By Brandt Montgomery

Richard Kearney in Strangers, Gods, and Monsters: Interpreting Otherness demonstrates how the modern nation-state “excludes those who do not conform … to its identity logic.” But in doing so, it often ignores what is demanded by justice: “unconditional hospitality to the alien” (p. 68).

Every nation-state’s exclusionists believe they have the right to expunge those with whom they disagree and deem incompatible with the dominant society. Their arrogance comes from not appreciating the other’s experiences nor the place from which they come. Kearney implores exclusionists to consider how the other’s unique individualism relates to them as fellow beings within the larger society; members of the larger society, in turn, can also relate and accept the other for who they are.

His observations put in context what Paul says:


We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves; let each of us please our neighbor for the good, for building up. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you fall upon me.” (Rom. 15:1-3)

Exclusionists should thus be agents of hospitality, not casting the other aside but embracing fellow citizens of the nation-state. The other is thereby de-alienated and each citizen recognizes another “as a self capable of recognition and esteem” (Kearney, Strangers, Gods, and Monsters, p .80).

Kearney’s observations pose essential questions for the Episcopal Church, particularly its progressive majority: Is mutual flourishing possible? Can the progressive majority recognize and esteem the conservative minority, in the spirit of hospitality?

They are questions worth considering, for the church’s discourse on human sexuality, same-sex marriage, and biblical authority these past 15 years has caused strong emotions and continues to provoke fresh wounds of division.

I ask also personally — in part from stories I have heard of conservative clergy and parishes feeling outcast and of nominees, postulants, and candidates for Holy Orders sensing they have been “red flagged,” given extra hurdles by progressive-leaning dioceses. It causes one to wonder if the classically liberal ideal of allowing all viewpoints to thrive, except those advocating persecution, is still the case.

Some progressives no doubt consider conservatives’ beliefs to be direct and obvious forms of persecution. Conservatives disagree, reaffirming Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, that

we commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and … wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptized, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.

The conference called “on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals.”

Conservatives’ belief — with the Anglican Communion’s majority — that marriage by God’s design is and should remain the union of one man and one woman has brought feelings of “otherness.” And in line with the Supreme Court’s recent opinion regarding the original judgment against Denver baker Jack Phillips in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, many conservatives have been made to feel that their stance is “despicable” and that there is inconsistent application of our church’s best-known invitation, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.”

All this raises concerns for the conservative minority: Will the progressive majority allow for our flourishing?

If the church is serious, if it welcomes all people, then discernment, understanding, and a future marked by reciprocity and mutuality is necessary. Such a path would respect both the majority’s and the minority’s theological consciences. For wherever we go, it should be together, united in the one faith and baptism of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We might find here a model in the Church of England’s House of Bishops’ Declaration:

Reciprocity means that everyone, notwithstanding differences of conviction … will accept that they can rejoice in each other’s partnership in the Gospel and cooperate to the maximum possible extent in mission and ministry. There will need to be an acknowledgment that the differences of view which persist stem from an underlying divergence of theological conviction. …

Mutuality reflects [a] wider commitment to sustaining diversity. It means that those of differing conviction will be committed to making it possible for each other to flourish.” (House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests, p. 3)

The Anglican Covenant suggested such a process and, in my view, is a tool that deserves (re)consultation. The Covenant Design Group’s 2005 report Towards an Anglican Covenant centered on how a covenant could feasibly be put into practice. It asserted that a covenant could serve a “relational end” for the Anglican Communion as a global family of interdependent yet autonomous churches and provide a basis for cooperation and action with one another and in relation to the whole Communion. The Anglican Covenant was conceived as a means by which Anglicanism would serve the great promises of God in Christ rather than simply as an exchange of promises between its constituent provinces (Norman Doe, An Anglican Covenant: Theological and Legal Considerations for a Global Debate [Canterbury Press Norwich, 2008], pp. 23, 54.)

But just as the Anglican Covenant incited progressive fears of the Episcopal Church’s exclusion from the Anglican Communion, perhaps talk of conservative flourishing may bring concerns that conservatives will once again multiply and become numerous. From such fears may arise feelings for the need to keep conservatives in check and control their increase (cf. Exod. 1:9-10).

A similar motivation was at work in March 2017 when Philip North, the Suffragan Bishop of Burnley in the Diocese of Blackburn (opposed to women’s ordination in the Church of England), withdrew his nomination as Bishop of Sheffield due to “the highly individualized nature of the attacks” against him by C of E progressives, particularly Martyn Percy, the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. An underlying cause was the Church of England’s failure to fully educate its members on what its 2014 Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests would mean in actual practice. Instead of ensuring “that senior leadership roles within dioceses continue to be filled by people from across the range of traditions,” progressives saw North’s nomination as a threat. Their exclusive acts eroded his nomination. The Archbishop of York admonished English Anglicans, “It [is] now time for the Church to … [reflect] upon whether it [is] serious about its commitment to ‘loving one another and to mutual flourishing within the Body of Christ.’”

Episcopalians have an opportunity to engage in a similar process regarding same-sex marriage. We may learn from the English and possibly prevent the same mistake among us by envisioning how such a process could most effectively work. Regarding the specifics of such process, I am intentionally leaving that question open; it will no doubt be difficult and must be full of safeguards, if the situation in the C of E is any guide.

How we proceed should involve conversation together. But however it happens, we must be grounded in a commitment to maintaining the bonds of peace and affection amid issues on which we disagree. And crucial to mutual flourishing’s success would be the casting out of fear: conservative fears of exclusion by the progressive majority, and progressive fears of conservatives somehow rising again and forcing them back into silence. Fear and exclusion must not be allowed to fracture our unity.

As the Bishop of Springfield said in his most recent post:

We [conservatives] have been defeated. We understand that. The Episcopal Church celebrates same-sex marriage. That will not change in any future that is plausibly foreseeable. We are as desirous of moving on from a consumption of sex and gender as anyone else, and we don’t wish to be thought of as threatening by anyone.

Conservatives simply want to be allowed to flourish. We still wish to remain Episcopalians but have the freedom to follow what we believe of our Lord Jesus Christ in faith. We want to keep alive the Christian spirit of conciliation and love for each other.

Mutual flourishing reminds us that there is more we have in common than those things that divide us. It keeps open the ways for all of us together to build up Christ’s body and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom (House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests, p. 1).

In it is embodied the Summary of the Law: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and  “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Summary of the Law, Holy Eucharist: Rite One, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 324).

In mutual flourishing is love and, as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says, “If it’s not about love, then it’s not about God.”


About The Author

The Rev. Brandt Montgomery is the Chaplain of Saint James School in Hagerstown, Maryland, having previously served at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana as Chaplain of Ascension Episcopal School from 2014-2017, then as Associate Rector and All-School Chaplain from 2017-2019.

Related Posts

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bryan M.
4 years ago

I guess I’m just having a hard time understanding, at this late point in the matter, why you’d want to stay when there are other options available to you to connect with orthodox Anglicans worldwide and no longer be subject to the circus that has come to characterize TEC. The opportunity to flourish is out there yet you’re still going hat in hand to TEC leadership who sees you as retrograde and an impediment and something to be marginalized.

The Reverend Canon Susan Russell
4 years ago

There is absolutely room for conservatives in the Episcopal Church. I was raised in a family where my Aunt Gretchen (who lived with us) as a member of one of the parishes that tried to leave the Diocese of Los Angeles over the ordination of women (Holy Apostles, Glendale) and died with a “Save the 1928 Prayer Book” bumper sticker on her car. … and yet she never “left the church” and we still went to communion together. All that to say I never remember a time when we have not been a tradition challenged by differences. The issue is… Read more »

Well said, especially when you posited, “if the DNA of Anglican Comprehensiveness is sufficient to embrace them.” Does anyone remember the “Circumcellions” also called the “Agnosti?”They were in N. Africa back in the 4th C. They were all about satisfying social dilemmas. They advocated abolishing slavery, expressing free love, and cancelling debt. Sound familiar? They eventually got lumped in though with the Donatists, those unforgiving self-declared “Orthodox” christians who harshly judged the “Traitotores” to the East. They were so intolerable towards those Christians who avoided persecution and martyrdom by giving up the books. Both polarities fell over time and condemned… Read more »

David Limo
4 years ago

Me parece provocativo el artículo, y muy bueno para la reflexion. Mencionar que una postura es progresista y otra es conservadora, es llevarnos a la evidente critica de la ideologización de la teología. Cuando en realidad no es así. No es un desencuentro de ideas y aproximaciones de igual equivalencia en la hermenéutica biblica-teológica. Es incomparable pretender señalar que por un lado esta lo conservador, y por el otro lado, lo progresista, cuando en realidad, lo que se señala de progresista o liberal (para otros) en realidad es lo mas conservador del propio evangelio de Jesús. Es lo que en… Read more »

Mary Barrett
4 years ago

Thank you for writing this essay. I live in Shreveport, LA, and I think I am one of 50 liberal Episcopalians in the northern half of Louisiana! I do not mind, and I love TEC. We are united in Christ’s love, and in that we respectfully accept each other’s differences as we worship together. Ultimately, God will judge each one of us, so I do not need that burden.

Indie P
4 years ago

You write of “stories I have heard of conservative clergy and parishes feeling outcast and of nominees, postulants, and candidates for Holy Orders sensing they have been “red flagged,” given extra hurdles by progressive-leaning dioceses.” Those same things happen to those of us who are progressive but live in dioceses under conservative leadership. We want nothing more than for space to be made for different points of view without imposing those points of view on others. My own parish has folks on various sides. We can make room for conservatives and progressives if people remember to do unto others….

Ann Carlson
4 years ago

It’s sad that some conservatives feel there is no place for them (They’d find a congenial home in Albany!), but this article suggests a false equivalence. While the church as a whole does rule (not always in a way that future generations approve) on matters of morals, once it has moved it has moved. There is certainly a place for private morality (as in, for ME, x or y would be sin), but not a place for those individuals who would insist on determining morality for others. As far as I know, we progressives are all perfectly happy if you… Read more »

Chris Larimer
3 years ago
Reply to  Ann Carlson

Sad to say, the comments about toleration for Albany didn’t age well….

Richard Creel
1 year ago
Reply to  Ann Carlson

If morality is only private and lacks validity (or appropriateness) for others, what sort of morality is it? It seems clear that activists since the 70’s have been determined to force change without considering the consequences. This, at the very least, is moral arrogance. I sympathize with those who are shocked and even horrified by some of these changes and wonder what others are yet to come.

Richard Creel
1 year ago
Reply to  Ann Carlson

I posted a comment yesterday which does not show and wonder if it was eliminated via censorship. If private morality is a variable (not for current activists), then what does it amount to? Are principles universal, like ideas, or are they to be determined by trendiness and political correctness? I am not one of the conservatives, yet I do have doubts about changes made without considering the consequences. From my observations, those who preach love and inclusiveness and decry judgementalism often by their behavior and actions give the lie to their professed principles.

Anne Earnshaw
3 months ago
Reply to  Ann Carlson

 Yep, you’ve illustrated the liberal Episcopal Church in a nutshell. Morality is “relative”, the Commandments are open to interpretation, what’s a sin for you may not be a sin for me, etc. etc. Reality – both physical and spiritual – are what WE say it is. You’ve taken 2,000+ years of Christian faith and teaching and turned it into an expression of abject self centeredness and gratification. Liberal Episcopalians may say that they are a parish or a congregation or a body of believers, but in essence they are a loose collection of individuals who celebrate their individual selves first,… Read more »

I am glad to see someone speaking up. It is sad when we cannot serve side by side for the common good, accept that we have different viewpoints and offer our communities a real opportunity to be members of a diverse community where all are seen as valid and welcome. As a woman and family member in a religious order for 20 years I somehow managed to serve the community of the Church and leave politics in the parish aside. Until this year. The parish received a female progressive priest who quickly let me know that I was tolerated but… Read more »

Jeanie Fewell
3 years ago

Oh Dear Sister, How I feel your pain! Fortunately, politics by the clergy are not discussed at my church. But you can feel it amongst the parishioners. I too am a cradle Episcopalian and I love the liturgy and can’t imagine going anywhere else. My Dad was very active in the Republican Party MANY years ago and as a child I can remember him warning me about the signs of communism creeping into our country. I see so many of those events happening now and it scares me to death. Not for me (I am 70,) but for our children… Read more »

S. Jenkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeanie Fewell

Your story is very very similar to mine. I feel uncomfortable with most of the membership, never feel safe enough to speak my mind

mike geibel
3 years ago

The Episcopal Church is not inclusive, is self-absorbed with political slogans and leftist crusades, and is simply intolerant of anyone who may disagree with a partisan activism that is divisive and tiresome. I have found a local church which teaches us how to live in Christ, but our pastor never tries to tell us who or what we should vote for, or calls for protest marches. It is an odd marketing plan to denounce conservative values and then be surprised when the elephants don’t show up the next Sunday.

Richard Creel
1 year ago

Welcome to the reality of “the conversation”, Sister, and to the true nature of those who would use euphemisms to disguise reality. In times such as these, one can only rely on oneself and what friends one has, on staying true to ones principles and avoiding the lures of fashion and trendiness.

3 years ago

Why would conservatives want a place in TEC? In my case, my former rector, Bob Malm of Grace Episcopal in Alexandria, launched a vendetta against me in 2015 that included a bogus legal action, replete with perjury by Bob. Among his false statements, Bob claimed under oath that my mom, dying of COPD, had made multiple appointments with him and no-showed. Kind of hard for a woman dying of COPD and unable to use a phone or email, wouldn’t you think? Yet when I alerted the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to Bob’s conduct, it refused to get involved. So I… Read more »

Jeremy Johnson
3 years ago

Hello: Catholic here, found this site after seeing the news of the pending Methodist conservative/liberal split, and thinking that the pending “Epsicopal split” dropped off the news radar a few years ago. Then I realized, from my outside perspective at least–your split is complete. The liberals won, and the conservatives all went to other churches (I know my Catholic parish confirmed quite a few ex-Episcopalians over the last few years.) That would explain your membership decline–and perhaps offer hope that it is a one-time even that can now be reversed. I think that the Episcopal split is now basically final.… Read more »

Spencer Velky
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Johnson

“but if you are too uncomfortable to stay, I would recommend checking out the Catholics: The reforms in the 1960s brought us closer theologically (and got rid of Latin), and I think you would be very comfortable there.”

Most Episcopalians (conservative and liberal) wouldn’t be able to stomach the music. Anglo-Catholics would actually prefer the extraordinary form over the the ordinary form, even if it is in Latin. Non Anglo-Catholics would do better joining a church affiliated with the Continuing Anglicans (APCK or UECNA) or Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

3 years ago

Thank you for this. I certainly agree that we are a big tent Church and I am happy to be part of a Christian way that is considered a broad Church. I recall having two wardens who may be understood as being on opposite ends of the spectrum: one, proudly conservative, the other gay and married. They worked together, honorably and very well. I am proud that TEC might serve as a model in this way. However, I am confused by the term ‘mutual flourishing’ in the article. And by Bishop Springfield’s quote: we are desirous of moving on from… Read more »

Kyle De Wolf
1 year ago

This whole point just seems incoherent to me. Having failed to exclude others, now you want to ensure that you are not excluded. I feel that a house divided cannot stand. I think that the breakup of liberals and conservatives is all but inevitable. The church will eventually have to take a stand in favor of one side or the other. I would rather not be part of a church in which homophobic, transphobic, and misogynistic voices are allowed to flourish. I think that taking advantage of liberal notions of tolerance in order to gain a foothold for intolerance is… Read more »

Marta Garland
1 year ago

I do not understand why priests and lay readers were allowed to bash Trump from the pulpit. I left the Episcopal Church after I noted that this occurred on 5 separate occasions. Half the country voted for him.
I had attended an Episcopal Church for over 25 years and never recalled the church taking an official political stand. I formed friendships with fellow parishioners of diverse political views.
Can anyone explain this? I still feel I have nowhere to go after leaving.

Richard Nash Creel
1 year ago
Reply to  Marta Garland

Sometimes politics and the actions of politicians require a stand. It is not a matter of supporting a political party (possibly for poor reasons) but to oppose bad choices, deceit and harmful actions that cause suffering and call into question what the US really represents and amounts to. Gerrymandering, vote suppression, favoring the wealthy, causing misery by military intervention (justified by lying)and aiding and abetting police brutality are just a few of the concerns I feel one cannot dismiss from consideration just because they are connected with politics and parties.