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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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I found myself troubled and profoundly conflicted. As many of you know, I served in the Diocese of San Joaquin for fourteen years before coming to Northern Indiana. Thus Bishop Schofield – and many of the leaders of the diocese – have been part of my life for a long time. Bishop Cox, too, is revered and respected, with an important place in the church’s recovery of the ministry of healing. Both bishops acted in accordance with their consciences. Yet I believe that their actions are disordered, theologically and canonically. Nothing good ever comes from schism. When Christians separate from one another, the gospel is hampered and our ability to offer Jesus to a needy world severely compromised. In the days leading up to the vote on the two bishops, I found myself torn between conflicting responsibilities: to the unity and canonical integrity of the church on the one hand, and to honoring conscience in the midst of conflict on the other.
As a matter of theological and pastoral conviction, I am committed to the ministry of reconciliation. This season in the church’s life challenges us, I believe, to find ways of living together in Christian community when we find ourselves caught in conscience-driven conflict. Is it possible for Christians of good will who have come to very different convictions on (for example) painful issues of human sexuality to flourish together in the same institution? I believe that we can; but in our own church we are struggling to discover ways of making that happen.
In the end, I voted No on the resolutions to depose Bishops Schofield and Cox, one of a very small number of bishops to do so. (Since the resolutions passed on voice votes, there’s no specific count.) During the debate over the resolution to depose Bishop Schofield, I spoke to the House and said something like this: that Bishop Schofield is guilty as charged, and his actions have unleashed chaos upon his diocese and on the church. And yet, I said, I would vote against the resolution to depose him. Why? Because a deposition is the canonical equivalent of the “death penalty”; it effectively closes the door to the possibility of future reconciliation. And so, I said, it would be better to find a way of accomplishing the same end (removing Bishop Schofield from his position as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin) without the negative overtones of a deposition. A cord gently cut can be more easily re-tied. If we allow our friends to depart peacefully, we are more likely in God’s time to welcome them home.
What troubles me most deeply is that we are finding it easier and easier to resort to canonical solutions in matters which are at their core theological, spiritual, pastoral, and relational. While I have no doubt that these bishops violated the canons, the issues before us are not purely canonical, and they do not lend themselves to a canonical solution. They touch the heart of what it means to follow Jesus, to be called into community, and learn the complementary imperatives of mutual forbearance and forgiveness (Colossians 3:13). I’m concerned that, with each passing meeting of the House, we will repeat the scene that we experienced at Camp Allen; and each time, the debate will be less agonized and the result more assured.
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Next entry (above): An ENS article on the Latest in San Joaquin
Previous entry (below): Dan Martins on the Alice in Wonderland World of TEC in the Diocese of San Joaquin
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