By Adrian Worsfold
Episcopal Café has reported that Rev. Kevin Genpo Thew Forrester will not become a bishop. According to Frank Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, on his Bible Belt Blogger blog, 56 standing committees have been counted saying no and Kevin Forrester needs a majority of 110. Bishops have been more coy about their views but the standing committees are crucial anyway. There is still the possibility that some will change their mind before the 120-day voting period ends in July but this seems unlikely.
Kevin Forrester has faced criticism ever since he was elected to be bishop as the only candidate in Northern Michigan. That itself drew criticism. The first actual criticism of the theological and ecclesiastical right was that he was a potential 'Buddhist bishop', whereas his lay ordination within Buddhism and that name Genpo was a reflection of the seriousness of his practice. This itself proved not to be enough to sway opinion. The criticism of more effect centered around his apparent doctrinal changes that were implied or made explicit in baptismal, creedal and Easter liturgical changes.
Basically, Kevin Forrester has been a convenient way to show that The Episcopal Church is still 'orthodox' and one must wonder how many standing committees have taken advantage of the evidence of liturgical changes to prevent his bishop-ing to make the wider point. A priest with the same views as Forrester, but who goes on using the same given materials, is far more likely to be accepted for elevation. The point would be made that the public continues to worship in the same way, and also if a minister is invalid in any sense, the frozen liturgy means that his or her invalidity is not effective.
I have used some of Kevin Forrester's liturgical material, but I can because I did it in a Unitarian church. I was pushing my luck a bit actually in a Christocentric direction to do it, but I could see why it might be awkward in an orthodox setting.
Kevin Forrester is a person of honesty and integrity. He is not alone in his views, but he just makes them more explicit and more open and he wants to use them, not hide them. But unfortunately, people like him (and I would add me) who make our views known before we go towards any selection process will get stopped at some point, whereas those who keep their views to themselves can, of course, be selected. Freedom comes with retirement, for such people. Some people, of course, change in office, so future preferment is prevented if they are open and they either stagnate or go off on some sideline activity.
Some people who hide their true views, or express them within the complexities of theological talk (sounds like one thing but means another) will say they make a necessary compromise, because of a commitment to the wider ideals of their Church and of course there is a collective line to obey, rather like being in cabinet government or in a political party (and look what happens, as at present in the UK, when discipline deserts and different tendencies become far too obvious). The problem is that this encourages duplicity within the very profession where duplicity ought to be absent.
Curiously, my own justification for an Anglican way is more Buddhist than Christian, that the idea of a spiritual discipline via regular sharing liturgically is to build oneself towards a hoped for condition of selflessness and love to the other. I can't tell you about any success in this, and I have no measuring equipment of any accuracy. I bet I am more Buddhist about this dharma approach than Kevin Forrester. I do not have any belief in the supernatural, and get fed up with the bizarreness of a statement about what God might be doing in my life or anyone else’s. I am of course guilty of using texts far more conservative than my own beliefs, though I think to some degree this is an inevitable necessity (even when rewriting takes place: I bet Kevin Forrester has the same difficulty - but the reasoning and precedence for this within a liberal community was set by the English theologian James Martineau). I do not believe that Jesus was God in any particular sense (the best is that he is a useful exemplar) and nor do I believe in a unique objective resurrection. He is crucified because of a Roman regime rather than anything particular that he has done. I'm a thoroughly liberal postmodern, having to dredge texts from the past to be useful spiritual texts, but having pretty much a social anthropological and psychological view on the functioning of religion.
I don't seek to impose my views on anyone, but I express them. It is good that there are a scattering of active priests who hold similar views in the Church of England and other denominations (I know of some of them), but we don't hear from them very often and some arrived at such views as a result of theological training and continued study. There are some retired priests and bishops with views similar and roughly similar to very liberal and postmodern views in the British Isles. It would be good to have one or two active, in employment and open, but it seems not to be so within the Anglican boundary, and seems not to be so in the United States Episcopal Church too. Bishop Spong is retired too, and his manifesto and any changes of effect would prevent him getting consents too.
So I say, you can use this refusal to consent in battles against the so called self-defined orthodox - let's call them ultra-orthodox for clarity and all their web chatter. Purity is now demonstrated, but purity with the pollution of a necessary absense of honesty.
It is my view that creedal religion encourages dishonesty, though not that it is exclusive in having dishonesty. But it does, and here has been a demonstration.
Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.