A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
By The Rev. Frederick E. Mann
I awoke this morning after a very fitfull night to make breakfast for my esposa (for a change), it was raining....a blessing and relieve from nearly drought-like conditions that have persisted here for the past two months. I was very aware of Presence -- the Presence that comes when one lets go of pre-occupation and allows the Spirit to move in. The time was, as you would well know, blessed and restorative.
Then, I come up to the study to read the latest from Archbishop Akinola. I see the word I have come to dislike even more than the labels "liberal" and "conservative" -- "revisionist." And, knowing a very small something about Nigerian language, realize that that word is not in the vocabulary as stated in his response from synod. I know who is writing the words. He was once a colleague in Central Florida (some years before you came back, John) and was a near neighbor. I had many breakfast get togethers with him before he left for Texas and I got married ... so this goes back to 1981. I know this chap now lives in Nigeria and has been working for at least two years on Akinola's staff as both a "theologian in residence" and a ghost-writer for English translation to this and other English speaking countries.
The term "revisionist" is a catch-all for almost anything that a person doesn't seem to like regarding the theological and biblical tradition of interpretation (midrash), reflection on experience and capturing the basic expression of God's Living Presence among us. Biblical literature reveals that movement and sets standards for God Among Us...how we can capture in our time the often subtle and small voice of the Holy Spirit at work. That is the "canon" by which we live in community and operate with principled integrity. Now, it seems, such expression and movement is called "revisionist."
It is interesting that we are bombarded with judgements from those who were not even at GC 2006 (or 2003 for that matter). I have been present at every GC from 1991 forward and a deputy at all but one of them (1994...I was new enough to N. Indiana not to be eligible for election at diocesan convention, but I was there for seven of the ten days as a volunteer). My brother, a priest since 1998 and now in SW Florida, went ballistic on me on the phone yesterday because of "what you did to help unravel the Anglican Communion." Anybody receiving this experience that? I did not, and I did not miss but one session on the legislative floor. I did experience and witness serious, passionate debate, heartfelt agonizing and folks at all places on the spectrum struggling with their sense of what is right in light of their experience of God's Presence among us.
My points are these: 1) when we pull the trigger called "revisionism," we are using language meant to frighten, intimidate and unravel folks who are not usually part of the conversations. Who makes this stuff up? I've been a priest for 28 years, and nothing in terms of my understanding of the primacy of Holy Scripture and the discipline of the Church (those things I committed myself to by covenant in my ordination vows) has changed. My thinking and level of theological discipline .. indeed my entire life of prayer... has shifted to a deeper place. It permeates all places of my life...not just priesthood. Folks earlier along on the journey don't get it when we use terms that cause them to think that the fundamental elements of Faith have changed (and they haven't).
2) If (and "if" mind you) we have based our understanding of life as Christians in this Tradition to be based upon the disciplines and embracing of the truths of Scripture, Tradition and Reason (Hooker didn't invent those by the way, but I digress), why must we constantly be checking each other out by saying, in essence, "just tell me one more time," which is effectively what resolutions like that are doing. Denise and I will celebrate 25 years of married life on 10 October. We regularly proclaim our love for one another...which is like prayer...ways of giving adoration, thanksgiving and embracing the gift of love given and received. However, we don't continually create moments of saying, "now, tell me one more time, do you believe in the sanctity of our marriage and the elements whereby we engaged covenant..." If it isn't lived, it doesn't matter how many resolutions we submit or sign off on. I, frankly, was offended at having to say by vote what I profess by virtue of baptism, affirmation (confirmation), regular Eucharist and vows of ordination.
3) It's true folks, we have bishops, priests, deacons and laypersons on both ends of this spectrum comprising The Episcopal Church which will never live into any kind of agreement, any kind of shared discipline or take seriously the intention of the broad middle of this Body. That's human nature...called hubris. It's always been in the Church. It is a wilfullness born of the first rebellion. For every Chane there is a Duncan. It has been and always will be thus. Regardless of what is done, for some folks it will never be either right or enough. We have to learn to navigate with those draggy elements as part of the system...without letting those elements infect the body with a cancer of anger, fear, intimidation or (worse yet) separation.
4) Adiaphora and Midrash are closely related (as I experience it). Homosexuality has always been with us. Its sin is in the same kind of abuse as sin in heterosexuality. It's never been understood, because it has always been kept out of sight/out of mind by most. I don't understand it anymore than I fully understand the many layers of my heterosexuality. Gay and Lesbian persons have been part of the Church since its beginning. Gay men have been bishops, archbishops, Popes, monks, missionaries, theologians and all manner of servants in the Church throughout its history. This didn't seem to be much of a problem prior to the advent of medieval theological process, which convoluted sexuality at all levels. Much of what we experience as abusive in the high middle ages and reformation era is the projection of latent sexual and other behavioral energies that had been (and had to be) suppressed. Hey, if you count me a friend, you have to trust my heavily psychological background and research in this area (or, not).
Finally, I think we...being the present moment of The Episcopal Church...have been given a role in the larger Body of Christ. It is a teaching and pastoral role of cleaning out the suppressed fear, anxiety and anger that have shaded our theological and scriptural interpretive disciplines (not altogether but certainly in large enough measure to be seen in the likes of current experience). I say truthfully, ++Akinola and CAPA are moving through a period not unlike that in Western history that embraced the Inquisition as a normative expression of orthodoxy against heterodoxy.
I'm a "progressive moderate" if one needs labels. I don't know what that means. I do know how it works inside me. I move cautiously but always forward...seeking a better expression of and engagement of Truth as it has been shown us. The way if forward...for that is where the Kingdom is unfolding. We need to somehow be about the business of bringing all of us under the tent and including all of us in the transformative work of Grace. And, yes, I do everything I can to live my faith in Christ Jesus.
Okay, I'm done. That's what happens when one gets up on a different kind of day, nearly two weeks into vacation and makes one's spouse a breakfast of french toast and bacon (healthy kind). Oh, btw, if you want a more recent historical perspective on our current crisis, look no further back than the three years immediately preceding and including the first shot fired at Fort Sumter in April 1861. People were aching for a fight. Are we?
Fred Mann, C4 Deputy from Western Missouri
Rector, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church
6401 Wornall Terrace
Kansas City, MO 64113
Please sign my guestbook and view it.
Statistics courtesy of