issue a ruling. This would settle the matter without a trial. Both sides have petitioned him to render a judgment directly, that is, without going through a formal trial. He may be preparing to issue a judgment in the next couple of months. Or, it could possibly mean he is giving the lawyers on both sides more time to prepare for a courtroom trial, over which he will preside, to some time after May 1st. As I understand it, this case could proceed until the judge grants a petition on his own, or is resolved in a formal courtroom trial.

The case is based on the Lanham Act that protects federally registered trademarks from infringement. The Episcopal Church bishops, Charles vonRosenberg and "Skip" Adams, are charging that Mark Lawrence is in violation of the Act as he is pretending to be the Episcopal bishop even though he left the Episcopal Church in October of 2012. In essence, the suit is to have the federal court recognize the Episcopal Church diocese as the legal heir of the pre-schism diocese. This would return to the Church the names, marks, symbols, and assets of the diocese as they existed before October 15, 2012. The defendant, Mark Lawrence, the bishop of the breakaway diocese, is asserting that the pre-schism diocese legally seceded from the Episcopal Church and he remains the lawful bishop of the diocese which still uses the pre-schism names. His diocese is presently in possession of the names, marks, symbols, and assets of the old diocese. Although the majority of the South Carolina Supreme Court justices opined that the Episcopal Church diocese was the legal heir of the old diocese, they left it to the federal court to wrap up this issue. 

The federal case should not be confused with the state case. The federal case deals with the entity of the diocese. The state case deals with the local properties of the parishes. The state supreme court has ruled that 29 of the 36 in question, plus Camp St. Christopher, are legally under the Episcopal Church. Judge Edgar Dickson is the circuit court judge in charge of implementing the decision. We are awaiting his action. He received the case thirteen months ago and has rendered no decision even though he has collected voluminous written and oral arguments from the lawyers on both sides.

There is reason to hope that both judges will reach decisions within the next few months.  

Saturday, February 9, 2019





BISHOP OF ALABAMA TO RETIRE 
IN 2020, CALLS FOR COADJUTOR




The bishop of Alabama, the Rt. Rev. "Kee" Sloan, announced today that he will be retiring as diocesan bishop at the end of 2020. He called for the election of a bishop coadjutor to succeed him. 

The diocese of Alabama standing committee will soon meet with the Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley, of the office of pastoral development. The standing committee will appoint a search committee to conduct a search and recommend candidates for the position of bishop coadjutor.

The diocese of Alabama has been blessed to have had great leadership, particularly in the last few decades. Sloan and his  predecessor, Henry N. Parsley, were outstanding leaders in the diocese and the broader church. Parsley barely lost out to Katharine Jefferts Schori in the election of presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in 2006. The bishops have steered the diocese on a moderate course, and one absolutely loyal to the national church. 

On the whole, Alabama has been strongly attached to the national church. However, there have been pockets of resistance and a few breakaway congregations have formed but none that required contentious litigation. To be sure, Alabama has contributed notable schismatic leaders over the years. The pioneer of schism in South Carolina, Chuck Murphy, came from Alabama, as did Marcus Robertson, the one-time rector of Christ Church in Savannah. After he lost in the state supreme court, Robertson led a move out to form an Anglican church in Savannah. 

At present, the center of criticism of the national church in the diocese of Alabama is located in Cathedral Church of the Advent, in Birmingham, where the dean is Andrew Pearson, who went to Advent from St. Helena's in Beaufort where he served under Jeff Miller. Pearson was involved in the diocesan conventions in SC as the meetings passed resolutions distancing the diocese from the national church. He moved to Alabama before the break in 2012, thus retaining his holy orders in TEC. The relationship between Advent and the rest of the diocese of Alabama would best be described as cautiously distant. Advent apparently has adopted a highly evangelical/fundamentalist bent not characteristic of most of the rest of the diocese. In the past, Pearson has been a vocal critic the diocese's support of the national church. He also participated in last year's Anglican conference at Samford University, in Birmingham, which turned out to be, unsurprisingly, quite critical of TEC. The Samford school of theology has set up a program for the training of non-Episcopal "Anglican" clergy. With this, the schismatics have made a toehold in Alabama. So far, however, the clergy of Advent have assured everyone they are part and parcel of the Episcopal Church. One may wonder at how happy that bond may be.

It is absolutely imperative that the new search committee in the diocese of Alabama be on the same page as the leaders of the diocese in the past few decades. Loyalty to the national church should be a given among the committee. In South Carolina, Bishop Salmon set up a search committee in 2005 that was guaranteed to be controlled by the clergy of the diocese. By that point the clergy were overwhelmingly critical of the national church. Sure enough, dissatisfied with fifty candidates, the committee called on Mark Lawrence, a man who had been strongly critical of the national church to make himself a candidate. Three months later, he was elected bishop. Never let it be said that search committees are not important. The one in SC made all the difference. Those twelve people were, arguably, the ones who put Lawrence in office.

The schismatic movement in the Episcopal Church has declined markedly. The Bishop Love episode demonstrates this. Love has challenged the church but has remained loyal to it. There is no sign that he is moving to break away from the church. However, there is still a significant amount of hostility across the church to its policies of human rights, particularly for equality and inclusion of gays. Dissension is declining, but it is still there and is still a force to be reckoned with.

The new search committee in Alabama would do well to study the five recent schisms in the Episcopal Church, especially the one in South Carolina. The lessons are there in stark reality. 




JUDGE RICHARD GERGEL 
CONFRONTS HISTORY




Federal Judge Richard Gergel is the judge handling the case now in the United States District Court, in Charleston, of vonRosenberg v. Lawrence. Here, the Episcopal Church is essentially claiming ownership of the pre-schism diocese that is now in the possession of the secessionist party under Bishop Mark Lawrence. The case is supposed to come to trial in the next few weeks.

Judge Gergel has confronted history on a personal level. Last month, he published a book entitled Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring. It has received only rave reviews and is high on the various lists at Amazon. It is an instant classic. One may order it from Amazon in hardcover for $17.70, and also by Kindle and CD audio. For a brief synopsis of the story, see this article in yesterday's New York Times. The point of the book is that the incredibly horrific treatment of Woodard by white authorities in SC and the social validation of this enormous injustice jolted two southern whites, Truman and Waring, to make tremendous changes toward justice in official policies toward African Americans. 

What might all of this have to do with the schism? I certainly would never dare to speak for Gergel, or anyone else for that matter, but since his book came out, I cannot but help to see Gergel as a man who knows discrimination when he sees it. And, after all, the schism in South Carolina was directly caused by discrimination against another mistreated minority. The majority of the old diocese broke from the Episcopal Church in order to keep open homosexuals and the transgendered from having equality and inclusion in the church. The schism is about how we treat our gay and transgendered brothers and sisters. And, now we know Judge Gergel is an intelligent and well-informed man who holds a remarkably high understanding of social justice.

Friday, February 8, 2019





DEALING WITH HISTORY




We southerners, particularly we Episcopalians, are having to confront our history now more than ever. What has brought this up at the moment is how we see our Confederate past. What to do with all the statues and various memorials to the civilian and military leaders of the old Confederacy? There are thousands of them. They are everywhere. After all, the Confederate States had two major purposes: to divide the old union into two nation-states and to keep four million people in slavery. This is a blatantly racist past that is now shockingly contradictory to the values of egalitarian democracy in modern America. It is hard for a lot of white southerners, but we must, we must condemn and repudiate racism. It was wrong on so many levels, and it remains wrong to hold up the errors of the past now as right and good. 

I had to deal with the memory of slavery in a small way recently. My local church, built in 1856, had never acknowledged its debt to enslaved African Americans. The church, built from Richard Upjohn's pattern book, Upjohn's Rural Architecture, came in well under budget. This was because all of the manual labor was performed by the slaves of the founding families. They were paid nothing. Not even their names were recorded. I saw to it on the new historical marker that at least the enslaved laborers were remembered as a group.

Whether to remove the monuments glorifying our Confederate past has become a major controversy as we all know. In Alabama, the state legislature passed a law making it illegal to remove historical statues and monuments erected more than a half-century ago. The city council of Birmingham said OK, then built a tall wall around their downtown Confederate obelisk. The monument is still there but no one can see it. 

St. John's Episcopal Church in downtown Montgomery, the oldest Episcopal parish of the city, recently decided to deal with this issue. Jefferson Davis had been memorialized there. Read the article in Episcopal News Service about this here .

We cannot escape our past, nor should we. It is always in us. It is always with us. But, we have to learn to deal with it as we evolve our understandings of how to improve the relationships among ourselves as American citizens. The state of South Carolina rightfully removed the Confederate battle flag from the state house grounds, but they did not destroy it. They put it in a museum, where it, and all of our Confederate past, belongs. 

I for one am proud that St. John's church is doing the right thing. We southerners, especially we Episcopalians, ought to take to heart the reasons why we have to change our relationships to the past to make a better world. We must condemn racism, and the conditions of our history that produced it. If we do not, we are not being true to our ideals as Americans and principles as Christians. 



AN EARLY SPRING




I am sorry to report that there is nothing new to report on the schism. We are still waiting, waiting, on the state and federal courts to act. I am hopeful that federal Judge Richard Gergel will proceed with his earlier announced plan for a trial in March. However, I have heard nothing new on this. As for Judge Edgar Dickson, well, who knows? He has been sitting on the SC supreme court decision for well over a year now and has issued no decision. When he will act is anyone's guess. I still believe he has no alternative but to implement the state supreme court decision. When he will do it is the big question.

Since it is Friday, at least we can end the week with a stroll around my garden. It has been unusually warm and sunny here for the last few days. This has brought out many of the early-blooming plants. The winter has been relatively mild with no snow and temperatures down into the low 20s only a couple of times. Although winter weather is not over here in the south, there is definitely a refreshing feeling of spring in the air.
Walking around the garden this early February morning, here is what we see:



I am in front of the Fujino Pink Spiraea. I am welcoming you to my garden.

Narcissus "Tête-à-tête." Very early blooming daffodil. Tiny flowers. Reliable.

Paper bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha). Strangely beautiful shrub that blooms in winter with tube-like and fragrant flowers. Needs some shade. 

Japanese Flowering Cherry tree (Prunus x yedoensis). This tree is just starting to flower. Spectacular in full bloom, covered with soft pink flowers. 



Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) "Most fragrant" is appropriate for this evergreen shrub that fills this corner of the garden with sweet scent in the winter.


Spiraea thunbergii "Fujino pink." On left is Carolina jasmine that is about to bloom.


Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum). Shrub form of jasmine that is covered with small yellow flowers in the winter.


Of course, the camellias are still in full bloom and are still the stars of the garden, but I have shown so many photos of camellias lately you are probably tired of them.

I hope you enjoyed our little walk around my garden. If you live in the south, no doubt you are seeing signs of early spring all around you.

I will relay news of the schism as I can. If Judge Gergel does hold a trial in March, I plan to attend the whole event and report daily on its course. Odds are that the Episcopal Church will prevail there too. If so, the Church will resume control over the pre-schism entity of the diocese that was seized by the secessionists when they left the Church. The state supreme court has already said the Church diocese is the legitimate heir of the old diocese, and I am confident Judge Gergel will see the same. 

The end of the legal mess is in sight even if our progress to it is excruciatingly slow. The end will come just as certainly as spring will arrive. I say, the sooner the better in both cases. Until then, let's just enjoy the wonders of God's great creation. They are all around us.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019





BLAKE HEWITT ELECTED 
TO THE SC COURT OF APPEALS




Attorney Blake Hewitt was elected by the South Carolina state legislature meeting in a joint session of the house and the senate today. Hewitt won a vote of 87-73 over the other candidate, Circuit Court Judge Alison Renee Lee, of Columbia, for a seat on the second highest court of the state the SC Court of Appeals (there are nine seats on this court). Lee is an African American; and the black caucus in the legislature protested the vote. See the AP article on this here .

The state legislature elected forty-four judges today, but only two races were contested.

Readers will recall that Blake Hewitt was the lawyer who presented the appeal of Judge Goodstein's decision to the South Carolina Supreme Court on September 23, 2015. He represented the Episcopal Church side in the state high court. His effectiveness became evident when the court issued its decision twenty-two months later recognizing the Episcopal Church ownership of 29 of the 36 parishes in question plus Camp St. Christopher. The court also said the Church diocese was the legitimate heir of the pre-schism Diocese of South Carolina. Hewitt had been clerk to Chief Justice Jean Toal. The last time he was considered for the state appeals court, he failed to win the seat.

Circuit Court Judge Edgar Dickson is now considering the SCSC decision. On the highly remote chance this case, or some aspect of it, gets back into the state courts, it could go to the SC Court of Appeals where Mr. Hewitt will be sitting on the bench. 


Sunday, February 3, 2019




METHODISTS AND HOMOSEXUALITY


Hug your Methodist friends. They are going to need it. The United Methodist Church is about to take up the issues of homosexuality that have roiled the Episcopal Church for the past thirty years. In fact, the Bishop Love episode in Albany reminds us, as if we need it, that these issues are far from being resolved in the Episcopal Church even though there have been enormous strides in that direction. 

From February 23 to 26, a special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church will meet in Saint Louis, Missouri, to take up various resolutions on changes to the Methodist rules concerning homosexuality. As of now, the United Methodist Book of Discipline declares "The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." (304.1) It forbids both a "practicing" homosexual person from being ordained in the Church and for churches to be used for same-sex marriages. Advocates of human rights, for equality and inclusion of homosexuals persons in the Methodist church, are pushing for substantial reforms in the old rules. The church has optimistically allotted three days for the 864 delegates to deal with this vast and complex set of issues. This is not realistic.

There will be many pieces of legislation and resolutions offered, but three have already arisen to the forefront (see this article ):


1. THE TRADITIONAL PLAN. Conservative agenda. Keeps in place the bans on the ordinations of openly gay persons and same-sex blessings and marriages as well as the condemnation of the "practice" of homosexuality. It also strengthens strict enforcement of the rules. However, the plan also calls for local conferences and churches that disagree with this to have some sort of autonomy although this is unclear.

This plan is obviously backed by traditionalist, conservative factions that seem to have unified around it.


2. THE ONE CHURCH PLAN. This one was the work of the 32-member Commission on a Way Forward, set up by the church in 2016. 

This removes the language in the Book of Discipline that condemns homosexuality and deletes the provision banning "practicing" homosexuals from the ordained ministry. It would allow the local conferences to determine their own rules for ordination. In addition, it would allow clergy to conduct same-sex marriages in the local churches.

This opens up the whole church to the possibility of openly gay clergy and to same-sex marriages, but does not require any local conference to adopt such.

This plan is backed by the progressives who advocate for equality and inclusion of homosexuals.


3. THE CONNECTIONAL CONFERENCE PLAN. This plan would replace the five U.S. church jurisdictions with three "connectional conferences" that are united on issues rather than on geography. Each local conference would join the one of the three it chose. Each of the three new conferences would have virtually independent rules. All of this would require a list of constitutional amendments to enact, a heavy burden.

Conventional wisdom holds that this plan is the least likely to be adopted because of its entangled complications.

For more reflections on the three plans see here and here .



As far as I can gather, one of five options is likely to happen in the special session: one of the three plans will be adopted, no plan will be adopted, or a hybrid conglomeration combining various resolutions will be adopted. I suspect the last is the most likely at this point. I expect in the end there will be a "committee resolution" in which everyone gains something but no one is happy with the result. If the first or second plan passes as is, we can expect schisms of whole conferences and numerous local churches even though the United Methodists have property laws that have been described as "the Dennis Canon on steroids." Schisms would have lawsuits written all over them. Surely no sane person could wish on our Methodist brothers and sisters the destructive disaster than has befallen the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

What about the ordinary Methodists, the people-in-the-pews? What do they want to see happen on the issues of homosexuality? Good question. Let us go back to the recent Pew "Religious Landscape" study as look at what it found about Methodist thinking. Find it here .

The Pew study found that United Methodists tend to be politically conservative, 54% Republican and 35% Democrat. A plurality, 45% said they were conservative, 38% moderate, and 15% liberal. 67% said they wanted a smaller government and most (54%) said government programs for the poor do more harm than good. This would suggest popular sentiment for the traditional plan above.

However, on social issues, Methodists are about as progressive as Episcopalians and Anglicans. 58% of Methodists say abortion should be legal. On homosexuality, 60% said it should be "accepted" while 32% said it should be "discouraged." On same-sex marriage, more Methodists support it (49%) than oppose it (43%). This would suggest popular sentiment for the progressive plan above.

Thus, it boils down to whether the political or the social views win out. If Methodists want to interpret change in a political light, as "Anglicans" did, they will keep the traditional views and continue to exclude open homosexuals. If they want to interpret change in a social light, as the Episcopalians did, they will change the traditional rules to give equality and inclusion to openly homosexual men and women.

It is clear that American society has moved overwhelmingly to acceptance of homosexuality as another aspect of sexuality, neither inherently good nor bad, and has taken enormous strides towards full human rights for homosexual persons. If the Methodists decide to jump on the train of history, they will be fairly late to board. For years now, numerous denominations have extended equal rights to gays:  United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church USA, Quakers, Unitarians-Universalists, and the Episcopal Church. If the Methodists decide to join, they will be in good company indeed.

The United States adopted same-sex marriage in 2015 through a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the U.S. was far from being the first country to do so. In fact, numerous nations had already legalized same-sex marriage including hispanic countries with conservative cultures: the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, and Denmark. The first country, Netherlands, acted in 2001. At the time of the schism, in 2012, Bishop Lawrence was fond of saying that, in adopting the blessing of same-sex unions, the Episcopal Church was going where no civilization had ever gone. This was demonstrably untrue. In fact, twelve nations had already adopted same-sex marriage and numerous American denominations had already begun blessing same-sex unions.

I suspect the Methodists are just starting on a long road of gradual reform that will eventually reach full equality for and inclusion of open, or "practicing" homosexual men and women. This will not be simple or easy, just the opposite. Reforms of embedded social conventions are extremely difficult in democratic institutions. The best example of this is the American Civil War. It was the result of the spectacular failure of American citizens to deal with the human rights of four million enslaved people. For that failure, we paid a very high price, one that we southerners know well. Change is just so hard, particularly change in how we relate to one another. Yet, sometimes it has to come, and sometimes the hard way. The Methodists will realize this just as the Episcopalians did. 

If it is any comfort to the Methodists, they should realize the Episcopal Church has been working on these issues for at least thirty years and has still not reached a full resolution. To say the least it has not been easy. Change was not a foregone conclusion. In fact, the Episcopal Church acted only by reacting to provocative events. It was just too hard for the church to have a full, open discussion of the morality of homosexuality, so the church simply avoided it. Instead, the reforms came in piecemeal and by the back door. The first great episode started in 1989 when a "practicing" gay man was ordained to the priesthood. The church nearly fell apart in the next few years. What brought this to an end really was not the General Convention, it was an ecclesiastical court in 1996. The court ruled that there was nothing in Episcopal Church canons to block homosexuals from ordination. So much for settling the priesthood. Then came the episcopacy. In 2003, the General Convention had to vote on whether to confirm Robinson, an open and partnered gay man, as a bishop. It did. Then it took years for the church to reach the blessings of same-sex unions (2012) and same-sex marriage (2015). Now, Bishop William Love, of Albany, is challenging the reform of 2018 that required every diocese to open up to the possibility of same-sex marriage


Everyone who reads this blog regularly knows my thesis that the church's reforms for homosexuals is the last part of a great democratic revolution that started in the 1950's with civil rights. The Episcopal Church resolved to champion rights and inclusion for blacks, women, and gays. The schisms in the Episcopal Church were politically conservative counter-revolutions against the great democratic revolution in the Church. The Methodists have had a similar history of democratic reform. In this last part, they are arriving, if a bit late. I believe they will get there because they are committed to justice and they know it is the right thing to do. It is matter of human rights. Most Methodists know that.


Meanwhile, let us keep our Methodist friends in our prayers. They will need them.