Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Halleluia! It is Finished!

The whole saga of the trial of the Rev. David Bollinger was finished today. The ecclesiastical court dismissed the case.

Since 2005 this case of alleged fiduciary misconduct against Fr. Bollinger has hung in the wind. Bollinger a veteran priest of 24 years and almost 20 years at St. Paul’s, Owego has served as a district dean, and on the Diocesan trial court.

This began when allegations of sexual abuse of minors by a previous rector began to surface in the congregation. Fr. Bollinger went to the bishop and asked for an investigation of these allegations. At the same time an auditor found irregularities in the parish accounting system. Bishop Gladstone, “Skip” Adams, ordinary of the Diocese of Central NY refused to deal with the abuse and focused the attention on the financial irregularities on Fr. Bollinger. He called for a forensic audit of the Discretionary accounts of the parish at the cost of $30,000 to the diocese . In 2005 the Standing Committee brought charges against Fr. Bollinger and then turned the case over to the State’s Attorney for prosecution of alleged crime. Fr. Bollinger was inhibited, removed from his parish and the parish declared vacant without a trial. He was disallowed contact with members of the clergy, those who had reported their abuse to him and denied access to the parish buildings. No civil or criminal charge has ever been brought against Fr. Bollinger by state or federal authorities.

From the beginning Fr. Bollinger has denied the accusations leveled against him. Members of his parish have been mystified by the bishop’s actions. All the questioned expenditures by Fr. Bollinger had been allowed by the parish Vestry (lay council). But these explanations by the Vestry and Wardens of the parish were ignored by the Diocese.

For three years Fr. Bollinger was not allowed to work at his chosen profession, denied health care at a time when a member of the family was battling cancer and left without pastoral care or concern. He was basically shunned by the diocese in which Fr. Bollinger had grown up.

He was denied hearings that were required by the canons before the Standing Committee. He was denied legal assistance when the diocese could have provided it when it was shown that he did not have sufficient funds to provide counsel for himself. Fr. Bollinger suffered a heart attack in the ensuing years and is now on disability retirement.

Today, some three years following the inhibition, the case against Fr. Bollinger was dismissed for lack of evidence.

The court in its judgment said that the Diocese had not made its case. Several times in the two-day trial, the court reminded the Diocese that it had made clear the deadlines for providing materials in the discovery portion of the deliberations. The Diocese had not provided the court with a list of witnesses or a description of the evidence that they intended to present in a timely fashion. Fr. Bollinger had met those criteria in all of those occasions.

In June Bishop Adams asked the Standing Committee for a change of venue to another diocese. The Standing Committee voted unanimously to deny that change. The Court said that it took umbrage at the cavalier attitude that the Diocese took regarding the discovery period deadlines. They summarily dismissed all evidence and witnesses of the Diocese saying that it was trying to “even the playing field” so that the process of the trial would be fair.

When the Court judged that the Diocese had not proved their case, some sharp criticism by the Chair of the Court, Carter Strickland, Esq. and member of Trinity Parish, Fayetteville, said that they had strived to make sure that any trial procedures were done in a way that both the Diocese and Fr. Bollinger were treated fairly and with equal access to the legal system.

The Court was made up of the Rev. Jennifer Montgomery, the Rev. William Lutz, the Rev. John Rafter, Ms. Mary Lou Crowley, Esq. and Mr. Carter Strickland, Esq.

Comments: There has been considerable anxiety in the diocese regarding this trial. Many clergy of the diocese watched anxiously to see if the rights of the priest were going to be upheld. Since the changes in Title IV, the disciplinary canons, have been revised, there have been many questions about whether the check and balances that were once in effect would safe guard the rights of the cleric. In this case, it is gratifying to note that the Court upheld the fairness of the legal system. The Court is to be congratulated for the bravery to address their bishop’s or his lawyers’ flagrant disregard for the rules of the Court. It is sad to see the Diocese either resort to such tactics or ignore the dictates of the Court that was elected by the Diocese in Convention when the case is being watched by so many in TEC.

As a result, there will most likely be several resolutions or attempts to change the canons of the Diocese to provide for better handling of matters in which the accused is provided with appropriate counsel and access to pastoral care when there is a presentment is made.

In this case, most likely the irregularities in the financial structures of the parish would have been found to stem from the priest that had crossed the boundaries of conduct with children in his diocese. It is well-known that financial misconduct often is seen when there is also sexual misconduct. It is sad that the jump to accuse the present rector for another’s deeds has led to such pain for the Diocese and for Fr. Bollinger and his family. We as a diocese need to be willing to hold the proper authorities accountable for this affair.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Go and Do Likewise--Sermon, St. Luke's ELCA

“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher, he said what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there? He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself”

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a story we all know. It is one of the most well-known stories of the New Testament. It is a story that many who aren’t even Christians know. It is a piece of the world’s literature that in just a matter of 5 verses tells us what it means to be a neighbor—what it means to love humanity enough to be considered part of God’s kingdom.

But it is the final words of this passage that has always stopped me. “Go and do likewise.” This is not merely a nice story. It is a commandment. This is not just a nice piece of literature which after read gives us more insight into human nature or what Jesus would do. It is a piece of literature that calls us to action.

The lawyer who asks the question is not asking for information from Jesus. He is challenging Jesus. He is calling him into an argument. Jesus doesn’t answer the lawyer’s question. He does like any good rabbi would do, he turns what might be a path down some theological rabbit hole, back on the questioner and gets the lawyer to answer his own question.
For us the question of “who is my neighbor” confronts us everyday. What allegiance do I owe to those I don’t know? What allegiance do I owe to those who might harm me? Jesus tells us in this story that our allegiance has to do with our being human, being a part of the human community that makes us neighbors.

This week I heard a speech on the radio by the grandson of Mahatma Ghandi. When he was young and living in South Africa as a part of the Indian community under apartheid, he was beaten up by a group of white youths for not being white enough. A few months later he was beaten up by a group of black youths for not being black enough. He said the rage that he knew was so detrimental to his living in South Africa that his parents packed him off to India to live with his famed grandfather. It was there that he learned the principles of non-violent pacifism that he now tries to teach the world in keeping with his grandfather’s legacy.

His grandfather taught him that the key to knowing peace is to address the same issue that Jesus does in this story. When we are willing to recognize that the entire world is our neighbor and that we are called by God to love even those who might wish to do us harm, we have begun to understand what it means to “go and do likewise.”

The ministry of Jesus was not about the salvation of our souls as much as it was a call to humanity to realize that we are inter-related, that we do not live on this earth in some kind of compartmentalization that allows us to ignore others. The kingdom, the inheritance which we are promised is a result of our working together for the betterment of society, the ending of conflict, the learning to live in peace with humanity and all creation, to not just love God but to love others as ourselves.

Rajmohan Ghandi learned from his grandfather that to live into what it means to be non-violent doesn’t just mean not fighting. It means a radical living of life that does not force others into warring positions. It meant first dealing and disciplining one’s own anger into life-giving living--using one’s own anger to bring about health and wholeness to the greater society rather than allowing one to fall into vengeance or the cycle of payback.

Now I have to admit that even when faced with Martin Luther King’s non-violent approach to social justice when I went to Selma back in the 1960’s, I was never really “sold” on his methods. I have felt until just recently that if your position was “righteous” then you should live by that righteousness and more or less let the chips fall where they may. But being right doesn’t always help a situation. And one person’s “righteousness” may not be another’s and then the cycle of violence continues. In order to bring change into a situation one must be willing to love beyond measure—one side must be willing to set righteous aside for love to be experienced.

The story of the Good Samaritan gives us a vision of how to live life that goes beyond righteousness. It provides us with a method by which we can address the divisions in society that says we must always go farther than what is just.

The Samaritan, like all Samaritans were discriminated against by the Jews in the first century. The Jew that was beaten and left for dead was tended to by the Samaritan above and beyond what was necessary. But it was that service that was beyond reason that confirmed the concept of eternal life. It was the Samaritan who even though he was considered unclean by the Jews and outside the chosen people, who was not a neighbor by any sense of the word in Jesus’ day; it was he who was assured eternal life.

We could just leave this story in the First Century as Jesus illustrating that salvation was not just for the people of Israel. Luke used the story of the Good Samaritan to show that Jesus meant the faith to be for all the nations of the earth. But the story is too good for that—and I believe that the reason that the Bible has meaning for all ages is that we may look at this story to address the issues of our own age.

If we are to have peace in our world, if there is going to be a way that the US is going to be able to address the growing world-wide unrest, we must be willing to understand that Jesus calls us to a kind of radical peace-loving that goes beyond national interests. Our Christianity demands facing what we do in the light of the Gospel and allowing ourselves to live a way of radical peace. We cannot demand that others live in ways that we are unwilling to live.

If we are going to demand of others to live according to democratic principles, we cannot deny those basic democratic principles in the face of terrorism or any other reason. We cannot deny the basic rights of people interned at Guantanamo or captured in Iraq if we are going to demand that Afghanistan and Iraq must have democratically developed governmental structures. We cannot demand of people who are not used to capitalistic forms of economics to develop consumer-based economies when we are going to control those economies artificially through sanctions. We cannot punish others if we are going to call others into a reformed way of life. We must be willing, like the Samaritan in the story, to go farther, without rancor, without demanding satisfaction of those who hurt us, and serve them. It is the only way we are going to understand how radical God’s love is for us. It is the only way that I think that we are going to “inherit eternal life.” It is the only way we are going to relinquish the tail of the constant spiraling of retribution.

Now, I am not talking about salvation here. That is already worked out for us. I am talking about taking responsibility for our own anger at whatever the issue is and going beyond it. The hope of the Gospel message is that God believes us capable to bring peace to our world. We are saved to do just that. God has loved us into being so that we can live together with respect and care for one another. This applies to us whether we are dealing with things here in the 4 counties of Central NY or whether we are dealing with people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, South America or where ever.

Most of you know that I have had real problems with my bishop in the Episcopal Church. I would love to stay angry at that man who has treated me and others so unfairly. I have all the reasons in the world to stay angry at that man. But about 2 years ago I realized that that anger was eating me up. I was not being the kind of Christian that I had vowed to be at my baptism. I needed to let go of that anger. I needed to further my understanding of what it meant to be the Good Samaritan. Has this changed what the bishop has done to me? No. And given the man, I doubt if he is capable to come to any kind of reconciliation. But I have put that anger at the service of God by calling myself to be about Christ’s service in a different way. This act has changed me. It has drained the fierceness of my righteousness and allowed me to see that God has called me to another way to live out my vocation as an ordained minister of the faith by serving among you, Lutherans. By learning to do something else with my anger, I have learned that God wants a kind of peaceful approach to life in my denomination over issues that I once thought combative. I have learned that God loves my bishop just as surely as God loves me. It has been humbling yet redeeming at the same time. I still love my Church even though I have to take a bit of a vacation from it. I still care about my bishop even though he continues to hurt me and those I love. I still care about the clergy and laity of my diocese and work for their betterment in the faith. It is the only way I can “go and do likewise.”

As Barbara Crafton said yesterday in her daily message of spiritual nourishment: “There are enormous tasks ahead of us. Ahead of each of us, in our own little lives, and ahead of all of us as citizens of the world. Our approach to the environment is one: the issues are so large, the danger so immense, the numbers so great. The magnitude of it overwhelms us. And so we do nothing. We give up.” But what the story of the Good Samaritan does for us is to show us that in just what WE do in our daily lives impacts upon the whole world. What we do in our lives creates the environment in which caring for others can be done, that going beyond the “righteous” to the loving does work. That is the hope of the Gospel.
Perhaps we as a nation need to find some other way to use our anger. We must be like the Good Samaritan, even though we have been hurt by terrorists, we must find a way to love beyond the hurt so that our nation does not continue the cycle of vengeance with which we are faced. We must be willing to bind up wounds rather than continue the fight if we are going to understand the “eternal life” to which Jesus invites us in this parable.
We, each and every one of us here, have places where we must “go and do likewise”. We must be willing to look at the places of anger and figure out how we can love in spite of it. We must be willing to turn our anger into ways of caring. How can Lutherans and Episcopalians come to a place where we can set aside what has separated us in the past so that we can embrace the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ to a world that is afraid of organized religion? How can we take the terror of 9/11 and turn it into love so that we can be a people of peace rather than a people of vengeance and retribution? How can we come to the place where we need not fear anything in the name of Jesus Christ so that we can be about loving those who would ignore us, or disdain us?

I invite us all this week to look at our anger and ask where we can put it to work as love. Where can we bring the hope of the story of the Good Samaritan to people in our own lives? Where can we go the extra mile to be Christ’s own? How can we reorder our lives to live lives of non-violence --because the story of the Good Samaritan is one that symbolizes God’s extravagance of love? What is God’s call to us to “Go and do likewise?” AMEN

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Message from Integrity--


We are absolutely committed to this Church and we are absolutely committed to the Continuance of as broad a diversity—including theological—as is possible for us to maintain together. This commitment is, in part, a commitment to continued messiness and frustration … Liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists, must learn to live together in this Church or there will be no Church in which for us to live. But learning to live together must mean “mutual deference” not moratoriums or some insistence that we all convert to being “moderates.”

My second message to the church at large is that we are not going anywhere. Gay and lesbian Christians make up a significant portion of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. We will continue to do so after General Convention 2003 no matter what happens. We will not attempt to get our way by threatening to leave. I ask those on all sides of this debate to make this commitment as well.

Now three comments especially for our conservative brothers and sisters. First, we do not desire for you to go away. Yes, some sympathizers with our movement have said from time to time that it would be just as well if you did. Of course, some of yours have said the same about us. Let us together commit ourselves to finding every way possible to move forward with our debate without threatening either schism or purge. It is simply not necessary for us to do so.

Second, we do not desire to force same-sex blessings on you or anyone. We do desire to enable them in those places where the church is ready to receive them as a blessing but is not able to because of an understandable desire for some level of national recognition. Of course we will continue to work towards local communities desiring to bless same-sex unions. Of course you will work to keep them from doing so. We ought to be able to live with each other’s efforts on that level. Third, we do challenge you to stop scapegoating lesbian and gay Christians for every contemporary ill in the Church, particularly for our current state of disunity or the potential for the unraveling of the Anglican Communion.

You know as well as we do that the issues are far deeper than human sexuality. They are issues of scriptural interpretation and authority, including the very different polities that exist in different provinces of the Communion and whether or not local autonomy is a defining characteristic of Anglicanism. Issues of human sexuality are just one tip of that very large iceberg and if sexuality went completely away tomorrow, the iceberg would still be there.

This movement is not about getting our way or else. This movement is a means to further the healthy debate within the Church, to deepen it on a theological level, to begin to articulate how we see the blessing of same-sex unions as a part of the Church’s moving forward in mission rather than hindering mission. We believe that it is time for the church to claim the blessing found in the lives of its faithful lesbian and gay members and to further empower them for the mission of the Church. We are trying to find a way forward in this endeavor that holds as much of this church we love together as possible. We ask all our fellow-Episcopalians to join us even if they disagree with us.

The Reverend Michael Hopkins
Past-president of Integrity USA
Rector of St. Luke and St. Simon Cyrene, Rochester NY

Comment: What an important distinction that Michael+ makes. Living together while holding widely diverging opinions has always been one of the marks of the Episcopal Church. It was one of the things that attracted me to Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church. I do not stand for the expulsion of those who do not think as I do. I DO, however, expect those who do not think as I do not to try to expel me from the Church, either.

I have been known to say that those who support such programs as CANA and the other groups that work to undermine the Episcopal Church have already left the Episcopal Church. I stand by that statement because actions that try to set up alternate structures in the Episcopal Church for governance that are not in keeping with the Constitution and Canons of the Church tear at the total fabric of the Church, not just the particular opinions of individuals or minorities in the Church.