Northern Michigan Bishop Nominee Has Background in Buddhism

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, rector of St. Paul’s, Marquette, and St. John’s, Negaunee, was put forward by the diocesan search team to stand for election as bishop/ministry developer under the “mutual ministry model” used by the small, rural diocese on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A priest of the diocese since 2001, Fr. Forrester also serves as ministry development coordinator and newspaper editor for Northern Michigan.

In recent years, he also was a practicing Buddhist, according to the former Bishop of Northern Michigan, the late Rt. Rev. James Kelsey.

In his Oct 15, 2004 address to the diocese’s annual convention, Bishop Kelsey took note of some of the milestones among the lives of members of the diocese. After recognizing recent university graduations, the bishop said Fr. Forrester “received Buddhist ‘lay ordination’,” and was “walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together.”

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC BishopsTEC ConflictsTEC Conflicts: Northern MichiganTEC Diocesan Conventions/Diocesan Councils* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsBuddhism* Theology

39 Comments
Posted January 27, 2009 at 6:22 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. AnglicanFirst wrote:

This is just too easy to make comments about.  So, I will ask some questions about Forrester+.

Has Forrester+ read and comprehended both the Old and the New Testaments? 

Does he understand what God has told us, what God is asking of us, what Jesus Christ has brought to us as the Son of God?

How does Forrester+ reconcile his acceptance of Zen Buddhism with his ordination vows?  What about his acceptance of his consecration vows if he is elected bishop and his election is approved by ECUSA?

January 27, 7:53 am | [comment link]
2. Creighton+ wrote:

Sad, truly sad.

January 27, 8:33 am | [comment link]
3. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

I hab a code, bud I dusdt wanded do say ids impodend do keeb an oben mind eby Tao and Zen. ;^)
[/pun] [/sarcasm]

I stopped being surprised by pluralism in the Episcopal Organisation years ago.  On the plus side, this sort of news should help quell any “buyers remorse” for folks that have already fled the apostasy and firm up the resolve of those about to flee.

The imagery is now well worn, but remains valid.  The Balrog has come…“Fly, you fools!”

January 27, 8:48 am | [comment link]
4. D. C. Toedt wrote:

My knowledge of Zen Buddhism is extremely limited, but I understand that it involves ‘practice’ not unlike some forms of Christian meditation. From the Wikipedia entry:

... The aim of Zen practice is to discover this Buddha-nature within each person, through meditation and mindfulness of daily experiences. Zen practitioners believe that this provides new perspectives and insights on existence, which ultimately lead to enlightenment.

I’d appreciate it if someone could explain why a Christian may not engage in such ‘practice’ as an optional spiritual exercise, roughly analogous to a marathoner-in-training doing wind sprints.

January 27, 9:08 am | [comment link]
5. Pageantmaster ن [Repent Justin Welby] wrote:

My eyebrows are levitating.

January 27, 9:19 am | [comment link]
6. Dan Crawford wrote:

I’m surprised that the Diocese of Northern Michigan hasn’t died yet. It is certainly one of the most moribund in the Episcopal Organization, and continues to demonstrate that “mutual ministry” (the art of keeping empty churches open) is a remarkable model of church growth.

January 27, 9:24 am | [comment link]
7. Katherine wrote:

#4, because while Buddhism in its various forms no doubt offers wisdom and insight, it is also emphatically not a monotheistic religion.  Depending on the form, it worships no God at all, or men-become-gods.  “Enlightenment” involves the total loss of individuality and merging vaguely into the universal force of the universe, thus escaping the evil physical world.

January 27, 9:27 am | [comment link]
8. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

Hi D.C.,

Here is a link: http://www.johnankerberg.org/Articles/_PDFArchives/apologetics/AP3W1101.pdf

January 27, 9:28 am | [comment link]
9. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

Hi again D.C.,

This might offer better insight:

Zen Buddhism vs. Christianity
 

Christianity

-Ultimate reality exists in a personal and moral God………………………………
-Sin and suffering exist because of estrangement from God…………………
-Salvation means repentance of sin (Matt. 4:1); Faith in Christ (John 14:6); Redirection of desire (Matt. 6:33)………
-The afterlife consists of either heaven or hell (Matt. 25:31-46)……………………

Zen

-Ultimate reality exists in the no-self
-Sin does not exist and suffering is caused by desire
-Salvation is achieved by following the “four noble truths”
-Afterlife: reincarnation or nirvana

Source: http://www.bergenparkchurch.org/
(Select “Resources” then at the bottom of the page select “Sensible Faith - 3 Encountering Eastern Thought” from July 16, 2006.)

January 27, 9:43 am | [comment link]
10. mannainthewilderness wrote:

#7 Good quick summation.  Also, compare that loss of individual identity with the Scripture’s claim that God calls and knows and loves each individual. 

But never fear, the bishop-elect will claim that as of this moment in time he is Christian rather than Buddhist, get the necessary consents, and then have another “revelation” that the two faiths are seeking the same god.  Problem solved for him.

January 27, 9:44 am | [comment link]
11. Steven in Falls Church wrote:

Looks like we have another Episcopal priest who’s a dessert topping and a floor wax.

January 27, 9:48 am | [comment link]
12. tjmcmahon wrote:

Title IV (as applied)
Canon 1- Depose all clergy aligned with GS primates.
Canon 2- Make sacrifice to pagan gods- OK unless you get caught, in which case we’re sorry, but the PR department says we have to let you go.
Canon 3- ALWAYS move canonical residence to progressive diocese before admitting to attending Mosque.
Canon 4- Practice Buddhism.  You win pointy hat and diocese complete with ASA of 600.

January 27, 10:02 am | [comment link]
13. David Wilson wrote:

Bishop Matthews has already created the wiggle room needed to confirm this nutjob.  “He [Matthews] added that he could not verify if what Bishop Kelsey said in 2004 was an accurate statement of the nominee’s current beliefs”.
Kelsey is dead so nobody can accurately state what Kelsey actually meant and of course his CURRENT beliefs will have undoubtedly changed.

January 27, 10:37 am | [comment link]
14. Nikolaus wrote:

Given the rich and profound spiritual practices found within Christianity, DC, why would a devout Christain look to Buddhism?

January 27, 10:54 am | [comment link]
15. Choir Stall wrote:

Hello South Carolina?
Are you there?
What else has to happen before you give up the insane idea that you have a place with all of this?

January 27, 11:02 am | [comment link]
16. C. Wingate wrote:

On one level I can respect the buddha for the first of the four truths, but I have to say I can’t see how one could combine Zen and Anglicanism and get anything less scrambled than The Small House of Uncle Thomas.

January 27, 12:17 pm | [comment link]
17. Lumen Christie wrote:

Explanation, oh grasshopper.

It is the sound of one hand clapping

And if anybody knows the real meaning of that koan, please post it. 

(It actually does mean something)

January 27, 1:40 pm | [comment link]
18. Jim the Puritan wrote:

First there is a bishop, then there is no bishop, then there is.

January 27, 2:11 pm | [comment link]
19. Statmann wrote:

A new bishop may not be the best solution for this diocese. From 2002 through 2007 the diocese lost 14 percent of its Members and 24 percent of its ASA. Plate & Pledge fell by 3 percent while inflation was 16 percent. Aging is a real downer with 23 Infant Baptisms and 53 Burials in 2007. And NONE of its 27 churches had a Plate & Pledge of over $150,000 in 2007. I can find no reason to see an improvement in the situation by adding to the hierarchy.  Statmann

January 27, 2:35 pm | [comment link]
20. Ad Orientem wrote:

The only thing which surprises me is that so many people seem to be surprised at this.  I mean seriously, this is about as news worthy as the announcement that some places will get snow in the winter.  The Episcopal Church today is little more than the High Church branch of Unitarianism.  Its motto should be “whatever floats your boat.”

Can I see a quick show of hands please… How many of you were really shocked at this?

January 27, 3:04 pm | [comment link]
21. recchip wrote:

I am shocked and amazed that I am finally in approval of something which TEC/ECUSA has done.  Now let me make it clear, I am not in favor of this Buddist/Episcopagan man being made a bishop, what I am happy to see is that FINALLY they have come to the realization that the Bishop is the chief Pastor of the diocese and that, just like a parish only puts forward one name in a rector “election” so should the leaders of a diocese put forward one name for Bishops. 

There has been much trouble caused by multiple candidate elections for bishop in the Non-ECUSA Anglican churches and most (but not all) have finally come around to the “one candidate-vote up or down” model.

January 27, 3:16 pm | [comment link]
22. John Wilkins wrote:

I’m a little astounded by the parading of ignorance here about Zen Buddhism and practice (one even links to a fundamentalist church as an “authority.”  Zen practitioners don’t pray to the Buddha.  Many don’t even believe in religion, or God.  Some, like the Rev. Robert Kennedy are devout Catholics. 

Because many Zen “practitioners” would resist the idea that it is a “religion” like Christianity or Islam.  Its central goal is self realization.  Christians, I suspect, don’t fear self-realization, because any such self-realization would necessarily include the cross.  The opposite would be self-delusion. 

At core it is about learning to concentrate and focus.  In this way, it is not much different than other sorts of prayer.

Granted, there are other forms of Buddhism where the Buddha is a God who takes personal interest in people - say Vajra Light, a variation of Tibetan Buddhism.  This would be a legitimate problem.  I don’t think one could be a Christian and practice that sort of Buddhism. 

There is a long, interesting relationship between Buddhism and the Eastern church that goes back a thousand years, which Philip Jenkins has written about.

January 27, 8:38 pm | [comment link]
23. Robert Dedmon wrote:

Holy Smoke,
The election hasn’t even happened yet?
Who are the other candidates?
I do wonder what other commenters
are obsessing about or are afriad of?
I also wonder why clergy don’t trust
the laiity.

January 27, 9:45 pm | [comment link]
24. tjmcmahon wrote:

Robert Dedmon
There are no other candidates.  There will be no other candidates.  The “election” has been designed for only one candidate.  The guy who designed this system is the fellow who was chosen as the one candidate.  The man has denied the Nicene Creed, practices communion of the un-baptized, and is running a little church up here that has very little resemblance to an Episcopal Church, much less an Anglican one.  There are very few clergy up here who went to seminary, most are ordained volunteers with very little training.  Check out the diocesan website (run by the candidate).  Read the diocesan newsletter (of which he is the editor).  Read through, especially, the “Response to Dar…” link, pay particular attention to the “affirmations” at the end of it.  And then tell me this guy belongs in the HoB.

January 27, 9:58 pm | [comment link]
25. Robert Dedmon wrote:

Thanks to # 24.  I will check it out.

January 27, 10:27 pm | [comment link]
26. Dan Ennis wrote:

I don’t know anything about this guy, and if he denies the creed I would hope the HOB would withhold consent, but posters who believe there is a contradiction between being a “practicing” Zen Buddhist and being a Christian ought to read up on their Thomas Merton.

January 27, 10:56 pm | [comment link]
27. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

I’m a little astounded by the parading of ignorance here about Zen Buddhism and practice (one even links to a fundamentalist church as an “authority.”

Hi John.  What was it that the link to the fundamentalist church got wrong?  I would appreciate it if you would specify the exact error that they made.

I don’t go to that church and do not know that much about them.  So, I don’t really have a dog in the fight, but I am curious if the mere labeling of a church as “fundamentalist” is sufficient grounds for dismissing what they say.  In general, I have seen the word used as a pejorative, so I am curious if this was just an ad hominem or if there are actually some factual inacuracies in the information.

January 27, 11:27 pm | [comment link]
28. driver8 wrote:

#26 For a thoughtful and informed contrary view (more knowledgeable than Merton about Buddhism) see the work of Paul Williams and Paul Griffiths. Rather than “sameness” a better model is “plundering the Egyptians”. In other words lovingly noting what within Buddhism might be said by Christians to point beyond itself to Christ and what christians might learn from Buddhists that is helpful in interpreting the truths of the Gospel. Griffiths has an excellent piece on how this might be done in respect of the Lotus Sutra here.

January 28, 12:05 am | [comment link]
29. John Wilkins wrote:

Sick, the two descriptions are caricatures of both religions. 

I wouldn’t expect a fundamentalist church to take the apophatic tradition in Christianity very seriously.  As a rule I trust people’s self-descriptions MORE than others, unless they are disinterested. 

Unless you’ve tried to be a Buddhist, I suspect its probably hard to understand Buddhism.  Given that I know several faithful Christians who use Zen practices but believe in Jesus Christ, I think fundamentalists don’t understand Buddhism correctly.

Not that I think Buddhism is perfectly correct.  If you want a reliable anti-Buddhist apologetic, you might read Paul Griffiths’ work.

January 28, 12:11 am | [comment link]
30. driver8 wrote:

Paul Williams book is the story of his journey from Tibetan Buddhism to Roman Catholicism. As he’s Professor of Indian and Tibetan Philosophy at Bristol University it’s an account informed by considerable knowledge and experience of Buddhism.

January 28, 12:12 am | [comment link]
31. libraryjim wrote:

Frankly, just because some ‘Christian’ writers sought to make a connection between Christianity and Eastern religious thought/practice, does not in my mind make that the final word or make it right. After all, we have seen in the past few years:

*a woman priest who claims that she can be a practicing muslim at the same time
*a couple who while both were ordained priests exercised leadership in a Druidic coven
*Catholic monks who claim that the tarot is an acceptable expression of spirituality
*and more.

So why should we say that just because Philip Jenkins and Thomas Merton practiced (or made a nebulous connection to) a dual religious observance we should accept it?

Isn’t our God a ‘jealous God’ who desires our complete obeisance? Who commands us to follow ONLY Him and His way? Sure there may be a ‘nugget of truth’ in other religions, but we are called to follow Jesus and Him alone.

January 28, 12:13 am | [comment link]
32. driver8 wrote:

It seems an error to me to think that Zen (or any kind of Buddhism) is reducible to a breathing technique or a particular technique of concentration. Rather there is an interlocking network of beliefs and practices - about the nature of humanity, the nature of reality, the goal of spiritual life (etc.) - in which christians will find some things that they want to say point to Christ, some things that help christians better understand the truth of the Gospel and some things with which they will want to disagree.

To give an example - it seems to me that the christian claims about love demand that the beloved/the other has an irreducible reality than cannot be reduced to a nondualistic nothingness. So when Buddhists speak of overcoming the subject/object distinction then I want to ask, “what then of love and the beloved?” When Buddhists speak of Mind, I want to say it is reasonable to ask, “why is there something rather than nothing?” When Buddhists speak of “Nothing” then I want to ask “Is the Nothing transcendent”, “Does the Nothing lovel”, “Is the Nothing creative”? So it seems to me that there will be ways in which Christians will find themselves agreeing and disagreeing with Buddhists. Thus it is odd, to me, to say not simply that one might learn from Buddhism but to say that one can simultaneously be a Buddhist and affirm the truths of the orthodox creeds.

So, like Griffiths and Williams, what is not up for grabs for me is the truth of credally orthodoxy Christianity. In other words I am persuade of its veracity and reasonableness. ISTM that any “pluralist” theology of religions necessarily involves giving up those credal truth claims and thus, in terms of orthodox Christianity, is heretical.

January 28, 12:27 am | [comment link]
33. Lutheran-MS wrote:

This just shows the the Episcopal Church can be all encompassing.

January 28, 2:17 am | [comment link]
34. John Wilkins wrote:

Driver8, I applaud your working by understanding the heart of Buddhism.  Those are excellent questions that might be asked of the proposed Bishop.  If Fr. Forrester has read Jean-Luc Marion, or various Christian Mystics he might have suitable answers.  It is the place of “nothingness” that makes Buddhism crucially different than Christianity (as well as the way some Buddhists seek perfection).  I think that if Arius had won, Christianity would look even more Like Buddhism than it currently does.

But the crucial point is that there is nothing about Christianity that a Zen Buddhist has to deny (as the first poster insinuates).  it is unlike Islam in that it can affirm Christ died on the cross and rose again.  it is unlike Druidism in that it has no necessary connection to earth based spirituality and doesn’t worship gods.  A Zen Priest can believe what the church teaches.  Because God arises out of the nothingness, we should EXPECT that a Zen master would find Christianity amenable at some point. 

Admittedly, I find it a bit odd that Jim would call Philip Jenkin’s assertions “nebulous.”  They were very well researched.  Jenkin’s asertion was only that Christians - Orthodox Christians - read and translated Buddhist texts - and got along.  They did not become Buddhists.  The fact is that the apophatic tradition in Christianity is strong, even if it remains obscure and frightening to Fundamentalist Christianity.

The fact is that Christians got along with Buddhists and actually saved and translated their documents, with the belief that by studying Buddhism, they would become better Christians. 

#14 raises a very good point.  Why would a Christian read Buddhism?  There are a few reasons:  1) the market.  The fact is that lots of people are reading it and understand that language.  People in congregations who read are reading such work.  At least in my neck of the woods.  2) Just as Jews were reading the Greeks and the Romans were reading the Christians, and the Germans would read sanskrit, understanding other religions helps us understand the contours of our own faith.  We are not altogether different or the same as other faiths.  Religious practices are wide, and human beings are curious. 

Personally, I think there are many Buddhists who respect Christianity and have many interesting things to say about it as people who are outside the club and haven’t inculcated the language.

January 28, 3:11 pm | [comment link]
35. driver8 wrote:

#34 I understand you are making the assertion. I am simply saying that I think it not true. There are beliefs which christians hold as central that Buddhists deny. Unlike in Buddhism the apophatic tradition is inseperable, indeed only makes sense in the context of, God’s transcendence of creation. If Buddhism denies the possibility of such transcendence, as sometimes seems to be the case, then it critically undermines both christian cataphatic and apophatic theology.

January 28, 4:45 pm | [comment link]
36. C. Wingate wrote:

There is a degree to which zen exists in an eastern religious milieu which is at the root pagan and syncretic. It is often said, for example, that the Japanese are born Shinto and die Buddhist. Buddhism in general is accepting of other religion; Zen is simply more so.

It’s one thing to talk about a zen-like approach to this or that aspect of theology or faith, but I would note that the Tao Te Ching begins by nearly flatly contradicting John 1. Christianity ascribes an importance to speaking and remembering which is not easily reconciled with Zen. And the most important words of Christianity are not really reconcilable with Buddhism. To stand the old saw on its head, the goal of Christianity is to win; but the goal of Buddhism is to quit the game. Now, much of Christianity’s means of winning looks much like Buddhism’s means of quitting, but if the techniques of Zen are giving answers, they had better be the answers of Christianity, which I doubt very much that they are.

January 28, 6:08 pm | [comment link]
37. driver8 wrote:

I’ve tried to be specific and positive as well as questioning.

1. Christians should expect to find in Buddhism that which beyond itself points to Christ (as Paul does in Acts 17). In order to do so they need to look and listen lovingly and attentively.

2. Christians should look lovingly to find that which in Buddhism helps them understand and proclaim more deeply the truth of the Gospel. (This is surely essential to any proclamation of the Evangel - that is, to any evangelism)

3. After learning and listening with love there will be some things, I think, with which Christians will want to disagree.

January 28, 11:48 pm | [comment link]
38. tgd wrote:

Some comments on this posting strike me as having little connection to actual Buddhism.  May I suggest the book “Buddhism A Way Of Life And Thought” by Nancy Wilson Ross, about which many long-term practitioners of Buddhism have said favorable things. It’s short, approachable, and it has balanced coverage of the main streams of Buddhism.

February 5, 1:40 am | [comment link]
39. tgd wrote:

Some comments on this posting strike me as having little connection to actual Buddhism.  May I suggest the book “Buddhism A Way Of Life And Thought” by Nancy Wilson Ross, about which many long-term practitioners of just Buddhism have said favorable things. The book is short, approachable, and it has balanced coverage of the main streams of Buddhism.

February 25, 4:47 pm | [comment link]
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