Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has declined a series of lectures he was scheduled to give at New York’s General Theological Seminary in November in the wake of the crisis roiling the school.
On Oct. 8, the Christian ethicist said he does not want to get in the middle of a controversy involving the resignations or firings of eight faculty.
Two weeks ago, the eight faculty members quit teaching classes and attending official seminary meetings or chapel services until they could sit down with the Board of Trustees.
Hauerwas, who is professor emeritus of divinity and law at Duke Divinity School, said he pulled out of the lecture series so he would not appear to take a side.
“I was looking forward to going because I’ve known of General for my whole academic life, but I had never been there. At one time, it represented a commitment to an Anglo-Catholic tradition with which I’m very sympathetic,” said Hauerwas, who attends an Episcopal church in Chapel Hill, N.C. “I think the situation is one of deep pathos; it’s just pathetic. I’m sorry that I’ve gotten caught in it.”
General Theological Seminary’s campus in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan is everything you’d want in an urban seminary.
Handsome buildings, a chapel at the center, quiet walkways in a noisy city, calm places to read and pray. All serving a wonderfully diverse student body eager to minister in a changing world.
It’s like the best of historic church properties: harking back to a day of noble architecture and tradition and yet looking outward to a frenetic city and changing religious environment.
Why, then, is GTS on the verge of financial collapse and, now, paralyzing internal conflict? Its dean is under attack, 80 percent of its full-time faculty were dismissed, its board is floundering — all in the glare of press and blogosphere.
Why? For the same reason that historic churches and denominations are trapped in “train wrecks.” Their time has passed.
Several faculty members at the Episcopal Church’s oldest seminary are battling with the school’s leadership, although neither side agrees whether they quit, were fired or staged a walkout.
General Theological Seminary in Manhattan is the only seminary overseen by the national church. Last week, eight faculty decided to stop teaching classes, attending official seminary meetings or attending chapel services until they could sit down with the Board of Trustees.
The dean and president, Kurt Dunkle, wrote a letter to students saying the Board of Trustees’ accepted the eight faculty members’ resignations. But faculty member Andrew Irving wrote to students saying the professors never suggested they would resign.
“We wish to underline that we have not resigned,” Irving wrote, suggesting the group sought legal counsel. “Our letters did not say that we would resign. We requested meetings with the Board.”
The Rev. Ellen Tillotson, an Episcopal priest in Connecticut and a GTS board member, wrote that it has become clear that the eight faculty have been planning a walkout.
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman elected to head a national branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, announced Sept. 23 that she will not seek a second nine-year term in office.
Her departure will likely set off debates over her legacy and the future of the 2 million-member denomination.
“I believe I can best serve this church by opening the door for other bishops to more freely discern their own vocation to this ministry,” Jefferts Schori, 60, said in a statement. “I will continue to engage us in becoming a more fully diverse church, spreading the gospel among all sorts and conditions of people, and wholeheartedly devoted to God’s vision of a healed and restored creation.”
Her 2006 election was celebrated as a breakthrough for women leadership in the church; delegates sported pink “It’s a Girl!” buttons after the vote. She remains the only female primate in the Anglican Communion, but last year the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America followed suit and elected its first female presiding bishop.
Jefferts Schori’s current term will end at the conclusion of the Episcopalians’ General Convention in Salt Lake City in June 2015. Church membership during her term has dropped by 12 percent, according to the most recent statistics available from the denomination.
Jefferts Schori’s time as presiding bishop has been lauded by theological liberals and bemoaned by conservatives, but both breakaway Anglicans and Jefferts Schori were instrumental to one another’s rise.
The Church of England’s vote to allow female bishops threatens unity with the Catholic Church, according to the editor of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
Giovanni Maria Vian, who is also a Rome historian, on Tuesday said the decision would have “an extremely negative impact” on steps to bring the churches closer together despite a positive meeting between Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Pope Francis a month ago.
“Clearly it’s a decision that complicates the ecumenical path,” Vian said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa published on Tuesday. “The problem is not only with Rome but also with Orthodox Churches, and that the Anglican Church is itself divided on the issue.”
After nearly 20 years of debate, the Church of England’s General Synod voted Monday to permit women priests to be ordained as bishops, overturning centuries of tradition in a church that has been deeply divided over the issue.
After 20 years of turmoil and angry debate, on Monday the General Synod of the Church of England said “yes” to women bishops.
The first could be named by the end of the year with the appointment of at least three additional women sometime in 2015, say senior church officials.
The General Synod is the three-tier governing body of the Church of England and it is made up of bishops, clergy, and laity.
At a meeting in York, the General Synod gave final approval to legislation introducing the changes by the required two-thirds majority.
Overall 351 members of the 433 Synod voted in favor of the measure.
In the last month, many Westerners watched in horror as Uganda, and then Nigeria, enacted laws that are brutally repressive to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
The fate of a bill passed by the Ugandan parliament remains uncertain after President Yoweri Museveni refused to sign it, but news reports from Nigeria indicate that there have been mass arrests of gay men following President Goodluck Jonathan’s signing of the National Assembly’s anti-gay bill.
World leaders, including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, have expressed their dismay. Many Christian leaders around the world, regrettably, have been largely unwilling to criticize Christian leaders in Africa who cheered the passage of these punitive laws.
Who are the mainline Protestants today? Vintage Protestants? The VPCC — Vanishing Progressive Christian Church? The Legacy Church?
Half a century ago, the denominations under the mainline umbrella dominated the American faith landscape. Now, after decades of declining numbers, only about one in five U.S. adults identifies with a mainline denomination such as United Methodists, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), and American Baptists.
Could replacing the “mainline” name help stem the slide? The challenge came from scholar and Presbyterian pastor Carol Howard Merritt. Writing in the venerable Christian Century magazine, she called for a new brand that conveys her view of the mainline’s rising diversity and social justice leadership.
As online worship becomes more common in some churches, leaders within the United Methodist Church are debating whether the denomination should condone online Communion.
About 30 denominational leaders met last week after Central United Methodist Church in Concord, N.C., announced plans to launch an online campus that potentially would offer online Communion. Some nondenominational churches already offer online Communion, according to United Methodist News Service, but leaders urged the denomination’s bishops to call for a moratorium on the practice and do further study of online ministries.
The majority of the leaders agreed with the statement that Communion “entails the actual tactile sharing of bread and wine in a service that involves people corporeally together in the same place.” Not everyone, however, agreed that congregants must be in the same place.
Primates and bishops from the Global South attending a gathering in Toronto, said current proposals for a new Anglican Communion covenant don’t go far enough to heal the conflict in the communion over homosexuality.
The Wednesday gathering to mark the 50th anniversary of the Toronto Anglican Congress, suggested the worldwide Anglican Communion faces troubled waters. Anglicans from the Global South prepare to meet for their second Global Anglican Future Conference next month and the Toronto meeting showed no signs of reconciliation.
Archbishop Ian Ernest, primate of the province of the Indian Ocean, said decisions by the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada on issues involving homosexuality have torn the fabric of communion.
Concerned that the crisis in the worldwide Anglican Communion is deepening, conservative Anglican primates in Africa are organizing a second conference to discuss ways of returning the church to what they describe as biblical faithfulness.
The primates held the first conference in Jerusalem in 2008, five years after openly gay New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson was consecrated in the Episcopal Church. The action threw the communion into disarray.
At the Jerusalem meeting, the primates called for the creation of an Anglican province in North America to rival the Episcopal Church. Five years later, the primates say the new Anglican province, known as the Anglican Church in North America, is thriving.
He’s best known for his iconic 1980s feel-good hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” but Grammy-award winning artist Bobby McFerrin explores a deeper side of life in a new album.
Titled spirityouall, the recording includes his adaptations of traditional African-American spirituals and devotional songs that he composed.
McFerrin believes music has a transcendent spiritual power.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has elected its first openly gay bishop, the Rev. R. Guy Erwin, to oversee churches in Southern California, four years after the church allowed openly gay men and lesbians to serve as clergy.
Following a wider trend within other mainline Protestant denominations to appoint gays and lesbians to leadership positions, the ELCA’s five-county Southwest California Synod elected Erwin on Friday (May 31) to a six-year term.
“It’s historic and a turning point, as was the ordination of women,” said Martin Marty, the dean of American church historians at the University of Chicago and a member of the ELCA. “This is just one of many indications that the culture has shifted.”
As I waited in the room heated to 105 degrees, my friend Molly looked for a sliver of floor space for her yoga mat. “I probably need a more relaxing type of yoga,” I whispered, almost apologizing for bringing my type-A body to the crowded Bikram class, known for its intense heat and addictive practitioners.
At exactly 10 a.m., the yoga teacher entered the room: I stood in unison with the other students, much like I rise for the procession at my church on Sundays. Surprisingly, much of what draws me to Bikram yoga also brings me back each week to the Episcopal church.
When disgruntled congregations have left hierarchical denominations such as the Episcopal Church, they’ve often lost property battles as civil courts ruled buildings and land are not theirs to keep.
But outcomes could be different this year, court watchers say, as high-profile cases involving dozens of Episcopal congregations in South Carolina and Texas wind their way through state courts. That prospect has observers watching for insights that could shape legal strategies in other states and denominations.
Both cases involve conservative dioceses that voted to leave the Episcopal Church over homosexuality, among other issues. In South Carolina, congregations representing about 22,000 people are suing the Episcopal Church for control of real estate worth some $500 million and rights to the diocese’s identity. In Texas, the national Episcopal Church is suing about 60 breakaway congregations in the Fort Worth area for properties estimated to be worth more than $100 million.
"I urge lawmakers to press for comprehensive and universal background checks for firearm ownership, regardless of where and how a gun is purchased; for bans on the availability to civilians of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines; and for policies designed to better regulate the manufacture of guns,” the Presiding Bishop states in her testimony. “The Episcopal Church also supports the highest level of accountability for violation of all existing laws pertaining to violence in our midst.”
Bishop Jane Dixon, 75, died in her sleep on Christmas Day, according to the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. Dixon was the second woman consecrated as bishop in the Episcopal Church and the third in Anglican Communion.
A champion for justice and equality, Dixon was selected three times byWashingtonian magazine as one of the 100 most influential women in the Washington metropolitan area. In January 2002, she was named a Washingtonian of the Year.
From Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of Washington:
Called to serve at a time when some refused to accept the authority of a woman bishop, Jane led with courage and conviction, and sometimes at great personal cost. She demonstrated that same bravery and grace when she brought hope and healing to our country by officiating at the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance service at Washington National Cathedral following the tragedy on 9/11.
Jane was a fighter for equality and social justice and this led her to speak at the White House against hate crimes and to stand for inclusiveness within the Episcopal Church.
'Jane is a person who has the courage of her convictions but the grace and humility to know that none of us can equate our ways with God's ways, our thoughts with God's thoughts,' said the late Verna Dozier, Jane’s longtime mentor, in the sermon she preached at Jane’s consecration.
Dixon is survived by her husband of 52 years, David McFarland Dixon, Sr., her three children, and six grandchildren.
CONCORD, N.H. -- When V. Gene Robinson became the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church in 2003, his controversial election triggered shock waves and fears of schism across the worldwide Anglican Communion. Hundreds of parishes left the Episcopal Church in protest.
Now, as this lighting-rod figure prepares to retire on Jan. 5, he’s leaving New Hampshire for a city that knows polarization all too well: Washington, D.C.
But rather than throw fuel on the culture wars, Robinson foresees a new role as a bridge builder for a nation strained by divisive issues. First up: helping his new church home, St. Thomas’ Parish in Dupont Circle, found a Center for Non-Violent Communication.
“Our big goal is to change the nature of the debate in Washington,” Robinson said during an interview at his Concord office. “We’re mostly shouting at each other these days. We’d like (the center) to become a place where people can learn about and commit themselves to a different kind of tone.”
Conservative commentators like Rupert Murdoch's stable and Ross Douthat of The New York Times are feasting on what they perceive as the "death" of "liberal Christianity."
They add two and two and get eight. They see decisions they don't like — such as the Episcopal Church's recent endorsement of a rite for blessing same-sex unions. They see declines in church membership. They pounce.
Such "liberal" decisions are destroying the church, they say, and alienating young adults they must reach in order to survive.
Never mind that surveys of young adults in America show attitudes toward sexuality that are far more liberal than those of older generations. Never mind that conservative denominations are also in decline.
Never mind — the most inconvenient truth — that mainline denominations began to decline in 1965, not because of liberal theology, but because the world around them changed and they refused to change with it.