Recently I was shocked to read an email my parents forwarded me: a pastoral letter from Chip Edgar, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina, addressing a kerfuffle at this year’s Mere Anglicanism conference. Edgar’s response essentially amounted to a takedown of the patriarchy, and I was inwardly fist-pumping.
The context for his email was an explosion of prejudice from Rev. Calvin Robinson, a speaker at January’s Mere Anglicanism conference, a leading conference within the Anglican Diocese of North America (ACNA) that is held yearly in Charleston, SC. The purpose of the conference is to disciple and educate lay and clergy leadership.
As Edgar detailed in his letter, it appears that Robinson “veered substantively from the topic he was asked to address…[and] took advantage of the opportunity [to] opine on what he considers the exceeding evil of women in the [priesthood]. Most importantly, he did so in a way which was inexcusably provocative….”.
Edgar praised the “bold” step that Mere Anglicanism conference host and director, Rev. Jeff Miller, took in removing Robinson from the final panel, even noting that more should have been done in the moment to counter Robinson’s shenanigans – and taking full responsibility for that. At the same time, Edgar offered his compelling personal witness that women ought to be celebrated at ALL levels of Christian ministry.
All levels of ministry. That means the episcopate, a challenge to ACNA canon law forbidding the ordination of women as bishops.
More ACNA Bishops Speak Out
Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been elated to see more ACNA bishops speak out. Bishop Todd Hunter, of the Diocese of Churches for the Sake of Others, sent a letter to his clergy condemning Robinson’s “derogatory” comments at Mere Anglicanism. At the same time, he celebrated the many female deacons, priests, rectors, and deans who are among his “most trusted advisors.” Bishop Alex Farmer of the Gulf Atlantic Diocese, who attended the conference, went so far as to use Robinson’s attack on women to illustrate, in a Jan. 28 Sunday sermon, how “unclean” and “deceiving spirits” described in the Gospels can arise in the church today:
“Recently I was at [the Mere Anglicanism] conference up in Charleston, [and] a brother got up and began to speak. It sounded as if he might be speaking a word of truth…but the more I listened, there was no love in his message, there was no compassion, no grace….Since that time, I’ve recognized that in fact this person wasn’t led of the spirit but in fact was giving himself over to an unclean spirit in the midst of our congregation.”
Just a few days ago, Farmer apologized for essentially blaming Robinson’s antics on a demon. Although Farmer’s apology was a bit too sweeping in my view, I see it more as an admission that he shouldn’t have assumed what he didn’t know for sure. But regardless of whether Robinson gave himself over to an unclean spirit, what he reportedly said was wrong on multiple levels.
The Love to Which Christ Compels Us
I am so thankful for the moral leadership of Bishops Chip Edgar, Todd Hunter, Alex Farmer, and Rev. Jeff Miller, who, in rebuking patriarchy – or, at minimum, the bad behavior of a priest supporting it – took a stand befitting the love to which Christ compels us.
Inevitably, the backlash online has been swift.
An article on Anglican Ink suggested that Robinson’s dismissal from the panel was an act of racism. The author seems oblivious to the hypocrisy of playing the race card in defense of Robinson’s own prejudice.
On Twitter, Robinson himself mocked the “feminists” and “white knights” who walked out of his talk.
The same Anglican group that published a “report” describing me as a “raving feminist” compared Robinson’s treatment at the conference to that of the martyr, John the Baptist: “Like John the Baptist 2000 years ago, the Rev. Calvin Robinson got his head handed to him.”
This analogy seems inappropriate. John the Baptist was unjustly executed for upholding godly values; Robinson was justly excised from a Christian conference panel for his ungodly behavior. Robinson is no more like John the Baptist than Jeff Miller is like Herodias.
Perhaps a better biblical analogy for Robinson’s expulsion from the conference panel would be Jesus purging the money changers from the temple:
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written, my house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers!’ (Matt. 21:12-13)
The theme of the Mere Anglicanism conference this year was “speaking the truth in love.” Presenters were supposed to lean into this theme with their various assigned topics. Robinson was called to speak the truth in love; instead, he spoke untruths – and spoke them hatefully to boot. Then, like the money changers 2000 years ago, Robinson got the boot.
Thank you, Jesus!
The Gifts of God for the People of God
I want to wrap by revisiting Bishop Farmer’s since-retracted statement that Robinson had an “unclean spirit.” Farmer may not have a special gift for the discernment of spirits, but this gift is one of many – prophecy, miracles, speaking in tongues, etc. – that the Holy Spirit distributes among God’s people for the common good, as described by Paul (1 Cor. 12).
God also declares: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)
I have no divine insight into Robinson’s motivations at Mere Anglicanism; they could just as easily be rooted in an “unclean spirit” as in good intentions gone horribly wrong, or both.
But the truth I can speak is that there are unclean spirits at work in our church to spiritually assault women, suppress the service of women to the kingdom of God, and ultimately thwart Christian evangelism. The weapon in this demonic assault against women is the Word of God itself, distorted to make an idol of male authority.
God gives some people dreams – dreams that are not just dreams. You know a dream is not just a dream when it involves spiritual assault, it’s as clear as day, and although you may have no idea what it means at the time – years later, you realize you are living it out and seeing it unfold. That’s when you realize your dream wasn’t just a dream; it was a warning. And in my dream that wasn’t a dream, the key to overcoming Satan’s assault was resisting it.
May we be empowered, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to expose and resist these dark forces at work in the church, loving and serving God and one another as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.