'Declaration' challenges Episcopalians Priests seek support for traditional views

July 11, 1991|By Diane Winston

In a strongly worded statement advocating traditional masculine characterizations of God and the supremacy of the Christian faith, six local Episcopal priests are challenging their denomination to repudiate alleged "false teachings."

"The Baltimore Declaration," which was sent to clergy and top lay officials in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland May 28, will be given to 1,000 clergy and lay representatives at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church meeting today through July 20 in Phoenix.

"I would like to think these issues will become a matter of candid and open discussion," said one signer, the Rev. William N. McKeachie, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Baltimore. "My hope is the Episcopal Church will reaffirm what all previous generations of Anglicans have believed."

The 2.5 million-member Episcopal Church, like many mainline denominations, has been wrenched by debates between moderates and conservatives. In Phoenix, sparks are expected to fly when delegates discuss the ordination of homosexuals and the appropriateness of sexual expression outside heterosexual marriage. The signers of "The Baltimore Declaration" say such debates, ostensibly about morality, human sexuality and the role of women in the church, come down to disagreements about the nature of Scripture.

Mr. McKeachie said this latest salvo was launched after delegates at the Maryland Diocesan Convention in May barely passed a resolution saying the Bible is the "Word of God" and "contains all things necessary to salvation," and defeated another, reiterating the biblical passage, "Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him."

That passage, which for centuries provided the Christian mandate for evangelism, has been interpreted less literally as Jewish-Christian relations have flourished. But "The Baltimore Declaration" states that Jesus is the only way to salvation, that the Jewish people need to hear the Christian gospel of salvation through Jesus and that the Old Testament should be read as preparing the way for Jesus.

These notions run counter to the conventions of Jewish-Christian dialogue that recognize that the Jewish people have an ongoing covenant with God and that their Bible has its own integrity.

"What [the signers of the declaration] have done is sound the fire alarm," said the Rev. Christopher Leighton, director of the Baltimore-based Institute for Christian Jewish Studies. "I am not sure they are aware the fire may burn out of control.

"I think the position they have articulated is born of fear that the church is losing its integrity. I would hope we could move to higher ground."

The declaration, which is printed on parchment paper and resembles

the Declaration of Independence, was "intended to set forth in clear and unambiguous language some of the essentials of Christian belief," according to its signers. Specifically the document "repudiates false teachings" and says that:

* The Trinity cannot be referred to other than as Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

* Jesus is not merely one manifestation of God among many.

* The fatherhood of God is not merely a psychological projection of the human experience.

Bishop A. Theodore Eastman, in a July 3 letter to the clergy and senior wardens of the Diocese of Maryland, said he concurred with some statements in the declaration but was worried by others.

"We were particularly concerned about repeated allusions to 'false teachings,' a kind of blanket condemnation without specific citations," Bishop Eastman wrote.

Bishop Eastman could not be reached for further comment.

Some local Episcopalians also reacted against the declaration's stance on Judaism.

"I was appalled," said the Rev. Robert Stucky of St. Mark's-on-the-Hill, an Episcopal church in Pikesville. "At a time when the world is shrinking and we are being exposed to different ideas, this is a knee-jerk response. Instead of seeing it as an opportunity for growth, they perceive it as a threat."

The declaration's signers, who include the Rev. Ronald S. Fisher of Westminster, the Rev. Alvin Kimel of Highland, the Rev. Frederick J. Ramsay of Pasadena and the Rev. Philip Burwell Roulette of Glyndon, said they were not hostile to Judaism or any other non-Christian faith.

"I am all in favor of Jewish-Christian relations," said the Rev. R. Gary Mathewes-Green of Ellicott City. "But we cannot sell out this aspect of our faith. We are called on by the Gospel to evangelize all people."

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