We are all moderates now (except you)

mitresThe Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee is trying to find a successor to Bishop Bertram Herlong, and its 14-ballot roller coaster of an election, still unresolved, shows the profound divisions within the diocese.

Jeannine F. Hunter of The Tennessean scratched the surface of those divisions in a story published the day before the election. She quoted people on both sides, but liberals within the diocese used more pointed language and, in practice, controlled who claimed what labels.

Consider these paragraphs:

The Rev. Ann Walling, assistant to the rector at St. David’s in West Meade, said even before 2003, individuals who took moderate and progressive theological positions found themselves “marginalized in terms of inclusion in the life of the diocese.”

She said evidence of division includes churches removing the word “Episcopal” from church signs; diminished support to long-standing mission congregations; refusal by some churches to accept female ordination or denial by some clergy to receive Holy Communion with “those of moderate points of view.”

“All in all we are in a very distressing situation,” she said, adding that many long for a return to a “mode of acceptance of a great diversity of perspectives.”

Susan Huggins, spokesperson for Continuing Episcopalians of Tennessee, which opposes affiliation with ACN, said that tomorrow’s election could “determine the direction of this diocese.”

The Nashville-based organization believes ACN intends to disenfranchise ECUSA, Huggins said. Her group seeks to move the diocese back to the middle ground, she said.

Notice especially how the words moderate and progressive flow together so effortlessly, not just in direct quotations but in Hunter’s paraphrases, leaving the impression that the only extremists in the diocese are mean conservatives.

This election is far more complex than Hunter’s story suggests. All four nominees say they would have voted against confirming Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire, which in today’s Episcopal Church makes them fairly conservative. But two of the candidates — James Magness and Winston Charles — have left open the possibility of changing their minds in the future about the wisdom of consecrating openly gay bishops or blessing gay couples.

The two other candidates, Neal Michell and Brian Cox, are affiliated with the Anglican Communion Network — which, along with the American Anglican Council — has become the bete noir of the Episcopal left. But neither Cox nor Michell has said he will try to affiliate the diocese with the Network, and both have criticized it in meet-the-candidate forums. Both Michell and Cox clearly say they have no intention of trying to withdraw the diocese from the Episcopal Church.

As the results from Saturday’s voting demonstrate, moderates — at least those who can find a compromise between two firm convictions — are in short supply in the diocese these days. Instead, the diocese has passionate camps of conservatives and liberals who know what they believe and fight for it, even if that means a marathon of futile ballots. It makes for much more interesting and informative reporting than The Tennessean has managed.

(Disclosure: I’ve written admiringly about nominee Brian Cox’s ministry of reconciliation before and consider him a friend. Clearly I have no vocation as an episcopal kingmaker: Cox consistently placed fourth.)

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  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Unfortunately, in today’s polarized society, liberals will label anyone as “moderate” who comes from the opposing viewpoint to share a point or two of belief with them.

  • http://mineironheart.blogspot.com Patrick S. Allen+

    I happen to be the “conservative” quoted in the article. Aside from allowing a very liberal clergy person to claim the “moderate” label, there were some basic reporting errors as well. Related to the points you raise, just how are progressives and moderates being “marginalized” in the life of the Diocese? The writer allowed Walling to make the assertion, but there was no follow up – and so the assertion is allowed to stand. It’s false, by the way. Also, the article states that a resolution to affiliate the Diocese with the Anglican Communion Network did not pass at the annual convention. Fact is, Network affiliation has never been voted on. A few brief remarks of mine and some comments from others at my blog: http://mineironheart.blogspot.com/2006/03/in-news.html.

  • Michael

    Did she claim the “moderate” label or was she speaking of “moderates and progressives” as two, distinct groups who were both marginalized in the diocese?

    I found it interesting that it wasn’t until the very end of the article that they included the voice of a progressive or moderate and that most readers, who may never reach the end of the story, only got to hear the “onscervative” voices.

  • http://www.eagleandelephant.blogspot.com W.

    I am new to your site and sorry if you have addressed this in the past or if this matter has been dealt with sometime in the history of inter-religious dialogue of some sort, but it seems the term “Episcopal” is a reference to the Episcopalian Church? If so, shouldn’t it be “Episcopalian” since “Episcopal” (or should this be with lower-case “e”?) has historically meant a reference to the bishopric or to the level of bishops? Or is the difference noted in one being upper-case (the Episcopal Church) and the other lower-case (episcopal conference in reference to bishops)? Just wondering.

    Will be sure to return. Your site is interesting.

    All the best,

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Patrick, I think the problem with the marginalization language is that with only one exception Hunter cites actions by individual priests or congregations, rather than by the diocese or the bishop:

    [The Rev. Ann Walling] said evidence of division includes churches removing the word “Episcopal” from church signs; diminished support to long-standing mission congregations; refusal by some churches to accept female ordination or denial by some clergy to receive Holy Communion with “those of moderate points of view.”

    The only charge that could translate to diocesan-level marginalization is that of “diminished support to long-standing mission congregations,” which rather cries out for giving Bishop Herlong an opportunity to respond.

    It would have been accurate to say these developments leave some progressives or moderates feeling marginalized. As it’s written, the article reads as though marginalization is an obvious fact.

    (Perhaps some progressives actually expect a bishop to order his priests to change their theology of ordination, to restore “Episcopal” on their parish signs, or to feel in spiritual communion with everyone.)

    Michael, the article begins quoting progressives only one paragraph after it quotes Father Allen. Father Timothy Jones makes some general observations about the long-term implications of the election, but even many moderates and progressives agree that actions of the Episcopal Church do have global implications these days. Acknowledging those implications does not always lead people to conservative conclusions.

    I never entertained the notion that readers would bail out on an article of fewer than 700 words. Any reader who quits that easily must not have much of an interest in the subject.

    W, I’m using lowercase episcopal to refer to the episcopate generically, but uppercase for person or body in the Episcopal Church. For example, then: “This Episcopal bishop wields his episcopal authority with grace.” To answer your other question, Episcopalian is the noun, Episcopal (upper case or lower) is the adjective.

  • Michael

    I never entertained the notion that readers would bail out on an article of fewer than 700 words. Any reader who quits that easily must not have much of an interest in the subject.

    Given that most newspaper readers are lucky to get through the headline and the lead and most stop reading after the fifth or sixth paragraph, it does raise the question about balance. It takes 12 paragraphs of discussion that is either neutral, talks about the schism, or “conservative” before there is a presentation of the “moderate” or “progressive” position.

  • Pen Brynisa

    Hunter makes a factual error, and even repeats it.

    Like church members elsewhere in the country and around the world, local Episcopalians have sharply different views on the national church’s decision to elect an openly gay bishop and to sanction same-sex unions. . . .

    In 2003, the global 77 million-member Anglican Communion fractured after ECUSA approved the election of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, who has a same-sex partner, and authorized the blessing of same-sex unions.

    The General Convention did not authorize or sanction the blessing of same-sex unions.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Amid seven other resolves, General Convention said it recognizes “local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.”

    That’s not sanction, in the sense of preparing an official rite for such blessings, but it’s a fairly open door at the “local faith communities” level.

    Readers who wish to read the resolution in its entirety will find it here.

    What might be a better shorthand for what this resolution says?

  • Pen Brynisa

    Douglas, a better shorthand might be a simplfication of the sentence that you quoted: that the GC recognized that same-sex blessings do occur on the local level.

  • George Conger

    More here than meets the eye.

    The 1986 Tennessee election went to 38 ballots, while the 1993 election took 15, and both followed the same pattern as Saturday’s voting with the clergy and lay orders initially supporting separate candidates.

    At the close of the first day’s voting in 1986, the Rev. Canon Robert G. Tharp led in the clergy order with two thirds of the votes after 28 ballots, ahead of the Rev. George L. Reynolds who ran first in the lay order and the Rev. James M. Coleman, who ran third. On the second day, Reynolds received two thirds of the lay order on the 31st ballot and was elected bishop on the 38th ballot after gaining the clergy vote. Canon Tharp later was elected second Bishop of East Tennessee while Fr. Coleman was to become the second Bishop of West Tennessee.

    In 1993 the Very Rev. Bertram N. Herlong was elected Bishop of Tennessee after 15 ballots spread over two days. Herlong lead in the lay order for 14 of 15 ballots, finally gaining the lead in the clergy order over the Rev. Walter L. Krieger, rector of Christ Church, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on the 13th ballot.

    Clergy – lay splits in Episcopal elections are not new in Tennessee. While the wider issues dividing the Episcopal Church are certainly present, they must be filtered through Tennessee’s church culture.

  • http://mineironheart.blogspot.com Patrick S. Allen+

    The “diminished support for long-term mission congregations” charge is, of course, more complicated than it might appear at first, or than Ms. Hunter bothered to investigate. “Long-standing” should be a giveaway as to one aspect of the problem. But the main issue was and remains making our best prudential decisions with a seriously under-funded budget. What Walling apparently failed to mention to Hunter were the repeated attempts of the “progressives” to cut or eliminate funding of our newer missions – those planted during Bp. Herlong’s tenure and at his instigation.

  • tmatt

    On the grammatical question:

    Episcopalian is the NOUN.

    Episcopal is the adjective.

    So the Rt. Rev. John Spong is an Episcopal bishop and one of the most famous Episcopalians of the modern era.

  • tmatt

    My reading of the article’s labels is this:

    * Conservative — traditional Church teachings on marriage and sex.

    * Moderate — Opposed the ordination of Gene Robinson at this time, but does not favor breaking Communion over it.

    * Liberal — Backed the Robinson ordination.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Perhaps what really calls for examination is the insistence on taking the Private Willis paradigm of “liberal”/”conservative”, which is one-dimensional even for politics (Nolan Chart, anyone?), and imposing it on religion (and just about any other field) without regard to whether it fits meaningfully.

  • http://www.gavoweb.com gavin

    as the involved outside observer (web person & united methodist) i have no dog in this fight, but i’ve been taken by the politicizing of what should be a spiritual decision. granted our process isn’t much better, but bishops on 4 year stints, and the conferences are committe driven anyhow, so who really cares.

    it seems that the going in the moderates were going to be like in all elections, claimed by everyone and tried to be manipulated. the conservative vote seemed a bit misrepresented as i’ve noticed that the larger parishes which make up the bulk population of the diocese are moderate, but they get the same vote as smaller parishes & ‘church plants’ which are more conservative, reflecting the leaning of the current bishop. that seems to hold back the overall voice of the diocese.

    i’d kinda hoped that rev. cox would prevail with his apparent skills in reconciliation. i didn’t expect to see the fast moving of votes, closed door meetings, & disregard for the intention and prayerful attention given to the process leading up to the election. hope someone gets elected, i’d hate to see how long the standing committee has to be in charge if one cannot be elected.

    sorry if i’m repeated said stuff. a friend directed me here as i’ve taken an interest in the election process this past year. i’ve only made it public since saturday & now i find all this blog talk. how fun

  • Stephen A.

    Nolan chart? Sure, take away the old “liberal-conservative” labels and change them to “Conservative/Authoritarian” and “Liberal/Statist.” That makes even LESS sense in the context of a religious debate, and it adds little to the political debate, either, I’m afraid.

    But if you’re a libertarian (social liberal, economic conservative?) it does put you on the “map.,” I suppose.

    As for complaints about politics and the process of electing bishops, it’s clear that politics is part of this process. Bishop Robinson campaigned for John Kerry last year (FROM THE PULPIT of New Hampshire’s churches.) So yes, it’s political, and to ignore that is foolish. It’s a political and social struggle for the Episcopal Church’s future, just as it has been in many other churches.

    It’s also political when church leaders push social agendas and do it by advocating other-than-religious means to achieve those goals (both sides guilty of this, in many denominations.)

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Yes, but when the political agendas come from the “liberal” side, they are not usually greeted by cries of “interfering in politics!” and “violating the separation of church and state!”

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    One great problem with these labels is that the article never even hints what moderate means. None of the nominees favors breaking communion, if by that one means taking the diocese out of the Episcopal Church.

    (Besides which, taking an entire diocese out of the Episcopal Church is not a viable option even for the most conservative bishops. There simply is no diocese with such unanimity.)

    In that respect, the only communion-breaking is occurring at the individual level — and none of the nominees spoke in favor of that, either.

  • tmatt

    This is a case where reporters really need to try to write about what people believe — even if that requires an extra clause or sentence — rather than trying to label everyone.

    And if the labels show up in direct quotes, you have to define those terms before you let people use them.

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  • http://www.ecclessiaanglicana.net Jody

    I’m not sure your picture of the diocese is completely accurate. The number of delegates to convention *are* based on membership, and if anyone is over-represented it would be “status” churches that have high membership but a much lower average sunday attendance. Some diocese, such as Dallas, have went to ASA as a determining factor for alloting delegates. At any rate, I’m unsure exactly how such a shift in current practices might effect votes because one parish with very large membership leans moderate to conservative while the cathedral leans left of center–alot their votes based on ASA and it could be a wash, but it would be more fair.

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  • Sinner

    we need to be clear about one thing. That whatever Neal says, the ACN is committed to remaining within the Communion, and to do so while remaining within ECUSA is fast becoming untenable.
    (think of the primate’s call at the hope and the future conference).

    The call then was Choose NOW whom you will serve.
    The laity of Tenesee have chosen. Will the clergy continue to stand in their way?

  • http://areyoudressed.blogspot.com Molly

    Totally off topic, but the picture made me think of baby birds in a nest opening their mouths for food.

    I think I’ll go back outside.