Bishop’s Address of 2005

FEBRUARY 3rd – 5th, 2005

Good Evening Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

On this evening, the beginning of my 11th year, I’m called to share with you a little about my struggle with “anger” and “judgment” as it continually blocks my growth into the person that God is calling me to be. I feel called to do this because I see that the problems that I have are similar to the struggles that almost all Christians have with their particular besetting emotions that lead to the same or other sin or sins. We are fallen creatures! You may learn something from my struggles just as I have learned much from some of your struggles to grow to be a person in Christ that reflects Christ’s life. That is what being baptized into Christ means. It means to become a “Saint,” a person that one can see reflecting God’s love.

Anger is a basic human emotion. You don’t seem to learn it, though you may learn how to manage it at least some of the time. On the simplest level it seems that it may be the emotion that gives energy beyond normal human energy for a confrontation or struggle for survival.

The Bible often attributes anger to God, in the King James Version calling it “Wrath.” God’s wrath is normally said to be against evil actions of human beings or human communities. Interestingly at least some of its presence or work in humans is not called by the Bible a sin in itself, but there are clear statements in scripture that we are not to entertain or hold on to anger (see Ephesians 2:6). Whereas the Bible seems to approve of God’s anger it does not seem to approve of human anger (Matthew 5:21-22 or Psalm 37).

Holding onto anger is exactly Henry Louttit’s problem. There is deep in me a boiling pot of anger just waiting to be triggered. The anger is, in my experience, much bigger than the actions that trigger it. I really can’t uncover its basic cause. Several friends who are therapists say “Henry, do not worry about it. You handle it fairly well.” I’m not so sure. Several people close to me have to deal with the cost of my anger. It’s not normally an explosive anger, but expressed by my detachment, my inattention. “I’m absent-even though I’m bodily present.” I’m struggling with keeping the “Anger Bomb” from exploding.

I grew up with an amazing ability to remember. More than once I answered questions in class verbally which the teacher immediately said was wrong. I then cited the page and paragraph of the text on which my answer appeared. My committed and truthful teachers did look it up and then apologized. Thus I grew up absolutely sure that I was right about everything. My reputation among teachers preceded me and made my academic career very easy.

On the other hand, I was the smallest person in my class and my coordination did not develop until I was a junior in Prep School. I couldn’t throw a softball or a football to anybody. That meant I was always chosen last for any team sport. It meant that I was very easy to pick on. I used anger to survive and occasionally to at least scare, if not hurt, larger folk when I exploded.

I grew up in the Anglo-Catholic part of the Episcopal Church and we knew that we were right, even though we were not the majority in the Episcopal Church. There was a fortress mentality that caused us to suspect that everything the national Episcopal Church did was intended to undercut the truths that we held dear. Most of the young priests who influenced me as a teenager, believed that the greater part of the Episcopal Church was heretical – were outside of God’s communion.

Around the fourth grade I had gone with my father, the Bishop, to Midnight Mass in the Cathedral of St. Luke in Orlando. I was overwhelmed by the Presence, the light of something bigger than the Cathedral. I knew God was real.

Well-meaning adults often asked me “Aren’t you going to follow in your father’s footsteps?” I insisted I wasn’t. My father was and is a legend. He did much good and was a very good father, but he would be a hard act to follow. He had many gifts that I do not have, although I have discovered that I have a number that he didn’t have.

God had other ideas about my serving His people; I couldn’t get away from them. Having won several prestigious national scholarships for graduate school, I decided that I had to go to seminary. I chose the “liberal” Virginia Theological Seminary because I did not want to give my life to a church in which I believed part of the church didn’t believe the truth about God and was heretical (I also wanted to marry Jan and in those days Virginia Theological Seminary was the only one of our seminaries that allowed people to get married in course).

At Virginia, I discovered that the faculty were Christians even if they did not understand the power of worship and even if they couldn’t talk about prayer. For them anything that Roman Catholics did or said was wrong. Thus the only language they knew that talked about prayer was unacceptable to them. I did discover that they said their prayers, they just couldn’t tell me how to do it. In my world, if Rome did it, it was right. In their world, if Rome did it, it must be wrong.

The faculty cared about me in Christ and I graduated from Virginia. I accepted a call from the Bishop of Georgia to an unnamed congregation. I came expecting to be here for three years but God has a great sense of humor. Here I am still and as your Bishop. I am absolutely sure that God has called you and me to be together in his family. By experience I know the truth is much bigger than I am. I know many people of prayer who think the Bible is God’s way of speaking to us in community. I know these people have very different views of what is right and what is wrong about some behaviors. They have different views about what God is calling us as a Church to do. Like my father, a leader in the House of Bishops, I have friends across the spectrum of Bishops. I do not agree with a number of them on a number of different issues, but I am absolutely sure that they are trying to be faithful to Jesus Christ.

My Anglo-Catholic fortress mentality, learned probably in part from my Father, is in place and it does stir up my anger. If I allow myself to get in certain groups all that anger against the National Church and its structure surges up. I know the anger is real, but my long held beliefs about our National Church, “815,” and General Convention are very biased, if not a lie. I have to control that anger if I’m going to be faithful to a God of truth. Is our national structure and its personnel perfect? No. Henry Louttit is not either. Over and over again God has proved me wrong and forgiven me and surrounded me with His love known in blessings of all kinds.

I work continually to control my anger and listen for God’s truth. When I don’t, my anger drives me to judge others much more harshly than they deserve; sometimes even falsely judging them.

The Bible talks a lot about “judging.” The word can mean deciding which is the better course of action or choice. But it can also mean declaring myself “right” and someone else “wrong” – or in religious terms “heretical.” The Bible overwhelmingly witnesses against the second use of “judgment,” on the part of humans. That is God’s business not ours (see Matthew 7:1, Romans 2:12 or 14:4). But remember deep in me is my anger along with the idea that I’m always right. What I perceive to be other people’s sins makes me the sinner because I’m judging them!

I ask your forgiveness. Through my anger I have judged some of you, leaders of God’s people in the Diocese of Georgia. I have played God. I know in the moments when I’m listening to God that I do not have to be right all the time. I don’t even have the information that led you to your actions and/or words. You also are shaped by God’s love but, as a human being, touched by a desire to be in charge and to judge others. May God have mercy on us all and may he give us the strength to go out and love in His name not only the needy, troubled, and those being destroyed by hate and war, but also those who hate us.

Now turning to the latest issue that disturbs my anger and brings out my urge to judge others – The Windsor Report. I have polled a number of our priests and only about a third of them have read the whole report with appendices. This means most people have only heard the parts of the report their reporter favors. It is a highly nuanced and negotiated document, not easy to read. I have asked Bishop Shipps to present to this convention a guide to the content of the report so everyone will have information on its full scope; not just the part of the report that tells the people we disagree with what they should do.

Bishops Louttit, Shipps and Keyser prior to the closing Eucharist for the 2005 ConventionOur House of Bishops has made an interim response as requested by the Archbishop of Canterbury, which was sent to all your parishes. We will give you a copy as you leave tonight so you will have what the full spectrum of Bishops in the Episcopal Church is saying at this early stage in the process of the Anglican Communion trying to stay together. (A few Bishops seem to be struggling with the alternative which is to see if you can get a majority of the Episcopal Church to throw out those that disagree with you or, if you are on the other side, to see if you can get a majority of the Anglican Communion to throw out those with whom you disagree.

Bishop Shipps we thank you for your work and willingness to present an overview of the Windsor Report to the Diocese of Georgia’s leaders this evening. Brothers and sisters: my friend, teacher, and predecessor the 8th Bishop of Georgia Harry Shipps.

Pictured above just prior to the ordination liturgy which closed the 2005 convention are, from left, BishopS Henry Louttit, Jr., Harry Shipps and Charles Keyser (who at that time was assisting in Georgia).