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DANGER in the structure debates

DANGER in the structure debates

Thomas Jackson questions the rush to change the structure of The Episcopal Church at the Diocese of California Pacific Church News, asking for fewer “buzz words” and some honesty about why it is needed:

They spoke in apocalyptic terms of the need for revolutionary change saying “we have hit the iceberg …and the ship is sinking.” They spoke of a “grassroots” demand for urgent change “before it is too late.” They called for inclusion of those at the margin yet their supporters did not include significant representation from the young or people of color or people who live in “blue states” or LGBT people. And for all the testimony, few spoke of the specific changes they desire.

Instead of specific we heard calls for a “flattening of the organization.” How the voices of lay people, clergy and bishops are to be included let alone balanced went unsaid.

Instead of suggesting what is holding people back, we heard the same buzzwords over and over again: everything needs to be on the table, the sacred cows must be killed, death precedes resurrection, and the church must be nimble, creative, and effective. How the current structure prevents either a parish or diocese from being creative or nimble or effective was not made clear.


If this call for revolutionary change is really about money – about spending less on the national church – then let’s be honest enough to day so. We don’t need a Special Commission or Special Convention to revise the budget.

If this call for radical change is an effort to end our church’s progressive efforts to include all of the baptized in all of our sacraments let’s be honest enough to say so. Many of the dioceses represented in the hearing were “red states,” states where LGBT inclusion has not traditionally been a priority. Not a single LGBT leader – or leader of people of color or young Episcopalians – spoke in support of this call for radical change.

To be fair many speakers emphasized the need to include young people and “those on the margins” in the “Special Commission” that is to revise everything. But those words will ring hollow until these speakers make their calls for inclusion real through action.

Many of the speakers echoed the theme of our Presiding Bishop’s opening address: a theme of accepting death to open the path of resurrection, of allowing things to be broken so they can be renewed. While that seems an accurate reflection of the budget process so far, she has not made clear what parts of the church will have the honor of being the first to gain the opportunity of resurrection. Not a single speaker reflected the concerns of our President of the House of Deputies. That’s disconcerting if you believe lay and clerical deputies should have a voice alongside out bishops in governing this church.

At stake is a way of governing our church that allows lay people and clergy to act as equals to our bishops in making decisions. Our concept of sharing power between lay, clergy and bishops is not the way much of the Anglican Communion is governed. Our General Convention is far more democratic than church councils in other nations. If we are to sacrifice the General Convention as a “sacred cow,” we’d best have a much better way of making decisions than has been suggested to date.

If you think the General Convention is broken, look at the way our young people led the House of Deputies to call for more funds for youth programs. They spoke with eloquence and focus; they touched the hearts and moved the minds of our Deputies. Or talk to someone who heard trans people testify yesterday. The forum that makes this kind of transformational change possible is by definition not a sacred cow: it is simply sacred.

Read more here.


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Jim Naughton

Posted for Tom Jackson:

“The comments on this post would seem to indicate that the author isn’t giving a true representation of who testified.”

As a former reporter whose integrity has never before been questioned: Ouch! Just to be clear:

• It may well be that the “voices calling for structure are much more diverse than what the author” described. My article was based on the people who testified before the Committee. Neither I nor the folks taping the session “edited ”people of color out of our report. To suggest otherwise is flat out false. What you see on tape is what I saw in person: a series of white folks mostly from red states speaking. And that is exactly what I reported.

• Red states are no more monolithic than blue states; both hold both diversity of opinion and champions of inclusion. I’m sorry if anyone felt unappreciated; I looked at the big picture (not individuals) and spoke the truth I saw.

• What I saw was signs of some folks using tea party tactics and/or principles in an attempt to transform this church and move in a new direction. One bishop said he wanted the next General Convention to be a time of renewal and rejoicing not tension and conflict. What has been the source of conflict in our church during this bishop’s life? Those revolutionary activists who fought against legal segregation by race. Those radical activists who opposed the Vietnam War. Those uppity women wanting to be ordained as priests and bishops. Those LGBT folks who demand full inclusion of all of the baptized in all of the sacraments. The current ‘structure’ is not perfect but it allowed uppity people to make change. Those of us who have been involved in these fights should be concerned that our church is not “tea partied” away from being progressive and inclusive.

• Another challenge to the idea that we have a national church has erupted in the House of Bishops (see here). The irony is that some of the same bishops who argue their actions should not be limited by policies of the national church do or did not give the same freedom of action or expression to those they supervised. Will “flattening” the church mean that bishops have more power to say not allow women to be rectors in their diocese or refuse to ordain a trans person simply because they are trans? Sometimes, hierarchy is good.

• Acts8 is an interesting idea. I did not go from the hearing to Acts8 because I needed to eat dinner. I have not had a chance to learn more about Acts8. The only reporting on it is at Walking With Integrity. I’m approaching Acts8 with an open heart and mind.

• GenX is younger than most here (including me), but when I wrote “young” I meant high school and college age.

I’m all for change: I just don’t want to see this church changed into one that pushes those of us on the margins farther and farther away.

Mary Ann Hill

Maybe I’m not clear enough, but those of us who live in “red states” or the southwest are NOT necessarily rednecked troglodytes. It amazes me that many of us think bigotry is wrong unless it applies to people we assume are more conservative than ourselves. FWIW, one of my recent senior warden in Tulsa (yes, THAT Tulsa) was a gay partnered man. The Episcopal Church in Oklahoma is one of the few places where LGBT people are safe and included. I’ve had LGBT people tell me that they’ve come to us because they weren’t allowed to join other mainline churches (eg United Methodist). And I spent an entire day dealing with the police last week because I’m being targeted by a mentally ill religious fanatic who hates TEC and thinks I’m a lesbian. I don’t especially like being stalked and sent hate mail, but I will not let that deter me from welcoming and including LGBT fully in our community. As I told my (coincidentally gay) lay reader before the Eucharist that night, I’m not a lesbian, but I am willing to take one for the team. The man who’s targeted me has an excuse (a tragic one) for his bigotry. The “red state” bigotry? Not so much.

Ann Fontaine

Thanks Elizabeth and for your blog for more.

Elizabeth Kaeton

Oh, forgot to add: While others are “dreaming dreams” about the church, some of us are putting those dreams into action.

I am doing a baptism tomorrow morning. Outside. In the fountain between the Hyatt and the Westin.

One more soul for Jesus.

This is the same park where the homeless spend their nights sleeping on the park benches. Imagine what we could do for them if we stopped “dreaming” about being church and started just being the church.

Elizabeth Kaeton

I don’t know who else was in the room, but the film represented those who went to the mic: all but one were white, educated, middle class, same-old-same-old.

Love that everyone is “dreaming a new church into being” but it looked and sounded more like a poetry slam.

‘Where’s the beef?’ as Clara of Wendy’s would say. No tangibles. No deliverables. Just we know we want change.

Without a vision, the people perish, says the prophet. Where’s the vision? Where’s the plan? Where’s the beef?

Oh, and BTW, GenXers are hardly “young”. You want ‘young’? Listen to the young people who were organized, articulate, had a plan and were organized to put it into action.

I am so weary of the complaint that the Boomers have “ruined” the church and yet, all that’s offered is complaint and criticism and longing for change. It’s all just reactionary “shame and blame”.

Nice diversion from the bickering and tension between HOB and HOD, but no solutions. No vision.

Where’s the beef?

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