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Bad Doctrine Turned Episcopal Church Into a Political Circus - by Bishop Kelshaw

RIO GRANDE BISHOP: Bad doctrine turned Episcopal Church into a political circus

Bishop Terence Kelshaw's message to the Diocese of the Rio Grande

Plano is passed! The gathering of a group of over 150 clergy and lay people of the Episcopal Church met in Plano, Texas, in January 2004 to formulate details of a Network of individuals, parishes, and dioceses in response to an idea from the Archbishop of Canterbury that such a network be established as a way of expressing a way forward for those who share a common unity which is seen to be at variance from where the Episcopal Church is at present.

It is not a group dedicated to break away from the Episcopal Church, as some have portrayed it, and neither is it an attempt to take the Diocese out of the Episcopal Church, as has also been charged. It is an attempt to remain within the Episcopal Church and make a voice heard which is largely at variance with decisions made at the last General Convention in August 2003.

So, the response might be "Why not live with the decision of the majority?" Because the majority is not always right, and in matters of faith and doctrine, the majority is not the arbiter. We have differences about the way we view things, certainly -- and there are different appreciations of the role of Scripture in discussions -- but in matter of faith and doctrine, let us always have in mind that the majority vote is not the end of the story and that othe rs have a position which needs expression also -- especially when that expression is contrary to the vote.

Thirteen million Anglicans around the Communion signed their disapproval of the actions at the last General Convention which led to the consent of Consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire, a man living in a sexual relationship other than in marriage and also the recognition of local option for the blessing of same-sex relationships.

In response to that the Archbishop of Canterbury, meeting with a team of bishops from the United States, suggested the idea of a network. Now I realize this debate is all over the country and that the politicians are presently making hay with it all (not to mention the media and the press), but there are those in the church who are not so easily convinced, and they have been told in no uncertain terms by Bishop Barbara Harris and others to "leave the church."

Well, in the words of Bishop John McNaughton (retired bishop of West Texas), we are not going to leave the Episcopal Church, and we are not going anywhere other than to make our congregation the best it can possibly be for the proclamation of the Scripture and for newness of life in Jesus Christ. And that seems to some to be a crime!

The next objection might be that Doctrine divides! To which I respond it is bad doctrine which divides, and that it what we are seeing, surely. It has been bad doctrine which for many years has divided our church and made us weak and often irrelevant. It is bad doctrine that has turned us into a caricature of the political circus which has captured our television networks from Iowa and New Hampshire and will soon impact us in New Mexico.

It is bad doctrine which hinders our working together and drives our constant temptation to maintain our churches rather than get deeply into mission of the gospel. It is bad doctrine that leads so many Episcopalians to work within their churches as if the churches were local political offices rather than Christian centers for mission and ministry.

And, finally, as we have seen in our own diocese, the next objection is the bishop polarizes us. Let it be said not only of this bishop but of many others in the Church that this is a common complaint! The Standing Committee at its recent meeting voted unanimously to be joined with the Network of parishes and dioceses, because it sees this as a way forward to work within the Episcopal Church and also to work with the wider church for a way forward to continue in ministry and membership.

Now I know some will say, "I don't want to be high jacked by the Network!" (as the Via Media contact in the Diocese of Fort Worth has said of the situation there) so don't worry, you are not being high jacked. If you want to be a part of the Network you can sign on, and so can your parish. If you don't want to be part of the Network then don't sign on.

The Standing Committee has signed on and will convey to the Diocese such information or actions as are deemed necessary. They will also be sending out information concerning the Bishop Coadjutor Search and the steps they propose to follow so that everyone has a chance to be involved and make his/her voice heard. Because there are already dissident voices making people very nervous, it is time for us to be daily in prayer for this search and election process and to cease second guessing what is happening or what will happen. These are rumors and often lies which do no one any good.

What is the Network? It is a group of individuals and parishes who will seek to provide encouragement and ministry in places where there is a punitive culture, and it is also a group of people who will try to work with the Archbishop of Canterbury and also with our own Presiding Bishop to find ways forward through the disagreements and pain which currently beset us. Let us pray for peace rather than assume peace would come if we would all go away! Let us pray for a unity in which the Gospel is not compromised and in which churches can grow and flourish.

+Terence Kelshaw
Bishop of the Rio Grande
From the Diocesan newsletter "Together," February 2004

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