Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Texas Faith: Should we allow politicking from the pulpit?

Read all the responses in the Dallas Morning News here.
Tue, Sep 30, 2008
Wayne Slater

Texas Faith, our weekly discussion of matters of religion, politics and culture takes on a matter of particular interest this election season: politicking from the pulpit. Jesus certainly had his encounters with tax collectors but apparently was never limited by tax law on what he could say in the Sermon on the Mount.

A group called the Alliance Defense Fund encouraged pastors this past weekend to turn their sermons into partisan stump speeches. The ADF wants to establish a legal class to challenge the IRS restriction. Which prompts this week's question to our panel:

Is the federal ban against partisan politics from the pulpit - including endorsing candidates - a good thing or should it be thrown out? Is the government violating the separation of church and state when it tells individual churches how it can or cannot practice politics?
After the jump, what our distinguished panel had to say on the issue:

KATIE SHERROD, Independent writer and producer; progressive Episcopalian activist, Fort Worth
The ban does not prevent ministers from preaching about political issues -- indeed, priests, pastors, and ministers preach about politics every time they preach the Gospel. Jesus was a very political animal. It's one of the reasons they killed him. What's more, how does one talk about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, without talking about politics?

What is does prevent is priests/ministers/pastors using their privileged positions of power in the pulpit to endorse specific candidates.

The government is not violating the separation of church and state with this ban, because it is not telling individual churches how they can or cannot practice politics. The members of any church are as free as any other citizen to act in whatever political manner they chose, informed by whatever values they bring to bear on that choice. The ban focuses only on endorsements from the pulpit by the minister, priest, pastor as well as rabbis, imams, etc.

How do the ministers who "defied" the ban this past Sunday feel about Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and even Catholic leaders endorsing candidates from the pulpit? It was the conservative protestant churches who were the most worried about the Vatican running the United States government when John F. Kennedy was running for president. They certainly were not in favor of endorsements from the pulpit then!

But in the end, I have to wonder why members of these churches are assumed to be religious robots ready to be programmed to vote for whomever their minister endorses. It's not as if Christians, evangelical or otherwise, do everything else their ministers exhort them to do or not do.

GERALD BRITT, vice president, Central Dallas Ministries
The issue is deeper than the government mandating how Christians (or those of other faiths) are involved in politics. There are times when the engagment of people, all along the faith continuum, may have to engage government and the political process in all sorts of ways. I just believe that there is more at stake. We are a pluralistic society. We compete politically in the public square with the interests of other groups, civic, religious, commercial and otherwise. You don't win, by declaring a holy war on everyone who doesn't believe the way you do. Nor is it wise, in a country founded on 'Judeo-Christian' principles, to declare that the only true 'believers' are the ones who vote the way you do.

Churches, whatever they teach, have the right to provide education on any issue that they feel impacts their community or the nation. Preachers have the responsibility to share their perspective on issues based on their interpretation of the scriptures. Responsible scholarship should make sure that such interpretation is as accurate as possible. Responsible citizenship requires an informed electorate and that information should be in consonance with the values of the voter - including the values taught by his or her faith tradition. But beyond that, all pastors, ministers and church bodies, should be careful of entanglements that can come with endorsements.
We have recently s
een a faction of our church entertain the world as theological contortionists - because in order to softly endorse a candidate, they have to deal with some issues that represent true doctrinal problems. But this is what happens when religion becomes hungry for secular power. Its hardly a new problem, but it is a real problem.

Those of us in the church who aren't spiritual enough to recognize the problem, ought to at least be too smart to keep falling into the same trap.

RIC DEXTER, Soka Gakkai International-USA, Dallas
The United States of America is the most religious of developed nations. This can be attributed to the guarantees in our First Amendment. The state acts as a neutral protector of the right to practice one's faith. It guards our beliefs from dictates of the government, and shields our government from the dictates of a religion.

We need only look to nations without this protection to see the value of keeping politics out of the pulpit. In the Middle East two religious schools following a single teacher vie for political control with support from their churches. Religious leaders induced a state to destroy cultural relics because of the faith they represented. In Imperial Japan people were jailed as "thought criminals" for not recognizing the state's religious authority. In Europe two political cultures fought violently, both citing religious justification from the same teacher. One state marked an entire religion for extermination. In Latin America the power struggle between the state and the majority religion is part of their history.

As member of a minority religion (approximately 0.9% of the US population identify themselves as Buddhist) the twin protections of free expression and non-establishment are for me especially appreciated.

Religious leaders can use the pulpit to teach great religious principles, address the great moral and ethical issues of the day, and urge their congregants to vote. They should not tell them how to vote. Our church leaders are no more qualified than any of us at deciding who should get our vote.

Rev. Dr. DANIEL C. KANTER, First Unitarian Church of Dallas
I believe that one's faith and values should guide the choices we make when we vote, but I have learned a lot about how politics can invade the church, and have vowed not to make endorsements. I believe in the pulpit's responsibility to express values relevant to current events and society's health, which some may consider political issues--it's a fine line, for sure. I also reserve the right to quote political leaders on issues such as poverty, race, justice, etc.

I've done this in the past, though I have no plan to do so in the run up to this election. I also preach in the context of a history in which Unitarian Universalists have long stood for the right of a free pulpit and for the separation of church and state. The division is so important. Religion has flourished in this nation and made amazing contributions to our country because of its freedom from government. The government should operate without the impingement of religion or under the assumption that we are nation dominated by one religious perspective. For a church to make a similar assumption and believe that there is one political ideology within its walls is a mistake. We aim for diversity of opinion and will worship this season without endorsing candidates or breaking the law.

Read all the responses and comments in the Dallas Morning News here.

10 Reasons Why Now Is NOT the Time to Realign

In the most recent Forward in Mission, the diocesan newsletter, Bishop Jack Iker give 10 reasons why now is the time to realign. John S. Morgan, a founding member of Fort Worth Via Media, responded with this:

BISHOP IKER: Our 26th annual convention is approaching, and a momentous decision is before us as a diocese. At last year’s convention, your clergy and elected delegates voted by majorities of around 80 percent each to remove language in our Constitution that affiliates us with the General Convention of The Episcopal Church (TEC). This year, clergy and delegates will be asked to ratify that decision to separate.

RESPONDENT: Friends of mine recently returned from The Province Seven Synod meeting. They listened to the goings-on of a vibrant, healthy church. They listened to glowing reports of the effectiveness of the small indaba groups that replaced the rancorous and divisive legislative promulgations of previous meetings, returning the Lambeth Conference to the kind of fellowship, prayer, and mutual learning arena for which it was originally intended. No wonder that Bishop Iker illegally removed Fort Worth from Province Seven. Their role in disputes within dioceses, their view of the larger church, their serving as a springboard to higher office in the church, was yet another type of awareness of the larger church that had to be curtailed.

Have you ever seen in Forward in Mission a description of an interpretation of Scripture that did not support the party line? An advertisement of a visit to the diocese from the president of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church? Have you ever seen any constructive or positive information about the Episcopal Church in Forward in Mission? Do you know that the Episcopal Church mails out an award winning monthly newspaper? That the Episcopal Church provides a service where-by Forward in Mission could be bundled with Episcopal Life and mailed to all communicants of our diocese? Do you know that outreach by the Diocese of Fort Worth is among the lowest of any diocese? Information has always been tightly controlled by the diocese. This is the reason that you may have only a one-sided view of your national church. Perhaps this is why you have questions and uncertainties now.

BISHOP IKER: “Why now?” someone might ask. “Why is this the time for our diocese to separate from the General Convention of The Episcopal Church and realign with another Province of the Anglican Communion?” Here are a few of the thoughts that come to mind:1. This is God’s time – our kairos moment – and it has been coming for a long time. We believe that God the Holy Spirit has guided and directed us to this particular time and moment of decision. Some might well ask, “Why has it taken us so long to take definitive action, given the past 30 years of the shenanigans of The Episcopal Church?” We have explored every avenue and exhausted every possibility. Now is the time to decide to separate from the moral, spiritual, and numerical decline of TEC.

RESPONDENT: If God the Holy Spirit has guided and directed the diocese to this particular time and moment of decision, where will he lead? Temporarily to the Southern Cone in violation of both the Constitution of the Southern Cone and that of the Episcopal Church? Eventually to pursue the formation of an orthodox, but presently nonexistent, Province in North America as Bishop Iker wishes or to the Roman Catholic Church where four of the senior priests of the diocese want to go, asserting that a critical mass of priests in the diocese are with them?

The Book of Common Prayer (September 1979) says on page 513, Ordination: Bishop: "When the reading of the testimonials is ended, the Presiding Bishop requires the following promise from the Bishop-elect" "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I, N.N., chosen Bishop of the Church in N., solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church." "The Bishop-elect then signs the above Declaration in the sight of all present. The witnesses add their signatures."

Does a bishop who remains in office yet fails to resign when first he realizes he is unprepared to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church represent the kind of moral and spiritual decline mentioned above by Bishop Iker?

BISHOP IKER: 2. Actions of the General Convention have brought crisis and division to the whole Anglican Communion, not just TEC. More than 20 of the Provinces of the Communion have declared themselves to be in a state of broken or impaired communion with TEC because of the ordination of a homosexual bishop living in a sexual relationship with another man and the blessings of same-sex unions in many places throughout this church. We need to dissociate ourselves from the bishops and dioceses that are violating the teaching of Scripture by doing these things.

RESPONDENT: The above sounds like the pot calling the kettle black. This diocese has declared itself to be in a state of broken or impaired communion with numerous Episcopal groups and individuals – with any diocese that ordains women; [inclusive partners in the Anglican Communion Network] with anyone who has ordained a woman; with anyone who participated in the Ordination of Gene Robinson.

Father [Tom] Woodward says, “This is not all about sex and human sexuality. It is about our understanding of the sacramental nature of all of life. When that kind of understanding and faith gets squeezed into codes and rules, it is no longer faith. St. Paul, at his best, noted that we are to work out our salvation by fear [respect] and trembling; he sensed the complexity and the richness of our faith. He knew, as our church has known, that our faith is rooted in a living relationship with an ever-present God, not in a rule-book or set of codes.”

BISHOP IKER:3. The heresies and heterodoxy once proclaimed by just a few renegade bishops – like James Pike and John Spong – are now echoed by the Presiding Bishop, who is the chief spokesperson for TEC and speaks on behalf of our church to the rest of the world. She does not reflect the orthodox beliefs of Episcopalians in this diocese. The greatest problem we face with Katharine Jefferts Schori is not that she is a woman, but that she is not an orthodox bishop.

RESPONDENT: Neither Bishop Spong nor James Pike represents the center of the Episcopal Church, nor does their teaching represent a replacement for the Catechism of the Episcopal Church.

Father [Fred] Barber [of Trinity Fort Worth] says, “The Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, has taken a lot of grief over a brief answer she gave in a Time interview.

"When asked if belief in Jesus is the only way to get to heaven, she responded, ‘We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.’Katharine gave that answer in July of 2006, and it has been a favorite quote of the conservatives in our church who say that we cannot stay in a church where the chief pastor has such thoughts.

“Personally, I would be astounded if the past several presiding bishops did not agree with her thinking. And let me go further, I believe that most priests and most lay people in the Episcopal Church would also agree with her. And, you would find a good number of Christian, orthodox theologians who would find her statement acceptable.”

Archbishop [Gregory] Venables of the Southern Cone, when he was speaking in our diocese, made a statement regarding people's religion, that, at the death of a person when he doesn't know about that person's religious convictions, he leaves it "up to God" to determine what happens to that person's soul. That sounds similar to what Katharine said, that it is God who decides. Does not even Archbishop Venables reflect the orthodox beliefs of Episcopalians in this diocese?

BISHOP IKER:4. If we do not act now, we will lose our momentum and lose our God-given opportunity. Many laity and clergy who have been standing with the Diocese, as a beacon of hope, will give up and leave for other Anglican bodies. We will never be stronger than we are right now! We will never have another chance to act with such a strong majority. The Episcopal Church many of us were born into or became members of many years ago no longer exists! It has been replaced by a liberal, revisionist sect that does not deserve our allegiance or support any longer.

RESPONDENT: Father Tom Woodward says, “As Episcopalians, we are part of a wonderful whole, with a full spectrum of witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” “We have liberals, moderates and conservatives and everything in between, all celebrating a common faith. May we never be reduced to commonality – for the same reason I would never go to a circus which had only thirty-five elephant acts. I want the trapeze artists, the clowns, the jugglers and lion tamers. We have them all in the episcopate and in our congregations.”

“Beware, when church leaders want to claim the whole of church for themselves, whether of the right, left or middle. Beware, especially, when those who believe they, alone, are the orthodox begin talking about the real orthodoxy as ‘the faith first handed down to the saints.’ Up until thirty five years ago, ‘the faith first handed down to the saints’ meant no women on vestries, no women allowed in church without a hat or head covering, no remarriage after divorce no matter what the circumstances, separate churches for Black people, no use of birth control measures, and a thoroughgoing marginalization of gay and lesbian people and others.”

“That quasi-fundamentalist approach to Scripture, so often found in the ‘orthodox’ rants is one, but only one of many strains of Anglican approaches to Scripture – and a recent strain at that. Many in The Episcopal Church believe that approach does not honor Holy Scripture, tending to take a dynamic revelation and reducing it to a dictated document, tied to an ancient culture.”

“Change and reassessment of our understanding of Scriptures and our tradition has not been an enemy of the Christian Church over the past several decades. Our task as the Church of Jesus Christ is to hold onto the core of the Gospel handed down to us by the faithful of previous generations, while letting go of the parts of that tradition which contravene and contradict Jesus’ commandment of Love.”

“All anyone has to do is to visit our seminaries, listen to the preaching and teaching of our clergy, read through the Catechism at the back of the Book of Common Prayer and the liturgies of the Prayer Book. It all hangs together, even though it is not lock-step uniform.”

BISHOP IKER:5. TEC is not turning back and matters will only get worse. General Convention is out of control and beyond reform. The Deputies seem to think that they can do whatever they want as long as they can muster a majority vote, even if what they propose is contrary to Holy Scripture. We will not accept majority votes of the General Convention that compromise the Christian faith. The more they change the teachings of the church, the less tolerant they are of dioceses such as ours. By the time I retire (in the next 7 to 13 years), this diocese will be unable to elect an orthodox bishop to succeed me.

RESPONDENT: When the Bishop says, "this diocese will be unable to elect an orthodox bishop to succeed me," he is talking about the cart that drives the horse. The realignment is all about Bishop Iker's fear that standing committee consents from other dioceses will not be granted to a bishop compatible with his views on women's ordination who would succeed him.

The General Convention is composed of a House of Deputies AND a House of Bishops. The House of Deputies is divided into two groups: The priests and the laity.

Before ratification of any resolution, it is required that it passes BOTH houses – bishops and deputies. Many resolutions require the assent of all three groups before adoption, the bishops, the priests and laity. Bishop Iker seems to think that the bishops, the priests and laity, sent by every diocese to represent the entire Episcopal Church can do whatever they want… even if what they propose is contrary to Holy Scripture.

Although the bishop says he will not accept majority votes of the General Convention that compromise the Christian faith, what he really means is that he knows more than all of the other bishops and other priests and laity who were called upon by all of the dioceses to represent the Episcopal Church.

What he really means is that he will not accept majority votes of the General Convention that compromise his interpretation of what might constitute the Christian faith.

BISHOP IKER: 6. TEC is coming after us, and they are the ones that brought on this crisis. In October 2006 the chancellor to the PB wrote a letter to our diocese demanding that we change our Constitution to remove the clause that says that we will not accept General Convention dictates that are contrary to the Bible and the apostolic teaching of the church. In addition, we were instructed to remove provisions stating that all church property in this diocese is held in trust for the use of our congregations and to state instead that our property ultimately belongs to TEC. If we don’t make such changes, the letter asserted that the Presiding Bishop would have to determine what actions she must take “in order to bring your diocese into compliance.”

RESPONDENT: Bishop Iker is the one that brought on the crisis. As a requirement for being constituted as a diocese, agreement was given in written form that the diocese would give unqualified support to the canons of the Episcopal Church. Such an agreement is required of all dioceses.

The constitution of The Diocese at its inception read:

The Church in this Diocese accedes to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, and recognizes the authority of the General Convention.

In November of 1997 it was revised to read:

The Church in this Diocese accedes to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, and recognizes the authority of the General Convention of said Church provided that no action of General Convention which is contrary to Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Teaching of the Church shall be of any force or effect in this Diocese.

The bishop says In October 2006 the chancellor to the PB wrote a letter to our diocese demanding that we change our Constitution to remove the clause. The diocese was told to remove the clause which puts it in conflict with the national canons.

BISHOP IKER: 7. At this time there is nothing in the Constitution or Canons of TEC that prevents a Diocese from leaving. Oh, I know that General Convention officials claim that dioceses cannot leave TEC, but you will not find that anywhere in the Constitution and Canons as they presently stand. So we have this window of opportunity to do what we need to do, for you can be sure that the next General Convention will close off this option by adopting amendments that will make it even more difficult to separate in the future.

RESPONDENT:The constitution in 1789 and the canons adopted in the second session have this provision:

Constitution: Article 2
". . .If the Convention of any state should neglect or decline to appoint clerical deputies, or if they should decline or neglect to appoint lay deputies, or if any of those of either order appointed should neglect to attend, or be prevented by sickness or any other accident, such state shall nevertheless be considered as duly represented by such deputy or deputies as may attend, whether lay or clerical. And if through the neglect of the Convention of any of the churches which shall have adopted, or may hereafter adopt this constitution, no deputies, either lay or clerical, should attend at any general convention, the church in such state, shall nevertheless be bound by the acts of such convention."

BISHOP IKER: 8. The vast majority of our younger clergy, those ordained in the last 10 years or so, are in favor of the decision to separate and realign. They are the voice of the future of this diocese; they are the leaders who will take us into the next decade and beyond. You will notice that most of the clergy leaders opposing this move are already retired or on the verge of retiring. This is not their battle; they have had their time to lead. Now it is time to let this next generation step forward and lead, as we prepare a future for our children and our grandchildren.
RESPONDENT: But, young or older and more experienced, just where will the Diocese be going? The Bishop says temporarily to the Southern Cone and then later to a new North American Province.

But the Reverend Canon Charles A. Hough, III [Canon to Bishop Iker for 15 years], The Very Reverend William A. Crary, Jr., The Reverend Louis L. Tobola, Jr., and The Very Reverend Christopher C. Stainbrook don’t want to end up in the Southern Cone and they do not want to end up in the Anglican Communion.

These priests said in their very recent secret communication with the Roman Catholic Bishop Vann of Fort Worth:
“We believe the Anglican Communion shares the fatal flaws of The Episcopal Church” · “…it is apparent that the Archbishop of Canterbury is incapable of providing decisive leadership.” · “…we have concluded that the difficulties we have faced in The Episcopal Church for the past thirty years will not be remedied by the Anglican Communion."

Where do they want to go?

“Our best guess is that approximately 59 clergy are willing to pursue an active plan to bring the Diocese of Fort Worth or a significant portion of it into full communion with the Holy See, if this be God's will.”

How do they think the laity will react?

“We also recognize that it will take time to bring the laity on board with this proposal. While the clergy have come to recognize the truth which it held by the Holy See, we have much work to do with the laity.”

Anyone can join the Roman Catholic Church. So you want to realign; you better read the fine print. There isn’t much room for lay decision with this group.

9. We have international support for making the move at this time. Not only has the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone made provision for us to join them on a temporary basis as full members and partners in mission, but several Global South Primates are standing with us and have expressed their willingness to support us in this bold move. They have stuck their necks out for us and offered their encouragement, assistance and support. We must now have the courage of our convictions and act! What a joy and relief it will be to be part of a Province where we are not always under attack and on the defensive. We will then aggressively pursue the formation of an orthodox Province in North America in conjunction with the Common Cause Partnership.

RESPONDENT: The Constitution of the Southern Cone can be found at:http://www.fwepiscopal.org/downloads/PSCconstitution&canons.pdf

The Anglican Church of the Southern Cone….is composed of the Anglican Dioceses that exist or which may be formed in the Republics of Argentinia, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay…”

For any changes or amendment to this Constitution, the following procedure is to be used:
4.3 The proposed change shall be submitted to the Anglican Consultative Council for consideration and then to each Diocesan Synod for approval.
No such proposed change will be sent to The Anglican Consultative Council. The Anglican Communion is VERY territorial. Nor does the Episcopal Church permit a diocese to withdraw from the Episcopal Church without consent from the General Convention.
We don't know if the ABC will recognize a non-geographic province in North America.

[He has indicated he will not. KS]

BISHOP IKER:10. Most importantly, this decision is about the truth of the Gospel and upholding the authority of the Holy Scriptures. We believe in God’s full self-revelation in Jesus Christ, not in the speculation of humanist unitarians who have been elected to high offices in our church. Many leaders of TEC are teaching a false Gospel and leading people astray. Now is the time for us to take a bold, public stand for the biblical faith and practice of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

RESPONDENT: Holy Communion service is celebrated throughout the Episcopal Church much as it is in Fort Worth. The same creeds are recited and similar Biblical gospels and Epistles are read.

Most of the Bishops, priests, and laity who have been elected to high offices in the Episcopal Church would take offense to being described as “humanist Unitarians” and Bishop Iker has no intention of welcoming any of them to visit this diocese so you can see for yourself.

Father Woodward says, “…all the while accusations have been hurled at us, the Episcopal Church has continued to reverence Holy Scripture, to teach the Christian faith in its fullness, to celebrate the sacraments handed down through the ages, to represent the moral and spiritual vision and life of Jesus Christ in the world we live in, and to embrace the entire creation as the focus for our mission and ministry. What occurs in our congregations and in our dioceses is what has happened decade after decade, generation after generation and century after century. How awful that our faith and life as Episcopalians is now being characterized as “pagan” by a movement that reflects the very worst of Biblical fundamentalism, Puritan moralism, and a recent wave that distrusts ambiguity, doubt, mystery, and the presence of the Holy in human experience.”

”In the End, It is the Trashing of the Incarnation.”

“We are being victimized by a sophisticated kind of “bait and switch” in which codes and rule books are being substituted for a faith based on the Incarnation. The attack is upon our understanding of life as sacramental.”

BISHOP IKER: Now is the time to decide. Our cause is right, and the choice is clear. Let us act together, decisively, and with courage, faith and charity.

The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth
September 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Texas Faith - the problem of evil

How does religion explain the world's suffering?
Tue, Sep 23, 2008
Jeffrey Weiss

Texas Faith is our weekly discussion of matters of religion, politics, and culture. Read about our panel here.

We'll take a break from politics this week. The past seven days have been notable for examples of human suffering large and small: Hurricane Ike affects millions. And a 17-month-old boy whose family escaped the storm in Dallas is killed in an accident. Trains collide in California, killing dozens. Suicide bombers in Yemen, Pakistan and Iraq murder innocent bystanders. The genocide in Darfur continues unabated. Etc etc etc.

What do you find in your faith tradition that helps you deal with or explain the reality of suffering?

GERALD BRITT, vice president, Central Dallas Ministries
I found that I can't explain the reality of suffering. I'm alternately amazed and amused by those who try. For those of us who are Christian, to try and lead with that in a discussion of faith usually leaves those who are not of our tradition with the impression that we are evasive or trying to escape reality.

Twenty-two years ago, our 11 year-old son died from schleraderma. We have no idea how he contracted the idea and it was approximately seven months from the time of his diagnosis to his death. It was excruciatingly painful to watch a previously healthy boy, die painfully and inexplicably.

Last year, our only living son was murdered in a senseless domestic violence incident. Less than a week before his death, he talked about how he forgave his wife and wanted to just move on. Three days later he was dead. We lived to see him become a young man, who loved his daughter and had great plans for his future.

The week after his funeral, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I can't explain why any of this happened. My faith however, helps me in two ways:

One it teaches me the insufficiency of answers. If someone, anyone were to explain to me why I and my family had to go through any of this it wouldn't help. Ultimately, I'd rather have my boys back and my health unimpacted by illness. No answer with regard to this suffering would be sufficient.

Secondly, I choose to stubbornly believe that God is good. The Book of Psalms is punctuated throughout with these words: 'The Lord is good..." and there are no qualifiers. He is not good, 'if'; He is not good 'when'; He is not good, 'as long as'; He is not good, 'until'. He is just good. I choose to stubbornly cling to that unqualified goodness - even when things that happen to me are not good.

KATIE SHERROD, independent writer and producer; progressive Episcopalian activist, Fort Worth
Most Christian scholars tackle the problem of evil via free will -- God wanted humanity to love God willingly, which could only happen if human beings were created with free will, which of necessity includes the freedom to do bad things.

Some scholars posit that God created the world with the freedom to make itself, and this working out of planet-changing processes through the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology can result in terrible things happening to humans caught in hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other "natural" disasters.

Almost all of the world's suffering is human-generated, though deliberate action, such as continuing to smoke in the face of massive evidence that it causes lung cancer, or by deliberate inaction, such as the refusal of Myanmar's leaders to allow other nations to help in the wake of the tsunami. Katrina was terrible, but human failures amplified the suffering needlessly. Why did so many people insist on staying on Galveston Island in the face of Ike, endangering themselves and those who had to rescue them?

But if we are the source of evil, we also are its remedy.

Christians have a way to deal with evil and suffering - each other. We are God's gifts to one another, commanded to love one another, to help each other in suffering and pain - whatever the cause of the pain and suffering. Additionally, we are commanded to love God with our whole spirit, heart, and minds. We are to use our God-given intellects to mitigate suffering.

LYNN GODSEY, Pastor, Temple of Power Ministries, Ennis, Texas; founder, Alliance of Hispanic Evangelical Ministers
God's Holy Word, The Bible puts our sufferings into proper perspective. It explains why we hurt, the ultimate purpose for our afflictions and how we play an important role in relieving the agonies of others. This is done, not only by personally helping and comforting them, but in bringing the knowledge of the true gospel to a world mired in anguish caused by sin.

In many ways the Bible, taken as a whole, shows how God is willing to relieve our sufferings in many ways. He has many options available to Him. He particularly looks after His people (Hebrews 13:5-6). "Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever" (Ephesians 3:20).

Above all, we need to remember that suffering is only temporary, not eternal (for believers in Christ). After its purpose has been accomplished, God will erase it forever. One of the most reassuring and encouraging prophecies in the Bible talks about God relieving suffering: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:3-5).

Read all the responses here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Letters to and about Bp. Bob Duncan

Bishop Duncan received formal word today that the Presiding Bishop had issued a letter of Deposition. The text of the letter to the Bishop follows.

The Episcopal Church
The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
September 22, 2008

Robert W. Duncan
125 N. Linden Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15208

Dear Bob,

I wanted to write you personally to inform you that following the House of Bishop’s decision to consent to your deposition, of which you are already aware, I have signed the Sentence of Deposition, a copy of which is enclosed.

I think the press statement following the vote accurately sets forth the prayerful and thoughtful atmosphere of the discussions.

Please know that I urged the bishops gathered to hold you in prayer, and to do what they can to maintain a pastoral relationship with you. I pray that you may know the peace of Jesus Christ, and I remain

Your servant in Christ,

Katharine Jefferts Schori


Here's what the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Fort Worth had to say:

Sept. 22, 2008

The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Fort Worth rejects the deposition by the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church of the Bishop of Pittsburgh, Robert William Duncan. The unconstitutional and illegal interpretations of the Presiding Bishop and the use of the canons in ways that were never intended deprived Bishop Duncan of a fair trial.

Bishop Duncan is a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. We rejoice in Bishop Duncan’s admission to the College of Bishops of the Southern Cone, and we reaffirm our commitment to work with him as a bishop in good standing in the Communion.

The Very Rev. Ryan Reed, President
The Rev. Dr. Thomas Hightower, clergy member
The Very Rev. Christopher Cantrell, clergy member

Judy Mayo, lay member
Walter Virden, lay member
Dr. Franklin Salazar, lay member

This is my favorite phrase: "The unconstitutional and illegal interpretations of the Presiding Bishop and the use of the canons in ways that were never intended . . ."

This group is an expert on unconstitutional and illegal interpretations and the use of canons in ways that were never intended.

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Many of us in the Diocese of Fort Worth who intend to remain in the Episcopal Church have been asked to speak to various groups around the diocese who are trying to sort fact from fiction as our November diocesan convention approaches. At that convention, we will be voting on the second reading of canonical changes that our leadership claim will remove the entire diocese from the Episcopal Church and realign it with the Southern Cone.

Of course, they can't legally do that. The only way an entire diocese can leave the Episcopal Church is by action of General Convention.

So one big fact we've been telling everyone is that the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth will continue as a constituent part of the Episcopal Church after Nov. 16. Bishop Iker may choose to leave TEC, and many priests and lay people may choose to leave, but the diocese will continue.
We will reorganize, eventually elect a new bishop, and get on with God's work in this part of Texas. There will almost certainly be lawsuits, but eventually, all will be well.

The second fact we've had to tell people is that no, the presiding bishop has never denied the divinity of Jesus. Never.

Let me say that again. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has never denied the divinity of Christ.

That's the short answer. Here's a longer one, written by the Rev. Bruce Coggin, priest of this diocese.

One Way

I am the way; I am the truth and I am life; no one comes to the Father except by me.
John 14:6 NEB

For God has no favourites: those who have sinned outside the pale of the Law of Moses will perish outside its pale, and all who have sinned under that law will be judged by the law. It is not by hearing the law, but by doing it, that men will be justified before God. When Gentiles who do not possess the law carry out its precepts by the light of nature, then, although they have no law, they are their own law, for they display the effect of the law inscribed on their hearts. Their conscience is called as witness, and their own thoughts argue the case on either side, against them or even for them, on the day when God judges the secrets of human hearts through Christ Jesus. So my gospel declares.
Romans 2:11-16 NEB

In July 2006, a TIME magazine interviewer asked Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori if belief in Jesus is the only way to get to Heaven. Recalling, perhaps, phrases made popular in Church of England Bible scholar and translator J.B. Phillip’s 1961 Your God Is Too Small, she replied, “We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.”

A notorious brouhaha followed that honest and unassuming response. She may as well have denied the right of a bishop unhappy with the beliefs and behavior of a another bishop to go into the offender’s diocese and preach, teach, baptize, confirm, ordain, and otherwise rummage around and cause trouble! The very idea. All across the Anglican extremist blogosphere, there erupted such a tsunami of bile and vitriol as has rarely been known since the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy, that flows to this day from every pore of the thin hides of those among The Enraged whose vilification of the Presiding Bishop is their version of the bloody shirt, especially since an ad feminam attack on her is easier than thinking things out. One can abide all that; but far more critical, the matter comes up continuously among Episcopalians with no intention of leaving the church who either would like some reassurance themselves about just what the Presiding Bishop meant or—and here’s the critical point—need something to say to their brothers and sisters in Christ who regularly uncoil that lash and lay it on the good lady’s back. (Recently the Rev’d Frederick Barber, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Worth, wrote a superb comment on the matter for his parish bulletin, published on the parish website and in other places such as the web site of the Steering Committee North Texas Episcopalians. This essay expands some of his ideas and takes up others.)

Before trying to think this all through, let’s take time to note that the question put to the bishop is if not crassly self-centered then at least indicative of a fairly utilitarian perception of what Jesus is all about. Yes, people want to “go to Heaven”—whatever that means, and you can bet there are as many versions of Heaven as there are God’s chillen who want to go there—and there’s nothing wrong with that. But is that all there is to it? Jesus was born, lived, died, rose from the dead, and ascended to the Father just to keep us out of the roasting fires of Hell? Or, laying that aside, Jesus did all he did just to assure believers eternal bliss? Either outcome is, of course, entirely desirable; but if that’s all Jesus is about, why fiddle with all that other stuff—the sermon on the mount, the parables, the two dominical commandments, all that stuff about how we should behave now, in this life? Jesus does say that unless we pay attention to all that stuff we likely will not measure up to the Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these standard at Peter’s Gate, which makes it quite clear that something more than what we—and likely the bishop’s interviewer—ordinarily mean by belief is at stake; and that leads us down the faith without works road which is not the road we’re on here. Suffice it to say that the question put to the Presiding Bishop was pretty shallow. Had she—as she certainly could have done—gone into a disquisition on the work of the second person of the Holy Trinity, the interviewer would have cut her right off. Her answer was appropriate to the occasion. The people raising Cain about it know that. Or should.

But back to the main topic. Jesus’ statement to his bewildered disciples in John 14 responds to Thomas’ (and Peter’s before him, Philip’s after him) insistent, “Lord, we haven’t got a clue where you’re going!” That’s not surprising. The entire Upper Room passage in John has had simple believers and learnèd scholars shaking their heads ever since the evangelist got it on parchment. It ill becomes disingenuous preachers to point to a statement like Nobody comes to the Father except by me and say, “What part of that simple statement do you not understand? Jesus is intolerant!” Come now. Let’s give Jesus a little more credit than that. Consider the setting: John puts Jesus and his perpetually befuddled disciples together at a moment when they expect him to preside at the seder. Instead he throws them entirely off balance: washes their feet, says one of them is about to betray him and identifies the traitor, then says he’s leaving them, that they won’t know where he is, that they should love each other, that they can’t go with him, and that not only Judas but also Main Man Peter will betray him before the sun came up. No wonder they are confused.

Remember this about John’s gospel: it portrays the disciples as a fairly dimwitted lot, not always benign, not always charitable, and almost invariably confused. Sound like us? Does to me. The familiar confused babble that follows Jesus’ opening gambit is pure John, and Jesus’ response is at first just as familiar. He treads water, tries to reassure them, calm them down before he takes them out into the deep end. He most certainly does not start closing doors and cutting off escape routes.

The notion that somehow Jesus’ affirmation that nobody comes to the Father except by me is a warning, Jesus jabbing his right index into his left palm, his voice hard and unforgiving . . . intolerant? . . . says more about who holds that notion than it does about Jesus. It turns Jesus into a menacing judge threatening to withhold protection from those who can’t quite work themselves up to accept him as the perfect incarnation of God’s love, a claim lots of good people have had trouble with, a claim nobody before Jesus had a chance even to consider. Is that the way the Jesus you know would treat his best friends, especially when he was about to leave them? Doesn’t ring true at all.

Instead try to imagine Jesus almost laughing at his disciples, chuckling, not to mock them but because he finds them so helpless, so skittish, so panicky—like sheep without a shepherd. Far from scowling and haranguing them, the Jesus you know would far more likely have tried to settle them down, get them back on track, go back to something very basic about himself. To paraphrase: “Guys! Peter! Thomas! Philip! Get a grip. Haven’t I taught you anything? What do you mean you don’t know the way? I am the way. I am the truth and the light. Everybody who comes to the Father comes through me.” Of course, John puts that last sentence in a negative frame—nobody comes but by me—but it works as well positively—anybody who comes to the Father comes by me. No, that’s not playing fast and loose, re-writing scripture. Rather it’s a suggestion derived from similar moments elsewhere in the New Testament. Matthew, Mark, and Luke have Jesus saying both Who is not against me is with me and Who is not with me is against me. Turns out both sayings are engraved on either side of the same coin: I exclude nobody; don’t exclude yourselves. Similarly Jesus’ claim to being the only way to the Father can run both ways. And does. Anybody who comes to the Father comes by me. Once the threat disappears, we can approach the question more ways that one, none of them exclusory.

At this point the pericope from Romans in the epilogue above is helpful. Since one of the first questions that jumps up from such a claim as Jesus’ is, What about all the folks who never heard of Jesus of Nazareth, which includes everybody who ever lived before him? Abraham, Moses, David, Ruth to name four—plus everybody else who ever lived up to then. None of them believed in Jesus. Are they in Hell? St. Paul says no, says no roundly, thumpingly, unequivocally. No. The derivative of Paul’s thinking is that good men at all times and in all places have sought God—and have found God. Some of them, despite not having God’s law, managed to “carry out its precepts”—which is Paul’s way of saying they found God—“by the light of nature,” and their conscience is their witness before God who alone judges the secrets of our hearts—“through Jesus Christ.” They found God without Jesus? Yet God judges them through Jesus? To get at those apparently oxymoronic questions, we have to take a step back and look again at who we believe Jesus is.

In the language of Chalcedon, we say we believe in a triune God—one being in three “persons” we name father, son, and holy spirit. People sensitive to gender-specific language prefer creator, redeemer, and sanctifier, but that’s another matter Christians may disagree on without crying havoc. To get past the potential semantic potholes, let’s use the name for the second person St. John gave us: logos, koinè Greek for the English word. From logos we get several English words starting with logic and going from there, all connected to understanding, making sense of, having sense, meaning, coherence. The first chapter of John’s gospel says the logos—let’s switch to Word, which we’ll capitalize to keep from confusing it with the ordinary meaning—says the Word was present at the beginning of creation, existed before it all started in fact, is cotemporaneous, coexistent with God the creator/father and was in on the creation. “Through him all things came to be; no single thing was created without him [NEB}.” The second person of the Trinity, the Word, makes the first person’s gift of life present, real, tangible, understandable, graspable—incarnate. The Word gives God’s life flesh, a body. No words in scripture are more central to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. God the father/creator did nothing without the son/redeemer and the holy spirit/sanctifier—oh, let’s just get over it and use the most traditional terms: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The Father did, does nothing without the other two: all of God is there all the time. Genesis testifies to the Spirit’s presence at creation; John affirms the Son’s. From those and other perceptions, early Christian theologians articulated God’s nature the way we still believe and affirm in the creeds. The Father creates, the Son incarnates, the Spirit makes holy. All three persons, all the time, always, forever.

Now, a complication arises from the name Christ—mashiach, christos, the anointed one. Stemming from Samuel’s anointing of Saul, then David, it refers precisely to the anointed figure the Jews expected to overthrow their oppressors and restore to them the earthly kingdom gone with the many winds that blew through the Holy Land, their messiah. Jesus did not nearly fit that job description, so they crucified him. The church immediately appropriated the term for the risen Jesus, in part to ram it down the Jews’ throat but also in part because, seen through the prism of the resurrection, Jesus is in fact the messiah of a new Israel. He becomes Jesus Christ and even more often just Christ. That ironic ambiguity is actually helpful in this case, because we can now shed logos and Word and just say Christ. And when we say Christ we mean the second person of the Holy Trinity—but that doesn’t mean Jesus. Exactly.

Consider. One night in Bethlehem a couple millennia ago, a boy they named Jesus was born. That night something happened in time, in history. That boy Jesus grew up to be the fellow we call Lord, and the history he entered, he changed forever. But—pay attention—nothing happened in the godhead that night. The Word, busy incarnating God’s gift of life since the very beginning, gave it a baby’s flesh, and this time the giving was absolute. Complete. That boy Jesus was and is the miraculous incarnation of all God’s life, wonder, splendor, and love, and for that reason we give him a second name, Jesus the Christ, Jesus Christ. Jesus—really a man, really born, really historical—is one with Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity—eternal, beyond time beyond history. For the first time, God’s incarnation in creation is complete—but that’s not to say that Jesus is the beginning of incarnation.

Do we suppose that once creation showed its clay feet and God ran Adam and Eve out of Eden that the Father told the Son to take a break and get some Zs while he knocked some sense into people’s heads? The Old Testament accounts often make it look that way, don’t they? But how likely is that? If Christ was God’s coadjutor in creation, Christ is God’s coadjutor all the time, no? Among the challenges the Old Testament presents is finding Christ in a narrative in which the rowdy, whimsical Father gets most of the good lines, all the big soliloquies and arias, and generally dominates the stage. Christ is there nevertheless, and that means Christ in all the sweetness and tenderness, all the forgiving tolerance, we discover in Jesus. Christ has from the beginning incarnated God’s love in creation.

All of creation, that is, not just the Holy Land, not just among the Hebrews who became Israelites who became Jews. Said in the simplest possible terms, ever since the world has been, any time love happens, God is there. Ubi amor, ibi deus. We don’t know if the primordial amoebae loved each other, but by the time we get to people we know that love happens among us; and every time it does, God is there, from the simplest yearning of an infant for its mother to the complex sacrificial love of Mother Theresa. And how does God’s love come among us, live in us? Through Christ, of course. There’s no other way—as Jesus pointed out. When Abram felt the movement of God’s love for a people not yet born, Christ was there. When Moses went right on loving and shepherding his ungrateful, unruly followers, Christ was there. Paul says he was the cloud by day and the fire by night. When Jeremiah envisioned God’s saving love lavished on all mankind, Christ was there. Right? But also when Buddha went searching for God’s love in the world’s entrails, Christ was there. When Akhenaten perceived that God is one, Christ was there. When Plato envisioned a wondrous world beyond the one we see, Christ was there. And now that Christ and Jesus are one, people who do not call Jesus Lord still seek God and find God. Is Mahatma Gandhi in Hell? Will the Dalai Lama go to Hell? Will the AIDS orphans in Africa, children who raise their younger siblings on virtually nothing and sacrifice everything right down to their own bodies to save their brothers and sisters, yet may not live long enough to hear Jesus’ name, go to Hell?

Christians believe that Jesus is the incarnation and the revelation of all of God. When we look at Jesus we see the Father, we see the Holy Spirit, we see God. Others who seek God urged by the work of the second person of the Holy Trinity, by Christ that is, find God, they have “by the light of nature” found God’s law of love and written it in their hearts. Who are we to condemn that? Their conscience is their witness, against them or “even for them, on the day when God judges the secrets of human hearts.” They may not yet share the vision of God in Christ that is the glory of Christian faith—that’s why we send missionaries, to join Christ in leading people to see God more wholly in Jesus—but whatever truth about God they have found they found through Christ. He is, after all, the only way to see God. In Jesus, Christ shows us God completely; those who know Jesus have seen the Father. Those who do not yet know Jesus or do not yet know Jesus is the Christ nevertheless are led by Christ to see the Father’s love. Christ is the only agent we know of making God’s love incarnate. Of course Christ is the only way! But Jesus’ reminder to his nervous disciples is no exclusionary clause on the promise of God’s love and eternal life in it. Jesus only reminded Thomas of the obvious. Since there is but one God (as Akhenaten knew) and since God has from the beginning made himself real in our flesh (as any parent who loves a child knows), then surely you know, Thomas, that since God is in me and I in God, I am the way everybody comes to the Father. Just don’t get it into your head that you’re the only sheep I have to herd.

Such an expansive reading of John’s gospel is, of course, profoundly upsetting to folks who see God’s love in terms of reward for good behavior, a rather upsy-downsy way to read Jesus’ message of universal forgiveness, even before repentance. The Prodigal did not regret his misbehavior, only his situation, and his father forgave him before the scamp got home. The passion narratives do not record the soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross saying, “Sorry about this, Dude,” but Jesus forgave them. Repentance is the product of God’s forgiveness, not a prerequisite. Forgiveness does not depend on the sinner but on the forgiver. By the same token, belief in Jesus is the result of Christ’s leading, not a prerequisite. Christ doesn’t need to be told where to go. Christ—and the Holy Spirit—go like the wind, where they will, and they’ve been busy far longer than we usually give them credit for and in fields whose impropriety shocks beady-eyed and persnickety bean counters who conceive religion in juridical terms—just as the company Jesus kept shocked the Pharisees.

Bishop Katharine’s response to the question is no scandal, no denial of Jesus’ divinity, not for a minute worth all the hand-wringing and anathema-crying. She answered a pop question with a pop answer, the god-in-a-box language that’s been around half a century now, used by scads of preachers and counselors. What she didn’t say was, “Of course, we see God in Jesus. He’s where we find God. But surely you don’t suggest that God isn’t working just as hard to reveal himself, to incarnate himself in people who never heard of Jesus, who have found Jesus’ ambassadors sometimes less than loving, who want to, but can’t quite yet, put their faith in Jesus? Let’s not try to set God’s limits for him.” The lady’s just a lot smarter than her critics give her credit for, and Episcopalians can be grateful she has a sense of what to say and when to say it. The people who have blown her comment into a cause célèbre give new pungency to the smell of red herring. Bless their hearts. And give them better minds.

And what does all that say to ordinary Jesus loving, Jesus worshiping, Jesus believing Christians? Couple of things. First, let’s be sure that our lives—“the only Bible your neighbor may ever read”—reflect Jesus’ love for everybody the Father creates, regardless. Full stop. Second, let’s open our hands and our pocketbooks and our prayers for Christian work in the world—no matter the agency, oh, ye who abominate the MDGs—the kind of work that feeds and clothes and heals and shelters. That’s what the Jesus who is the Christ who is God who has been and is working in ways we can neither know nor comprehend in all the creation he holds in his wonderful hands told us to do.

And remember this: not only do we have neither the ability, the energy, nor the time to get everything sorted out for God about who loves him and who doesn’t, who’s in and who’s out, who gets to go to Heaven and who doesn’t, all that, but also God hasn’t asked our help in that matter. As someone has said, we’re not on the selection committee. We’re on the welcome committee.

The Episcopal Church welcomes you.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Gundersen responds to Mark McCall

Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh leader Joan Gundersen has published an excellent response to Mark McCall's document in which he claims the Episcopal Church is not hierarchical. Her article is available here.
An excerpt is below. But please read it all.


Copyright © 2008 by Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (http://progressiveepiscopalians.org). All rights reserved. This document may be copied if accompanied by this copyright statement.

A Response to Mark McCall’s "Is The Episcopal Church Hierarchical?"
Joan R. Gundersen, Ph.D.1
September 17, 2008

Unfortunately, the Anglican Communion Institute’s recently published essay by Mark McCall "Is The Episcopal Church Hierarchical?"2 includes a number of historical errors, one of which undermines his entire argument by overlooking a key clause in the 1789 constitution of The Episcopal Church. In short, McCall argues that the individual state conventions (later called dioceses) were independent entities that did not give up their independence when they joined together to create The Episcopal Church and its General Convention. Central to this argument is the assertion that the dioceses existed before the "national" church was or-ganized and that the original founding documents did not include language subordinating the state conventions to the General Convention. McCall elaborates on this theme with a discussion of the supposed widespread legal knowledge of the principles of subsidiarity and supreme law3 in the 1780s when The Episcopal Church was organized, and with an argument that the church hierarchy ends at the diocesan level in The Episcopal Church, finally reaching the surprising conclusion that the whole church is not hierarchical.

The ultimate purpose of McCall’s argument appears only on page 20 of his essay, where he asserts that "there is no prohibition in The Episcopal Church’s constitution on a diocese withdrawing from its union with the General Convention." In other words, McCall is constructing an argument justifying the "realignment" that the Diocese of San Joaquin claimed to effect last year and on which the Diocese of Pittsburgh is about to vote. [As is the Diocese of Fort Worth. KS]

This short essay will discuss some of the major problems with McCall’s argument, including a fatal flaw that invalidates his entire discussion, and it will also correct a number of the smaller historical errors he introduced along the way. This is not intended as a comprehensive analysis of McCall’s paper.
Read it all here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Texas Faith - Gods' will and the presidency

The fourth Texas Faith blog in the Dallas Morning News can be read here.

Rod Dreher
Note: The answers from panelists will be updated as late entries arrive. Keep checking back with us. -- Ed.

Another week, another political question. It's that time of the year. But inasmuch as there is no such thing as a separation of religion and life, it's not surprising that faith has come up yet again in the presidential campaign. Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin caused some buzz when a video of her asking her church to pray for God's blessing on a pipeline project emerged on the Internet. Similarly, she was filmed once discussing the Iraq War in light of divine providence. Now, there was some controversy over whether or not she prayed for God's blessing for the pipeline, or whether or not she invited God's blessing on it. And it was not exactly clear whether she asked for prayers that God's will would be done in the Iraq war, or whether she asserted that the war was God's will.

The distinctions are important, but that's not what this week's query is about.

Now, some critics of Palin found it unsettling, even offensive, that she would invoke God in this way. The pipeline business seemed to some to be trivial either way, and the war - well, if she was claiming that the war was the will of God, then the grounds for theological objection there are obvious. But defenders of Palin's prayers pointed to the prayer that Barack Obama left in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, in which he petitioned God to make him an "instrument" of the divine will. How is that different? asked the Palin defenders.

So, with that background, here is this week's question:
If you were the spiritual advisor to the next president, what would you advise him on how to discern and implement God's will in the execution of his duties?

(Answers from our Texas Faith panelists below)

KATIE SHERROD, independent writer and producer, Fort Worth, and progressive Episcopalian laywoman:

In Galatians, Paul tells us a work of the Holy Spirit produces love, joy, and peace while sinful nature is full of hatred, fighting, jealousy, and fits of anger." We are then given a list that sounds like the Karl Rove School of Political Campaigning: "It is interested only in getting ahead. It stirs up trouble. It separates people into their own little groups. It wants what others have."

So a huge first step for whoever is elected would be learning the difference between governing and campaigning.

The most obvious danger for anyone seeking to "do God's will" is that of confusing God's will for her or his own. Since humility is not a quality often seen in political leaders in any nation, the danger is even greater for a president seeking to "do God's will" in the execution of his duties. I think American voters are right to be wary of such talk. After all, the men who flew those planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers believed they were doing God's will.

How is one to know? The Gospel of Matthew gives us some excellent guidelines: 'I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.' And conversely, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'

So the president could ask the question, "Does this [decision, policy, piece of legislation, etc.] help the stranger, assist the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the sick or imprisoned, or does it make their situation worse while helping the most fortunate among us?

Or more simply, "How does this [decision, policy, piece of legislation, etc.] affect the least of us?"

I fear such behavior in a president would terrify most voters, even the most "Christian."

BOB DEAN, executive director, Dallas Baptist Association:

I would advise the President not to make statements declaring that a certain action or decision is God's Will, but to cultivate a vital personal relationship with God through daily reading of the scripture and prayer.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

Through this relationship, God will give wisdom and guidance in making the important decisions as the President.

DEAL HUDSON, president, Morley Publishing Group and director, InsideCatholic.com

First of all, I would not tell the President of the United States "to implement God's will in the execution of his duties." I would tell the president that is the wrong way to look at the relationship of prayer and worship to the job in the Oval Office.

Such an approach to the spirituality of service to country can only lead to egotism and self-deception. It's as if the president should be encouraged to rule the country as God would rule the country, as if any human being could know how God would act each and every day doing anything.

This is a kind of theocentric version of WWJD, which is a more reasonable approach to pastoral counseling for the president, but not one I would indulge either.

I would counsel the president to have a regular prayer life, one that includes his family and a few friends. I would also suggest Scripture reading on a daily basis, especially the Psalms. The president should worship, if possible, with ordinary people, not with the folks who assemble across the street from the White House.

Prayer, worship, spiritual reading, these would put the president's life in the context of a larger narrative than that of the United States. The president needs to think in the context of the beginning and end of life.

I would suggest to the president that he seek to be charitable and just in all things, rather than "implement the will of God." In theological terms, I would suggest a virtue-based approach to the exercise of the president's office rather than any discerning of the divine will on a daily basis.

Heroic attention to acting with love and justice may well bring the presidency as close to the will of God as is humanly possible.
Read all the responses here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hierarchy and Property

A friend sent me this story, which contains news of some interest here in the Diocese of Fort Worth, where our bishop has just posted an opinion from some lawyer that the Episcopal Church is not a hierarchical church. This is an important point because our bishop is trying to take property that belongs to the Episcopal Church with him when he leaves the Episcopal Church.

Here is the definition of hierarchy - 1: a division of angels 2 a: a ruling body of clergy organized into orders or ranks each subordinate to the one above it; especially : the bishops of a province or nation b: church government by a hierarchy.

The Episcopal Church is indeed not a division of angels. That's one of the reasons I love it. It acknowledges that we have to struggle with scripture, we have to work at being good, at doing the best job of living holy lives that we can.

But the Episcopal Church is indeed a hierarchical church. And our dioceses hold property in trust for the national church -- very much like the canons of the Presbyterian Church. See paragraph 7 of the news story.

This story available online.

Oklahoma court rules that Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery is
legal owner of Tulsa church’s property

2,600-member Kirk of the Hills sued in 2006 to keep
property when it left

by Jerry L. Van Marter
Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — An Oklahoma district court in Tulsa has ruled
that the Presbytery of Eastern Oklahoma
[www.eokpresbytery.org] of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
is the legal owner of the property of breakaway Kirk of
the Hills, a 2,600-member congregation that bolted to the
Evangelical Presbyterian Church in August 2006.

In his Sept. 9 ruling, Judge Jefferson Sellers denied Kirk
of the Hills petition for a summary judgment and ordered
the church to “convey its real and personal property” to
the presbytery, as per the decision of the presbytery’s
administrative commission, which concluded in March 2007
that Kirk of the Hills was “in schism.”

Kirk of the Hills attorney John O'Connor told the Tulsa
World that the decision will be appealed.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” he said. Saying the
congregation was “disappointed but certainly not undone by
this,” Kirk co-pastor Tom Gray told the newspaper, “We are
hopeful that the Oklahoma Supreme Court will correct this

The judge issued a 20-day stay before any implementation of
the ruling.

The civil court litigation was initiated by Kirk of the
Hills after the congregation voted to affirm its
leadership’s decision to leave the PC(USA). The
congregation, the largest of several dozen congregations
that have voted to leave the 2.3 million-member
denomination in the last two years, has continued to meet
in the church building.

The court followed the “hierarchical deference” approach in
awarding the property to the presbytery, affirming the
trust clause in the PC(USA) Constitution, which holds that
all property is held in trust for the denomination.
Oklahoma has been considered a “hierarchical deference
jurisdiction since an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling in 1973
involving Cimarron Presbytery and Westminster Presbyterian
Church of Enid, OK.

Dean Luthey, an attorney for the PC(USA), said hierarchical
deference means that in property disputes involving
churches, the state court will defer to the decision of the
church's legal system.

Craig Hoster, the presbytery’s attorney in the case, said,
“The court followed Oklahoma law. When a local church
participates in, prospers from and enjoys the benefits
afforded by the parent church, as has been the case here
for more than 40 years, it cannot then disclaim affiliation
when it disagrees with the parent body, so as to shield
church property from the equitable or contractual interests
of the parent church….The court affirmed the concept that
individuals may leave the church but they cannot take the
church property with them.”

The Rev. Greg Coulter, general presbyter for Eastern
Oklahoma Presbytery, said, “We are pleased with the
decision of the court to uphold the laws of the State of
Oklahoma and to recognize the extensive efforts that
Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery has taken to resolve the issues
in accordance with the ecclesiastical process to which we
have all submitted ourselves as officers and members of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

“At the same time,” Coulter said, “there is great sadness
over this division within the Body of Christ. We have
participated in no less than a dozen meetings with a
variety of representatives in an effort to resolve our
differences and find a reasonable settlement alternative to
the civil law suit initiated by The Kirk. All efforts,
including impartial mediation and an independent assessment
of the church property value, have been rebuffed by the
congregation’s leadership.

“Nevertheless, we will continue to work with our brothers
and sisters in Christ to resolve any remaining issues, and
we pray God’s blessings on all who labor in His name. There
has been much pain on all sides of the issues. It is our
prayer that healing may now begin.”

Hoster added, “We will now begin the orderly transition of
the church property to the presbytery.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Breaking news . . .NOT

Iker reveals plan to "take the diocese" to foreign province, urges priests and delegates to steal the property of the Episcopal Church. Oh. Whew. For a minute there I thought I was writing for Stand Firm.

Anyway, if you read from the bottom up, you can see all three reports from the bishop and the Standing Committee leading to the absolutely unsurprising recommendation that the diocese affiliate with the Southern Cone -- which it can't legally do, but that little reality does not bother these guys one teeny bit.

Cc: Bishop Iker
Subject: Ad Clerum: Executive Council approves Standing Committee's Third Report
To all clergy, Convention delegates, Executive Council and vestry members:

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth today adopted and endorsed – with only one dissenting vote – the recommendation of the Bishop and Standing Committee “that this Diocese affiliate with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone as a member diocese, on a temporary, pastoral basis, until such time as an orthodox Province of the Anglican Communion can be established in North America.”

This constitutes the third report made in response to Resolution 2 of the 25th Annual Convention of the diocese. The recommendation will be presented to clergy and delegates to the upcoming 26th Annual Convention for consideration on Nov. 14 & 15, 2008.

The full text of the Third Report follows; it is also available on the diocesan Web site.


Third Report
from the Bishop and Standing Committee concerning
The Anglican Province of the Southern Cone

A resolution adopted by the 25th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth requested “that the Bishop and Standing Committee prepare a report for this diocese on the constitutional and canonical implications and means” of becoming a member diocese of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. Two preliminary reports* have been made – one on January 9, 2008, and another on February 12, 2008 – and both should be reviewed at this time, for they are an integral part of the recommendation we are making to the 26th Annual Diocesan Convention.

After months of prayerful discernment and extensive consultation with others, both within our own diocese and beyond, we have come to the following conclusion. We recommend that this Diocese affiliate with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone as a member diocese, on a temporary, pastoral basis, until such time as an orthodox Province of the Anglican Communion can be established in North America.

We have been in conversation about this matter with the Committee on Constitution and Canons, and they will be presenting to Convention the necessary changes to our constitution and canons to enact this realignment.

We pray for God’s grace to uphold and guide us in the days ahead and for the Holy Spirit to continue to inspire us “with the spirit of truth, unity and concord” as we seek to serve and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.

Presented by
The Bishop and Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth

Additional resources:

Download the Constitution and Canons of the Province of the Southern Cone

Read Resolution 2

Previous items: First ReportSecond Report*

*While the second report invited questions and promised to address additional concerns in a subsequent publication, none have been submitted to the Standing Committee during the intervening months.

And here's the Second Report:

From the Bishop and Standing Committee

Feb. 12, 2008
Second Report on the possibility of re-aligning with the Province of the Southern Cone

In this second report from the Bishop and Standing Committee on the possibility of re-aligning with the Province of the Southern Cone, we would like to offer a brief analysis of some of the basic differences between the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church as compared with those of the Province of the Southern Cone (PSC). An English translation of the Constitution and Canons of the PSC can be found elsewhere on this Web site.

In our Preliminary Report of January 9, 2008, we arrived at the following conclusion:

Based on our review, we have concluded that the structure and polity of the Province of the Southern Cone would afford our diocese greater self-determination than we currently have under the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. This autonomy would be evident most specifically in the areas of property ownership, liturgy, holy orders, and missionary focus.

One fundamental principle underlying the Constitution and Canons of the PSC is that “the Dioceses are at liberty to provide necessary selection and training of clergy, liturgical use, finances and possessions, and other affairs related to the local situation, provided they are not in conflict with other Anglican norms and this Constitution.” (See item 3, Rules, on page 2)
Specifically, we note the following:

Ordination Standards
Each local diocese has the responsibility for the ordination process and makes its own determination as to the eligibility and the qualifications for ordination to Holy Orders. There are no requirements imposed upon dioceses by the Province regarding gender or sexual orientation.

Each diocesan bishop determines matters of worship and Prayer Book usage in his diocese. The section on Liturgy (Canon 9) notes that “it is the responsibility of the Bishops to keep guard that the forms used in Public Worship and the Administration of the Sacraments be in accordance with Anglican Faith and Order and that nothing be established that is contrary to the Word of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures.” Membership in the Southern Cone would not necessitate a change in our liturgical practices or Prayer Book. It would also protect us from experimental liturgies already authorized or under consideration by the General Convention of TEC which advocate the use of expansive language for God, the elimination of male pronouns for God, or the blessing of same-sex unions.

Property Canon 10 states that the Province’s possessions “shall consist of the economic contributions of its Member Dioceses.” The PSC does not lay claim to any buildings, real estate or investments of its member dioceses. Thus, title to all our churches, property, and funds would remain in the Diocese of Fort Worth. TEC makes the claim that all local church property is held in trust for TEC.

Provincial Polity
Instead of having a cumbersome General Convention that meets every three years for three weeks at great expense, with four clergy and four lay deputies from each diocese in the House of Deputies and all bishops in the House of Bishops, as in The Episcopal Church, there is a Provincial Synod (Canon 5) of the Southern Cone that meets every three years for three days. It is comprised of the Bishop and one clergy and one lay delegate from each diocese in the Province. This would be a much smaller legislative body on the provincial level, producing considerable cost savings and a council of far more manageable size for conducting business.

Also, as a member diocese we would have a seat on the Provincial Executive Council (Canon 6), helping to direct program and budget. Our Bishop would have the right of voice at Council meetings, even if we were already represented on the Council by a priest or lay person.
Presiding Bishop/Primate The Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, also referred to as the Primate or Archbishop, is not a separate, full-time, salaried position, as in TEC. Instead, the Bishop elected as Primate continues to serve as a diocesan bishop, like all the other bishops of the Province. There are no “national church offices” staffed with a bureaucracy of paid church employees. This makes for a much smaller structure and budget and keeps the emphasis for mission and ministry on the local diocesan level.

Provincial Budget
The budget of the General Convention of TEC was set at just under $50 million for 2008. Most of this funding comes from an “asking” from each diocese, in the amount of 21% of its annual income. The remainder comes from investment income and other sources. The annual budget of the Province of the Southern Cone totals less than $100,000 and is funded by the member dioceses on a proportionate basis, with contributions ranging between $2,000 and $6,000. Additional support comes from overseas partners. The funds are used mostly for basic costs of administration and communications. This minimal provincial cost keeps the focus and funding for ministry in the local dioceses.

We encourage you to read the PSC Constitution and Canons for yourselves. If you have further questions or matters that require clarification, please feel free to write the Standing Committee at the Diocesan Center for Ministry. Additional concerns will be addressed in our next report.
The Bishop and Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort WorthFeb. 12, 2008

download the Constitution and Canons of the Province of the Southern Cone

read Resolution 2
And here's the first report:

From the Bishop and Standing Committee
January 9, 2008
A Preliminary Report from the Bishop and Standing Committee on the Invitation to Join the Province of the Southern Cone

In accordance with the Resolution adopted by our Diocesan Convention, this is our preliminary report on some of the implications of accepting an offer which we received from the Southern Cone shortly before our Convention.

The Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth in November 2007 took the first step toward dissociating itself from actions of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church.

This decision was made in response to TEC's failure to heed either the repeated calls for repentance issued by the Primates of the Anglican Communion or the recommendations of the Panel of Reference. The leadership of TEC has threatened us with false claims of canonical power to correct and discipline us while condoning or even promoting in other dioceses false teaching and sacramental actions explicitly contrary to Holy Scripture.

In early November we received an invitation from Archbishop Gregory Venables, on behalf of the Province of the Southern Cone, stating that, as an emergency, pastoral measure we and others like us would have a welcome place within that Province until such time as TEC either changes its direction or a new ecclesial structure within the Anglican Communion is established in North America.

The Province of the Southern Cone includes the countries of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. With a membership of around 27,000 persons, it is one of the smallest provinces of the Anglican Communion in terms of numbers, but among the largest in geographical size.

Following Anglican missionary work in the region during the 19th century, missionary dioceses were formed in each of these South American countries, and bishops were appointed to serve under the direct metropolitical oversight of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1981 these dioceses came together to form the new Province, focused on carrying out the Great Commission and maintaining a strong commitment to the traditional teachings of the Church in all matters of faith and morals. It is led by an elected Presiding Bishop who serves as the Primate and Archbishop of the Province. This office is currently held by the British-born bishop of Argentina, The Most Rev. Gregory James Venables. He is a principal leader of the traditional, orthodox movement in the worldwide Anglican Communion and has taken an active role in the Primates’ Meetings in recent years.

At its November 2007 Synod, the Province adopted a resolution to extend the offer of membership to traditional dioceses electing to leave revisionist provinces. In December, the Province received the Diocese of San Joaquin in California. Archbishop Venables has also received several retired TEC and Canadian bishops into the Province. It was in that context that he recently declared: “Christianity is specific, definable and unchanging. We are not at liberty to deconstruct or rewrite it. If Jesus was the Son of God yesterday then so He is today and will be forever.”

We have now had opportunity to review the Constitution and Canons of the Province of the Southern Cone; an English-language edition of those documents is being edited and will be released shortly. Based on our review, we have concluded that the structure and polity of the Province of the Southern Cone would afford our diocese greater self-determination than we currently have under the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. This autonomy would be evident most specifically in the areas of property ownership, liturgy, holy orders, and missionary focus.

While nothing will change in the day-to-day operations of the churches in the Diocese of Fort Worth, we expect a significant change in attitude and focus of the clergy and people of the diocese. Becoming a member Diocese of the Province of the Southern Cone would allow the Diocese of Fort Worth the opportunity and freedom to continue to practice the “Faith once delivered to all the saints” without being constantly distracted by the controversies and divisions caused by innovations hostile to traditional Christian norms. Instead, it would allow the Diocese to concentrate on the call of Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel and make new disciples, while at the same time assuring our continued place in the mainstream of Anglicanism, an assurance The Episcopal Church is unable to give.

Presented by
The Bishop and Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth
January 9, 2008

Lipstick and Pigs

Barack Obama's lipstick on a pig remark has the McCain campaign yelling in outrage over the supposed sexism of the metaphor. Keep in mind that Obama was referring to McCain's claim that he will bring change to Washington. Here's what he said:

And here is John McCain using the same metaphor -- only HE'S talking about Hilary Clinton's economic plan:

So. I'm thinking the McCain campaign might want to go easy on the charges of sexism. It might start a discussion of exactly who's the sexist pig here . . .

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Texas Faith 3 - War and Faith

The third Texas Faith question is posted today. Here are some excerpts:

Texas Faith: War and Faith
Tue, Sep 09, 2008
William McKenzie

Texas Faith is a weekly online feature that draws upon the expertise of clergy, laity and academics in Texas to debate, discuss and define the intersection of religion, politics and culture.
This week, we asked panelists to step back from the heat of the fall campaign and think about what their religious traditions have to say about the ultimate decision presidents must make: whether to send soldiers into war.

Here's the question we asked the panel to consider:

All of the candidates on the GOP and Democratic tickets say their faith informs their views. They also agree that sending soldiers into war would be their most difficult decision. What does your faith tradition offer for guidance on that most difficult of decisions?

DARRELL BOCK, professor, Dallas Theological Seminary

Pursuing peace is a priority, but not peace at any price. The state can protect its people. War is always a last resort. This Christian tradition is called "just war." Here are the factors:(1) War must have a just cause, being fundamentally a defensive war.(2) It must have a just intention, to secure a fair peace for all parties. This excludes national revenge, economic exploitation, and ethnic cleansing. (3) It must be a last resort. All diplomatic efforts should be pursued and continue. (4) Properly constituted authorities declare it. War is the work of states. (5) It must have limited objectives, no annihilation of the enemy. (6) It must use proportionate means, sufficient to deter the aggression. The use of nuclear weapons becomes a real point of debate here.(7) It must respect non-combatant immunity, including wounded soldiers or prisoners of war. Weapons of indiscriminate mass destruction are immoral. (8) The more international recognition and support there is the better. Debated in just war theory is whether a preemptive strike is ever justified. Those who support it argue that an imminent self-defense is allowed. A recent example of just war is the Second World War, which halted the Holocaust and unprovoked aggression in Europe. These principles would guide me.

RIC DEXTER, Soka Gakkai International-USA, Dallas

We in America have fortunately faced for only moments the horror of attack on our homeland in recent history. In some places, children have never known a day without that horror. "Nothing is more barbarous than war. Nothing more cruel." With these words Daisaku Ikeda, President of SGI (our international Buddhist lay society), began his novel "The Human Revolution." It is a testament to the belief that the actions of a single person can change the course of history.

In the last couple of years, in over 30 ongoing conflicts, millions of people have lost their lives or families. Nichiren (founder, in the 13th century of Nichiren Buddhism) taught "If you care about the peace and security of your own land, should you not also be concerned with the peace and security of all the people of the world?" A decision to engage in war always denies that security to someone. As a young serviceman in the Vietnam theater, I attended my first Buddhist meeting. I asked how I should view my service in that war. The answer profoundly affected the rest of my life:

"More important than that question, you should dedicate the rest of your life toward creating a world where children are not sent to kill children." In my practice for over 40 years I have worked to fulfill that vow.

Again quoting Mr. Ikeda, "I firmly believe that the mission of religion in the 21st century must be to contribute concretely to the peaceful coexistence of humankind. Religious faith can do this by fostering a truly global consciousness and restoring the bonds between human hearts."A decision to go to war is the most difficult decision a president could make. A decision not to go to war would likely be the most courageous.

GEOFFREY DENNIS, rabbi, Congregation Kol Ami, Flower Mound and faculty member, University of North Texas

In Judaism, there are two types of wars, milchamah mitzvah and milchamah reshut (obligatory war and optional war). The former is a compulsory war that must be fought in defense of Israel or at God's direction through a prophet. An optional war is one in which the king (these rules far predate modern government theory) opts to fight for territorial gain or national prestige. No Jew is obligated to fight in an optional war. This traditional prophecy/monarchy-based war theory has limited application in our age of internationally defined nation-states, democratic decision-making and compulsory national service (though some may be reviving the notion of optional war in a new form - the "preventive war").

Perhaps more relevant to our own situation and the question posed, it is taught that a peaceful resolution must first be sought before any type of war is waged (Deut. 20:10). In fact, based on the emphatic instruction ...seek peace and pursue it (Ps. 34:14), Judaism teaches every avenue for a peaceful resolution must be explored both prior to and even during a conflict. This seems to me to be a sound principle for any government or any leader to use when faced with the prospect of war.

KATIE SHERROD, independent writer and producer, Fort Worth, and progressive Episcopalian laywoman

Early Christian leaders Ambrose and Augustine wrote about a concept called "just war," which essentially said that force was justified only to protect the innocent from attack. This concept became part of international law, which lists as the criteria for going to war just cause, just authority, right intention, last resort, public declaration, probability of success, and proportionality - i.e.: is the good we hope to achieve greater than the evil we will inflict and that those whom we attack will suffer, especially noncombatants? It is to this just war theory that the Episcopal Church turns in offering guidance to governments considering sending soldiers to war, although there are some in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion who espouse pacifism. They believe that modern warfare by its nature violates just war principles, especially that of proportionality.

In October 2001, the Episcopal House of Bishops approved a letter to be sent to all members of Congress, stating that "we do not believe that war with Iraq can be justified at this time." The statement also stressed the "unintended consequences" of war, including "unacceptable civilian casualties." The bishops concluded that they "do not support a decision to go to war without clear and convincing evidence of the need for us to defend ourselves against an imminent attack." The letter reminded people that "Christians are called by Jesus to regard all persons as neighbors, to reach out in mercy, and to pray for one another and for our enemies."

The bishops also acknowledged that many people of faith had different opinions about going to war, and invited all to pray for "all who [are] caught up in this conflict, our military personnel including [their] chaplains and their families, people who suffer for conscience's sake, Arab Americans of all faiths, followers of Islam around the world -- the great majority of whom share a longing for peace, and the people of Iraq, among whom are more than a million Christians."

Most Episcopal churches pray every Sunday as part of the Prayers of the People for our nation's leaders, for all the candidates, for our armed forces, and for all those killed and wounded, including our enemies.
There is much more good commentary on the blog.