Letter from America

Tarzan follows Jane

THE elaborate consecration of former San Diego Dean, John B Chane, at Washington National Cathedral on June 1 set the tone for the new diocesan ‘administration’ with a ‘dream team’ of liberal headliners, one of whom called for a ‘politically committed spirituality’ to confront social injustice.

This keynote for Chane’s tenure as the eighth Episcopal Bishop of Washington was sounded in the sermon given by William Sloane Coffin, the former Yale chaplain and anti- Vietnam War peace activist. The service’s notables also included former Newark Bishop John Shelby Spong, whose ‘12 theses’ repudiated basic Christian beliefs, and former Newark Assistant Bishop Walter Righter, who escaped ecclesiastical trial in 1996 for ordaining an active homosexual.

Assisting the chief consecrator – liberal Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold – the two DC prelates served as official co-consecrators of Chane, joined by Spong, Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno, retired San Diego Bishop Robert Wolterstorff, and current San Diego Bishop Gethin Hughes. The presence of Hughes puzzled observers who recalled that Chane publicly scolded the prelate last year for not allowing Spong to preach at San Diego parishes.

Integrity?

As he joined dozens of other participating clergy, the Reverend Michael Hopkins, a priest of the Washington diocese and president of the Episcopal gay group, Integrity, looked relaxed and confident, as well he might. Chane, as one writer put it, was ‘the Integrity candidate’. In the weeks before his January 25 election as Washington’s bishop (from a field of six liberal candidates), Chane touted (inter alia) his vigorous and early support of gay and lesbian issues.

But some observers also believe that hardline liberal revisionists got behind Chane as the candidate most likely become he cutting edge bishop needed to fill the void left by the retirement of his longtime friend, Jack Spong.

Chane already has shown some readiness to oblige. In his Easter sermon, for example, he called Christ’s bodily Resurrection ‘conjectural,’ and opined that this ‘concept’ was not even mentioned until some 50 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.

He also maintains that the Gospel must be reinterpreted as culture changes; that Anglicans must challenge the theological, moral and ethical beliefs which orthodoxy says are immutable, but which often become ‘rigid and unbending’.

Nonetheless, consents for Chane’s consecration were received from 86 diocesan bishops and 84 diocesan standing committees, compared to just 14 bishops and 16 committees (including that in San Diego) which refused consent.

Professions of Faith

The consecration service was attended by some 2,000 persons, including about 200 of Chane’s supporters from California.

The service featured rich musical offerings, which avoided over-zealous attempts at ‘diversity.’ Inconspicuously, the liturgy appeared to strive for non-genderized language for worshippers, albeit not for God. The Eucharistic rite was Prayer B from the 1979 Prayer Book.

Any contradictory remarks notwithstanding, Chane declared his belief during the service that the Holy Scriptures are the ‘Word of God, and … contain all things necessary to salvation,’ and pledged (inter alia) to ‘guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church.’ Bishop Griswold also reminded that a bishop ‘is called to be one with the apostles in proclaiming Christ’s resurrection and interpreting the Gospel, and to testify to Christ’s sovereignty as Lord of lords and King of kings.’

Chane knelt in solemn prayer, eyes closed, as the choir sang the Veni Creator Spiritus. And after his consecration by the gathered bishops he appeared humbly moved, even a bit tearful, as he was presented with the symbols of his office, and was warmly greeted as Washington’s new bishop in a standing ovation. But during his remarks and his celebration of the Eucharist following, he appeared to be a man ready to take charge – a man who had taken charge.

Chane has already confirmed his embrace of Coffin’s call, pledging in his sermon June 2 that he would help increase the Church’s voice for social justice; he said he hoped to ‘engage the secular and political leadership’ of the District and Congress. He charged that the Church had been complicit in institutional slavery and narrow-minded attitudes toward women and gays.

Millstones

He also has said that the diocese will eliminate ‘millstones’, and has preached against making any ‘peace with oppression, especially with those who tell you that your theology is unorthodox and exceeds of the canons of the Church.’

But this begged the question: Would he apply Coffin’s call for a compassionate and loving confrontation of ‘injustice’ to those hewing to the historic faith – the faith still held by most Anglicans and the Universal Church at large? Would he apply it to the battered believers of Christ Church, Accokeek?

Most Washington conservatives – who made no protest at Chane’s consecration – seemed in early June to be withholding judgement on the new bishop in the small hope that he would do just that. That hope did not seem to be without some basis in reality.

A San Diego cleric, Bishop George McKinney, said Washingtonians can expect Chane ‘to demonstrate the highest level of diplomacy. He knows the art of compromise.’ And Washington’s ‘profile’ called in part for a bishop with ‘a proven ability to nurture relationships with individuals having differing points of view’.

One orthodox priest noted that there had been an obvious effort to achieve diversity, including theologically, in various contingents participating in the June 1 service.

Unilateralism

But, while they had been in dialogue with Chane, leaders of Washington’s American Anglican Council chapter (AAC-W) were troubled by the consecration line-up. They issued a statement on the day of Chane’s consecration saying that the chapter shares the new bishop’s concern for ‘unity and reconciliation in the diocese,’ but were distressed ‘that some clergy, who are symbols of promoting unilateral actions on doctrinal matters, are key participants in the consecration. Many may interpret their participation to mean that this diocese will operate unilaterally from the rest of ECUSA and the Anglican Communion – as some believe it has been operating in the past several years. We pray that such an interpretation is not correct.’

‘Bishop Chane has promised to make Washington the ‘most exciting diocese in [ECUSA],’ said a Washington Times editorial. ‘Exciting, perhaps, in the way that a plane crash or a soccer riot is exciting. He didn’t say much about spiritual salve for troubled times.’

One Anglo-Catholic cleric summed up the pivotal problem. Anglo-Catholicism as a tradition, he said, ‘has transformed the face of Anglicanism’ but not its ‘heart.’ Today, it is no longer social issues which are really at stake.

‘The issue now,’ he said, ‘is God Himself – God is being attacked.’

 

Auburn Traycik is editor of The Christian Challenge. A longer version of this piece appeared in the July-August edition of that paper.

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