What should the next presiding bishop look like? Well, for starters, we’re not talking about her physical appearance. Nor are we talking about race, gender, ethnicity, whether she’s differently abled, her sexual orientation, or any of those things. Instead, we’re talking about what should be in her OTM portfolio.
For starters, let’s look at what we got with Michael Curry. He is a gifted preacher. He was willing to take steps to clean up 815, or church headquarters, although a lot of work remains. And, to put it bluntly, he’s black.
But beyond that, he’s a caretaker presiding bishop, mainly indifferent to the performance of those in his office (think Todd Ousley), the need for a strategic vision for the church, the importance of arresting the church’s fast-declining fortunes, or whether we need a database of offending clergy. (At this point, even the SBC has one. So we’re not big fans of keeping up with the Jones’s, but when the neighbors have cars while you have a horse and buggy, it’s time to get with the program. Unless you’re Amish, of course.)
That said, we’ve already flagged the most significant thing the next PB needs: vision. That includes:
- Offloading the creaky, Madmen-era headquarters that doesn’t even have a welcome center;
- Acknowledging that the church as we know it is dying; and
- Mapping out a vision for the future.
Much of that discussion will happen at General Convention and the dioceses. But the new presiding bishop can lead by example by:
- Articulating a vision;
- Insisting on action;
- Demanding absolute integrity;
- Deigning to answer and take action when a bishop ignores Title IV;
- Cleaning up the (now virtual) snake pit that is church headquarters once and for all; and
- Pushing to end the various committees that do nothing but grind out reports. We’ve been reading the reports on impaired clergy since the 1970s, and we’re damned tired of them. Almost as tired as we are of dealing with drunken clergy.
In short, she must be a genuine leader.
And by the way, while TEC considers itself a bastion of inclusion and tolerance, our ELCA sisters and brothers are far ahead of us.
Consider: While their brief tenure proved a debacle, Megan Marie Rohrer, a transgender individual, was elected bishop of the Californian Sierra Pacific synod. Meanwhile, Episcopal parishes still treat transgender priests as outcasts — which is stupid. One of the most spiritually healthy people we know is transgender, and she is a lovely human being. Get with the program, folks.
We can also dispense with the trappings of the military-industrial complex church. When the next presiding bishop takes office, find a quiet church needing some attention, get a bunch of bishops together, and do the deed. No need for the choirs, pageantry, and goshawful vestments that look like an experiment in home economics class gone awry. Use the money to plant a church instead. Much more impressive and a better use of resources. Jesus would approve.
While we’re on the topic of change, it’s high time to deal with the Episcopal Church of Haiti. It’s been ten years since the promise to rebuild the cathedral in Port Au Prince, and we have nothing but drawings. The security situation continues to decline, the church is implicated in corruption and gun running, and the effort to send a business manager into the mess was profoundly naive.
Indeed, the requests that Americans subsidize missing Haitian retirement funds sounds suspiciously like a shakedown, and we need to either insist that the church clean up its act, do it for them, or cut them loose. As things stand, the church is getting played like a fiddle. Yes, everyone wanted additional members and to play the great white beneficient God, but it’s been a bloody disaster so far.
Even worse, the Haitian arms smuggling incident came when churches, once revered in Haitian society, no longer are immune from attack. Thus, the Episcopal Church has lost its claim to the high moral ground and will find it damned hard to get it back.
On a more significant level, the Episcopal church is imploding on every front. Babbling about the Way of Love will not arrest the church’s steep decline. We don’t need another politician. We need a leader with spine, plenty of chutzpah, a willingess to challenge the status quo, and a vision for the future.
Will it happen? Given the dynamics of the Episcopal Church, probably not. But maybe it will at least become possible if people start thinking about it now.