by Kenneth Briggs

Faith again sought understanding in convention halls across the continent in recent months. The mingling of praise and petition by thousands of delegates was once more as remarkable as it was routine, the scene of local church folks helping to do their denomination’s thinking.

The assortment of concerns brought to their attention ranged from sexuality to evangelistic missions, racial bias to military chaplains, seminarian shortages to reparations for past wrongs. The following examples were among the more significant results.

The United Brethren, meeting in Baltimore June 30 to July 4, viewed with alarm the growing spate of lawsuits. Too many families were going to court to settle disputes and more churches were using them to resolve disagreements over the placement of ministers. Moreover, said the original complaint from the Brethren church in Haxton, Colorado, “individuals, businesses and organizations, including churches, [are] hesitant to realize their full potential out of fear of liability.”

Drawing on the Brethren peace-making tradition, the final resolution called on its members to seek Christ-like alternatives to legal action and to take concrete steps to reckon the cost of other means of conflict mediation.

Southern Baptists in New Orleans took up the cause of evangelical Navy chaplains June 12 and 13. The Southern Baptist Convention became the first major church to join in a series of class action suits in response to allegations that evangelical military chaplains have been restrained in conducting their ministries and forced to replace their free-form worship with liturgical formats that have the stamp of official approval.

The adopted resolution alleges that the Navy “has acted with prejudice toward naval personnel and their chaplains and denied them fair and equitable treatment because of their evangelical beliefs and practices.” More scathingly, it accuses the Navy of fostering an “anti-evangelical, hostile culture resulting in active oppression of Southern Baptist and other evangelical naval personnel” and claims its chaplains of being denied promotion based on religious bias. It calls for an end to “any unconstitutional treatment of Southern Baptist chaplains and all military men and women.”

Two denominations chose presidents who were noteworthy.

By an eighteen-vote margin, the 1,188 delegates to the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod triennial convention in mid-July elected the Reverend Gerald B. Kieschnick. Considered the moderate candidate among the five on the ballot, Kieschnick had vowed to resume talks with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Discussions between the two big Lutheran bodies have been shut down for nine years.

At its June conference in Cleveland, the Unitarian Universalist Association elected the Reverend William G.Sinkford, the first African-American to lead the association. Hundreds of the delegates also marched on Jacobs Field, home of the major league baseball Cleveland Indians, to protest the use of American Indian images on sports logos and paraphernalia.

Gay and lesbian issues continued to prompt study and debate. Most pressing was the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. support for ordaining gays and lesbians as ministers, elders, and deacons—by a 317 to 208 vote at its June meeting in Louisville. The recommendation has been handed to the 173 presbyteries for ratification. A majority of the presbyteries must approve it before the next General Assembly next summer in order for the policy to become church law. Some Presbyterians fear a serious split.

An indication of its broad reach within the churches was the its appearance in the deliberations of the Mennonites, a group not usually linked to the issue. For the Mennonites the first week of July was historic. The General Conference Mennonite Church (which previously had members in both the United States and Canada) and the Mennonite Church merged to form the Mennonite Church U.S.A. (116,000 members, nearly 10 percent of whom attended the conference). Canadian members of the General Conference church are now organized with the Mennonite Church Canada. One of the only sticking points in the merger talks was the belief by some that certain Mennonite churches were too lenient toward homosexuality. The problem was set aside for the moment.

By a vote of 899 to 115, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, convening in Indianapolis in August, ordered a study of homosexuality to be completed by the year 2005. Advocates of allowing gay and lesbian ordinations and sanctioning of same sex partnerships had pushed for a two-year study.

The Lutherans also took action that could throw a monkey wrench into the carefully constructed accord with Episcopalians. A narrow two-thirds majority (67.4 percent) agreed to permit the bishops of Lutheran synods, under limited circumstances, to allow Lutheran pastors instead of bishops to ordain candidates for the ministry. The full communion agreement between the two bodies, “Called to Common Mission,” in effect, committed Lutherans to ordinations in the future by bishops in the historic episcopate only, while acknowledging the Lutheran tradition of occasional ordinations by pastors. The resolution indicated that sizeable resistance remains, much of it in the Upper Midwest.

Reaction from the Episcopal camp was swift. “It appears,” said Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold III of the Episcopal Church “to be a unilateral alteration of the mutual commitment that both our churches have solemnly made to enter into full communion.”

As usual, the gathering of the clans also produced interesting facts and goals. American Baptists vowed to start 1,010 new churches by year 2010. Southern Baptists, meanwhile, are aiming at 10,000 new ethnic Hispanic congregations by 2020. The Reformed Church in America issued an urgent appeal for new ways to recruit pastors. And the Assemblies of God reported that nearly 400 of its 10,975 senior pastors are now women.

Bankruptcy Looms
by Bob Bettson

The top administrator of the Anglican Church of Canada has announced that the church’s national structure will run out of money early next year in the wake of the wave of lawsuits arising from the denomination’s management of government-funded boarding schools for aboriginal peoples in the last century.

So far almost 1,200 lawsuits have been filed against the denomination, and the Venerable Jim Boyles, general secretary of the church’s General Synod, said projections show the national governing body of the church will run out of financial reserves early next year.

The problem is legal costs. The general synod is currently spending about $100,000 Canadian a month on lawyers. The General Synod and the nine dioceses named in the lawsuits have paid out more than $5 million Canadian so far on the lawsuits with only one percent going to claimants.

The potential liability from the lawsuits has been estimated at close to $2 billion, far outstripping church assets. Representatives of the Anglican Church and other churches named in lawsuits are now in negotiations with the federal government over how the liability is to be split between church and state.

One Anglican diocese, the thinly populated Diocese of Cariboo in eastern British Columbia, one of the nation’s smallest Anglican dioceses with only about 4,700 members, has already collapsed. Bishop Jim Cruickshank, who was based in Kamloops, British Columbia, resigned September 26. The diocese itself will shut down December 31, with supervisory authority over its clergy and congregations passing to Archbishop David Crawley of Vancouver, the metropolitan of the Anglican Province of British Columbia.

Still unresolved is what happens to church property in the former diocese, Cruickshank said. The church’s position is the diocese held property in trust for congregations, which were not defendants in the case.

The General Synod, based in Toronto, is already making plans for the possibility of its dissolution. Boyles said options are being investigated that could set up the church newspaper and book center as separate legal entities. Other church work could continue through the dioceses or ecclesiastical provinces.

The negotiations with the federal government have been “very slow, complex and difficult,” he said. The talks resumed in September after nearly breaking down in August.

The churches are upset by the government’s release of findings from a poll it commissioned taken last March that indicated most Canadians believe churches and government should share responsibility for the liability from the lawsuits fifty-fifty.

The poll reported there is “not a lot of sympathy for the churches paying less than their full legal share.”

Boyles said the findings probably reflect “the mythology that the church is a very rich institution.” The reality, he added, is that selling assets means cutting ministries and programs.

Headquarters Move
In an era in which a number of theological schools and their sponsoring denominations have gratefully moved from shared quarters into separate facilities, the General Theological Seminary in New York and the Episcopal Church are doing just the opposite.

The Episcopal school’s board and the denomination’s executive council recently voted to move the national church offices from their long-time location at 815 Second Avenue across Manhattan onto the school’s historic Chelsea grounds and to begin a building program that will include a $37 million renovation of General’s Ninth Avenue administration building. The building will be gutted, raised to six stories, and given a three-story central atrium. Also planned is a $15.5 million conference center that will include sixty “three-star, business class” rooms at the Tenth Avenue end of the property.

The move comes after studies of General’s campus, or “close,” as the seminary calls it, showed it to be underutilized. Concurrently Episcopal leaders were thinking of moving national headquarters to another city, partly because of the high cost of hotel accommodations in New York.

Stamp of Approval
by Kenneth Briggs

The deadline for Roman Catholic theologians looms a few months ahead. Under new church rules, those teaching at Catholic colleges and universities must seek a license to teach from the local bishop by June 2, 2002. So far, there has been no rush to fill the requirement. Most theologians are biding their time, debating among themselves whether to comply or resist.

Few of the more than 1,000 theologians have actually asked for the mandate, or mandatum; some have declared that they will refuse to apply. The great middle appears to be watching to see what others do before deciding.

“It isn’t going to come to a head until the clock runs out,” said the Reverend Kenneth Himes, O.F.M., who teaches at Washington Theological Union, a Roman Catholic school for ministry. Himes’s term as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America coincided with the shaping of the new rule last June. “People are really conflicted. Some think it’s abominable, others thank the church for giving them the opportunity.”

Two other groups identified by Himes, a moral theologian, don’t necessarily stand against the requirement in itself as a pledge of fidelity to the church’s teaching. One group thinks that the measure could make a laughingstock of theology in academia by appearing to place research and scholarship under the control of bishops. Another group, also not opposed in principle, Himes says, sees it as reducing theology to catechetical instruction within the church itself.

Making matters more ambiguous is the meaning of the mandate itself. The concept is rooted in the most recent revision of the Code of Canon Law, issued in 1983. Canon 812 of that document requires that “those who teach theological disciplines in any institute of higher studies have a mandate from the competent ecclesiastical authority.”

U.S. bishops had little appetite for trying to enforce such a rule in their country where approval of a professor by an outside religious superior could be construed as a threat to the right of a university to judge the competence of faculty for itself. The bishops were also reluctant to threaten a theologian’s freedom to conduct scholarly inquiry freely and thereby possibly debase the academic integrity of theology.

The American hierarchy therefore put the matter on the back burner until Pope John Paul II reminded them that he had not forgotten it. In a 1990 appeal to strengthen the Catholic character of the church’s universities, the pope issued the encyclical Ex Corde Ecclesiae (“From the Heart of the Church”), which repeated the rule on theologians. The bishops now moved ahead with plans to require a mandate, however distasteful to many of them. After some wrangling with Rome about the details of the procedure, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a plan in 1999 and guidelines this past June.

Along the way, scores of presidents of Catholic institutions and theologians have protested the idea of a mandate as contrary to American standards of higher education. Some saw the process as an attack on the theologian’s role as conscientious interpreter of Catholic tradition and the imposition of an orthodoxy test. Others warned that the mandate process could have the opposite effect intended by reducing the respect for Catholic character. Evidence suggests that the outcries were heard. Bishops leading the implementation repeatedly tried to assure the protesters that they had nothing to worry about.

The guidelines reflect concessions to American due process (an amendment requires a bishop to reveal the reasons for rejecting a mandate and the sources of the complaint) and a degree of toothlessness that offers cover for some who have sought a reason to go along and distress for others who see too many loopholes. First, theologians must take the initiative to ask for a mandate in an effort to remove the “hierarchical” domination onus. Second, no penalties are attached to refuseniks. Third, the university has been, theoretically at least, distanced from any direct role in the process; the mandate is defined as strictly between the bishop and the theologian. Fourth, as read literally by some theologians, a theology professor can fulfill the standard by simply promising to refrain from teaching something as Catholic doctrine if it isn’t.

But in explaining the guidelines, the leaders of the bishops’ ad hoc committee on the mandatum have insisted that theologians who refuse to apply will face no penalty nor will they be judged as necessarily disloyal to the church’s teachings. That escape clause would seem to quell fears that non-compliance could be used against a theologian. Some who oppose the entire process see that promise as no guarantee, however. They contend that no matter how well intended the American bishops are, they would likely abandon a theologian targeted by Rome in a showdown.

The murky implications of signing or not signing a statement of loyalty make for anxiety and uncertainty on faculties across the country. Will asking for licenses result in the bishops’ meddling in the internal affairs of the university? Will the process be used to breach the civil contract of professor and university? What happens if a lenient bishop gets replaced by a stricter one? Is this designed to root out those considered heretical by the Vatican? Are young Catholic scholars fleeing the church’s universities for schools where they don’t face pressure to obtain mandates? In trying to improve Catholic identity, could this strategy backfire by making theologians appear less rigorous scholars and more catechism teachers? Or will the whole thing quickly blow over? Does it matter one way or another, in fact, whether you have a mandate or not?

Questions like these have created the buzz. The outcome, after nearly two decades of turmoil, could create further divisions and force other, harder choices.

Changes at the Top
Jules Glanzer has been named dean of George Fox Evangelical Seminary, Portland, Oregon. He will assume his new duties by November. Glanzer comes to the school having most recently served as founding pastor of Faith Community Church in Houston. He replaces Thomas Johnson, the seminary’s dean since 1997, who will now devote his full-time attention to teaching.

Christophe F. Potworoski has been appointed president of Newman Theological College, Edmonton, Alberta. Potworoski comes to the position from Concordia University, Montreal, where he served as professor of theological studies. Potworoski has authored many books on French Roman Catholicism in the twentieth century, focusing particularly on the writings of Marie-Dominique Chenu and the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar. His predecessor, Kevin Carr, will be retiring.

The Very Reverend Robert S. Munday has become the dean and president of Nashotah House, Nashotah, Wisconsin, an Episcopal theological seminary founded in 1842. He comes to the school from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, where he was professor of systematic theology and dean of library and information services. His predecessor, the Very Reverend Gary W. Kriss, dean of Nashotah House since 1992, retired.

Barbara Higdon has been named interim provost for Community of Christ Seminary of Graceland University, Lamoni, Iowa. Higdon, who was once president of Graceland University, came out of retirement to serve as provost for Graceland and then moved into the seminary post. The seminary, slated to open in the fall of 2002, is conducting a search for a permanent candidate. The Community of Christ is the denomination formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Kenneth MacQueen has become principal of Vancouver School of Theology, Vancouver, British Columbia; he last served as president and principal at Huntington University College in Sudbury, Ontario. His predecessor, W. J. Phillips retired. Phillips will continue to live in Vancouver and remain “casually involved” with the school.

The Reverend Thomas W. Tifft has become president-rector of Saint Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology, Wickliffe, Ohio. He has been a faculty member for twenty-eight years and was vice president-rector. He takes over from the Reverend Donald B. Cozzens, who is now on sabbatical at the Ecumenical Institute in Collegeville, Minnesota. Cozzens intends to return to teaching at the end of his sabbatical.

August H. Konkel was inaugurated president of Providence College and Theological Seminary, Otterburne, Manitoba, in October. Konkel previously taught at Winnipeg Theological Seminary and has translated and written commentary for Old Testament books in various translations.

The Reverend Brian Ruttan is serving as acting dean of divinity of Trinity College, Toronto, Ontario, as the school seeks a replacement for former dean Donald Wiebe, who resigned. Ruttan has served urban and rural parishes in the Diocese of Niagara and specialized in pastoral counseling.

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