An Episcopal priest, who received a Buddhist lay ordination, has been nominated for the position of bishop in the Diocese of Northern Michigan. The Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, who has served in the Northern Michigan diocese since 2001, is the only nominee for the vacant position. Forrester currently serves as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Marquette, and is currently the diocese’s ministry development coordinator, This position puts him in line for a denominational promotion the way these things generally go. His election as the new bishop is scheduled for a special convention to be held on February 21 in Escanaba, Michigan.
If elected, Forrester will still have to obtain consent from a majority of dioceses in the Episcopal Church, USA. This denominational approval is generally “a rubber-stamp procedure” noted Jim Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). IRD, which I have the privilege of serving as a board member, is a group that seeks to monitor and explain the actions of leaders in the Episcopal Church and other mainline denominations. It was begun, by the late Richard John Neuhaus, in 1981.
It will not surprise those of you who have followed the complete breakdown of the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) to learn that Forrester is not the first Episcopal clergyman to hold "dual faiths." In 2004, Pennsylvania priest Bill Melnyk was revealed to be a druid. In 2007 Seattle priest Ann Holmes Redding declared that she was simultaneously an Episcopalian and a Muslim. (Read that again and weep!) Both Melnyk and Redding were eventually inhibited from priestly duties. Forrester’s background was recently brought to light by the Anglican web site Stand Firm in Faith.
My good friend James Tonkowich wrote last week, in an IRD online report, that:
So-called ‘dual-faith’ clergy are hardly new to the Episcopal Church, which has in the recent past had to deal with clergy that claimed Muslim and druidic faiths, in addition to Anglicanism.
To my knowledge, this is the first time that such a "dual-faith" practitioner has been nominated to be a bishop, unless of course you include Gene Robinson, the practicing gay bishop of New Hampshire. (Robinson has made all kinds of pluralistic statements but to my knowledge has not pursued "dual faiths," at least formally.)
Forrester has been identified by his former bishop as "walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together." While church leaders may respect other faiths, their vow of Christian ordination has always meant that they retained an exclusive commitment to Jesus Christ and the Christian faith.
We hear a great deal about religious pluralism today. I will write more about pluralism tomorrow but suffice it to say this appointment is a clear demonstration of the destructive kind of pluralism that welcomes a “multiplicity of ultimate principles” (Webster) in matters of Christian faith. Regardless of how we understand the necessity of religious tolerance in the modern world, and I believe we need a great deal more tolerance in public life where we must live in non-religious communities, such tolerance in regard to matters of apostolic faith and practice within the church cannot be allowed or the church will no longer be the church.
I am sometime asked if the Episcopal Church is still a “Christian” church. Broadly, speaking the question comes down to this: "When is a Christian church no longer a Christian church?" The answer, on a national and denominational level, seems obvious when the church accepts the appointment of a bishop who believes in “dual-faith.” However, do not be too quick to assume that every Episcopal congregation is apostate since there are still quite a few churches and priests, as well as thousands of wonderful Christian people, who are Episcopalians and very serious Christians. Those of us on the outside of this internal denominational struggle ought to pray for those who struggle for the life of their local congregations and continue to seek Christian integrity. The way ahead, at least for most of these believers, is uncertain and troubling. They really do need our prayers, not our judgment.