Losing Forrester

450px-Verona_-_Artista_di_strada_in_veste_di_Charlot-Chaplin So -- why did the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester not get the required consents from Episcopal bishops and diocesan standing committees to become bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan?

Answer -- it's not exactly clear.

Covering news in the Anglican Communion -- and I, obviously, speak as an ordained member of that body (even that statement isn't so "obvious" to those, including many Anglicans who don't believe that women can be priests) -- can make you crazy.

See? I'm in trouble already. It's little wonder that you find some reporters, like the rest of us, striving to get a grip on terra firma, like comedians balancing on a banana peel.

Polity? Subject to debate, interpretation and extreme hyperbole. Theology? Depends who you ask. Who's on first? Ask a bishop -- or a judge.

We return to the latest episode from the just-cancelled miniseries featuring bishop-elect Kevin Thew Forrester, a Buddhist practitioner as well as an Episcopal priest. Actually, this isn't quite the latest episode (see gay bishop nominees.). I'm reasonably sure we'll get around to that.

Over at Bible Belt Blogger, religion editor Frank Lockwood posted the official Episcopal News Service statement and his own unofficial vote tally. The large number either voting against or taking some kind of evasive action indicates...well, it indicates something. The problem is, it's not clear what. Lockwood has lots of links that will help readers who for some reason haven't been keeping up with the Forrester saga.

As this news update on The Living Church indicates, Forrester could have drawn objections on a number of grounds, from objections to his theology and liturgical changes, to his lay ordination by a Buddhist group, to the fact that he was the sole candidate in the election.

As GetReligion has noted, this story hasn't gotten a huge amount of play in the secular press. But Daniel Burke of Religion News Service (full disclosure: I have written a few pieces for RNS) does a fine job of pulling together some of the complexities that made the story both intriguing and frustrating. I was particularly interested in these paragraphs:

The controversy surrounding Thew Forrester's election, stoked in large part by conservative bloggers, blended age-old concerns about fidelity to key Christian tenets with 21st-century online activism. At times, it seemed to mirror a secular political campaign, with the candidate's public talks and personal history parsed by supporters and detractors alike.

Ultimately, both liberal and conservative Episcopalians judged Thew Forrester's singular spirituality insufficiently orthodox -- even in a church known for tolerating progressive theology and open-mindedness.

If you happen to read this post, Daniel, and feel impelled, I'm interested in comments from you. You aren't talking about GetReligion when you mention conservative bloggers, are you? And if it wasn't us, who was it?

My guess is that the combination of Buddhist practice and membership in the Episcopal Church (a particularly American combo?) can cause agita in a reporter. Journalists like to be exact -- but they don't want to take paragraphs to explain all of the particulars. So I liked the restraint of Burke's opening paragraph.

A story this past weekend from the Louisville Courier-Gazette, while mainly focused on Diocese of Kentucky bishop Ted Gulick's perspective on General Convention, did offer an unusual chance to see one bishop's rationale for voting "no."

Forrester drew criticism for combining Christian and Zen Buddhist practices, but Gulick said he was particularly concerned about revisions Forrester had made to Episcopal liturgies that, among other things, altered the traditional understanding of Jesus as the savior of people from their sins.

"Doctrine is terribly important to me, and is frankly much more important to me than sexual orientation," said Gulick, who had voted to approve Robinson's ordination. "It's not because I don't think Thew Forrester is a fine person...(But) his modifications of the baptismal rite in fact change doctrine...I could not in conscience concur with the election."

The writer could have done a better job explaining the atonement, but that's a wonderful Gulick quote. Here we do have one bishop who sees a big disconnect between doctrine on baptism and the ordination of practicing gays. How many others felt the same way? How many standing committees in which laypeople are often more theologically conservative than clergy? This is just the kind of story that allows readers, particularly those in a denomination, to see what their spiritual leader thinks, and to figure out what they think themselves.

While I don't neccessarily agree with Ed Jones's conclusions about the sexuality resolutions in his column posted on the Fredericksburg.com website, I have to admire the way that he defends ambiguity (nuance) as an Anglican way of life -- and his assertion that the media often use a blunt instrument when a finer tool would do. Given that both the Diocese of Los Angeles and Minnesota are now fielding openly gay bishop candidates, his perspective seems debatable, but he does identify a challenge for reporters attempting to figure out what's really happening when a Convention votes "yes" or a bishop votes "no."

Again -- it depends on who you talk to. Or sometimes perhaps, as Burke seems to imply, what you read.

Picture of Charlie Chaplin, comedian extraordinaire is from Wikimedia Commons

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