From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Episcopalians: Diocese of Washington consecrates outspoken activist as eighth bishop
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
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 www.edow.org.
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