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By Richard Ring

The Right Reverend Samuel Johnson Howard
Diocese of Florida
325 Market Street
Jacksonville, Florida 32202
Sept. 28, 2005

Dear Bishop Howard,

I have been troubled by the church's position regarding the Gene Robinson affair. Slightly less troubling has been the Diocesan position regarding the same issue. After considering your statements at the latest convention, your reply to the clergy seeking alternative oversight, and visiting the ECUSA internet web site, I am even more troubled.

You said something along the line of, I will not allow the issue to consume my time and if "conservatives" want to leave they can go but I will not follow.

The word conservative appeared in the Florida Times Union and I have no idea if such a word was used by you. Your further comments were more or less saying that you were going to get on with the work of the church with the goal to "bear fruit" as well as other laudable goals.

My trouble stems from some unresolved issues. I view these issues as unresolved though they may be considered resolved by others. If so, they are wrong.

The first issue is whether or not our relationship with ECUSA is morally supportable.

The second issue is whether our monetary support of ECUSA is a de facto acceptance of ECUSA's blatant sinful behavior.

The third issue is whether the diocese is taking any action or making any plan to affect the actions of the next ECUSA convention to undo the wrongful decisions of the last convention.

The fourth issue is whether loving my neighbor and accepting them means acceptance of their behavior in the official capacity of the church.

The fifth issue is your response to clergy seeking alternative oversight.

To me, the stakes are high and knowing God's will is difficult. Balancing love of neighbor against willing participation in sinful behavior is stressful.

After the last general convention's excesses, I had to consider whether or not the Episcopal Church had decided a new reality and a new morality that put me and most other Christians at odds with it. My conclusion was that it had.

My choices were to accept this sinful condition or move on to some other expression of the Body of Christ. The early information available to me from you encouraged me to wait and see what action would be taken.

Part of the difficulty is the utter lack of information or dialogue concerning the subject. I have no idea what the diocese is doing or planning. Judging from your remarks as reported by the Florida Times Union, we are doing and planning very little on the subject.

In your response to the Lambeth Commission dated November 18, 2004, you reminded us that "...I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."

Christ had to associate with sinners and through his example, we are compelled to do so. Since we are all sinners I suppose we must make choices. How else can we accomplish the Great Commission? Does association with those advocating openness to sinful behavior in the church mean we are under some obligation to allow them to alter our canons and change our policies? Must we then adhere to their heresy?

Are we to follow them as leaders, as Pharaoh's army followed his orders into the Red Sea? Can I not love a person, but deny him bad behavior in church? What behavior in church is not acceptable and why? Possibly, maintaining moral standards is unacceptable behavior.

You also said in that response that "I am constantly reminded that the correctness of a position falls on deaf - and often uninterested - ears of those with whom we have no relationship. To put it more bluntly, it's hard to tell someone why they are wrong when we refuse to even be in the same room with them." The emphasis is in the document.

You seem to have delivered the message that if I disagree with you about how important this issue is I can leave because you are not going to hear it. Your current position seems to be that you do not want to continue this dialogue and "conservatives" may leave with your blessing.

It is either your way or the highway. Your written statement about deaf ears seems to favor your relationship of reconciliation of the hijackers of the church while your quoted statement offers no feeling of remorse whatever for ending your relationship with those of us who object.

You ended your response to Lambeth with "Let us not only choose to walk together, but remain in the climb together, firmly tethered to one another in mutual support, admonition and exhortation." I agree that we are all tethered in a way.

So our leadership in ECUSA is tethered to us or it is not. If not, then it does not matter what they do, as long as our diocesan leadership is sound. In that case there are many Episcopalians to whom we are not tethered.

If we are, then their false steps endanger everyone. Are we, even though obliged to follow their folly, not to make mention of it? The church has diverged from conventional Anglican wisdom and our considered response as of this recent convention is to suppress the dissenters, who call for stepping on solid ground.

What do you mean by "admonition" since you will neither issue it nor receive it?

I am reminded of the old admonition of not following the sheep over the cliff.

Is our relationship with ECUSA morally supportable? It would be if the Diocese were maintaining communion without providing support. That communion should consist in part, of clearly denouncing ECUSA's heretical behavior.

We seem to be pretending that we have no responsibility to correct the behavior of the convention other than to say we disagree. Some in the church are equating adherence to Anglican doctrine with homophobia and the objection to practicing homosexual priests and bishops as not loving them.

I find this very offensive. Our leaders seem to be trying to avoid the derision of the supporters of Gene Robinson more than to uphold the age old teachings of morality. I have yet to hear a priest or bishop in this diocese actually say the Right Reverend Robinson's behavior is sinful.

Is our monetary support of ECUSA a de facto acceptance of ECUSA's blatant sinful behavior? I don't know since I am not sure what our support is. If we are sending money to support ECUSA operations or salaries or anything other than charities, I think it is.

If that is so, my support must immediately stop and my tithing must find its way to more deserving outlets.

Is the diocese taking any action or making any plan to affect the actions of the next ECUSA convention to undo the wrongful decisions of the last convention? I see no evidence that it is. I concede that there may be plans of which I am not aware. If the diocese has such plans, I am greatly encouraged. If it does not, I must conclude that my talents and effort would be best employed where some "fruit" may come of them.

Does loving my neighbor and accepting them mean acceptance of their behavior in the official capacity of the church? Your statements do not seem to address this issue. You do make it clear what your actions will be concerning the ordination and licensing of priests.

That is good. You also seem to be suggesting that their behavior as church officials is more acceptable than the behavior of "conservatives" in this diocese. You are not willing to depart from those leading us in the wrong path but are willing to part with me.

I think it is permissible to love a person while trying to correct their behavior. We do it all the time with children. Where adults are involved, it has long been the teaching of the church that even though we love each other, we do not permit those living in adultery to hold office in the parish.

Under the current de facto teaching, once elected, we have to accept their adultery, since we are all sinners. To answer my own question, loving my neighbor does not mean I am obliged to accept their behavior for reasons such as, it makes me judgmental or because I too am a sinner.

Your response to the clergy seeking alternative oversight was very thorough.

It was more legalistic than ministerial. You also posed a question as to whether these priests considered the issue one affecting salvation. That question reveals much that is wrong in the Episcopal Church. I only wish your public statements concerning the Gene Robinson affair had been made with such indignation and fortitude.

You have no difficulty at all reciting the process prescribed by Christ to resolve disagreements when you are dealing with orthodox adherents but no stomach for facing the heretics with anything but acceptance.

It appears your wrath is reserved only for those who oppose the church's indulgences. You have chosen your friends and they are not among the orthodox. The Rock of Ages has become the Mush of Lately. I will bet that when you survey the fruits of your labor that there are some apples you will choose not to count.

I have some research to do and some decisions to make. The degree to which this necessity is repugnant to me cannot be overstated. My actions will have a ripple effect on my entire family. They are all Episcopalians because I am.

I suspect my wife will follow me out as she followed me in. I suspect that my children's relationship to St. James and the Episcopal Church will not continue. I do not relish making decisions that these wonderful people might be compelled to follow owing to the very personal nature of all our relationships to the church and to God.

I have no desire or right to influence them, but I think they will be influenced with or without my intention to do so. If I consider myself out of step with prevailing Episcopal thought and leadership, where will I turn? If the diocesan leadership will hear no more of the elephant in the living room, to whom will I speak? After 39 years in this parish, I am told by you, shut up or good riddance!

For now, I have decided only to make a decision. That will certainly come before Christmas and maybe before Thanksgiving Day. I have some options that are not entirely satisfactory but I suppose that if Christ can struggle with his cup, I can struggle with my lesser cup.

Sincerely Yours,

Richard Ring

Former Senior Warden
Former Region Representative
Former Diocesan Council Representative

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