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Retired Bishop Kimsey of Eastern Oregon Responds to Bp. Breidenthal
Posted: 08 April 2009 09:41 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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The Right Reverend Rustin R. Kimsey, currently serving as Assisting Bishop for the Diocese of Alaska and the fifth bishop of Eastern Oregon, wrote an open letter in response to Bp. Breidenthal’s letter explaining why he was withholding consent from the election of Fr. Kevin Thew Forrester as bishop of the diocese of Northern Michigan.  The complete text follows.

The Rt. Rev. Rustin R. Kimsey
Assisting Bishop for the Diocese of Alaska
The Fifth Bishop of Eastern Oregon, Retired
Assisting Bishop for the Episcopal Church in Navajoland, Retired
420 East Eleventh Street The Dalles, OR 97058
rustin at gorge dot net 541 296 5628
Alaska Cell: 970 328 9509

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE BISHOP OF SOUTHERN OHIO

Tuesday, April 07, 2009
The Rt. Rev. Thomas E. Breidenthal
Bishop of Southern Ohio

Dear Thomas:

I am alarmed by your March 31, 2009 letter regarding Kevin Thew Forrester’s fitness for his episcopal election.

If I am accurate in my reading of why you refuse to consent to his election, you maintain that unless a person holds the same view of a theology of atonement that you do, they have no right to be a bishop. “Being alarmed” does not come close to the emotion I know by your position in this matter.

The theological issue you raise has to do with the question of what did God wrought on that Good Friday through the death of my Lord, Jesus. You maintain: the conviction at the heart of our faith tradition, namely, that we are in bondage to sin and cannot get free without the rescue God has offered us in Jesus, who shouldered our sins on the cross.

And you maintain that: he (Kevin) appears to be settled in his conviction that our relation to Christ is not about salvation from a condition of objective alienation from God, but about a more realized union with God.

My alarm is simply this: are you attempting to stifle and/or eliminate a theological discussion that is as old as our faith tradition? Are you attempting to say that the Augustinian view of Original Sin is the only game in town? You and I could cite theologian after theologian who disagreed with one another over this pivotal issue of our nature—and the corresponding issue of the nature of God’s grace—and what occurred on Good Friday—and what was consummated on Easter morning, but the primary point of my entreaty to you is that we should welcome the debate. I find it reprehensible to even think of denying you access to the floor of the House of Bishops because of your theological belief about atonement. In the same vein, I find it reprehensible to think of your denying Kevin Thew Forrester access to the floor of the House of Bishops because of his theological views on this pivotal issue. I also believe you are naïve if you think Kevin is a lone voice about union and communion with God through Christ being THE cardinal tenet for our understanding of salvation. Irenaeus comes to mind and there are more….and more….and more.

One of my fondest heroes in my twenty years in the House of Bishops was Bennett Sims. Bennett was a great admirer of Pelagius, that irascible and wise opponent of Augustine of Hippo, and Bennett often would proclaim it time for a heresy (Pelagianism) to be revisited for the sake of truth seeking. Bennett was ever the guardian of digging deeper and exploring more widely the parameters of our blessed faith tradition, and the House of Bishops was more attentive to one another and wiser because of him.

You may be right about those things that matter most to you, but you do not have the right to turn off the faucet of discussion and discernment in our quest for the truth. I have been a bishop for twenty eight years and I fear for the environment of our great Church when lines are drawn in the sand as you have done with Kevin’s consent process and proclaim that a good Christian person does not have the right to pursue his quest for truth as a bishop…..even when elected overwhelmingly by his brothers and sisters in Christ in a diocese he has served faithfully for eight years.

If you prevail and Kevin’s election is not agreed to, what is the next litmus test to be? And perhaps the telling question is: if you prevail and Kevin’s election is not agreed to, what word do you have for the people of Northern Michigan? I would suggest you cut us all some slack and withdraw your opposition to Kevin’s election. In so doing you would add a moment of grace to a Communion that, I believe, is in search of openness and transparency, not inquisitional standards employed through the consent process.

Thank you for your attention, and I wish you well. I am

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Rustin, Assisting Bishop for the Diocese of Alaska
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Posted: 08 April 2009 09:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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I think Bishop Kimsey misreads Bishop Briedenthal in suggesting that the Bishop of S. Ohio is asking for some sort of simple uniformity to one atonement theory. That is not what he said in his letter. There are, however, some things that must be addressed in any atonement theory that is going to claim to be faithful to the wholse of scripture and to the language of our common worship.

Bishop Kimsey misrepresents Irenaeus.

He also tries to rehabilitate Pelagius whose moral rigorism would appall the average Episcopalian for its lack of charity and grace. It appalled Augustine as well. It would be a good thing if Augustine was actually read more and caricatured less.

And the tired line that holding our leaders to any definition is equivalent to the Inquisition is just that—tired and silly.

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Posted: 08 April 2009 04:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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I confess that I am rather offended by +Kimsey’s letter.  This is a conversation that ought to happen behind *closed* doors.  I find myself increasingly disturbed by the willingness of bishops - Nigerian, American, etc. - to publish “open” letters in which they attack the views (and, sometimes, the integrity and sincerity) of other bishops.  This kind of stuff should never, ever be put out in the general public like this.  Bishops - especially bishops - ought to have some class on this sort of matter!  The tell-all culture of reality television should not become a guiding ethical principle for how we relate to one another in the Church!

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Posted: 08 April 2009 05:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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…..even when elected overwhelmingly by his brothers and sisters in Christ in a diocese he has served faithfully for eight years.

Of course he was elected overwhelmingly, he was the only candidate on the ballot.

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Posted: 08 April 2009 08:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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I also believe you are naïve if you think Kevin is a lone voice about union and communion with God through Christ being THE cardinal tenet for our understanding of salvation.

No doubt there are many who believe this - some should have presentments brought against them!

But does Kevin [sic] even believe this much? It still looks like Thew Forrester believes we are *already* in communion and union with God, and that Christ has nothing to do with it except to be the great example of one who understood this truth.

I have been a bishop for twenty eight years and I fear for the environment of our great Church when lines are drawn in the sand as you have done with Kevin’s consent process and proclaim that a good Christian person does not have the right to pursue his quest for truth as a bishop…

And he has not understood what a bishop is for the 28 years! Bishops don’t get to work out their theology in public, and thereby push the theological envelope. They are the chief teachers and guardians of the faith. Bp Kimsey is a Western individualist, and is importing that perspective into the Episcopate.

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Posted: 09 April 2009 02:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Hi Benjamin and all,

I would remind you that it was Bishop Breidenthal who sent the first open letter in this discussion, not Bishop Kimsey.  As Bishop Kimsey states, there is not one, universal atonement theory.  The dialogue around the atonement is a fruitful one and ought not to be stifled.  I have trouble with other aspects of Rev. Forrester’s election, i.e. being the only candidate and his lay ordination in Buddhism.  However, while I may not agree with his view of atonement, I do not believe we ought to stifle a discussion on it.

In Christ,
Shawn

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Posted: 09 April 2009 02:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Dear Shawn,

Thank you for the opportunity to clarify; I should have been more specific the first time around.  My thought is that +Breidenthal sent a letter to those in his diocese.  How can such a letter be anything other than open?  I see this as very different than sending an open letter from one bishop to another, not least when it concerns a point of disagreement.  Arguments should be kept behind closed doors as much as possible.

As for the argument about atonement, I will not deny that Augustine’s view is one among several.  Nor will I deny that Augustine’s view, when given an Anselmic development, touches upon the nature of sin that many people (including myself) find problematic.  However,  a) the Augustinian view of original sin has been the dominant view in the West, and b) it has, therefore, also been the dominant view of Anglicans.  The sexual revolution, I suspect, along with a greater understanding of Eastern Orthodox views of sin, has changed this.  (Whether or not the Anselmic view of atonement, which is not the same as the Augustinian view of original sin, has ever been dominant in the West seems to me to be up for debate.)

However, we should also keep in mind that Orthodox views of the Incarnation, although they are often glossed as teaching deification but neither atonement nor original sin, nonetheless maintain clear teaching that the Ancestral Sin of Adam and Eve, by which death (rather than death and guilt, which are the Augustinian emphases) entered the world, still effects us all.  And, of course, the Orthodox have always had a strong sense of the need for confessing individual sins, and of the fact that Baptism and Eucharist and the sacramental instruments of deification; one would be hard pressed to find any Greek Father who ever taught that we are united to God or partakers of the Divine Nature without baptism.  Even if such a teaching were put forth by a Greek Father (of which I do not know any), it only helps to illustrate that such a view was not the consensus.  The more juridical reading of sin and penance did not emerge in the Eastern context, and that is important to note.  However, the juridical reading of sin and penance also did not, as far as I am aware of, exist in Augustine’s thought, but was due to the development of the penitential system by Irish monks and ascetics (such as Pelagius) from the time of the 6th century on.

A discussion of atonement is precisely that, and it should be allowed to continue.  I am more than happy to encourage it.  However, I believe that those who participate in it and those who argue for divergent perspectives should do the hard historical and theological work by which they - and others - are informed about what has actually been argued for over the course of the Church’s history.  Atonement theories are hardly a free for all.  And, from what I can tell, bishop-elect Forrester’s understanding does not fit in with what Christians, East and/or West, have historically believed.  I should also say that I am unclear as to how his views are Gnostic - at least, Gnosticism as it existed in the early centuries of the common era.  That they *might* be reflective of the neo-Gnosticism of someone like Elaine Pagels is, to me, a more convincing argument.

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Posted: 09 April 2009 03:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Hi Benjamin,

I quite agree with you regarding your comments on the atonement.  However, I would point out that just because a particular theory has been dominant within a particular branch of the Church, means that it is the best choice.  I am able to describe myself as orthodox in large part because of the Eastern Orthodox understanding of the ancestral sin and its views on salvation.  I simply cannot abide a penal substitutionary view of the atonement.  I suspect that we would find that we agree on a great deal in this matter.

In Christ,
Shawn

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Posted: 09 April 2009 03:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Dear Shawn,

We do indeed agree.  Although, I confess that as I get older, I find more and more that is attractive about the existential implications and psychological observations of the Western view.  Dostoevsky plumbed the question of human depravity to a great extent.  However, his view is not really representative of Orthodoxy.  Of course, literary considerations and psychological introspection, of the sort given by Augustine in the Confessions, defy any neat and tidy summation or sound byte about the doctrine of sin.  I remain not a little annoyed at bad summaries of the Augustinian view, and not a little concerned about the potential of such bad summaries for pastoral abuse.  I imagine that we agree on this, too.

I hope that someday someone will show the ways in which Orthodox theology was absorbed by Anglicans, particularly those that are accused - erroneously - of being heterodox, or liberal, or whatever.  Many evangelical Anglicans accuse liberal Episcopalians of being weak on sin and wrong on other doctrines; I am more inclined to think that many “liberal” Episcopalians want the Episcopal Church to be less Roman Catholicism lite, and more Eastern Orthodoxy lite, especially with reference to the doctrines of Creation and Fall.  Maybe I am off in this, but I don’t think that I am.  The question that remains is whether or not EO lite can be said to be orthodox within Anglican circles.  I don’t know.  I guess that we would have to hammer out something about Anglican orthodoxy first, which is indeed a worthwhile project.

Best,
Ben

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Posted: 09 April 2009 10:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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One point about Atonement arguments (at least the ones I hear all the time) is that they tend to be anthropocentric. It’s all about us humans. And that is an important point! It is Maundy Thursday, after all.

But what really sharpens my criticism of Thew Forrester is his lack on the issue of the fractured nature of Creation itself. All of Creation awaits its redemption, a redemption tied up with human redemption. I come back again to the fact that Thew Forrester doesn’t believe there is really any problem. We just need to realize our connection with everything. Yes, neo-gnostic is right (there not being any monolithic thing called gnosticism); it is right knowledge that will save us.

An epistemological solution will not do for an ontological problem.

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Posted: 09 April 2009 10:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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And yet, there is no solution to ontological problems without knowledge…the old Alexandrian idea that the teachings of Christ are true gnosis and true philosophy is an idea very much in need of a revival, I think.  However, the Alexandrian spin on gnosis is a far cry from gnosticism/s of the early centuries - or any century, for that matter.

The question of creation as awaiting redemption is an important issue, too, although I am not quite clear on what it means.  That is, nature and grace are not antithetical to one another unless one is a gnostic or, at its most extreme, a Calvinist.  I welcome correction on the matter, but from my read of Western Christian and Anglican theology, the goodness of nature (and its revelatory capacities) seem to be less obscured by sin than the goodness of humanity.  If creation awaits its redemption, then there is a problem.  But where in Western Christian and Anglican theology is that problem identified in any sort of sustained way?  Again, I welcome any insight on this matter.

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Posted: 09 April 2009 11:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Is not the Alexandrian idea of knowledge much more than just epistemology? Is it not closer to the idea of wisdom in the OT?

Tom Wright is the current Anglican who is talking about the redemption of Creation:

The New Testament, building on ancient biblical prophecy, envisages that the creator God will remake heaven and earth entirely, affirming the goodness of the old Creation but overcoming its mortality and corruptibility (e.g., Romans 8:18-27; Revelation 21:1; Isaiah 65:17, 66:22).  When that happens, Jesus will appear within the resulting new world (e.g., Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2).

from http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_BR_Farewell_Rapture.htm

Oh, and here is Tom on the Atonement:

Not everyone likes Paul, of course - especially some Anglicans. But what about Jesus? Unless we are to go the route of the ‘Jesus Seminar’, and say that Jesus’ death was simply an accident which he never intended and for which, therefore, he offered no theological grid of interpretation, we must give some account of the self-understanding of Jesus in relation to the death which, as at least one substantial stream of scholarship has agreed, he must have known was just round the corner. There were ancient Jewish grids of interpretation available to him, and all the signs are that he made his own creative construal of them, understanding his vocation as the point of convergence of several rich strands of scriptural narrative, heavily freighted with the sense of Israel’s long destiny coming to a dark and decisive climax. In particular, the early Christians were clear that Jesus’ death was to be understood in terms of Isaiah 53, and they were equally clear that this was not a new idea they were wishing back on Jesus. ‘The Son of Man,’ he said, ‘came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). These words - which many have of course been unwilling to credit to Jesus precisely because of the frantic attempt to prevent him alluding to Isaiah 53 - capture the very heart of that great chapter, and as I and others have argued elsewhere it is extremely likely, historically, that he made that entire section of the book of Isaiah thematic for his self-understanding.

from http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/news/2007/20070423wright.cfm?doc=205

Christopher Wright in *The God I don’t understand* also makes some of the same points in his section on Eschatology.

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Posted: 10 April 2009 08:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Hi Ben,

Benjamin Guyer - 09 April 2009 03:12 PM

Dear Shawn,

We do indeed agree.  Although, I confess that as I get older, I find more and more that is attractive about the existential implications and psychological observations of the Western view.  Dostoevsky plumbed the question of human depravity to a great extent.  However, his view is not really representative of Orthodoxy.  Of course, literary considerations and psychological introspection, of the sort given by Augustine in the Confessions, defy any neat and tidy summation or sound byte about the doctrine of sin.  I remain not a little annoyed at bad summaries of the Augustinian view, and not a little concerned about the potential of such bad summaries for pastoral abuse.  I imagine that we agree on this, too.

I will confess that I went through a period of caricaturizing Augustine and can still be tempted to do so.  There is such a strong tendency in us to find “a bad guy” that we can lay blame to.  In some ways, I would love for Augustine to be that bad guy, but I know that’s not true.  I need to study his works more thoroughly.

I have thought it would be interesting to study correlations between major theologies and major psychological theories.  In psychology, Freud often gets the most attention.  I do see parallels between his views and those of Augustine.  However, there are other psychological theories that would be much closer to the EO view of anthropology and harmatiology (if we substitute sin for psychological disorder).

I hope that someday someone will show the ways in which Orthodox theology was absorbed by Anglicans, particularly those that are accused - erroneously - of being heterodox, or liberal, or whatever.  Many evangelical Anglicans accuse liberal Episcopalians of being weak on sin and wrong on other doctrines; I am more inclined to think that many “liberal” Episcopalians want the Episcopal Church to be less Roman Catholicism lite, and more Eastern Orthodoxy lite, especially with reference to the doctrines of Creation and Fall.  Maybe I am off in this, but I don’t think that I am.  The question that remains is whether or not EO lite can be said to be orthodox within Anglican circles.  I don’t know.  I guess that we would have to hammer out something about Anglican orthodoxy first, which is indeed a worthwhile project.

I believe that movement is much more afoot since the 1979 Prayer Book.  There are a number of very EO-oriented elements in our current Prayer Book with Eucharistic Prayer D being a most conspicuous example.  I have asked Anglo-Catholic friends of mine if it is possible to be “Anglo-Orthodox”.  I find myself in close kinship with my Anglo-Catholic friends in terms of sacramental and incarnational theology.  (I actually had someone with a strong evangelical/reformed theology accuse my use of “incarnational” as being “New Age” believe it or not.)  However, I part company with my Anglo-Catholic friends when they begin to take on the excesses of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin that are Roman Catholic in origin and deviate significantly from Eastern Orthodox theology. 

I also remain somewhat divided with the Ango-Catholic rite of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.  I am concerned that it goes too far in the Roman direction of transsubstantiation.  After reading Fthr. Schmemann’s seminal work “For the Life of the World”, I find the holistic focus on the Eucharist as the entire celebration of praise and thanksgiving much more attractive than the focus upon just the elements themselves.  Again, I’m of a divided mind on this issue and could be persuaded in either direction.

I also believe that the “emerging church” movement could do much in the way of bringing more Eastern Orthodox theology and liturgy into Episcopal parishes.  The desire to experience the ancient without the juridical/legalistic strings attached is strong among the “emerging generation”.

In Christ,
Shawn

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Posted: 30 April 2009 09:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Shawn’s comment about Bishop Breidenthal’s open letter being somewhat out of order reminds me of the fact Bishop Kimsey published an open letter in support of Thew Forrester long before Bishop Breidenthal published his letter. Bishop Kimsey has been a long time supporter of Thew Forrester. It was not surprising that his support was solicited when Thew Forrester’s sham “election ” first came to light.

Seems to me Bishop Kimsey ought to be a bit more circumspect about the pot calling the kettle black.

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Posted: 30 April 2009 10:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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There is one thing that needs saying about the EO: They definitely believe that in Jesus’ death, something was put to right that was not right!

I like The Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great
(found here - http://www.goarch.org/en/chapel/liturgical_texts/basil.asp) that Eucharistic Prayer D is partly based on.

There is also something to be said for a tradition that experienced the European Enlightenment “from a distance.”

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Posted: 30 April 2009 10:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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Hi Charlie,

With your many aspersions toward “western individualism” (grin), I assumed you were greatly influenced by Eastern Orthodox thought.  Apparently, I assumed incorrectly.  Are you new to Eastern Orthodox theology?  If so, I encourage you to investigate it further.  I sense you would find it very satisfying.

In Christ,
Shawn

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