Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"Clarity And Charity" From Bishop Jenkins

Since I do not know whether the comment moderation is kept up to date on the Diocese of Louisiana website, I'll go ahead and post Bishhop Jenkins' response along with my email to him at the website: (See Bishop Jenkins' Response below)

A Response to the House of Bishops
The Clarity and Charity of a Self-Differentiating Act

Each action taken by a leader or a group in leadership towards clarity is not necessarily a movement towards differentiation. The difference between mature leadership and tyranny is that the former makes room for points of view differing from the majority, while the latter can hardly tolerate divergence from the majority opinion. As Ed Friedman once noted, “the more monolithic the system, the more dissent is seen as destructive.” Both the differentiated leader and the tyrant may be clear and well defined but clarity alone does not make an action a mature response. To quote Ed Friedman, “The critical issue in determining differentiation is the ability to tolerate difference.” The paradox between clarity as differentiation or as tyranny is defined in part by the attempt of the leader or group in power to coerce the other into accepting the majority opinion.

Dissent from the actions of various General Conventions does not imply a desire to “divide our Church.” I am one who has a deep “love for the Episcopal Church, the integrity of its identity, and the continuance of its life and ministry.” I have for years suggested that the Episcopal Church should separate (do not hear what I am not saying) in order that we need not separate. Again, this is a concept put forward by Rabbi Friedman. By “separate in order not to separate”, I do not mean division or schism. I am not talking about parallel jurisdictions, as the concept seems to have been put forth. I am not talking about two Anglican Churches in North America or anywhere else. I am saying that we Episcopalians have lately become too close and as in a marriage, such over-closeness, or fusion, often leads to separation or even divorce. I have been told the Canons do not allow for an appropriate sense of distance in our ecclesiastical relations to avoid an absolute separation for divorce. I may be the only person in the Episcopal Church who believes that we have become fused with one another (I have not been able to sell this concept).

I disagree with the widely held perception by members of the House of Bishops that the “Communication from the March 2007 Meeting of the House of Bishops” was in fact a differentiating move. For sure, it was clear, but the inability of the majority to tolerate dissent, to engage a spirit of adventure (one would hope under the guidance of the Holy Spirit), and the tendency towards historical gloss make me question the value of the Communication as an act of self-differentiation.

The Lambeth Conference of 1998 was a clear demonstration to all in the Communion who had eyes to see that the traditional connections and relationships of the Anglican Communion were under great challenge as insufficient for the future of the Communion. The traditional axis of the United Kingdom, North America, and Australia was not alone representative of the future of the Church. I think the great adventure for us as Anglican Christians is to seek prayerfully the guidance of the Holy Spirit to discern humbly where God would have us grow as Communion. The opportunity to avoid fusion and herding as well as separation and schism, is the exciting adventure that is sidetracked by the Bishops’ rigid appeal to our polity. Episcopal Bishops have said repeatedly that brothers and sisters from around the world do not understand the polity of The Episcopal Church. Such a statement seems to suggest that if our brothers and sisters did understand our Episcopal polity, they would accept it. I am not willing to make such an imperialistic assumption. I think many outside of the Episcopal Church do understand our polity. They just do not buy it. I assume that to engage a great adventure of where the Holy Spirit would lead us does not necessarily mean that we know the answer before we even bend our knees in prayer.

I was not at the March 2007 meeting of the House of Bishops when the “Communication” was discussed and voted on. I had returned from Camp Allen to New Orleans for a series of meetings and events that demanded my presence. I would have spoken against and voted against the “Communication” had I been present. It was a done deal by the time I was able to return to Camp Allen.

The Gospel of John tells us of Jesus’ prayer from the Upper Room “that they may be one as we are one.” (St. John 17.22b) As we keep this Maundy Thursday, let us pray that God will in all truth make real in our lives even a dim shadow of that perfect unity of the Holy and Undivided Trinity.


Here's my comment:

Dear Bishop Jenkins,

I understand that you are under great stress since Katrina and the flood, with scattered members of the flock, priests who have no congregations, priests who have moved on to other locations, ruined churches, and your own home flooded. I want you to know that I pray for you, because I know you bear heavy burdens at this time, and that there is still much work to be done.

I read your response to the House of Bishops meeting at Camp Allen. I understand that you were not present for the discussion and vote on the "Communication" that the bishops released, and that you would have spoken against it and voted against it, had you been there.

Beyond that, I confess that I understand little of the rest of your response. Where is the "tyranny"? Is it in the House of Bishops? I am not familiar with Rabbi Friedman's books, and I do not understand your statements that reference his ideas.

What can you mean by saying that the Episcopal Church must "separate in order not to separate"? What do you mean when you say that the church has become overclose or fused, which could lead to a divorce?

You say that certain members of the Communion "just do not buy it" [the polity of the Episcopal Church] So, what then? It is not within the power of the House Of Bishops, by itself, to change the polity of the Episcopal Church. There is another House, the House of Deputies. There is a process for making changes in the Canons of the Episcopal Church. I like the democracy in the Episcopal Church, and I would like to retain it.

You say what you don't mean; you don't mean schism or division, nor do you mean parallel jurisdictions, but I'm not sure what you do mean.

I can't think what sort of "great adventure" you have in mind. If the adventure involves putting the Episcopal Church under the authority of the likes of Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria and Archbishop Orombi of Uganda, who are already intruding in our church in a manner which they have no right to do, I would be greatly disappointed. There are many problems in their own countries which need to be addressed, and they should stay home and tend to them.

Let me make myself clear, Bishop Jenkins: I pray that the Episcopal Church is not excluded from the Anglican Communion, but should that happen, I would take my place firmly within the Episcopal Chruch. I pray that you do not have in mind to press for a withdrawial of the Diocese of Louisiana from the Episcopal Church.

Although I am only a humble Episcopalian in the pew, I feel sort of dull and stupid not to understand more of your response, even after reading it several times. Perhaps you can shed light for me.

UPDATE: At church today, Sunday April 15, we received a printed handout of Bishop Jenkins' "Response To The House Of Bishops", but without an explanation or translation.


  1. You're not alone ... I have no clue what he's saying, either. Perhaps he's channeling ++Rowan so the ABC doesn't have to actually visit the US.

  2. Julie, another question I would have asked, but my comment was running long already, is to whom is he speaking?

    I consider myself fairly well-informed and knowledgeable about the faith, and I come away empty. Is he speaking to his fellow bishops, his priests, theologians? He can't think that ordinary parishioners will take much from his response.

  3. I don't get it either, Mimi--especially the bit about other Anglicans not "buying" our polity.

    I loved your response. "So what?" That's really the right question. So much of my frustration over this issue comes down to the fact that we are not asking or requiring anyone else to follow our lead (even though I could make an argument that we SHOULD at least ask them to...).

    This whole thing about "you aren't being tolerant because you won't violate our own rules to give me exactly what I want!" gets on my last nerve. It is the tactic my children use when they aren't getting their way on something---and I find it even less attractive when a bunch of presumably intelligent, well-educated, grown-ups do it than when my 6-year-old does...

  4. I suspect his audience is the pontificators and pretentiously psuedo-intellectuals of the neo-con wing.

    This reads so much like the verbiage some of my seminary classmates used to spew when they were trying to impress us with their brilliant grasp of theological nuances. Never mind the fact that it made little sense and was of less use -- it sure sounded smart. Bleagh.

    And yes, Doxy, I recognize that thread of rationalization, too: "You're not being fair because I'm not getting my way." Doesn't work for kids; shouldn't work for bishops.

  5. I suspect that the bishop of LA has been taking notes from the bishop of MS, Duncan, who is a hard core master at this. (and I used to be a member of Duncan's parish in Oxford and saw it up close)
    The key to this sort of performance is to appear to be doing heavy thinking about an issue in a way that embraces every side while arguing that nothing be done. It is an art form, really, sort of a performance art.
    you aren't supposed to understand what position they are taking - rather, you are supposed to marvel at the depth of their wisdom.
    And he isn't speaking to anyone in general. Like a good post-modern artist he is simply doing art and each of us must decide if we are observers of the artist or the artwork. very PoMo.

  6. and I like your letter, by the way, especially how you call him back to reality and ask him to explain himself.

  7. "you aren't being tolerant because you won't violate our own rules to give me exactly what I want!"

    Doxy, exactly. I suppose that's the "tyranny".

    Dennis, I think it is an art form. One of the skills required is to use lots of impressive-sounding words and say little of substance.

  8. Mimi - I like your response to him.

    I wonder if he'll have the courage to post it and answer.

    I think not.

    The AC is NOT a unified body. It is a collection of possibly like minded nationally based Churches.

    If people don't like our polity, you are absolutely correct in asking, so what?

  9. I think he is simply saying that there should continue to be mutual tolerance between traditionalists and progressives, both among the Anglican provinces and among Episcopal dioceses.

    To the extent, though, that traditionalists come to believe the progressives heretics, and the progressives come to think the traditionalists bigots, toleration reaches its limits.

    However much he wants the center to hold, there is an understandable strain when what, on one side of a diocesan or provincial boundary, is considered a mortal sin, is considered, on the other, an almost sacramental relationship.

    Toleration, a prudential and pragmatic virtue, requires for its exercise a kind of reticence. Now that the silence has been rather decisively broken, though, I think your bishop is incorrect that an express choice between inconsistent alternatives can be avoided.

  10. Rick, why didn't I realize that it would take someone trained in the law to parse the statement?

    I ask again, what will the ordinary parishioner take away from the response? Am I unusually dim?

  11. maybe it was written only for the other bishops. Perhaps the big rings they all get on consecration isn't really an episcopal ring, it is a secret decoder ring! Just like the ones in cereal boxes. They could be passing messages to each other through their public statements. It's all very Casablanca, really!

    next time any of you have to kiss the bishops ring see if it turns a little to the right and left. Look for letters, too.


    (just having fun - I know Mimi, I should take these things more seriously - but really, if we start taking the bishops seriously where will we be? )

  12. Dennis, I loved the laugh. You laugh or you cry. I guess that I have the wrong decoder ring.

  13. Mimi, he's apparently couching his statement in terms of some set of buzz words that's presumably understandable to some audience or other familiar with the terms. Probably other bishops. Or church bureaucrats. The language is certainly new to me.

    I once worked for a big corporation, and came to realize that there's a whole industry out there that packages mostly common sense advice into trendy catch-phrases. Familiarity with the language is one of the marks of an insider. Though if you're not caught up in it it looks kind of like BS.

    Church jargon I rather like, at least if it's got some patina on it. It has a mostly poetic quality for me. And being a layman I don't deal with it day in and day out. Still, I remember the first time I heard the term "Christology." It had, initially, a harsh and abstract sound to it, almost a blasphemous reductionist quality, and it's probably not good that it has tended to lose that effect over time.

  14. Rick, no doubt you are correct. I seem not to be among the intended audience.

    I am a true lover of plain-speaking, sometimes to a fault.

  15. Well, Mimi, I thought the first two paragraphs could possibly apply to the Communique from Dar es Salam, "The difference between mature leadership and tyranny is that the former makes room for points of view differing from the majority, while the latter can hardly tolerate divergence from the majority opinion." sort of fits the Global South, but I have trouble linking what he is saying to the HOB statement. I guess it depends on what 'majority' he is talking about.
    Certainly TEC is willing to make room for differing points of view and the certain Primates can hardly tolerate divergence from what they see as the majority opinion. OCICBW
    Does my take on this make sense to you?
    Tis a puzzlement...
    Your letter to him certainly makes more sense to me than his statement!

  16. Susan, you could be right. However, in the second paragraph, he is talking about dissenting from actions of General Convention, so I don't think he is referring to Dar es Sallam. Why isn't he clearer about what he means? "Clarity" is in the title of his response.

  17. No, I didn't think _he_ thought he was talking about Dar es Salam, I was just in my inarticulate way, saying that what he says _could_ be construed to apply to what happened at Dar es Salam, depending on one's point of view...It was just a reference to how totally screwy the whole letter sounds to me! Sorry.....:-)

  18. Well, there's an old saying 'round these parts, and I hope you'll forgive my crudeness, Mimi:

    "If you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, baffle 'em with bullshit!"

    That seems to be the bishop's take on this. I've long felt that one of the greatest ministries the laity can give is to continually say, "Try it again!" until a bishop says clearly what he/she means in a way the average person in the pew understands.

  19. "If you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, baffle 'em with bullshit!"

    Mark, exactly. More and more I believe Rick Allen is correct, and that he speaks in a code or jargon that some will understand and others - like me - will be puzzled by.

    No new comment has been posted on the diocesan website since February, so I don't have hope that mine will appear soon, if ever.

  20. A Response to a Bishop

    Each statement issued by a leader or person in a leadership role is not necessarily a step tpwards clarity. The difference between mature leadership and humbuggery is that the former clearly expresses a point of view and the the latter can hardly tolerate divergence from bloviation. As Gertrude of Denmark once noted, "more matter with less art."

    Mimi, as of this morning, the website till says "This article has not been commented on."

  21. Someone beat me to the punch on dazzling and baffling and with what one does it.

    To think that he was the runner-up to our current PB. Oh my.

  22. Allen, I have sent my bishop a snail mail letter and an email, and I have not heard back. I don't expect that my comment will be posted. I don't even know if anyone is mindiing the store at comments moderation at the diocesan website.

    Caminante, yes. He was the "compromise" runner-up.


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