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INDIANAPOLIS, IN: A stampede for revolutionary change?

INDIANAPOLIS, IN: A stampede for revolutionary change?

Fr. Thomas C. Jackson
July 6, 2012

They spoke in apocalyptic terms of the need for revolutionary change saying "we have hit the iceberg ...and the ship is sinking." They spoke of a "grassroots" demand for urgent change "before it is too late." They called for inclusion of those at the margin yet their supporters did not include significant representation from the young or people of color or people who live in "blue states" or LGBT people. And for all the testimony, few spoke of the specific changes they desire.

Instead of specific we heard calls for a "flattening of the organization." How the voices of lay people, clergy and bishops are to be included let alone balanced went unsaid.

Instead of suggesting what is holding people back, we heard the same buzzwords over and over again: everything needs to be on the table, the sacred cows must be killed, death precedes resurrection, and the church must be nimble, creative, and effective. How the current structure prevents either a parish or diocese from being creative or nimble or effective was not made clear.

Some said they want to spend less money on governing the church so they can spend it at the parish level. Currently dioceses are asked to give around 20% of their budget to the national church. Not all dioceses pay this percentage: some can't afford to and some just don't want to so they don't. There doesn't seem to be any penalty for not paying when you can afford to - we are still much to Anglican to be that direct about money.

If this call for revolutionary change is really about money - about spending less on the national church - then let's be honest enough to day so. We don't need a Special Commission or Special Convention to revise the budget.

If this call for radical change is an effort to end our church's progressive efforts to include all of the baptized in all of our sacraments let's be honest enough to say so. Many of the dioceses represented in the hearing were "red states," states where LGBT inclusion has not traditionally been a priority. Not a single LGBT leader - or leader of people of color or young Episcopalians - spoke in support of this call for radical change.

To be fair many speakers emphasized the need to include young people and "those on the margins" in the "Special Commission" that is to revise everything. But those words will ring hollow until these speakers make their calls for inclusion real through action.

Many of the speakers echoed the theme of our Presiding Bishop's opening address: a theme of accepting death to open the path of resurrection, of allowing things to be broken so they can be renewed. While that seems an accurate reflection of the budget process so far, she has not made clear what parts of the church will have the honor of being the first to gain the opportunity of resurrection. Not a single speaker reflected the concerns of our President of the House of Deputies. That's disconcerting if you believe lay and clerical deputies should have a voice alongside out bishops in governing this church.

At stake is a way of governing our church that allows lay people and clergy to acts as equals to our bishops in making decisions. Our concept of sharing power between lay, clergy and bishops is not the way much of the Anglican Communion is governed. Our General Convention is far more democratic than church councils in other nations. If we are to sacrifice the General Convention as a "sacred cow," we'd best have a much better way of making decisions than has been suggested to date.

Yes the General Convention is unwieldy and expensive and time consuming and exhausting. It is also inclusive, democratic, and the best way we know to allow all of the church to have a meaningful say in church decisions. It would be must less expensive to let the Bishops decide everything. We would save even more money if we had the Presiding Bishop make all the decisions. But that is not how a church founded on the principles of the American Revolution works.

If you think the General Convention is broken, look at the way our young people led the House of Deputies to call for more funds for youth programs. They spoke with eloquence and focus; they touched the hearts and moved the minds of our Deputies. Or talk to someone who heard trans people testify yesterday. The forum that makes this kind of transformational change possible is by definition not a sacred cow: it is simply sacred.

Radical change is a hallmark of our time. Tea Party activists promised massive change but delivered massive gridlock and are now looking more and more like typical politicians. Corporate leaders use many of the same words heard at the hearing to justify restructuring schemes that move jobs out of America and overseas. But we can't outsource our decision making to another nation.

Last night I found myself agreeing with a speaker from the Diocese of Albany - a first - when he warned that structural change is not the answer to lagging attendance or falling revenue. The change we need will come from the hearts and minds of our people as they live out the Gospel; it will flow from their lives into their community. This is change we can believe in, real grassroots change that can spread across all of the church. It does not appear to require changes in how we govern our church as much as it emerges from people being creative and thoughtful and innovative.

Last night I heard some crafty church politicians trying to manipulate a new movement to roll back changes they found unacceptable. That 's what I hear when a bishop of our church complains that General Convention is too stressful and divisive before suggesting we eschew all controversy so we can have more of a pep rally. The Jesus I follow leads me into uncomfortable situations that cause stress: into the hospital room of a dying patient or the streets of the Castro with people who carry unhealed wounds from "food Christians" who "hate the sin but love the sinner."

Last night I also heard some passionate calls for change, for real change, for change that would reshape our church to better meet our mission. I'd love to hear more from them: to understand what changes they need to grow a church that is creative and innovative and vibrant in their committee and their life. I'm willing to make sacrifices to move the church ahead so long as this movement is not hijacked to dilute the voice of our lay and clerical leaders or to reverse our progress on making LGBT people full members in the Body of Christ which is the Church.

I also apologize if I have misread the intention of any or all of the speakers. Each of you had only two minutes to speak on an issue that is clearly close to your hearts. I'm sorry if I didn't hear you clearly or misunderstood your purpose. As the hearing came to a close, a speaker expressed surprise at the near unanimity of those who had testified. Part of my purpose as I write late into the morning is to be clear that much of the church is not yet in agreement: they did not speak because they did not know what you intend (that is also why there were so many empty chairs in the room).

Unilaterally steamrolling a call for radical change through this committee or convention - change which is so radical it can only be created by a special commission or a special convention - may be profoundly counterproductive. It may also be as divisive as the ordination of women or election of a gay bishop. If the consensus for radical change is as widespread as some suggest, then this would be the time to start including the rest of us in your call for revolution.


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