An Appeal to Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, Primate of Kenya and Chairman of the GAFCON’s Primates’ Council, an Open Letter

Your Grace:


I am deeply pained by the accusation you level against the Scottish Episcopal Church and my own, the Episcopal Church of the United States, in your Pastoral Letter 2015 to the Faithful of GAFCON and friends. You say that we have been “listening to the world rather than listening to the Scriptures and the witness of the Church through two millennia.” I appeal to you for understanding.

I do not deny that we have been listening to the world. We have. But I do deny that we have been doing so rather than listening to the Scriptures and the witness of the church through two millennia.

I have been a priest for 62 years and so have lived through many changes in world and church. I have not found them easy. The process has been very difficult. I have often found myself in doubt about my decisions — Am I just going along with the world? Am I just providing complacent Episcopalians excuses for their worldliness? Am I reading my opinions into the Scriptures instead of hearing the Word of God?

To each question my answer has been no, and remains no. I think that I have been prayerfully and conscientiously seeking the will of God.

I will tell my personal story in some detail— how I faced the changes concerning divorce and remarriage, the role of women, and those concerning sexuality. I want you to see the struggle that I and many other Episcopalians have gone through in making our decisions. I want you to see that many of us have indeed been listening carefully to the Scriptures in the same way as our forebears through two millennia.

To follow in the footsteps of our forebears has been important enough to me that I have done careful studies of four crises of decision in the life of the church in order to see how those decisions were made. (You will find those studies on my website,, under the title How Those Christians Fight!) The four studies concern these controversies: the inclusion of gentiles in the church, the Arian controversy, the controversy concerning usury, and the controversy concerning divorce and remarriage. The first two controversies arise from within the church; the second two are world-driven. The inclusion controversy gives us an ideal to follow. The Arian controversy shows that ideal marred by sin, but somehow managing, nevertheless, to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The world-driven controversies show us prayerful, careful listening, but also messiness, sin, incompletion and doubt. The world-driven controversies show us fallible Christians trying to listen to Scripture and tradition.

Thus, I do not ask you to decide that I am right in the decisions I have made. My appeal is that you recognize that many of us Episcopalians have conscientiously tried to listen to the Scriptures and the witness of the church,in the same way as our forebears.

I will start with the pattern of change-making I see in the early church. Then I will look at the decision concerning usury and its results for us today. Then I will look at decisions in which I have myself taken part.

In the studies I mention above I speak of controversies. In this appeal I am concerned with change. That difference in language has revealed something I had not noticed before. Previously I had called the inclusion controversy the first great controversy of the church. And that is certainly true. But it is not the first great change. The first great change is the birth of the church itself!

I find the following steps in this first change-process —

Peter and the other followers begin with a life-vision given them by  Scripture and tradition. In particular, they expect the coming of the Messiah.

As a result of this vision and their encounter with Jesus they make a change — they commit themselves to him as the Messiah.

This change brings about new experiences — Jesus’ teaching, death, resurrection and ascension, and, finally, the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

Throughout this process as well as at its end, they listen to the Scriptures and find warrant for the change they are making.

On the Day of Pentecost Peter declares that they are fulfilling the prophecy of Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)

Finally, this scriptural warrant modifies their life-vision. To cite Joel’s prophecy as warrant modifies the vision dramatically — the last days have arrived!

The inclusion controversy follows the same pattern with these differences — there is controversy this time, the change adopted by Peter and later by Paul involves a break with current tradition and adoption of a new tradition derived from Scripture, there is an authoritative conclusion to the process by a council of the church.

These two processes of change show us an ideal. This is how we are called as Christians to deal with change. The Arian controversy shows the same pattern carried out in a far from ideal way. It is marred by malice, slander, violence, intolerance, pettiness, and many other forms of sin. But somehow, despite all that, the Fathers are led by the Spirit to a right conclusion.

Now we come to a world-driven change, widely accepted in the church, about which I have very serious doubts — our change in teaching about usury.

The important element in the beginning vision is, in this case, its universality — the church is to include all humanity. Thus the Old Testament command to lend freely to one’s neighbor in need and not take any interest, now applies to everyone, not just fellow Jews.

But over the centuries as business and commerce grow in the Christian world, loans are not so much made to a neighbor in need, but to a partner in commerce. The lender sees himself as rightly expecting to profit from the loan. Production of goods demands capital and capital will not be provided without incentive.

At first, various expedients are devised to provide the incentive and yet keep the command against usury. But as the world moves more and more into the capitalist system, the expedients become more and more awkward. Christians begin simply to redefine the term “usury.” Where originally it meant the charging of interest, any interest at all, it is redefined to mean the charging of excessive interest.

John Calvin examines biblical texts concerning loans and reinterprets them as allowing interest so long as it is not excessive. His teaching becomes widely accepted.

Loans are thus no longer viewed as taking place among neighbors. Instead they take place among competitors in a world of commerce.

Benjamin Nelson captures this change succinctly in the title of his book, The Idea of Usury: From Tribal Brotherhood to Universal Otherhood (1949, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press). The world is no longer a community of brothers and sisters but the impersonal realm of individual and corporate competition.

Once this secular vision becomes paramount the stage is set for the drama I see playing out today in my life as a Western Christian — world and church pushing one another back and forth. Sometimes the church drives the world into change — think slavery and civil rights for African-Americans. In these cases the authoritative decision is made in civil law.  Sometimes both world and church drive change — think the role of women, divorce and remarriage, the mores of sexuality. Authoritative decision is made in both civil and ecclesiastical law.

This is a revolutionary change. Modern Western Christians are born into a split life-vision. On the one hand, we live every day in a secular world of competitors and people of other beliefs, and, on the other hand, on Sundays and other occasions we live briefly in our Christian community. It’s a split and confused vision for guiding our lives.

Another characteristic of the usury change is its incompletion. It crept into western life little by little. Church teaching and practice changed little by little. No council solemnly considered it and rendered an authoritative decision. There are few statements concerning it from church bodies. I pray that we Christians will reconsider it and press for humane changes.

This change in teaching has opened the door to abuse of the poor. The minimum wage-earner in need is no longer my neighbor; so I can lend to him at usurious rates. In the United States we have what are called “payday” loans, in which minimum wage-earners take their paychecks to lenders for immediate cash. The interest rates can be as high as 39%!

I see the changes I have had to deal with in my lifetime as changes in the movement for human fulfillment. For several centuries now we in the West have been redefining human relations to this end. The first major event in the movement was the abolition of the slave trade and slavery. Then followed such movements as those for equal rights for women, remarriage after divorce, civil rights for minorities, the ordination of women, and same-sex marriage.

I am now going to talk about my personal experiences, my feelings, my struggles. I do so because changes seeking human fulfillment are highly personal, they affect the personal lives of millions. My personal experiences are examples of what those changes mean and of how we Episcopalians have been arriving at our decisions.

In 1953 as a brand new priest in the Diocese of Chicago I was plunged into the midst of the divorce and remarriage struggle when I became priest-in-charge of a small suburban parish. At that time the Episcopal Church had been fighting over divorce and remarriage for many years and had arrived at a very awkward compromise. I had to tell couples who had remarried after divorce without having their previous marriage annulled that they could not take communion now, but if they attended church faithfully for a year I could petition the bishop to let them back in.

We were trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. Marriages were indissoluble. So a civil divorce did not dissolve your marriage. If you married a second time, you were living in sin and could not take communion. But if you attended church faithfully, we would let you back in. Weird.

This process was not only weird, it was ungracious. We all felt the gross dissonance with Christian love — parish clergy, bishops, and, most of all, those in the pews. The result was that by 1973 we Episcopalians had had enough. Twenty-one memorials and petitions from dioceses from all over the church were presented to General Convention asking for change. We responded by recognizing divorce and permitting remarriage.

I have said I felt ungracious. I also found myself defending second marriages, trying to help them work. One case in particular was decisive for me. The husband in a second marriage came to me asking my approval for him to abandon his present wife and children and go off with another woman. I did not give him that approval. By all logic I should have been urging this husband and wife to return to previous marriages. That seemed to me impossible. It seemed right to me for them to try to make the best of the present circumstances.

I should add that the decision concerning divorce and remarriage is highly personal for me in that it affects my own family and many friends. To take a hard line on divorce and remarriage would mean inflicting grave hurt on those I love. This is the case for every one of these human fulfillment changes, and it is true not only for me but for almost everybody. We are talking here about our families, friends, and neighbors.

I entered this change process when it was already in its final stage. In Western Christianity it had been preceded by some centuries of change in the nature of marriage. In 19th century America, as secular divorce increased, the Episcopal Church at first responded conservatively — divorce was permissible only in the case of adultery, and only the innocent party could remarry. But as divorce became still more common among us, the church examined Scripture and tradition. In its proceedings General Convention took note of the opinions pro and con of biblical scholars, and the practice of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In 1937 a pamphlet consisting of articles by various scholars was prepared for Convention.

This process proceeds from a life-vision that includes world and church as already described. In particular it includes a vision of human fulfillment. Both church and world underwent change in marriage practice. We Episcopalians (among others) struggled with the change. We prayed, looked at Scripture and tradition, and finally made a decision.

Decisions concerning the role of women have followed a similar path. They are both world-driven and church-driven. There have been and are many secular agitators for change, and we have a cadre of Christian women who fit in that category. I cite, for example, the four whose feast the Episcopal Church keeps on July 20 — Episcopalians Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Amelia Bloomer, and former slaves Sojourner Truth and Harriet Ross Tubman. In 1848 the first two organized the first Women’s Rights Convention in this country. The second two were popular and very effective speakers for the equality not only of African-Americans but also women.

I will say no more about the women’s movement and our decisions concerning the role of women. It followed and is still following a path similar to the one concerning divorce and remarriage. I want to focus, instead, on our decisions concerning homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

The process is much the same as those above. Once again it involved important personal relationships. As times changed, more gays and lesbians came out of the closet, and so our decisions had faces and friendships attached — and, in my case, relationships within my extended family. Almost all of us saw the effects of our decisions on friends and relatives.

There was much biblical debate — many books and articles pro and con. The best biblical study of the Christian decision to accept same-sex marriage that I have found comes from the late Walter Wink. ( Although Professor Wink was a biblical scholar well equipped in the scientific, historical-critical method of biblical exegesis that prevails in most American theological seminaries, he attacked that method early in his career saying, “Historical biblical criticism is bankrupt.” So he approaches Scripture reverently, conservatively, and with great learning.

Professor Wink examines every biblical reference to homosexuality and finds three which “unequivocally condemn homosexaul behavior.” The first two are Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, both of which “leave no room for maneuvering. Persons committing homosexual acts are to be executed.” Wink rejects these texts on the grounds that we Western Christians — at least most of us — are unwilling to execute people for committing homosexual acts.

That leaves us with just one unequivocal reference, which Professor Wink says, contains “Paul’s unambiguous condemnation of homosexual behavior.”

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)

The professor advances a contextual argument as follows: In this passage Paul is not speaking of persons who are by nature homosexual, but of heterosexuals who violate their nature by engaging in homosexual acts. Therefore, since this text is not about homosexuals, it does not condemn same-sex marriage.

Whatever one thinks about the above argument, it is at least clear that Scripture is being taken seriously.

The above argument, be it noted, does not support same-sex relationships; it only seeks to show that Paul was not speaking against them by gays and lesbians. In support of same-sex marriage Professor Wink advances the love ethic of Jesus. “We can challenge both gays and straights,” he says, “to question their behaviors in the light of love and the requirements of fidelity, honesty, responsibility, and genuine concern for the best interests of the other and of society as a whole. Christian morality, after all, is not an iron chastity belt for repressing urges, but a way of expressing the integrity of our relationship with God.”

This is the ground advanced by former President of Ireland Mary McAleese concerning her decision to defy church leaders and campaign in favor of same-sex marriage during the 2015 referendum — “What infuses me, what is the essence of my being, is my faith in Christ … And it is the love of Christ and his offer of mercy to the world, the sense that every single person is a child of God, it is that which infuses me, gives me the outlook I have on the world.”

Whether she is right or wrong President McAleese is clearly listening to Scripture.

Thus, I believe we Western Christians stand acquitted of not listening to Scripture and the witness of the church through two millennia. Our decision-making process is that of our forebears. Instead of our not listening I believe that what has happened in the Western world is a gradual fulfilling of Jesus’ vision for his children. Paul proclaimed that “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) I believe we have been fulfilling that vision of Scripture.

I believe also that African cultures should in the long run follow the same path. However, I hold this view tentatively. I know too little about Africa to advance strongly held judgments. It is possible that an African culture that has not accepted the impersonal world of competition we Westerners accepted in our decisions concerning usury is closer to the gospel than ours. Be that as it may, your grace, I ask you to withdraw your charge. I ask you to recognize that we Episcopalians, American and Scottish, have tried our gospel best to deal with the conundrums of modern Western life.

I want you and us to remain in communion. I want you and us to learn about each other. I am ashamed to know so little about Africa. It is time I learned. I hope Africans will seek to learn about us also.

I am posting this Open Letter on my website,, and submitting it for publication on

Respectfully in Christ,

The Rev’d. Dr. Warner C. White
12 Harbor Watch Road
Burlington, Vermont 05401

How and why and when to recite the Nicene Creed

First we worship, then we understand.

A new American Book of Common Prayer should not require recitation of the Nicene Creed at every Sunday eucharist, say Richard Fabian, Ruth Meyers and others – It is not needed: the Great Thanksgivings of the Book of Common Prayer celebrate our Trinitarian faith in robust, joyful language. It is sectarian, causing discomfort to newcomers and the unchurched. It uses arcane language of the fourth century, a stumbling block for many.

(See Fabian’s letter of 2009 in Meyers is quoted in The Living Church, November 1, 2015, p. 7ff.)

I accept with joy the first of these three arguments. The Great Thanksgivings of the Prayer Book are indeed robustly Trinitarian. And they do indeed render the recitation of the creed redundant. But I advance “discomfort” and “stumbling” not as grounds for omitting the creed, but as grounds for reciting it.

My opponent is rationalist religion, Abelardian religion, religion that sees understanding as the road to belief. My concern is enquirers for whom language such as “Eternally begotten” and “of one Being with the Father” stands in the way of belief.

We inheritors of the Enlightenment hold rational thought precious. We believe in tolerance for other opinions. We believe in suspending judgment. We believe in objectivity in the search for truth. Thus to recite the creed in the enlightened mode, saying “We believe,” is for us to trip and fall.

This problem is not new. It did not begin with the Enlightenment. We see it played out in the eleventh and twelfth centuries in the disagreement between Peter Abelard and Anselm of Canterbury. Abelard tells with approval how his students said that “nothing could be believed unless it was first understood.” Anselm teaches the contrary – Credo ut intelligam (I believe in order to understand) – and his teaching holds good claim to orthodoxy.

(For Abelard see the first of his letters to Heloise (I.35), The Letter Collection of Peter Abelard and Heloise; David Luscombe, editor; Clarendon Press: Oxford, 2013 – page 55. For Anselm see his Proslogion.)

Episcopalians frequently observe Anselm’s order of events: enquirers tell us that it is our worship that brings them in. “The beauty of your liturgy,” they say, “is what attracts me.” They don’t talk about the sermon. They don’t talk about a book or a theologian. They talk about our worship. That’s first. Second come questions for the sake of understanding.

We Episcopalians brag that you do not have to leave your mind at the church door. But that’s not the same as saying that first you understand and then you believe. No. First our enquirers fall down before God in worship. Then follows understanding.

But what about the stumbling? Isn’t the stumbling a hindrance to belief? Shouldn’t we do what we can to prevent the stumbling?

No. It is important for enquirers to stumble, to discover that even as they are coming to belief, their customary mode of thought does not work. They need to become fluent in story and image and myth. They need to develop symbolic thought. It is no accident that the Eastern Church calls the Nicene Creed The Symbol of Faith.

If new believers do not learn to think in symbol, they will stumble over more than the creed. They may, for example, seek some sort of “scientific” explanation for the creation myth, and adopt a pseudo-science such as creationism. And modern biblical investigations, in which the bible is examined objectively and scientifically, may shake their faith. How can you believe in Jesus as the Son of God, if at the same time you are committed to a method of investigation in which conclusions are always tentative?

New believers need to learn that the test of biblical story or image or myth is not found in thought, but experience. I believe in Jesus Christ not because someone has proved facts about him, but because I worship him and in him find my savior. The creed is about the divine-human experience of believers. It is not the result of impartial enquiry.

“OK,” says an objector, “the creed is not to be understood according to modern rational methods, but it was constructed, nevertheless, by the rational methods of an earlier age, using the ‘arcane’ language of the fourth century.” Yes. That’s true. Gregory of Nyssa, Basil of Caesarea, Athanasius of Alexandria, and others do use the rational methods of their age. They reason very closely, carefully defining technical terms for describing the Trinity. But there is a striking difference in the way they draw conclusions.

We moderns reason in terms of truth and falsehood. The Trinitarian Fathers reason in terms of piety and impiety. They are engaged in a struggle with a rival piety, Arianism. Their concern is to describe the two pieties accurately and to show that the one is pious and the other impious. Thus, in their arguments the words piety, impiety, religious, and irreligious occur repeatedly. A common form in their argument is what may be called reductio ad impietatem — showing that the Arian position leads to an impiety. For example, in opposition to the Arian contention that there was a time when the Son was not, Gregory of Nyssa argues that since the Son is the Light of God, if there was a time when the Son was not, it follows that the Father was once in darkness — an obvious impiety. (Against Eunomius, Book II.2) Similarly, Basil of Caesarea counters the Arian assertion that the Son is “after the Father” by saying that this is to use a human measure (time) for the Godhead — a breach of true religion. (De Spiritu Sancto, Chapter VI.14)

When the church met in council at Chalcedon in 381 and ratified the Nicene Creed, it was saying, This is our piety. And so it remains. When we recite the Nicene Creed we are describing and subscribing to a piety.

For an example, let’s look at the first paragraph of the creed –

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

What does it mean to commit yourself to this article of piety? It is, of course, mostly metaphorical. You cannot pin it down as true or false by some empirical test. But you can pin your faith on the God it describes. You can trust in him. To do that is very different from declaring the truth of propositions.

But “arcane” fourth-century terms such as “eternally begotten of the Father” and “of one Being with the Father” have another function in addition to affirming piety. They are meant to distinguish Trinitarianism from Arianism. This is probably where most of the “discomfort” and “stumbling” occur. It’s one thing to adopt metaphorical thought. But are we also expected to adopt fourth-century modes of thought?

I suggest two responses. We can play along with the Fathers. We can learn what they are trying to say and assent to it, without adopting their mode of thought. But even more helpful, I think, is for us to understand the “arcane” terms as rules of interpretation.

Consider Jesus’ saying, “The Father is greater than I. (John 14:28 NRSV) The passage is subject to two interpretations. Arians understood it to mean that the Son of God is of lesser divinity than the Father. The Nicene Creed, as rule of interpretation, tells us that the passage does not concern Jesus’ divinity, but his humanity.

Similarly, when Colossians 1:15 calls Jesus “the firstborn … of all creation,” there are several possible interpretations. For Arians “firstborn” means the first created being. The creed, on the other hand, tells us to understand “firstborn” in some way that does not make Jesus a creature. So we take “firstborn” to be metaphorical. Athanasius, for example, takes “firstborn” to mean that the Word has condescended to be a “brother” of creatures. (Orations against the Arians, II.62)

And thus we read any statement concerning Jesus.

(For an extended example of this kind of reading see Trial at Aquileia in Study Two of How those Christians Fight on my website:

The reader may object that this kind of interpretation is eisegesis rather than exegesis. Yes, clearly the creed as rule of interpretation does not seek the original intent of the writer. Instead it reads each passage in the light of others and fits the passages together to paint a fuller picture than any one passage attains by itself.

When I look at Colossians 1:15-20, for example, I see a writer who is mostly, but not entirely, on his way to the doctrine of the Trinity.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 NRSV)

I see a writer who is struggling to express the divinity of Jesus and his relation to creation. And I see similar struggling in other passages of scripture. The Fathers looked at these passages and in the light of their own piety filled in the picture the various writers were trying individually to attain. The Fathers’ understanding is that of the community, rather than of the individual writers.

I have been reciting the creed every Sunday since I was a child. Quite unconsciously over the years, as a consequence, I have been reading the various passages of scripture concerning Jesus in the light of the creed. This habit has been so ingrown that in writing this paper and making myself a list of passages that I thought clearly concerned Jesus’ humanity I at first included John 14:28 (“The Father is greater than I”). It was several days before I recalled with a jolt that Arians interpreted it as concerning Jesus’ divinity. My habit illustrates, I believe, how the creed functions as rule of interpretation.

Thus credal “arcane” language turns out in practice not to be so arcane after all.

One final suggestion that takes seriously my guiding aphorism, First we worship, then we understand. Perhaps the creed should not precede but follow worship. What would it be like for us to conclude the eucharist by raising our hands wide and high, singing the Nicene Creed in thanksgiving!

Holy Scripture in a Dissonant World

A response to Professor Azumah

I confess that I have regarded many of my African brothers and sisters in Christ with condescension. I speak of those who resist the ordination of women and the welcoming of homosexual couples. They just haven’t caught up to the modern world. And I speak in repentance. Professor John A. Azumah, in his paper, Through African Eyes: Resisting America’s Cultural Imperialism. [First Things, October 2015,], has thoroughly and charitably skewered people like me.

I take his subtitle seriously. His description of the patronizing behavior of some of American Presbyterians makes me cringe in shame. I wish I could say that my fellow Episcopalians and I do not behave in such ways, but we do. I have been a cultural imperialist. I will try not to be anymore.

But having pled guilty to the charge of condescension I wish now to address another of his charges. It comes in two forms – grotesque and moderate. I begin with the grotesque “For mainstream Western society,” says Professor Azumah, “the Bible is an ancient text that might arouse intellectual curiosity or become the subject of historical analysis, but it is hardly a sacred book.” To this he adds, “The scientific, historical-critical method of biblical exegesis is a poisoned chalice.”

The moderate charge goes like this: American liberal Christians downplay the role of the bible in making decisions such as those about homosexuality and instead allow themselves to be driven by the secular forces of the Western world.

I take the moderate charge very seriously. It speaks to my heart. I feel its power. I know myself to be very subject to the forces of secular culture. And when I am in the mode of self-doubt I ask myself whether I am being true to the Gospel, or whether I am just providing an apologetic cover for Episcopalians (and others) to claim to be Christian while in fact being secular. My judgment says no to this charge, and I will try to show why.

The grotesque charge makes me think that Professor Azumah’s acquaintance with Western Christians has been highly selective. I call the charge “grotesque” because it is so much at odds with my experience of my fellow American Christians.

I plead not-guilty to the charge in both its forms. In evidence I offer a recent statement by the former president of the Irish Republic, and a sermon by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, to which I add that I myself take the bible seriously and over the years have found that most ordinary Christians do so as well.

Former Irish President Mary McAleese says this about her decision to defy church leaders and campaign in favor of same-sex marriage during the recent referendum –

My views are founded emphatically in the Gospel. That’s where they come from. They don’t come from some weird Godless secular world …

What infuses me, what is the essence of my being, is my faith in Christ. … And it is the love of Christ and his offer of mercy to the world, the sense that every single person is a child of God, it is that which infuses me, gives me the outlook I have on the world.

I take that to be conscientious biblical vision.

Now listen to Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church –

Bishop Curry is in love with the bible. It is his language. And he is a supporter of same-sex marriage.

I hope this goes a long way toward proving large numbers of American Christians not-guilty of the moderate charge. But perhaps we are self-deluded. Perhaps, as devout as we are, as sincere as we are, as reverent as we are, we do allow ourselves to be led by the world and our justifications fall short of true biblical vision. Perhaps, for example, President McAleese’s appeal to “the love of Christ,” to “his offer of mercy to the world,” and to “the sense that every single person is a child of God” fails as central to the Gospel when faced with Romans 1:22-27, where Paul says, “God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural … Men committed shameless acts with men.”

So I will seek to show that we American Christians who support same-sex marriage have more than good intentions, more than devotion, more than sincerity; we have venerable precedent and sound biblical vision to back up our conclusions.

I turn now to biblical interpretation in the early church in order to see the grounds they use.

The distinctive mark of the early Christian community is life in the Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descends upon believers and they speak in tongues. (Acts 2:5-11) Services of worship are Spirited: “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. … If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. … Let two or three prophets speak. … If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent.” (1 Corinthians 14:26-27, 29-30)

This Spirited behavior is dissonant with its Jewish world. But Peter finds warrant for it in the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)

Peter’s citation of Scripture has two important aspects. First, it justifies the behavior: this new behavior is sound because the prophet Joel foretold it. But, second, this behavior fulfills the vision of the prophet Joel. These believers are fulfilling a Scriptural vision. By their Spirited behavior they are proclaiming the last days!

In general we can say that to cite a passage of Scripture in justification of behavior or belief is to choose the vision in which that passage is embedded. And to say that the passage is fulfilled is to say that the vision is now taking place.

The next change faced by the early church is the dissonance between Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations and the Judaic tradition of separation from Gentiles. Is there any way to obey the command and yet keep the tradition? Are Gentiles to be included in the new community not only by baptism, but by circumcision and the keeping of the Law of Moses? Or is the tradition of separation simply to be rejected?

The first step towards resolution occurs when persecution drives believers from Jerusalem to Samaria. There they encounter Samaritans interested in the movement. They take the risk of mingling with these non-Jews and telling them about Jesus. The Spirit ratifies their action by healings and miracles. The apostles in Jerusalem approve.

Here believers risk change in behavior and take account of its consequences. And since the consequences are good, they are encouraged to make further trials in search of a resolution.

Next we see Peter’s struggle with the dissonance. Israel is a holy people, set apart from Gentiles by God. How can he obey Jesus and yet be faithful to the holiness of Israel? These questions must surely have been troubling Peter for some time before the scene in Acts 10:10-16 –

Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

The voice from heaven directs Peter to reject the ban on unclean foods. Now he can eat with Gentiles and thus reach out to them.

This is a momentous step. It rejects one biblical vision and chooses another. It violates the holiness of Israel and replaces it with a vision of universality.

So far no authoritative decision has been made. Peter is taking a risk on his own. He now visits Gentiles, eats with them, and preaches the Gospel to them. The consequence is that the Spirit ratifies the change, making no distinction between Gentile and Jew, descending upon the one just as upon the other. (Acts 10:24-48)

Up to this point Acts says nothing about non-Jews and the Law of Moses. We are not told whether Samaritan believers are expected to keep the Law. And in Peter’s encounter with the Gentiles nothing is said about the Law. But once the story shifts to Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, the Law becomes a central theme. Paul fiercely contends against requiring it of Gentile converts. He develops a clear theology of salvation in which for both Jew and Gentile, faith is the one and only essential. The Law is a tutor unto Christ, but no longer necessary.

Finally, after a decade or more of this break with tradition, the first Council of Jerusalem meets to consider whether or not to ratify what has been going on. (Acts 15:6-21)

First in the Council comes “much debate,” followed by Peter’s testimony that Gentiles have received the Holy Spirit, that God has cleansed their hearts by faith, that Jews have been unable to bear the yoke of the Law, and that Christians believe instead in salvation through grace. Paul and Barnabas tell “all the signs and wonders God has done through them among the Gentiles.” And James renders his decision by saying that Peter’s actions fulfill Scripture. (Amos 9:11-12 [LXX])

The Council decides between two Scriptural visions – the holiness of Israel, preserved by separation, and the universality of life in Christ, established by not requiring the Law of Moses. Two Scriptural visions, each with its texts. The decision is rendered by pronouncing a text from one vision to be authoritative.

The determining factor is not Scriptural texts. The arguments advanced in support of change are not Scriptural texts, but the consequences observed by the apostles. This is a good change, argues Peter, because Gentiles have received the Holy Spirit, God has cleansed their hearts, etc. This is a good change, argue Paul and Barnabas, because we have been able to perform signs and wonders among the Gentiles. And then James says Peter is fulfilling the prophet Joel.

We will see this pattern in controversy after controversy. A dissonance occurs. Some believers risk new trials in an attempt to resolve the dissonance. Two visions from Scripture, each with its texts, face one another. A decision is rendered affirming the texts of one and rejecting the texts of the other. The determining factor is the consequences of the trials.

Professor Azumah says that “there is … no place for redefining the Word of God,” and he especially abhors changes driven by the world. In the next change of church teaching we will see precisely those – a redefinition of the word “usury” that is clearly driven by the world. In fact, we will see Christians choose to live in the secular world rather than the world of neighborly love.

Today we think of usury as the charging of excessive interest. But for the first centuries of the church’s life usury was simply the charging of interest, any interest at all. In those days the large majority of loans were for consumption. A poor man needed food for his family or clothing to put on his children. It was the duty of neighbors to loan him money and to charge no interest.

But as the world of commerce changed, the purposes of many loans changed. Many were now used for production, not consumption. Lending money was no longer an act of Christian love; it was an act of commerce. But how many people would lend money out of Christian love so that someone else could make money?

Various expedients were devised to provide an incentive for loans and yet keep the command against usury. There was damnum emergens (an unexpected loss) which taught that lenders may licitly demand compensation when an emergency has cost them money. There was lucrum cessans (the cessation of profit) when a loan causes you to lose a profit you might otherwise have made. And later there developed associations or partnerships in which one party did the work and another provided the seed money. The second partner should clearly be compensated.

As the world moved more and more towards what we now call capitalism these teachings became more and more awkward in application. Christians moved more and more simply to the charging of interest.

John Calvin clearly articulated the competing visions involved in this change. He looked at his world and saw that it was no longer the world of the Old Testament. “There is,” he said, “some difference in what pertains to the civil state … in which the Lord placed the Jews … that it might be easy for them to deal among themselves without usury, while our … situation today is a very different one in many respects.” (John Calvin, “Letter on Usury,” pp. 232-233, in Franklin Le Van Baumer, Main Currents in Western Thought: Readings in Western Intellectual History from the Middle Ages to the Present [Yale University Press, 4th edition, 1978]) The world of his time was no longer a world of neighbors. He goes on to describe commercial loans and their needs, concluding that in such a world usury was allowable, provided it was kept within bounds. Usury was redefined as excessive interest.

The title of Benjamin Nelson’s study of usury neatly summarizes the change in worlds: The Idea of Usury: From Tribal Brotherhood to Universal Otherhood (University of Chicago Press, 1969).

The new teaching spread quickly, but debate continued for many years. Advocates of both sides were found among both Catholic and Protestant. Few official church decisions were made. What changed was commercial practice and common Christian attitude.

Here the world clearly drove the change. We Christians did not one day decide to adopt such a world. Instead the world in which we lived had become, little by little, whether we liked it or not, secular and competitive. And when we redefined usury, we were being realistic, we were recognizing and accepting the actual nature of the world we were living in. The neighborly world of Christian love in which one lent to one’s neighbor without expecting return had vanished.

I find this example very instructive. On the one hand, the world forced our change, we were driven to accept a secular competitive world, but, on the other hand, we redefined usury in order to moderate the effects with some degree of Christian love.

The pattern of change is familiar once again – a dissonance between world and traditional Christian behavior, beginnings of change to reconcile the new elements and Christian life, choice of a new vision, biblical re-interpretation.

To consider the recent changes in the Western world concerning homosexuality in isolation is to misunderstand their place in Western life. They are but the most recent in a long series of events in a movement for human fulfillment. For several centuries now we have been redefining human relations to this end. The first major event in the movement was the abolition of the slave trade and slavery. Then followed movements such as those for equal rights for women, remarriage after divorce, civil rights for minorities, the ordination of women, and same-sex marriage.

I am now going to talk about changes in which I have personally taken part. I’m going to talk about my experiences, my feelings, my struggles. I do so because changes seeking human fulfillment are highly personal, they affect the personal lives of millions. My personal experiences are examples of what these changes mean and of how we have been arriving at our decisions.

In 1953 as a brand new priest in the Diocese of Chicago I was plunged into the midst of the divorce and remarriage struggle when I became priest-in-charge of a small suburban parish. At that time the Episcopal Church had been fighting over divorce and remarriage for many years and had arrived at a very awkward compromise. I had to tell couples who had remarried after divorce without having their previous marriage annulled that they could not take communion, but if they attended church faithfully for a year I could petition the bishop to let them back in.

We were trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. Marriages were indissoluble. So a civil divorce did not dissolve your marriage. If you married a second time, you were living in sin and could not take communion. But if you attended church faithfully, we would let you back in. Weird.

This process was not only weird, it was ungracious. We all felt the gross dissonance with Christian love – parish clergy, bishops, and, most of all, those in the pews. The result was that by 1973 we Episcopalians had had enough. Twenty-one memorials and petitions from dioceses from all over the church were presented to our governing body asking for change. We responded by recognizing divorce and permitting remarriage.

I have said I felt ungracious. I also found myself defending second marriages, trying to help them work. One case in particular was decisive for me. The husband in a second marriage came to me asking my approval for him to abandon his present wife and children and go off with another woman. I did not give him that approval. And thus I found myself defending what was by church rules not really a marriage. By all logic I should have been urging this husband and wife to return to previous marriages. That seemed to me impossible. It seemed right to me to try to make the best of the present circumstances.

I have had many reasons since to reaffirm my decision. Divorce affects many people I care about. If I were to take a hard stand against remarriage it would cause enormous pain among my friends, my neighbors, my fellow parishioners, and above all my family.

I believe with all my heart that permitting remarriage after divorce is an advance in humane life. I see many good second marriages and families, and rejoice in them. I believe they are blessed by God. To permit them is a genuine advance in human fulfillment.

What do we say biblically about this decision? Some in the ancient church said that Jesus’ teaching on this subject was not legislative. That’s one approach. You can support this view with the final sentence in Matthew 19:3-11 –

Some Pharisees cam to [Jesus], and to test him they asked, “Is to lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flash’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.”

His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given.”

When I preached on this text a few years ago I took a different approach. I said that we need to look at the context. Notice, first, that the question concerns how a man treats his wife; it is couched in terms of a patriarchal culture. Notice also that it is the man who acts. He does the divorcing. And in fact he could do so for trivial causes. A woman not only had no rights in the process, she could be thrust out into the world without resources. So Jesus was protecting women from abuse in this teaching, and he was doing so in the midst of a patriarchal culture. In our equal-rights culture women no longer need that particular defense. If a man can divorce and remarry; so can a woman.

Because here I use a well-established method of interpretation – context – I believe I am faithful to Scripture.

Next in my life came the Civil Rights Movement, in which I took an active part from 1962 until sometime in the 70s. I will not say more on this topic. I mention it here to make clear that my life (and the life of Americans in general) has been part of one human fulfillment movement after another, that I have had to make constant decisions for or against strong social movements in American life. And those decisions have powerfully affected my personal relationships. It is not possible to understand any of these decisions without seeing them in this context.

1962 also saw the sexual revolution break forth in full force. Suddenly movies contained explicit sexual scenes, women started going braless, the sexual privileges of men (“Boys will be boys”) now applied to women as well, cohabitation became common and accepted, the “pill” changed everything.

But the movement was not just about sexual behavior. It expanded the movement of equal rights for women. In 1974 three Episcopal Bishops ordained eleven women as priests. The ordinations were declared “irregular” and “invalid,” because the church had not authorized the ordination of women. But in 1976 our governing body did so. The Episcopal Church now has many women priests and more than a dozen women bishops, including its Presiding Bishop, 2006-2015. As a result we have had forty years of experience with ordained women and the consequences have been good. I believe the Holy Spirit is confirming our decision.

But Pauline texts say flat out that women are to be quiet in church. How can we claim to be biblically faithful?

We interpret contextually once again. The Pauline texts are addressing the world of their time, the patriarchal world of the first century. Our world is not patriarchal. Women are equals of men. So this text, which rests on inequality, does not bind us.

There is another way to make this point. Wearing a covering in church, or speaking or not speaking in church, or wearing long hair or short are matters of social custom, mores. They are not matters of universal right and wrong. We are not bound by the mores of the first century.

Personal relationships entered into the decisions we Episcopalians made about the ordination of women. We were not talking in the abstract but about women we knew – friends, fellow parishioners, women we met at diocesan meetings. As a consequence of our decision I have now known many women priests and since my retirement have even had several of them as my pastor. I am very glad we made this decision.

However, the decision has meant a rupture with African churches. Here the cultural difference has led to painful inter-church relations. Like the Presbyterians Professor Azumah describes, who tell him to “suck it up,” I have sometimes felt angry at these “backward” people; but I do earnestly repent, even as I fully support our decision.

I will not go into detail about our decision concerning homosexuality. It evolved in ways similar to those concerning divorce and the ordination of women. Once again it involved important personal relationships. As times changed, more gays and lesbians came out of the closet, and so our decisions had faces and friendships attached – and in my case, relationships within my extended family. Almost all of us saw the effects of our decisions on friends and relatives.

The best defense of the Christian decision to accept same-sex marriage that I have found comes from the late Walter Wink ( Professor Wink was a biblical scholar well equipped in “the scientific, historical-critical method of biblical exegesis” mentioned by Professor Azumah, who several decades ago attacked that method saying, “Historical biblical criticism is bankrupt.” (The opening sentence of his book, The Bible in Human Transformation [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973]).

Professor Wink examines every biblical reference to homosexuality and finds three which “unequivocally condemn homosexual behavior.” The first two are Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, both of which “leave no room for maneuvering. Persons committing homosexual acts are to be executed.” Wink rejects these texts on the grounds that we – most of us, at least – are unwilling to execute people for committing homosexual acts.

That leaves us with just one unequivocal reference: Romans 1:26-27, which, Professor Wink says, contains “Paul’s unambiguous condemnation of homosexual behavior.”

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

The professor advances a contextual argument as follows: In this passage Paul is not speaking of persons who are by nature homosexual, but of heterosexuals who violate their nature by engaging in homosexual acts. Therefore, since this text is not about homosexuals, it does not condemn same-sex marriage.

However, as we have seen in earlier cases, Scriptural interpretations follow from decisions for or against a particular vision of life. When the first Christians were caught up in the Spirit, they chose the vision of the prophet Joel. When they had to decide whether to include Gentiles with or without the Law, they chose the universal vision of the prophet Isaiah and others to replace the holiness vision of Israel as the People of the Law. And when the needs of commerce became capitalist the Christians of that day chose the competitive impersonal world to replace the world of neighborly love.

So what vision does Professor Wink advance? – Love, the love ethic of Jesus. “We can challenge both gays and straights,” he says, “to question their behaviors in the light of love and the requirements of fidelity, honesty, responsibility, and genuine concern for the best interests of the other and of society as a whole. Christian morality, after all, is not an iron chastity belt for repressing urges, but a way of expressing the integrity of our relationship with God.”

This is the same ground advanced by President McAleese, you will recall, who speaks of “the love of Christ,” of “his sense of mercy to the world,” and of “the sense that every single person is a child of God” in her justification for supporting same-sex marriage.

I view the entire human rights movement in this light, from the abolition of slavery, through equal rights for women, through civil rights, through the ordination of women, as well as through same-sex marriage. In each case we are regarding the persons affected as children of God, loved by Christ, subjects of his mercy.

I conclude that Professor Azumah is correct one on count and incorrect on the other. He is correct that our changes in service of human fulfillment have been driven by the world. He is incorrect that we have downplayed the role of Scripture in making our decisions. The pattern of dissonance, trial adaptations, examination of consequences, choice between visions of the world, and Scriptural interpretation to express the vision chosen is not just ours; it is the pattern of Christian change we can see used in the early days of the church and continuing throughout.

The apostles found gross dissonance between Jesus’ command to go out into all the world and the tradition of Jewish separation from the nations. They made trial adaptations. The consequences were good. They rejected the vision of a holy people separate from the world and chose the vision of a universal people in Christ. Then they affirmed one set of Scriptural texts in support and rejected the other.

As the world moved into the capitalist system of production dissonances were felt between the world and the tradition of not charging usury. When the needs of production required interest, Christians accepted this need and its world of competition, and rejected the vision of a Christian village in which one lent to one’s neighbors, expecting nothing in return. Usury was redefined to mean excessive interest rather than just any interest at all.

Over the past several centuries one worldly standard of human relations after another has been felt dissonant with a developing Western conscience. Gradually viewing all human beings as equal we have abolished slavery and sought equal-rights for women and minorities both racial and sexual. The pattern for slavery is somewhat different. It was an on or off situation. So no trial stages can be identified. But the other movements follow the familiar pattern.

I believe we Western Christians stand acquitted of downplaying Scripture. It has played exactly the same role in our decisions as in all the centuries that have gone before.

Instead of our taking Scripture lightly I believe that what has happened in the Western world is a gradual fulfilling of Jesus’ vision for his children. Paul proclaimed that “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) We have been fulfilling that vision.

I believe that African cultures should in the long run follow the same path. I believe they are not fully appreciating the Gospel. However, these beliefs concerning Africa are tentative in comparison to my belief concerning the Western world. I think women are better off, and gays are better off, and racial minorities are better off in our culture, precisely because we have made the changes Professor Azumah questions. But I am also very uncomfortable with our acceptance of the impersonal competitive world of capitalism. It is possible that an African culture which has not accepted that vision of life is better on the whole than ours. But is there such an African culture? Are not African cultures already in the grips of capitalism?

If I were able to chart a course for both of our cultures I would seek to modify the world of capitalism. Exploitation of the poor by excessive interest must be morally condemned from all sides. We need to establish credit unions of the poor to provide low-interest loans. Micro-loans need to be expanded. Somehow the neighborly world of early Christianity must modify the capitalist world which grinds so many – not just the poor.

More change is needed.

Holistic Prayer

The following is an article originally published in Pastoral Psychology, Spring 1977. At that time the word “holistic” was new in use and its spelling was not standardized. I chose to spell it “wholistic” in order to convey both its meaning and its pronunciation. I have replaced that spelling throughout the article with the current spelling.

Warner White, D.Min.

Church of St. Paul and the Redeemer, Chicago

ABSTRACT: The author has experimented with an approach to prayer in which he draws on insights and methods from contemporary psychotherapy. He calls his approach “holistic prayer” and defines it as “the movement, the lifting up, of the person—body, heart, mind, and will—towards God.” He characterizes holistic prayer, discusses problems associated with its practice, describes its stages, and illustrates the use of dreams. He provides clinical data from participants in classes on prayer and from his own experience.

Recently I have begun to experiment with methods of prayer that draw heavily upon insights and methods from contemporary psychotherapy. I call the approach “holistic prayer.” Let me give an exam­ple. The following prayer is an introspective one beginning with the person’s awareness of her body. The person praying, Pat, was a mem­ber of one of the classes in prayer I have been teaching. Participants were asked to become aware of their bodies (as in bioenergetics), to engage in a dialogue with their body (as in Gestalt therapy), and to conclude with a dialogue with God in which they take both parts, God’s as well as their own.

Pat: My arm aches. My left leg aches, too. I ache a lot of the time, lots of places. My body’s a nuisance and to be ignored as much as possi­ble. I don’t like it much.

God: Oh? You see and hear and smell and taste and touch with it.

Pat: Well, that’s all pretty good, but I don’t exactly mean the senses; they’re all sort of connected with my mind. I mean way inside.

Body: Why don’t you pay more attention to me, respect me more? I keep clamoring.

Pat: You sure do. Shut up.

God: I don’t think you’re on very good terms with your body. Where did you get the idea you can stand aside from it and put it down? Why not try staying in better touch? Maybe you will learn some things.

Pat: Sure. I get anxious. I get a pain in my stomach.

God: What do you do then?

Pat: Hope it will go away soon.

God: Is that all? Not very helpful, is it? Don’t you have any better ideas?

Pat: They take time I don’t have.

God: I don’t believe you. Isn’t your stomach important?

Pat: Not very. Hardly worth noticing.

God: No wonder it complains. After all, it’s the only one you’ll ever have.

Pat: O.K. So I get up at 7:30 and exercise and meditate on the Bible or something and eat breakfast sitting down, tasting it.

God: Sure. Try it. You might like it.

Pat: I’m into the old game of making up rules for me to follow. I get out the old lash and flog myself a few times into doing “what I should do” while at the same time I try to be less anxious. Maybe if I can stay more consciously in touch with God, I will be encouraged to take hold rather than feel burdened by demands.

Since some may question whether this is prayer at all, I should com­ment briefly on my emerging understanding of prayer. Prayer, as I de­fine it, is the movement of the person toward God, the whole person, body and spirit. St. John Damascene’s classic definition is that prayer is the lifting up of the heart and mind and will toward God. I have adapted this definition by making two changes in it: (1) I am includ­ing body and (2) I am substituting “movement” for “lifting up.”

I include body as well as feelings and mind and will because my ap­proach is holistic: I am viewing the human person as a whole, not as a duality of body and mind. I speak of “movement” rather than “lifting up” for two reasons. First, I wish to emphasize with St. Au­gustine that there is within each human being a natural movement to­ward God. (“Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are rest­less till they find rest in Thee.”)1 Second, I wish to escape any impli­cation that human beings are the initiators of prayer. “Lifting up” has very active connotations and can easily be misunderstood. I do indeed conceive conscious, explicit prayer to be work, and it can ac­curately be called “lifting up,” but it is responsive work. Within us there is a longing for some unknown thing, some completion of our being. Prayer is the work of the human being in response to that sense of incompleteness, that powerful but inchoate longing for I-know-not what.

Thus it is possible to pray without knowing it. Any time I respond to my interior movement toward God, toward completeness of being, toward my ground and source, I am praying. If I do so consciously and explicitly, I am engaged in explicit prayer. Unconscious or uni­dentified movement toward God is implicit prayer. For convenience’s sake I shall usually mean explicit prayer whenever I speak of prayer in this paper. Explicit prayer is the conscious movement, the lifting up, of the person—body, heart and mind and will—toward God.

This understanding of prayer is the basis for the discussion that fol­lows. It reflects my experiences with classes of laypersons committed to exploring prayer’s meaning for them. I shall proceed by describ­ing several characteristics of holistic prayer and then discuss its process and problems. After noting personal experiences with dreams and holistic prayer, I shall conclude with a few general observations.

Characteristics of Holistic Prayer

Holistic prayer might first be characterized as expressive rather than repressive. It stands in contrast to repressive types of prayer in that it explicitly seeks to start where the person is. If, for example, I am filled with lust, some views of prayer teach that I should purge myself of such “unworthy” feelings. Holistic prayer teaches that I should seek to discover the meaning of my lust and “own” it. The one attitude implies that I have unworthy thoughts and impulses of which I must rid myself. The other attitude implies that at the heart of even the most perverse and distorted behavior or impulse is to be found the movement toward God-^distorted, to be sure, but toward God nevertheless. The task is to discover what is, to take responsibili­ty for it (to “own” it), and to bring it into relationship with God. Re­pression of “unworthy” feelings simply represses the task.

The change theory involved in this characteristic of holistic pray­er is perhaps closest to the paradoxical theory of change found in Gestalt therapy. According to that theory you change not by resisting what you are, not by willing to be different, but by fully owning what you are. For example, I find myself anxious and do not like it. Instead of seeking to suppress my anxiety, Gestalt therapy invites me to enter fully into my anxiety, to feel it fully, to explore it, to dis­cover as many of its aspects as I can, and then to accept my responsi­bility for it. At that point, change occurs.

So in holistic prayer the conscious movement towards God is the lifting up of the person as that person is—not the lifting up of part of the person or of a purged or purified person but of the whole person, uncensored. Whatever we are, God will take care of it.

Holistic prayer is also actively imaginal and dialogical. Here it bor­rows from Gestalt therapy, from guided fantasy, and from the Chris­tian tradition of biblical meditation.2 Holistic prayer assumes that God is active and the movement toward God is active in our inner im­agery.

The testing of images (iconocrisis) becomes very important in holistic prayer precisely because we seek to trust our own images and our own imaginations. This trust ought not to be blind. It should be critical trust, trust hammered out by the hard work of exploring and testing images, trying various ones out, digesting their meaning, and seeking reliable outside sources by which to measure them. Thus bib­lical meditation becomes important in order to inform the spirit with imagery that has been tested and found revelatory of God. The help of other persons, outside points of view and support, also is impor­tant.

Finally, holistic prayer assumes an epistemology, a way of know­ing, which Paul Pruyser says “undergirds the whole Judeo-Christian tradition.”3 Knowledge of God and knowledge of self have always been intimately linked in classical Christian thought. Holistic prayer affirms this tradition in its assumption that knowledge of self leads to knowledge of God and that knowledge of God is the only sure path to the true knowledge of self.


Holistic prayer makes active use of the imagination, starting with something important to the person. It is important now to clarify how this is true—in other words, how one begins to pray in this manner— and to describe the three stages through which such prayer progresses.

Most simply, holistic prayer begins where you are. In the exam­ple given earlier, Pat started with a bodily state. It is possible, how­ever, to begin with an incident that has occurred or with an impend­ing event. You may begin with a biblical passage, with a dream or a daydream, or with thoughts of another person. The important thing is not to begin with an abstraction but rather with matters that are vital or experiential to you.

Once begun, holistic prayer moves through three stages. Stage one is awareness. This is the stage in which active imagination—visualization, dialogue—is used to explore the starting point, to become aware of its meaning.

Stage two is owning. In this stage one takes responsibility for his/ her part in what he/she has become aware of. For example: “O God, I see now that my anger with John means I am feeling hurt, that he has rejected my affection. O God, I feel warm toward John, I want to be closer to him, I feel hurt and angry that he doesn’t respond to me.”

Stage three is resolution. It means “lifting up” or submitting (hand­ing over) the owned awareness to God, some resolution of the issue in relation with God. This may involve confession, a commitment, giving thanks, or letting go. Sometimes prayer mistakenly seeks to jump to this stage—the stage of the solution of problems—without first seeking awareness and owning.

Examples of this process may prove helpful. Two persons reported their experience with introspective prayer starting with the body:

My dialogue centered around just feeling tired. And I made sort of a small discovery in that I was thinking about why I was tired and what could be left out. And I realized that sometimes I do so much because I’m afraid if I slow down I’ll stop completely and I’ll lose my momentum. I won’t be able to start again. I’m afraid of the inertia. I realize that’s sort of a lack of trust and faith. If I did stop for a meditation I’d probably find myself re­freshed. But I have this fear I gotta keep going.

Maybe this would be a good way for a person to stop drinking or smoking, because when I started thinking about my body I had a rotten headache. So I talked to my headache. And my headache said, “Well, you don’t have any oxygen in your brain. You’ve got a rotten headache, and you can’t breathe and you can’t see because you keep smoking.” I just can’t stop smoking. So I just thought maybe I can submit this to God and maybe I can quit. It sounds like a kind of trivial thing, but I don’t know if it will work…. I know it’s really killing me. So maybe III continue with this kind of prayer.

In another type of prayer, a self-observation prayer or self-empathic prayer in which the person is asked to imagine himself/herself and then to pray for himself/herself, Chris reported the following experi­ence:

I fly up in the air and look down on Chris walking across the snow. I am God looking down from the sky on Chris. Chris is praying about Dale. “Gosh, I’m worried about Dale. I’d like to pray, do something about the situation Dale’s in, but I have all these hang-ups about prayer and religion and God and so I just say, as I walk along, ‘God, you know all these thoughts I’m having about Dale.’“

And from the sky I say, “You poor creature. What a small and piddling kind of prayer!” I swoop down and hold Chris in my arms. “So you think you want to fly,” I say. “Come on, fly with me. Ill show you things you probably won’t want to see.”

“Oh no,” Chris says, “don’t show me the future. Don’t show me what’s going to happen to Dale. I’m afraid to know.”

“I’ll show you the harshness and the hunger and the grief of millions. Well fly through the world and it’ll rend your heart.”

Chris reflects: Right now I feel like I want to pray more often and more authentically.

Holistic prayer is, however, as varied as life. It does not always lead to desired outcomes. In the following prayer, which reflects on a past event, the outcome is a pounding headache!

Reflections on being left out of an important event in parish life. As I re­flected, some of the original emotions returned: First, sorrow and sadness because I was forgotten. Next, anger when I learned the reason. Later, sym­pathy for Mr. X who didn’t seem to get any help from the committee. He was stuck with the messy business. I wondered what had happened with them. Since I was asked questions about it two weeks later, I knew others knew what had happened to me. Thoughts wandered. Wondered why I get disturbed when hurt or neglected by the church. Wondered why I am so touchy about the sort of thing this committee was doing. I remember how upset I was when one of the members made a caustic remark to me once. I gave up after an hour—had a pounding headache. Remembered a hymn I used to turn to when upset in the past.

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish
Come to the mercy-seat, fervently kneel:
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

Another person reported a similar trap: “I have a way of obsessive­ly mulling things over. It’s very interior and introspective and doesn’t move anything anywhere and gets totally unrealistic and then I stop living my life while I mull over.”


The last two examples lead us to some of the difficulties we en­counter in holistic prayer. It seems accurate to observe that what­ever difficulties one has in one’s inner life are reflected in one’s ap­proach to prayer as well. Consider, for example, the problem of faith and doubt. In a meditation concerning Nathanael and Jesus (John 1: 43-49) one person reported the following experience:

I had two complete scenarios. One: I was just like Nathanael, gave myself completely. And in the other: extremely defensive—I said, “Oh, ah, you must have seen somebody else under the fig tree—what did you say your name was again?” I have double reactions to what’s going on here. One part of me would like to say “Alleluia!” and the other would like to say, “Define your terms!”

On another occasion someone said, “I’m just cynical. I mean that very seriously. I always see why I have that particular line (in the inner prayer-dialogue) being said.” Someone else reported: “I have a suspi­cion that it isn’t really dialogue, that it’s just me. But it does seem to me that God is inside, not just external, addressing me in here.” This same person on another occasion said: “When I get to God’s part of the dialogue, a part of me says, ‘Oh, that’s just you talking!’“

Such doubts are taken seriously in holistic prayer and treated ex­pressively, just as are any feelings. They become the starting point for awareness, owning, and resolution. Such a prayer is iconocrisis or the testing of images. It may be done as follows:

First, sit quietly, get comfortable, back straight, feet flat on the floor. Take several deep breaths. Quiet down. Keep silence. . . . [Ellipsis points indi­cate a time of silence for quieting down, imagining, reflecting, or writing.]

In this exercise you are asked to carry on an imaginary dialogue involv­ing three speakers. The first speaker is your image of God, whatever that
may be. It may be an old bearded man. It may be a harsh judge. It may be a buzz of confusion. This kind of exercise starts where you are. The second speaker is your personal center. And the third is the critic or skeptic with­ in you.

First, personify the image of God within you, be that picture or symbol. Now, as this symbol, describe yourself to your personal center. Sometimes it is helpful to set up chairs representing the speakers and to switch chairs as you take the parts of the speakers. Tell your personal center what you, the image of God, are like. “I am your image of God. I am X. I am Y. I am Z. I do thus-and-so, feel thus-and-so.” Perhaps your personal center will want to respond.

When that dialogue has reached a peak, when it feels right to you, or perhaps when you feel stuck, bring in the critic or skeptic. (If you are us­ing chairs, this means a third chair.) Challenge your personal center. Tell him/her your criticisms. “You are being sentimental.” “You are just intellectualizing.” Tell your personal center what is wrong with your image of God. . . . Your personal center and your critic or skeptic should hold a dia­logue. Especially seek out what you really do trust. In what do you really have confidence, or tentative confidence? And your fears? Perhaps your image of God will change.

Now from your personal center own your belief and doubt. “I really be­lieve, trust….” I really do not believe, trust….” In imagination put your life into those trustworthy points (persons, God).

Chances are that this exercise done once is only a beginning. You may want to repeat it in several versions, perhaps many times. (Images of Jesus,

Some of the reactions to this exercise are as follows:

I started out with a gentleman with a long white beard. I was mad at you, Warner, and at him because I don’t think you can make an image of God. God is too big for me to deal with. And God spoken of as a male is a barri­er. It’s my father sitting up there. And then when you said to start criticiz­ing the image, I said “What is eternal?” Motion! Change! Sea, wind, uni­verse moving. That’s the closest I could come to it.

My critic said, “This is a projection of your ego.” But I got to criticizing the critic. My difficulty in belief is the voices of the world that say, “This is all part of yourself.” So I came to trusting this and to the idea of not lis­tening to all those other people. When I shut out those voices I do be­lieve.

I was struck by the idea that this might change your image of God. I’ve generally been troubled by the idea of changing my image of God, as if that were wrong. I was shutting myself out. And I was suddenly struck by the fact that there is nothing wrong with changing your image. In fact, there’s something wrong if it doesn’t change and grow!

A problem related to that of faith and doubt is that of openness. Some persons wish to become more aware of their inner lives; others see such a tendency as potentially dangerous. Since these differences need to be respected, it may be that holistic prayer is more helpful to the former. Typical reactions to this dilemma of openness are evi­dent in these statements from participants.

I find that in the area where I can be relatively honest with myself prayer can really help me, but when the feelings are overwhelming to me and I don’t know where they’re coming from, which happened to me this week, I found that prayer was not helpful at all. In fact, my vulnerability was such that I couldn’t bring myself to put down anything. I got to the stage of “My, this is really embarrassing.” That was about as much as I could stand.

Is it always helpful to reflect about something that’s troubling you? It seems to me that lots of situations don’t benefit by reflection about them.

Another problem, especially initially, is that of shame and fear. In connection with my first class in prayer many class members indicat­ed initial fears and worries about participation. One member, for ex­ample, spoke to me two weeks before the first session to say that she found it “scary” thinking about the class. Another member with whom I talked about the class in advance told me that although he had very strong impulses toward prayer, their very strength frightened him since he didn’t know where they might be leading. I had been aware of similar fears myself in the months in which I first thought of offering the class. It was only when I thought of ways to structure the class “safely” (as I conceive safety) that I relaxed. An­other man said to me ahead of time, “I’m worried about the class, about looking so close. I’m afraid I’ll lose my faith.” Another said, “I’m worried about all my doubts.” This person came to see me twice to be sure that it was all right for a “doubter” to be in the class.

A frequent problem we encountered was the impasse. The person praying gets stuck, blocked, caught in his/her own alienated inner life. No breath of the spirit stirs. Instead the person plays old tapes over and over.

Sometimes a “third chair” is helpful. When I am stuck in my own internal dialogue I sometimes turn to Jesus as one observing from outside and he grants me a new perspective. From his point of view I see things a new way. Sometimes this does not work, however. Some­times my image of Jesus is faulty and instead of a new perspective I get the old criticisms of my faulty superego. In such cases I usually quit. Outside help may be necessary, or deliberate iconocrisis. Some­times a night’s sleep, during which my unconscious may work some­thing through, provides an opening to the spirit.

There is also a problem of guilt when prayer is seen as a burden. It is something we are “supposed to do,” something that “good people” do. Several class members reported feeling guilty about “not doing as much practicing as I ought.” Two or three made jokes about whether I was going to give them grades, whether I would flunk any of them. : One person had this reaction in an extreme form: “I felt sick to my stomach all the way over to the group tonight thinking I haven’t done what I was supposed to do this week.” Another person found, however, that making prayer into a burden was a means of avoiding God:

Prayer as burden—a lot of us seem to have that reaction. It seemed to me that making prayer an assignment, a task, was for me a way of hiding or avoiding God. The suggestion was that by working through the six steps as though they were six mathematical problems, that if I could get to step six, I’d get an A!

Dreams and Holistic Prayer

My most powerful experience in holistic prayer has been in pray­ing dreams. Because I have little or no case material from others, I will share some of my personal experience. I am somewhat self-con­scious about its highly personal nature, but I do not know any other way to convey its power.

One dream and prayer occurred mid-way in my teaching the first six-week prayer class. It marked a turning point for me, not only with respect to the class but with respect to my life.

I am with someone. We are soldiers. An enemy keeps lobbing large white plastic grenades at us, and we (I?) keep throwing them aside to explode. I get tired of this. “Why don’t I throw some of ours at them?” I get a grenade. It is old and rusty. I pull the pin—I am going to count to three before throwing it—but the pin doesn’t come out all the way. I am afraid. Anoth­er grenade. This time I remember about the safety handle. The grenade is , not armed until I let go of the handle. I pull the pin, release the handle, count to three, throw it, lob it. I keep doing this over and over. Then I am thinking of lobbing it up. They are up. I worry about whether I will lob it just right. If I don’t it will roll back down and explode next to me.

My immediate association to this dream, even as I recorded it, was the prayer class! If I do not handle it just right it will explode on me. At that week’s class session we had done introspective prayer starting with the person’s bodily state. I had worried in advance that partici­pants would think this too gimmicky or artificial or too psychotherapeutic. Instead they reported very positive experiences, in the course of which I announced that we would no longer be doing introspective prayer but would be moving on to prayer for others. “Why did I do that?” I asked myself later. “Why, just as things really clicked, why did I back off?” That was a Wednesday night. Thursday and Friday I avoided dealing with the issue, but finally late Friday I decided to pray about it on Saturday. The above dream came that night.

I prayed the dream Saturday morning by using two chairs—one to represent myself as fear and another to represent Warner. I sat in each chair in turn, speaking in dialogue between my two states of self.

Fear: I am your fear, Warner. I am going to frighten you. I am going to blow you up. Try all you like but you can’t throw me away. I keep coming back. I keep coming back.

Warner: Who are you? I can feel you inside me, but I don’t know who you are.

(After a while I was aware that my voice as Warner had changed. I began to speak very calmly, rationally—controlled.)

I am afraid, but I must go ahead.

(The second clause was very slow and measured.) (Then a trusted voice spoke, someone who had been very help­ful to me in the past.)

Voice: It is ghosts of your past that are troubling you, Warner. Those are out-of-date fears from your childhood. They are inappropriate now, but they crop up like this.

Warner: I know that! And It’s not very helpful.

As it happened there was a third chair in the room just to the right of the two I was using. I was puzzling over my voice—whose voice was that? Who was that calm, rational voice that made hard decisions in the face of fear and pain? It was my father’s voice! So I turned to the third chair.

Warner: All right, Papa, I know this is somehow all about you. What do you have to say about it?

Father: This is evidence that you don’t love. You’re trying to use gimmicks instead of loving people. You don’t know what you’re doing.

Warner: (immense relief flooding over me) I don’t know? Yes, that’s right. I don’t know. I am just doing a little, because that’s all I know. I’m just trying. You don’t have to know to love and to try! If you love you do try. If you want to know anything, you try a little thing. You can’t know it all. That’s impossible.

Then I felt a surge of gratitude to God. I saw that my constant fear of “sentimentality,” my constant rational approach is an avoidance of commitment, an avoidance of giving anything really powerful a chance to work. Now I visualized Jesus in the chair and, feeling silly, I knelt before him and expressed my sense of gratitude. The kneeling was hard to do, but it felt very important to me as an act of commit­ting myself. I knelt in order to say, “I am going to take this risk.”

Another important dream and prayer occurred after the class was over and I was writing an instructional workbook in holistic prayer, worrying about how I could use it in some way as the basis for the paper to be written for my D.Min. I was also worried about accusa­tions that I was not concerned about the welfare of the persons in the class but only about my learning and my writing the paper.

I am up on a high building with a group of people. We have been doing cir­cus stunts. The Performer gets us out into the air where we float, holding together in two rows, each row holding onto a rubber band. The Perform­er is by himself, and I am on the end of one row. I wonder what is holding us up. I ask the Performer and, as I do, I wonder what would happen if the rubber band breaks. I start clutching at it and it breaks off in my hand. All the others in my row fall, down, down, down, out of sight. Somehow I get back to the building. The Performer seems undisturbed. “You can’t have an omelet without breaking some eggs.” I ought to feel guilty but I do not. Did I unconsciously murder them?

In my prayer I first redreamed the above. Then I decided to be the Performer. (The following account is condensed.)

Performer: (speaking to Warner) I am your controlling, managing self. I am the one who takes charge of everything, who plans, who rea­sons, who systematizes. In my scheme of things there is no room for fear or concern or guilt.

Warner: I am frightened. I don’t want to be like you. Yet you are a strength in me. You are what makes it possible to get so much done. Yet you are sterile. In the end you do not feed, you do not even care if persons die. In the end Control and Perform­ance means no faith, no trust in God. You want to clutch eve­rything. So I end up—imitating you and your anxiety, feeling your anxiety—I end up clutching a rubber band! That’s all that holds us up and it’s not enough.

Jesus, I need to trust you. I need to place my Performer and myself in your hands.

Jesus: Why don’t you dream the dream again? Do it differently. If you don’t want Performance and Control, what do you want?

Warner: I want to go with the Spirit, I want to glide on the winds, I want to be held up by your breeze and to be a flyer and a teacher of flying.

Jesus: O.K. Why don’t you dream of gliding, gliding with your class, instead of trying to Perform and holding them up with a rub­ber band9

I redreamed. I daydreamed of myself and the class holding onto a large glider, being together in a secure harness beneath it. Jesus is the wing holding us up. Together we glide off a dune, soar (just a little!) in the air, and sail down to the edge of Lake Michigan, landing in shal­low surf. The next night I had this dream:

I have written a paper for my degree. It comes back from the reader, a priest I respect highly. He gives me a model of how it should be done—it should be embossed on a brown blanket, the words of the paper and some symbols. The symbols are three lamps, standing for Christ, my wife Phyllis, and others. I want to see him to talk about it. Where do I get a machine to do the embossing?

The work I am doing is no longer a perilous mid-air killing thing but a brown blanket, with symbols of comforters and enlighteners on it! It is backed by a respected authority. The only disturbing element is that I am looking for a machine, something impersonal, with which to do the embossing.

I could give other examples of how dreams, prayer, and my life and ministry have interacted, each affecting the other. Praying dreams is a means of constant “feedback” between the inner life, the outer life, and God. But the best means of determining the validity or inva­lidity of this approach for you is to try it yourself.

Concluding Observations

I wish to add some remarks for the sake of completeness. So far I have spoken only of prayer involving oneself. I do not wish to leave the impression that holistic prayer is turned entirely inward upon itself. As I view prayer for others, it depends upon the possibility of empathy, understanding another, and of co-inherence, our spiritual indwelling, one in another. In my pastoral counseling, for example, I have tried to pray for counselees by imagining what it is like to be that person and then offering that person—wishes, evasions, strengths, and weaknesses—to God.

It should be clear by now that holistic prayer is conceived as work. Prayer is viewed as a skill that can be learned. Prayer is a here and now practical activity. Its theories and methods are to be judged by their results. Religious notions (stories, symbols, history, creeds, and practices) are to be judged by their results. God is not a hypoth­esized entity that we may or may not encounter in the hereafter. In­stead, we have inklings of God, images of God right now, which we affirm or deny, trust or distrust. What do those images mean? What do our other images mean?

Thus these ideas and methods are subject to the same kind of test­ing as those, for example, of psychotherapy. We are not in some spe­cial area of “faith” that is beyond empirical test. Whether God exists or not appears to be beyond such testing, but whether methods of trusting and testing images of God recommended here are helpful or not is subject to testing. So far my experience shows that for some people they are helpful and for some they are not.

I have shared enough of my personal experience to make it clear that I find such prayer extremely helpful. Two members of my first class reported:

I have a sense that I have just touched the tip of an iceberg, that I have an enormous amount of one-tenth digested material that I need to rework. I have a lot of only a tenth digested stuff too. I’m being very secretive of myself with God, very cautious. I try to get my conceptualizations clear . : before I share with him. Maybe I can keep the dialogue with God going more of the time and not store up a great big shelf full of stuff first.

Still another class member reported enthusiastically:

The prayer technique became only the beginning of a whole new perspec­tive on religion . .. / had to put out, to work, to pray. It wasn’t just read­ing or hearing about prayer but doing it—and then discussing it. In this it was like therapy.. ..

I’ve thought a good deal about the God-as-projection-of-ourselves dilem­ma we kept stumbling on in class. In general I think the dilemma is produc­tive. … It really replaces a God-as-projection-of-external-authority dilem­ma. . . .

My experience in the class was heavily tied in to my growing awareness and acceptance of myself.

Another person was not so enthusiastic:

It was clear to me at the first session that I was in the wrong place. … I do not like public discussion of private matters and I thought more than once in the series potentially damaging discussions began. … I find this technique emphatically non-Anglican. . . . The Anglican Church’s formality and public discipline are what appeal to me. . . , The setting made real prayer impossible for me. …

I recognize that the class has met a real need for some persons, but I question the wisdom of continued similar activity.

Overall, of my first class of 23 persons (not including myself) who tried these methods, twelve reported a positive experience, three a mixed experience, three a negative experience, and five did not pro­vide enough information to draw a conclusion. Only time and further testing will tell the story.

Reference Notes

1. St. Augustine, Confessions.

2. See St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises or Francis De Sales’ Introduction to a De­vout Life, for example,

3. Paul W. Pruyser, Between Belief and Unbelief (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), p. 121.

Dr. White is Rector of the Church of St. Paul and the Redeemer (Episcopal), 4945 South Dorchester Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60615. He teaches classes in prayer both in the parish and in the Logos Institute of Chicago Theological Sem­inary.

Decision by Prayer

To the vestry and rector of St. Swithun’s on the Green:

At your annual vestry workshop you described yourselves and many in the parish as “tired,” even “burned out.” You decided that your first task was to find ways of “recharging” parish spiritual batteries, beginning with vestry meetings. You asked for help. I suggested learning how to make decisions by prayer.

Prayerful decision-making has a long tradition. In modern times, the sixteenth century Jesuits developed a method of “communal discernment.” In the seventeenth century the Quakers developed a discipline for seeking the “sense of the meeting.” The basic conviction of both practices is that the Holy Spirit is present in the Christian community and is seeking to guide it. This is a very “high church” view. It takes seriously the status of the church as the community of the Holy Spirit whose members are each given a spiritual gift and called to a specific ministry. The Quakers speak of the “Inner Light” that guides their deliberations. The Jesuits teach that God has made human beings rightly, such that if you pay attention, you can actually feel God working within you, and on this basis a community can be guided in making its decisions.

The Quakers have a practice of weighing “concerns.” The Jesuits weigh “consolations” and “desolations” to make their decisions. By “consolations” they mean those feelings given us by God to lead us towards him and by “desolations” those feelings which signify a moving away from God. Both groups teach strict disciplines of prayer, of seeking the will of God rather than one’s own, of listening carefully to minority views, of patiently taking time to move step by step, of testing for consensus. From these two traditions, from the group dynamics movement of modern-day business, and from my own experience I offer some principles and methods for our use in the church today:

  1. Scrap Robert’s Rules.

Robert’s Rules of Order are a precious heritage of American and British democracy. They provide for fair and workable rules of debate, for hearing the various sides of an argument, and for finally taking a majority-rule vote. Such a method is essential to our form of government. It is essential in most American large-group decision-making processes. But it is based on adversarial relationships, on persons’ taking sides and duking it out. We want a fair fight; so we use Robert’s Rules.

That’s not what the church is about. We want to work in cooperation, not as opponents. We don’t want winners and losers. Whatever our decision-making method, we want it to build up the Body of Christ, not to make divisions among us.

We are also different in that we are seeking not the will of the majority, but the will of God. So we need a method of decision-making that is explicitly designed to seek God’s will, to keep us in unity, and that works in cooperation, not opposition.

  1. Choose prayer.

The Quakers and Jesuits meet in prayer to make their decisions. We need to do the same. Below I spell out one method for doing so.

  1. Work by consensus.

Consensus does not mean unanimity. It does not mean everybody agrees. It means a willingness to support the decision, a willingness to commit yourself to it, even if you don’t agree — or, at least, not to fight against it. The Whirlpool Corporation uses a method of voting by thumbs that helps make this clear. If you’re in favor of something, you put your thumb up; if you’re against it, you put your thumb down; and if you’re willing to go along (either supporting the decision or not fighting against it), you put your thumb sideways. Consensus is reached when all the thumbs are either up or sideways and no thumbs are down.

Notice that I said all thumbs. This method does not provide for abstention. If someone is not ready to make a decision, we continue our deliberations (except in emergency circumstances, as noted below).

A word of caution. If there are a lot of sideways thumbs on an important matter, it may be well to postpone the decision until it is clearer to the group.

  1. Take time.

Consensus often takes a long time. You need to commit yourself to that.

The alternative to taking the time—as tiresome as it sometimes is—is to brush aside the concerns of a minority or to vote them down. The result is a division within the community, a tearing down, not a building up, and all too often a failure to discern God’s will.

Sometimes, however, the decision is urgent; it can’t wait. In that case you may have to resort to majority rule or to decision by the rector or the bishop or someone else in authority. We’re not talking impracticality here.

  1. Silence is basic to decision by prayer.

Silent “centering down” is the heart of listening to the Spirit. Meetings need to begin in quiet prayer in order to center down, and during the course of a meeting, when it appears that the group is locked into confusion or a clash of views, a basic remedy is for the meeting to become silent once again and return to the center. And it is probably a good idea to get in the habit of scattering moments of silence throughout the meeting. It’s amazing what the Spirit says to us when we stop talking!

  1. Participants pray in preparation, in particular seeking to discern their own self-will and seeking to give it up.

The Jesuits practice a strict discipline of preparatory prayer intended to lead persons to an interior freedom in which they are poised to do the will of God, not their own. Meetings should be times of carefully listening to one’s own heart and trying to express it clearly, and times of carefully listening to the hearts and minds of other participants, not adversarial times in which we seek to win our point of view and defeat those of others. Our guide is to be the signs of the Spirit, not our own desires.

Therefore participants commit themselves to give up self-will. They pray in advance to this end by asking God to reveal their self-will to them and help them to give it up. At the beginning of work on an important topic, each participant tells the others their particular desires and wants and their commitment to giving them up to the leading of the Holy Spirit. They also ask the other participants to watch over them in this process and if the others see them to be acting out of self-interest, to point this out to them.

  1. Respect and enforce conscientious dissent.

It is very important that the vestry listen to a dissenting minority. Over and over in human history it is the minority that has heard the voice of God and the majority that has been blind. Therefore it is important to be patient with the person who repeatedly refuses to go along. In such a case we are called to listen to what the person has to say and to explore that person’s point of view as fully as we can. We may need to devote many sessions to such an effort. Or we may need to postpone a decision indefinitely. We do not want to find ourselves opposing the will of God.

However, sometimes there are people who are unwilling to listen to any point of view but their own. Sometimes there are members who are just stubborn or who simply do not understand what it means to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The vestry cannot function with even one such member.

If it becomes apparent that someone is blocking vestry work out of self-will, that person needs to be “eldered,” that is, the rector and senior warden or other leading vestry members need to go to that member, explain matters, and ask firmly that he or she desist from blocking the leadings of the Holy Spirit.

  1. There is to be no argument or attempt at persuasion.

Participants are collaborating to see where the Spirit is leading them. Therefore, no attempts at persuasion, no argument, no rebuttal. Only attempts at clarifying, expanding, exploring, testing.

  1. The rector, or other moderator, works as summarizer and clarifier.

The moderator, as moved by the Spirit, summarizes from time to time where he or she perceives the group to have arrived. The summary is presented to the group and the moderator asks whether this summary accurately represents the group work so far.

  1. For large and controversial topics work together in an order sensitive to group process.

A common way for controversy to begin is for Joe to propose action — “I move that we cancel the 9:15am experimental liturgy”! And you know what happens next. A fight. Sides line up and a power struggle begins.

Joe has begun with a solution. He sees a problem and he proposes the answer. This is a sure way to stir up opposition, division, and confusion.

Current studies in group dynamics have discovered a process by which a group can work on controversial issues in a cooperative and non-divisive way. Instead of beginning with a solution, we begin with the situation. What’s the situation that’s stirring up Joe’s feelings? What’s the problem he’s seeing and that he’s trying to solve? Let’s look — together — at this situation first, before we try to see what we can do about it.

A Deliberation Process for Vestries

After the vestry has prayed and kept silence the above diagram can guide it in its work. Think of it as an order to follow, but also as an order of coercion. If somebody starts with ACTION without consulting anyone else, there will almost always be trouble. Or if somebody announces a DECISION, there’ll be trouble too. There’s less if Joe comes in with a SOLUTION, but still that usually stirs up opposition. But if someone comes in with a problem, with a SITUATION that needs looking at, there is usually a cooperative reception. Besides, if we’re clear about the situation somebody wants to address, then we’ll be clearer about possible solutions.

So the first step when someone voices a concern is to explore the situation. The vestry works together simply to describe the problem or opportunity in all its relevant aspects. Then when the vestry has achieved a shared understanding of the situation, it is ready to move on to the next stage.

The key here, once again, is to work cooperatively. We are committed not to take sides. To this end it helps to develop more than one possible solution. Let’s say that the problem Joe has seen is a problem of deportment. The young people coming to the 9:15am service have been making a lot of noise. One solution is to cancel the service. There are probably alternatives.

When the group has developed alternatives, stated clearly and in a form requiring a yes or no answer, Con-Pro comes into play. The Jesuits developed “Con-Pro” testing as a method that goes far toward avoiding divisions in the Body of Christ.

Here is a stage at which it is especially important to pray in advance to give up your self-will. And at this stage the deliberation should begin by everybody stating what that self-will is and asking the group for help in giving it up.

Then, taking the alternatives one at a time, the entire group lists on newsprint, where all can see, every con they can think of, every factor that weighs against a given proposal. Everybody does this. And nobody responds, nobody starts arguing for the proposal. There is no debate. No attempts at persuasion. This is a collective process. The only questioning or discussion is for clarity or for expanding a remark, building on it.

The group starts with the con’s because starting with the pro’s means that some people will be sitting there thinking of the con’s, and will have trouble getting into the pro’s. So we get the con’s out of the way first.

When they’re done with the con’s, the group does the pro’s.

Sometimes it is helpful to divide the room into a con side and a pro side. The whole group moves to the con side when it is doing con and to the pro side when it is doing pro. That helps members keep in mind what they’re doing

Here the group, when it looks at its con-pro listing, is asking a simple question, “Is this proposal the will of God?” And the answer is either Yes or No.

Sometimes the answer is immediately obvious. The group looks at the two lists and one list clearly outweighs the other.

The Jesuits test by Consolation and Desolation. Is there “a sense of peace and movement toward God?” Or is there “a sense of dis-ease and movement away from God?” The Quakers test by the “presence of inner peace.” Another method is to use Galatians 5:19–23, where Paul lists the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The group considers which “works” or “fruit” may result from carrying out the proposal.

  1. For lesser matters continue to work in prayer, to avoid self-will, but simplify and shorten the above method to suit the circumstances.

This full process takes too much time and energy to be used with every topic. Ordinary methods of discussion can be used with lesser matters, provided they stay lesser, provided members observe a discipline of prayer, and of listening carefully to one another.

For further exploration of this subject I suggest the following:

George Schemel, S.J., and Sister Ruth Roemer, “Communal Discernment,” in Review for Religious, Vol. 40, Nov.– Dec., 1981, pp. 825836. This describes the con-pro method.

Douglas Steere (ed.), Quaker Spirituality (Paulist Press, 1984), pp. 3647. This is a simple description of Quaker methods.

Danny E. Morris, Charles M. Olsen, Discerning God’s Will Together, (Bethesda, Maryland: Alban Publications, 1997) 85. This is the best book I know for decision-making in the church. Its method is more complicated than the one described in this paper, but it is filled not only with classic sources and principles, but with many helpful suggestions.

Michael J. Sheeran, Beyond Majority Rule, (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, 1983), 27. This is a classic description of Quaker methods, written by a Jesuit!

Warner White

The Sunday Face of Parish Leadership

Beginning in the 60’s, accelerating in the 70’s, and becoming professionalized and institutionalized ever since, a revolution in leadership style has been taking place among American ordained ministers. Hierarchy and the-pastor-knows-best are ugly ideas for the up-to-date. So now clergy read books and go to workshops and conferences to hone their collaborative leadership skills.

This paper is based on the observation that the changes we ordained leaders seek to make in our parish leadership style are often contradicted by our most widely observed activity—our leadership of worship. Adopting collaborative leadership in meetings, consulting fully and openly about parish decisions, welcoming and encouraging wide lay input—changes of these sorts—are often unconsciously gainsaid by our Sunday face in worship.

Let’s start with two theses:

I. Our Sunday worship expresses not only theological beliefs, but leadership and relationship beliefs.

II. Sometimes the realities of our lives are congruent with these expressions of belief and sometimes they are not.

It’s always easier to see something like this in other times and other people. Let me give an illustration from my own heritage as an Episcopalian. When I was a child in the 30’s and right up until the mid-60’s, money was taken up during worship and offered to God only by males of recognized substance in the congregation, almost always members of the vestry, and frequently the same men every week—the men who called the shots. First they went from pew to pew taking up the collection. Then they formed in solemn procession, the organ boomed forth the doxology, the congregation leapt to its feet, and the men strode forward, stopping at the altar rail, where they handed the collection basins to the acolytes, who in turn handed them to the ordained minister, who then offered them to God, holding them high until the doxology concluded.

Talk about hierarchy! That procession spoke loud and clear. Nobody was in doubt about the pecking order. These men, said this ceremony, were in charge of the money, they had the power, but they could go only so far. Only the ordained and his acolytes could enter the holy space around the altar. Lay authority stopped at the rail.

That was the public expression. Women could not take part. Children could not take part. Non-established men could not take part. Only the well-established and the ordained could do so.

We know, of course, that in fact women called many of the shots in parish life. Many a joke has been told about the behind-the-scenes activities of the senior warden’s wife or the rector’s wife, the humor rooted in the gap between public face and private reality. It was also not uncommon for the warden to wield more power in parish affairs than the ordained minister.

This public ceremony acted out the publicly acknowledged power relationships among us. Sometimes it was reasonably true to the realities, and sometimes it was not.

Congregational leadership has a Sunday face. Sometimes that face is truthful; sometimes it is not.

Now I offer a third thesis:

II. Pastors who wish to change their leadership style have a powerful tool in the way they lead worship. By changing their Sunday face they can broadcast the change in leadership style they are trying to make.

I remember vividly the pivotal change in my own Sunday face, the one that publicly signified my own adoption of a collaborative leadership style. It was in the mid-60’s. I had become rector of a high-church Episcopal parish. Liturgical reform was all the rage. For reasons I do not now remember I decided to introduce the passing of the Peace. (You know, that ceremony in which we liturgical types greet our neighbors with the peace of God, shaking hands or even hugging.)

Now this was before we Episcopalians had begun officially working toward changes in our worship, before we had books of experimental services, the “green book” or the “striped book,” and well before we had our new Book of Common Prayer. When I set out to make this change, I was getting ahead of the crowd.

It was also still a time when women wore hats in church, or, if—God forbid!—they showed up without one, the ushers provided little doilies to pin on their heads. It was still a time—nearing its demise—of formality and hierarchy.

I started preaching about the Peace—what it meant, and why we should do it, and how we might go about it. I started getting negative feedback almost immediately. There were some unhappy people out there. My stomach began to tie into knots. I recognized the symptoms and knew that if I didn’t do something different from what I had done before, I was in trouble. My first ten years of ordained ministry had been painful years of hierarchical style leadership that I knew would not work anymore.

So I tried something new. I had recently been at a conference in which the leaders used flip-charts to lead group discussion. They wrote down what participants said and posted the sheets on the walls. I decided to call a parish discussion-meeting and do the same.

It was my first serious attempt at listening to a group and seeking some kind of group agreement. And it worked! Before the morning was over we had reached an agreement that wrought a parish revolution!

I really hadn’t known much about passing the Peace. The only model I had was one in which the presbyter stood at the altar steps and said to the congregation, “The Peace of the Lord be always with you,” and then passed the peace to acolytes who then went down the aisle passing it to the persons at the ends of the pews, who in turn passed it along their pew. The presbyter stood in place, benignly watching over it all.

In our discussion, after the walls were covered with flip-sheets of comments pro and con, of complaints and wishes, of suggestions and counter-suggestions, we discovered two fundamental concerns—did everybody have to take part? And why wasn’t the rector taking part, why was he just standing there watching, why wasn’t he taking part like everybody else?

The first concern was easy. We wouldn’t insist on passing the Peace from one person to another. Instead we would make it free form. When the presbyter said the Peace, instead of having the acolytes pass the Peace down from him to the pews, neighbors could turn and shake hands with neighbors and give the Peace if they wished. But nobody had to.

The second concern really got to me. What! They didn’t want me to stand up there in my cocoon, my protective shell! They wanted me to come down among them! I hadn’t realized up till this moment how much being “up there” at the altar, in that holy place, meant I was separated—even protected—from the congregation. If the Peace was going to be instituted I was going to have to change my relationship to them.

I gulped and agreed. It was a major turning point—for me and for them.

What is important here is to notice the congruence of the change in worship style and the change in leadership style. I led the parish into a new way of making decisions and the parish led me into a new way of worship congruent with our new relationship. We still had a long way to go, but this one change set us on our path.

This step marked a revolution in several ways. Previously our physical arrangement had been clearly hierarchical and formal. Parishioners sat or knelt in rigid rows—pews—facing one direction, toward the altar, at which the ordained minister stood with his back to them. It was very much like an army—the officer in front, the troops at his rear. The relationship was troops to officer.

Now the “troops” paid attention to each other. Now they were a community, not just soldiers following a leader; and their leader was having to come down among them, be one of them.

The hats and doilies soon went. Handshakes frequently became hugs. The formal words of the Peace were soon joined by informal words of friendship. The moment became one of friendly chaos.

And now the rector was in the midst, not up front. Now he was part of the community, not the austere remote figure up there next to God.

This Sunday face expressed the new collegial decision-making method. This Sunday face was congruent with the new leadership style and with the new communal relationships.

But old habits die hard. Old clergy-centered ceremonial actions persist, even with the best of collegial intentions.

An important liturgical reform introduced in the 60’s and 70’s was to move Baptism into the center of Sunday worship. Baptisms were no longer to be seen primarily as individual or family events, but as actions of the community. So they were moved from private celebration to Sunday communal celebration.

It amazes me how long it took me to discover a major incongruity in the way we did these Sunday baptisms. Communal they were in many ways. But when the candidates were presented for baptism, we did it the way it had always been done. I stood in the aisle, in front, facing the congregation, and the baptismal party stood with their backs to the congregation, facing me. For this communal act the candidates were presented to the ordained minister!

This went on for several years until one day, at a rehearsal, somebody pointed out the incongruity. Why were the candidates being presented to the ordained minister? Why were they not being presented to the community?

So we reversed the order. I stood in the middle of the congregation. The baptismal party stood at the head of the aisle facing the congregation. And the presentation now clearly expressed what we thought we were doing.

That’s the kind of incongruity that still frequently occurs among us. We believe in collegial leadership, but we still unconsciously act out our old styles.

Each denomination has its own ways. My comments are being made in terms of the tradition I know best—my own. But I will try here to look at actions that are common to many traditions, and I hope my readers will be able to examine their own traditions and be able to apply what I am saying to them.

Announcements, for example—what is the ordained minister’s role? How, if at all, do lay persons function in this event? Does the pastor make all the announcements? Or does the pastor moderate announcements made mostly by lay folk? This Sunday face dramatically proclaims leadership-style beliefs. If the pastor is preaching collegiality, if the pastor is trying to make collegial-style changes, and yet continues to make all or most of the announcements, both pastor and congregation get the message.

The same holds true for leadership in prayers. In my tradition the Book of Common Prayer italicizes the Amen at the end of some prayers and not at the end of others. In the first case the minister is to speak the text and the congregation to say the Amen. In the second case the entire prayer is to be said in unison. It seems a small point, but I find myself annoyed with ministers who say the Amen in the first type of prayer. As I see it, the prayer is to be an instance of partnership, of difference in roles, each completing the other. The minister acts articulates the text and the congregation ratifies it. When the minister says—or, even worse, leads—the Amen, that important partnership is disrupted.

In traditions of pastoral prayer in which the ordained minister not only speaks the prayer but composes it either in advance or extemporaneously I hesitate to intrude. But I do wonder if there can be some way to express partnership in this act? In my own tradition I know that more and more prayers are being said in unison—even those printed with an italicized Amen—and I take this to be an expression of collegial leadership beliefs.

Offerings are commonly taken up these days by all manner of folk—even children. And that strongly speaks collegial belief. But at the same time I wonder if it is truth-telling. Who controls the money in congregational life? Who decides how it is raised, how it is spent? Ought not these people to be the ones who take up the money? And if we don’t like who that turns out to be, ought we not to do something about that?

That’s my basic thesis—in our Sunday face we want to be telling the truth we really intend to carry out. And if there’s an inconsistency, we ought to be doing something about it—either changing the Sunday face to tell the truth as it is, or change our leadership behavior to fit our Sunday face.

There are many details in the pastor’s Sunday face—the pastor’s use of voice (We all know what a “preachy” voice sounds like.), where the pastor stands and sits, the pastor’s body movements, vestments, etc. What message do these details send?

And there are lay behaviors that also speak loud and clear. In my tradition it is common, for example, for lay persons to want to know what they are “supposed to do” during the service—when are they supposed to stand, sit, say responses, etc. The standard of behavior is often set by some firm-minded person up front who sits at a certain point, and then everybody sits; stands, and everybody stands.

I am not saying that lay and ordained persons are to behave alike, that for the pastor to take a key role, and for his or her actions to express that role, is somehow wrong. No. Not at all. The pastor is the elder. The pastor’s role is eldership—presiding over the life of the congregation in pastoral care, in preaching, in worship, in decision-making. The Sunday face of both lay and ordained needs to express these differences in role.


Account of trip to Medgar Evans’ funeral

The transcript below was typed up immediately after my trip. Some have suggested that I edit it, breaking it into smaller paragraphs, in order to make it more readable. But I think not. This is how it came pouring out of me right after the event.

Account of the Trip of Warner C. White to Jackson, Mississippi, over the weekend of June 15, 1963.

I am a member of the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity and have been for several years. Up until now about all I have done Is to be a dues-paying member and then to organize a local group in the area around the Church of the Redeemer. But a month or so ago John Morris, the Executive Secretary of the Society asked for volunteers among both clergy and lay people — that is, priest-layman teams — who would be willing to go South in any emergency situation to do what we might be able to do in those situations. I volunteered. I had lay people willing to go, but we were not able to find times when both parties would be able to go, so I was down at the time this came up as a single priest member or volunteer. Sometime in the late afternoon of Thursday, June 13, I received a long-distance call from John Morris asking me if I would be willing to go to Jackson, Mississippi, to attend the funeral of Medgar Evers, the local secretary for the NAACP, who had been murdered several days earlier — it must have been Tuesday. John said he was asking clergy from various parts of the country if they would be willing to go and represent the Church at the funeral Saturday and then to stay over Sunday and Monday to listen and to talk to people in the area to see what we might be able to do. I called Rufus Nightingale, who helps me at the Church of the Redeemer to see if he would be able to take services for me that weekend, then called various other people, then later that evening phoned John Morris to say that I would be willing to go. I made arrangements to take a plane to Atlanta, got my affairs in order Friday morning, and took a plane out of O’Hare Field to Atlanta, arriving there in Atlanta at 6:00 p.m. Atlanta time. There I went by pre-arrangement to the Air Host Inn to stay and found in the room reserved for me the Reverend David Gracie of Rodgers City, Michigan. We had some coffee in the room — there was a special device for that — got acquainted. Shortly thereafter we received a phone call from John Morris, who was in the Motel. We went to his room and talked some more . Then little by little various of the participants arrived — I don’t remember the order I am afraid. These included the Rev. Rowland Cox of Princeton, New Jersey, where he is the Episcopal Chaplain at the University; the Rev. John Snow of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the assistant at Christ Church; the Rev. Brian Kelley of Boston, Massachusetts — I realize I do not know what parish he is from; and the Rev. Loren Mead from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Loren has a parish just outside in a sort of suburb of Chapel Hill in which there are quite a number of University people. John Morris told us he had just learned from Ruby Hurley, one of the secretaries for the NAACP who works out of Atlanta, and who had asked us to come represent the Episcopal Church at the funeral, that we would be honorary pallbearers. I have to confess for my own part that though I went to sleep that night without too much difficulty, I wasn’t sure I would — I was quite nervous — Nevertheless I did not get a great deal of sleep because in the morning I woke earlier than the time for which I had set the alarm, and after I woke I found I was unable to get back to sleep. I had two other clergy in the room with me — we had two beds and a roll-in cot. When I got up I tried to move around very quietly so I wouldn’t wake them, but I soon discovered that I need not have bothered since they were both awake themselves. We all admitted to a considerable amount of tension. We ate a very hasty breakfast, and then boarded a plane for Jackson.

One of the things of interest that happened was that our plane was being used by Martin Luther King and other workers in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference so we had a chance to meet and talk to these men on the plane and on the ground when we stopped in Montgomery, Alabama, and Meridian, Mississippi, on our way. When we arrived in Jackson — I might say it was very hot all along the way — temperatures were in the 80’s and 90’s at our various stops — when we arrived in Jackson the temperature was, if not then in the hundreds, it soon got up into the hundred’s. At the airport there were newsreel cameras and reporters waiting to speak to Martin Luther King. There were also two helmeted motorcycle policemen who did not look terribly friendly — or at least I didn’t think they did — and who were waiting to escort Dr. King to the funeral. Meeting us at the airport was the Reverend Cornelius Tarpley from the National Council of the Episcopal Church, who had been there for a day or so earlier. With him were the Rev. John Thompson from Mobile, Alabama, and the Rev. Wofford Smith, who is the Episcopal chaplain at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. come in a representative capacity at the Masonic Temple. So we were seated in about the fourth row back. The Temple was crowded: there were people in the balcony; there were people lined up along the walls; there were people in all the corridors; there were people jammed outside and across the street — all up and down the street. It was as crowded as any building could possibly have been. There were newsreel cameras, photographers, and reporters jammed up down in front. There were various people seated on the platform with a speaker’s podium in the center, and then down below the platform a huge bank of flowers extending the whole length of the platform, and then the casket draped in an American flag parallel to the platform right at is base. The funeral service was presided over by the Rev. Charles A. Jones and was, I suppose, in essence a Baptist service. It consisted of organ music at the beginning with some trumpet music which I did not recognize very beautifully done, with a hymn which we all sang — “Be Not Dismayed, God Will Take Care of You” — followed by an invocation and then a reading from scripture and then four greetings or “Words from Thousands,” as the program put it, given by various representatives of various communities in tribute to Medgar Evers. I might say about these talks that it was quite evident from the manner and the contents of these talks that Medgar Evers was very highly esteemed. It was quite evident also that this funeral was being used to try to advance the cause of the NAACP, and this not only for the advancement of the movement among Negroes in the South to attain equal status with whites, but also it was clear to try to strengthen the NAACP in the face of other rival organizations in the South attempting to do this same sort of thing. I was a bit concerned at the content of — or some of the contents at least — of the first of these talks in which the speaker said such things for example as that there is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood.” It was clear that be had in mind in this case the blood of Medgar Evers and of still others whose blood, he was trying to say, had flowed and would have to flow before complete equality between Negro and white could be obtained in the South. He also made reference to the injunction among Christians to turn the other cheek, saying that “the Negro has turned both cheeks in the South for a hundred years, but now his neck is getting tired.” This was, however, the only note of violence at the funeral — the only reference to violence at the funeral. Among the other speakers was Mr. Roy Wilkins from the NAACP, who spoke very movingly and very capably, and then following these talks there was a hymn which is used in the movement entitled “We Shall Overcome,” which was new to me. I had heard the title before, but I did not know the music, and which seems to be symbolic of the entire movement. Then following this was the eulogy, a final hymn, “God Be with You,” and then arrangements were made for the funeral procession. We learned at that time that the mayor of Jackson had and the City Council had granted a permit for a funeral march from the Masonic Temple to the funeral home. Now I might say that our time in the Masonic Temple was about an hour and a half — perhaps a little more, perhaps a little less — that it was now definitely 103 outside, that with the thousands of people — it must have been four or five thousand — it was a very uncomfortable time. We were all sweating profusely; our clothes were getting soaked through; everyone we looked at seemed to be in the same kind of misery. The arrangements were made for the funeral among march. We were, as honorary pallbearers, among the first to leave to go down the center and to lead out the door in the rear. When we got toward the door toward the outside we were asked to stop and to stand back and to form a sort of aisle down which came eventually the casket and the immediate family. This I must say was the most moving time of the entire time I was in Jackson, and l believe from observing the faces of the other men who were with me that they were equally moved at this moment.

Then there was an attempt made to arrange the procession in an orderly fashion. The mayor had stipulated in giving his permit for the procession that it was to a silent procession, that it was to be orderly, and that it was to disperse when it arrived at the funeral home. However, what happened was that since the building was so entirely jammed, once the casket and the family had got out the door, the rest of us who were supposed to be following down behind found ourselves jammed on all sides by those who had been standing in the rear during the entire time and those who were outside — found it very difficult to get out in any orderly way and to form a procession. So we ended up just sort of pushing through the crowd as you might getting out of a football game or any other such affair. When we arrived out on the street, there were, of course, police all around as there had been when we went in. There were, notably, motorcycle policemen lined up to our right about half block away all across the street in a solid row, and then to our left about a block and a half away another row of motorcycle policemen similarly lined up. We got out into the street, and those in charge of the procession tried to get us to form up in order. At first we formed in two’s, and then we stood for, I suppose, fifteen minutes or a half hour. It was during this time that I first became aware of what power the sun has on the human bead. I don’t believe I have ever at any other time in my life been so conscious of the sun hearing the top of my head. At this time now we had been without anything to eat since breakfast, and this must have been about 12:30 — we had been a long time since breakfast. We were very hungry and very thirsty since we had been in this intense beat, which must have been Inside the building 115–120° for an hour and a half, and we were standing now out in the very hot sun waiting for this procession to begin. After a long while it moved slightly, and then we were asked to form into columns of four’s. There were many more people than had been anticipated. Finally after, I suppose a half-hour delay in all, or forty-five minutes, the procession got under way. We found, however, that instead of being up in the front as I suppose had been intended originally, we were now about half way back — so many people had gone up ahead. The procession extended — I am not at all sure — but at least five or six blocks, possibly more. I was never able to see both the beginning and the end at the same time so I am not certain. But that is a fairly close guess. There were four or five thousand people in it. It was exceedingly impressive. We walked then, slowly, for two and a half miles in this hot sun, and among our participants John Snow had remarked earlier that he had an ulcer and that for the sake of the ulcer was supposed to eat small amounts at frequent intervals. I noticed that he was perspiring a great deal — more than any of us although we were doing plenty — and looked exceedingly miserable, as we ‘all were. So we walked in this procession. We were conscious as we moved through the Negro area of town that there was a great deal of silent support for what was taking place — that there were people lined up all along the way on the houses watching silently as we went by. We were conscious that the policemen we passed, who were at every corner dressed in light blue shirts, dark blue trousers, helmets, with new nightsticks (light blue helmets they were with sort of a beak and sort of ridges running back from the beak — sort of like a motorcycle helmet I suppose) — these policemen were very silent and grim in manner. We were conscious as we moved into a white area of town that the atmosphere was quite different. There were not nearly so many people in that area watching us. It was more of a commercial area — and those who did seemed grim and contemptuous. Then when we finally arrived after winding our way through town at the funeral parlor — as we approached it somewhere somehow someone began to sing this song “We Shall Overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome some day. Deep in my heart I do believe, we shall overcome,” which is the symbol of the movement, and have nobody seems to have known, when we talked this over later, both among ourselves in the Episcopal group and with the Negro ministers — nobody seems to have known who started the singing. This was, of course, in violation of the mayor’s permit, which required that the procession be a silent one. But the singing was done quietly, without any provocation in manner at least, although the content would be provocative. When we arrived at the funeral home there was, of course, a large number of people there, and it was clear, as it should have been in advance, that this kind of group could not disperse quickly. We threaded our way through the crowd and started on our way toward the hotel, although we did have to stop one time to sit and rest — particularly John, Snow, who was feeling the effects of the march. We were all in since very bad shape, though, so since John said that as long as we kept going he would be all right, we did keep going, and we tried to move as quick1y as we could to our hotel. However we did take advantage of the first stopping place we could find. We stopped at a Sun and Sand Motel for refreshment there. The startling thing to me, I think to all of us, certainly to the waitress who had to take care of us, was that, as you know, in a restaurant it is customary for a waitress to bring water among the first acts before taking the order. What happened in this case was that it took her ten or fifteen minutes before she could take our order because as soon as she brought the water we started to drink it, and by the time she had managed to give water to the last, the first had finished drinking and she had to start over. If we hadn’t been so miserable — well, it was funny. We were all acting, at least I felt a note of semi-hysteria in my own laughter. I was so very tired and so very hot and so very miserable and wanted that water so very much. One of the things that happened was that — one of our group actually started working on this water as soon as the waitress did — I think it was Rowland Cox — he was pouring this water out and handing it to us. Neal Tarpley and I were sitting at the end of the table, and he handed the water to me and to Neal, and we started — I was just lifting this glass of water to my lips and so was Neal, when someone at the other end of the table remarked — and this is the way we were doing this thing — remarked, “You see what state we’ve got in. They aren’t even passing it down. They can’t wait to drink. You see, they can’t even wait to pass it down.” Then, of course, we were honor bound to do so, and very reluctantly I passed glasses of water by myself down the table, and so did Neal, but we finally did get our own. After eating and drinking there at the motel, we took cabs — just the three or four blocks it was — to the Heidelberg Hotel where we reservations had been made, checked in there, phoned — after we got up to our rooms began phoning our wives and families to tell them that we were all right and discovered — Rowland Cox discovered when he phoned his wife in Princeton, New Jersey, that there had been a riot in Jackson. This was our first notice that there had been any difficulty at all in connection with this funeral procession.

I’ll tell the story now of what happened as we heard it from other people later on from various sources. I can’t be sure, of course, if I am accurate in every detail, but I think I have a reasonably clear picture of what did take place. It seems that as the end of the procession finally came up to the funeral home, and as I say we were about half way in the procession — perhaps a little more than half way back, it was a very long procession so that meant there were quite a number of people still behind us when we arrived. It seems that when the end of the procession came up to the funeral home, they did not disperse immediately and that somewhere along the line somebody began singing again and that, in other words, a spontaneous demonstration began to arise. This was, of course, in direct violation of the permit which had been issued for the procession and so the police began to try to break it up. When this occurred, then somebody began to throw rocks and pop bottles and the riot was on. There were, however, only a small number arrested. I don’t know, 17 or 27 or something like that . But among these were the Rev. Ed King, who is chaplain at Tougaloo Southern Christian College, and John Salter, who is a professor at Tougaloo. These two men were up on the second floor of the building there in a dentist’s office. The police saw them at the windows — they were looking down watching the near riot that was taking place — pointed to them, dashed up, and arrested Ed King and John Salter objected to this, and so they arrested him too. The story that we got later on the status of these arrests is very confusing. I understood at one time, at least, that they were arresting Ed King on an old charge two days old. However I heard that denied later so I am not just sure — and I’m not sure anybody else is — just on what basis the arrests were made. However, it has this importance — that the newspapers reported and the charge that was made current in the area among the white community was that these two white men from Tougaloo had led — this was in the headlines — Negro demonstrators to cause this new riot. This is the kind of misunderstanding or misstatement or perhaps deliberate lie which, of course, is responsible for a great deal of the provocation and inflamation that takes place in a situation such as this. At the hotel we all showered and rested and tried to get ourselves back in shape, and that took some time. We were very, very tired, although very, very pleased that the air-conditioning in the hotel.

And then we tried to make plans for what we would do. John Morris had told us the previous day that he and Neal Tarpley and Wofford Smith, and John Thompson would be leaving; that he, John, was leaving deliberately because he had a bad reputation among the white people of Jackson because of his previous participation in the Prayer Pilgrimage and that he thought we would be more effective without him there. This, I think, proved to be true. However, we stayed around in the hotel making various phone calls, trying among other things to discover — we heard, as I say, finally, about this riot and about the arrest of Ed King and John Salter, — trying to find out why they had been arrested and what we might be able to do. What finally happened was that we found there was a meeting of Negro ministers — the Negro strategy committee of the NAACP, which was in charge of the movement among Negroes in Jackson, and we decided we would like to go to that. This was taking place at the Pratt Memorial Presbyterian Church, and we drove over there. One interesting thing that happened to me and some of the others who went by cab, since we were not all able to go in the one car, was a conversation we had with our taxi driver. When we told him where we wanted to go, he was at first reluctant to take us over there. He said he bad received instructions not to drive over in that area, which was, of course, the Negro area — that there had been various difficulties over there — a taxicab had been attacked at one time. He told us we would not be able to get a cab back from it but that, well, he would make an exception for us and take us over there. On the way over we had a conversation with him in which he said — oh, he wished that this would all be settled. He said this several times — he wished that this would all be settled. His manner of speaking made it very clear he was not happy with the kind of changes that would of course in our minds we realized have to take place and which I am sure he must have realized would have to take place. He spoke of having been raised with — knowing Negroes all his life, that be bad never done them any harm, that he’d always got along with them, but that be wasn’t quite sure what they wanted. He ask d us, did we really believe that they really wanted, as he put it, “equalization.” We weren’t sure what he had in mind, but it soon developed he thought perhaps what they wanted was supremacy, and this kind of thing was disturbing him. But it was clear in talking with this man, who I felt in my bones must have been typical of large numbers of white citizens in his station of life, that he was ready for change. He might not like it, but he was ready for it, and did seem to recognize that some sort of change would have to take place. But he did think that there was very likely to be violence — this was clear — before the whole matter was settled. When we arrived at the Pratt Memorial Presbyterian Church, we found that the meeting was in the basement. We were welcomed there, and we listened in on this meeting — I suppose for a half hour or so. What was taking place as we came in was a discussion of the arrest of Ed King and John Salter. It seems that — it was quite clear that they were being charged with something by this group. They were being charged with a breach of discipline. The next speaker after we arrived was a man named Kunzler, I don’t know his first name, who, I understand, is a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and who is traveling in the South from one situation of this sort to another and who was planning to go on the next day to Danville, Virginia, where there is an equally tense situation. This man spoke and gave a story very similar to the one I have given about the riot, in which it was made clear that John Salter and Ed King had been upon the second story when the riot, or near-riot, had taken place. When he finished his talk, then another man arose and said he withdrew his charges. From that it became clear to me that what had been charged was that these two men had led a demonstration in violation of the permit given by the mayor. This group of men, in other words, the strategy committee, bad been considering whether or not to discipline two of their own members for violation of the decisions made by their own group and the previous decision of their own group bad been to obey the conditions of the mayor’s permit. We were then drawn aside into another room to be given background on this. Mr. Kunzler told us that in the days previous when they had been planning the funeral and the procession, the proposition had been raised that the procession should go as planned until it arrived in downtown Jackson at Capitol Street, which is the main street in town. The plan had been at that point to turn the procession down Capitol Street in violation of the permit and turn into a demonstration. The strategy committee bad voted 8-4 against violating the permit. Among the four voting to do so were John Salter and Ed King. When this demonstration, which apparently bad taken place spontaneously, the committee had first thought that Salter and King had taken matters into their own bands, and therefore were preparing to discipline them in whatever way the NAACP does take care of such matters among its own members. When we went back then to listen in on more of the meeting, what was taking place was that the members were trying to make preparations for that night. This was Saturday, and Saturday night in a town which, although it had a population of 150, 000, still had many of the characteristics of a country town in that people would be coming in from the outside and of course was like all towns in that on Saturday night there are a lot of people out on the streets — a lot of people drinking — and in the midst of such a tense situation these men were concerned that there would be violence. So they were making plans to try to see if they couldn’t stop it. They were phoning the Chief of Police to see if they could get a sound truck so that they could ride around asking people in the Negro community to refrain from violence, to stay at home, not to cause difficulties. There was much discussion about what kind of truck it should be. At first they thought they would use a police sound truck, but many of the group felt this would be a mistake, that using a truck marked “police” would simply nullify what they were trying to do. Certainly, they said, they did not want a policeman, anyone helmeted, anyone white in the truck. It would have to be driven and manned by their own members. I don’t know what kind of truck they finally got, but they were receiving cooperation, it was clear, from the Chief of Police in this effort, and it was reported in the meeting that there would be an unmarked sound truck available or at least they would be trying to get one. The other thing they made plans to do was for the ministers to go around to the various bars and poolrooms and other such places to talk to people, to tell them not to be violent, to try to keep this thing from taking place. So a very serious effort was being made on the part of the Negro leaders in Jackson to avoid violence, to keep things from breaking out into bloodshed. After this meeting broke up we stood around then and talked to various of the Negro leaders to try to get clear what it was they were asking for, what they thought might be going to happen, what they thought we might be able to do. The two things I remember clearly they wanted at this time from the mayor was assurance, first of all, that there would be (though this was not first in importance, I don’t think) Negro policemen — it is an all white force at the present time — and then the other matter, and this is by far the most important of their demands at this time, would be the formation of a bi-racial committee to negotiate some of the settlements. It was very clear from talking to the Rev. Mr. Horton, who is one of the important leaders, that he was willing to compromise at this — he said very clearly to us that he knew that they would not be able to get all the things they wanted at this time, that they would settle for less at this time. But it was also clear from what he said that he did not know what would happen, he didn’t see how they could avoid violence over the long run, if some sort of concession was not given at this time.

After this meeting at the Pratt Memorial Church we went back to the hotel, had our evening meal, and went back to our rooms discuss what we would do later. Several of the members went to bed, and then one of us was phoning around to see whom we might be able to see, and discovered that Ed King and John Salter were out of jail and that they were at Tougaloo. So we decided we would go to Tougaloo. Two of us at least stayed behind. John Snow I believe was one — I am sure was one — and I think perhaps the other who stayed behind was Dave Gracie, but I am not sure who that was. So we drove out to Tougaloo. We had some difficulty getting there. There is a new expressway going out there, and it is not marked yet on the maps so that we had to wander around a fair amount before we did get there. There at Tougaloo we went to the President’s house and sat around talking with him, with Mr. Kuntzler, whom we had seen earlier, in the day, with Ed King and John Salter, and with a number of other faculty people there at Tougaloo. The tone of this meeting I found quite different from that among the Negro strategy committee. The Negro strategy committee meeting had been a business meeting. They had definite things they wanted to do, and it was a meeting certainly at that time with a peaceful intent. This gathering was, of course, not a business meeting. It was more in the nature of a reminiscing, of a talking over of what had happened on that day, what might happen in the future, a reminiscing about similar situations in the past. I had the feeling here that I was not amongst a group of people who were fighting for something in their own lives, something very close and near to them, but rather among a group of people whose way of life was that of liberal and radical political movements, social movements. I was not favorably impressed with Ed King and John Salter, particularly with Ed King. I find that I am very suspicious of anything that he might be moved — either of these men-might be moved — to do. It did not seem to me I saw — and this is what disturbs me most of all — it did not seem to me that I saw within him, as I see certainly among other white people, any sort of moral struggle. In the case of the Negro there is a moral struggle, but it would be of a different sort; that is in one sense there is a purity of motive, I suppose for the very reason that it is selfish, it is a desire for their own dignity, and the moral struggle comes in how shall we do it, how soon shall we want it, how much compromising will we do before we reach our final goal? Whereas with Ed King I got the feeling that the issues were very simple indeed. That there were the “good guys and the bad guys” and he was, of course, on the side of the “good guys” and that what he wanted to do was to get out in the forefront and fight. He seemed to think that anyone who was not doing as he was was not doing his proper share. Certainly his whole approach and that, apparently also, of John Salter was to get out as many people as they could, get as many people demonstrating as they could, get as many people arrested as they could, and it did not seem at all clear that they were concerned about the violence that might take place. This indeed seemed to be one of the instruments which they thought would fulfill their purposes. Now I am not saying that they were deliberately thinking in terms of creating violence or of being violent themselves, but rather that they were well aware that what they were doing was likely to result in violence on the part of the police and violence on the part of undisciplined members of the Negro community who might be involved and of the- white “hoods,” teenagers and so forth who might also get involved in it, and that this very kind of violence which would be uncontrolled, it seemed clear, would be looked upon as one of the instruments which would be used to achieve their purposes. That is that the revulsion which the rest of us would feel against this — and of course this would be quite true — would be a means of leading the white community finally to make the compromises and changes that do need to be made in that situation. But because this kind of attitude did seem apparent and because I don’t approve of this attitude, I was left with a very unfavorable impression of the kind of leadership being provided by Tougaloo College in this situation. That was the last of our activities on Saturday.

One of the things I should mention and which became even more prominent when we returned to the hotel is that in the hotel while we were staying there, there was a convention of Rainbow Girls taking place — six or seven hundred Rainbow Girls — or I don’t know how many, but several hundred at any rate — Rainbow Girls were having some kind of convention in the hotel. Apparently they each had separate rooms — or perhaps two to a room, something of this sort, and they were partying. They were running up and down the corridors. On our floor there were potato chips and pieces of paper scattered all up and down the corridors. These girls were giggling and running in and out of each other’s rooms, and having a gay old time. And this, Loren Mead remarked later that he would always remember the Rainbow Girls as symptomatic of the separation from reality that often takes place in human life. That on the one hand here was this very tense situation in the city, here was a city on the brink of violence and catastrophe, and in the Heidelberg Hotel in the center of the downtown, the Rainbow Girls were having a party. At one point later the next day I inquired, I have forgotten of whom, where these Rainbow Girls were in the hotel, and the answer was that they were on the sixth and seventh floors. I asked because I began to wonder just how it happened that our group was housed on the sixth floor. Now it may be, I suspect perhaps it was, a mild harassment on the part of the management of the hotel against our group, but I might say that if this is the case, it was very ineffective. The Rainbow Girls, kept me awake, yes, but only for a very short time. I suppose perhaps it took me fifteen minutes longer than usual to go to sleep because of the noise they were making, but once l went to sleep, they did not wake me. I don’t know when they stopped their carrying on — I went to sleep about midnight. I suppose as those things go they probably went on through two or three hours more, but if this was harassment on the part of the management, it was not effective harassment.

On Sunday morning we broke up into groups of two, for the most part, to go to the go to the various Episcopal churches in town, first of all to the early service at one church and then the plan was to shift the groups to go to the other services so as to cover as far as we could the Episcopal churches in town. Also, we had set up a meeting with the Episcopal clergy for 2 o’clock that afternoon. Rowland Cox and I went to. at 7:30 to St. Andrew’s Church, which is in the center of Jackson across the street from the Governor’s Mansion, down the street from the Capitol building. It was typical of the early celebration of the Holy Communion at Episcopal churches throughout the country. There was a small congregation, it was quiet and certainly nothing remarkable about what took place at that time. We talked with the rector after the service. He invited us out to dinner although we were unable to accept because we had also made an appointment with Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Schutt. We had invited them to have dinner with us at the hotel in order to talk to them. I’ll speak of them later. So we were unable to accept Mr. Keller’s invitation to dinner with him and his wife, and he was not able to come out with us in acceptance of our invitation to breakfast both because he had another service at 9 o’clock and didn’t have much time, but also because there had been a death in the parish earlier that morning, and he did want to take what time he did have to go see the family.

After breakfast I went with John Snow and Loren Mead to try to find St. Philip’s Church, where they were having at 9:00 Holy Communion, at 9:30 Morning Prayer, and after that confirmation with Bishop Gray. We started for the church at about 9:20 — we knew we’d be late, but we had all been to Holy Communion previously so we were not concerned about missing that service. St. Philip’s is out in a suburban-type area of Jackson — new suburban type — row houses, ranch- style houses, not too many trees in the area, mostly wood, partially brick houses, typical of any city in the country. This sort of development we have all seen taking place at the edge of our cities. We had a lot of trouble finding the church. On the way out we passed an All-State Insurance Building. Outside this building was a sign which I read. It said “Episcopal Church” and as I read it, it said “St. John’s” or “All Saints” or something like that. I pointed this out to everybody as we went by and said, “Gee, I don’t know what that was — I heard about that one.” So we went on to try to find St. Philip’s. We found a lot on which they were going to build. We found the rector’s or vicar’s house, but we were not able to find St. Philip’s itself so we decided to go back to the new mission church meeting in the All-State Building. When we got there, we discovered I bad misread the sign. It was St. Philip’s, meeting there. We arrived there while the Bishop was preaching. However we stayed out in the corridor. We got chairs and sat in the corridor so we would not disturb the service. When he was through preaching, we moved inside. We were there just for the close of the service — I think for the offering and for the closing prayers and a hymn. We were greeted very pleasantly by the Bishop and the vicar, Fr. Bush, and had a talk with both of them, spoke of the meeting we were going to have later with them at 2. The Bishop seemed to think perhaps we had invited just the other clergy, but we assured him that we would like to have him come too — this was Bishop Gray. The Coadjutor, Bishop Allen, was out of town. Then we sat in on an adult Sunday School class alter having general discussion with various people and having had coffee. Then after that we went back to the hotel for lunch.

Our lunch, as I said, was with Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Schutt. Mrs. Schutt is an Episcopalian (both of them are). She heads the Mississippi Civil Rights Advisory Committee, which makes her, of course, in Jacks on, Mississippi, a marked woman. I was very favorably impressed with her. She told us a story of how she began to get involved in civil rights matters. I don’t remember all the details, but it was through her activities with the United Churchwomen. She told of how she had managed to get a Negro representative to a. regional meeting from Jackson, or rather in this case she tried to get one and ended up getting two, and of how at this meeting of the United Churchwomen she and other representatives from Mississippi, including the two Negro ladies, talked together on matters of race. This was the topic set at the time and each state had been asked to meet as a group to discuss these matters. From this discussion there resulted a prayer group. She had been trying earlier to form a prayer group of both Negro and white women in Jackson, but had not succeeded. From this meeting where she had had the three white women and two Negro women talking on the matter of race, she had been able then to establish a prayer group and this group has been very fruitful. It has resulted in strong friendships across racial lines. She herself has come to know the Hortons, both Mr. and Mrs., quite well and as a result of this she has been able to do a great many of the things she has been able to do in Jackson. The thing that impressed me, however, most of all about Mrs. Schutt was her thoroughly theological orientation in all of this. She began with prayer on the matter of race, and from her prayer grew her action. She spoke of her reading, of the kind of reading that supported and guided her; she spoke of reading Bishop Brent, Bernard Iddings Bell, Fenelon on prayer. She, unlike most lay people and, I am afraid, most clergy on social matters, represented for me a very sound combination of theological understanding and social concern. It seems quite clear that the Schutts have not suffered social ostracism or anything of this sort because of their activities, although these are principally the activities of Mrs. Schutt. Mr. Schutt says that his business life has not suffered. He is, I take it, the treasurer of a construction firm in Jackson. Mrs. Schutt spoke of how one of the things that makes her effective in her work is the fact that she is a southern woman, that many people who are trying to defend the status quo on matters of segregation often speak of their work as being a defense of southern womanhood. She spoke of how she tries always to look as attractive as she can and be as gracious as she can so as to represent this southern womanhood and then on this basis, building on this foundation, be able to set at naught those who say that the very things she is working for would attack southern womanhood. Mrs. Schutt also spoke very warmly and very strongly of the role of the Jackson clergy in her work. She spoke of how they had supported and helped and guided her in what she has been able to do.

From the meeting with the Schutts we went directly to St. James’ Church, where Bishop Gray and the Reverend Messrs. G. S. Stephenson of All Saints’ Church, Gristoph Keller, Jr., Duncan M. Hobart of St. James’ Church, and Fred J. Bush were present. The Bishop is Duncan Gray. He is very old — I don’t know how old — presumably below retirement age, but he impresses one with his age. We conferred then with the Jackson clergy, and it’s clear — Duncan Hobart said this halfway through our meeting — “I didn’t want to come to this meeting. I came very reluctantly.” What he expected was that we would be critical, militant, that we would be putting him and the rest on the defensive, that we would represent a course of strife and discord in Jackson, and he wanted no part of this and he didn’t want to get involved in this. Of course insofar as he expected an attack on himself, this would be the principal element, and it is very easy to understand why he would have been very reluctant to come. The reason that he and others expected this was the Prayer Pilgrimage, which, as you know, was a pilgrimage planned by the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity, which also sponsored our trip down there, in which — it was like a freedom ride — a mixed group of clergy (that is, both Negro and white) started in New Orleans on public buses to go to the General Convention in Detroit. That must have been two years ago this coming fall. They got themselves — a number of them — arrested finally in Jackson, among them John Morris, the Executive Secretary of ESCRU, and several of them — Fr. Jones, Fr. Taylor from here in Chicago — had stayed in jail and refused to take bail for several weeks. The Jackson clergy knew quite a bit about the Prayer Pilgrimage and had had to bear the brunt of the repercussions from it in their own congregations, and they were very resentful of this effort that had been made and of the difficulties it has made for them. When they knew that six Episcopal clergy from ESCRU were coming into town, they anticipated that there would be the same kinds of difficulties. One of the things, then, that happened at this meeting was that we were able to effect a reconciliation with at least a part of ESCRU and the Jackson clergy. We took the attitude — we discussed this ahead of time — we had Loren Mead as our spokesman. Loren, of course, is a southerner with a southern accent, and we all kidded him later that it always seemed that when he had to speak for us that accent got deeper and deeper. We had him as our spokesman and he is very good at this kind of thing. He is very good at handling people; he is exceedingly likable. Loren Mead made it clear that what we wanted to do was to help them in any way we could. We wanted to find out about the situation; we wanted to know what we could do for them; we were also there to learn. This is the point I tried to make especially — that we have here in the city of Chicago racial problems, certainly — that in fact our problems are more difficult and much more threatening, I think, in the long run than those of the South, that from my point of view what I aw in Jackson was a simpler version of the kind of problem we have here, and being able then to see it in this relatively simple situation I think has helped me to understand some of the things that we shall have to face here in the city of Chicago. Now this kind of thing I tried to say — I had said earlier — and this we tried to make clear to the clergy there In Jackson. They spoke of the kinds of things they had been trying to do, of the reactions of their congregations, of what they anticipated. One of the things I might mention that had happened that morning at St. Andrew’s Church at a later service than the one I attended. There was a kneel-in at 11:00. These were not the first kneel-ins in Jackson, but they were the first kneel-ins to involve the Episcopal Church. Mr. Keller was very pleased that the two or three Negro girls who came were seated. What happened later was that two more came who had not been seated at an attempted kneel-in at some other church In town. He wanted to make clear one thing he was afraid would be mis-reported in the press. He was afraid the press would say they had been seated in a roped-off segregated area. He wanted us to be quite clear that although they were seated in a roped- off area, it was not a segregated area. For years their custom there had be6n to rope off an area in the rear of the church to use for late-corners so that when they were seated they did not have to be seated down in front and disturb other member of the congregation. Of course the girls had come in at the very last moment and for that reason they were, as anyone else would have been, seated in the roped-off area in the rear. In the meeting we tried our very best to communicate from the Negro community what we had learned about what was going on there to stress the urgency of the situation, the fact that they Jackson Is on the brink of violence. I am not sure that these white clergy needed to be told that; nevertheless we thought it needed to be stressed very strongly. We tried to see if we could suggest or help or perhaps get them to think about ways in which they might be able to help. We mentioned one thing that the Negro leaders had mentioned In particular, and that was the need for the bi-racial committee. Mayor Thompson of Jackson had said that there would never be such a committee — he had backed himself into a corner. One thing that the Episcopal Church had done, headed by Bishop Allen, was to set up a Bishop’s Committee. This included the two Episcopal bishops, the two Roman Catholic Bishops, and a Methodist bishop. This committee had met with Negro ministers and had, therefore, constituted an unofficial bi-racial. committee, and they had met with Mayor Thompson and up to this point results had been very discouraging. Apparently Bishop Allen, although we didn’t meet him, from all reports we heard had been very gloomy about the success of this effort. We conveyed to them at this meeting that the Negro leaders had been very encouraged by this effort although they too had said that the results had not been very good. So this was one of the things we tried to do. We listened and heard about the kinds of things these clergy had been doing with their lay people, the ways in which they had been trying to get them to face the situation. I would say the most remarkable thing about this meeting with the clergy in Jackson was the continuity between us and them. Once it became clear to them that we were not there to attack them or to cause them trouble but were simply trying to help, it suddenly became the Church. We were speaking as clergy of the Church with problems in common. They happened to be in the South, we happened, some of us, to be in the North, and we were speaking of the problem of the Church there and trying to see what we could do — how we could understand the situation. I think this very act constituted a very real communion between us and them and that this communion was itself perhaps, it is hard to say, but I should think would have been a real help to them. I can imagine if I were in a situation of that sort to know that there were others from outside who understood and were trying to help would be very reassuring. I have the feeling that they sometimes have felt that people from the North especially thought of them as perhaps betraying their vocation or not doing what they should or something of this kind. I forgot to mention that among others at this meeting was a man, I’ve forgotten his first name, named Jackson, who worked for some federal agency — I’ve forgotten which one that was too — in the civil rights area. He was a former Baptist minister and apparently is studying for orders in the Episcopal Church. This man has very close connections with the FBI and was able to tell us that there were large numbers of FBI men in Jackson — that a great many of the photographers we had seem whom we had assumed were reporters were in fact FBI men taking photographs for Justice Dept. This man it’s very clear works closely with the Jackson clergy and that he certainly is in a position to keep them current on what is taking place. He told us that the investigation of the murder of Medgar Evers is being pressed very strongly and he is sure that it will be solved. He also seemed to think that it may have been not simply the effort of some one man who was fed up with the situation and therefore killed Medgar Evers, but that it was something deliberately planned, perhaps by a large group of people. He spoke of how Medgar Evers had received a warning from a friend of his in Gulfport who had phoned him before he drove home to say that someone was going to try to kill him — that the man had picked up this rumor in Gulfport, but that Medgar Evers had gone home anyhow and had been shot, that he of course had had many such threats for many years and had simply learned to shove them off. Some of the clergy — two or three in Jackson — said — two, I think — that they did not see how anything could be done until there was bloodshed. They certainly were not trying to say there should be bloodshed, but they did not see bow the white people — the moderates in town — could have their voices heard until the situation got that bad. Although they agreed that some kind of communication between Negro and white in Jackson, which is not taking place right now, was the essential thing , that they didn’t see how this could take place until the situation got bad, until there was some kind of catastrophe.

After this meeting we returned to our hotel — getting lost once more — we were lost three or four times in all during our stay in Jackson — and made preparations to leave and finally I took a plane for Memphis, Tennessee, and came home. Others were taking planes to Atlanta and from there home, and two, Brian Kelley and Dave Gracie were waiting to return on Monday morning.

It is hard to say what effect for good or ill our visit to Jackson may have had. I think it was good. I think it was good for the church to be represented at to the funeral. I think it was helpful the Negro community there to know that they did have support from the church and the church throughout the nation. And I think they could probably guess that they could hope for this kind of support or something not as open but as strong from the church there in Jackson. This is hard to be sure about, however. I feel sure that we were at least psychologically helpful as brothers in Christ to the clergy in Jackson. But the thing that I am most aware of about this trip is its effect on me, and I think its effect on the others who participated in it. We are going to have problems of this kind — we have them now — in the parts of the country from which we all came, and I think that having gone through this I will be in a much better position to understand and to do something about them here in my own situation. One thing I should add that I forgot is that at the meeting with the Episcopal clergy we tried to emphasize very strongly that if the present moderate Negro leadership does not produce results, concrete concessions of some kind in a very short period of time — a week, two weeks, three weeks — that what will happen is that less moderate leadership will take over. There is a jockeying for power among the various organizations within the civil rights movement, and if the present moderate NAACP leadership doesn’t produce results, then the SNCC will come in or CORE or SCLC or one of these others, and take leadership away from the present one and this will mean that when the settlement finally does come, a great many more concessions will have to be made than are made now but at the price, I am afraid, of bloodshed In the meantime.

How those Christians fight!

Controversy, Christian-style


“But what about scripture?” my fellow clergyman asked. We were talking about the blessing of same-sex unions. Some of our colleagues were doing it. Others were distressed. “If we do this, if the church approves it, what do we do about scripture?” To which I replied — the thought occurring to me as I spoke — “I suppose we would do what we did when we started blessing remarriages after divorce.”

That was a provocative conversation for me. What did we do about scripture and divorce? For that matter, what did we do about scripture and slavery? Scripture and oaths? Scripture and interest on loans? There are a lot of things we do or approve of that at least seem to be contrary to scripture. How have we handled that?

I have lived through a change of mind — both my own and that of my church (the Episcopal Church) — on remarriage after divorce. I know how I changed my mind and I have some sense of what happened during that period to lead to a change of position by the Episcopal Church. But I don’t know of any commonly adopted way of interpreting scripture so as to be faithful to scripture and yet support our new stance.

When I was first ordained (1953) the Episcopal Church held a confused hard line on remarriage after divorce. On the one hand, we said you can’t remarry in the Episcopal Church after divorce and if you do it elsewhere, you have to stop coming to communion. On the other hand, we said (at least in the Diocese of Chicago) if you want to get back in good status after such a remarriage you have to attend church faithfully for a year and then, if your new marriage is in good shape, we’ll let you start receiving communion again. We were saying contradictory things — remarriage after divorce is wrong, but if you do it faithfully, we’ll let you back in.

I believed in the indissolubility of marriage, so I set out to “uphold the church’s teaching.” But life is messy and I soon found myself behaving inconsistently. An early case — one I have never forgotten and that started me on the road to a changed mind — concerned a young family composed of a previously married and divorced husband, his second wife and small child. The husband came to see me. He had a girl friend, and, as near as I could make out, wanted me to tell him it was all right to leave his wife and child and go off with the girl friend. I had been trained in non-judgmental listening and I tried to listen with an open mind to his story, but I was horrified. How could he abandon his wife and child!

But, of course, by the church’s teaching she wasn’t his wife, they were living in adultery. To be consistent I should have been urging him to leave his present wife and child and return to his first wife. I didn’t do that. I didn’t even consider doing that. I took the present status as a given and tried to make the best of it.

Later I had many such inconsistent, messy cases. I saw members of my parishes and of my family struggling in unhappy marriages. I wanted them to be happy. I wanted them to have possibilities of growth that didn’t seem to be open to them under their present circumstances. I found myself more and more becoming pragmatic, just trying to find something that would work, and more and more becoming impatient with the clumsy, inconsistent, and unintentionally hurtful system of rules they and I were caught in.

Was this what Jesus wanted? Was this what he meant us to be doing?

And so I — and thousands of other Episcopalians — became not only impatient with our system, but changed our minds about divorce and remarriage. And in 1973 we changed our rules. Now we have a different set of dissatisfactions. What do you do with multiple divorces and multiple attempts at marriage? Are we really just sanctioning polygamy in the form of serial monogamy?

Remarriage after divorce is just one of many changes the church has had to face. Every newspaper tells of another challenge to inherited belief and practice. There is an ever-increasing multitude of new questions — euthanasia, abortion, prayer in the schools, same-sex unions, ordination of homosexuals in same-sex unions, Christian mission in relation to other religions, new liturgies, the role of women, the use of contemporary or inclusive language in worship, etc. And questions about how we interpret scripture are just one of many questions involved in facing change.

I have a friend and colleague who is very concerned about bishops and priests who make changes — such as blessing same sex unions or ordaining persons in a life-long commitment to someone of the same sex — before the church has made an official decision.

My mind can simply not comprehend how people with senior leadership-stewardship responsibilities … can “do their own thing,” follow their own vision, when the community they lead/serve has (thus far) refused to endorse that view.i

I hear others ask about the process of decision-making. Are we really supposed to settle — or seek to influence — such matters as the death penalty or abortion or euthanasia by resolutions and majority vote in our synods or conventions or classes?

I hear others who are so distressed by our controversies that they speak of leaving the church if such-and-such a change takes place. And sometimes I hear still others say they will leave if the particular change does not take place.

Some ask, “How can we change what the church has always taught? Aren’t we bound by tradition?” But others find “what the church has always taught” a source of oppression. One woman says,

I see how Scripture and theology have been used to bury any sexuality that has to do with partnership, not ownership or control. Experience, conversations with other women, my own sexuality and study have brought me to a belief that sexuality is partnership. ii

This woman is not alone, also, in finding experience a reliable source of authority, in contrast to scripture and tradition—

Many women [speak] of the centrality of sexuality and of their concrete experiences as roots of their emerging understanding of theology and ministry. … [A woman pastor is convinced] that the most trustworthy knowledge comes from personal experience rather than from the pronouncements of authorities.iii

But, of course, there are many who long for scriptural and traditional roots.

And who is supposed to make these decisions? Should it be the Pope, or bishops, or conventions of both clergy and laity, or the “whole” church, or our denomination? Some, for example, object that ordaining women is not a decision to be taken by just one church (e.g., the Methodist Church or the Evangelical Lutheran Church or the Episcopal Church) but by consensus of all or most of the churches (or the major churches, or the ones recognized as authoritative by the speaker).

One especially poignant cry is that the church is surrendering to the world.

Thanks to attempts … to be timely, our church has come so close to replicating the culture it is called (lest one forget) to save, that its identity has been largely engulfed by that very culture instead.iv

The questions are manifold. The distress is widespread.This book is a study of how we Christians argue with each other, how we handle controversy. It is directed to clergy and laity who feel the tensions of controversy and ask the kinds of questions mentioned above. It is especially directed to those who are faced in conventions and synods and other authoritative bodies with the duty of voting on controversial issues.

I do not believe we can get rid of distress, confusion, and inconsistency in controversy. They are necessary components of deciding whether or not to make important change. But I do believe we can relieve some of the distress. And I especially want to point us toward ways in which we can preserve unity in the Body of Christ. The book is not addressed to one side or the other in our controversies, but to all. I wish to speak to liberal and conservative, radical and traditionalist alike. I wish to help each position advance its cause as constructively as possible. My hope is for us to be in this together, to pursue our controversies in ways that build up the Body and discern the leading of the Holy Spirit.

There have been many controversies in the history of the church. I propose to learn from them. How did our ancestors handle them? What can we learn from them? Are there any recognizable patterns in the way we Christians have settled our controversies?

I shall examine seven controversies:

Circumcision, the first major controversy of the church, in which she had to decide whether circumcision and the Mosaic law should be required of Gentiles;

Arianism, the great theological struggle of the 4–6th centuries concerning the relation of the Father and the Son;

Iconoclasm, the 8th century conflict in the Byzantine church concerning the “worship” of icons and the 16–17th century re-ignition of that conflict by the Reformation;

Albigensianism (also known as Catharism), the dualistic heresy of the 12–13th centuries which rejected the flesh as evil;

Usury, the controversy beginning in the 16th century in which the church sought to adapt her prohibition of interest on loans to the realities of a rapidly developing capitalism;

Slavery, the process by which the centuries-long acceptance of slavery by the church changed to abhorrence; and

Divorce, the on-going controversy concerning divorce and remarriage.

We shall study two principal aspects of these controversies — the process and the rationale used in the decision-making.

I do not bring to this study any special expertise in biblical studies, theology, or history beyond that of the ordinary seminary-educated member of the clergy. I do, however, bring decades of training and practice in group process. I have focussed for many years on discernment of spirits in church life and especially in conflict. One of the methods I propose, therefore, to use in this study is to apply my experience to the seven controversies just as I apply it to contemporary controversies. What can we learn about the process used in the controversies of our forbears by looking at them through the eyes of contemporary group and spiritual dynamics?

Today, because of our controversies, there is much discussion about the reasons and grounds — the rationale — of Christian decision-making. Richard Hooker’s  “three-legged stool” of Scripture, tradition, and reason, is often advanced — and just as often criticized — as a model. Many have suggested adding a fourth leg to the stool — experience; for example, the women quoted above. In this study we shall pay particular attention to these four categories in an attempt to further the discussion, but we shall not feel bound to them. We shall simply seek to look at what is actually used and how it is used in the rationales of the controversies. If the various grounds and reasons advanced fit into these categories, well and good; if not, we shall seek to understand the differences.

I propose also to develop a practical spirituality of Christian decision-making, a model for dealing with our controversies so as to preserve unity. As sources for this model I shall use not only our learnings from the seven controversies, but also the models of communal decision-making developed by the Quakers and the Jesuits.

i Bierlein, Raymond E., in “An Open Letter to the Clergy of the Diocese of Western Michigan,” December 8, 1995.

ii Lebacqz, Karen & Barton, Ronald G., in Sex in the Parish (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), 167.

iii Op. cit., p. 161.

iv Brumbaum, Harold R., “What the Church Was, Is and Could Become,” The Living Church, January 7, 1996, 18.