Robert Taylor quits as St. Mark’s Dean in Seattle

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Very Rev. Robert Taylor resigned Friday as dean of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, amidst acclaim for his accomplishments but following months of controversy over staff shakeups and parish leadership.

Taylor came to "The Holy Box," as the cathedral is often nicknamed, in 1999 with a background that put him instantly in the news. He had been an anti-apartheid student leader in South Africa, became a protege of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and is a partnered gay man.

"Despite our many accomplishments together, my vision for our future has diverged from that of the Vestry in significant ways, and that has resulted in a loss of trust between us," Taylor wrote.

The Vestry are elected lay leaders of the St. Mark's parish, which is the seventh largest Episcopal congregation in the country.

Read it all and there is more here.


Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC Parishes* Christian Life / Church LifeParish Ministry

20 Comments
Posted March 29, 2008 at 2:33 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Jeffersonian wrote:

Taylor, who had been on leave, returned to St. Mark’s to deliver a passionate Palm Sunday sermon on inclusiveness in the church.

Ironic, no, that the more inclusive TEO gets, the more parishoners decide to exclude themselves.  I’m certain, given the bent of TEO these days, Mr. Taylor will land firmly on his feet.

March 29, 3:24 pm | [comment link]
2. robroy wrote:

Interesting comments to followup the story. (Can you tell which ones were mine?). Here’s the money one from the inside track:

Robert Taylor has many gifts and made many contributions to the life of St. Marks and the life of the Seattle community. However as a member of the Vestry, i worked closely with him for many years and he also put his financial interests ahead of the health of his parish. One cannot simultaneously accept a raise and lay off employees. Despite repeated attempts, he would not budge on this issue. His management of the staff and clergy was horrible and he was absent a huge amount. He could not accept feedback and made many bad decisions. St. Marks is a community that is better off without Robert and Robert is far better moving on. Too bad he didn’t do it more gracefully and required a payoff to leave. Cloaking himself in the justice issue through his final sermon shows there is nothing he won’t stop at to spin things to his benefit. Good riddance!

March 29, 3:35 pm | [comment link]
3. Chris wrote:

“He will receive a $313,333 settlement package, $20,000 of which will come from the Olympia Diocese, which covers Western Washington.”

Is that a typical settlement package for a Dean?

March 29, 3:46 pm | [comment link]
4. Sarah1 wrote:

RE: “Ironic, no, that the more inclusive TEO gets, the more parishoners decide to exclude themselves.”

Those are all the low-quality ones leaving, though, Jeffersonian—we don’t need those anyway.  It’s quality not quantity, I’m hearing—and once all the really low quality folks are gone, we’ll see floods and floods of the really great high-quality people joining up.

March 29, 4:09 pm | [comment link]
5. Chris Hathaway wrote:

Sarah, everyone knows that cathedral evensong sounds so much better when there are fewer people inside absorbing the acoustics.

March 29, 4:47 pm | [comment link]
6. Words Matter wrote:

Actually, they’ve done rather well, numbers-wise under his leadership. The turmoil of the past year will probably produce another dip in ASA, but they seem rather up and down anyway; it’s an interesting pattern.  Obviously, he’s a very charismatic man.

March 29, 5:06 pm | [comment link]
7. nwlayman wrote:

Comment deleted by elf.

March 29, 6:42 pm | [comment link]
8. Albany* wrote:

Vestries approve raises to clergy. It seems passive aggressive to complain after the fact unless the firings came as a complete surprise. Other than that, it proves again that when “identity politics” drives hirings, it comes back to bite when things don’t work out.

March 29, 8:20 pm | [comment link]
9. John Wilkins wrote:

Taylor had a great reputation in the Diocese of New York.  He is charismatic and a powerful witness to the Gospel.  But perhaps he did not have the right management style.  I hope that I’m not judged on that, myself, at the end of time.

I don’t think we can make much of an assessment from these articles.  God bless him, the Cathedral, and the new Bishop.

March 30, 9:31 am | [comment link]
10. BlueOntario wrote:

He is charismatic and a powerful witness to the Gospel.

Which begs the question of what the Gospel tells us.

March 30, 10:15 am | [comment link]
11. R. Eric Sawyer wrote:

Probably out of bounds for this topic chain, but I’ll ask it anyway:
John Wilkins, I would like to know what you mean by “the Gospel” in your post.
I don’t ask in hostility, or as a set-up. I doubt that you and I would agree as to what the Gospel is, but my question is without malice.  I think it important that when phrases become almost short-hand, the meaning behind the shorthand can shift almost without awareness. I think a great deal of our present confusion is due to different groups meaning different things by the same words.

With that caveat, I think I can stand with your analysis of Dean Taylor’s situation as sufficient for me.

March 30, 11:11 am | [comment link]
12. Nikolaus wrote:

Wouldn’t Taylor have been the one who hired the Muslim priestess?

March 30, 11:18 am | [comment link]
13. Nikolaus wrote:

Oops, sorry!  When I re-read it, it was in the article near the end.

March 30, 11:21 am | [comment link]
14. John Wilkins wrote:

Well, I’ll take the bait.  The gospel is God’s Good News.  In practice, I don’t think it can be reduced, but it is radically transforming.  In Taylor’s case, the Gospel of Jesus Christ challenged the idea that God has chosen white people to rule South Africa over black people, as it made the love of Jesus based on skin color.  The good news challenged the human instinct to desire revenge by letting the truth (as in, the truth will set you free) trump revenge (as exemplified by the Risen Jesus’ desire for peace) and resentment.  For much of humanity, notions of dignity and forgiveness are not merely platitudes, they are miracles. 

The confession of Jesus is, thus, not rendered an intellectual game, but an event that commands out attention now to examine all our relationships.  In his case, it was letting go of White Supremacy, and doing so out of love, rather than fear. 

Not everyone needs to experience God like so.  For some, it is the recognition of an invisible friend.  Others have a vision of a bearded man in the sky.  Others have a sense of conviction about the envy, greed and pride in their own lives.  But the Good News, at the very least, way we conduct our lives - based intrinsically on the fear of death - don’t have to be the way we say it needs to be.  Jesus died to demonstrate our lives, based on fear, can instead be based on faith in our Heavenly Father.  Our fear of losing our place, our identity, our past, or nearly anything is replaced by ...  well, God seems to work creatively in all sorts of ways.  I hesitate to say. 

But Robert Taylor was a powerful witness to the Gospel.

March 30, 7:26 pm | [comment link]
15. Sarah1 wrote:

RE: “I doubt that you and I would agree as to what the Gospel is, but my question is without malice.  . . . I think a great deal of our present confusion is due to different groups meaning different things by the same words.”

Yep, you were right, R. Eric Sawyer.

March 30, 9:29 pm | [comment link]
16. BlueOntario wrote:

Thank you, John. I pray that God will continue his good work in Robert Taylor to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, as well as in us.

March 30, 10:50 pm | [comment link]
17. R. Eric Sawyer wrote:

Thank you John. And since you did so readily take the bait, it is incumbent on me to make sure the bait is not hooked. I especially appreciate that you gave an understandable explanation, and not just a throw away “sound byte”. As we both knew going in, we understand something different by the word “Gospel”

One of the things I think I hear, and with which I agree, is an assertion that “Gospel” does not mean something theoretical, but something done. I hear this in the framing of your response, not as an intellectual construct, but a rehearsal of actions taken. The prime difference is in what action is referred to. You place Gospel as action taken by people, as a result of an examination of all our relationships in light of the way Jesus demonstrated: that as He exemplified, our lives can be based on faith in our Heavenly Father instead of fear of loss, of well, anything. So far, so good. But the central reference in your description is us, living out “Gospel” in response to an example.

The other meaning is that “Gospel” is rooted in action, but action on the part of God. The “Good News” is that, despite our demonstrable inability to live consistently the summary of the law (which I believe encompasses all you say), despite what has been called a “bondage to sin” God desires reconciliation, with resulting freedom from that bondage. The Gospel is that He loves us enough to take action on our behalf, the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus; not as an example of a life based on faith, but as an efficacious rescue of us, as subject, by Himself, as actor.

The difficulty for us is that, in our view, your view of “Gospel” misses the problem (bondage to sin) misstates the prime actor (replacing God with us) and thus misses the central point of the action (the efficacy of “the Christ event” –horrible phrase-) What I think is among the fruit of the Gospel, you hold up as Gospel itself, thus ultimately cutting it off from its source. Our fear, my fear, is that by endorsing the proclamation of your view of “The Gospel” we will be left with a teaching doomed ultimately to fail, as it rests, not on God, but on the continuing actions of flawed people. That instead of true “release to the captives” what will be proclaimed is ultimately, “I’m doing good things, so can you”

Of course, all this you know, but thank you for the exchange.

-Blessed Easter
R. Eric Sawyer

March 31, 8:12 am | [comment link]
18. John Wilkins wrote:

Hi Eric,

I do think we can theorize (and talk) about the Gospel, but I think one thing that what makes the gospel different than other religious beliefs is how it tends to destabilize religious belief.  At least, this is what Jesus did to all around him, the haters and the apostles.  My own interpretation is that, as a follower, I should be careful about stating exactly what the Gospel is, because Jesus may just challenge all I hold dear. 

This may lead us to a discussion of scripture and culture.  I think we do have differences there, but not in the theological projects or language involved.  I know that my view that the church’s understanding of sexuality is a lot like the geocentric view of the universe (perhaps experientially correct, but wrong) is a location where reasserters and reexaminers diverge, and that we haven’t found a way to resolve it.  But this is different than where we could agree on the “gospel.”

I do believe that we are bound to sin:  but I do think we probably prioritize and classify sins differently.  Perhaps we could describe how we get to our individual taxonomies about sin and how we got there.  Do we start generally, or within tradition, or with what sin seems to do (say, as Paul seems to note, destroying church harmony)? 

The view that liberals don’t believe we are bound to sin makes good copy, but it’s not true (well, some don’t, of course).  I tend to talk about sin in secular terms: addiction, greed, envy, desperation, fear or short-sightedness are all things I see in the world.  Further, for me not to believe that we are “bound to sin” would be a lot like saying we are not bound to die.  Sin and death are linked:  but they are delinked not by denying that our bodies die, but by liberating us from the fear of death with Jesus’ resurrection.

But perhaps you have another understanding, a non secular one, that is meaningful.  I’m all ears.  But most of the time I can describe it in a way that even non-Christians understand. 

I may be wrong, but I feel that we more likely diverge on how we distinguish culture from the Word. 

I do have some conceptual problems with the subject/object in “God” and “us.”  I don’t quite subscribe to the Calvinist description of God as an agent in the way you describe.  I’m a bit more from the Orthodox tradition here.  It is the anthropomorphic notion of God as agent that becomes confusing for many of us: take, for example, the image of a plane crashing.  Where is the location of God in that?  A description of God as agent makes him pretty cruel.   

I don’t think that people and God are the same thing, but to some extent, we are extensions of God’s life.  What we do, as doers and speakers of the word, participates and pleases God.  Of course, the vocabulary here is pretty difficult because it might seem that we are the prime agents:  but agency isn’t a very easy metaphysical reality to describe, as numerous theologians and philosophers show.  Maybe you and I think the source works differently.  I think it works through persons, the natural and the supernatural:  by nature it works through corruption (might this not be symbolized by the cross) th point us in the Easter direction.  Through decay, there is life, and life is strengthened through reason. 

My God is, finally, a God of grace, and for this reason, I don’t share the fear that the Gospel may be corrupted by claiming that people may be effective witnesses of the Gospel.  Perhaps we might fail, or you might fail, but we’ll be known by our fruits.  And we might fail not for reasons we think we should fail.  And we might not always know why we succeed!  And amazingly, even those with little faith - the faith of a mustard seed, are pretty amazing.  “I just wish I had 20% faith” a friend said to me.  He didn’t know that was more than enough.  So scripture says, at least.

Some reappraisers are classic liberals: it depends on the sort of conversation I’m having.  I have a very thin understanding of “liberalism” (liberals place morality in the location of the self, selves can change, and selves are worthy of respect), that is probably universal in the west.  But my notions of “sin” and the relationship of God and humanity are not located in the liberal tradition (such as, individuals do bad things and persons are agents) but in the metaphysical problems that have been a part of Christian discourse since Gregory of Nyssa. 

blogs aren’t the place for such theological discussion, really, but there you go.

March 31, 12:38 pm | [comment link]
19. R. Eric Sawyer wrote:

Thanks, John for an interesting reply. As you note, such discussions are a bit long-winded from a blog, but it beats the tar out of the acerbic on-liners most of us fall into from time to time. I’d far rather read something thoughtful from someone with whom I disagree than something scornful from my allies.
I’m a guy in the pew rather than an academic, and the shallowness of my reading always becomes obvious when I talk with someone who has really been there, so I ask your patients.
Just a few responses:

one thing that what makes the gospel different than other religious beliefs is how it tends to destabilize religious belief.  At least, this is what Jesus did to all around him, the haters and the apostles.  My own interpretation is that, as a follower, I should be careful about stating exactly what the Gospel is, because Jesus may just challenge all I hold dear. 

Perfect agreement. As I’ve said here, my own private view of “damnation” involves pretty much that challenge from Jesus. –If I am going to be united with all TRUTH, then I must be willing to accept all truth. Cling to any particle of falsehood, and I cannot be fully united. I must be willing to see myself (and my actions) as I actually am, not just as I want to think I am. There is considerable challenge there.


Re: scripture and culture.  “I know that my view that the church’s understanding of sexuality is a lot like the geocentric view of the universe (perhaps experientially correct, but wrong) is a location where reasserters and reexaminers diverge, and that we haven’t found a way to resolve it.”
I also walk with you, if I understand correctly, about 95% of the way. I am very unhappy that the present presenting issue is sexuality. If I relied solely on my own experience, I would give acceptance of homosexuality a pass. I understand the theoretical arguments about design, and symbolism, and am receptive to them. But I am very reluctant to get too worked up about sin that doesn’t tempt me. It’s too easy to rant and rail about someone else’s behavior as a way of hiding from my own.  We may though diverge on the weight we give to scripture v. culture in deciding such things, once forced to decide. I think “culture” of almost no value in determining moral issues. The struggle is that we tend to read even scripture through cultured eyes, thus the references to uses of scripture to defend slavery. That is why the traditional reference to using tradition as an aid to understanding scripture, that different cultural biases will cancel on another out, each age having slightly different flaws. But Holy Scripture still stands as the authority, although my own reading of it may turn to be straw.

“The view that liberals don’t believe we are bound to sin makes good copy, but it’s not true (well, some don’t, of course).”
It seems that most of the reappraisers I read are very reluctant to accept any doctrine of the fall, whether seen in western or eastern terms. Maybe I’ve misunderstood them, but the prime account I’ve received seems to be that even though the world has gotten way off-track, we can find our way back. We can, with Jesus as our model, do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. I hear this as straight pelagianism, and would be glad to be re-educated.

I tend to talk about sin in secular terms: addiction, greed, envy, desperation, fear or short-sightedness are all things I see in the world.  Further, for me not to believe that we are “bound to sin” would be a lot like saying we are not bound to die.
Sin and death are linked:  but they are delinked not by denying that our bodies die, but by liberating us from the fear of death with Jesus’ resurrection.
But perhaps you have another understanding, a non secular one, that is meaningful.

OK, for this hand, I’m throwing my official knee-jerk reactionist membership card into the pot. Let’s see how the cards go. We are again pretty close. As to definitions of sin, anytime I hear the nudge “Eric, do you prefer what you are doing, or Me” that is sin. I believe that in this world I will never be completely de-coupled from sin. In fact, I think my sin-nature and death will always be part of me, never delinked. It will instead be redeemed. Lewis’s dragon of sensuality turned into a stallion in “The Great Divorce”
My private opinion is that Jung had a lot right: in the creation of the humanity that God desires, a separation, followed by a reunion was required. Sin accomplishes that separation. It will be redeemed in our reunion and we will be a far different creation than if there had been no fall. Better? Worse? God only knows, and that is enough. I think that is part of creating spiritual independents who can choose love and bonding, which I believe is (part of) His goal. But I shall be as shocked and surprised as anyone by the truth. Nothing shall be un-made, all may be redeemed.

I do have some conceptual problems with the subject/object in “God” and “us.” I don’t quite subscribe to the Calvinist description of God as an agent in the way you describe.  I’m a bit more from the Orthodox tradition here.  It is the anthropomorphic notion of God as agent that becomes confusing for many of us: take, for example, the image of a plane crashing.  Where is the location of God in that?  A description of God as agent makes him pretty cruel.


I’m not too interested in what Calvin may have thought, only whether it is true. All good images, including the anthropomorphic one, are not so much wrong as limited. God is not man, but He is not less than a man. Reality is always deeper and richer than symbol. My use of the term agent was in connection to Gospel. Whose action is it that is such Good News?  If you are extending that to God as the only agent of all events, that is outside the range of this time. There is some sense to the idea that, in comparison to the Activity of God, we are all patents. I suspect that is what God intends to raise us out of. I see this world as preparatory for our real purpose, whatever that may be.

I’ll save the rest for another time, and give this thread a break (have to at least pretend to be working), but thank you for your thoughts!

March 31, 2:47 pm | [comment link]
20. John Wilkins wrote:

HI Eric,

I enjoy this: but just a couple things.

I do think there are bad reappraising and liberal thinkers, especially when it comes to “sin.”  i often get asked by liberals if I believe in original sin.  I simply point out that violence and catastrophe happens even in the mammalian world.  All creation is corrupted; but within is also the divine Sophia, the wisdom of David and Jesus, the eternal glory of all the saints, a vision of the incorruptible kingdom that shines forth even when the enemy tries to destroy it.

Still,  I am, in fact, a semi-pelagian (although not a Pelagian).  I think there is something in nature that God graces, and that there is a goodness that may already be present what God blesses.  I disagree with Augustine and Calvin about the complete depravity of all men.  This does not mean I think people are good. 

I would “interrogate” most definitions of culture.  I think there are multiple cultures within any culture, and perhaps it is through the eyes of Jesus we even understand what is going on. 

I think your view of scripture is right in that it allows us to challenge all sorts of aspects of our own culture.  This is a perceptive defense of scripture’s utility, and that the use of scripture is fruitful.  Then, we still have some work to do with unpacking the nature of scriptural “authority.”  David Tracy tries to handle this when he discusses the concept of “classic.”  And that is perhaps where another conversation lies:  who is the umpire when we don’t even know what the rules are? Or rather, when we don’t even agree on the rules? 

Everything is in chaos, and so, we return to the scripture, and what it says about our own engagement in such a time.

March 31, 4:25 pm | [comment link]
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