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A series of essays in the Episcopal Church


Letter to The Rev. Thomas R. Finnie, Diocese of Pittsburgh

Letter to The Rev. Thomas R. Finnie, Diocese of Pittsburgh

By Jennifer Sinclair

9 March 2004

Thomas R. Finnie
c/o Saint Peter's Church
60 Morgantown Street
Uniontown, PA 15401

Dear Tom,

Thank you, first of all, for your kind and complimentary words about my facility with language. I assure you, it is the bane of my students' very existence! To have such praise from one who so vociferously opposes my opinions is quite meaningful indeed.

While praising my intelligence and celebrating my use of language, however, you seem to disregard the possibility that I might have read much of anything about Scripture or faith already, or that that which I have read might indeed be the works of the Reformers or Scholastics. I have studied those to whom you refer and more, both as an academic pursuit and as a means by which to gain a deeper understanding of my faith. Further, you ask me to consider a version of Christianity that does not invite use of one's brain - or admit to nuances in the Biblical languages, either, for that matter. These things are especially dissonant in a letter which claims to respect my ``keen mind'' (the words are yours). My response will, I fear, be much longer than your letter, which you said was ``simple and to the point''... because ``the truth is rarely pure, and never simple'' (Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, Act III).

To your suggestion that I lack ``a proper appreciation for catholic interpretation of the Scriptures,'' I must, as I indicate above, take exception. In addition to challenging the notion that your interpretation is, indeed, ``catholic'' (either of the lower or upper case variety - it is not a universally held interpretation, ergo it is not ``catholic'' and it does not permit for Reason or Tradition and is thus not ``Catholic''), I take particular exception to your implying that you have the market cornered on ``proper'' interpretation, and I submit that you, the ``Network,'' AAC, et alia would much prefer that I did not interpret Scripture at all, but would rather I took it as literal truth, and your interpretations as the only valid ones. That is the argument against homosexuality, right? That it says in Leviticus, ``if a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them'' (20:13), is the sum total of your argument. Well, it also says that a ``woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abominations unto the Lord'' (22:5). According to your logic, I suppose I should divest myself of all of my trousers...and never ever wear men's T-shirts, right? At least I shouldn't wear trousers to a public stoning, lest I be next. That, by the by, is what Howard Ahmanson would very much like to see be the law of this land...which, need I remind you, was founded on the freedom of religion. Amongst Robin Williams' ``top ten reasons to be an Episcopalian'' is that ``you get to believe in dinosaurs.'' Well...if we're now supposed to take the whole of Scripture literally...I guess he's wrong.

Therein lies the difficulty with the Vincentian Canon, which you said should be my guide. At one time, remember, it ``was believed everywhere, always, and by all'' Christian people - as doctrine - that the universe was geocentric, that the Creation story offered in Genesis was fact...that the heavens and earth should now be reckoned 5764 years old, in Anno Domini 2004. ``For now we see through a glass, darkly''

(1 Cor 13:11), but more and more is being revealed to us as time and science march on, allowing us to learn more of how God created the world, about human nature...about the equality and ``dignity of every human being'' (BCP, 305). As the Westminster Confession of Faith says, ``God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence'' (V:i). Who are you, therefore, to say whether it will or will not be revealed in the fullness of time that homosexual orientation was not properly understood at the time at which Leviticus et alia were written? Just as it has been revealed to us that the Creation story in Genesis is a beautiful story...but a story - a myth created by an ancient people to attempt, as best they were able, to explain our existence - nonetheless, just as we had it categorically wrong when we believed that one human being could be the property of another, I contend that we had it wrong again when one of our forbears wrote those lines in Leviticus. St. Paul tells women to ``submit [them]selves to [their] own husbands'' (Eph 5:22), and advises slaves to be ``obedient to them that are [their] masters'' (6:5). These, again, form the crux of the language and argument that have kept women and minorities relegated to the second-class status in which we still find ourselves, even in 2004. In short, the main problem with the Vincentian Canon is that, to paraphrase Fr. Lewis, the inimitable Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, ``the seven most deadly words are, `we have always done it that way.''' Simply because something has been ``believed everywhere, always, and by all'' does not mean that it is right or true...or just.

I cannot - I will not - allow myself to be blinded by the absolutism of the bishop, the AAC, and the ``Network.'' Among the things that I was taught from the cradle was to strive to have an ``inquiring and discerning heart'' (BCP, 308), to think, to question, rather than to accede to figures of power and authority only because of their power or authority.

A truly great intellect, and one recognized to be such by the common opinion of mankind, such as the intellect of Aristotle or of St. Thomas, of Newton or of Goethe - is one which takes a connected view of old and new, past and present, far and near, and which has an insight into the influence of all these one on another, without which there is no whole and no centre. It possesses the knowledge, not only of things but also of their mutual and true relations (Newman, John Henry (Cardinal) ``Idea of a University,'' Disc. VI, p. 134; emphasis added).

In other words, the Vincentian Canon again falls short of the mark; a truly intellectual mind takes all things together, rather than blindly following what we are told, rather than failing to question the validity of statements merely because they issue forth from the mouths (or keyboards!) of those who ``ought to know.''

You suggested that I read (among others) Calvin. I had done so in the past, and cracked the books afresh in response to your letter. The doctrine of predestination notwithstanding, Calvin has a lot of sensible things to say. For instance, he admonishes those who would stand in the way of the Reformation thusly:

Let those who, it is manifest, impede the course of truth, desist from waging war with Christ, and there will instantly be perfect concord; or let them desist from throwing upon us blame of dissensions, which they themselves excite. (...) It is most unfair not only to boast as if they themselves were innocent, but also to insult over us; and that we, who desire nothing else than unity, and whose only bond of union is the eternal truth of God, should bear all the blame and odium, as much as if we were the authors of dissension. (...) It is the will of our Master that His gospel be preached. Let us obey His command, and follow whithersoever he calls. What the success will be it is not ours to inquire. Our only duty is to wish for what is best, and beseech if of the Lord in prayer; to strive with all zeal, solicitude, and diligence, to bring about the desired result, and at the same time, to submit with patience to whatever the result may be (Calvin, John, The Necessity of Reforming the Church, 81-2; emphasis added).

I can prooftext as well as you can, Tom, and Calvin's words can be used to support either of our positions. However, as Newman implies, prooftexting is not true intellectual inquiry; taking all things together with ``an insight into the influence of all these one on another'' (Newman, 134) is a much more honest line of academic and theological study.

I was given to understand, or at least to hope, that the AAC would, as encouraged by His Grace, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, await word from the Eames Commission before declaring open season on dioceses in which there exist open-minded bishops. That would follow Calvinist doctrine, as cited above; it would remain faithful to Anglican polity and tradition. While it shocks my Catholic sympathies to find myself nodding assent to the words of Calvin, I cannot disagree with him that ``the most miserable thing of all is, that there is at hand, nay, almost in sight, a breaking up of the whole Church, for which, after it has taken place, it will be in vain to seek remedies'' (Calvin, 105). Indeed, what grieves me most is that the ``Network,'' now established, cannot be ``taken back.'' The damage is done; the schism has happened. It has not been ECUSA's doing, but has come at the hands of those who disavow the possibility that human sexuality might be another of the areas, like slavery and women's rights, on which we have been most egregiously in error, despite plenteous now-unacceptable ideas having, until lamentably recent days, been ``believed everywhere, always, and by all'' (Vincentian Canon) Christian people. It is my deepest desire to see unity in the Episcopal Church - but not a unity that means homogeneity; rather, I would hope for the future...for the Church in which I will, God willing, raise children...a Church that lives the notion that, as Christ be its Head, we dare not dismiss any of the limbs or other bits, as each is interdependent upon the other.

What I am trying to say is that I want a Church that welcomes both you, with your fundamentalist approach to Scripture, and me...with my more liberal theology - the Church, in other words, in which I was raised and to which I choose to belong as an adult. We two are brother and sister in Christ, in whom ``there is no east or west'' (The Hymnal, 1982, 529), ``neither male nor female: for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus'' (Gal 3:28). We need not always agree...but we are bound, as family, to love one another with the unconditional love of God. I often fought with my older brother, who passed into life eternal only last week (requiescat in pace), but we would unfailingly (and with fairly amazing speed as adults!) reach the point at which we realised that we were simply going to have to agree to disagree on whatever issue was at hand, because loving each other and accepting each other for who we were had always to take precedence. After all of the yelling was over, and I had called him an idiot, and he had pointed out just why it was I who was, to his mind, the idiot, we would remember what was actually important, and that ``all the rest [was] a dispute over trifles'' (Elizabeth I, quoted at royal.gov.uk).

That is, in a nutshell, the idea of the Elizabethan Settlement, and a crystallised statement of the glorious theology that prevents ours from being a confessional Church. We profess the Creeds as sufficient statements of faith; any baptism by water and performed ``in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost'' passes muster. We do not - do not - require accession to anything beyond that. Your low churchmanship is as welcome, as valid, and as valuable, as my smells and bells, Ave Maria-saying, Sacrament-adoring Catholicity.

Sadly, though, that which the Reformation was conceived to address has become the realm of those once reformed. I fear the AAC and ``Network'' are in desperate need of a reminder that Protestantism was established to protest the power-drunkenness of the bishops and priests of the Roman Church. Even more deeply, I fear that they will hear nothing and heed nothing of the ``warnings'' of history. Strangely, I turn to the Westminster Confession of Faith for the words with which to admonish them, and (inasmuch as you admit to being in agreement with their beliefs and complicit in their plans) you:

As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous Judge, for former sins, does blind and harden, from them He not only withholds His grace whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts; but sometimes also withdraws the gifts which they had, and exposes them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and, withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan, whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God uses for the softening of others (V:vi).

``Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely'' (Lord Acton, in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, 1887), and the bishop's attempt to wrest power from the hands of the duly elected and invested bishops and priests of ECUSA is evidence of his own corruption through power. The attempts to supplant ECUSA prove only that he and the ``Network'' lust after absolute power. We are told in Scripture to be ``wise as serpents, and harmless as doves'' (Matt. 10:16), but the bishop and the ``Network'' have instead borrowed Shakespeare's brilliantly conceived and highly ironic reversal of that suggestion as they try to ``look like th' innocent flower'' when they are, in fact, ``the serpent under 't'' (Macbeth, I:v).

I still, however, maintain absolute faith that ``as the providence of God does, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it takes care of His Church, and disposes all things to the good thereof'' (Westminster Confession, V:vii). No matter that we presently find ourselves ``by schisms rent asunder,'' for we will one day greet ``the morn of song'' when ``the great Church victorious / Shall be the Church at rest'' (The Hymnal, 1982, 525). In that Church, I pray that you and I may greet each other in ``the peace of God that passeth all understanding'' (BCP, 339). I urge you in the meantime to use your influence within the ``Church militant'' for peace and justice, to work for unity rather than toward wedging our ``factions'' ever further apart.

Again, I thank you for taking the time to write to me in response to my letter to the bishop. Your accolades are high praise indeed, coming from one who so clearly values the correct and adroit use of the glorious animal that is the English language, and I am sure you would prove a formidable verbal sparring partner. I am, your sister in Christ, your co-champion of the language, and

Ancilla Domini,

Jennifer E.A. Sinclair
(Mrs. David W.)

PS: Please note that I place no conditions upon your distribution of this letter (as you did upon my sharing yours). Whether you do so or not, I leave to your discretion and choice, but there is nothing contained herein that I would not say to you, or to anyone, publicly.

CC: Clergy and Vestry, Calvary Episcopal Church
The Rt. Rev. Robert W. Duncan
Province III Bishops
The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold III
Presiding Bishop, Episcopal Church USA

Sinclair to Finnie

Jennifer E.A. Sinclair
7723 Cannon Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15218


You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to lcrew@newark.rutgers.edu Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.

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