Washington Bishop Budde Admits TEC in Decline on National Public Radio
Talk Show Host Diane Rehm feels orthodox pain. Reams Budde
Over 50% of diocesan parishes are in decline, bishop admits
By Sarah Frances Ives
Special to Virtueonlinewww.virtueonline.org
December 23, 2011
Only an occasional listener to the Diane Rehm show, I tuned in to hear Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde speak. My hat is off to Diane Rehm. She got all the questions right and learned how to bring the new bishop out of her New Age fog and face clearly uncomfortable realities.
First things first. The obvious public relations campaign swirling around Budde can be seen in her name change. At the request of the new bishop, she goes by Bishop Mariann in the Diocese of Washington, but Rehm refers to her as Bishop Budde (pronounced Bishop Buddeee.)
So it sounds like someone finally got to Budde about being called "Bishop Mariann" and said to her, "Washingtonians are not into cutesy and phony familiarity."
Or maybe Diane Rehm had the intelligence to say, Look. Take your title as Bishop seriously. I can't stomach this first name business.
Whoever did it, Budde at least temporarily changed her name. OK. One problem solved.
No lightweight, Rehm starts off strong. Budde's metaphor for the church is that it is cracked just like the Washington Cathedral.
In her opening, Rehm said, "The Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde was consecrated as bishop of the Washington DC Diocese last month in the National Cathedral which is marred by cracks resulting from an earthquake. She became, of course, Washington's first female bishop. She sees a metaphor in those cracks within the cathedral, cracks in the faith, whose foundation is crumbling, but she remains resolute in her hope that that can change."
Rehm cuts to the chase about the problems in the Episcopal Church and Budde admits that the Episcopal Church is in a significant decline. Talking in particular about the Diocese of Washington, she said, "Over 50% of the parishes are in decline."
This was after stating that the Diocese of Washington is one of the strongest places in the Episcopal Church. In other words, things are bad and getting worse in one of the strongest places and the only reason the Diocese of Washington is strong is because of the beleaguered Soper Trust Fund. Yet the Diocese of Washington now demands control over the money from PNC bank, who defends the trust, and a trial begins in January 2012. This too bears watching, but Budde did not work this seamy information into her schmoozing with Ms. Rehm.
Budde attributes this serious decline in the Episcopal Church to a "lack of investment in spiritual communities". She says these groups need a "connection to the great mystery called God." She shows no interest in Christian communities mind you, many of course which are growing, but only spiritual ones.
She stated that the Episcopal Church is an "institution focused on our own survival." Budde believes that's not the way to grow and the church needs to become creative. At some point, Budde uttered there is a "new understanding of gay and lesbian persons."
She seemed to be moving around in different colors of auras-who knew where she was?
Budde expressed a hopeful aura for the church and said that it needs to have an expansiveness and openness to newness, especially to gay and lesbian priests. Later she added that it needed to become a public church again.
Her contempt toward the Episcopal Church came through loud and clear. Maybe she has always been contemptuous and considers the Episcopal Church a waiting zone until the Roman Catholic Church accepts women, gays and lesbians into the priesthood.
Rehm understood that dodging was going on and confronted her, "Can you be specific?"
Budde suffered a long pause here and we could hear her almost gulp. That's not the job description, she seemed to say. How about if I offer gauze-colored, important sounding words, not specifics?
Budde then offered a hugely negative critique of Episcopalians. She seemed to perceive her choice in the interview as between offering vaguely positive directives or destroy what was left of the self-image of already beaten-down Episcopalians.
She described Episcopalians in the following fashion. "We have settled on becoming a small, niche church [that is] atrophied in basic disciplines of faith [with a] fairly superficial idea of what it means to be a Christian."
She stated that the "average attendance in the Episcopal Church is 50-80." Budde added that TEC functions like an extended family with all the difficulties of breaking into a closed system.
At this point, Rehm changed the questioning.
Is this really a "life-time appointment?" Rehm asked the bishop about her job. She seemed to be asking her if she really was going to have this job for a long, long time. Maybe Rehm was just offering Budde a way out from this public despair the new bishop was expressing, but maybe feeling concern about all of this happy and creative newness.
Budde giggled and said it was true.
Then Diane Rehm asked, "And the former bishop retired when he was seventy-two?"
Come on, our life-appointed Bishop Budde, the brilliant Rehm question really is, why did you fire Bishop Chane? And how many more of your sermons do we have to hear about your New Age poet David Whyte?
Rehm knew, of course, that Bishop John Bryson Chane was not 72. Her question seemed to be, why in the world do we have you here and what happened to Chane and why did he leave early and is there something else we should know and all you listeners out there should be curious what happened that is being covered up.
Chane resigned as Diocesan bishop and was fired as interim dean. Budde now waits and waits to appoint someone as interim dean when it had been expected during the first week of her bishopric. Seven weeks later, the Cathedral still waits.
How long, seemed to be Diane Rehm's cry. Budde glibly agreed to the facts about Chane but offered no explanation.
Then relief came when a listener asked about the distinctive character of the Episcopal Church.
Explaining some of the history of this, Budde offered the startling insight that "the break was dominantly political" between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.
That would be most interesting to Thomas Cranmer, burned at the stake in Oxford, and according to legend, held his right hand in the flames first because it was with that hand he had signed a betrayal of his words in the first Book of Common Prayer. Cranmer captured the essence of the Atonement so well, "One perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world."
Or interesting even to Richard Hooker, so very influenced by John Calvin. Over the importance of scriptures, Hooker struggled with the great Puritan Thomas Cartwright, who so faithfully and courageously kept proclaiming "sola scriptura." From scripture alone do we derive the living Word of God that carries us like a fire burning.
But for Budde, this Protestant Reformation theology, so sublimely gifted about divine grace, was only about politics.
Budde continued her historical review by referring to the founders of the United States "Thomas Jefferson, George Washington" as Episcopalians. Whoa, Ms. Budde. That's a lot of thoughtful deism to jump over to label Jefferson a faithful Episcopalian when in his editing of the scriptures he cut out all the miracles and the very basis of our faith, the Resurrection. Yes, when younger he attended an Anglican Church but thoughtful intellectuals make careers about Jefferson's religious ideas.
After these blunt mistakes, Rehm changed the course of the interview and inquired, "A listener emailed me and said to say where I go to church." She acknowledged attendance, "most recently at the Washington National Cathedral."
So, Rehm too has suffered some displacement in the Episcopal Church. Formerly, I think she attended St. Patrick's Church in Northwest Washington that also suffered some long and painful controversy-who can even keep up with all these fights? I believe this one also had some element in it about gay and lesbian priests.
I would grab a phone and find out all the details about this for Virtueonline readers but who even cares? We all know what these fights are about : we have destroyed the veracity of the authority of the scriptures so much we cannot even find the Christian faith in these parishes. Then there is the sadness of turmoil and unhappiness and displaced people longing for a Christian community with Episcopalians running from one place to another.
Rehm turned the discussion back to the Cathedral. With no surprise here, Budde said all the problems at the Cathedral have been caused by the economic downturn with the management becoming hapless victims of circumstance.
Budde discusses the Cathedral structural problems saying, "structural damages need to be repaired" and they need to "buttress the Cathedral." She stated that the Cathedral is safe.
How can it be safe when it needs buttresses?
Budde assured the concerned Rehm that they we're finally close in appointing an interim rector at the Cathedral. Budde's expansive aura returned and she stated, "The creation of the Cathedral is a miracle."
This would indeed be a very beautiful idea if it only had some realistic meaning.
Rehm continued with her confrontations and said, "As I look around the Cathedral, I see few minorities and few Latinos."
Budde admitted this and said that the Cathedral is not diverse and then plaintively replied, "I am doing my best."
Rehm let her off the hook and they talked about Budde's life. She worked for the Methodist Church in Arizona but decided to come back to the Episcopal Church.
She identifies with the "Catholic Worker movement."
Rehm pushed some about why Budde became ordained. She said she had a call from God. Rehm questioned this, and after flailing around some, Budde became high and turned to her favorite New Age thinker, David Whyte, saying, "We are not an accident among accidents." She went on to throw a lot of important sounding-phrases something like "living with deep joy and a sense of purpose and resilience in times of trial and struggle. God calls us to that."
Budde received a question about the schism from a listener who was close to an Episcopal Church that turned into an Anglican one and suffered from all the displacement of this schism. Budde declared the Episcopal Church is a victim. Budde does not think the Episcopal Church has any responsibility here, "Our church is not immune to culture wars and the rise of religious fundamentalism." Yet fellow Anglicans should not be in the United States, because the Episcopal Church is "the expression of Anglicanism in this part of the world."
Then Budde attacked other branches of Anglicans saying, "Many branches of Anglicans would share very literalist interpretations of scriptures and strict view of authority in bishops." In other words, they are ignorant, not like me who knows I am not an accident among other accidents.
I think we have another clue her about her mantra. When things get tough, Budde does not refer to "For God so loved the world, He gave his only begotten son" (John 3:16) but out comes the atheist David Whyte.
Rehm asked about the lawsuits and Budde started that through this "very painful period" the church would go to "another place." We are "letting the people who want to leave, leave." She is not letting them take with them "fruits, legacy" the beautiful words tumble out of Budde's mouth until finally, Rehm interrupts with the crucial direct word, "Property."
Rehm then seemingly feigns ignorance and asks whether the Virginia Truro Church is in the Diocese of Washington.
Budde rises to the bait and acknowledges that the Truro Church leaving had a "tremendous impact."
After dodging more questions about the property lawsuits, Budde states that liberal Episcopalians "don't know much about our scriptural tradition", but Budde wants to help.
"I came to my expansive understanding through scripture." Not too burdened with humility here, Budde's remark refers to the expansiveness that she believes the Episcopal Church needs.
Another listener emailed a direct question. "How do you interpret 1 Timothy 2: 11-12?"
Budde gulps and panics a bit, saying that she does not know what that scripture says. She yelps, "Does anyone have a Bible?" In other words, Budde wondered what in the world does that scripture say?
Of course it is about women speaking in church. Someone finds a Bible at the Rehm show. Budde proclaims, after they read it out loud, "I wonder why I blocked that passage out." She offers an explanation about scripture interpreted in community.
One supportive man from Texas called and said something like, "I take my kids to the Episcopal Church where they learn a lot about homosexuality."
I waited for his poignant call to ask the Episcopal Church to stop hitting this perverse sexuality drum in front of his kids, yet I was wrong. He likes this. Yes, he thinks this is simply grand that his kids are getting an education in homosexuality.
I think that maybe he ought to keep his kids at home and let them watch cartoons, if what they are going to learn about is homosexuality. And maybe he could read them those actually informative and engaging Toddler's Bibles. Are you still out there, fine caller? I'll send you one.
The excellent Washington interviewer Diane Rehm and her listeners got out of Bishop Budde more than she intended to say.
Maybe our Anglican Richard Hooker should have listened just a little more to the valiant Thomas Cartwright and we would not have been in this mess. After all of this 20th century displacement in the Episcopal Church, maybe I would not be alone in saying, "Sola Scriptura."
Sarah Frances Ives is a regular contributor to Virtueonline. She lives in Washington DC with her husband and two children