A Note On The House of Bishops Meeting – An Apology For Reconciliation

Episcopal Life is reporting on the House of Bishops Meeting, and my friend Canon Harmon has posted links to this enabling folks to comment on what they have read.

Those of you who regularly read my blog know that I have personally experienced a reconciliation event led by Brian Cox. He is an orthodox Anglican, let me assure everyone. However, some folks seem disappointed, angry, unhappy, or are assuming that he is a closet liberal because of the topics described for the reconciliation seminar. I think many folks don’t really know what topics the seminar is covering, but are working from the titles of some of the talks.

I’m going to supply my brief take on what these topics are based on the talks I’ve heard and read. I also have to confess that I was to serve on a team with Cox to present a reconciliation seminar that got rescheduled recently, and so I believe generally in the good of his work. One has to approach it much like a Cursillo and not ask for more than the Cursillo can give. If a simple seminar could solve all our problems in the Anglican Communion, we would have done these seminars a long time ago.

Here are the topics; I will address each in turn: pluralism; inclusion; peacemaking; social justice; forgiveness; healing; sovereignty; and atonement.

Pluralism: Reconciliation has to be begin with an acknowledgment of differences, and of the fact that these differences are not all bad. Moreover, reconciliation involves building bridges among people and groups of people. For those that would think pluralism is a bad thing right out of the box, I would note that the conservative movement in the Episcopal Church is made up of High Church Catholics and Low Church Evangelicals; it also includes all points in between. It is this type of vision that guides groups like the Louisiana Interchurch Council – it forms bridges between various churches, even though there is substantial disagreement on numerous issues. Kairos Prison Ministry is another example of an organization that builds bridges between Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, you name it. When we minister in prison, we set aside things like the Eucharist, Marian theology, and we do not baptize people, although we all agree Baptism is necessary and leave it to the prison chaplain to handle such matters. At first blush, one might think we are going to far in setting aside our own personal beliefs about the Eucharist, or how to pray, or are missing the boat if we aren’t baptizing people. But, these are things on which Christians disagree, and for us to minister effectively, we have to be pluralistic in our vision. When Paul talks about not doing things that would make another brother stumble, he is talking about pluralism and inclusion, and the sacrifices necessary to build the Body of Christ.

Inclusion: I recently attended a Kiwanis conference where one of the speakers talked about communities that are inclusive being places where wonderful things can happen. I realized that once I heard this particular word – inclusion – my stomach immediately goes on edge because of how many times I have heard it uttered from liberal Episcopal leaders who are anything but inclusive. It is said that the work has taken on such a terrible connotation in our hearts and minds.

But, if you can think about what inclusion really means for a second, I think we can all see it is a Gospel value. The phrase that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners also has a negative connotation for me, because it means for so many in the Episcopal Church that morality is now an anything goes proposition which cuts out huge portions of Jesus’ message and the overall message of the Bible. However, that connotation does not change the phrase into an untruth. Jesus was inclusive – he reached out to Samaritans, tax collectors, sinners. His message was as much for them as it was for the faithful of Israel. We have to hold fast to the total message of Jesus Christ, which includes inclusion. The other side of inclusion is the cessation of hostilities. Part of that is the acknowledgment of the sins committed against us. Part of that is acknowledging the sins we have committed against others – things done and left undone. In the current controversies of the day, whether it be the Episcopal Church or any conflict of which you can think, offenses is given and received by all sides. Inclusiveness involves getting rid of the previous hostilities. I would describe it also as forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean that you forget who the other person is or what they have done to you, although God does give us that kind of forgiveness. Forgiveness means acting towards that other person in a manner where they don’t owe you anything for what they did to you before. That is what the Lord’s Prayer is talking about when it talks about forgiveness.

Another thought comes to mind when I think of inclusiveness in a good way. When I was at my first summer at Episcopal Church camp, the adopted son of an Episcopal priest was in my cabin. On the first day there, we broke up into Cabin groups to get to know each other. In any event, this person (I won’t use his name even though I remember it) was from Southeast Asia. One of the other boys in the cabin asked him where he was from, and before an answer could be given, I said he was an American. I felt in fourth grade after being raised in a Christian family that was the right thing to do. The boy who had asked the question I think realized the truth of what I was saying even at 9 years old. We needed to be inclusive, and it was the right and Christian thing to do. I think we can be true to that and not sell out all other core values of right and wrong, of Jesus Christ, his sacrifice for us on the cross for the remission of our sins, and the Biblical model for marriage between a man and a woman.

Conflict Resolution/Peacemaking: I want to emphasize that this does not involve selling out of core values. It does involve forgiveness, however. It also involves the practice of unconditional love towards one another. These are core Christian values – I don’t think this point is debatable.

Social Justice: Here we have another word that has taken on a bad connotation for conservatives, much as the phrase in our Baptismal covenant where we promise to respect the dignity of every human being. This is now connoted for extreme liberalism and normalization of same sex relationships in the church. However, Social Justice does not include either by definition. It does, however, require that we look at issues like economic fairness, social fairness, and political fairness. It requires us to seek the common good over our own individual good. This is a principle upon which Jesus preached time and time again, when he talked about bringing Good News to the poor, when he instructed us to care for the sick, the widowed, the orphan, the hungry, the naked, and those in prison.

Forgiveness: I’ve already written a good bit about forgiveness already in this piece. Is there anyone out there that doesn’t think forgiveness is a core Christian value? If so, email me offline and we’ll have a chat about forgiveness. I would reiterate what I said above regarding forgiveness – it doesn’t mean ignoring the past, it is simply to act as if the forgiven person doesn’t owe you anything.

Healing: Healing is a complimentary process to forgiveness. Healing is what can happen when we acknowledge that pain and hurt we have caused others. Sometime it involves making amends. Sometimes it involves asking for forgiveness from someone else. In a larger group based perspective, it has involved things like the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa after apartheid. Truth has to precede healing in the reconciliation process. Without this truth, the relationship will remain a broken one, even if one party has forgiven another.

Sovereignty: Acknowledging God’s sovereignty is the key to faith based reconciliation – it provides the faith to undergird the process, and without which the process will not work. It also involves submission to God, and His will. I think this is a core Christian value which we should all be able to acknowledge. Perhaps where conservatives might recoil at inclusion or social justice, this is the part of the seminar that always gets some liberal recoil, because it often ultimately involves submission to what Scriptures says over what we think Scripture ought to say. I feel confident that this is something our House of Bishops needs to hear and is something with which those who constantly cry “autonomy” will have to struggle when confronted with the fact that God wills community. In any event, one of the things that sets Jesus apart from all others was his submission to God’s will, unto death.

Atonement: Well, liberals always recoil at this topic too, because it involves that part of Christ’s ministry they just wish didn’t happen. He died for all our sins, and it was necessary that He die for our sins. This is Gospel, no doubt. But, it did not stop with mere forgiveness – okay, we don’t owe God anything anymore – but was a full restoration of relationship. A reconciliation of man to God. It involves healing – an acknowledgment of our sins before God and an asking for forgiveness because we cannot make amends. It requires submission to God. The benefit of all this is a right relationship with God. That is what the Christian journey is all about – a right relationship with God.

So, when you put all these things together and shake them up, what do you have? The reconciliation seminar is an inherently Christian message. It is, in fact, Christ’s message.

I, and, I’m sure, Brian Cox, are not naive enough to think that everything will be hunky dory after this House of Bishops meeting. However, this is probably the best thing for the Bishops. At least they will be hearing an inherently Christian message, rather than something else. I think those that say that Cox’s work with the Bishops is an act of futility may have a point. But, Jesus gave his life for the sins of the whole world, and I’m sure that would seem like an act of futility to many folks.

Those that are saying that Cox is selling out, a closet liberal, is not preaching or teaching Christ’s Gospel, or is acting to just keep the dissenters in line, are just plain wrong. There is no other way to say it.

13 Responses to “A Note On The House of Bishops Meeting – An Apology For Reconciliation”

  1. 1 Tregonsee March 9, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    Cox+ was in the running for bishop of the local TEC diocese and on multiple occasions was able to express his beliefs orally and in writing. As you say, he is personally a faithful, traditional man, BUT……. That “BUT…..” is so common today where for any number of reason, some actually pretty good ones, a faithful, traditional person is unable to bring that effectively to his “professional” roll. Doing something else well is no substitute for that.

  2. 2 confessingreader March 9, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    Brad, thank you for this apologetic exposition of what the Revd Mr Cox’s terms mean.

    My only objection, as is probably evident in a comment I posted at Titusonenine, is with the word “pluralism”. What you describe above is better called “diversity”, and is certainly biblical. Pluralism denotes a belief or theory that recognizes more than one “ultimate principle”, as the OED puts it, and in the world of religious thought and theology, pluralism denotes a rejection of exclusivist claims, like those that evangelical, catholic, orthodox Christians make regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ (particularly) and the authority of the scriptural witness and of the interpretive catholic tradition.

    Mr Cox needs to use a word other than pluralism to describe what he means.

  3. 3 Matthew March 10, 2008 at 12:39 am

    I pray that God will use Brian Cox to bring the pointy hatted sinners to him. At the risk of being judgmental, there has been much pride and little charity in the unfolding of our denominational soap opera.

  4. 4 Alice C. Linsley March 10, 2008 at 1:07 am

    Matthew, arrogance always gives rise to the spiritual degeneration of churches. That is not a judgment. It is an historial and spiritual reality. As sad as TEC’s present situation is, it is not a new phenomena.

    “Every man is a theologian; it does not matter that his soul is covered with more blemishes than can be counted. The result is that these innovators find an abundance of men to join their factions. So ambitious, self-elected men divide the government of the churches among themselves, and reject the authority of the Holy Spirit. The ordinances of the Gospel have been thrown into confusion everywhere for lack of discipline; the jostling for high positions is incredible, as every ambitious man tries to thrust himself into high office. The result of this lust for power is that wild anarchy prevails among the people; the exhortations of those in authority are rendered utterly void and unprofitable, since every man in his arrogant delusion thinks that it is more his business to give orders to others than to obey anyone himself.”

    St. Basil the Great
    From his tract On the Holy Spirit

  5. 5 BabyBlue March 10, 2008 at 3:16 am

    #3, Brad. Been there. The Diocese of Virginia Protocol for Departing Congregations was a major accomplishment of our reconciliation process that has gone on for ten years – starting with the “R-7” Group that was instituted after the passage of a resolution at Diocesan Council called “R-7.” That group of distinguished diocesan leaders from all wings of the church met regularly for seven years – SEVEN years. This was followed by the Reconciliation Commission and its report is now buried somewhere on the Diocese of Virginia’s website. The Reconciliation Commission gave birth to the Bishop’s Special Committee that produced the Protocol for Departing Congregations in 2006.

    All of that came to grounding halt with the installation of Katharine Jefferts Schori and her now confirmed-by-sworn-testimony-in-court talk with Bishop Lee.

    The problem is that the word “mission” does not mean what it should mean. “Reconciliation” does mean what it ought to mean. The Episcopal Church is running like a corporation with franchises and the “mission” is whatever it takes to feed the corporation.

    That is why I believe this is Level #3 of my Five Stages to Decision. I do believe most sincerely that there are those who are called to remain inside the Episcopal Church – but these engagements of perpetuating a very toxic organization is enabling the corporation to grow more and more toxic. Not only is it not right, it won’t work and makes the situation even more toxic.

    Perhaps I’d forgo these staged public relations events and go underground. If the “remnant” really want to make a difference my suggestion would be organize underground and take over the seminaries first – not only the students, but the profs. In 20 years the current leadership will be finished and you and others of your age – if you stay healthy – will be a the pinnacle of your authority as a leader inside TEC.

    Remember how WFB and his conservative movement took over the Republican Party? I was there – it was an amazing feat. I still remember the arrogant disparaging remarks that used to be made about Ronald Reagan – and by Republicans no less. The WFB crowd were “radical” – they were “extremists” – they were “fanatical” – and they took over the RNC. What happened was that the conservatives went around the Party Bosses and straight to the people. In those days they did it through Direct Mail, did not use the party apparatus, but built their own.

    Forget about these House of Bishops and their little parlays (the current orthodox bishops are not able to work together – they are mostly coming to the end of their time and in a year or two will be gone – they are probably waiting for Lambeth). It’s a waste of time. They talk reconciliation, but it’s all a PR effort (I feel sorry for Brian whom I know back in his COA days and we have long memories here in Virginia). We can stay in #3 for a long time, but it’s not real. It’s not the truth.




  6. 6 Rob Eaton+ March 10, 2008 at 6:08 am

    NIcely done, Brad.
    Glad you have been involved if only to be able to explain.

    On the note about using the terms diversity or pluralism, I understand “confessing”‘s hesitancy. My first thought, however, given the context of the HOB, was that the outline term “Pluralism” would catch the ear of everybody in the House and engage them in the topic at hand. The bishops who use the word “pluralism” the way both “confessing” and I (and Brad, I think) object, will be on the other hand wary of Brian being labeled a “conservative”, or “evangelical” or “renewal” priest. Perhaps the use of the term “pluralism” was enough to at least get everyone on board so Brian could get to the money question at the end of his presentation before small groups:

    “To which groups do I feel hostility, and how have I given and received offense?”

    Certainly, there is no guarantee to repentance or reconciliation because this question is asked. Who knows which bishops will answer with all transparency – they don’t hardly trust each other. But if the rest of Brian’s presentation can present the very transparency of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit can work through that presentation to touch people’s hearts(I know those are big “ifs”, but then God has had the same struggle with each of US), then the God result would be that the term pluralism takes a back seat, and Jesus is set as the seal on each of their hearts.

  7. 7 robroy March 10, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword…a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.

    What is the effect of reconciliation? Good intentions by Brian Cox are irrelevant. Will it lead to repentance of the leadership of 815? Or is he simply being used by 815 to stall while the David Booth Beers and his team prepare their briefs for the legal onslaught. (Now, there is reconciliation.)

  8. 8 NancyNH March 10, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    I’ve never posted here before but I have to comment on the Brien Cox story.

    Even assuming all good intentions, “forgiveness” must include dropping all the lawsuits. As someone who came to Christ 11 years ago – through one of the four Southern California churches being sued by TEC for their property – I must question how Brien Cox can justify talking “reconciliation” with these folks without telling them to drop the lawsuits?????

    Lastly, a few years ago there were five “orthodox” churches in Southern California. The other four are now all out of TEC and stand clearly for Christ. And they are all being sued. Christ the King Santa Barbara is still in the good graces of Schori. Either Brien Cox is fighting a losing battle, or he has indeed fallen victim to the false teachings!

  9. 9 James W. March 10, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    Brad: I am with you as regards Brian Cox’s reconciliation program. However, I think that Brian Cox has made a serious error in judgment by agreeing to be KJS’s stooge in the Diocese of San Joaquin affair. To be effective, a reconciler must be seen to have credibility – if he or she is seen as a tool of one of the party’s in conflict, the credibility is gone.

    Cox may have had a role to play in the DSJ situation, but not in the role he has been given. I am rather surprised that Cox accepted the DSJ assignment. He must realize that he has foreclosed any useful role he might play from here on in of being a credible, objective, neutral reconciliation facilitator in the TEC civil war.

  10. 10 Jill Woodliff March 11, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    Brad said, “Truth has to precede healing in the reconciliation process.”
    I agree. Our problem is that that both parties’ understandings of the truth are contradictory and mutually exclusive. Hence, there is no trust and, short of repentance, there will be no trust.
    Having never attended one of Fr. Cox’s seminars, it is not clear to me how effectively this issue is addressed.

  11. 11 Rob Eaton+ March 11, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    This is off topic, really, so if you want to talk more about it just contact me.
    But there are more reasserter congregations specifically in LA; Christ the King is not the last of them. Not a whole lot, mind you, but still there, nonetheless.

  12. 12 Jill Woodliff March 12, 2008 at 1:37 am

    Prayers for the House of Bishops can be found at Lent & Beyond. Just keep scrolling down.

  13. 13 indyretreats March 15, 2008 at 3:19 am

    i appreciate what you said about kairos prison ministry and i agree about its ecumenical nature and propensity for bridge building…in fact, i just found an awesome video about kairos and posted it to my blog:


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