I’ve only just recently found out that anybody cares what I think about the recent sad news from Connecticut. If you don’t care to register with the New York Times, the short answer is that the diocesan bishop inhibited a priest (“suspended” him), took possession of the parish’s buildings and records, changed the locks, and installed an interim rector. It is hard to think that it’s coincidental that the priest in question was one of six clergy who actively resist the consecration of Gene Robinson to the episcopacy (among other vexatious actions taken by the Episcopal Church over the past few years).
Since it’s a matter whose resolution depends greatly on details of the transactions between bishop and priest, I have kept my own counsel — I reasoned that it could hardly help clarify a complicated situation if large numbers of people who don’t know the details take uninformed positions. I’ve been in situations where the presenting issue could not be discussed publicly, which circumstance contributed to an appearance of extreme unfairness on the part of the authority involved; since then, I’ve tried to be especially cautious regarding such situations.
Because this has become a touchstone for determining even-handedness in ecclesiastical commentary, however, and because there’s been plenty of time to make as clear as possible a case for what looks on the face of things like a clumsy power grab, I can without hesitation say that if Bishop Smith has a good reason for the way he handled this situation, he has so far withheld it. The highly-charged atmosphere ought to incline someone who holds power to exercise that power as little and as gently and unexceptionably as possible, with as much explanation as possible. Unless Bishop Smith is in the agonizing position of knowing something very terrible and confidential about the conduct of the Rev. Mr. Hansen’s ministry — something of which no hint of a clue has even been rumored, so one has to consider that option off-the-table — Bishop Smith must be deemed to have mishandled a delicate situation.
In a couple of conversations at the Ekklesia Project, I observed that I increasingly find the pivotal text in Pauline ethics to be 1 Cor 6:7: “In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? ” We demonstrate sinfully constricted imaginations when we concentrate our efforts on prevailing over our sisters and brothers, arm-twisting or out-maneuvering in order to win, to justify oneself.
I can imagine some circumstances that might motivate Bishop Smith to take the actions he did, and I can imagine some circumstances that might motivate Fr. Hansen to have taken the actions that seem to have precipitated the diocese’s foreclosure — but the information circulating in public so far casts the diocese’s side in a pretty grim light. When I wrote “if our charity were not already exhausted,” this dysangelical mess was the sort of sorry outcome I feared.