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FOX'S FAREWELL TO CHANE: "You are not a bishop...in sacramental terms"

FOX'S FAREWELL TO CHANE: "You are not a bishop...in sacramental terms."

Farewell Letter to John Chane, Bishop of Washington, DC

by Earle Fox

Background: I first contacted Chane a couple of years ago after he had replaced Jane Dixon who was the pro tem between bishops. Dixon had persecuted Christ Church, Accokeek, MD, because she did not want Fr. Sam Edwards there as priest. When Chane arrived, he reversed Dixon's attitude, and invited Christ Church back into the diocese to present its conservative case.

I was living in Alexandria, Virginia, but canonically resident in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. I applied for a license to officiate in DC. Because I could not say that I was in communion with Chane, he declined to give me a license (I would have done the same under reversed circumstances). We had two friendly conversations on the matter. In effect, I was saying that Chane was not a bishop in terms of the spiritual and sacramental life of the Church, he was only an officer in a corporation.

When I asked what I would be allowed then to do in the diocese, he replied that I was allowed to do anything that layman could do. I thus assisted at St. Luke's in Bladensburg, MD, for a couple of years, until my move to California recently came up.

As indicated below, my primary disappointment was not the pseudo-liberals, but the local (and national) pseudo-conservative leadership who were not successfully conserving anything, and which would not accept offers to be trained as to how to take the offensive in the sexuality wars. So they were, and remain, a paper tiger.

The principle of Godly warfare is that we are free to criticize behavior, but not persons. We are to critique behavior, and at the same time love persons at any cost to ourselves. Like Jesus loved His disciples. We can go for the jugular vein of behavior and of arguments, just a a surgeon lovingly goes for the cancer which is killing his patient.

I publish this letter to clarify my relation with the Diocese of Washington, with Bishop Chane, and my relation to "liberals" and "conservatives". I had written a somewhat similar letter to Jane Dixon, with a similar request for a meeting, which likewise did not materialize. One needs to make the offer, but if it does not happen, one may need to make a public statement nevertheless. One more chapter in the current spiritual warfare. I hope it will help the reader come to some sense about how to combine radical honesty with radical love and compassion. E. Fox

Dear Bishop Chane,

Thank you for copying to me your response to Bishop Scriven in Pittsburgh concerning my celebrating communion at the Companions of St. Peter gathering on Sundays at the Swedenborgian church on 16th Street.

As Bishop Scriven has noted, I am operating under the 60 day period on which a visiting priest can engage in such activities. As I am moving to California about the middle of January, I expect to be gone by the time the 60 days are up.

This, however, is a good time to offer some reflections on other aspects of our relationship.

As I was unable to consider myself in communion with you, you were unable to grant me a license to officiate in the diocese, a view which I understood. That, however, did not change my view that your positions on sexuality issues and on the nature of Christian truth, perhaps truth at all, made a relationship of sacramental communion impossible.

A couple of years ago, I sent an email abroad in which I doubted that either Frank Griswold or Jane Dixon were Christians, let alone bishops. I received a sharp reply from Bishop Lee in Virginia that I should not say such things. I wrote a long reply to Bishop Lee explaining why I had said such things (see attachment).

In short, anyone who believes that truth is relative is logically incapable of believing like a Christian, and thus rules himself out as a Christian leader. And Lee's notion that such things should not be said in effect cut off the very discussion which is so badly needed, namely, on the nature of truth, and on the boundaries of who can be judged to be a Christian. We are forced to make such judgements, like it or not, every time we baptize, confirm, or ordain a person.

As we generally acknowledge by the notion of "impaired" communion, there are levels of communion. Not all communions are created equal.

As I understand the matter, the first and fundamental level of communion begins with an agreement on both sides to a discussion to be aiming at the truth of the matter. Without that commitment, discussion devolves into manipulation, either emotional, intellectual, or, eventually, by force of arms. But with that commitment, we can engage on a search for the common ground of reality in which we all live.

A "Jeffersonian" liberal is one who holds to that principle. I count myself a Jeffersonian liberal, believing that the only way to truth is to keep a candid and mutually respectful dialogue going on all issues. That is the principle which is enshrined in our Constitution with respect to discussion on the making of law. Every view is welcome into the discussion, not because every view is right, but rather to test in public debate which view is right, the public being the ultimate judge, humanly speaking.

With that commitment in place, there can be a kind of communion. It is the kind of communion into which God invites us at the beginning of our relationship with Him, as in, "Come, let us reason together..." Revelation comes out of putting that process to work between ourselves and God. Indeed, that is the only helpful process of revelation between any two persons. On this view, truth is the prior foundation for unity.

There is another kind of discussion or dialogue, called by some, "dialogue to consensus", in which the aim is not getting at the truth (there being no objective truth, it is thought), but rather at getting "consensus". Since there is no aim at truth, the goal is feeling-oriented, getting everyone to feel good about being together. The consensus is not factual, propositional, or credal, it is emotional. On this view, unity is more important than truth, which is relative and therefore marginal.

This latter view, which is rampant today, is not consistent with the Biblical viewpoint about truth, morality, or theology. That is why I made my remarks about Griswold and Dixon, and why I cannot consider myself in communion with you.

I recently asked your communications officer about the possibility of an interview with you on homosexuality, with the intent of publishing the interview on my website. He said that he did not think you would agree, but then I never heard from him about the matter. So I am assuming that you did in fact not agree to such an event. The message, it might be taken, is that you do not wish to have the necessary discussion on homosexual behavior.

My appearance at the Gene Robinson consecration scandalized many people because I listed the behaviors typical of the homosexual lifestyle. We are told by homosexual supporters that love is the issue. That is not the case. No Christian I have ever talked with thought that love was not a good idea. Love is not contested between those who support vs. reject homosexual behavior. The issue is behavior. Behavior is what homosexual supporters are asking the public to approve, but liberals have successfully diverted that discussion from public view. The public is being asked to buy a pig in a poke.

I had been trying since 1988 at the Detroit General Convention to get the assembled bishops, priests, and lay folk to deal with the real issue. I attended all but the last two conventions since then, offering the relevant information to every person voting at the 1994 convention. Not once did the facts of the matter ever get to the floor in a manner so as to produce light on the subject.

That, of course, was the failure of the so-called conservative leadership, who, for reasons of their own, would not force that discussion into the light. The conservative leadership has been too prudish, timid, or ignorant of the facts, and the so-called liberals cannot afford any such discussion. They know perfectly well that homosexual behavior would never pass muster with the public, and they have been counting on the ineptness of conservatives to stay, in effect, out of the fight. Barking and growling, but never biting -- so to speak.

There has yet to be a sustained public discussion, candid and mutually respectful, on that issue. Sadly, there are not (yet) many leaders of any stripe who will insist on that openness. It will happen, it is just a matter of time. When homosexual supporters find that every time they get up to defend homosexuality as a lifestyle, that they will have to defend homosexual behavior publicly (rather than "love"), it will, I think, be all over (see attachment). I could be wrong, it could go the other way. But I think we need to find out.

So pseudo-conservatives (who are incapable of conserving anything) and pseudo-liberals (who do not liberate with the only thing that liberates - truth) are waging a silly war with no hope of resolution. On the other hand, honest liberals and conservatives are part of the same covenant family because they both seek the truth of a matter, and are willing to say, "If I am wrong, I want to know".

The covenant to truth-seeking is thus the way of the cross for the intellect. We give up our right to be right, and let the truth and the Lord of truth speak for themselves. We are willing to find out that we might be wrong. Ironically, that is the only way to find out that we are right. If we will not allow the risk of being found wrong, we will never find the stability of being right, and so the discussion will always waffle back and forth, defensively and fruitlessly -- as we see across Western civilization today.

I disagree profoundly with your positions on a number of issues. But I am very grateful for your inviting Christ Church, Accokeek, back into the diocese, and for the two mutually respectful conversations we had about my being licensed. It may be that our paths will cross again.

Yours truly,

Earle Fox D. Phil (Oxon)

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