From Today’s Issue: General Convention Needs Genuine Diversity

By the Very Rev. Ian Markham, Dean, Virginia Theological Seminary

The theme of inclusivity has dominated many of the recent General Conventions. Grounded in a sensitive reading of Scripture, the Episcopal Church has advocated the inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians at every level of our shared life. The vision has been a church for all people. It has been a powerful vision. We are the Church that refuses to exclude.

Yet the powerful vision is disappearing. There are those who are using the language of inclusion to justify exclusion. There are voices that insist that anyone who has the temerity to believe in traditional marriage, confined to man and woman, should not be allowed in the Episcopal Church; there are voices that want to advocate an unthinking vision of Eucharistic hospitality, which would result in the madness of inviting a Muslim who does not even believe that Jesus died on the cross to a table that remembers our Lord’s death; there are voices that want to cut ties to the Anglican Communion family because it had a problem with our progressive stance; there are plenty of voices who want to exclude in the name of inclusion.

Living with disagreement is tricky. The desire to make the Church pure is so strong. We are so sure we are right that we don’t welcome conservatives. We are so sure that our progressive stance will be vindicated that we insist that those who want to “move less quickly” are ignorant appeasers.

Let us try to recover our commitment to genuine inclusivity. Let us continue to welcome our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as an intrinsic part of the Church; but let us also extend a warm and affirming welcome to our conservative brothers and sisters. Let us try something new: Let us try to resist the tendency for purity and separation and instead live in a place that is more ragged and interesting.

Conservatives are important for two reasons. The first is that we need their voices. Conservatives keep asking the very basic question: Are we sure this is of God? A church is neither the “United Way at Prayer,” nor a social pressure group. Instead the Church is the Body of Christ and therefore the vehicle of God’s will in the world.

Everything we do should be tested by Scripture. We need to have our biblical reasons for the positions we take. If we lose this perspective, then we are just another dying cult that invites individuals to create whatever faith suits them.

The second reason is that there are many hurting conservatives who are feeling that this Church is not welcoming. Numerically the majority of the Episcopal Church is in the South. Many of the larger churches are evangelical. We need these conservative congregations and conservative dioceses. South Carolina is the only diocese that is growing: we need South Carolina to stay in.

I know it is easier to be small and pure; but it is much more exciting to be large and genuinely diverse. Let us hope we opt for the exciting route rather than the exclusive route.

21 thoughts on “From Today’s Issue: General Convention Needs Genuine Diversity

  1. Thanks Dean Markham for this. There are more conservatives in the Episcopal Church than most people think. I am very proud to be one of those conservatives.

  2. “South Carolina is the only diocese that is growing” is a factually inaccurate statement. The Diocese of New Hampshire (as of the most recent available numbers) is also growing.

    Other than that, I heartily agree with the overall point!

  3. As a gay Episcopalian I heartily agree with your point. I think that if we as a church move too far away from our roots then we will become lost and turn into a cult with no direction. While I might not agree with everything my conservative brothers and sisters in Christ hold to be true and Bucolically correct that does not mean that I want to remove them from my life. I have struggled with family and friends over our divergent beliefs and we have managed to come to understanding. Sometimes that understanding is that we will withhold discussing some points until we have prayed and worked through them. If I can do this with family and friends then I am sure that we, as a Christ-centered church, can live in peace and live with our conservative and liberal brothers and sisters.

    • Beautifully put and a timely reminder that inclusion means all of the members of the Body.

  4. I ask what is “genuinely diverse?” Is “diversity” truly a fact, a truth, or a reality?” Can reality, truth, fact always be the most important aspect especially when we realize that truth, fact, and reality reflect one’s own personal or collective perspective or interpretation?

    The larger question is perhaps, why is the church experiencing declines in numbers, in meaning, and in relevancy? One need not look that far, but it will require the “church” to strip itself from the hierarchy of Jacobs ladder, hypocrisy, and fear. Why is the church seen as less important, less meaningful, and less relevant in today’s world. The church will argue that people need us more than ever….ruminating the same story and the same stories. No, change will require traveling through the church’s dark night of the soul. Letting go of letting go…..surrendering, as Christ did….completely and fully. But it can’t because it feels it will lose its identity. Yet what the church fails to see is that is will gain it.

    “Everything we do should be tested by Scripture. We need to have our biblical reasons for the positions we take.” This is always grounds for disagreement. When one travels into the depths of scripture, there is only one truth. The interpretation does not go deep enough, it fails to live in the paradox and enter into the mystical and the spiritual. The church is stuck in telling the same meaningless story. The word is grasping higher levels of consciousness and spirituality, yet the church remains stuck in its insistence, its rigidity, and its fears. Perhaps when the interpretation of scripture moves away from fact, truth, and reality, then we will experience a deeper meaning and experience that awakens us to the relationship of the one divine common ground, where there is no diversity, only nothingness and sameness. Placing identities (conservative, liberals, faithful, gay, straight, traditional, etc.) only separates us and takes us out of the ultimate relation. Trust, fact, reality lie upon blessing centered perspective, where blessing means the gift that all creation is. And it is the “is” that respects all since all emanate from the same creator, it does not determine differences, it just honors them.

    The church is at a critcal point in its history. Will it grasp it? I hope so.

  5. Mr.Isherwood, you and the dean are talking two different points. You seem to be speaking about an uninherent sameness in the fundamental essence of people, and the dean is speaking about an inherent difference of opinions and perspectives of people in a specific community. To say that scripture should be essentially disregarded, you seem to make the claim that there is a “read between the lines” sort of truth that can lead to very vague premises on which to base creeds, is probably why you have your point of view. So scripture is informing your opinion, but there are also folk who say “this is the word right here” and they might have a more conservative approach. But our eyes all see different things, and your statement does not seem to address the specific issue of how one body can see with many eyes.
    Because right now, it’s a good time to be a progressive member of the church because that’s the way many of the changes are moving, but when we say “all are welcome” and then the conservative wife of an episcopal youth pastor feels like she is shunned for her beliefs from her husbands church community, even though she wants to be a part of it, we have serious hypocrisy that becomes very high minded in a way that forgets about the human beings that comprise our community.
    As far as the dean’s message, I agree whole heartedly. We as a community need to know we are, and there are a multitude of voices (traditional, progressive, black, white, Asian) that need to ground us in where we’ve come from and that need to ask “who are we? where are we growing/going? why?”

    • Mr. West, are the Dean and I truly talking different points or just different depths to the same point and/or dimension? Your use of the phrase “uninherent sameness” perhaps reflects your perspective that what I am saying and what the Dean is saying are so different because it is our inherent sameness that is of primary importance, accounting for 99.9% of our shared identity. We all have within the divine spirit/energy/consciousness that created the whole of the universe. These operate along the vertical dimension. Held opinions, beliefs, dogma, and doctrine will generally operate along the horizontal dimension, emanating from the egoic operating system. The inherent sameness operates from the vertical dimension, the integration of the heart and the mind from where we, with boundless compassion, empathy, and love, become the creators of God, through our experience and expression. Honoring, loving, and understanding of all that was ever created.

      When the Dean is speaking of “inherent differences” he is merely speaking of the clothes that we wear, the outward belief structures, which operate from the horizontal dimension, the place of ego, the place of needing to be right, the place where judgment, fear, and the hypocrisy, that you and I both speak of, reside. Yes, our human eyes all see things differently, but if we can move below that, deeper into our sameness, we then see ourselves as the one body seeing the world and the universe and its creation with the sameness of those eyes, the eyes of God. This is a new way of “seeing.” This, I believe is what Jesus was trying to show the church leaders of his time, and they failed see it. They held onto their beliefs tightly, fearfully, and powerfully.

      He did not come to create a new religion, he came to show us how to but on the mind of Christ, to see with the eyes of God, to open our eyes to see the one divine common ground, The eyes that you refer to, I believe, operate along the horizontal dimension.

      The church over the years has been one dimensional, ignoring the mystical, paradoxical, and spiritual authority of all persons. This, I believe results from the fall/redemption and original sin theology, which misses some very important realizations as to our own inner power and authority. Mainly, that salvation cannot come from what we believe, or from outside of us, but how we see, how we see ourselves and each other, and the universe. Yes, my “perspective” comes from scripture and some vague premise. It is within that vague premise where the one universal truth lies. Jesus tried, and is still trying, to show us the way, not through creeds, beliefs, rigidity, fear, power, attachment, or control, but through a surrendering, a new mind, and new eyes, in which to participate and relate to this world. So perhaps, the goal is to become the one body with the one set of eyes! Not through welcoming differences but by welcoming our inherent sameness. This will require moving deeper beyond the egoic operating system of interpretation to the depth of Christ’s teachings, examples, and modeling.

  6. I offer this from Augustine of Hippo: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials (adiaphora), charity; and in all things, love.” Perhaps it would be helpful for us to ask what are essential to being a follower of Christ? Jesus says, “Hear O Israel..and you will love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might…and love your neighbor as yourself.” He goes on to say, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Now I ask, using those measures of Christ likeness, how are we doing so far and how much better shall we be if we use these measures when dealing with Other? Thoughts?

    • hear hear. I find it most challenging to love my neighbor as myself and that is my task, my direction.

  7. And perhaps Augustine’s quote ought to be emblazoned on tee shirts and buttons to be worn during the rest of GC77?

  8. while i certainly agree with you in spirit i take issue with the following statement:

    “There are voices that insist that anyone who has the temerity to believe in traditional marriage, confined to man and woman, should not be allowed in the Episcopal Church”

    this has been stated over and over again by those opposed to inclusivity over the decades, beginning with women’s ordination. yet i have never seen anything reach the floor of GC with that stated intent.

    these people act persecuted when no one is persecuting them. it’s in their own perceptions of GC and the TEC at large.

  9. I’m sorry but this piece was, disappointing to say the least. As a conservative Episcopalian I’m actually rather offended by it. First, on a purely biblical and doctrinal point of of view, to make a statement like, ‘Let us try to resist the tendency for purity and separation and instead live in a place that is more ragged and interesting’, flies against the nature of what the Church is. The Church is the pure bride of Christ, and that’s not something we simply give up in the name of being more inclusive. To have a pure church doctrinally and theologically does not mean it has to be a church that is utterly separate from the world, or one that does not seek to include all Christians. I most heartily agree that we should include gays and lesbians in the life of the Church, they are just as much a part of God’s creation as non-gays, but to do so by ignoring or doing away with thousands of years of teaching and tradition in the name of diversity and ‘progress’, is wholly unfair to the way the Church operates. Plus, for TEC to continue on its path blazing forward into realms and advocating teachings and doctrines that the rest of the Church does not, including denominations outside and conservatives inside, does not extend a ‘warm and affirming welcome’, it only says to conservatives that this is what we ‘progressive’ Christians believe, we’re rolling with it and pushing it through, and you can jump on or not – but either way, have a scone at coffee hour. If you were truly extending a warm and affirming welcome then the church would fully affirm the more conservative understandings and say fine, we won’t push through these new doctrines until there is full consensus – since we fully know that if we don’t wait until consensus it will lead to schism (though I guess as Protestants we’re so numbed to schisms in the church that we just push right through them.) This ties into my second issue, which is his statement at the end about ‘needing’ the church in the South, to which I would respond, to what end? You’re clearly not taking their doctrinal concerns to heart as you’re utterly overlooking their objections and pushing through more ‘progressive’ doctrines anyway, so it seems as though TEC only really ‘needs’ the church in the South because it is the only sector of the church that’s growing, and to lose such an invaluable source of revenue and membership would be a crippling blow. I’m sorry, but between the pushing through of doctrines over the objections of more conservative church members, and the lawsuits over those conservative parishes that leave just so that TEC can hang onto the property that they seem to value more than keeping good terms with their departing brothers, it’s clear there is no ‘warm and affirming’ welcome for conservatives anymore. This piece illustrates another fine calculation by TEC leaders to try and retain as many members as they can as the church falls into schism.

  10. Pingback: Justice, Comfort, and Inclusion: Responding to Ian Markham | The Pious Wench

  11. Thank you for your honesty and integrity, Nicholas. Let me offer a few thoughts in response to your comments.

    You note…”on a purely biblical and doctrinal point of of view… ‘Let us try to resist the tendency for purity and separation … flies against the nature of what the Church is.” So I ask, what is the Church, but the body of Christ in the world? The pure bride of Christ? Yes, I have heard the Church so called but also Christ’s very human eyes, mouth, hands, and feet. The bridegroom is yet to return and there is work to be done before his return – Martha sort of work which is sweaty, hard, not always appreciated outwardly but essential to the making of home and family, true? A child bride’s world is not a grown married woman’s world yet it is the latter role we are called to play as we await the Groom’s return.

    You go on to say, “To have a pure church doctrinally and theologically does not mean it has to be a church that is utterly separate from the world, or one that does not seek to include all Christians.” Indeed? I was not aware that purity was Our Lord’s prime concern – He whose disciples did not ritually wash before eating. I submit that purity is not the Church’s focus – if that is your focus then by all means become a Jew and legitimately take on meticulous observance of the mitzvot (commandments) out of love for God: this would be an honorable and worthy path. Not a Christian path particularly.

    You continue: “I most heartily agree that we should include …. but to do so by ignoring or doing away with thousands of years of teaching and tradition in the name of diversity and ‘progress’, is wholly unfair to the way the Church operates.” I concur, it is not how the Church has chosen to proceed over the years, but I ask, at what point should the inertia of tradition and status quo teaching be overcome by the needs of living folk who are disadvantaged by the Church’s traditions?

    We forget that Francis of Assisi was once considered a mad man, that Benedict of Nursia became a monastic in opposition to the “norms” of life in Holy Rome, and that within our lifetimes divorce was a sin of the worst sort – based on the clear teaching of Our Master. Yet folks had needs and the Holy Spirit moved the Church forward in response to the needs of the people of the times – however imperfectly the leading was understood or followed thereafter.

    I agree with you: it would be much more welcoming for the Church (Episcopalian or otherwise) to equally and lovingly acknowledge there are a range of opinions on varied matters within the body of Christ at a given point in time. And I am sympathetic to the argument that we should wait one for the other until we reach consensus – provided that we adopt the Friends manner of meeting for worship for attention to business. I sincerely doubt most folk who are not Friends would find it edifying or acceptable to make even more time and be more thorough listeners and receivers of the Holy Spirit than they already are – but I can easily be convinced I am mistaken. Therefore we have what we have until the Holy Spirit gives us a better leading.

    You then make a curious comment: “… since we fully know that if we don’t wait until consensus it will lead to schism (though I guess as Protestants we’re so numbed to schisms in the church that we just push right through them.)” I am curious: why does one wish to be known only by what they are against (Protestant) rather than for that which they share with the greatest number (catholic) and whole heartedly support?

    Finally, I believe you raise an important point about schism. So let me ask, why? Was the BCP revised or the Creeds or Baptism or Eucharist? Were your rector or Bishop deposed? Have you been prevented from reading Scripture with commentaries which support your views? Are you being required to be someone other than yourself as you were yesterday and the days before that? Are you less called to be a gospel of the minister in your daily vocation? Do you no longer believe in the Great Commandments and the Great Commission? If you answer no to these, then may I ask again, why schism?
    I close with two thoughts. From Augustine of Hippo I offer: in essentials (Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral) unity; in non-essentials, charity and in all things, love. And from the great Rabbi Gamaliel, let your opponents alone – if their work is God’s work it will flourish, and if not, not.

    And now, Friend, your thoughts?

  12. Pingback: Refuse to exclude? « All Along the Watchtower

  13. I live in the Diocese of North Carolina, which has a very different attitude towards some of the issues mentioned herein than the Diocese of South Carolina. To say that SC is the only growing diocese is to rely on a statistical anomaly at best. NC had been growing and would have continued to show numerical growth if it were not for a one-time loss of a small percentage of communicants to Anglican sects. Growth rates over the last 8 years largely reflect how each diocese and its congregations have accounted for losses to Anglican sects.

    I do not hold up the Diocese of SC as a model, and I note today’s news that they have disassociated themselves from an overwhelming act by General Convention to authorize a liturgy for same-sex unions. Faithful discipleship is more important than pursuit of numeric goals.

    • Mr. Till, I also live in the Diocese of North Carolina. My own reaction is that the Diocese and many of its clergy are less than receptive to viewpoints which don’t follow the liberal line.

      “One-time losses….to Anglican sects” are no different than losses to non-Anglican churches or to inactivity – they still reflect losses to the community. The churches that are growing are the ones which proclaim Scriptural truth most consistently. People are hungering and thirsting for the Gospel – truth, spoken in love, but not watered down.

  14. Pingback: Hanging on | Covenant

  15. My Bishop of the Diocese of Texas sent this article to those of us who signed up to follow him on his journey.

    I find the article he seems to agree with an incredibly poor example of clerical leadership. When the Dean of one of our seminaries publishes hate filled language to describe people he disagrees with saying, “voices that want to advocate an unthinking vision of Eucharistic hospitality, which would result in the madness of inviting a Muslim …”

    We should wonder what it is that the academian is trying to save us from with such venomous speech. This is a serious and highly respected man after all. Yet, however serious he sounds, I have trouble finding any respectful signs of Christianity in those words. In one sweeping statement he has condemned as senseless lunatics all those men and women of the Episcopal Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Church of God, the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, the Free Methodist Church, Metropolitan Community Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Assemblies of God, the Reformed Church in America, and Seventh-day Adventists whose policy of open communion dare to disagree with his staid, no doubt solemn, understanding of our Eucharist.

    The Dean speaks of those conservatives who are hurting; let us pray that the hurt on both sides of any disagreement finds salve in peaceful contemplation. The irony of the conservative’s complaint, that they feel isolated, needs to be pointed out to them as they advocate a position that assaults those who experience God differently. Who wants to play with a bully?

    I pray that the Dean, our Bishops and others who celebrate his remarks will temper their hostility and tap into the basis of our calling, to love one another.

  16. Reblogged this on Dover Beach and commented:
    “There are those who are using the language of inclusion to justify exclusion. There are voices that insist that anyone who has the temerity to believe in traditional marriage, confined to man and woman, should not be allowed in the Episcopal Church; there are voices that want to advocate an unthinking vision of Eucharistic hospitality, which would result in the madness of inviting a Muslim who does not even believe that Jesus died on the cross to a table that remembers our Lord’s death; there are voices that want to cut ties to the Anglican Communion family because it had a problem with our progressive stance; there are plenty of voices who want to exclude in the name of inclusion.”

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