The Very Reverend John B. Burwell,wrote to me after one of my posts and told me that I had misunderstood him. Some of our email exchange was posted here. We agreed to meet for lunch today to sit down in person and try to understand each other.
We met at Queen Anne’s Revenge, a pirate-themed restaurant in the Disney-esque planned community of Daniel Island. We joked about how in the future there might be crack-dealer themed restaurants, with family-oriented rides at theme parks celebrating those fun-loving gangstas. He paid for my delicious lunch of shrimp and grits. I found him to be an engaging person, who seemed genuinely hurt that I didn’t get him.
I told him my faith story, to help him understand why I hold onto The Episcopal Church like a lifeline, and why those who seem so insistent on theological correctness leave me cold and angry. He told me that he shares my passion for The Episcopal Church (no abbreviations today) and why he would never, ever, under any circumstances, leave it. He told me that he had paid a steep price for his outspokenness among the secessionists in his Diocese, describing himself as being “shunned” for walking out of an August 13 meeting of the Standing Committee where five resolutions were prepared for the special diocesan convention of October 24. The text of those resolutions is here.
The first of those resolutions,“The Lordship of Christ and the Sufficiency of Scripture” was passed by 86.7% of those present, including Fr. Burwell. I could not have voted for it, since it contains a statement that I take exception to: “The substance of the ‘doctrine, discipline and worship’ of The Episcopal Church …is expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Creeds, the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and the theology of the historic prayer books.” The (Apostles’ and Nicene) Creeds, yes. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, maybe. The Thirty-Nine Articles and “the historic prayer books:” not so fast, buster.
The Thirty-Nine Articles are received by The Episcopal Church as part of the heritage of the Anglicanism, and while they are in the Book of Common Prayer (in the section under “Historical Doctrines of the Church”), they are not part of the doctrine, discipline or worship of The Episcopal Church. According to the Canons, the doctrine of The Episcopal Church “is to be found in the Canon of Holy Scripture as understood in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and in the sacramental rites, the Ordinal and Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer.” The Discipline of the The Episcopal Church according to the Canons is “found in the Constitution, the Canons, and the Rubrics and the Ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer”. The worship of course, is found in the Prayer book’s Daily Offices and the Sacramental and Episcopal Services, as well the Book of Occasional Services. As to “the historical prayer books,” well that is a long, seperate subject in itself. Suffice it to say the there is one authorized Prayer Book for The Episcopal Church, that of 1979. All the others are interesting historical documents in themselves, but we don’t use them in worship any more. This all is pretty weird considering the title of Resolution was “the Sufficiency of Scripture.”
Resolution 2 is really problematic. It authorizes “the Bishop and Standing Committee to begin withdrawing from all bodies of the Episcopal Church” with which the Diocese of South Carolina disagrees. Further, it declares that “the passage of Resolutions DO25 and CO56 to be null and void, having no effect in this Diocese.” The reference is to resolutions passed by General Convention this year. Dioceses do not have the canonical right to reject individual resolutions with which they disagree. They are binding upon all jurisdictions of the Episcopal Church until amended or superseded.
Resolutions 3 and 4 are perfectly innocuous, considering that Dioceses have the right to have missional relationships with other Dioceses anyway. They are written in a sort of “Here I Stand” breathlessness, but they are like saying “we love Jesus.” You don’t need a resolution to do it.
Resolution 5 is a particularly noxious bit of sexual purity doublethink which says that the Diocese of South Carolina “will not condone prejudice or deny the dignity of any person, including but not limited to, those who believe themselves to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.” Instead, it will “speak the truth in love as Holy Scripture commends for the amendment of life required of disciples of Christ.” In other words, “those who believe themselves to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered” better stop believing that or risk damnation.
So how did Fr. Burwell vote? “I helped defeat Resolution 5, ” he said, “because it singled out sexual sin from other other sins.” On the others? “I voted for Resolution 2, because I am a Dean and in submission to my Bishop. To do otherwise would have required me to resign.” He also supported 1,3 and 4.
We talked about the diaconal charge of submission and Fr. Burwell reminded me that he is not just a priest, but a deacon, and thus in absolute submission to his Bishop. Since Bishop Mark Lawrence told him he must vote for it, he did. Too bad he didn’t resign over the issue. A resignation over that issue would have been seen favorably in Upper South Carolina, and just might have guranteed him selection as the Eighth Bishop of this Diocese.
John Burwell told me repeatedly, “I am not a politician. Sometimes I just say what comes to my mind.” I suppose that was a defense against my telling him that his comments about Spanish language versions of Day By Day were offensive.
At the beginning of this process, I was determined not to endorse any of the candidates, but to explore their record and to try to determine how they would lead us as a Diocese. I will have to submit to whichever of them becomes Bishop or renounce my Ordination vows. My job as a Deacon is to tell you the truth.
John Burwell is a kind man, and I am thankful for the grace with which he reached out to me and received me. I am grateful to have gotten to know him better. He is deeper, more thoughtful and more engimatic than the one-dimensional character I had pictured him to be. The work he has done at Holy Cross reveals a gifted church planter and developer. He and I are miles apart theologically, but I am sure that his love for Jesus is genuine, and in The Episcopal Church that’s supposed to be what keeps us in communion with each other.
Still, it all comes down to this: John Burwell’s votes last week at his own Diocesan Convention call into question whether he can serve this Diocese or The Episcopal Church as a Bishop.