A letter to Bishop Schofield

If you don’t recognize the name, The Right Reverend John-David Schofield, Bishop of San Joaquin, California, is one of the leaders of the movement among certain conservative and/or orthodox dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA) to realign themselves more closely with the Anglican Communion and less closely with ECUSA.

The two main, stated, issues are the ordination of women and the ordination of homosexuals (and the implicit acceptance of same-sex unions that that ordination entails). Of course the larger issue is the seemingly no-holds-barred alignment of the Episcopal Church with society’s progressively more liberal mores rather than with traditional and unchanging values. Or so I read it.

So I wrote a letter to the Bishop. I held it for a few days before mailing it, but then decided to send it after all. It’s clearly one man’s opinion, and it is probably as informed as anyone else’s opinion. That is to say, I believe that I am saying what I truly feel, but I cannot testify to the actual truth of what I say, or to having the correct interpretation of what I observe.

I would like to post the letter here, and add a couple of reflections on it afterwards.

– – – – –

Any attempt to adjust Christian morality and especially the church order to political tastes of an external environment is dangerous as it threatens with a loss of Christian identity. There must be no fear in the efforts to keep faithful to Christ.

[Excerpt from letter to The Right Reverend John-David Schofield from Kirill, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kalingrad, and Chairman, Department for External Church Relations, Moscow Patriarchate early Tuesday, August 22, 2006]

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

[Matthew 22:35-40]

December 3, 2006

Dear Father Schofield,

It seems to me that the sentiment expressed by the Metropolitan, ”There must be no fear in the efforts to keep faithful to Christ,” is probably the single most important argument one could make in this divisive issue. In understanding what it means to be faithful to Christ, what can we do but examine Christ’s own statement of the faith?

”Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Do you truly feel that your teachings and actions are unequivocally expressive of your love for your neighbors: your brother in Christ, Gene, and your sister in Christ, Katharine?

If so, I’m reminded of the title of a recent Broadway show: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant.

Yours in Christ,

– – – – –

Of course that’s neither the beginning nor the end. But, you know, when a person or a group says their policy or their custom is one thing, but their actions keep coming out at odds with that, it always makes me wonder whether what they do is not somehow the better statement of what they ultimately believe, whether they know it and accept it or not. So even though the Bible has lots of passages that are, shall we say, critical of various lifestyles, I can’t get around the fact that the book is everywhere about forgiveness. In other words, from my reading of the Bible, the most important lesson, that all the rest of the book is there to support, is… well… to ”love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” That’s the main point of it all, really. But that point doesn’t stand alone; there’s another like unto it: to ”love thy neighbour as thyself.” And it goes on to emphasize, for those who need it, that these two are in fact the main teaching of what for lack of a better word we could call the Law. Pretty basic stuff, that no matter how you look at the rest of the Bible, is pretty hard to get around. Yes, there are lots of passages that are more or less critical (to put it mildly) of various groups of people for some pretty good reasons. Yes, well. But still, you can’t equivocate too much with statements like those first two.

But now I’ve just watched an interview with Canon Kendall Harmon, which was made just after the close of the ECUSA General Convention, but which I’ve only now had a chance to watch. In it he speaks to those traditionalists in the community that are feeling in exile. But I interpret it differently. A small excerpt from his interview:

What Jeremiah says is, build houses, live in them, stay married, say your prayers, raise your children in the faith, be gracious to other people, tip people at restaurants.

I love that way of looking at Jeremiah. It’s really just as simple and fundamental (I mean fundamental in the good way!) as the two Great Commandments.

But even though +Harmon is attempting to use this sentiment as a rallying cry to those who feel that ECUSA has lost its way, isn’t it just that “keep the faith” message that we all need to hear?

My point – which I’m afraid I’m not making very clearly – is that there is nothing in my mind inconsistent with those Jeremian directives and having a gay bishop, or having a female presiding bishop. We create so many of our own problems by wanting everyone else to be like us. But everyone else is not like us.

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