The Search Committee produced a slate of five candidates from which the Diocesan delegates, it hoped, would select the eighth Bishop of Upper South Carolina. A group of those delegates (three clergy, three lay) submitted a petition to include a sixth, The Very Reverend Dr. Philip C. Linder, Dean of Trinity Cathedral, Columbia. (Another disclosure is necessary here: I have known Philip for a number of years and I have deep respect for his ministry, his sense of Kingdom justice, and his courageous stand in public square on a number of key issues, beyond The Issue which threatens the soul of the Episcopal Church.)
Dean Linder was among the original nominees, but withdrew before the final selections were made. In a letter to his congregation after withdrawing, Linder wrote: “God has been relentless in his unwillingness to let go of my heart and soul, and I have sought to be faithful in my attentive listening and discipline of prayer to discover God’s will through his Son, Jesus Christ…This journey has led me full circle back to Trinity Cathedral, where I believe God, and I pray all of you, desire for me to continue to serve as your priest and dean.” Apparently the urging of those who signed the petition has convinced Dean Linder to change his mind.
Philip Linder’s faith journey is a familiar one to many Episcopalians: son of a Roman Catholic father and Lutheran mother, he was formed by the sacraments and when he met his future wife, who was Episcopalian, he joined The Episcopal Church. He began the discernment process for Holy Orders while still in college. He describes himself as “deeply passionate about my love for Jesus, The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion and my desire to serve the people of God.”
He says that his management style is to surround himself with “really gifted people” that he expects “to be excellent in their field, with me as guide, encourager, and colleague.” He says that as Bishop he would bring three key qualities to the office: “loyalty to the vision of the diocese and to the oath at consecration to ‘guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church;” trust, which he describes as “assured reliance on the character, ability, and truth of the leader;” and flexibility: a willingness “to learn from one another and …to think outside of the box.”
On The Question, Dean Linder is clearly a moderate conservative. At the the 2006 General Convention, Linder voted in favor of resolution B033, which called upon Dioceses “to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.” That was coded language for non-celibate homosexuals, since obviously a certain Nazarene carpenter comes to mind when one ponders those “whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church.”
Following that vote, he wrote in an op-ed piece in The State:
What is at stake here is the very soul of the Episcopal Church and Anglicanism. Our Anglican theology and heritage has held for centuries against radical liberalism or radical conservatism, maintaining that God’s truth is to be ultimately found in the tension of those extremes, and not in the extremes themselves. Today, human sexuality has become the front where those seeking to undermine Anglican identity for their definition of truth are waging the battle.” (The original link to the article is no longer available, and ironically the only copy of it I could find was on the website of the radical anti-homosexual, anti-abortion and anti-Catholic activist, Steve Lefemine. The Spirit blows where it will.)
By the 2009 General Convention, says Dean Linder, he felt that “B033 would not hold anymore on its own, so the deep question for me was how can we find that Anglican place of middle ground? I felt we must come to the great Anglican principle of the via media—that the truth lies in the tension of the extremes.”
Linder served as a member of the World Mission Committee at General Convention, which was tasked with forming “a way forward” through the current morass. The way forward that emerged was resolution D025, “Anglican Communion: Commitment and Witness to Anglican Communion.” That resolution stated:
That the 76th General Convention recognize that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God’s call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst; and be it further
Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, and that God’s call to the ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church; and be it further
Resolved, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge that members of The Episcopal Church as of the Anglican Communion, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, and in light of tradition and reason, are not of one mind, and Christians of good conscience disagree about some of these matters.
D025 was an acknowledgement of, in Bishop Henderson’s words “where we are” as a denomination. The resolution recognizes the “mystery” of the call to ordination, and the deep divisions which exist because of God’s mysterious call of “unworthy servants” to ministry to the rest of the unworthy. In other words, it recognizes God’s “inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As one of the authors of D025, Dean Linder says he is “fully committed to the Church’s theology of welcoming all baptized members into the full life of our church.” Still, for Dean Linder, that commitment does not include the blessing of same-sex relationships. He writes: “I firmly believe that neither The Episcopal Church nor the Anglican Communion is in any way prepared theologically or emotionally to embrace” same-sex blessings. In the long Christian battle over ritual sexual purity that began with St. Phillip’s baptism of an Ethiopian eunuch, Dean Linder is much more in tune with St. Peter’s ambivalence than St. Paul’s enthusiasm.
Dean Linder has two large challenges in becoming the next Bishop, both of which are rooted in his ambivalence: the first, on his call to being Bishop, since a few days before being drafted as the petition candidate, he was clearly convinced that he was supposed to stay on as Dean of the Cathedral. The second will be to explain how, if gay and lesbian Christians are “full members of the body of Christ” by virtue of baptism, and may be called to Holy Orders, how blessing their faithful, monogamous relationships can be withheld.
Of course this second question is one all the candidates have to answer. The conservatives will say that gays and lesbians are not called to Holy Orders and that their service as bishops, priests and deacons is “absolutely null and utterly void,” to borrow a quote from the Pope. I hope the answer from moderates will emerge on November 21 at St. John’s Shandon.