Crisis in Connecticut and a call for mutual submission

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Once again the Episcopal Church has become major news in The New York Times. (One article was carried over to a second page, and featured three photos) This publicity, for the usual wearying reasons, has nothing to do with holiness of life, or Spirit-filled worship, or ministry to the poor, or powerful witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, but with a struggle for power in the Diocese of Connecticut. Six parishes in the Diocese, led by St. Paul’s, Darien, have withheld their diocesan assessments pending their request for alternative Episcopal oversight. The presenting issue, as is commonplace these days, is ongoing unhappiness regarding the election and consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson. The Bishop of Connecticut, Andrew Smith, took a very hard line and, in a sharply worded letter, threatened the rectors with deposition on a specific date—Friday, April 15. [This is only a sketch; readers can find details elsewhere.]

As of this writing, Sunday evening, a report has come suggesting that cooler heads may have gotten through to Bishop Smith. The deadline has been withdrawn and instead, an invitation has come to the six rectors to meet with Bishop Smith and a mediator, Bishop Gordon Scruton of Western Massachusetts. This is welcome news, but—as in most human disputes where issues of power and control are involved—there has been so much digging in and staking out and drawing of lines and circling of wagons that stubborn self-righteousness and naked power plays tend to be predominant factors in spite of an overlay of pious language.

There is another way, however. Bishop Peter J. Lee of Virginia, in a recent address to his diocese, has taken Ephesians 5:21 as his inspiration and has called for “mutual submission” in the Body of Christ. This is the only hope for the Christian community when inflammatory issues are at stake. Bishop Lee describes what each side in the controversy can do in order to avoid the meltdown that is threatening our Communion.

Another interesting proposal, from a different perspective, recommends an approach that might offer a similar hope. Dean Paul Zahl of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, being interviewed by The Witness, took as a text another challenging passage from Paul’s Epistles, the discussion of the “weak” and the “strong” in Romans 14-15. Writing from the perspective of “the weak,” Dean Zahl pleads with the “regnant,” “ascendant” bishops to refrain from taking advantage of their positions as “the strong.” It is a gracious argument. However, even those of us who think of ourselves as “the weak” (because Biblical theology is rapidly losing ground in all the mainline churches) must beware of the sin of pride. As C. H. Spurgeon warned, “Pride is a strange creature; it never objects to its lodgings…There may be as much pride inside a beggar’s rags as in a prince’s robe.” (Sermon on Habakkuk 2:4). That warning will serve us well as we seek to practice mutual submission.

Bishop Lee’s paper can be found at
(Look at page 10 under “Pastoral Address”)

Paul Zahl’s interview is on this link:

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