Promises, Promises: What Now for the Loyal Opposition in Mississippi?
As the episcopacy of Duncan M. Gray, III sputters to an ignominious end with his decision to allow same-sex blessings after nine years of pledging he would never do so, orthodox clergy and laity in the diocese must now take a very serious look at where they are, how they got here, and what their future options are.
“Ignominious?” you might be asking. “Isn’t that a little harsh?”
Well, no. It’s not.
In 2007, Gray held a much-hyped “tent meeting” - a posh, tongue-in-cheek riff on old-time southern tent revivals - where he announced that
I’ve challenged us to be an inviting church, practicing radical hospitality. There are many ways to measure an increased ethos of invitation, but this is one I will use. It shall be the goal of this diocese to increase its average Sunday attendance by 50% by the year 2010.
Whether the diocese actually attempted radical hospitality, or whether that was in fact the right prescription for growth, it failed. Not only did membership and average Sunday attendance not increase at all - much less by 50% - both actually declined during subsequent years:
The bishop’s supporters will point to Hurricane Katrina, which struck a mere nine days after the tent meeting, as being a disaster even the greatest church leader could never overcome. I can grant that Katrina might explain two or three years’ falling attendance, but it’s been over seven years since Katrina made landfall, and the trend is still very clearly downward. Just as there’s a shelf life on Obama’ blaming Bush for the economy, there’s a shelf life on blaming Katrina for the Diocese of Mississippi’s anemic and declining health. I submit it passed several years ago.
So what did Duncan Gray choose for his Defining Cause?
There were so many to choose from. He could have taken up the fight against abortion. Persecution of Christians in Africa. Human trafficking.
So many evils in the world that need a good man fighting them.
But no. He’s chosen as his closing act to allow the “blessing” of unions between two men and two women - unions specifically and repeatedly prohibited by Scripture. He has chosen to turn over the altars of his dioceses’ churches to sodomy and sin.
Congratulations, bishop. A legacy we can all be proud of.
But back to the address.
Let’s pause for a moment and get straight exactly what his reversal on same-sex blessings is:
Remember his pastoral letter to the diocese in October 2003, when he promised not to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions? Remember his address to diocesan council in 2004, when he said:
I do not intend to change the policies of my Episcopal predecessors in matters of sexual morality. I will not authorize in this diocese the blessing of same gender unions, nor ordain unmarried non-celibate heterosexual or homosexual persons
And his admission in his diocesan address that he has in fact betrayed the orthodox who put their trust him for so long should in no way alter their assessment of his actions or their plans for the future.
Let’s also pause for a moment and emphasize that the orthodox opposition has, in fact, been very loyal:
- We prayed for him often during our meetings over the last nine years
- We gave him the benefit of the doubt whenever he made statements or took actions that seemed contrary to his past statements or his reassurances to us
- We cheered him when he stood firm against the national church’s deeper push into abortion advocacy.
- We honored his requests not to join any orthodox Anglican groups - the Anglican Communion Network, the American Anglican Council, ACNA, to name just a few - on his promise that as long as we wouldn’t do that, he wouldn’t allow same-sex blessings or otherwise change the diocese’s policies on matters of sexual morality such as ordaining non-celibate, unmarried priests.
- We defended him against countless accusations from people in the pews that he was dragging his feet or not dealing from the top of the deck.
Did the words “orthodox opposition” cause you to blink? If not, then that should be sufficient to put to rest any pretense that Bishop Gray is an orthodox Christian, and perhaps never was. Put aside, right now and forever, any more illusions that your bishop embraces the same scriptural understanding of Christian marriage that you do. Put aside the charade that you and your bishop were ever on the same side of this question.
This will be difficult for most orthodox clergy - impossible for a few. It will be difficult for some lay people, but I suspect most of the orthodox laity long ago came to terms with this truth.
“But I’ve studied/worshipped/prayed/talked so many times with him… you’re wrong! I just know it! He’s as orthodox as they come!”
Tell me: Does an orthodox Christian bishop cheerfully promote and host an annual sleepover weekend for non-celibate homosexuals, headed by lesbian bishop Mary Glasspool?
Does an orthodox Christian bishop vote for Resolution C051, approving the use of trial liturgies for gay blessings?
I could go on, but I don’t have to. You have your own list of theologically dissonant statements and actions cataloged in your mind. Go down the list and ask yourself, with the benefit of the bishop’s betrayal on same-sex blessings: Do they add to up the actions and statements of an orthodox Christian?
To help you shake off this delusion, let me suggest that you stop already with the “Gray family dynasty” nonsense. This ridiculous little cult of personality is what has caused otherwise clear-eyed people to look the other way as this diocese has slid into a state of moral and theological confusion that would have been unimaginable just twenty or thirty years ago. Get off the “Gray mystique” smack and start seeing things they way they really are.
Why has the bishop decided to reverse course now, after nine years of promising he wouldn’t? Your guess is as good as mine, but the explanation the bishop has offered - that this is a way to “smooth things out” for his successor - should be seen for the obvious nonsense it is.
Note that I didn’t say “untruth” - I said “nonsense.”
It may well be an untruth - I don’t know - but truth or untruth, it’s nonsense. While Bishop Gray may be right that he enjoys an advantage his successor might not in being able to “hold the diocese together” through this “transition,” the fact is that when he retires in 2015, the diocese will be in the early, not the latter, stages of the fallout from this decision. The full effect of this debacle won’t be felt until 5-10 years later. Whether this is a smokescreen, or he truly believes that he’s sparing his successor turmoil by taking it on himself, the truth is that the damage to the diocese in the form of falling membership and giving is going to be a mess that his successor will be left to deal with.
Now let’s take a look at where we are.
Bishop Gray has described his implementation of same-sex blessings as being modeled after the “Texas plan” of Bishop Andrew Doyle of the Diocese of Texas.
It is a horrible plan.
In it, parishes will be able to do one of three things as regards same-sex blessings:
1. They can do nothing
2. They can signal their support by passing a vestry resolution
3. They can signal their opposition by passing a vestry resolution
On its face, some may see nothing wrong with this, but there are two key things orthodox parishes must understand about this new arrangement:
The first is that it shifts the “default position” of the diocese on the matter of same-sex blessings to “approve,” and the default position of its constituent parishes to “neutral.” By “doing nothing,” it’s not the case that “nothing is done.” It has already been done for you by the bishop’s decision. Like it or not, with the stroke of a pen, Bishop Gray has switched your parish’s position default position on same-sex blessings from “disapprove” to “neutral.”
To return to your former setting of “disapprove,” you must take action - you must pass a resolution specifically setting yourself apart.
This will be easy in some parishes, where the rector, vestry, and congregation are all in agreement. In parishes where the vestry is divided, or the vestry and rector are on opposite sides of the issue, the decision will be one of the toughest ones they have ever made; perhaps the toughest. The question of whether to bless same-sex marriages has caused (so far) five dioceses and approximately 200 parishes to leave the Episcopal Church. Don’t think for a moment that when this question is put to divided vestries, it won’t result in rancor, conflict, and division.
The second is that the bishop’s attempt to characterize this decision as including a way to give the orthodox “shelter” or “protection” should be seen for the transparent lie it is.
Going back to this new position the bishop has forced you into - of having to pass a resolution and go on record as being against same-sex blessings - let’s recall that the gay lobby, both in the Episcopal Church and the wider secular culture, have had great success at demonizing expressions of opposition to homosexuality as bigoted and “homophobic.”
Of course, churches should always expect to be denounced by the pagan and godless whenever they stand with the Gospel - this is nothing new, and should be relished, not avoided. But under no circumstances should a parish be under the delusion that there will be any safety even in this diocese, once the revisionist activists get their way, and further tighten their grip on the levers of power. As anyone familiar with the workings of General Convention knows, their modus operandi is first to implement options to orthodoxy, then to demonize orthodoxy as bigoted, and finally to ban orthodoxy outright.
So what happens when your parish passes a resolution going on record as opposing same-sex blessings?
You may be able to keep it between your parish and the bishop’s office. Then again, you may make the news. The local newspaper at the least. In larger towns, the local television and radio stations.
Once you do, you put yourself on the gay lobby’s radar. You’ll be demonized by them in the media and on web sites. Some of you will show up on Sunday morning to find graffiti or vandalism, or TV news crews shoving microphones into your face, or a few gay activists hoisting signs and shouting slogans.
The harassment may end there, but it may not.
If your parish is closely divided - if there is a large minority of pro-SSB parishioners - and especially if your parish is at all a historic or otherwise high-profile presence in the community, then you can expect the national and diocesan gay activists to organize an attempt to get friendly members elected to the vestry. Expect them to pressure the rector. Expect them to enlist the media in whatever forms they’re able.
But whatever form the backlash takes, there will be problems. If not immediately, then a few years in the future.
Recall the history of this particular thread of activism in the Episcopal Church:
- Renegades like John Shelby Spong ordained hordes of gay priests in the 1970’s, in violation of church rules
- Renegade priests and bishops performed same-sex blessings beginning in the 1970’s, increasing the number in the 1980’s, in violation of church rules
- General Convention passed resolutions in 1976, 1994, and 1997, expressing increasingly “inclusive” stances toward homosexuality. The first stated simply that homosexuals were children of God. the second stated that homosexuals shall not be denied “rights, status, or an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church.” The third actually had the church apologize for its past treatment of gays.
- In 2003, Gene Robinson was consecrated as the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church.
- The same year, General Convention passed Resolution C051, acknowledging that same-sex blessings in those dioceses which chose to do so were part of the “common life” of the Episcopal church.
- In 2012, General Convention approved a liturgy for same-sex blessings that is indistinguishable from the Rite of Holy Matrimony. Oh, the bishop will insist it’s not marriage, but I defy you to read the approved liturgy, and read the Rite of Holy Matrimony beginning on page 423 of the BCP, and tell me it’s not marriage in the eyes of the church.
So in other words: Same-sex blessings came to the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi through a progression that began by simply stating that homosexuals were children of God; proceeded to lawless ordinations and blessing rites; then to “local option,” and was finally codified as national church law.
But… All this was done in faraway dioceses, by wild-eyed heathens and crazies. New Hampshire! San Francisco! New Jersey! We were safe here in Mississippi, as long Bishop Duncan Gray was here. He would stand against the tide. He would protect us! He would never - never - let that happen here!
And yet here we are, nine short years later. We didn’t even last a decade.
What we have now in the Diocese of Mississippi is exactly the situation we had in the national church in 2003: Local option. If you want to do a same-sex blessing in your parish, there are some minor bureaucratic hoops you’ll have to jump through, but if you expect Duncan Gray to refuse a properly-formatted appeal, you’re kidding yourself, especially since the first ones will come from those parishes with the most aggressive and most highly-organized gay activists, who have raised offense-taking and stink-making to high art. He is not about to refuse them their Bold and Prophetic Witness.
And we will follow the exact same trajectory here: First, it’s an “option,” a special case for which permission must be sought, and approved on a case-by-case basis. After that - almost certainly by the time of Gray’s retirement in two years - special permission will no longer be needed. After that - let’s say five years - diocesan council will pass a resolution, or amend its canons and/or constitution making it against the rules for a parish to refuse same-sex blessings.
Where does it go from there? If you have to ask, you haven’t been paying attention.
SO WHAT NOW FOR THE LOYAL OPPOSITION?
First: Understand that you are on your own from this point forward.
Truth is, you’ve been on your own the whole time, but you’ve had to act as though the bishop were your ally, because frankly, he was all you had. The Standing Committee, the Executive Committee, and the Resolutions Committee have been firmly under the control of liberals since longer than most of us can remember. Bishop Gray is all you’ve had.
But he’s shown which side he’s on, and that’s the gay lobby’s.
I cannot stress this enough: If you proceed from this point under the assumption that Duncan Gray has your best interests at heart, then you’re beyond help. I wish you well, but I have nothing to offer you. You neither can, nor should, rely on this bishop or the next to provide protection against the advancing gay agenda of the national church and its diocesan members, or, for that matter, not to make promises he’s willing to break when it suits his purpose.
Second: Understand that this will not stop.
Not on the issue of gay blessings, and not on the issue of non-celibate gay clergy, cross-dressing and sex-reassigned “transgender” clergy, and, after that, the person and work of Jesus Christ Himself. If you believe the church’s neo-pagan lobby is going to go quietly, you’ve got another thing coming.
Third: Really differentiate yourself.
Don’t just pass a resolution saying you’re opposed to same sex blessings. In fact, for the reasons stated above, maybe you don’t pass a resolution at all. But don’t send a delegation to council next year. Have your table, with its parish sign sitting in the middle, but leave the table empty.
Don’t go to the bishop’s barbecue. Don’t volunteer to help with it.
And so on. If you want to aid the bishop and the diocesan structure that’s forced you to be in this position, that’s your business; but just know that if nothing changes with regard to you or your parish’s support of them, they’ll have no reason to think that there will ever be consequences for imposing yet more unholy innovations on you.
Fourth: Stop playing patty-cake with your money.
If you want to send a message to the bishop and the diocesan power structure that’s pushed so hard to impose this on you, you can write a strongly-worded letter. You can meet with the bishop and express your displeasure. You can explain to him the consequences this will have on your pledge drive, your capital campaign, your ASA.
In other words, you can keep doing the same thing you’ve done for the past nine years.
And you can expect approximately the same results. Well, at least for the next two years, after which you can start sending your memos to what will almost certainly be a much more liberal bishop, far less inclined to give any time or consideration to your complaints.
Or, you can stop sending the diocese money.
“But won’t that hurt diocesan mission???”
But ask yourself: How much will Bishop Gray’s decision to allow same-sex blessings hurt your pledge drive, your capital campaign, and your ASA? How many fewer people can you expect to see in the pews Sunday after Sunday, as a direct result of his actions? What effect will all of that have on your mission?
Stop giving him money. Stop feeding the people and the structures that are hell-bent on leading the diocese down this path.
“But how can we do that? Don’t we have to give a certain percentage of our total income?”
To my knowledge, there is no requirement in the diocese to pay anything - no mandatory assessment. You are “asked” to give a certain percentage. Theoretically, your answer can be “zero.”
“But isn’t that bad form?”
That’s your call. I’d remind you that it’s bad form to say the least for the bishop to change this diocese’s teaching on marriage and sexual morality with the stroke of a pen. At least General Convention had the decency to introduce it as a resolution and let the deputies vote on it. The bishop extended no such courtesy here.
But there is a way you can dramatically reduce the money that goes to support the bishop and the diocese’s liberal structures, without touching your diocesan giving percentage. It takes a change of mindset, and you can talk yourself into thinking that it’s not time for this just yet, but you can:
Fifth: Start planning for the unthinkable
The church apologizes for its past treatment of homosexuals. Then it guarantees that homosexuals will not be denied access to church offices. Then it allows the ordination of openly gay clergy. Then it provides an “option” for diocese that want to bless same-sex unions. Then it adopts a liturgy for same-sex blessings. Then it extends its guarantees of equal access to “transgendered” people. If you’re a long-time reader of this site, you know that polyamorous unions are next in line.
Now same-sex blessings are a fact of life in the Diocese of Mississippi.
And since this will not stop, you need to start planning for the unthinkable: Leaving the Episcopal Church.
To begin with, don’t assume that you will be able to take your property - even if you write a check for its full market value - and simply go it alone, or join another Anglican entity. Years of litigation has proved that it’s very unlikely, and even when it’s possible, it’s very, very costly. The breakaway parishes in Virginia can tell you that, and Matt Kennedy can write you a book. In fact, he pretty much did - in a series of posts that begins here (find the rest of the series by using our search feature with the words “Leaving Home” in quotes).
What you can do, right now, with complete freedom and lack of concern for what Duncan Gray or Katharine Schori might do about it, is the following:
1. Have some parishioners set up a 501(c)(3) corporation. It is crucial that they not be on the vestry now, or about to rotate on. At no time must officers of the corporation be on the vestry, and at no time must the rector or members of the vestry publicly encourage parishioners to redirect their pledge to the non-profit. Others will have to do that.
2. Charter the corporation such that it does not mention the name of your parish, is not limited to contributing solely to your parish, and such that it has the freedom to contribute funds both to maintenance costs as well as capital improvements.
3. Your parishioners are then free to direct what would have been their pledge, to this corporation.
4. The vestry, whenever it needs funding for anything, can submit a request to the non-profit, which can then write a check as it sees fit.
If the unthinkable does happen, and the congregation decides it can no longer in good conscience remain a member of the Episcopal Church, and if leaving with your property turns out not to be an option, then you will at least leave with however many thousands or even millions of dollars you have accumulated in your non-profit corporation.
If your parish gives 15% to the diocese, then as pledge income falls from, say, $300,000 to $50,000, your parish’s diocesan contribution falls from $45,000 a year to $7,500.
And remember: This is not about getting the bishop to change his mind. That ship has sailed. This is about not rewarding his office or the diocese for their actions. It’s about not funding the people or the structures who have unilaterally decided to change the church’s teachings on Christian marriage and sexual morality.
The legal landscape as regards property disputes is this:
- Virginia’s breakaway parishes thought they were home free, but ultimately lost their property to the national church.
- South Carolina was handed a huge victory by its state’s supreme court, which gave it the green-light to leave the Episcopal Church, but the national church has decided to file suit anyway.
- The national church has made it a de facto policy to contest property in every case, even when it knows it has little chance of winning, for the purpose of imposing a financial burden on the departing church.
- Therefore, if you’re of a mind to begin planning for a departure, proceed knowing that you should make your decision about whether to fight for your property sooner rather than later. Departing without your property will be much easier - from a practical standpoint if not an emotional one - and if you begin your “financial independence” plan as outlined above now, then you probably have another couple of years during which to accumulate funds to make your eventual departure less painful. If you decide to fight for your property, then you’ll be able from the beginning to set aside a special fund to support that litigation.
If I’ve learned anything in the last nine years of running this site and engaging in this debate, it’s that every parish - even every individual - has their line in the sand drawn at a different point. For you, it may not be that the bishop simply allowing same-sex blessings in the diocese is where your line is drawn. Perhaps it’s when the bishop’s special-exemption process is done away with, and parishes are allowed to perform same-sex blessings whenever they wish. Perhaps it’s when your rector agrees to do a same-sex blessing in your parish.
Perhaps then, though, it will be too late. Perhaps it already is.
But maybe… maybe... there’s still time. To talk to your rector about your opposition to all of this. To talk to your vestry members. To talk to your friends. To get organized. To get going.
Time was, I’d say “write to the bishop,” or “schedule a meeting with him,” but that time is past. It should be clear now that he has no interest in slowing the advance of the gay agenda, only in slowing the response of orthodox Christians in his diocese. By his own admission, his plan is to implement it fully before the next bishop takes office, to “spare” him (or her) the controversy. Since the longer he drags it out, the worse it will be for his successor, it only makes sense to move things along as quickly as he thinks he can get away with.
The time for submitting resolutions at council is also past. This year there was only one resolution - to repudiate the actions of Presiding Bishop Schori for her un-canonical deposition of Bishop Lawrence. From the reports we got, the resolutions committee was prepared to bring the resolution to the floor for a vote, when the diocesan chancellor conveyed the Schori/Beers line to the committee members. Afterward, a couple of committee members got cold feet, and the decision was made not to bring the resolution to the floor for a vote. All in all, it was an execrable performance even by the standards of this committee, which has a long history of execrable performances.
Is there time to save the diocese?
The Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi is on an irreversible path toward full-on celebration and normalization of homosexuality and transgenderism, and any other deviant sexual cause that becomes fashionable among the theological leftists who run the diocese. This agenda will be pushed into your adult education programs, into your youth education… it will become part of the diocese’s identity.
Is there time to save your parish?
That remains to be seen.
Do you have a large enough core of orthodox members? Are they informed? Are they organized? Are they committed to making a lot of difficult choices and facing a lot of harsh criticism from their fellow church members? Are they prepared to set themselves against the leadership of the diocese, and perhaps even against the leadership of their parish? Are they prepared to do what it takes to win, or lose it it all trying?
In that case… Perhaps.
UPDATE: A quick question about why +Gray didn’t dare do this via resolution.
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