Tuesday, November 14, 2006

An Episcopal Bishop "Married to a Prostitute"

Three cheers for Bishop Beckwith. The church--Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist et al., need more like him.


Conservatives see no compromising
By Manya A. Brachear
Tribune staff reporter
Published November 14, 2006

JACKSONVILLE, Ill. -- On his annual visits to confirm newcomers to Springfield parishes, Bishop Peter Beckwith spares no words to warn his flock that the Episcopal Church is falling apart--succumbing to secular values in the guise of modern faith."There's only one truth, and our challenge is to discover it," he said in a recent homily at Trinity Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, the oldest of the diocese's 40 parishes. "It is revealed to us."

This unwavering view of Scripture divides Beckwith from the majority of the Episcopal Church and its new leader, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

But Beckwith refuses to sacrifice his integrity to hold together the relationship. He does not compare the possibility of schism to divorce. In fact, he likens it to fidelity.

"I'm married to the gospel, the Anglican Communion, the authority of Scripture--and I've got this prostitute putting the moves on me," he said, intending a reference not to Jefferts Schori but to her theology.

Throughout this rural Illinois diocese covering 60 counties, many parishioners and priests side with their bishop. Others are accustomed to his hard-line position and do what they want anyway. Some say they will discuss differences only with Beckwith, preferring not to air their disagreements."

Episcopal means `of the bishop.' How can you be against the bishop and actually say you're Episcopal?" said Rev. Richard Swan, a priest who oversees six parishes in a predominantly Baptist region where many parishioners have struggled to make ends meet after many area coal mines closed."

We have a bishop who takes his vows very seriously as to the part where a bishop is to guard the historic teachings of the Episcopal Church."

A former military chaplain, Beckwith's experience in the armed forces fuels his ministry.

"The best lesson in the military is you learn it's not about you," he said. "It's about the mission--mission accomplishment whatever it takes. ... To me, that's so close to Christian vocation. It's about the mission of the church."

Beckwith considers homosexuality a form of sinful behavior. He refused to confirm a California bishop in 2003 because the man had been divorced twice. And he refused to confirm New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who lives in a committed relationship with another man.

"The choice and the behavior is the issue," he said. "Sex is not fulfilling except for marriage between a man and a woman. Apart from that it's phony at best. It's about entertainment."

Of course, some priests disagree. Last month, St. Andrew's rector Rev. Virginia Bennett asked for oversight by an alternative bishop, saying she has not been able to overcome differences with Beckwith since she asked him to confirm a lesbian in her Edwardsville congregation in 2004.

Rev. James Cravens, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Lincoln, served as a chaplain in the Marine Corps with Beckwith. He voted against Robinson's election three years ago but says he does not like how Beckwith has used the issue to define his tenure."

I think the American religious scene in general is driven by extremists," Cravens said. "I'm afraid the church isn't going to rise above it."

Others welcome the idea of a separation.

"I'm glad you're here," Elisabeth Langford told Beckwith in Jacksonville, where parishioners greeted him with hugs, handshakes, gratitude and a buffet of beans and beef brisket.

"I'm waiting for the split. I think it's necessary," she said. "It's two different religions in the same church. That can't last."


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