- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

On his first full day as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, the Rt. Rev. John B. Chane served notice that the Bush administration would be hearing from him. Not only would his diocese "be actively engaged in the issues of the day," but it was his desire, he said, "to engage the secular and political leadership of the District of Columbia, the Congress of the United States and those who hold the highest elected and appointed offices of this nation."

Reminding the congregation last Sunday that two-thirds of the 39 signers of the Constitution were Episcopalians, he urged his listeners to "reclaim our engagement with a nation that desperately seeks a voice of broad theological reason, reflection and compassionate caring."

As the former dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in San Diego, Bishop Chane is used to having a bully pulpit. His blunt outspokenness and willingness to take stands were major factors in his quick election Jan. 25 as bishop.

The new bishop has made it clear he wishes to emulate the social activism of the 1960s and that of late Washington Bishop John T. Walker, who died in 1989. To further drive home that point, the bishop brought in former Yale University chaplain and anti-Vietnam War activist Rev. William Sloane Coffin to preach at his consecration last Saturday.

Theologically, the new bishop may be heir not to Bishop Walker, but to retired Newark, N.J., Bishop John S. Spong, who in recent years has publicly rejected most tenets of the Christian faith. Although Bishop Chane's theological views appeared to be standard liberal fare during his tours about the diocese in January as a candidate for bishop he surprised Episcopalians around the country with a March 31 Easter sermon that questioned the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Copies of the "heretical" sermon, as one Web site termed it, made their way around the Internet. San Diego Episcopalians were concerned enough to deny the bishop-elect their support for the Washington post. The diocesan standing committee, made up of clergy and lay leaders, deadlocked at four 'yes' and four 'no' votes.

"It had nothing to do with morals or character, but the issues were swirling around theology and theological interpretation," said the Rev. Mitch Lindeman, chairman of the standing committee. "Some members of our standing committee were theological conservatives who thought he may not have affirmed the traditional view of the resurrection. They pinned it on that [Easter] sermon.

"I thought it was particularly unfortunate in the diocese where he last served and in a heroic way for this to happen. Not to be affirmed 110 percent it was an embarrassment to the Diocese of San Diego."

But the Rev. Ed Renner, a clergyman in Riverside County, north of San Diego, says Bishop Chane's Easter sermon was "inflammatory" to San Diegans.

"The resurrection is real for millions and millions of Christians," he said. "He was using the power and authority of the cathedral pulpit to say, 'Here are the facts, folks.' He was way off base in terms of his scholarship. He said [the Gospel of] Matthew was written in A.D. 85 scholars say Matthew's Gospel existed by A.D. 60 at the latest. He should have been ridden out of town on a rail.

"When he was candidate for cathedral dean, there was no hint he was pro-ordination of practicing homosexuals and for the blessing of same-sex unions. The next thing we knew, he was processing the cathedral banner in a gay-pride parade."

The new bishop has turned down multiple requests for comment for this article. He is also not speaking to any publication on his intentions on resolving a lawsuit involving a small Episcopal parish in Acokeek, a small town in southern Prince George's County.

The historic Christ Church parish in Acokeek had its rector, the Rev. Sam Edwards, evicted by Suffragan Bishop Jane Dixon owing to his opposition to women's ordination, a belief that put him on a collision course with Bishop Dixon. She sued the parish after its vestry [governing board] refused to allow her to lead one of its services a year ago in place of Mr. Edwards. To date, a Maryland district court and the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Richmond have sided with her.

During visits to Washington earlier this year, the bishop-elect met twice with representatives from the local branch of the American Anglican Council, a group that sides with Mr. Edwards. He has also met with Mr. Edwards' opponents. Last night, , he met with the vestry of Christ Church.

"I've never met the man," senior warden Barbara Sturman said earlier this week. "We're just going to sit and listen to him talk."

DeLois Ward, chairman of the Diocese of Washington standing committee, hopes the new bishop will come up with a solution.

"I think the fact he's new and not a part of the problem presents an opportunity," she said. "As for the issue of [ordained] women," with Bishop Chane replacing Bishop Dixon, "you sidestep that one."

Canon William Dopp, Bishop Chane's former right-hand man at St. Paul's Cathedral in San Diego, said it is the new bishop's nature to be "very fair."

"I know John," he said. "He will sit down and hear their story. He doesn't want to come in and be the bad guy. He wants to be the healer."

But the new bishop will have to do more than hear their story to come up with Solomonic justice. Attorney Chuck Nalls, who represents Christ Church, says he is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court or at least the lifting of a court injunction against Mr. Edwards holding services on parish property.

"We think there are some significant federal questions in there," he said. "I don't see a basis for the suit to continue if she's no longer the ecclesiastical authority."

David Schnorrenberg, lead attorney for the diocese, said the court decision was still binding on the vestry whether or not Bishop Dixon, whose last day at work is July 31, is in office. In an organization like the Episcopal Church, whose very name signifies governance by its bishops, the local bishop has ultimate authority over any church, he said.

Retired Episcopal Bishop Mark Dyer of Bethlehem, Pa., who teaches systematic theology at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, says the new bishop is a "reconciler" who can bring together the two sides.

"He's very open and honest," Bishop Dyer said, "and that's bound to make things work."

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