Please note that what follows is the cover letter written to Bishop Daniel first, and this is then followed by the full letter to all the bishops–KSH.
Dear Bishop Daniel:
As a lay person and retired college president (3 church-related liberal arts colleges over 24 years), I read with care your letter representing the Bishops of Province IV. After spending time in prayer, I have written an open letter to the Bishops of Province IV. I am hopeful that you will forward this letter to the other Bishops as an example of one lay person’s assessment of what is happening in and to our Diocese of South Carolina. I know that Bishop Lawrence is deeply sensitive to the impact of what is happening in The Episcopal Church on the laity of our diocese.
Just as faculty members and deans debate intellectual issues in higher education with a fervor that might ignore the needs of students, I worry that clergy and bishops debate theological issues with a fervor that might ignore the needs of parishioners. I hope that as you meet with Bishop Lawrence that you will hold in your thoughts and heart that there are people in every pew in every Episcopal church in our country and world who are hurting, confused, frightened, and desperate for a message of hope, love and reconciliation.
You and all the Bishops in Province IV, including Bishop Lawrence, will be in my and many laypersons’ minds, hearts, and prayers this coming week.
Proactive Transition Management
A strategic plan is worthless ”“ unless there first is a strategic vision. John Naisbett
The ability to embrace new ideas, routinely challenge old ones, and live with paradox will be the effective leader’s premier trait. Tom Peters
December 7, 2011
An Open Letter to the Bishops of Province 4
I am puzzled intellectually, offended emotionally, and disappointed spiritually in your letter to Bishop Lawrence requesting a meeting based on the fact that you “determined that it is our duty as bishops of this province to address these concerns in direct communication with you, as Jesus exhorts his followers in Matthew’s Gospel (18:15-20), and in accord with our ordination vows regarding the unity and governance of the church.”
Matthew 18:15-20 NIV
15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ”˜every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
I am puzzled intellectually because you did the exact opposite of Jesus’ advice as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. You did not send one Bishop to talk to our Bishop. You did not send two or three Bishops. You sent a message from all the Bishops of Province 4 and published the letter on the Internet for all to see. While I have not attended seminary (I’m a retired college president from three church-related liberal arts colleges over 24 years), I did review several writers about this passage from Ignatius (c 110) to Chrysostom (c 380) to Augustine to Matthew Henry to B.W. Johnson and to David Lose and Karl Jacobson who preached on this text on September 4, 2011 when this passage was the Gospel Lesson in the Lectionary. Throughout my reading, the central meaning of Jesus’ parable, to seek reconciliation and unity, seems to have escaped you. Why did you choose this Scripture passage to set the context of your letter? What were you hoping to accomplish? Why did you violate the very passage you quoted by going viral with your letter on the Internet? I am puzzled.
I am also offended emotionally. Violating Jesus’ advice and going viral is offensive to those of us who see our Bishop as a man of great faith and integrity. The tone of your letter, while claiming to be collegial is every bit as confrontational and accusatory in the same passive-aggressive manner as the Pharisees who tried to build a case against Jesus. By going viral, you have tried to put Bishop Lawrence in a box and that is disingenuous on your part. Fortunately, Bishop Lawrence is a Godly man whose deep and abiding commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer, as described in the Bible and affirmed in the canons, rituals, and prayer book of the Anglican Communion will give him the insight tempered with humility and love to address your questions. Matthew Henry captured my sentiments beautifully when he wrote on Matthew 18:15-20, “When we come together, to worship God in a dependence upon the Spirit and grace of Christ as Mediator for assistance, and upon his merit and righteousness as Mediator for acceptance, having an actual regard to him as our Way to the Father, and our Advocate with the Father, then we are met together in his name.”
Finally, I am disappointed spiritually. Four years ago, when my wife and I moved to Georgetown, South Carolina, we joined Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church. Our faith has grown exponentially with a priest who is a marvelous teacher and preacher and with a congregation devoted to the Word and eager to grow in grace and love. While we may not agree on every issue facing Prince George or The Episcopal Church, we feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in the midst of our congregation and we are growing closer to Jesus every day. Knowing Bishop Lawrence’s fervent desire for our Diocese to have just a small space to stand on our orthodox principles and interpretation of the life, ministry, and word of Jesus Christ, I am spiritually disappointed that The Episcopal Church seems to lack the largess, love, and commitment to true unity in diversity to allow us to remain both true to a Biblically-based orthodox faith and to communion with Province 4 and The Episcopal Church USA. Why are you so intent to punish brothers and sisters who are proclaiming the “Good News” of a Savior who died for our sins on a cross so that all might be victorious over death? Why do you want to characterize as “sin” our Bishop’s attempt to protect this orthodox faith in a world that is becoming increasingly and disturbingly secular and even anti-Christian? Why will you not provide a place in TEC for a Diocese that appears to be so consistent in its orthodoxy faith and practice with the rest of the Anglican Communion?
As you approach your visit with our Bishop, I and many others in our Diocese of South Carolina, will be praying for you and for Bishop Lawrence. We will be praying that you come in a spirit of love, seeking understanding of our deep and abiding orthodox faith, looking for reconciliation, affirmation and unity amidst diversity. For you will indeed be gathered in His name. To that end, I close with comments made as recently as this fall by David Lose at Luther Seminary when addressing Matthew 18:15-20.
“Authentic community is hard to come by. It’s work. But it’s worth it. Because when you find it, it’s like discovering a little bit of heaven on earth; that is, it’s like experiencing the reality of God’s communal fellowship and existence in your midst. And, as Jesus promises, when you gather in this way — with honesty and integrity, even when it’s hard — amazing things can happen because Jesus is with you, right there, in your very midst, forming and being formed by your communal sharing.” David Lose
Welcome to South Carolina. May God’s blessings of faith and intellect be among you. May Christ’s love and reconciliation abide with you.
Peter T. Mitchell