Monday, March 3, 2008

Bishop Paul Moore and the Clergy Retreat

There are three things that stand out in my memory of the first Clergy Retreat I attended in the early seventies as a young priest.

The first was this: the day time events of the retreat were held at wealthy estate in the Diocese of Massachusetts. The host had graciously provided an open bar for the clergy for their refreshment. I was stunned to see several clergy obviously drunk very early in the day.

Second, Bishop Paul Moore came down from New York to lead us in several “retreat” sessions. I remember with startling clarity that he told us that “premarital sex”’ was perfectly alright. According to his daughter Honor Moore, in a recent New Yorker interview, his sense of shame and embarrassment over his own bisexual behavior made him look with compassion on others in similar situations. Living a double life and letting others think that he was wonderful, and having that justified by his daughter as heroic, as making him a great visionary, is part of the problem that the Episcopal Church is having today. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20). While on one level Paul Moore was moved by compassion for the poor, his own flagrant immorality made him a leader in the break down of marriages and families in our society and has grievously contributed to the sorrows of the poor, especially the countless fatherless children of the very poor he thought he was serving.

The third was that “Ben” Arnold, our Suffragan Bishop announced his divorce. That was a matter of personal grief to me who knew Ben as a compassionate man with a genuine concern for others.

The Clergy Retreat left me in shock. Even though my seminary experience gave strong indications that alcohol abuse and sexual immorality were problems within the seminary that I attended, it had never occurred to me that the seminaries were a mirror of the church and of my diocese, as I was about to experience it.

Prior to attending seminary my experience of the church as a layperson in that same diocese was of a vital, if somewhat liberal, parish church. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer was formative in my personal spirituality. I remember with delight Sung Morning Prayer and the congregation singing the Benedicite, omnia opera Domini. Some years before, on the “Canterbury Trail”, I had visited Canterbury Cathedral and was overwhelmed by a tremendous sense of coming home, coming home not necessarily to the Episcopal Church, but to the Anglican Communion and its long and sometimes troubled centuries of history. That sense has never quite left me but it stands with sharp and painful contrast with that early Clergy Retreat and the recent divulgences of Paul Moore’s daughter that her father had all the while been living a actively bisexusal double life, that if known and addressed would have had him defrocked in other parts of the country. These revelations make a certain perverse sense out of the nature of that Diocese of Massachusetts Clergy Retreat.

I have to ask the question: at what point do we say that we have had enough; that with the prophets and saints of old that we actually regard a sin as sin, instead of being willing to allow the sinners themselves to sweep it under the edge of the carpet saying, “Now, now, that’s alright”? Does God cast a blind eye to these things? “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!” (Psalm 50:21-22).

God is tearing the Anglican Communion apart as a direct result of the flagrant immorality of The Episcopal Church which is still sweeping its sins under the edge of the carpet, saying “Now, now, that’s alright.” No, it isn’t alright, God is not at one with the callous immorality of The Episcopal Church. He never has been.