From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: Diocese of Washington consecrates outspoken activist as eighth bishop

Date Tue, 4 Jun 2002 15:26:40 -0400

June 4, 2002


Episcopalians: Diocese of Washington consecrates outspoken 
activist as eighth bishop

by James Solheim

(ENS) Themes of justice and compassion permeated the service at 
the Washington National Cathedral June 1 where the Rev. John 
Bryson Chane was consecrated the eighth bishop of the Diocese of 

In his sermon, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, who as 
chaplain at Yale University in the 1960s and 1970s was one of 
the most outspoken social activists in the nation, used the 
parable of the Good Samaritan to argue that compassion is at the 
center of the religious life. He said that the parable is "a 
multi-faith story that sees love/compassion as the core value of 
religion. It is bad religion to deify doctrines and creeds. 
While indispensable to religious life, doctrines and creeds are 
only so as signposts. Love alone is the hitching post."

Coffin reminded the congregation of over 2,000 that doctrine 
has been used to support slavery and apartheid and "some still 
strive to keep women in their places and gays and lesbians in 
limbo." While doctrines can divide people, "compassion can only 
unite" so it is time for "religious folk. to recover tradition 
and recover from it."

Expanding the theme beyond the individual account in the 
parable, Coffin said that "whole communities, even nations, have 
been stripped, beaten and left lying in the ditch. And what 
these communities and nations need is not piecemeal charity but 
wholesale justice," but it is important to distinguish between 
charity and justice, he said. "Charity is a matter of personal 
attributes, justice a matter of public policy. Charity seeks to 
alleviate the effects of injustice, justice seeks to eliminate 
the causes of it. Charity in no way affects the status quo, 
while justice leads inevitable to political confrontation."

Coffin added his hope "Christians would see that the 
compassion that moved the Good Samaritan to act charitably--that 
same compassion prompted biblical prophets to confront 
injustice, to speak the truth to power."

Open and honest

>From most reports, the new bishop of Washington is not afraid 
to confront injustice. When he became dean of St. Paul's 
Cathedral in San Diego he asked Barbara Harris, the first woman 
in the Anglican Communion to be elected a bishop and a very 
outspoken liberal, to preach at his installation. The result was 
a boycott by some traditionalists priests--and a death threat 
for the new dean.

Last year he chastised his own bishop, Gethin Hughes, for 
refusing to allow Bishop John Spong, the controversial retired 
bishop of Newark, to speak in local churches, arguing that 
pulpits should be open to people who express different views.

"He's very open and honest," said Catherine Hopper, of about 
250 people who traveled from San Diego for the consecration. "He 
will not do something because it is politically right or will 
put him in a better light," she told the  Washington 
Post. In an interview with the paper, Chane said that he is 
convinced that it is time for the Episcopal Church and other 
institutions in American society to reestablish the engagement 
with culture that they demonstrated during the turbulent 1960s 
and 1970s. "Regrettably we have lost that," he said. He said 
that would include a need to reinterpret the Gospel in the face 
of cultural changes. He is also deeply committed to housing for 
the homeless, an education system that helps students avoid 
drugs and violence, respect for other faith communities, and 
finding a way for church members to "lovingly disagree" while 
addressing difficult issues.

Chane told the Post that he believes that times of 
disagreement can be "teachable moments," when people with strong 
but differing opinions can learn from each other, in a spirit of 
candid engagement. Last fall he pleaded with the San Diego 
School Board to stop the infighting, for the sake of the 
students. "We have to love each other, work together," he said. 
"He knows about the art of compromise," said Bishop George D. 
McKinney of St. Stephen's Church of God in Christ in San Diego. 
"He will come down on the side of justice and compassion."

The bishop's job

In his homily at the Sunday June 2 service when he was 
"installed," Chane asked God to "strengthen me to be a patient 
listener, a prophetic preacher, a faithful pastor to all, a wise 
teacher, and to live simply and yet as one who seeks out and 
works for justice and the full inclusion of all your children 
into your church."

Chane cited the wisdom and vision of the late presiding 
bishop, John E. Hines, who said, "A bishop's job is to keep his 
church firmly on the firing line of the world's most pressing 
needs and to learn to accept the exquisite penalty of such an 
exposed position.

Chane expressed his "desire to engage the secular and 
political leadership of the District of Columbia, the Congress 
of the United States, and those who hold the highest elected and 
appointed offices of this nation." While remembering "our 
heritage as a people of God," he expressed a hope to engage with 
a nation that "desperately seeks a voice of broad theological 
reason and compassionate caring. Such a balance is one of the 
great gifts of the Episcopal Church and we need to stop 
agonizing for it and begin to exercise and live into it."


--James Solheim is director of Episcopal News Service. For more 
information on the election and consecration go to the diocesan 
website at

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