Bp. Paul Marshall reflects on New Orleans and the Anglican Communion in his convention address

Here’s an excerpt from Bp. Paul Marshall’s convention address to the Diocese of Bethlehem this weekend:

Comment is needed in the aftermath of the late meeting of House of Bishops. I need to say something different from what other bishops may be saying in their conventions because the Bethlehem deputation in 2006 did not vote for the General Convention Resolution that the bishops were seeking to “clarify” for the primates. Something we were not favor of in the first place has been intensified.

Every single news report I have read about that meeting does not resemble the meeting I attended. Let me just say that I remain perplexed by the action and more perplexed by the process in New Orleans, but as always, I think God is providing a spiritual opportunity for me.

I find that as just a few years ago I had to learn to be a gracious “winner,” if such a term is ever appropriate, when the church was moving my way, now I must learn to be a gracious “loser,” if such a term is ever appropriate, when that course is reversed or halted. For some of you those poles are reversed, and it is your turn to be a gracious winner. Some of you may well feel keen disappointment and even rejection as a result of my colleagues’ clarifications. As those of you who accepted the invitation to meet with me two weeks ago know, I believe that your pain is deep and proportionate. I will not presume to say that I can feel anyone else’s pain, but I certainly recognize and grieve its existence, as do many, many people in this diocese.

Beyond that, I must also say that I believe we have held together as a diocesan community during a turbulent three decades not because our range of opinion and conviction is narrower than that found elsewhere in the Episcopal Church. We have held together because of discipline, the tough discipline we practice of keeping our focus on Christ rather than ourselves, the tough discipline of genuinely honoring the conscience of every member of this diocese and welcoming the gifts the Holy Spirit bestows on the Church through each of the baptized. In previous years in this room I have had to reassure those who might be considered conservative of this fundamental principle of our life. I find myself today needing to reassure those who might be considered liberal or progressive of the same thing, that the only disciples of Jesus excluded in this diocese are those who exclude themselves.

I do not know how to predict if what the Archbishop of Canterbury and our domestic leadership wanted of and got from the majority bishops of this church will be effective or productive, and having no power in the matter have chosen to cease from worrying about the behavior or witness of any bishop other than myself.
So here is where I am. My understanding of my relationship with Christ means that I am not personally able to sacrifice individual lives or the dignity of any follower of Jesus to even the most benign dreams of world-wide ecclesiastical empire, but will do my utmost to stay in real and effective communion with Anglicans in every place on the globe.

As the designated chief sinner of the diocese, I will continue to try to honor each of you as God’s works in progress, living stones built into a marvelous temple for the praise of God the Father. As Habbakuk was taught in last Sunday’s first lesson, we do not know how things will turn out but we do know that the future belongs to God and we are to keep busy letting people know that there is a vision. We need to do that communicating, the prophet was told, in letters
so big that joggers may read them. Translation: it must be unmistakable in our words and deeds that we trust the God who made each of us and that we are moving ahead in that trust.

In saying that I do not mean to say that we should pretend that our varying understandings do not exist. On the contrary, I meant something active and powerful and traditionally Anglican ”“ that is, in honoring and exploring our differences, we may generate the way through them to a place nobody would have imagined.
Let me dwell on this for just a minute. I just spoke of 400 years of Anglicanism in Virginia, now let me go back a mere 40 years, to a non-Anglican in California. In 1967, Dr. Ralph Greenson, “psychiatrist to the stars” and medical professor in Los Angeles, wrote about the tendency of his colleagues not to communicate with each about their disagreements in theories or practice. Remember, these are psychiatrists who weren’t communicating. Listen to his observations from 1967. Where you hear the language of his vocation, insert the language of our life as disciples. Ask whether Greenson’s words do not speak to our situation:

Those who wish to suggest innovations or modifications of technique do not usually confer with others who are more traditional in their viewpoint. They tend to form cliques and to work underground, or at least segregated from the mainstream… As a consequence the innovators are apt to lose contact with those groups”¦ that might help validate, clarify, and amend their new ideas. The secluded innovators are prone to becomes “wild analysts,” while the conservatives, due to their own insularity, tend to become rigid with orthodoxy. Instead of influencing one another constructively they each go their separate ways as adversaries, blind to whatever benefits each might have gained from an opening and continuing discussion. (The Technique and Practice of Psychoanalysis I, p. 2)

To put his observation in spiritual terms, we grow when we risk exploring each other’s perceptions and applications of biblical truth to test and strengthen our own grasp of God’s will for us. I would say that it is quite one thing to think that one possesses truth and quite another thing to experience oneself as being possessed by truth. Whether it is an old truth or a new truth, they who believe they own the truth will become rigid and defensive. They who believe they are possessed by truth, new or old, find themselves in joyful service to the truth, and willingly engage others so that all members of the conversation can be productive and balanced. Rigidity and disconnection are the enemies of spiritual growth in conservatives and liberals alike.

The value of the worldwide Communion, when it is working well, is that those who see something new and those who cherish something old, are in a position to grow in a conversation that is truly catholic. At the moment, at least, that possibility still exists and, like many, I hope that the long-promised conversation may actually get started.

The full text is here.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, - Anglican: Primary Source, -- Statements & Letters: Bishops, Episcopal Church (TEC), Sept07 HoB Meeting, TEC Bishops, TEC Diocesan Conventions/Diocesan Councils

2 comments on “Bp. Paul Marshall reflects on New Orleans and the Anglican Communion in his convention address

  1. Larry Morse says:

    We have heard this all before but not at such great length. HIs argument is standard: Change is necessary and good and inevitable. The conservatives must enter into “conversation” with us who are leading or they will be left out by their rigidity. They are not in “conversation” at the present. Christ never excluded anyone; this means that we must include everyone. We must honor and explore our differences. This is the Anglican way.

    CAn you hear Sarumen speaking? This is what words look like when they stand on their heads.
    For example, what does honor and explore our difference mean? It means that through “conversation” conservatives will agree with us because we are right. And because this is true, we will go on doing what we want to do, regardless of other directives from other people who will not control us, while we “converse” with people who will agree with us sooner or later. Moreover, TEC is building and prospering and growing stronger in spite of what everyone else says.

    He appears to be speaking plainly and clearly, doesn’t he? I am aware that getting angry at this use of “The Voice” to calm and sooth the restless and contentious is purposeless. But there is a sheer falseness in this, a deep dishonesty, an intransigence masked by the round collar of civility and courtesy. How does one deal with such a one?For after all, he is probably very effective with those who are only distantly aware of New Orleans and the like. Will more words adequately confront these words?

    We may say this about plain speaking, however. The news from California is plain and clear. When we put this in the light of the speech above, we see how misty and misleading this bishop is; and one mus be very gullible indeed not to see that it is deliberate, this “breadth of response.” Larry

  2. wvparson says:

    The argument has another extraordinary aspect to it. It is the proposition that a doctrine of the church ceases to be “received” when enough people decide to question or “develop” it. This was the position of the court in the Righter Case which proposed that there was no longer a clear teaching on human sexuality because the matter was in debate and thus one waited for a future date to establish that which the church now teaches.