Friday, August 10, 2007

Ecclesiastical Courts and Universal Fallenness

During the last couple of days I have been following the responses to the reporting of the ecclesiastical trial of a priest in Colorado who has been accused of the misuse of more than $400,000 of funds. It is not so much the details of this tragic case that I want to focus on, however, but the way people have greeted the guilty verdicts of the church court.

Reading the responses to the story on two conservative blogs, Stand Firm and TitusOneNine, I found myself getting both uncomfortable and irritated. What makes me uncomfortable is the notion that the diocese brought charges against this priest in order to destroy him and his credibility. While I suspect antagonisms, to suggest such a thing is a very dangerous supposition.

Many of the responses have, in effect, said that despite the fact that this man has been found guilty, because the panel is predominantly of a revisionist/progressive mind, then their minds were so twisted that they could only interpret the facts negatively as far as the defendant is concerned. These responses have been based upon little more than a cursory grasp of the facts, whereas we have been led to believe that the diocese has worked with the best figures accountants have been able to compile.

I know no more the rights and wrongs than anyone else who reads the media so cannot come to any firm conclusions, although a reliable and respected person close to the case has told me that these were certainly not trumped up charges. We must accept a strong possibility that this ecclesiastical action will be followed by state and federal investigations, and possible actions about which we must just wait and see.

I want to plead with folks always to be more thoughtful before they rush to judgment. It may be natural to want to smear the motivation of those who oppose us, or whose ideology and beliefs are at odds with our own, but is this a worthy way of proceeding? Just because we believe people are deeply in error in one area, it is illogical to assume that they are going to be incapable of seeing facts clearly in other areas.

While I have experienced misrepresentation and have seen much misrepresentation in the church, I have never in 30+ years as a priest of the Episcopal Church seen anything on the scale that is being implied by respondents here. From all I know it appears that the Diocese of Colorado is seeking to get to the bottom of this apparent mishandling of money because it has grave fiduciary responsibilities.

What those making the accusations seem unwilling to accept is that the outcome of the court makes it increasingly likely that the priest actually did commit what he is accused of doing. Just because his theology is sound when compared to the belief systems of those adjudicating the business does not mean that he is not prone like all of the rest of us to give way to temptation and fall into sin.

This is the point that I was wanting to get to.

I am anxious about the attitudes of the respondents because they seem to be working under the illusion that just possessing an adequate theology trumps the universal curse of fallenness. I sense that both the left and the right of the wider conflict are working with a deeply flawed understanding of the pervasiveness and power of sin to draw us from the Lord we claim to serve. Even the best theologies in the world are incapable of saving us from sin's power if we are not able to say to our temptations, "Get behind me, Satan!"


Anonymous said...

Many in this diocese would like to know where the bishop got the money to fund his investigation, when the budget is so tight. Beers and 815? Many also have little faith in the fairness of the court. No name because the heavy hand of the bishop is well known.

Anonymous said...

You are saying that someone can be faithful but crooked, and properly judged by an organization which is unfaithful but honest. True, but the last part of the assumption isn't even highly questionable. Given the misuse of both canon and civil law by TEC, at all levels, the only safe assumption is that any such prosecution will be governed by political considerations.

Martial Artist said...

I am only acquainted with the case through the two blogs cited by Fr. Kew, however, I would very much like to think that the accused is not guilty of the charges. According to the reported statements of spokespersons for both the diocese in question and the priest in question, there are not inconsiderable disagreements as to the evidence that might have been adduced to justify the verdict.

Having said that, I agree very strongly with Fr. Kew's less explicit point. Given the course of events in TEC, especially over the past four years, too many of us in TEC are becoming excessively impatient to come to conclusions (i.e., to come to resolution) about the veracity and integrity of those whom we view as adversaries in this time. And too many of those are so impatient that they are too easily roused to acrimonious utterances. Except insofar as we are members of the Church, and ergo members of Christ's body, the current disagreements are not about us, they are about our Lord and Savior, and the commission he has given us.

Without a great deal more information about what was (and was not) presented in evidence to the ecclesiastical court, I think the vast majority of us need to step back, hold our tongues, and wait to see what is disclosed to us in God's time. And with that goes the responsibility to do two things:

– to refrain from rushing to judgment about either party until there is sufficient, publicly-released evidence to allow at least tentative conclusions to be drawn; and,

– to continue in prayers for all parties that God's will be done with respect not only to this particular case, but to the larger issues that precipitated this case.

Blessings and regards,
Martial Artist

Euphorbia said...

Many thanks for your most thoughtful and one might say well-tempered article. Those of us Grace parishioners who have remained loyal to the Episcopal Church and thus can no longer worship in the building where we have for years—even for generations—have become unaccustomed to such a rational and open-minded approach. Much to our surprise, we have found "Grace in Exile" to be a place of joy and fellowship—always tinged with regret for the good friends and indeed the greatly talented rector we have left behind.

FrankV said...

It is a sad commentary on Christianity that the two congregations are split. There is a great bitterness smoldering and growing over the two situations: (1) the Don Armstrong allegations confirmed by an ecclesiastical court beholden to the Bishop and their pensions and, (2) A great theological problem with the apostic leadership in the Episcopal Church exemplified by openly, practicing gay clergy and Bishops and a presiding bishop who doesn't believe that Christ is the only way to salvation. I think the issues are fairly clear.

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree with Richard and I do this from personal experience. Having served under a 'godly' Rector (and leading conservative in TEC) who IMHO is a sociopath and pathological liar who fired me for no reason other than my situation and relationship with the parish began exposing his evil and deceptive ways, it has taught me the devil is alive and well on both sides of the recent unpleasantness in the Anglican Communion. We all really need to be careful as we work through these differences of gospel application.

Lapinbizarre said...

Have checked both SF &T19. Sadly your request seems to be falling largely on stony ground. If people would examine the details of the charge relating to expenditures from the Bowton Trust - in particular the stated purpose of the trust and specific procedures established for its governance, with the actual expenditures made during Fr. Armstrong's time at Grace Church, and the process by which these were authorized - they would see that there is a strong appearance of impropriety in this matter - more than strong enough to warrant the diocese's inquiry into the matter.

Susan Russell said...

Thank you for this important contribution of "oil on the troubled waters" of discourse on the Don Armstrong v. Diocese of Colorado situation. Prayers ascending for ALL those involved in this sad, sad situation ... and for more voices calling for this kind of respect for the dignity of every human being.

Dave said...

Why is it that one can be credulous towards Fr. Armstrong's alleged corruption, yet incredulous towards the possibility of bad faith on the part of the Bishop's tribunal? I don't know who is guilty and who is not, but as the level of hostilities have risen to unthinkable levels, and as the progressives have made a great deal of Armstrong's connection to the ACI, one certainly cannot dismiss the possibility that +O'Neil has done exactly what Armstrong+ has accused him of.

With so much hostility across all boundaries, and with legal proceedings in several states, with the stakes having risen so high, and with Fr. Armstrong's proximity to one of the most important organizations on the conservative side of the Anglican controversy, why wouldn't one remain less than confident of the Diocese' objectivity and good faith?

Lapinbizarre said...

Dave, the diocese of Colorado's presentment against Fr. Armstrong is at this site:

The charge relating to the Bowton Trust is on pp 3-5 of the presentment. Both the clearly-stated purpose for which the Trust was established and the legally-binding procedures governing disbursements from the Trust were completely ignored when substantial payments were channeled from the Trust to Armstrong's son. I am in no position to judge with certainty on the other charges against Fr. Armstrong, but the Bowton Trust charge speaks for itself. Just read it.

Josh Indiana said...

Hey: homophobes steal. What's news about that?

One sin leads to another. That's not news.

What is news is that Armstrong's abuse of the Bowton Trust gets defended nationwide because he opposes Gay people.

It's like the blind leading the blind. "Hello, I think this is a ditch."

Homophobia is a sin.

Tom Sramek, Jr. said...

Richard: Outstanding article, and some of the above strident reactions, as well as the blogs you cite, underscore the point. As I attempt to hold to the center on the theological issues, it seems that both "liberal" and "conservative" take great pains to demonize (sometimes literally) their opponents.

Pray for the church, the ENTIRE church, not just those you agree with!

izzyisrael said...

Matthew 12:25


Anonymous said...

Could Richard Kew please comment on this again, now that the independent investigator appears to have dismissed the charges against Don Armstrong?

Richard Kew said...

Yes, I would be happy to. It would seem from the evidence being presented now that I was probably wrong. When I read the report last week I immediately got in touch with Don Armstrong and apologized to him. He has with great graciousness accepted my apology.