July 5, 2007

“Why Others Stand as Well”

Because my Web site and blog were always intended as outlets for my own work, I am not in the habit of calling attention to what others have written, except insofar as I want to offer my own criticism of it. In this post, I want to make an exception.

As many readers know, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is contemplating its future. (See the stories on the diocesan leadership meetings of May 20–21 and June 29.) Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan seems determined to lead a significant portion of his flock out of The Episcopal Church, which has been the very conspicuous object of his contempt since the 2003 General Convention.

The diocesan leadership has correctly concluded that most Episcopalians in the diocese are not well informed about what has been taking place within and beyond the Pittsburgh diocese. Many people, irrespective of their theological views, simply have not wanted to get involved. At many churches led by allies of the bishop, however, people have been deliberately kept in the dark or have been exposed only to diatribes against The Episcopal Church. As a split in the diocese becomes increasingly inevitable, everyone seems to agree that it is time to choose up sides, time to appeal to the hearts and minds of everyone occupying a pew within the diocese.

While the diocesan leadership has talked of the need for “education,” it has promoted an “interview” with the Rev. Dr. Leslie Fairfield called “Why We Stand.” Fairfield is professor emeritus at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, the Evangelically-oriented Episcopal seminary whose raison d’être has always been the winning over of The Episcopal Church to its narrow, reactionary theology or, failing that, the creation of an Evangelical replacement for it. “Why We Stand” misrepresents church history and paints a picture of The Episcopal Church, which, if true, would make me want to leave it.

When the Fairfield essay appeared on the diocesan Web site in early June, I saw it as yet another biased, self-serving contribution to church strife. Its distortions made me mad, but I tried to put it out of my mind. I had lost all respect for Fairfield’s “scholarship” after viewing the DVD “Choose This Day,” in which he says, among other things, “The choice facing the laity in the Episcopal Church is to choose between authentic Christianity and this alien religion which has permeated the leadership of the Episcopal Church in the last generation.” He also describes that “alien religion” as “foreign and alien and pagan” in his appearances on the DVD.

“Why We Stand” was hard to ignore, something I became aware of when I telephoned a young priest I have known since he first attended elementary school with my son. He told me that Professor Fairfield exactly captured his understanding of the present church conflict. I then discovered that other traditionalist priests are distributing the Fairfield interview to their parishioners to explain the conflict. The interview next showed up in Trinity, the diocesan newsletter, and I understand that it will be part of a packet of materials to be made available for Pittsburgh Episcopalians. Clearly, many nominal Episcopalians would be unmoved by being exposed to another point of view, but it was beginning to seem urgent that a rebuttal to Fairfield’s assertions be made available to those who might still be willing to listen to reason.

I did not feel qualified to write such a rebuttal. I am not a priest, a theologian, or a church historian, but I did know that The Episcopal Church as I experience it bears little resemblance to the one Fairfield describes in either “Choose This Day” or “Why We Stand.” In my search for a qualified author for an essay that would provide an alternative view, I discovered that Tobias Haller, Vicar of St. James, Fordham, in Brooklyn and author of the blog “In a Godward Direction,” had already written a brief piece about “Why We Stand” called “Stuff and Nonsense.” This was not the essay I thought was needed in Pittsburgh, but Tobias is a good writer and clearly viewed the Fairfield essay in the same light as I. After suggesting someone else who might write a good essay, Tobias agreed to try writing something himself. I soon had an essay from him in my inbox titled “Where Others Stand as Well.” It was not what I had been looking for—it was too short and not scholarly enough—but, upon reflection, I realized it was perfect for the task at hand.

But I said that I was calling attention to someone else’s work, not evaluating it. In spite of my extended introduction, I intend to stick to that pledge. You can find “Where Others Stand as Well” here or, as a PDF, here.

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