Monday, January 31, 2005

A Sea Change in Tennessee

Dear Friends,

For the first time in 36 years of ordained ministry I can say that I
have discovered what it feels like to come away from a convention doing
something other than licking my wounds or saying something like "It
could have been worse!" The challenge now is to work out the
implications of what has happened.

Last year at our diocesan convention in Tennessee, in the wake of the
unfaithfulness of General Convention 2003 the orthodox began to flex
their muscles. A "silent majority" that had been allowing diocesan life
to drift along for years woke up and realized that actions had been
taken in their name deeply offended them. What was on the block this
year was whether that was a flash in the pan or something of more
lasting significance. On this bleak January Monday morning as I sit at
my desk and look out of the window across a grey winter landscape I
think I can say that something lasting was taking place.

At our convention this weekend it was clear that the Diocese of
Tennessee was moving toward a more overtly orthodox stance. This is
obviously going to create all sorts of challenges and difficulties on
the ground in the months ahead, but what we discovered during these last
few days was the importance of being organized, of being prayerful, and
of not losing focus on the real task of the church -- which is to
proclaim Christ with grace and integrity.

We first became aware of the sea change that was now taking place when
orthodox candidates won every position being elected -- and
convincingly. We have a 100% orthodox General Convention deputation,
for example, as is the Standing Committee. The same is almost true for
the Bishop and Council, as well as the board that manages our diocesan
endowment. There was a tough battle over the budget, but among other
things, in the end the national church asking was reduced to $46,000 --
less than 20% of what they would have liked. In addition, a resolution
went through the convention modifying the canons and moving us toward
the designation of funds that would allow congregations to give to
something other than the National Church.

That resolution was the tipping point. I had been one of its framers
and it was presented to the convention by the Bishop and Council. It
had been my expectation that what we were doing was putting this on the
agenda for the future -- but we did more than that. Those opposed to
this resolution called for a vote by orders. For the first time in my
memory in Tennessee on a contentious issue, the orthodox side of the
equation won in the clergy order -- 33-32! The laity, of course, passed
it overwhelmingly.

Soon after that came a resolution affirming the Windsor Report, as well
as endorsing the minority statement from the House of Bishops, and that
passed with a huge margin in the lay order, but this time 38-28 in the
clergy order, something very significant. The tool that "progressive"
clergy have consistently used in this diocese to be the tail that wags
the dog has been calling for votes by orders, and now even this is not
something that they can depend upon.

In the midst of all this our bishop, as he invariably does, provided
magisterial leadership. His episcopal address was a masterpiece of
theological clarity, while challenging us to keep our eyes on the ball
of mission, the transformational power of the Gospel, and reaching men
and women with the good news of the Savior. At the end of the year we
will be electing his successor, and we pray with all our might and mane
that our next bishop will walk in Bertram Herlong's footsteps.

So what does all this mean? Firstly, it means that the Diocese of
Tennessee has said as clearly as is humanly possible that we are
Anglicans and we stand shoulder-to-shoulder not with the revisionist
agenda that has held sway for so long in ECUSA, but with our brothers
and sisters in Christ around the globe. We stand by historic Christian
orthodoxy, not for the fashionable heterodoxy that has for so long swept
all before it. I have a feeling that this might be more than just the
worm turning.

Seondly, it means that Tennessee is probably more divided now than it
was before the convention began, and we have some very miserable
"liberals" who are so discomforted that they could become obstreperous.
When such radical change takes place it always takes time for the new
landscape to be recognized, and for us all to disocver how to live
within the contours of that landscape. That is the task before us in
the months ahead.

Thirdly, it means that those of us who are orthodox are going to have to
learn how to act with magninimity and great grace and kindness. I have
to say that with a lifelong ministry experience of usually being on the
"wrong side" of convention-related battles, I have seldom experienced
magninimity, grace, and kindness from those who were in those cases "the
victors." This should not be so with faithful and biblical people. A
key element of orthodoxy is orthopraxy, and if we do not behave with the
grace and truth Jesus demands of Kingdom people then we do not deserve
to maintain the momentum that has been developed.

Fourthly, if we are to provide a firm and orthodox witness, we have to
live as Jesus commanded. This issue of human sexuality is not the only
place where the church has followed a culturally-conditioned path. We
need to begin asking how we should think and live if we claim to be
followers of the Lord Jesus Christ that we meet in the pages of the
Book. This is where the insights of a Ron Sider in "The Scandal of the
Evangelical Conscience" come into play -- and we have to take it seriously.

Fifthly, I came away from the convention convinced that this is a lousy
and counter-productive way to do business. Put crudely, the side on
which I found myself won, but we did so at the expense of others. We
live in a postmodern world, but are saddled with a
modernist-Enlightenment way of doing things that has a definite cruelty
built into it. Everything is either/or, setting sides up against one
another, and then having no opportunity for healing and restoration. I
am this morning going to be writing to one or two who experienced defeat
on Saturday and will ask them how we can as fellow-believers find the
right way forward together.

Imbedded in the convention this year for the first time was a Concert of
Prayer, and for me it was one of the highlights of the convention. As
we were getting up yesterday morning to prepare for church I said to
Rosemary that the way forward might be to imbed the convention in a
Concert of Prayer, making worship, intercession, confession,
reconciliation, the primary reason we gather together, rather than to
chew one another apart.

We no longer live in the sort of world that created the convention
process, attitudes and sensibitilites are different, and we now need to
address that. What we know is that there is a significant minority in
the Diocese of Tennessee who hold a variety of positions that are not on
the orthodox end of the spectrum, how do we hear their voices in such a
manner that their insights, however unexpected they might be, do not get
lost -- much as the voice of the orthodox was ignored (even trashed) and
not listened to in Minneapolis in August 2003? This, I think, is a
tremendous challenge to address both in our diocese and the wider
church, and one we ignore at our own peril.

In Christ,

Richard Kew

1 comment:

Julian said...


A minor point: you are leaving carriage returns in the middle of paragraphs - this is interfering with your layout.