By: Lynda Bustilloz Re: Heresy Trial - Prosecution View [ Episcopal News Service #1396 RIG

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By: Lynda Bustilloz Re: Heresy Trial -- Prosecution View [ Episcopal News Service #1396 RIGHTER TRIAL OPENS WITH STATEMENTS UPHOLDING TRADITIONAL BELIEFS ON MARRIAGE BY MIKE BARWELL AND SARA BARTENSTEIN (ENS) WILMINGTON, Delaware--The trial of retired Bishop Walter Righter opened this morning with strong statements that the church must uphold the traditional teachings about human sexuality, marriage, and draw a line in the sand to prevent "sowing the seeds of anarchy" in the Episcopal Church. "Though the church is not infallible, there is at any given time such a thing as a mind of the church on matters of faith and life," argued Hugo Blankingship, retired chancellor of the Diocese of Virginia who presented the case for traditional doctrine before nine bishops serving as judges. "Those who disagree are free to argue for change. What they are not free to do is to go against that mind of the church in their own practice." The trial of Bishop Righter is the result of a presentment--or indictment--brought by 10 conservative bishops of the Episcopal Church who claim Righter violated the Episcopal Church's doctrine, teaching, and practices by knowingly ordaining a non-celibate homosexual man as a deacon in 1990. Righter's ordination of the Rev. Barry Stopfel of Maplewood, N.J., occurred 12 days after the House of Bishops had reprimanded Bishop John Spong of Newark for ordaining Robert Williams, another homosexual man, in 1989. Righter's decision, the bishops claim, was an "in your face" action in direct defiance of church doctrine and resolutions of General Convention upholding traditional church teaching about marriage, sexual expression, and what constitutes "a wholesome example to the flock of Christ," in the words of the ordination service. ARGUING THAT THE DOCTRINE IS CLEAR "The position of the presenters is this," Blankingship said. "The church's position is understood and clear: they [bishops] are able to disagree and there can be honest disagreement, but until that is changed by the church--not by individual dioceses or by individual bishops--until it is changed by the church, it remains. "If we lose our handle on that we fall apart completely," Blankingship warned, "That is why the presenters--as painful as this is-- have brought this case where it is. If we don't hold to this, the perception is we are going to lose what we have." The court is seated in Wilmington to decide what does and does not constitute the doctrine of the church, particularly as it is binding on what a bishop may or may not teach. Blankingship opened his argument by reminding the court that the Episcopal Church, through the resolutions of the House of Bishops and the 1979 General Convention, have consistently upheld "the traditional teaching of the Church on marriage, marital fidelity, and sexual chastity as the standard of sexual morality. Candidates for ordination are expected to conform to this standard. Therefore, we believe it is not appropriate for this Church to ordain a practising homosexual, or any person who is engaged in a heterosexual relations outside of marriage." Any action which condones or approves of sexual relations outside of marriage is wrong, the presenters argue. Therefore, ordaining a man who is in a homosexual relationship is a violation of church doctrine. Stopfel and his partner of 10 years, Will Leckie, live together in the rectory of St. George's Episcopal Church in Maplewood, N.J. DIALOGUE WITH THE JUDGES Throughout Blankingship's presentation, the nine judges frequently interrupted him with questions and requests for clarification, specifically asking if the church has different levels of doctrine and teaching, and if in the past the church had changed its doctrines. Bishop Frederick Borsch of Los Angeles quizzed Blankingship if the presenters believed the church had previously changed its doctrine of marriage by adjusting its understanding of divorce and remarriage. "Are you saying it is OK to change the church's teaching on divorce because it had done so deliberately and corporately?" Borsch added that "Scripture would seem to say that people who remarry after divorce are committing adultery. Is everything the church teaches doctrine?" Blankingship fired back that the church's doctrine on marriage remained the same, but that its discipline or practice--not doctrine--had changed. Blankingship summed up his arguments by saying that resolutions of General Convention--which he said is a determiner of church doctrine in the Episcopal Church--reaffirms doctrine which Episcopal News Service - #1397 CHURCH HAS NO DOCTRINE ON ORDAINING HOMOSEXUALS, DEFENSE CONTENDS BY MIKE BARWELL AND SARAH BARTENSTEIN (ENS) WILMINGTON, Delaware--Defenders of retired bishop Walter Righter contend that the Episcopal Church has no clear doctrine on the ordination of homosexual persons. Attorney Michael Rehill, chancellor of the Diocese of Newark who is defending Righter, said in the opening hearing before the Court for the Trial of a Bishop on Tuesday afternoon, that the Episcopal Church actually has very little doctrine--that is, those things which a member must believe in order to belong to the church. At issue is whether Righter violated his ordination vows as a bishop, and publicly held false doctrine by knowingly ordaining a non-celibate homosexual man as a deacon in 1990. If convicted of the charges--known as a presentment--the 72- year-old Righter could be deposed as a bishop, or suspended from performing priestly duties, or simply admonished. Rehill, who spoke for nearly three hours Tuesday afternoon, argued that doctrine is limited to those beliefs to which all Christians must subscribe as members of the faith, such as the divinity of Jesus, or the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Other matters of faith are simply church teachings or matters of discipline, subject to change over time, Rehill said. But if a bishop does not agree with a particular teaching, that does not constitute heresy. As they had done during the morning session with A. Hugo Blankingship, church advocate (prosecutor) various members of the nine-member court interrupted Rehill with frequent questions. They asked for clarification of his definitions of doctrine and discipline, and grilled him about whether doctrine can change over time. Bishop Edward Jones of Indianapolis, president of the court, asked the defense if there were levels or degrees of doctrine. "One could say there is doctrine with a capital "D," or dogma, and then there is teaching, something which is one of the functions of bishops that may have various levels of authority in the church. And you put all such teaching which is not dogma under the heading of discipline?" DOCTRINE OR DISCIPLINE? Rehill agreed that anything which is not dogma or doctrine is discipline, and is advisory as to how we live together with other people in the world. The Episcopal Church, he said, has assigned precious few teachings to the category of doctrine. "Doctrine is the most overused and misunderstood word in our church," Rehill asserted. He named as the sources of doctrine the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer and the historic creeds. If it isn't there, it isn't doctrine, he said. But he added that not everything in the Bible or the Prayer Book is doctrine. He pointed to the writings of St. Paul, saying he found many of the apostle's writings, particularly those about slavery and the treatment of women,"disturbing," because they were written in a culture which is radically different from the one in which we live. He said that while the Prayer Book contains a service for the sacrament of marriage, that does not constitute a doctrine of marriage. "What I am suggesting is that just as the unique nature of God does not change," Rehill asserted, "our doctrine of God does not change. How we respond to God's call will change. That will change in every generation, because that is what we are called to do." Rehill also referred to a report from the Church of England which states that all bishops are called to be both guardians of the faith and "apostolic pioneers." "It does not mean building a wall around the faith, and keeping people away from it. It means, be sure that as you test the Gospel against the world and the world against the Gospel, that you do so faithfully." Whether the Episcopal Church has a doctrine pertaining to the ordination of persons engaged in sexual relationships outside marriage is the central issue to be decided for the first part of the trial. Episcopal News Service - #1399 Court for the Trial of a Bishop calls for further statements to clarify issues by James Solheim (ENS) The Court for the Trial of a Bishop, convened to consider whether or not Bishop Walter Righter taught false doctrine and violated his ordination vows by ordaining a non-celibate gay man in 1990, has called for a memorandum from each side to help it clarify the underlying issues. Following a public, full-day hearing on February 27 at the Cathedral Church of St. John in Wilmington, Delaware, the court went into chambers in an effort to determine whether the church has sufficient doctrine to proceed with a full-blown trial. The court said that it would reach its decision and issue a written response as soon as possible but made it clear that it would take several weeks. On March 1, however, the court notified attorneys for both sides that the court wants them to write a memorandum addressing two questions: "Do resolutions, statements and/or actions of the General Convention or House of Bishops constitute disciplinary authority, as distinct from doctrine, violation of which subjects a bishop, priest or deacon to Presentment under Title IV?" And, second, "With particular attention to the issue of discipline, does the ordination of a noncelibate homosexual person constitute a violation of the ordaining bishop's Oath of Conformity?" The court set a deadline of March 25 for the memoranda. Each side can respond with a reply by April 9. The court also denied a motion filed by Righter's attorney at a pre-trial hearing December 8 in Hartford, Connecticut. The motion asked the court to sever the second count that charged Righter with violating his ordination vows. The motion claimed that the court did not have jurisdiction on Count 2 because the canonical procedures for bringing a bishop to trial for offenses other than "holding and teaching...any doctrine contrary to that held by this church" have not been followed. It suggested that the count should be referred back to the presiding bishop for consideration by a panel of bishops and a Board of Inquiry. The court did not rule on the motion because it decided to "consider the issue of doctrine first," which it did at the Wilmington hearing. In its March 1 response, the court said that the motion was "denied" but did not offer an explanation of its action. Episcopal News Service - #1401 COURT HOLDS HEARING TO DETERMINE CHURCH DOCTRINE ON ORDINATION OF GAYS BY JAMES SOLHEIM (ENS) For the first time in 75 years, and only the second time in the Episcopal Church's history, a court of bishops gathered February 27 to consider charges that a colleague had taught false doctrine. Packed into the Great Hall of the Cathedral Church of St. John in Wilmington, Delaware, amidst a crush of media and observers, the nine bishops of the Court for the Trial of a Bishop heard a full day of arguments on the doctrine of the church as it relates to the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals. The hearing, a first step in the trial of Walter Righter, retired bishop of Iowa, sought to establish whether there is a doctrinal basis for charges brought against Righter of "holding and teaching . . . doctrine contrary to that held by this church" and of violating his ordination vows. LONG PATH TO TRIAL The path leading to the trial began in 1990, when Righter, while serving as an assistant bishop in the Diocese of Newark, ordained Barry Stopfel as a deacon. Stopfel, who has since been ordained as a priest, is a homosexual who was living in a relationship with another man. In January of 1995, 10 bishops filed charges against Righter, claiming that the ordination of a non-celibate homosexual was at odds with the doctrine of the Episcopal Church. A necessary one-quarter of the House of Bishops subsequently agreed that the charges should go to the court. In a pre-trial hearing in Hartford, Connecticut, last December, the court granted a motion calling for a discussion of whether the church had a doctrine on the ordination issue sufficient to move to a full-blown trial of Righter. Media interest in the so-called "heresy trial" has been great. Almost a hundred reporters, photographers and video camera operators swarmed around the Wilmington cathedral as the hearing commenced. But once Bishop Edward Jones of Indianapolis, president of the court, opened the session, cameras were banished and the makeshift courtroom was cleared of all but the 150 observers and accredited press. In an atmosphere of dignity touched with occasional flashes of humor, the opposing attorneys and the nine bishops proceeded to pick their way through the thicket of Episcopal doctrine. A TRIAL ABOUT DOCTRINE "This case is about the doctrine of Christian marriage ... and it is about family values," said A. Hugo Blankingship, Jr., the retired chancellor of the Diocese of Virginia who served as Church Advocate, or attorney for those bringing the charges. "This case first and foremost is about authority, it is about the authority of Holy Scripture and the role it will play in our church," he said in the opening statement of his two and one-half hour presentation. Blankingship said that the church has consistently upheld "the traditional teaching of the church on marriage, marital fidelity, and sexual chastity as the standard of sexual morality." And he argued that candidates for ordination "are expected to conform to this standard." That is why "we believe it is not appropriate for this church to ordain a practicing homosexual, or any person who is engaged in a heterosexual relationship outside of marriage," he said, quoting a 1979 General Convention resolution that is a major point of contention in the trial. Blankingship argued for a broad definition of the church's doctrine, one that is supported by Scripture, the historic creeds of the early church, and the Book of Common Prayer, but also including resolutions and statements of the church's General Convention and the House of Bishops. He said that the trial was "a matter of last resort" by those who saw the "seeds of anarchy" in the actions of bishops who act as "Lone Rangers" in their dioceses, without regard for the opinion of the rest of the church. Stressing the importance of the trial for the future, he warned, "History will judge how relevant the Episcopal Church was in its hour of trial." DOES DOCTRINE CHANGE? Bishops on the court took an active role in questioning the lawyers for both sides. "Suppose I agree that there is a doctrine of marriage," Bishop Cabell Tennis of Delaware said, interrupting Blankingship. "The question I'm struggling with is whether doctrine is fixed or whether it changes." Tennis pointed out that the Episcopal Church has liberalized its own position on divorce and remarriage and he suggested that such an action could be interpreted as a change in its doctrine. The church has changed its policy and its discipline but not its doctrine, Blankingship responded. It still teaches that sexual expression should be limited to life-long, monogamous marriage between a man and a woman. "Scripture clearly says remarriage is adultery, so there seems to be a strong reinterpretation of those Scriptures," observed Bishop Frederick Borsch of Los Angeles. He asked if all teaching by the church would be considered doctrine. "Insofar as those teachings incorporate Scripture and are grounded in Scripture, then the answer would be yes," Blankingship responded. Jones suggested that there might be "different levels of truth in the church," different types of doctrine, some more important than others. " Who determines what is doctrine?" asked Bishop Arthur Walmsley, retired bishop of Connecticut. "What is the authoritative body?" Blankingship said that doctrine can only be changed by the church itself and must stand the test of Scripture. He said that "very few" resolutions of General Convention involve doctrine. Later he referred to a Church of England report that contended there was "evolving convergence" and "ultimate biblical consensus" that sexual activity outside of marriage was wrong and that homosexual behavior was "especially dishonorable." When asked about the 1979 resolution, Blankingship said, "This court has to decide if this is an enforceable resolution." In the absence of a Supreme Court, the General Convention becomes the arbiter of its own decisions, he added, underscoring the assumption that the issue will be on the agenda for the 1997 General Convention in Philadelphia. NARROW DEFINITION OF DOCTRINE "Doctrine is the most overused and misunderstood word in our church," asserted Michael Rehill, chancellor of the Diocese of Newark, attorney for Righter. Arguing for a narrow definition of sources of doctrine, what one judge called a "minimalist" approach, he included the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer and the historic creeds. "Everything else is a matter of discipline," he said. "Doctrine deals with our relationship to God, discipline deals with our relationships with each other," Rehill argued. He called the charges against Righter and the trial "curious and baffling." In fact, he said, "this case trivializes doctrine. It says that doctrine is whatever the General Convention or the House of Bishops vote at a given meeting." That would mean that doctrine could "change from meeting to meeting and year to year," he said. Rehill claimed that the 1979 resolution of General Convention is "unenforceable because it doesn't say anything about enforcement, because it is not a law, it is not prescriptive, it is advisory." He contended that, if the church intended to prohibit the ordinations of non- celibate gays and lesbians, it could "do so easily by changing some of the canons, if that were the will of the Episcopal Church." He pointed out that efforts to change the canons "have failed again, and again, and again." And he said that the church had confessed that it was "not of a single mind" in its understanding on the issue. Walmsley asked pointedly where the middle ground was in the church's attempt to find its mind on issues that clearly have doctrinal overtones or doctrinal basis but are not part of a doctrinal core of beliefs. WHERE'S MIDDLE GROUND? "Most of our church is in the middle, wrestling with these issues" of sexuality, Rehill responded. "That's the middle ground." But he said the court was not being asked to deal with all other sexuality issues, as important as they might be, but only with ordination. And there is no doctrine on the ordination issue, Rehill asserted. "It doesn't exist, you can't find it anywhere.... I may not know what doctrine is, but I know this isn't doctrine." According to Rehill, those who brought charges against Righter did so because of "a sense of frustration that we haven't been able to stop ordinations which the presenters believe are contrary to the will of God." In a closing session, Tennis asked a hypothetical question. If the court agrees that Righter is guilty, "would that mean that all homosexual priests in this church who are living in committed relationships ought to be deposed--and that bishops who did not act to depose them would themselves be guilty of violating the doctrine of the church?" Blankingship, clearly uncomfortable with the implications of the question, said that it was "essentially a diocesan problem and not a national canon." In suggesting possible middle ground, Blankingship said that, in determining what is "best for the church," the respondent, Righter, should yield by admitting that the Episcopal Church "has a moral doctrine by which we stand." And perhaps the presenters should yield by not seeking a harsh judgement against Righter. Sally Johnson, chancellor of the Diocese of Minnesota and a lay assessor for the court, said after the hearing that the canons seem to make it possible to appeal the decision of the court on doctrine. FURTHER CLARIFICATION On March 1 the court notified the two attorneys that it would like them each to prepare a memorandum addressing the key issues: Do actions of the church "constitute disciplinary authority, as distinct from doctrine," that could lead to a presentment? And also, "With particular attention to the issue of discipline, does the ordination of a non-celibate homosexual person constitute a violation of the ordaining bishop's Oath of Conformity?" The court set a deadline of March 25 for the memoranda and each side can file a reply by April 9. No decision is expected until the memoranda and replies have been received and discussed by members of the court. --JAMES SOLHEIM IS DIRECTOR OF NEWS AND INFORMATION FOR THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH. Louie Crew's "Is there a heretic in the House? Copyright 1995 by Louie Crew, Po. O. Box 30, Newark, NJ 07101. Freely quote or publish, but only if you acknowledge properly. Send hard copy of any print publication. Send mail to: IS THERE A HERETIC IN THE HOUSE? Many tell me that they are of the opinion that the trial is not about homosexuality, but rather about doctrine and discipline. I suspect many who who went to the Council of Jerusalem felt the same way: This trial is not about circumcision; it is about doctrine and discipline. But do note, please, that since the Council at Jerusalem, the Church has not been requiring circumcision or other kosher. Bishop Ackerman seemed to make this same assesment when he and I nattered at Kanuga in September. Last March, also at Kanuga, he had told my bishop, Jack Spong, that although he had been one of the 10 who brought the presentment he was not going to consent to it. Bishop Ackerman then reneged without even telling my bishop; yet my bishop had taken much heat for supporting him when Bishop Ackerman almost came up short of the votes needed for his consecration. In sending me to represent him at the evangelism conference, my bishop asked me to tell Bishop Ackerman that he was extremely disappointed that Bishop Ackerman had lied to him. "Louie," Bishop Ackerman told me, "I fully meant what I said to Jack in the spring, and I was wrong not to call and tell him that I had changed my mind. I signed the presentment only on the last day and only because Bishop Benitez assured me that the presentment would be withdrawn at Portland. Louie, I think I will never sign another presentment again, ever, not about anything, even if I feel I ought. I feel very bad about this." When Bishop Salmon told the Commission on Human Affairs that the trial is not about homosexuality but about polity, I asked, "Then are you saying that the Church is scape-goating lesbians and gays?" He replied, "yes." Scape-goating is evil. If the trial is about the way that bishops do business, surely we should begin by asking why they are doing the immoral business of taking a group already much beseiged on all sides and using us as scapegoats for mere polity. I cannot think of another minority group on the planet that they would consider treating this cavalierly, yet in this case, they seem to see nothing wrong in doing so. I hear absolutely no good news in the notion that the trial is not really about homosexuals: I hear only the world's message: this is the only group it's still safe to abuse. The world which will watch the trial does not give a tinker's malediction about the polity of the Episcopal Church. The media which will cover this trial does not for a moment believe that this trial is primarily about polity and collegialty. If that were true, you would have only the same hard-core church press there to cover it. That will not be the case. The press knows exactly why "the fine upstanding Episcopal Church," the "church of presidents," the [fill in the blank with any of their standard stereotypes about ECUSA] is willing to violate its own sense of decorum and make a public spectacle of itself. I agree that most bishops would not say they're going for Walter or even for lesbians and gays. It's never easy to admit whom you're going for. It's always easier to ignore your victims and to say that you're doing this on the basis of some high-sounding principle. The press will be at the heresy trial for the same reason it went to the Scopes trial: An antequated notion of God is trying to deprive God's people of the right to use their minds and hearts to attend to new truth. In backing the state and William Jennings Bryan in 1925, parts of the church wrote themselves out of the lives of many of the best minds in America. When Scopes lost, textbook makers would not publish biologically honest textbooks until Sputnik (1957); for the 32-year interval, Bryan's ghost hung like the shadow of the dark ages on the minds of biologists, biochemists, physicians....... The parts of the church that backed Bryan did more to undermine the church's influence in the community than anything on the secular world's agenda could possibly have done. If the church prefers rigor mortis, let it join those who cast the first 76 stones. It won't help at all to say, "Oh but we love Walter and Louie and all our ....." I'm not speculating. I speak from the trenches. We've been bringing persons into this church by the thousands, and thousands more are watching, most in utter amazement that a church with a strong reputation for rationality has even consented, here at the doorway to the 21st century, to drop all other important matters and try a man for heresy! Surely he must have done something horrendous and eggregious to merit the attention the same church would not give to Bishop Pike 30 years ago?! Not so! The House has consented to the trial knowing full well that 111 other bishops have done one or more of the "heretical" acts with which he is charged. One of the "proofs" that he's a heretic is that the poor fellow just voted the wrong way! Seriously, that's one of the major pieces of evidence! Every Episcopalian with half an i.q. point left ought to be profoundly embarrassed. The vast majority of adult Episcopalians fled denominations where they had to hang their minds at the door, and now we are captive to a trial where such mindlessness is aired for all the world to see. You may be surprised to know that, having said all that, I agree with those who say that this trial is not about lesbians and gays as the media will proclaim. But I see it as not about polity and collegiality either. This trial is about the love of God: Millions have seen the preliminary network coverage of this trial and have concluded, as many have rightly concluded before the lesbigay issue came along, that the Episcopal Church is less than honest when it proclaims boldly everywhere, "The Episcopal Church welcomes you." Millions more have concluded the same thing about God! Most who see the lie in the claim to welcome don't care any more about lesbigays than do the presenting bishops. But many, many of them wonder whether God loves them, or maybe even whether the Episcopal Church in their community would welcome them, given their understanding of their own weakness and their own unworthiness. The very fact that we are having the trial has given far too many their answer. It's not God's answer. It's not my answer. I know how much God loves not just me, but my enemies as well. It's in knowing that God loves my enemies that I most discover that God has changed me, because before God loved me, I could not have thought like that. I believe that God calls lesbians and gays to love well this church that so egregiously abuses us that the whole world might know the only good news there is now or ever has been: God loves absolutely everybody and wants us in joy to love everybody too. Lynda Bustilloz ... And yesterday the planet seemed to be going so well.. --- IM2.29+/FE1.45a+/PB2.12+ * Origin: Xtians are uncomplicated beings: pure and simpleton. (1:109/601)


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