A Day At The Episcopal Convention; Liberals, Conservatives, U2Charist, Bishop Robinson & Little Chance Of Further Catholic-Episcopal Dialogue By Dave Hartline
Wow, the calm before the storm sums it up quite well. My home is near Columbus, the location for this very important Episcopal conference. It could decide the future of the Episcopal Church. There are certainly major ramifications for the Catholic Church since there always seems to be discussion in the Catholic & Episcopal community about dialogue and unity. I walked around the convention hall talking to various folks to get their perspectives and they certainly gave me their opinions.
In some ways walking around the Episcopal gathering at the Columbus Convention Center was much like a Catholic Convention. There were people talking theology and men in collars and yes sisters in habits. There are a few Episcopal nuns left. I was told there are still 4 orders of Episcopal priests and brothers and 32 orders of sisters. I have no idea if that is correct. An Episcopalian Franciscan, named Brother Clark gave me those numbers. However, there were also many differences between this gathering and a Catholic gathering. There were a number of women in collars. The number of clergy and lay people with the gay flag stamped on their nametag was quite sizeable. Tuesday night's Eucharist celebration, dubbed the U2charist (their words not mine) was to say the least a bit different than what most traditional Catholics are accustomed to seeing. The U2charist was a combination of celebrating the Eucharist and Bono's, the lead singer of the Irish rock group U2, social activism.
Yesterday, I conversed with Father Victor King of Monrovia, Liberia. He felt his mission was to bring everyone to the middle. Here’s some of our conversation.
Dave Hartline What brings you here Father Victor? What about Episcopal (Anglican) and Catholic Unity?
Father Victor King of Liberia “Many people back home think I am crazy to come here. They say the American Church is sinful, full of gays and lesbians. Some back home won’t even shake hands with some in the American or European Church. My feelings are that we are all sinful and I would rather counsel and talk with my Christian brother or sister who I feel is not living according to the rules.” On the topic of Ecumenicalism Father Victor said, “We can’t get anywhere with unity unless we figure out the Eucharist. When we come to an agreement on the Eucharist, we will have unity.
I engaged in casual conversation with folks around the convention hall as I left to put more money in a parking meter near the convention center. Well, I got an earful as I left the convention center. One of the gentlemen I was talking with followed me outside and unloaded his feelings about what he was seeing. He ranted about the direction the Episcopal Church and then got into specifics.
Dave Hartline You seem angry. What concerns do you have?
Angry Convention Attendee “Look at the amount of openly gay people in the convention,” he exclaimed. Is it any wonder we aren’t growing and have few if any young people in our parishes? If you filmed this event and said it was a gay pride gathering, everyone would believe you. The same could be said of our seminaries. The gay bars in this town are going to be doing a booming business.” I leaned forward to ask the gentleman his name but he turned his nametag around. “Oh no, I can’t have my name out there in print. You don’t understand how things work. I would be blackballed.” Off he went back to the convention center. Wow, that was wild I thought.
Upon entering the convention center after feeding the parking meter I talked for a while with Colonel Bob Stamper who was from Columbus. He said he was resigned about the fate of the Episcopal Church and wasn’t sure where he would go if it accepted gay unions.
Dave Hartline You mentioned gay unions. What does that mean for you.
Colonel Bob Stamper “I know one thing I won’t be in the Episcopal Church anymore. Scripture is pretty blunt about gay marriage. You aren’t going to find anyone on the other side quoting scripture because it isn’t a big deal to them. They don’t care. As a matter of fact, they don’t care that we are not growing. They have an activist agenda and the fact that the overwhelming majority of Episcopalians don’t support their view doesn’t concern them in the least. You want to know why those mega churches are growing, they listen to their people. We don’t listen we dictate. The Roman Church has gone through a tough spell but you are sitting pretty right now. I wish I could say the same for us. The majority of conservative Episcopalians, including myself have no trouble with women being ordained. We are against the same sex thing. When I was a younger man the Episcopal Church was a respectable church. The Episcopal Church built this country. Our founding fathers were almost all Episcopalian,” he exclaimed.
OK, I have heard from some traditional Episcopalians now I need to talk to some liberal folks. The next group I chitchatted with solved that problem. A group of women said they were hopeful that the Episcopal Church wasn’t going back and would continue its progressive ideas. However, they didn’t want their names used.
Dave Hartline Why do you feel so adamantly about your views and why can’t I use your names.
West Coast Women “As a courtesy, I would ask that you would not use our names. We represent the forces of progressivism. We are implementing a radical agenda of Christ’s love for everyone regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. That’s not an easy thing to do in a male and straight dominated world. That is how we feel. Thank you for not using our names”
I thought I might need some lunch. I strolled down towards the food court when I ran into the President of the House of Deputies. He’s basically in charge of trying to heal divisions.
Dave Hartline You seem optimistic. How do you go about trying to bridge the divide?
Very Reverend George Werner I have been on 80+ planes since early this year. I am a militant man in the middle and I am trying to preserve the greatness we have in the Episcopal Church. You know our church is just like yours minus the guilt.
Dave Hartline I have got to tell you that I have heard some fired up people on both sides. How do you bridge the gap?
Very Reverend George Werner Well if you hear the other side saying they would like to dialogue. They have strong feelings but are open to reason. Well, there’s hope when you hear that but some people aren’t into that idea. They would rather whine and complain and not preserve what we have. I am very optimistic that we can preserve what we have. I didn’t feel that way earlier this year, but I do now.
Still making my way to the food court I bumped into Bishop Chilton Knudson. She was at the morning press briefing. I thought she might be able to answer some more questions.
Dave Hartline What do you hope happens at the conclusion of this convention?
Bishop Chilton Knudson I hope we are able to follow the Millennium ideas set forth to aid this church and the world of the many social problems that confront us.
Dave Hartline Some of the conservative folks think the Episcopal Church isn’t following the Scriptures. How do you answer their concerns?
Bishop Chilton Knudson Well that is an interesting question and unfortunately time constraints doesn’t permit me to answer it.
It was awfully nice of her to give me some time. However, I needed someone I could speak with who could talk to for more than just a few minutes. Fortunately, I came across Herschel Hartford of Arkansas. He’s an alternate delegate.
Dave Hartline I just spoke with Bishop Chilton and she was pressed for time so I was wondering if you could answer the question the conservative folks are asking. Is the Episcopal Church following Scripture.
Herschel Hartford You know scripture is more than the meaning of words. It is the meaning of the word. I believe we are following the overall word of God. We are accepting people as God sends them to us. How anyone can say, that they can’t accept a person who has certain feelings contrary to their own, is beyond my understanding. Where in Scripture does it say we should have a blessing of the animals, or boats and houses? We bless all of those things. I am a heterosexual man who is married and has six kids. I don't understand how anyone could be against blessing a consensual relationship.
Dave Hartline The traditional side says 2,000 years of Christian tradition is being altered. How do you respond?
Herschel Hartford Who are we to tell someone how to live and think?
Dave Hartline Do you think there is any black and white in the Episcopal Church?
Herschel Hartford Yes, we are against poverty, racism, sexism and bias against sexual orientation.
Dave Hartline Is abortion black and white
Herschel Hartford No, it is in the eye of the beholder. It is a very complicated issue.
Dave Hartline Is human life black and white?
Hershel Hartford Again, human life and its beginnings are a very complicated issue
Dave Hartline Many say the mainline Protestant churches aren’t growing because they are too liberal. Do you believe in evangelization?
Herschel Hartford Yes, I believe in evangelization. However, success through numbers is a very American model. I don’t believe in it.
Dave Hartline How do you measure success if a church isn’t growing? How can that be deemed a success?
Herschel Hartford Again, numbers are a very American way of looking at things. We are following the message of Jesus. I feel good about that.
Dave Hartline It seems in the Protestant world the Evangelical churches are growing. I guess what I am asking is if we don’t use numbers what do we use to determine outcomes, whether that is religion, sports or business?
Herschel Hartford Again, I think that is an oversimplification. There is more than numbers.
Dave Hartline What draws people to the Evangelical churches and the non-denominational mega churches?
Herschel Hartford I think it is the anonymity of the experience. They can sit in a large church and not be bothered. Sometimes people feel uncomfortable in places where they know other people. However, I would hope that the sacraments would help bring them back to your Catholic Church and the openness of our church would bring our believers back as well. I also would like to think that we can settle our differences if we respect one another. I may not agree with a very conservative viewpoint but I respect what they are saying and don't believe they are a bad person for believing it.
Well now if I could talk to one more person. Ah, there’s the Most Reverend and Honorable Reverend John Tucker Mugabi Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, England . Some say he’s the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams personal representative at the conference. “I am sorry now is the time for prayer. I will talk to the media at the end of the conference. There is much to pray for over here.” Well I think we can all agree with that! Speaking of England, Mark Woodbridge of the BBC just stopped by and asked if I knew something about a special dinner. Obviously, I am not important enough for that. He glances at my badge and says, "Ah yes the Catholic Report." My ego is temporarily boosted until I realize he has obviously confused the Catholic Report for something else, perhaps the Drudge Report.
Later in the evening, I listened to the speeches of various people speaking for and against adopting the Windsor Report. This would require the Episcopal delegates to repent for blessing gay unions. The majority of those asking to approve the report went something like this, “Please keep the Anglican Communion together even if it goes against your conscience. We can work this out.” Those who refused to apologize gave speeches something like this, “We aren’t apologizing because we are doing nothing wrong. It is those who are against us that need to repent. How many years have the other side not repented for slavery, sexism, racism, homophobia etc? There was some rolling of eyes near me when the Archbishop of Canterbury's delegate to the conference the Archbishop of York, England, the Very Reverend and Right Honorable John Tucker Mugabi Sentamu, an African by birth, asked the Episcopal delegates to listen to Scripture, Tradition and Reason.
Once the speeches were concluded the delegates decided to continue tomorrow with discussion and most likely vote at that time. As I was leaving, I noticed the Bishop of New Hampshire, the openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson, whose ordination is considered to have started this whole mess being greeted by many people. He was a rock star to many at the conference. He then asked me where I was from looking at my badge. I told him and we had an impromptu discussion occasionally interrupted by the BBC’s Mark Woodridge.
Dave Hartline How do you answer Anglican traditionalists who say your ordination has wrecked any hope of unity with the Catholic Church.
Bishop Robinson I want unity but your Church says I am intrinsically disordered.
Dave Hartline The Catholic Church unlike some Evangelical churches says hate the sin, love the sinner.
Bishop Robinson But I am not sinning as for as sexuality goes. I live in a monogamous relationship. You know I have had many phone calls of support from Catholic clergy since my ordination.
Dave Hartline Any calls from bishops?
Bishop Robinson No
Dave Hartline The Catholic Church and all of the churches, until recently, taught the same thing. How do you explain all of the references Jesus made about Sodom and Gomorrah?
Bishop Robinson Those verses are misinterpreted. They are not what they appear to be.
Dave Hartline It seems for centuries Christians came to the same conclusion so they were all wrong?
Bishop Robinson Yes, history has a way of making minorities the scapegoat.
Dave Hartline What about the decline of the mainstream Protestant churches that have embraced a more liberal theology?
Bishop Robinson I think the Bush Administration has a way of scaring Americans about minorities and other religions. They scared us into war as well. People go with what they are familiar with in times of trouble. However, I want to be clear. I call myself an Evangelical. We need to talk more talking about the Living God and less about church. People’s eyes glaze over when over whey they hear the word church.
Dave Hartline In 2020 what do you think the Episcopal Church and Catholic Church will be like.
Bishop Robinson I will make one prediction. It will be 15 years from now.
Well, just like that our impromptu conversation ended. He thanked me for a different viewpoint and I thanked him for his time. I left the Episcopal Convention so grateful to be Catholic. I have a profound sense of sadness as I reflect on the day. I am still digesting all I saw and heard. Make no mistake about it. The folks at the Episcopal Convention, are on the whole, very liberal. As a matter of fact, a part of the convention is even more liberal than Bishop Robinson. The majority of those at the convention would make the National Catholic Reporter’s views seem like that of Spirit Daily in comparison.
I may return to the convention for a bit. However, I think I know where most of the delegates stand. Bloggers and website folks aren’t allowed in some of the discussion. It seems some conservative Episcopal folks think that isn’t fair. It is not my battle. The folks at the Episcopal Convention have been very nice to me. The media coordinator Neva Rae Fox was especially helpful after my credentials couldn’t be found. I just came to get a feel for the convention’s mindset. I only wish those Catholics who disagree with our church could spend some at the Episcopal Convention. I think they would appreciate our Catholic faith, history, diversity, tradition and orthodoxy so much more. I will be praying for our Episcopal friends. They will certainly need many prayers. Short of divine intervention it doesn’t appear there will be any serious talks of Catholic-Episcopal (Anglican) dialogue anytime soon. Comments Click Here