Monday, January 15, 2007

Bishop Marshall on Archbishop Williams

The following is the text of an email written by Bishop Paul Marshall to his
fellow bishops of the Episcopal Church, and posted on the House of Bishops/
Deputies listserve. It is a breath of fresh air.

If the Pope can go to
Turkey, Can the ABC go to Texas?
Being sure the obvious is said.

I have always been captivated by the realism about human interaction
found in the seven undoubtedly Pauline Epistles, our earliest
testimony to Christianity: for Paul, the living out of the gospel is
always a matter of imperfect personalities and events, redeemed and
being redeemed, giving and embracing comment and correction on the
way. Spirits are to be tested, and behavior in the Body addressed.
Compare Paul's own report of his conflict with Peter over the latter's
suspension of eating with Gentiles, and his report of what went on at
the Jerusalem summit with Luke's much smoother and curial account of
relations at a "council," and we begin to see more clearly the
apostle's consistency behavior and his point of view about leadership.
For good or ill, most people acknowledge that Paul led the formation
of the Christianity we know. It is wise to consider on the meta level
his operational principles of directness in truth-telling. Let us also
consider his directness in truth-acting: circumcision decisions on
Timothy and Titus are radically different because how those decisions
related to Gospel truth at certain places in certain times.

With St. Paul, we must dare to look at and respond to the vessels and
the circumstances, all of which struggle to bear the Gospel. Being
more modestly gifted than my apostolic namesake, I will limit my
theological observations while trying not to avoid naming the issue
and person that concerns me in the Church as much as President George
Bush does in the orbis terrarum, and I assure you that do I write to
him often.

The most un-biblical part of traditional Anglicanism is its
politeness, its charm, its unwillingness to confront and hold
accountable those who have sought and accepted positions of supreme
leadership. We in the Episcopal Church often brag about our Church's
failure to address slavery as though that were a virtue and not a
disgrace. The Church held together while humans died in chains and
even bishops (both north and south in the beginning) traded in human
flesh. We now have put the british emancipator William Wilberforce in
our calendar but do not make his commemoration one of fasting and
lament for our heritage of cowardice in the name of togetherness. The
words and deeds of Paul and even more certainly of our utterly
tactless Lord Jesus suggest that charm is less important than candor
or provocative questioning, that real love in times of disagreement is
often something quite uncomfortable. It seems no accident that
historically we are enthralled by John, whom we cannot understand,
rather than Paul, whom we can but would prefer not to.

That said, my subject, with both regret and trembling, is the
Arcbishop of Canterbury, but only in the very limited sense of his
functioning toward our house and to some extent our Church. That is a
tiny and limited subject and I do not intend it for a discussion of
the content of the myriad ministries in which he is engaged. As one
too old to have anything to gain or lose, I will try to say what may
be obvious to others but risky for them to voice. I hasten to add that
this is not a matter of condemnation: he needs no witness from me to
his reputation as a pious and good man, great in so many ways, and
someone whom I overall admire as writer, teacher, and moral voice in
the UK. I believe with all my heart that his intentions are at least a
good as any of ours. I write of a perceived chain mistakes in policy
and deed, mistakes, not evil. I have made perhaps more than my share
of system mistakes, so I know one when I see one.

It will, however, not do to say, as one persistent soul on HOBD
frequently does, that because Rowan is so smart and knows things we do
not, he must be right in his approach to us. I stopped believing that
about leaders during Vietnam, which this is not, of course.

A Gestalt bouquet: I am sadly impressed that my friend and neighbor
Bob Duncan, peace be to him, and a few of his supporters, have had
more time with Rowan Williams than has our entire House, or even our
Church gathered in Convention. The long-distance intervention in our
process during the last moments of the Columbus convention has made us
a laughing-stock. (Katharine wonderfully rolled with that without
losing her integrity, a marvelous first inning.) The public words of
welcome he gave to our new primate would have made a Laodicean proud
for their restrained enthusiasm. The widely-publicized Lambeth Palace
photograph of Rowan, Frank, and Katharine all standing as far away
from each other as the camera lens would allow has not been without
its effect on many among us. A dismal icon of formal communion
without a hint of affection or connection has been sent to the entire
inhabited world.

The perceived distancing did not begin with Gene Robinson. My
neuralgia on the question of the ABC's witness and function has been
growing since his disastrously insensitive comments on 9/11 -made in
New York!- which were alone nearly communion-breaking for lay people
in grief, and which have never been effectually mended. People in my
own diocese who lost loved ones in that attack have never recovered
from the insensitive academic speculation of their galactic leader
asking those covered in blood, ashes, and strewn body parts to reflect
on the bombers and "why they hate" the US. It is an important
question, but one painfully misplaced in time and space. It would have
been pastorally wise, if the relationship in Christ were really
valued, for Lambeth to work endlessly to overcome that perfectly valid
but tragically inept obiter dictum, but no. Curates know that moments
of grief are to be ministered to for what they are and save the dazzle
for much later in the process.

This situation of alienation was regrettably worsened by his
remarkable distancing of himself from a church that has followed his
own carefully thought-through teachings on sexuality, teaching that he
only last year suddenly dismissed as a sin of his academic youth. The
appointment to the Windsor drafters of North American representatives
wonderfully devout but historically disinclined to advocate vigorously
for the position of their church was not his sole responsibility, but
the buck sure stops there. Like many of you, I have submitted to all,
not some, of the demands of the Windsor report as a reluctant gesture
of good will to the Communion and sacrifice of principle for the sake
of those who may be weaker brethren. Cannot that be reciprocated? And
so on and so on. By Rowan's subsequent actions and inactions the
situation has for me now reached a proportion manageable only by the
combination of prayer and surrender to the belief that God will work
this out through the usual means - crucifixion and resurrection. But
before we get ready for life alone, we deserve to hear from him, in
the room with us, an explanation of his distance and intentions. We
are all busy, and we show up where we believe it is important to go.
Let's hope we become important. [An oddly parallel situation on the
other side: just recently the Bishop of Durham has roundly attacked
evangelical bishops in the UK for acting on doctrinal points of view
he has abundantly fueled for years. If we dare to teach, we must
accept the possibility that we will be heard and believed by those for
whom the life of the church is more concrete and less speculative than
academics ever imagine.]

The situation of the shunning of North American bishops would be
painful under any circumstances. The pain is more intense here because
it comes from the withdrawal of a human who was friend, teacher, and
colleague to many in this church - with no notice that either his
opinions or commitments were in flux. The archbishop has appeared to
my knowledge only once in the US since 2003, and that was the briefest
of visits to raise money for a function of the Communion. He cancelled
a date for a joint meeting with Canadian and US bishops with no real
excuse, and has made no effort to reschedule what could have been a
fellowship-redeeming encounter. Our relationship to the one who is
expected to be first in a world-wide college of bishops is distant,
confused, and multiply-triangulated. We are ceaselessly told by those
who would destroy our church that the ABC endorses this or that
crudely divisive action or position. Questions to Lambeth on these
occasions are sometimes met with silence and sometimes with stunning
equivocation. This distance, confusion, and triangulation ought not to
be. One of the basics of episcopal - or parish - pastoral care is that
one gets with and stays as close as possible to those who may be seen
to be problematic. The Pope went to Turkey. Can the Archbishop of
Canterbury not come to meet us just once at a regular or special
meeting in any city he would care to name?

An very highly-placed COE figure told me personally last September
that he thinks Rowan has been "badly advised" in what this person
admitted was callous treatment of the US and Canadian churches. I
rejoice in the hint that Rowan may wish have an authentic connection
with us, but I cannot accept that report of bad advice as sufficient
mitigation: as a bishop I alone am responsible for my actions. I
connect with my churches not with my words as much as by being among
them. Leaders are leaders because they show up when it is not pleasant
to do so.

All of this said, it seems necessary to report my perception that the
nadir in Rowan's overall relationship to the US, Canada and perhaps
South Africa has been the appointment of a virtual lynch mob to draft
the Covenant that will by all reports attempt turn a fellowship into a
curial bureaucracy in which the worst elements of the great and
oppressive Colonizer and of the Resentful Colonized will as meet as a
scissors to the denigration of significant number of God's people who
were almost equal in Christ for one brief shining moment. Are North
, South Africa and many other parts of the Communion (not to
mention "much cattle") of such little value in the grand scheme? Does
anyone think that the COE itself will not split if a continent and a
half are among those permitted to be set adrift?

So we must always talk about him, not to or with him. Like so many of
you, I have been disheartened by the succession of "second gentlemen"
from the COE who have addressed our House in Rowan's stead while
over-insisting that that they were not at all doing so. No bishop of
the left, right, or center, was taken in, and our colleague from
Missouri pointed this out on one occasion with deft words that the
Sage of Hannibal, MO, himself would envy. Even our steadfastly bucolic
local papers here in rustic Pennsylvania would not be deceived by such
over-wrought protestations of mere coincidence or fortuitous
invitation. By these speakers, one of whom just happened to have a
specific list of a dozen or so things we had to do, all but the most
anxious of us have been inevitably alienated. How can it help bonds
of affection for Communion leadership to so overtly and maladroitly
play us for chumps? There is a kind of contempt for our intellect
there whose sting almost matches the pain of the overall strategy of

Having now had three successive messages delivered to us by what some
UK friends describe as "fully accredited members of the British
Olympic Patronizing Team," I take this (perhaps not entirely welcome
to her) opportunity to thank Katharine for her outstanding integrity
and clarity of focus since her election, and accordingly to urge her
that no foreign bishop whatsoever be given the privilege of addressing
the House of Bishops of this Church until the ABC can personally enter
this country and speak to the House himself and deign to entertain the
level of frank questioning that his counterpart the Prime Minister
might have to endure among those he leads and serves. We all do get
cable news and know what the wonderful British tradition of
questioning in the house can helpfully add to common life.

As I began, I end. My text is Paul's reminder to Peter that he USED to
eat with Gentiles until he found it unhelpful to his plan for the
church. After decades of close fellowship, Rowan has steadfastly
chosen the comfortable path of being Peter when we need Paul, and
unless he can make an overwhelming Gospel case for it, I cannot help
but anticipate that he will be remembered as having chosen a path that
was not courageous or well-defined and actually fostered schism. I
cannot now imagine what it will take for him in the long run to
re-create good relations with the US and Canadian houses, but hope
that the effort will be made should we somehow be allowed to remain in

For now, I call on our own amazingly composed and delightful Leader to
require heightened integrity on ABC's part and to remind him that
without _pares_ there is no _primus_ _inter_ which he may by any
significant sense claim to preside.

I do not, cannot, ask the ABC to agree with us: we are a body of
bishops who hold many views and we could be wrong about any number of
our positions and actions. I do not ask that he endorse the actions of
this Church, even if they can claim that they were to some extent his
idea. He doesn't have to receive communion. He doesn't have to eat or
hang out with us. He certainly ought to meet us face to face and
accept accountability for his breath-taking words and actions
us-wards. He needs above all to square what he has said and done in
terms of congruence with what we can know of the ministry of the
fleshly Messiah.

No more messengers; no more cellphone calls to defeat the integrity of
this Church's polity. If Rowan really believes what the Lambeth press
office says he believes about us, it is past time for him to say it to
our faces, and have the goodness to listen to the response of those
who have to live with the results of his choices. This would be, I
believe, fair play and look very more like the New Testament.

Reluctantly yours,

Paul Marshall
[Bishop of Bethlehem, The Episcopal Church]

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