The Episcopal Diocese of Northwest Texas, meeting October 27-29 in Abilene for its 48th annual convention, heard its bishop, C. Wallis Ohl, wonder how Jesus would treat the outsiders in the current conflicts in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
Ohl reminded the delegates that Christians have often been "embroiled in controversy over the interpretation of Scripture" in ways that threaten the church's unity.
"Western Christians have made fracturing unity into an art form," he said. "Even our own Church has seen the ravages of fracture since the late 19th century. Since the General Convention of 1976 those that left the Episcopal Church to form the Anglican Church of North America (Episcopal) are now no fewer than 53 different denominational groups."
Saying the Episcopal Church is in the "most divisive era" of its history, Ohl said: "Factions have been created that are being pushed further and further away from one another by the lobbing of theological hand grenades into one another's camps. Of course, this is not unique to the Church; we see it in virtually every level of our lives: politics, social systems, economics, and even education. The mantra seems to be, ‘If you do not agree with me in any area you are an outsider and to be avoided.'"
"The question for me is how does Jesus treat the outsider? In his earthly ministry does he avoid at all costs those with whom he does not agree, or does he welcome them into his circle? What about the hated tax collector? Or the woman at the well who also happened to be a Samaritan? Or even the Syrophoenician woman with whom he bantered? What about the blind, mute, or demon possessed persons? And let's not even talk about the dreaded lepers and how he touched them. His culture told him to shun such persons completely, but he refused to comply and opened up the way of salvation for even such as us."
Ohl said he wondered "how can we proclaim God's grace and mercy to a broken, hurting, world starving for some Good News?"
"I am deeply concerned that we have become so enmeshed in the disagreements of the present time that we have forgotten our primary mission in life is to proclaim Jesus, and Him crucified, resurrected, and risen."
He said the interpretation of Scripture is not a minor concern. "But to require that all everywhere adhere to a single understanding is simply not Anglican," he said. "I am convinced that we need to argue passionately with one another, and to stay in communion. Our heritage is to debate and disagree as heatedly as we can until we come to the Lord's Table. Remember, it is not your table, nor is it mine; it is the Lord's table."
Ohl said he attended the September meeting of bishops at Camp Allen in Texas, but he said he wished the invitation had been made to all bishops of the Episcopal Church. He said he went because he thinks Anglicans must continue to talk with each other, rather than do what "those at both ends of the theological/political spectrum" want to do, which is "close off conversation and expel from the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion all who are not of the one mind that they dictate."
He reminded the convention that the introduction of the Windsor Report says it is meant to enable conversation. "It is not scripture, nor does it have the force of Canon Law," Ohl said.
Saying he will stay connected even to those with whom he vehemently disagrees, Ohl said, "I am a loyal member of the Episcopal Church and will continue to be loyal as long as I require oxygen."
Ohl, 63, also told the Convention that he is not yet ready to retire. "What I can say for certain is that I will be on the job longer than tomorrow and shorter than nine years," he said.
Among the other goals Ohl described in his address were:
A resolution on apportionment failed to pass.
The Diocese of Northwest Texas comprises about 8,600 Episcopalians worshipping in 38 congregations.