From an email to the diocese:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I write to share with you my decision to withhold consent to the ordination and consecration of the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester as bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan. This decision comes after carefully weighing the matter, considerable prayer, reflection with others including our Standing Committee, and a conversation with the bishop-elect. It is not taken lightly and is with considerable discomfort. Indeed, this is the first time that I have withheld consent in my Episcopate.
Because this is a matter of public conversation, some helpful and some unnecessarily uncharitable, I felt it appropriate to share with you the contours of my decision. The objections that have been raised are:
* That the nominating process and election, which only presented one candidate to the convention was not appropriate
* That the bishop-elect is a practicing Buddhist. Indeed, he has been labeled the “Buddhist Bishop”
* That the bishop-elect has inappropriately altered the baptismal liturgy services conducted in the congregation that he serves
* That he has displayed a less than adequate presentation of sin and redemption through Jesus Christ
As far as the process is concerned, I am convinced that while anomalous, it is in conformity to our canons. However, our processes for electing bishops have normally included an opportunity for the electing convention to consider candidates with a degree of perspective achieved by viewing each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, and theological perspectives in contrast to others. Because a diocese elects a bishop to serve the wider church, this becomes a healthy process of discernment for the whole body. In and of itself, I would not find this a reason to withhold consent. But in light of other issues, it remains a factor.
I do believe that faithful Christians, including bishops, can find spiritual help in examining and exploring practices of other faiths. But Fr. Thew Forrester is an acknowledged “lay ordained” Zen Buddhist who has also accepted and used a name bestowed upon him in ceremony. While I am persuaded that he has not set aside his baptismal identity or ordination vows in this act, I believe that he has sufficiently confused the matter and his identity to make it highly problematic to accept the mantle of bishop.
The crucial issue for me is my understanding of what the bishop vows to do and what the bishop fundamentally represents both to the Church and to the world. In the ordination and consecration service the bishop is called “to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church.” Furthermore, the bishop promises as the chief priest and pastor to “encourage and support all baptized people in their gifts…” Through the Book of Commo n Prayer, we have articulated a common understanding of the faith once delivered and what it means to be a baptized Christian. At the heart of our faith and our baptismal covenant are the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have come to a disquieting conclusion that Fr. Thew Forrester’s presentation of the faith is an offering devoid of our traditional understanding of the redemptive work of Christ on the cross.
With this said, I want to affirm the wide breadth of theological discourse that is permitted and celebrated in the Episcopal Church. However, our theological inquiry occurs within clear boundaries of creedal faith. Again, returning to the ordinal for a bishop, this is why the bishop leads the people after the examination and before the consecration.
I do not presume to know how the consent process for the bishop-elect will turn out. I know that this is a difficult season for the Diocese of Northern Michigan and for Fr. Thew Forrester. They need our prayers. Nevertheless, the ordination and consecration of a bishop is about more than the diocese. In this time, it is most important that the church have clarity about Jesus Christ, the Cross and the Resurrection.
–(The Rt. Rev.) James R. Mathes is Bishop of San Diego