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When principle trumps people

Cross-posted from Shreds and Patches

The People Involved
The controversy that erupted over an invitation to the Presiding Bishop to preach at Nashotah House Seminary has been an undignified spectacle. Those least regarded have been ordinary human beings caught up in all this, while blogs and Facebook pages have erupted in the sort of battle and murder, and tragically sudden death the Great Litany bids us pray we avoid. I think particularly of the seminarians at Nashotah House, sent there at personal sacrifice and no little expense to prepare themselves for ministry. These men and women come from the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church in North America and other Anglican bodies. In classroom and chapel, the circumstances which have divided Anglicans in North America fall silent as the worship of Almighty God is offered and the wisdom of Scripture and of saints, past and present is taught, read, learned and inwardly digested and lives are formed in prayer and study in order that a continued supply of equipped clergy may serve the people of God. Among those being formed was Terry Star, a Native American, whose people have remained loyal to the church despite their sufferings, past and present. Terry might well have been embittered by the history he inherited and the continued deprivation of his people. He remained determined to seek peace and reconciliation and mirrored that determination in his kindly smile, loving manner and simple devotion. In the midst of the controversy, knowing that his wish that the Presiding Bishop should experience Nashotah — a Native American word — first hand had caused such a furore, Terry suffered a heart attack and died alone.

Terry served on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church and had experienced kindness from the Presiding Bishop. Terry was training to be a priest and had experienced kindness, faith and joy at the House. Coming from a nation that has experienced enormous prejudice and violence, his heart ached as he experienced the bitter divisions within the Anglican family of churches in America. “Blessed are the peace makers.”

His fellow seminarians, to a lesser degree, struggle daily with their unhappy divisions. Our jurisdictions, the ones from which the student body is drawn, owe to these dedicated men and women our careful devotion. We are warned by our Lord not to place stumbling blocks before “little ones,” those young in faith and ministry, placed in our care. They are not slogans or political talking points. They are God’s chosen.

When I was young in ministry I was a school chaplain. One of the staff, a dour Scottish atheist said to me one day, “Beware of principled folk. They are often unprincipled about their principles.” Of course he overstated his point, but he had a point. Those on the left and right of the present Anglican spectrum are often unprincipled about their principles. Their passion for their Causes is seen as justification to indulge in prejudice, hatefulness, and character assassination, justified by their advocacy of true religion and virtue, for justice and morality. Stripped of their Christian attire, they seem no different than the devotees of political faction in the State. When I read that an entertainer had described the President of the United States as sub human, I thought of the descriptions bandied about leaders of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican diaspora in an attempt to dehumanize “the enemy,” making such people fair game in religious warfare. Who knows how many ordinary, devout lay people and not a few clergy who have been driven from their churches by the hatefulness of zealots, on the left and on the right, torn apart local congregation in a struggle for territory, stone and mortar and parish funds? Who knows how many seekers have contrasted “See how these Christians love one another’, with the spite and invective they read about and experience?

No one comes out of the battles that have divided and torn apart Anglicanism in America looking virtuous. The excuses for law suits, involving secular courts in grasping often inefficient Victorian piles have eroded separation of Church and State and portrayed a mercenary and materialistic affiliation. Many of those whose assets have been appropriated have used the hurt they have experienced as excuse for bitterness and a vengeful spirit. If either side had devoted their zeal and money to the plight of Native Americans living in dreadful conditions on reservations, on the poor and the needy, and got on with merely being the church in mission according to their own lights, who knows how many would have been drawn to Christ by the winsomeness of Christian people, divided by principle but united in compassion and mercy?

The religious wars of the 16th and 17th Century, as the church divided and fought, dreadfully weakened Western Christendom. All too often the Devil won. We have inherited those divisions, writ large in the presence of a multitude of sects, whose buildings still stand witness to our unhappy divisions on almost every street corner.

In early May the Presiding Bishop will spend a day at Nashotah House, mixing with staff and students, and preaching a eulogy for Terry Star at Evensong. After that she will fly out, perhaps with the Nashotah Hymn, “Firmly I believe and Truly” ringing in her ears. No doubt all, whatever their affiliation will offer her courtesy and she will offer that courtesy back. Perhaps, who knows, she will catch a glimpse of a community at peace with one another, to whom Jesus is all in all? People, human beings, baptized people will briefly interact. And that will be that. Tragically her visit will no doubt produce another stream of invective as “progressives” lament that she set foot in such a place, and the orthodox want the place exorcised. I pray that God the Holy Spirit may use those few hours to work grace, touch hearts and drive away bitterness.


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