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Letters to the Editor
Episcopal Life welcomes letters and will give preference to those in response to stories. Letters should be no longer than 250 words and must include the writer’s name, address, phone number for verification. Pictures are welcome. Send to Letters, Episcopal Life , 815 Second Ave., New York, N.Y. 10017; or e-mail to letters@episcopal-life.org. All letters will be edited for brevity and clarity.
Learning reliance on God
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I liked [Jim Hunter’s] article about The Prayer of Humble Access (“A humble lesson: Cranmer’s prayer reminds us not to trust ‘in our own righteousness’,” September).  I miss the 1928 prayer book version to this day.

I can remember in my youth resisting the phrase, “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table ...” But that was in my youth when I probably did trust in my own righteousness.  I also trusted in my invincibility and immortality.  It has been a sort of slide downhill ever since, and I can now recognize my need to be shriven before the throne of God.

It does not reduce me as a human being in God’s eyes.  It simply points out that my total trust in myself is wildly misguided.  Besides which, I have a dog I love who gathers the crumbs from under my table. I cherish his capacity to love without judgment.


Seeking transformation
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A comment on the September front-page article about Bishop Jefferts Schori caught my thoughts.  Nan Cobbey wrote that Nevadans “credit her with transforming their diocese.”

That’s really what our congregations are looking for, isn’t it … transformation..  Month after month over the years, we’ve read articles in diocesan and parish news about great new ways to address old problems:  New programs, new committees, new books, new positions, new trends … all seeking the attention of congregations facing declines in attendance, involvement and finances.

Much has been written about ways to begin transforming those situations.  I would also like to read about the follow-through.  I would like to read six months, a year, even five or 10 years later about the long-term, observable, positive impact of these new beginnings on our congregations.  Better yet, I’d like to read about the daily transforming impact of life in our congregations upon people in our pews.  I would like to read in detail how the excitement of the new and different habituates into the tried-and-true fulfillment of the Great Commission. 

I pray our new presiding bishop’s flight plan will head us in that direction.


Polk attack unwarranted
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I take extreme umbrage at the attack on Bishop [Leonadis] Polk and the University of the South in a letter (“Historians protest advertisement published in Episcopal Life’s Convention Guide”). To use today’s politically correct standards to smear a man dead for 140 years and deride an institution for its practices of 150-or-so years ago, is both unthinking and un-Christian. The writers should well have heeded an English saying: “The past is a different country. They do things differently there.”

There were many causes for The War, 1861-5; slavery was only one. Equally important was an unjust tariff that enriched the North by impoverishing the South. Another was the effort by New England ministers to arouse a slave rebellion that would exterminate whites in the South just as they already had been in Haiti.

Southerners did not fight four years for slavery. They fought unsuccessfully to protect their homes from arsonists, killers, looters and vandals in the armies and fleets that Lincoln set upon them. Anyone doubting this can consult a book of Northern sins, The Uncivil War, Atrocities of the Union Army and Navy, from Official Records -- Union records, that is.


Extraordinary effort to help
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How good to see the September issue’s photo of the Rev. Robert Alves, Bishop Duncan Gray III and the Rev. Elizabeth Wheatley inside the Quonset hut-home of Christ Church, Bay St. Louis, Miss. In fact, how good to see the “Darkness into Day” article it accompanied.

Trinity Church, Alpena, Mich., partnered with Christ Church after Katrina devastated their building. One result was the credence table pictured to the right of the Rev. Wheatley. Our parishioner, Bob Kitchen, made it to accompany an oak altar made by our former rector, the Rev. Tom Downs. Both items were packaged and shipped by another parishioner, Ben Young.

Our parish’s response to Christ Church’s plight included some $3,000 raised by appeals and meals organized by our altar guild director, Sue Krafft. El and Audrey Heath added to our overall effort with a videotape interview of the Rev. Wheatley on Christ Church’s property.

These ordinary people who routinely do extraordinary things make me thankful every day to be their present rector. They weren’t in the photo, but they were in the picture.


More information requested
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It concerns me to read from Dr. Redmond Hogan (“Responding to the Provocateur,” September) that it is a definite fact that homosexuality is not a choice and that such persons have no hope of changing. My question to Dr. Hogan is how he ignores the medical studies by the Catholic Medical Association and the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality that indicate that there is indeed hope for change for those who have same-sex attraction?

It seemed a little condescending to for Dr. Hogan to infer that conservative Christian ignore scholarship on this issue.


Outraged by Iranian speech
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I am outraged that Washington National Cathedral invited the former Iranian President Muhammed Khatami to speak. This man is a terrorist, and as president of Iran he supported discrimination against religious groups to the point of killing some: Christians, Jews and Buddhists.

When Iran uses its nuclear weapons against the world, the Episcopal Church and its beloved national cathedral will perish along with everything else. In the last 40 years, the church has lost all sense of the scriptural principles it was founded upon. Our church needs to return to the high principles that led it for hundreds of years.


Patriot games
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Dr. Willis H.A. Moore’s letter in the September Episcopal Life speaks of “British ex-patriot musicians.” Some of them may indeed by ex-patriots, but they are all expatriate, and I think that is the word you meant.

The proofreader at Episcopal Life should have either changed the spelling or added “[sic]” to indicate that the spelling used in the letter was not correct. I am reminded of an article in the Living Church some years back by the late Richard Nevius, rector of an English-language parish in San Miguel Allende, Mexico. When he referred to himself in a sermon as an “expatriate,” someone in the congregation bawled him out for no longer being patriotic!


Acknowledge legacy of slavery
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As I read the September issue of Episcopal Life, I was very moved by several articles. As I got to the letters, one particular one absolutely amazed me (“Guilt not hereditary”). [How could] the writer believe that there should be no atonement for the sins of the father, legal or otherwise?

This shows a sincere lack of understanding of the world and of this nation in particular. How can he consciously say that the church should not at least apologize for the crime of slavery, if it has not already done so. The people and government have paid for the legal internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. The German people continue to pay for the Holocaust committed by their predecessors.

Do I believe that the church should pay reparations? No. But we only have to look in the mirror at our personal attitudes towards others of a darker complexion to know that we are the benefactors of a bloody legacy.

When I walk into Episcopal churches through out the South and Eastern seaboard, I know that those churches were built with funds, and labor in some cases, from the enslavement of Africans. I ask not that an apology be made for one’s family history, but acknowledge that there are those who benefit from the work of previous generations.


Turn in prayer to God’s mystery
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Wherever Jesus went, people asked him for healing -- for themselves, for those they brought or for those left at home.  Perhaps Tillich and Barth would, as Raymond Lawrence says (“Relieved By Results,” June), have “scoffed at the idea” that “any person or group can effectively intercede with God in any respect,” but it does not seem that Jesus did.  Nor did the writers of the Gospels seem to think, like Lawrence, that “appeals to God to take some action” are of “lesser importance,” since they filled their narratives with them.

I agree with Lawrence about the absurdity of the Herbert Benson study on the medical efficacy of intercessory prayer by strangers, but I cannot reconcile his statements about intercessory and petitionary prayer with the Gospels.  His comment that such prayers “represent the less-respected wing of religion” sounds like the discomfort of those around Jesus who sometimes tried to dissuade people in need from bothering the Master.

Prayer is not a way of manipulating God, as the Benson study appears to have posited, but neither is it just self-expression for human comfort, as Lawrence seems to say.  In prayer, we should turn to the mystery that is God, speak what is in our hearts and open to God’s response, believing -- as Christians -- that he has already intervened in all human suffering.


Healing, cure not the same
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I have not seen the results of Dr. Herbert Benson’s study, but I am struck by the design flaw of the project. It seems absurd to demonstrate whether or not prayer “works,” not by basing the study on people actually praying, but rather on whether or not patients were told they were being prayed for.

The power of prayer comes from actually praying, whether or not the person knows he or she is being prayed for. Praying for healing doesn’t always mean that the person will be cured. Curing and healing are not always synonymous. Sometimes serenity and acceptance are the healing called for rather than cure.


Jubilation’ the wrong label
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On the front page of your July/August edition is a large photo of the presiding bishop-elect and a headline, “Jubilation!” You went on to seemingly herald her election in almost prophetic terms. Hardly balanced reporting. For many of us who regrettably fear that the church is, to put it mildly, out of step with many faithful members in the pews of our small and middle-America parishes, “jubilation” hardly sums up our reaction.

For the supporters of Bishop [Katharine] Jefferts Schori or those wedded to a “women’s agenda,” or for those that relish change solely for the sake of change, jubilation may have been an accurate word, but for many, “hope amidst concern” may have been a better summation of feelings.

Why not be honest about the challenges we face as we tread on thin ice? I doubt true and unbridled “jubilation” would have greeted the election of any person to be presiding bishop-elect in this era of uncertainty and challenges.


God makes us all
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I enjoyed your newsletter, until I read Frederick Bowers’ response to the Provocateur (September). I truly take offense to his assumption that homosexuality is “man-kind’s fetish; heterosexuality is God’s design.”

I have always believed (and was taught) that God makes each and every one of us, according to his will, and I will believe that until the end.  I was born gay. I have a Down’s Syndrome sister older than I am, and she had no choice in the matter (nor my parents), and three other siblings who are normal to you. [God] didn’t just do that by accident. Everything is by his will, no matter what we want/wish.

I don’t want to further rock the boat on same-sex blessings, etc.   I want peace, understanding and acceptance for me and those who are different from your narrow world. Thank God I get it from him and from my loving church friends.


Issue is scriptural authority
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I write this in response to numerous letters in Episcopal Life re: Bishop Gene Robinson and his sexuality. I do not believe homosexuality is the main issue, although it is the issue that has torn this denomination apart. The main issue is the total disregard of the authority of Scripture by those who govern this denomination, from lay to priest to bishop to House of Bishops to General Convention.

I was brought up to believe that the Bible is the recorded word of God. Written by man, yes, but inspired by God, and as such is the only truth we have. We affirm that each Sunday when we read from Scripture.

I look at Scripture as a roadmap for life. Along that highway are many turnoffs. If we make a wrong turn, we must recognize it as wrong (sin) and turn around (repent), then we can get back on the road again. If we choose to stay on the wrong road, it leads only to death (spiritual death).


Focus on unconditional love
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Call my view overly simplistic if you wish, but to me Christ’s arms spread out on the cross appear to embrace all persons, no qualifications, no exceptions. If those who oppose total inclusion in the church and in society to those whose sexuality is an issue, perhaps it is the church’s responsibility to help people rise above cultural and other barriers to a wider, more loving, fully encompassing view of our Lord’s unqualified unconditional love.

‘Laughable’ claims
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I came to Christ in the Episcopal Church blissfully unaware of the brewing controversy over gay clergy and blessings of same-sex unions. 

I have been blessed to know a large number of gay men and women, including my sister.  One particular gay man was instrumental, through his compassion and encouragement, in turning my life around at a very difficult and traumatic time.  This man taught me most of what I know about the craft of songwriting, which I have put into the service of the church as a music leader. 

I have heard much patronizing talk suggesting that leadership and even active lay ministry are inappropriate roles for gay Episcopalians.  It is so clear that proclamations of the “authority of Scripture” are simply a fig leaf over discomfort with difference. These claims are laughable coming from a church that was founded in part due to a king’s need for a divorce.

And now Rowan Williams has suggested that churches and dioceses who do not accept what amounts to an anti-gay loyalty oath can be only “associates,” not full members in the body. 

For me, there can be only one reasonable response to all this, and sadly that response is:  Goodbye. There are plenty of churches in the United States not obsessed with personal sexual purity, whose focus is on worship, mission and justice.  I love the Anglican liturgy, and I will miss it.  I pray that the Anglican Church will eventually notice what it says.


An opportunity for justice
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Reading the letters in support of Archbishop of Nigeria [Peter] Akinola’s stances on sexual issues, I noted something a little troubling. Both authors cited the precarious position of the Church in Nigeria and the many challenges we face there. While these are true, I contend that they miss the point.

Justice is not a luxury. It is not the province exclusively of the wealthy and relatively secure West to “secure the blessings of liberty” only for those lucky enough to have been born into such fortunate circumstances. While it is true that the church faces innumerable challenges – no less in Fort Worth than in Nigeria -- in failing to rise to these challenges, the church fails to be the church.

We have an opportunity here. We can take a prophetic stand for justice in each of our communities, each taking note of our own failings and striving to overcome them. We can encourage our brothers and sisters not to fail in justice, not to fail in love. Or we can hedge our bets and protect the institution. But make no mistake, we cannot do both.

Either we are the body of Christ or we are a glorified social club; either we make our priority the care of the defenseless, the weak, the marginalized – in other words, “the least of these my brethren” – or we make our priority the advancement of the institution. The choice, and the future that comes with it, are ours for the claiming.


Akinola’s actions un-Christian
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I find repulsive the principles advocated in the letters by Emily Volz and Karen J. Staege (“Criticizing Akinola wrong” and “View law in context,” July/August). The arguments they advance in defense of Nigerian Archbishop Akinola are exactly the same arguments used by defenders of Pius XII’s silence during the Holocaust or those who defended the Russian Orthodox clergy and Polish Roman Catholic clergy who actually led their flock on pogroms.

In all three cases, defenders cite cultural context as the reason for un-Christian behavior, ignoring the radical claims made by the gospel, especially our Lord’s own all-encompassing sacrifice. [Akinola] ignores the political and economic consequences on Nigeria itself by not only failing to speak out against injustice, but also by defending a milder version of it against Islamic competition.

It is no coincidence that those societies with the most liberal attitudes towards homosexuality are precisely the ones with the greatest freedom and the least corruption, while those with the harshest attitudes against it invariably are no less harsh towards women and minority groups, an attitude that contributes to their failure to develop economically.  The arguments advanced by Ms. Volz are in fact the same once used by Stalin’s defenders that freedom for homosexuals and others is too disruptive to economic growth and national development to be allowed.

It is no accident that, on purely developmental grounds alone, Nigeria would be well-advised to repent on this issue.  It would also be a truly refreshing experience to see Archbishop Akinola actually begin behaving in a Christian manner.


Bible shows Jesus’ teachings
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I find it unfortunate that [Doug] LeBlanc (“Resurfacing after Columbus,” July/August) does not seem to realize that, despite modern-day appearances, Christianity is not an entity of conservatives and liberals.  That sounds more like politics, which has, I realize, transformed the Episcopal Church into a body politic that no longer reflects the body of Christ.

Jesus came with a transforming message addressed at all human beings; the same message for all!  That message is that all are sinners, but that those who believe his teachings and repent can receive salvation.  He did not say that this group over here has this special dispensation and that group over there has another special dispensation and so on.  The only way that we can know what Jesus teaches is through an understanding of the Bible, including the Old Testament references to which Jesus himself draws our attention.

The only sexual behavior that Jesus permitted is monogamous sex between husband and wife. You can hunt high and low, but you will find that all modern notions about a new morality are simply that: modern notions.  There is no positive mention in the Bible of any of these modern notions.  In other words, no other type of sexual activity or sodomy is permitted among those who hope for salvation.


Issue is action, not inclination
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In the September issue, Dr. Redmond P. Hogan III charged those opposed to the ordination of homosexuals with indifference to scientific evidence that “homosexuality is not a mental illness, is not a choice, is established at a very early age and cannot be changed” — a claim reminiscent of Bishop Gene Robinson’s claim that his homosexuality is “not something that I do, but is who I am.”

Dr. Hogan’s charge may involve confusion about the moral relevance of science.  I have — like many Irishmen — a terrible temper.  I am confident, however, that this is not a mental illness, is not a choice, was established at a very early age and cannot be changed.  Also it is not something that I do, but is who I am.

This may show that I should not be blamed for my angry inclinations, but it does not show that I should not be blamed if I act on those inclinations — it being no secret that moral duties often require the choice to resist acting on some of the deepest inclinations of our individual natures.  Thus the central moral issue with respect to homosexuality is not natural inclinations per se but rather the permissibility of acting on them.  (I take no stand on that issue here except to note that it is not a scientific issue.)

Any inclination that is a part of one’s deep nature will, of course, be difficult to repress. People who honor vows of celibacy or who use willpower to restrain temper show that such difficulties can be overcome, however.  What Rosie said to Charlie in The African Queen is sometimes spot on:  “Nature, Mr. Alnaught, is what we were put on this earth to overcome.”