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An Open Letter in Response to Jane Holmes Dixon
Bishop Pro Tem of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C.
F. Earle Fox
NOTE: See also The Nature & Limits of Communion by the Rev. Samuel Edwards
Just about the time Jane Dixon began her assault upon the Rev. Sam Edwards and Christ Church in Accokeek, Maryland, I changed my parish affiliation to be with the Christ Church people to help them pray through the disaster which was upon them.
Some time later, Sunday, January 20, 2002, I faxed the open letter below to Bishop Jane Dixon, with the request that she contact me if she thought it would be helpful for us to talk about these issues before I published the letter. A date was arranged which she had to cancel, so, with her agreement, I am publishing this response without a chance for discussion with her. It would have been "interesting". With just a few changes from the original, the open letter is presented below.
My aim is for theological clarity on both sides, not to change anyone's mind -- which is God's business. We must speak the truth in love, force honest questions, and then let the truth and the Lord of truth do the changing of minds. So, Christians in the Diocese of Washington, DC, must force the honest discussion of the meaning of the word 'Christian'. Sadly, to the great hurt of the Church, that did not happen during the six years I was living in the area, not with Jane Dixon, nor with John Chane who followed her. That was the fault of supposedly orthodox Episcopal Christians, not of the bishops.
Whether Dixon cancelled to avoid the discussion and confrontation, I will never know. One thing is sure -- the homosexual agenda is authoritarian by nature, and cannot withstand an open, candid discussion based on fact and logic. Dixon's treatment of Christ Church in Accokeek, Maryland, has been atrocious.
My subject is the relation between reason, revelation, and ecclesiastical authority. Dixon's article to which I am responding is available below
* * *
Several weeks ago on an internet email loop, I raised the question of how one can decide who is and is not a Christian. I allowed that persons who believe that truth is relative, or act as if it were, cannot be Christians because such a belief is logically contradictory to, and destructive of, biblical faith.
I am therefore glad that Bishop Dixon has raised that issue with respect to what it means to be an Episcopalian in the January 2002 issue of the Washington Diocese, because it appears that she does take the opposing view, that truth, including Christian truth, is indeed relative.
Dixon addresses primarily what it means to be an Episcopalian, or to be the Episcopal Church, rather than the prior question of what it means to be a Christian, or to be the Church of God. But the same issues are at stake. Beliefs and actions inconsistent with being Christian are ipso facto inconsistent with being Episcopal.
She rightly notes two primary theological issues: revelation and ecclesiastical authority. It is helpful to understand that there is a very specific relation between the two:
Ecclesiastical authority is derive from prior revelation, not vice versa.
That which can reasonably be said to be self-revelation from God will shape our institutional authority for faith, unity, and discipline.
The Scriptures were not written in a mystic trance or by "special" persons. Acceptance was not automatic. Each book in the canon had to "earn its way" in the minds of the faithful. Only in time did those who were touched by God come to conclude: "Yes, these tell it like it is...!" They were chosen to be the canon (constitution) of the Church because they had the Godly ring of reality about them. Revelation happens first as fact and event of history. God touches our lives. Ecclesiastical authority thus derives from revelation, and hence cannot replace it without subverting its own authority. Furthermore, revelation happens across time and culture, so no possible human authority can be in control, God is.
Islam, Hinduism, and Mormonism also have holy books. No religion but Judaism and Christianity, however, has a holy book rooted in history, written over time by many persons recording the ongoing relation between God and His people. The holiness of no other book is based on the empirical facts (see I Cor. 15:12-19). Even our creeds specify the date of Jesus -- "...under Pontius Pilate".
That means that Christianity is an "open book". The Bible is committed to verifiable truth -- history, fact, and logic -- so there are hundreds of ways to put the Bible to the test. There is an inherent reasonableness to Biblical faith -- so long as it keeps meeting the crucial tests. Christians are not leaping blindly into the dark. We are, on the basis of our conscience and common sense, leaping into the light. Scripture has an inherent reasonableness, which is why Anglicans can link reason with Scripture. God invites (indeed, commands...): "Come, let us reason together...." (Is. 1:18)
Secular folks like to tell us, "I am from Missouri. You have to show me." Well and good, so is God. "I will show you. Now you show Me!." (See Isaiah 43:26, Micah 6:1-5). God invites us into a reality check, but the problem is we seldom show up.
And this is the judgement, that the Light has come into the world, and men preferred darkness because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19)
We head for the bushes.
Pagan religions are not rooted in the ongoing facts of life and relationship, but are usually alleged to be special, total, and definitive revelations to specific persons -- and are therefore by their very nature invulnerable to open, public truth-testing. You either accept it or your do not. Faith is almost totally a blind leap. So, in effect, the human authority is the revelation, with no further appeal.
The Bible stands on its own authority by appeal to the conscience and common sense of any person sharing in the human nature given by God. So we read:
"We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." (I Cor. 4:2 ff.) And...
"For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty." (2 Peter 1:16)
The Gospel witness really is a witness -- open to all mankind, and which any person is invited to test for himself. The point of evangelism is to get people to test it Just tell it like it is and let the truth and the Lord of truth do their own converting. That is wielding the Sword of the Spirit.
When Scripture is abandoned, the common folk lose much of that public accessibility to revelation. There is no place they can go to check out the "experts". Faith will then either get lost in intellectual speculation (as with Unitarianism), or become the bailiwick of an elite who tell the rest of us the truth (as with Mormonism, Islam, and Eastern religions). That is what we see happening today in the Episcopal Church -- all in the name of inclusiveness, compassion, and reasonableness. The roles are being reversed -- revelation is being eroded, and replaced by ecclesiastical authority.
Dixon suggests that the highest authority for Christians might be the Risen Christ, and that we know that authority through Richard Hooker's three-fold "Scripture, tradition, and reason". She says that Hooker did not ascribe primacy to Scripture. That is not the case. He does, about as clearly as can be stated:
Be it in matter of the one kind or of the other what Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the First place both of Credit and Obedience is due; the Next whereunto is, whatsoever any Man can necessarily conclude by Force of Reason; After these the Voice of the Church succeedeth. (The Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book 5, Chapter 8, Section 2.)
Hooker was a man of the Reformation. Dixon's view is more akin to that of the Roman Catholic Church in which "developing tradition" occupies a place at least equal to Scripture. The effect of that view is to untether Christianity from any secure anchor. It can, and does, float anywhere untethered tradition may drift.
For the Roman Church, it floats into excesses regarding the Virgin Mary and into the infallibility of the Pope -- which then becomes its anchor. For "liberals" such as Jane Dixon, it floats into untenable notions of "pluralism", relative truth, sex and gender deviancy, and, sooner or later, the infallibility of canon law -- because that is all there is left to keep any semblance of order.
It floats away from any clear and objective boundaries of faith, so that there is no cash-value left to saying that our ultimate authority is the Risen Christ. Because any appeal to a specific Scripture passage is counted as "proof-texting", no Scripture passage can become a basis in a view such as Dixon's. She is left to her own devices to discern what is and is not Christian.
"Her own devices" is precisely the kind of power she claimed in court (and which the judge "granted" her), the right to interpret canon law any way she sees fit. Dixon acknowledges (of the contention in her diocese) that the lion is not yet lying down with the lamb, but, she writes, "the polity of the church, its constitution and canons, gives us the structure we need to wrestle with our diversity...." The savior is polity and law, not Scripture. So, in what sense the risen Christ? Again, ecclesiastical authority has usurped Godly revelation.
The judge, of course, has no business deciding the polity of the Episcopal Church. But then General Convention, which is supposed to, seems currently incapable of deciding it -- to the degree that it has abandoned Scripture.
Dixon writes that a primary role of a bishop is to "guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church" (from the BCP, p. 517, the ordination of a bishop). In the ordination service, faith comes first for a reason -- it comes first. Faith (i.e., revelation) is the foundation for unity, not the other way around.
But Dixon shows interest in guarding only the secondary unity and tertiary discipline, reversing authority and revelation. Revelation has been subverted, so the "authority" now makes all the decisions, free of encumbering revelation.
As one renegade Supreme Court Justice said, "The Constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means."
"Liberalism" (in skeptical quotes) refers to the pseudo-liberalism today masquerading as true liberalism. True (Jeffersonian) liberalism holds that any issue should be given an open and honest forum, with all interested parties allowed into the discussion, and with relevant rules of evidence. A liberal liberates -- with truth, not with good feelings. Jesus was, in that sense, a liberal (see John 8:31 ff.).
It was assumed by Jefferson and the other founding fathers that "interested parties" would mean those parties interested in the truth of the matter, not merely interested in having their way regardless of the truth -- which they called "party spirit". The evidence does not appear to show that Jane Dixon is, in that sense, a true liberal.
Whenever we untether ourselves from discerning objective truth, our polity will inevitably drift first into chaos, and then, by reaction, into totalitarianism, tyranny, and the suppression of open and candid discussion. Abandoning Scripture for tradition does just that. And the pseudo-liberal program is doing just that.
The issue is not whether we can learn new things about the Christian faith. Clearly we are doing that in every age. But if there is a "Christian" faith, it must have some determinate foundation by which it is to be so identified. If there is no such objectivity to our faith, then the atheists are correct -- our baptismal vows (and all the rest) are foolishness and self-delusion.
The Christian faith is a covenant, the terms of which are given by God, not reinvented by Hegelian dialectic with every new age. There is a truth to know, understand, and act on. The Christian faith can expand and grow as our experience of life expands and grows because the terms of our covenant are with the Creator, and are thus applicable to any possible conditions of the creation. All that stability and entrenchment in creation reality are abandoned by the "liberals" -- who are busy with "their own devices". The guardians of the faith cannot make a contradictory change of faith and still legitimately be called "Christians".
The Bible (in the context of the Nicene Creed) operates in the Church much like the Constitution operates in American polity (in the context of the Declaration of Independence and the rest of our common law inheritance).
A constitution "constitutes". It defines what it means to be -- a Christian or an American. To change the constitution is thus to change the identity of the faith. You do not have a more advanced brand of Christianity, you have a different religion. As Bishop MacNaughton said on the floor of the 1991 General Convention, "There are two religions on the floor." Exactly. We have to choose whether to be Christian, or some brand of neo-pagan or neo-secular. "Choose this day whom you will serve..."
The Rev. Samuel Edwards has made remarks very critical of the direction in which General Convention is leading the Episcopal Church, views echoed by a large minority, if not majority, of the laity. (Those numbers would be considerably larger and noisier if the laity were kept informed by their timid clergy of what is happening -- which is, of course, why they are not. Clergy tend to like peace, not rumpus.) Edwards based his remarks on the open departure of General Convention from Scriptural standards, that is, from the constitution and faith of the Church.
Dixon's discussion of the Accokeek matter, however, focuses not on truth, but on what she sees to be Fr. Sam Edwards' schismatic behavior. He is charged with threatening to take Christ Church, Accokeek, out of the Episcopal Church. That, again, is not exactly the case. Edwards made it clear that if it seemed right for him to advise the parish to leave, he would resign before so doing.
Pseudo-liberals, with dishonesty and deceit, in league with pseudo-conservative timidity, have perpetrated upon us the most massive disruptions of Christian faith in history, and then have the gall to call those who object "divisive".
The Supreme Court in dismissing God unhinged America from its moral and legal base. In 1962, the Court told God (Engel v. Vitale) that He could no longer talk to students in government-run schools, nor they to Him. The real point was not prayer, it was sovereignty. Who defines the meaning of life, God or the Court?
The problem is that, without God, there is no moral order left, no principle of obligation. Only God can obligate anyone to anything -- such as obey the civil government. So, in dismissing God, the Court effectively evacuated itself of any right to be obeyed. As Jesus told Pilate, Pilate had no power other than that which is from above (John 19:11). God owns everything, including civil government. Without God, there is no moral order, so all government reduces to power struggle and manipulation. Legitimacy is gone. Might pretends to make right.
Church leadership, with almost identical mindset, has betrayed the Church and the Lord of the Church by overturning the constitution it swore to defend and protect. If putting ecclesiastical authority ahead of revelation is not betrayal, what needs to be added to make it so?
And we should not be critical?
Dixon says that "the 'ordination vows' of the laity are found in the creeds and the baptismal covenant, which also bind all other orders". But unless there is some objective truth content to the creeds and baptismal covenant, they do not "bind" anyone to anything at all -- except, perhaps, to "the bishop's own devices". The Christian faith, in other words, requires the very intellectual integrity which "liberals" reject.
The "liberal" wants to put reason above Scripture, thinking that Scripture has lost its credibility and is no longer able to be defended reasonably. That, too, is not the case. The Biblical worldview is the only logically consistent worldview there is. Secularism and paganism always fall into contradiction. And, by any reasonable standard, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has, by far, the best record of any religion or philosophy for helping the human race.
"Liberals" mock intellectual integrity, yet they want the honor and respect accorded to reason. But the reason with which the "liberal" wants to replace Scripture is not at all the reason which has been the bedrock of western philosophy since the early Greek philosophers, reason based on objectivity, honest observation of fact, and logical consistency. "Liberal" reason is based on our new "relative" truth which is inherently -- unreasonable. It is the reason of Cultural Marxism, which tells us that truth is a social construct, just an expression of race, gender, or sexual orientation.
The problem is that pseudo-liberalists can be taken seriously only if what they say is not true -- at least their truth must really count as truth. They must, without saying so out loud, exempt themselves from their own relative-truth philosophy in order to make themselves look like experts and authorities to the rest of us.
Relative truth, therefore, is too easy a target for opponents, so truth is seldom said to be relative. But the same effect is obtained by another strategy -- putting unity (or collegiality) before truth. Truth issues are papered over with a sleight-of-tongue hodgepodge about "unity in diversity".
Dixon, for example, nowhere notes that the reason Edwards is critical of Episcopal leadership is its departure from the truth of the Christian faith as we have inherited and sworn before God to follow and defend it. To even mention the real reasons why Edwards is critical might let the truth-cat out of the bag. Discussion of truth (fact and logic) has to be avoided at all costs. Dixon nowhere expresses interest in the truth of faith, only in the unity of polity and collegiality. But..., she rejoices in our "diversity".
She believes that General Convention (or the local bishop), in the interests of unity, compassion, and now discipline, can alter whatever needs to be at its whim (well, to be more generous, upon its deeply considered deliberations) -- which then becomes the infallibility of canon law.
On such a view, the mind of General Convention replaces Scripture as the locus of revelation -- not a happy prospect. Again -- ecclesiastical authority usurps revelation. Most of us would rather struggle with interpreting the mind of Scripture than interpreting the self-confessed dysfunctional mind of the House of Bishops. When General Convention gets crucified, buried, and rises again on the third day, we might be tempted to grant it infallibility. (But then it would have to admit there really was an empty tomb.)
Unity of polity and collegiality are indeed important. But they are always, and without exception, both in Scripture and (up to recently) in Church history, based on a prior unity of faith -- of belief about God, who He is, and what He is about with us (what else, after all, is revelation for?). We are bound to intellectual integrity because only on that basis can honest political or collegial unity be had. All other ground is sinking sand.
It is probably safe to say that no Christian at any time in history laid his life down for a faith that he or she thought was only "relatively" true. "Jesus is Lord" is an uncompromising claim. Not Caesar, not Isis, not Zeus, not General Convention, not "your bishop's own devices" -- just Jesus. It was that radical and exclusive claim which got them persecuted then, and still does today. For better or for worse, that is the Christian faith. There is nothing General Convention can do about it.
If unity is more important than what we believe, then truth really does not matter. We can all just love each other and believe what we want. Truth gets relativized by being put second after unity -- and maybe even third after discipline. But in the end, it just gets lost. You can believe just about anything at all, except that Jesus really is exclusively King of kings and Lord of lords, and be accepted in "liberal" circles. You can engage in just about any sexual practice imaginable, but you had better not say out loud that God made human beings in His image male and female, i.e., heterosexually.
The problem with this kind of "inclusiveness" is that -- it isn't. It was never meant to be inclusive. It was designed to exclude the biblical kind of uniqueness and inclusiveness, i.e., the Christian faith. It is paganism in disguise. It is Caesar telling the Christians that they can have their Jesus, just put Him in the pantheon along with all the others. Welcome! The object is to neutralize the real Jesus who makes moral demands upon us, including Caesar and bishops.
But the martyrs chose to die rather than put the pinch of incense on the altar of paganism. We are being challenged again today by the same mentality. The martyrs understood that Jesus is God being inclusive, reaching out to invite all mankind, in all circumstances, at all times, past, present, and future. But under His sovereignty.
No one at all really believes that truth is relative because no one can act on such a theory. It is both logically and practically impossible. Constant talk about "pluriform" truth by Frank Griswold, our presiding bishop, does nothing at all to change that.
In the spring of 2001 (while still director of Transformation Christian Ministries, helping people exit the homosexual lifestyle), I received a call from a local (Alexandria, Virginia) high school student, stating that he was homosexual, his father was, that he had been asked by his teacher to interview someone with whom he disagreed, and could he interview me. I said, of course.
He asked all his hard questions, and I gave him all my straight answers (pun intended). At one point, he asked what I thought of the killing of Matthew Shephard. I replied that if I had been there, I would have stood with Matthew Shephard. At the end, he asked if I would like to come to his Gay and Lesbian group after school. I leaped at the chance.
At the meeting, I started off suggesting that we should first talk about how to dialogue over such volatile issues as homosexuality. "We should seek to focus on the truth, which is the only way to avoid end up throwing bricks at each other," I said. Immediately hands shot up. "But sir, truth is relative." That was the hot issue. They wanted to believe that truth can be "both/and", that they could have their truth as well as I having mine, not "either/or" where one of us may have to give in to the other.
I pointed out the window. "There is a large-domed building across the Potomac in which people are making laws which will be enforce upon you and me. You want one kind of laws, I want another. If truth is really relative, who cares what laws they make? We both care because when it comes to action and behavior, which is what law is about, it is either/or, not both/and."
Law, including canon law, is always either/or. Laws are made to be enforced, not equivocated.
Christ Church in Accokeek, Maryland, had followed the procedures "to the T" for calling Sam Edwards as rector. They had not equivocated. The bishop, according to canon law, has a thirty-day window in that process during which the bishop may reject the appointment as rector for just about any reason. Dixon waited until several weeks after the window had elapsed before deciding that Edwards was unfit to be rector.
Jane Dixon then herself became the object of a presentment, charging her with violating canon law, that is, forbidding Christ Church to bring Edwards as rector several weeks after her thirty-day canonical window to make such a determination had elapsed.
Episcopal caginess, however, knows no bounds. The episcopal review team which assessed the presentment against Dixon came to the conclusion that Christ Church had a reasonable interpretation of the canon in question -- and that Jane Dixon also had a reasonable interpretation of the canon.
Hurrah! We can equivocate! For the first time in history, we now have laws that are both/and, not either/or.
That, of course, destroys the whole point of having laws -- to enforce one side over its contrary. That spiritual leaders can engage in such immaturity and silliness, or perhaps more likely, deliberate subversion of due process, is appalling. That the House of Bishops cannot find the courage to defrock such leaders is even more appalling.
But like all relative truth, it is relative only for the "other side". Dixon did not give up her campaign to oust Fr. Edwards on the grounds that Christ Church and Edwards had a reasonable interpretation of the canon. She merely heard only her side of the decision and went right on doing what she was doing.
Nevertheless, it is encouraging to know that some folks on both sides of the fence have more intuitive sense than that. At one point, the leader of the high school group murmured that, yes, we do need real truth. He perhaps sensed the vulnerability of his own position -- should truth be relative.
Everyone knows that we cannot act on relative truth, whether they admit it or not. So when people want us to act as though truth were relative, they are being dishonest -- or, at best, incompetent thinkers. The making of law is always based on someone's notion of truth and of moral righteousness. Either/or, not both/and.
So when someone asks us to relativize our truth, such as by putting unity ahead of truth, we know they are not relativizing their truth, they just want us to relativize ours so we will back down from defending it -- leaving them free to insert their truth unopposed.
The appeal to relative truth is, in other words, a bait and switch ploy. Is that not lying?
That has been the consistent strategy of the pseudo-liberal movement, most especially in sexuality issues, right from the start. The "liberal" agenda is not rooted in an honest search for truth, and will always therefore become totalitarian and coercive. It is rooted in "feeling good" because it has given up on the search for truth. A society based on "feeling good" has no capacity for adjudicating between opposing opinions because there is no real truth to which to appeal. And so it must resort to deceit and coercion to bring about their very uninclusive conclusion. It has no other options.
Thus the "hate-crime" laws, avidly pursued to protect homosexual persons, are not for the protection of any abused person -- who already have the same protections as any other citizen. Hate-crime laws are meant to suppress dissent to the homosexual agenda. That is already happening in the United States, Brazil, and Canada by law. Hate-crime laws are an attack, not on hate, but on freedom of conscience.
In the free constitutional republic established by the very biblical tradition which "liberals" despise, if you lose the debate, you are not shot at dawn, you can come back and present your case again the next time around. But in the brave new "liberal" world, if you dissent, you are accused of a hate-crime and banished from the discussion. And, if they get their way, prosecuted.
That is tyranny, not inclusiveness, and not the Christian faith.
Dixon says of Edwards that he is not fit to be a priest in the Episcopal Church. There are many of us who believe the truth is the reverse, that Edwards is a very fine priest, and that it is persons who subvert truth who are lacking in credentials to be bishops in the Church, indeed, to be Christians at all.
No person should be baptized who cannot say with intellectual honesty that Jesus is Lord over all things, that Scripture is the basis of the Christian faith because it gives us the truth reasonably and clearly enough to be the foundation of our spiritual lives, and that biblical history gives an accurate account of the kind of relationship which God is forming with His fallen creation. Any person who rejects such ideas does not qualify as a Christian.
Without Scripture as the covenant-constitution of Christianity, "liberals" cannot discern who is and who is not a Christian. Their response is therefore to include anyone who says that he is a Christian. If there is no objective plumb line, then any wall can be called vertical.
But, says Dixon, not everyone is fit to be a rector just because he says so. It comes down to -- not revelation or Scripture, but the bishop's own devices enforced by canon law. "Relativity" is a one-way street.
Dixon says that "the polity of the Episcopal Church makes clear that church property is held in trust for a diocese". Not quite so clear as Dixon would suggest.
The canon making the diocese essentially the owner of parish property was passed only a few decades ago. But General Convention cannot simply coopt the property of parishes by a stroke of its canonical pen. That is called theft. The parishes in question must assent to the agreement. Not many vestries were approached by their bishops with contract in hand to sign over their property. Not many would have, if so approached.
So it is much more subtle. Typically, ownership of parish property is compromised when a parish seeks a loan from the diocese. Somewhere in that contract, no doubt unnoticed by most vestries, is the clause which signs over the property to the diocese.
(Hint: if your parish has not yet done that, don't.)
There has apparently been no such compromise of ownership at Christ Church, Accokeek. Local county officials consider Christ Church to own its property "in fee simple", i.e., outright. If that is the case, Dixon is wrong. The diocese has no ownership in the property, no matter what the canons say. In that case, the bishop needs to explain why the diocesan pursuit of the Christ Church property should not be considered attempted theft.
The deeper question, regardless of the canon, is whether diocesan ownership is a good idea.
The Episcopal Church constitution was written by some of the same people who wrote the American constitution. Some of the same deep suspicion of centralized government carried over from state to church. Colonial Anglicans had refused to have any bishops at all for two hundred years because they had had enough of ecclesiastical tyranny, including burnings at the stake.
When I first heard that, I could not understand the colonists' fear. Bishops had always seemed to me a strange combination of "impressive-but-ineffectual". The reason is now coming clear. Power still corrupts.
The authority structure of the Anglican Communion is rightly "top down" spiritually -- the now famous "hierarchical" structure of the Anglican Communion so often misunderstood by courts. Bishops are indeed the chief pastors and stand in apostolic succession.
But a due observance of the separation of powers, the most powerful tool for inhibiting tyranny, is applicable in ecclesiastical as well as in civil structures.
Materially, the Church should be "bottom up". The local church should own the property which it has built and maintained, thus providing local protection against precisely the overbearing authority which the Diocese of Washington is exerting against Christ Church. The diocese should take ownership of parish property no more than my parish should take ownership of my property when I am baptized. Centralization of power always leads to abuse of power.
The truth is that that principle was decided right at the founding of the Episcopal Church at the time when America broke away from England. The Anglican Church in America became the Episcopal Church. A vigorous debate at that time about ownership of parish property was decided clearly in favor of the parish. The Denis Canon (for whatever it is worth) is a johnny-come-lately, not the original decision of the Episcopal Church. It is an attempt at centralization of government which is a thin disguise for ecclesiastical control and tyranny.
And, in any event, the hierarchical structure of the Anglican Communion has never in its history granted bishops uninhibited authority to define canon law as they like. No Christian Church has ever done so. Dixon is wrong and the federal district court is wrong.
Our leaders, as Sam Edwards keeps reminding everyone, are under, not above, the law. The checks and balances in our American constitution arose out of that very English common law history nurtured by the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury was a key player in the writing and institution of the Magna Carta in 1215. And it was John Wycliffe who wrote in his prologue to the first English translation of the Bible in 1384, "The Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People." Abe Lincoln did not invent that phrase riding on the train to Gettysburg. Anglicans are by inheritance and temperament opposed to centralization of authority. We need to make that case clearly before our bishops and our civil courts.
Jesus is indeed the risen Lord (empty tomb and all), and revelation has not stopped. We do grow in our faith and understanding of what God has given us. But to pit our wanna-be wisdom over against the incarnational, flesh and blood witness of Scripture and the face-to-face revelation of God by Himself to us in history is silly and irresponsible. We continue to grow on the basis of Scripture, not by abandoning it.
When Scripture is ignored and Jesus is no longer the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then grace and graciousness soon also depart. We enter a new legalism of canon law and an attitude of control -- all under the guise of "unity" and "compassion". Revelation is usurped by ecclesiastical authority. With a human king, that would be called high treason.
However, we are blessed to live in a land in which there still remains substantial freedom. Most of us are not yet, at least, overtly compelled to believe other than as our conscience dictates (though our government school system is turning our children's minds in to pliable mush...). So pseudo-liberals are free to believe as they see fit. But they do not have a right to make a contradictory change of faith and practice and call that Christianity.
So if Scripture really is that unreliable, if Scripture is not capable of standing on its own intellectual integrity, then let's all just admit that Christianity was a horrendous error, that we are, as Paul said we would be if our faith was not factual (I Cor. 15:12-19), the most to be pitied of all men, and depart as honest folk to the happy enlightenment of paganism.
Some of us tried hard. The results?
Our highest court in 1962 told God that He was no longer sovereign over America. Then, in the Casey decision on abortion (early 1990's), it enshrined the very meaning of sin as the law of the land -- our right to invent our own meaning of life, to be autonomous, independent decision-makers.
E. Michael Jones, author of Degenerate Moderns and editor of Culture Wars (www.culturewars.com), rightly says that the primary driving force behind the chaos of the 20th century was the secular/pagan quest for sexual liberation. That quest has wrought untold havoc on Western Civilization. In the name of sexual license, we have torn our families asunder, for nearly three decades killed almost one third of our children in the womb, created a sexualized society the equal of any ancient pagan culture, by law promoted homosexuality, a provably compulsive and lethal addiction, and we are teaching our young children in school the most bizarre and obscene sexual practices. See http://www.massnews.com/fistrep.tm#‘ Religious%20Wrong’%20Exposed%20at.
Yes, coming to your town soon -- if the "gay" agenda, supported by Dixon, has its way.
None of this would have been possible had not America become convinced that truth is relative, and thus disconnected from revelation, and therefore fearful of standing up publicly to defend righteousness and the name of Jesus. Islamic terrorists are not the chief enemy of America. Our own self-centeredness and rebellion are far greater destructive forces, right in our midst.
Nevertheless, there are (and I find) persons on both sides of these very high walls who do want to know the truth, and who are willing to sacrifice themselves to reach over and through the walls to make touch with human beings on the other side. I would propose, as with the gay and lesbian group, that we must first decide to commit to finding the truth of the matters before us. Lovers of truth on any side of our fences will learn to get up at conventions and state the truth, regardless of personal cost.
If they do not, we will be revived the hard way, by persecution.
So we find ourselves in a paradoxical position. We are to love our enemies, yes, even our ecclesiastical enemies, knowing, nevertheless, that there is no compromise possible on the truth issues before us. Either the liberals will win or the "liberals" will win. Either we will be set free by truth, or we will destroy ourselves in the black hole of relativity and conflict.
Our sadly fractured Church will be resurrected as the truth-seekers on both sides of the walls get serious with God and each other, choose for leaders only persons dedicated to truth-seeking at any cost to themselves -- and assist leadership to the contrary to find other means of employment.r
[Jane Dixon's letter to the Diocese of Washington, DC, to which Earle Fox responds above.]
The Newspaper of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington
Vol. 71, No. 1, January 2002, page 2
To Live an Abundant Life
The Rt. Rev. Jane Holmes Dixon
Since I became Bishop pro tempore, a great deal of my time and the time of the Standing Committee, Diocesan Council, and other leaders of the Diocese of Washington has been devoted to dealing with a question vital to our lives: What does it mean to be the Episcopal Church? Together, we have given time, energy, and a vast amount of money. This question was prompted anew by the difficult situation at Christ Church in Accokeek. We believe that attempting to answer this question has important ramifications for the present and future, and so together we have committed ourselves to this task.
Two major theological issues are involved. The first is, What is the highest authority for Anglicans? I believe most would agree that the highest authority is the Risen Christ. Most Anglicans would say that there are three ways of knowing that authority, articulated by Richard Hooker in the late l6th century in his seminal work, The Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity, as scripture, tradition, and reason. Hooker did not ascribe primacy to one over the others, nor do most Anglicans/Episcopalians today. Some people, however, say that scripture stands alone or at least has priority.
The second theological issue is the doctrine of revelation. Again, I think most Anglicans agree that God reveals God's self completely in Jesus of Nazareth. The debate in the Church is that there are those who accept that God continues to reveal God's self in the world and those who do not accept the idea of ongoing revelation.
These two issues lead to the polity question of what it means to be the Episcopal Church -- how our structure and governance are part of our tradition and how they define the ways we relate to one another. We have used our God-given ability to reason in constructing this polity. It is not perfect, because it is of human making.
Our polity coupled with our theology undergirds our commitment to and shared understanding of four orders of ministry: lay persons, deacons, priests, and bishops. The "ordination vows" of the laity are found in the creeds and the baptismal covenant, which also bind all other orders. The vows of deacons, priests, and bishops are more definitive and particular to their offices. One of the primary roles of a bishop is to "guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church" (BCP, page 517), particularly in the diocese which he or she has been elected to lead. At issue in Christ Church, St. John's Parish, Accokeek, since last January were the roles of laity, priest, and bishop.
The vestry of St. John's Parish chose to call a rector who in his own words advocates schismatic behavior. In order to guard the Church and this diocese, the clergy and laity, I could not and therefore did not approve the call of a rector who did not agree to abide by his ordination vows and live by the canons of the Episcopal Church.
We cannot have two sets of standards for clergy in the Diocese of Washington. There are 265 clergy in the diocese who obey the constitution and canons of the Church and their ordination vows. The priest in question was not willing to do so and violated the canons of the Church continuously for five months while he continued to preside over services at Christ Church without a license.
The polity of the Episcopal Church makes dear that church property is held in trust for a diocese. This priest would not guarantee that he would not take this congregation out of the Church and take its property as well. His past statements and current actions posed a threat not only to the parishioners at Christ Church, but also to the diocese and indeed the entire Episcopal Church.
Our understanding of what it means to be the Episcopal Church is at issue. Searching for guidance, I returned to these theological tenets that result in our church polity, as they are central to our lives as Anglicans and Episcopalians.
Our diocese struggles with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what It means to be the people of God. Our clergy face multiple challenges. We have clergy of color who lead primarily Anglo parishes and white clergy who lead congregations of color. We have women rectors, gay and lesbian rectors, and rectors who do not accept the ordination of women or of gays. Our lay leadership and our congregations likewise wrestle with the issues raised by diversity. The struggle is difficult and at times painful. Yet with all our differences, we -- clergy and laity -- uphold the church's polity, its constitution and canons, because we share a fundamental view of what it means to be an Episcopalian.
Is the lion lying down with the lamb? Not yet. But the polity of the Church, its constitution and canons, gives us the structure we need to wrestle with our diversity in ways that are creative and productive, not divisive and hurtful.
I am often reminded of the teaching of my professor of the Hebrew scriptures at the Virginia Seminary. The Reverend Dr. Murray Newman taught us that God gave the Ten Commandments to the community forming in the desert not to be punitive but to create a structure that enabled people to live an abundant life. It is that abundant life -- lived in the Episcopal Church within a polity formed by scripture, tradition and reason -- to which we are committed.
The issue of who has the authority to approve the ordained leadership of a congregation has been addressed by an Episcopal review team and the United States District Court. The current situation is one that is not unfamiliar to many congregations: A majority of the vestry is at odds with a large part of the congregation. Tension is not new in our lives together. I have seen it for 40 years as congregations struggle over worship, theology, racial or ethnic changes in their surrounding communities, and ways to deal with the impact of urbanization. Now the time has come for Christ Church, Accokeek, and the rest of us to move on, and it continues to be my prayer that we will do that within our polity as well.
The diocese has offered significant human and other resources for reconciliation within Christ Church, Accokeek. Both the Standing Committee and the Diocesan Council stand ready to support any congregations who find themselves in conflict.
Many congregations in the diocese today are struggling faithfully with change resulting from differences of theology, race, culture, urbanization, and class. I do not know how such differences will be resolved. I pray to God, however, that all congregations will choose to be vibrant witnesses to the communities around them, caring for one another and wrestling faithfully, candidly, and openly with the changes that affect their lives. May they not choose to remain paralyzed by internal dissension.
It remains my honor and privilege to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church in this incredible diocese in spite of all the cost, and to strive always to follow the Gospel of the Risen Christ and the polity of the Episcopal Church which allows us -- and indeed requires of us --to respect the dignity of every human being.
May God bless you always, + Jane
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