Blast from the Past: The Bishop of Virginia’s Video for Virginia Churches preparing to Vote to Depart TEC with their Property

Circa Autumn 2006.

Here’s the video that Bishop Peter James Lee made as a part of the “40 Days of Discernment,” a period of preparation by the Virginia churches following the Virginia Protocol for Departing Congregations. In this video, Bishop Lee makes his case of why we should remain in the diocese, despite the events of General Convention 2003. His contribution to the 40 Days of Discernment shows that we heard his side of the story. There were no drawing straws – no flipping coins.

In September 2006, Bishop Lee recorded this video from his home at Shrine Mont and it was made available to the congregations both by DVD and online. It was recorded two months before Katharine Jefferts Schori became the “new sheriff” in town and changed the course of open conversation and discernment in Virginia. The video is definitely pre-KJS. It is missing the adversarial rhetoric from TEC that we are now all too familiar with – which is a clue of why the sudden shift in January 2007 was so shocking.

Here, Bishop Lee makes his case, speaking directly to the camera as though he was speaking directly to us. But in light of the hearings last week, it reminds us that Bishop Lee appeared to take our discernment process and our votes very seriously, with respect and care. He called us all faithful people in a struggle. He also uses the word division – which may be why it’s disappeared off the diocesan website. There was none of the threats or dismissive attitude that would come later after the new Presiding Bishop took over from Frank Griswold. Bishop Lee appealed to a sense of Christian unity based on what he called generous historic orthodoxy – he just couldn’t demonstrate how he would maintain that unity when it was clear by December that 815 and General Convention were going in a completely different direction then what Bishop Lee’s describes as generous orthodoxy (which sadly, was not generous after all) – a direction that the votes of the Virginia Churches showed we could not go. A unity based on false premises could not endure the searing light of Truth. It was the Episcopal Church that left – and continues to leave – historic Anglican Christianity.

Note too that the identity he speaks of was not as Episcopalians but as family – which of course we were, which is why we are a branch and not a new denomination. While he maintains we are not congregationalists, he also does not assert that we are now suddenly emeshed in hierarchy. His respect for the discernment process leading to the votes exemplified this. We belong to the same Anglican family, now different branches.

However, he blindly dismisses that hierarchy when he asserts that the actions in one diocese are of little consequence in another. Virginia could carry on without concern for the actions being taken by the leadership of The Episcopal Church. That assertion, sadly was a dream.

Note also in this period, the loyalty he speaks of is not to the institution, but to Jesus. Of course, the question is asked in the Alpha Course – who is Jesus? We assume we know the meaning of those terms, like “Jesus” or “Christ” or even “family.” But since the foundation of shifting “truths” is like shifting sand, clarity was missing. As the stress intensified, we discovered where the true loyalties lay. Now the emphasis is on loyalty to the institution over fidelity to Jesus and His Truth. It seems clear now, looking back, that what Bishop Lee describes in his video does not exist and did not exist, even then.

It was a dream.

When this video was made, there was still hope that we would find a way to stay in “as close a communion as possible,” as Bishop Lee had said when he created his Special Committee with the chancellor of the Diocese of Virginia. It would not be a divorce, but a separation. I took seriously the admonition against saying to one another that “we have no need of you.” Conviction does not mean disparaging the sanctity of the life of another human being – those who have stood did so for the love of those they served. No, conviction means that a line has been drawn in the sand, as Deuteronomy says, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” Pretending that there is no choice does not make the choice go away. And the choice is not created by us – the choice is all ready there.

Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord.

There are consequences to the actions of General Convention 2003. Calling us to an artificial sense of companionship when we’ve felt abandoned by the Episcopal Church (no where is there any apology) is like a philandering husband pleading with his wife not to leave him – and if she does, the separation is all her fault. Either he stops the philandering or not. Appealing to old and rusting sentiments is no substitute for dynamic conviction and creative action. What we need to do is save the marriage, not prolong the adultery. We can no more have a marriage that tolerates adultery than we can have a church that tolerates sin and calls it holy.

The Diocese of Virginia showed no signs that it would stop the moral philandering of The Episcopal Church. The video makes that clear. There’s no indication of turning around, of repentance. We did not choose to separate because we had no need of our brothers and sisters, we choose to separate precisely because of our fidelity to Christ made it so. To remain would mean prolonging the lie.

We could not continue to condone actions that were so contrary to the scriptural understanding of marriage and holy living. We would not be serving our brothers and sisters if we did. He who lays down his life for my sake shall find it. Bishop Lee to some measure understood the gravity of the crisis enough to promote the creation the Protocol for Departing Congregations – and to participate in our 40 Days of Discernment. He saw the division building in his diocese. And in this video he paints his dream.

But what of a dream?

And what of the truth of a dream?

It is clear now with the new sheriff residing in the 815 penthouse, and with discovery well underway in the Virginia churches, and with the historic court hearing held last week with a ruling coming soon that such a dream has shattered.

But perhaps it shattered years ago – five years ago in Minneapolis.

Bishop Lee was speaking of progressives who hold views different than the Virginia churches understanding of biblical orthodoxy and holy living when he made this video. But if what he is saying is true, than it must now be true in reverse, now, two years later. It must be true for all – and the actions over the past year indicate that this is not the case. Imagine that he speaks of Bishop Schofield and not Bishop Robinson. My, how different it all is when the shoe is on the other foot.

Truth matters. Truth is not truths. “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus said. “No one comes to the Father but through Me.” That is truth – a hard truth, but it is the Truth. Truth instills trust – multiple truths do not. Multiple truths are shifting sands, which is exactly what the foundation of the diocese became – shifting sands and no sure footing. There is no place on shifting sands to build a home.

“You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free,” Jesus said. May it be so. May it be so.