Our Bishop responded with a letter sent to lay people and clergy in which he announced his disapproval of the letter and his concerns with its anonymity, as well as offering a defense of the Conference leaders who were mentioned in the letter (I note that the Bishop's response has not yet been posted on the Conference website).
Why is this all so troublesome?
* To send a letter of this type anonymously is an act of cowardice. I wish the writer(s) of the letter would have approached the Bishop and the Conference leaders in question personally with these concerns. If the letter was sent by a pastor (or pastors), afraid that voicing their concerns would get them crushed by the ecclesiastical machine, then I would suggest that if they believe in these issues strongly, and believe them to be theologically important for our Conference, then attach your name to it. If you upset the Bishop and get sent to the Gobi Desert, then so be it; if it's important, then it's worth that risk (I don't mean to suggest that our Bishop would make punitive appointments of that type, but the fear may exist).
* The anonymity of the letter forced our Bishop to respond and affirm the leaders mentioned in the letter. The initial anonymous letter thus backfired in that there is now a very powerful, influential voice strongly supporting the leaders.
* I don't believe this letter qualifies as "hate mail", and I really hope that our Bishop doesn't dismiss it as such. Though anonymous, the letter represents real concerns of many lay people and clergy in our Conference. Also, while the positions and actions of the Conference leaders were questioned, I don't believe their personal integrity was attacked. To dismiss this letter as "hate mail" would be a mistake.
* In our Conference, several people have worn armbands during the ordination service, presumably to demonstrate solidarity with those who are unable to be ordained because of their sexual behavior. I don't know all of the people who have worn these armbands; many whom I do know are excellent pastors, faithful Christians, and all around good eggs. I personally think that the ordination service - an extremely sacred, almost sacramental moment - is not the time or place for that kind of political demonstration, and wish they wouldn't wear them. That said, there's nothing in the Bible or our Book of Discipline which prevents them from doing so.
But one of those mentioned in the anonymous letter is now a member of our Bishop's Cabinet. As such, he now represents, in a way other pastors do not, our Bishop, the Discipline, our connectional covenant, and the Church. I pose a question: Is it appropriate for a District Superintendent to wear an armband in protest of Church policy and teaching, at a moment when he or she is representing our Bishop, the Discipline, our connectional covenant, and the Church? Or is the possibility of that sort of protest surrendered during one's tenure on the Cabinet?
Folks are unclear and unsure about our "Believe Again" strategic plan, which hasn't shown (at least publicly) a great deal of progress since last year...
...they are anxious about appointments which, to some, don't seem to make sense...
...they are apprehensive (as always) about budgetary concerns and apportionments...
...they are spooked about the sex issues which pervade Church and culture, and our Bishop's recent attempts to quell anxieties among those on every side of the issue...
...they continue to be concerned about the decline of our churches in western Pennsylvania, which, surprisingly, has increased in rapidity in the last two years.
On top of that, everything in Grove City this June will be politicized, given that we'll be electing delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conference.
It's never too early to start praying!