The Tragedy of Jerry Winterrowd
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Tue May 8 23:58:58 EDT 2001
THE TRAGEDY OF JERRY WINTERROWD
By David W. Virtue
The Rt. Rev. Jerry Winterrowd, Bishop of Colorado is learning lessons
the hard way.
He is learning that to be a moderate in the House of Bishops is not
only dangerous, it might, in fact, even work against you.
He is also learning that age old truth that a double-minded man might
indeed indicate a high degree of instability and that when you sit on
the fence, sooner or later the pain will be so excruciating you may
wish you had taken sides, even the wrong side.
The Bishop of Colorado is sitting on the fence, and the pain grows more
excruciating by the day.
Consider the following:
At the Lambeth Conference of bishops in 1998 Winterrowd made what he
called "a strictly pragmatic decision to declare homosexuality
incompatible with Scripture."
Winterrowd, a long time supporter of gay rights in Colorado voted with
the 526 to 70 majority of bishops at the worldwide Lambeth conference.
At the time, Winterrowd, the leader of 72,000 Episcopalians said,
"Frankly the African church needed that vote to take back with them.
They are under a great deal of pressure politically because the Muslims
Winterrowd, in an interview with Jean Torkelson of the Rocky Mountain
News, rejected the suggestion that his Lambeth vote was inconsistent
with his own liberal reading of Scripture or with his actions in
Colorado where he chaired the Governors commission recommending legal
rights for same-sex unions. "I think God intended heterosexual marriage
but the reality we live with is that some people cannot live that way,"
At Denver, last year, where the Episcopal Church's General Convention
was held, Winterrowd crowed about Frank Griswold's pluriform 'truth'
notions and invited Integrity, the Episcopal Church's official
homosexual organization to hold a gay Eucharist at the cathedral. He
became, albeit briefly, the darling of Integrity's Lesbitransgays.
Inclusivity means everyone sits at the same table, but not too closely
of course, especially if the main course involves using steak knives.
But being the moderate he is, and wishing for all to come to the table
of inclusivity, Winterrowd let it be known that while a moderate
himself he would not say no to Griswold and so he voted for D039, thus
pushing the church's sexual agenda envelope right to the edge, if not
off the table.
His defense of sex outside of heterosexual marriage inflamed many of
his priests, and an anger that had been on a slow boil for some years
now surfaced among several of the evangelical clergy of his diocese,
fed up with his alleged neutrality and "moderate" positions.
Following General Convention, events came to a head and after repeated,
but politely declined requests that he reverse himself on resolution
D039, a slow but steady exodus of evangelical priests began.
It was to be the beginning of Winterrowd's longest running nightmare.
And it isn't over yet. "I'm orthodox," he opined, but evangelicals were
no longer buying it. Nearly a dozen priests and six parishes began the
slow but steady trek out of ECUSA and the Diocese of Colorado for the
newly formed Anglican Mission in America.
They walked away from buildings and property leaving the check book and
keys in the church office but taking most of their parishioners with
them, and they joined the highly controversial but very evangelical
AMiA under its newly consecrated bishop Chuck Murphy.
To his credit Winterrowd deposed none of them, but he was, in the words
of his spokesman Robert Franken, "hurt and saddened" by the departures.
Being a 'moderate' not only doesn't pay, it can work against you. In
fairness one should note that parishes fleeing ECUSA for the AMIA and
other denominations are doing so not primarily because of the views of
their local bishop but because of the national church's policies on
sexuality and theology. Now that needs to be stated and stated clearly.
Most of the parishes departing ECUSA are leaving moderate or liberal
dioceses, not overtly revisionist ones like Washington, Pennsylvania,
Los Angeles, New York or Long Island. Of course their day may come, but
not yet apparently. The soon to be out the door Bishop of Central Gulf
Coast, Charles Farmer Duvall is "orthodox" by his own reading, but
moderate by other standards. What he is doing legally to the
evangelical parishes in his diocese who have upped and left, might make
him look like a revisionist, but that is not how he views himself.
In fairness to Winterrowd, there is no doubt that, psychologically,
when the church's triennial convention is held in your own diocese,
one's desire is to please and not rock the boat. It would be hard to
imagine the Colorado bishop standing up to the seductive charm of the
episcopal bourgeoisie and the smooth, debonair Griswold whose allure
doth exceed the Lord almighty.
But sometime between GC2000 and last month Winterrowd apparently had a
change of heart. He told members of a committee charged with finding a
new pastor for St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Park Hill that "no gay
clergy will be hired in the diocese unless they are "married and
faithful or celibate and single."
It was an astonishing statement coming from a man who had been openly
committed to same-sex unions and who had endorsed Frank Griswold's
pluriform sexual notions.
Winterrowd's clergy guidelines were sent to the whole diocese prompting
the seven-member search committee to quit in anger. Ironically the
former rector of St. Thomas was a black lesbian sexual predator,
according to one source, who departed to become the rector of yet
another parish in another diocese. An astute observer noted that this
was "a metaphor for life in The Episcopal Church today." Indeed.
Suddenly Winterrowd was no longer the poster boy of homosexual
tolerance. He was now labeled wildly intolerant. The resigning
committee wrote to Winterrowd saying "we were hit with a fatal blow to
our integrity, consciousness and, truly, our spirit...it would force
the search committee to collude with institutional
homophobia/heterosexualism since it is not possible for gays or
lesbians to choose marriage."
Winterrowd responded by saying he had never turned down a church
selection committee's choice if the priest chosen is in good standing.
In 10 years, he said, he had never turned down a church selection
But the new guidelines was a shaft in the constantly wounded side of
Integrity, the Episcopal Church's official homosexual organization and
Jack Finlaw, local Integrity director screamed that the guidelines go
against the national Episcopal Church stand on the issue. "There is
nothing in canon (church) law to prohibit a gay person from being a
pastor," he whined.
Winterrowd was suddenly being vilified for his lack of inclusivity,
even homophobia. Was this a conversion? Not necessarily. It was
Winterrowd flip-flopping on sex, specifically lesbigay sex. Is it right
or is it wrong? It all depends, apparently, on whom you are talking
too, or who is yanking your chain.
The poster boy of Episcopal homosexuality had now become the target of
Strident Episcopal homosexualists for his lack of exclusion.
Then to top it all off the bishop found himself in deep trouble with a
local United Methodist Seminary where he had been invited to give this
year's commencement address.
The Iliff School of Theology, a liberal institution had invited him to
speak June 4. Enraged gays and lesbians rose up in arms against the
bishop because of his newly found orthodoxy on morality and asked him
to withdraw from the speaker rostrum objecting strongly to his
However the invitations have already been printed listing the Episcopal
Bishop at next month's commencement. Gays and their supporters at Iliff
cited Winterrowd's guidelines issued in February stating that only
celibate gays can serve as priests in Colorado Episcopal churches as
the reason they don't want him.
Craig Peterson, a gay student at Iliff, called the matter "incendiary".
He said Winterrowd's stand is just "insensitive to how they feel."
Winterrowd then met with Iliff students and faculty for 90 minutes
recently to discuss the problem and said he is "deeply distressed" over
"I have a good relationship with gay and lesbian Episcopalians, though
sometimes it's contentious," he said. "But I'm not insensitive to how
He said he hesitates "to go into hostile territory," and is concerned
that protests might disrupt the "sacred atmosphere of the commencement
celebration. The 7 p.m. commencement ceremony is to be at St. John's
Iliff has 30 Episcopal students who go there as part of the Anglican
It's hard to imagine how he is going to speak in such a hostile
environment. He may find the boos outweighing the cheers, and be more
than he wants to tolerate.
Bishop Jerry Winterrowd is learning the ugly truth, that if you don't
stand for something you will fall for anything, and if you don't have a
reference point for what you believe, then you will, in the words of
Scripture, be blown about by every wind of doctrine.
Winterrowd is a hot air balloon, albeit a small one, with a giant hole
in it, and he is rapidly descending from the skies with no "safe place"
And he may find that when the balloon hits the ground that he and the
balloon have, in fact, impaled themselves upon the spike of a pluriform
steeple that will not hold him up.
A house divided against itself, said Jesus, will not stand. A bishop
divided over moral truth may find himself falling just as hard, and in
doing so learn the ugly truth that no one will pick you up when you hit
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