Bishops and Other Syncretisms  
Copyright 2003 by William Meisheid (8-18-03)

Episcopal Bishop of Maryland, Robert Ihlofff sent out a pastoral letter on August 8th, while still at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. He wanted to begin an explanation of his and the larger church's decision to ratify the election of a practicing homosexual priest as the new Bishop of New Hampshire.

The full text of Bishop Ihloff's letter is available. [Click here]. In addition there are links () throughout this posting to the place being discussed in the bishop's letter.

In this essay, I will attempt to deal with some of the issues that the bishop raises and point to resources that carry my argument further. This is not an academic exercise. Bishop Ihloff has made some provocative statements that touch on issues that are central to creation and the Christian faith. I believe he is wrong, seriously wrong. I also believe that he is leading those he shepherds into heresy and sin, and in doing so may be leading some to their eternal damnation. I fully understand the spiritual gravity of my position and his and I do not shrink back from what needs to be said.

It should be noted that I hold no personal ill will toward Bishop Ihloff. I have hope, though admittedly small, that my meager arguments might show him the truth in love, but as the Apostle Paul was very clear in Philippians 1:9-11 we should temper our love with knowledge and insight, always discerning what is blameless and leads to righteousness. No, I offer the bishop tough love, but love just the same.

I will begin with the bishop's statement () that it is the Bishops of Maryland policy not to interfere in another diocese "so long as all the appropriate procedures are followed." At his ordination to the office of bishop, Robert Ihloff was told "You are called to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church..." and "to join in ordaining bishops" and "share in the leadership of the Church throughout the world." By his own ordination agreement he cannot turn a blind eye to the actions of another diocese, just because "all appropriate procedures are followed." How does that "guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church"? It should be noted the capital C in Church means the Christian Church at large and not just the Episcopal Church. It has always been so in the prayer book. For a simple example of this see in the Nicene Creed where it is stated that "we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church." Note the capital C in Church.

No, Bishop Ihloff has a responsibility to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church. He cannot by his ordination and he should not by his vows be party to the unilateral introduction of new doctrine that upsets that unity and goes against the discipline of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church with a capital C.

Bishop Ihloff states that Bishop-elect Robinson has been "honest" about being gay. () Truthful, I would agree, but honest carries with it a moral weight I am not willing to concede. What the bishop fails to address is that the Bishop-elect divorced his wife, breaking his solemn vow before the Lord, a fact that disqualifies him for bishop, apart from his active homosexual lifestyle. Can Robinson be forgiven? Yes, but he cannot be a bishop.

Later in his letter () Bishop Ihloff states that he has "been grappling with these issues personally and professionally." It is significant that he leaves out spiritually and prayerfully. This is not splitting hairs. A bishop's first responsibility is spiritual, not "professional." The choices of language and style are not accidental, but instead very revealing. A true man of God does not make such pedestrian statements, leaving aside the weighty spiritual aspects of his struggle, provided they exist, which I seriously doubt. No one can engage God in serious and submitted prayer and study over such an issue and not make it a fundamental part of their argument. I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 4:2 where Paul says "it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful" and later in 2 Corinthians 4:2 where he says "we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." I would argue that Bishop Ihloff's personal and professional grappling do not meet Paul's test.

In his main paragraph of argument, () Bishop Ihloff says some acceptable things, but then distorts their meaning and twists their usage all out of shape. He begins by saying "I believe ALL Holy Scripture is written for our learning. There are no throw away passages from the Bible. Rather, we are to "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" Scripture to be informed persons of faith." One cannot argue with what is essentially a truism for all Christians. However, he immediately mitigates what he just said with qualifications and distortions both direct and hidden.

He says "Scripture demands our best intellectual efforts" () as if those who accept the plain reading of texts and adhere to the historic understanding of the Church are not giving their best. I beg to differ. He goes on to throw out a strawman by saying "Snippets should never be used as proof texts; all scripture must be read in its full context." which is a truism of biblical hermeneutics. However, he uses it to imply that those who do not agree with him are "proof texting" rather than applying contextual exegesis. He smears any who disagree with him with the brush of bad scholarship. He goes on with another truism saying "Scripture study demands that we first understand what the passage meant in Biblical times. Only then can we begin to see how it applies today." To quote my daughter, "Duh!" As if we who disagree with him don't know these basics of biblical hermeneutics.

After trying to paint a picture of his sound exegetical approach to the issue Bishop Ihloff then sidesteps all of scripture and invalidates hermeneutics at its root by saying that the passages prohibiting homosexual activity "were all written in a time when it was assumed that all persons were heterosexual from birth. () Therefore if anyone commits homosexual acts, he/she is going against nature and is sinning." In one fell swoop he kills the messenger. While first granting that all scripture is important and should be adequately exegeted, in the end it doesn't matter since those who wrote it worked from a wrong premise. Forget being inspired by the Holy Spirit. Forget the fundamental concept of God-breathed, the writers were seriously misinformed. He then dismisses his critics by saying "Some Christians still hold that point of view." I am sorry bishop, but it is not "some" Christians, but the vast majority of Christians. His revisionist view is by far in the minority.

Bishop Ihloff then goes on to talk in platitudes about "...increasingly we talk about homosexuality as an orientation (something unthinkable in the ancient world). We hear from people who maintain they have been homosexual from birth. How does scripture apply to these people?" To answer him, it applies directly and calls them sinners. It even goes further and states that their acts of sexuality are an "abomination to God." But then the bishop goes further and asks a question that at it's root pits the four gospels against the rest of scripture. He says "To what degree do they [those in lifelong same sex relationships] conform to the morality Jesus teaches in the New Testament? () The answers are not so clear as some presume." Only for him since he has already killed the messengers since they disagree with him.

While he didn't directly state the argument, he implies a belief that Jesus doesn't explicitly condemn same sex activity, which he thinks is an important point. Indeed, that is a common argument of the same sex lobby. However, despite the fact that there is no reason the question of homosexuality should have come up in his three year ministry to "lost sheep of the House of Israel" Jesus does have some things to say that directly bear on the underlying principals that mitigate the bishop's (and others) arguments. In Matthew 19:4-6, while discussing divorce, Jesus says "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

When his disciples, thinking about the difficulty of being bound to one wife for a lifetime, respond "it is better not to marry." Jesus then says something very interesting. His statement has wide reaching implications for all those seeking sex outside of traditional marriage that lasts a lifetime. He says, "For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven." In essence he says the only alternative to lifelong marriage between a man and a woman is becoming a eunuch for the sake of the gospel. Not an easy word for the same sex lobby to deal with, but it is Jesus' argument just the same. There is more to be said along these lines of the Genesis and creation foundation of human sexuality, but that is for a later discourse.

Bishop Ihloff then places the onus on the dissenters to his position by saying "Furthermore, our Church maintains that there is space for people of widely differing views on this subject." () He says he will accept those who disagree with him but there is an implication that they must accept him and his views. It is magnanimous of him to accept those who hold to the historical and overwhelming majority opinion on this subject. However, to accept him they have to embrace fundamental heresy and a bishop who has not lived up to his ordination vows to defend the faith, not to mention acted against the constitution of the Episcopal Church in voting to accept a position rejected by the rest of the Anglican Communion. He has attempted to place dissenters as the villains since the only true sin from his perspective appears to be intolerance to his heresy.

He then closes with an argument () that the leadership of the Anglican and Episcopal Church has said homosexuality is "NOT Church dividing." How one can think that after the world-wide response to this action and the coming meetings in Texas and Canterbury. Indeed we live in an age where as C. S. Lewis would say in his essay "God in the Dock", we have removed God from His place as judge and us from our place in the dock and instead have placed Him and His word in the dock and appointed ourselves as judge. However, God has said that he will not be mocked.

I will later add links to useful arguments and articles that further address these issues further. Also, when Bishop Ihloff does publish additional arguments on this issue I will attempt to respond to them.

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