A consistent message of inclusion

November 30, 1997

Some others we hear and forget. 
Others -- who knows why, except that they contain some elemental truth -- we remember.
When just-elected Presiding Bishop EdmondL. Browning said "there will be no outcasts" at the 1985 General Convention in Anaheim, Calif., he could not have known how those words would be held up as an emblem of his ministry. Throughout his 12 years as the 24th presiding bishop, Browning spoke and lived the theme of inclusion of everyone in the life of the church, according to a broad range of people who have been deeply involved in the church during his term.
Some have not been pleased with the implications -- that every diocese must ordain women, that the church still must work to eradicate its own racism, that gay men and lesbians deserve the church's blessing on their relationships and on their call to ordination.
But both his supporters and his opponents agree that Browning has never wavered.
Bishop Richard Chang of the Diocese of Hawaii, who served as Browning's personal assistant through almost all of his tenure, credited the presiding bishop's willingness to hear all sides on an issue.
"He has made strong efforts to listen to all the voices of the church, even those who disagreed with him," said Chang. He said Browning met with gays and lesbians, church-renewal workers, traditionalist bishops and many others. "In some areas, people were able to dialogue, to be engaged with him. In others there was a lack of openness there."

Justice and mercy

Among the causes that Browning involved himself in was the AIDS pandemic, which was at its height when he was elected presiding bishop. He has worn a red AIDS ribbon on his lapel for most of this tenure.
Browning was the "godfather in the faith" of the church's AIDS ministry, according to the Rev. Ted Karpf, executive director of the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition.
Although Presiding Bishop John Allin had begun the church's response to the AIDS crisis, Karpf said, Browning "really embraced the AIDS community, patients and caregivers. ... He symbolized it long before the red-ribbon business by simply touching."
Because of Browning, Karpf said, the Episcopal Church has been a leader in the religious community and taken the issue beyond the church. The slogan "Our Church Has AIDS," coined by Episcopalians, now appears on every continent.
Another of the causes that marked Browning's ministry, in large measure inspired by his wife Patti, is that of the Palestinians, whom the Brownings believed had become victims of Israeli oppression in their shared homeland.
Bishop Samir Kafity of the Diocese of Jerusalem, himself a Palestinian, said the Brownings gave support when many others wouldn't.
"Edmond Browning was a man of compassion and he got captured by the magnitude of suffering of the Palestinian people, especially in the pursuit of elemental human rights," said Kafity. "He dedicated himself and his wife to be the voice of the voiceless and to promote the conciliation, justice and peace between the Palestinians and Israelis."
Another group whose voice grew louder during Browning's administration were American Indians, according to Owanah Anderson, staff officer for American Indian/Alaskan Native ministries.
"He gave us permission to try our wings and we've made remarkable changes during his tenure," said Anderson, a Choctaw Indian. "And he has encouraged us to take responsibility and this encouragement culminated in the event in Jamestown in November when I think there was a real evidence that Indians had taken control of their destiny within the church."
Judith Conley, former member of Executive Council and former president of the Union of Black Episcopalians, called Browning's commitment to include all people "the one strong thread through the 12 years of his episcopate that has not wavered at all in the midst of total chaos and confusion." 
The Rev. Austin Cooper of the Diocese of Ohio, who led the church to establish a scholarship fund for minority students, said Browning "always kept before the church the needs of those who are marginalized and have fallen through the cracks ... and are rightly looking to the church for some message. ... That he did and he did it in the midst of sometimes biting and stinging criticism from those who would continue to have the church look inwardly."
The Rev. Brian Grieves served on Browning's staff as officer for peace and justice ministries and edited "No Outcasts," a book of his speeches and writings. The experiences have left him deeply moved.
"I was really overwhelmed by the amount of things that he has addressed," said Grieves. "It is very clear to me that he leaves a legacy of prophetic witness with the church."
The image of Edmond Browning exercising a prophetic witness in a pastoral way was underscored by George McGonigle of the Diocese of Texas who served as Browning's senior executive officer in 1986-87.
"Ed Browning has never stopped being a missionary and caring about people who are marginalized people, whether it be Okinawa under military government [or] Palestinians under conquest," said McGonigle, who noted that he and Browning do not always agree. 
"He's an extraordinarily gifted pastoral-oriented individual," said Archbishop Michael Peers, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada and a friend. "I was in an airport with him once when we had a chance to sit and have a cup of coffee and talk. In that short time, he made five phone calls to people" to comfort them.
Peers said Browning treated other churches in the communion as being on equal footing with the Episcopal Church.
"One of the great facts about him was that he spent most of his ministry outside the continental U.S. He knew much about the rest of the world," Peers said. "As a result, he took us at face value."
Many found Browning a supportive colleague, especially Pamela Chinnis, president of the House of Deputies since 1991. Her role has been elevated more during Browning's tenure than possibly any previous president.
The higher profile has gone along with Browning's commitment to women, Chinnis said. "He has encouraged and enabled the ministries of women like probably no other presiding bishop ever had."
Not all agree with Browning's pastoral image, particularly those who feel theo-logically marginalized by the church's decisions.
"Bishop Browning presided during a very difficult time of turmoil and scandal," said Diane Knippers, president of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy. "Unfortunately, he too often spoke out of his own personal convictions rather than broadly representing the church -- its classic theology, its tradition, or even the convictions of most Episcopalians."
Another critic, the Rev. Stephen Noll, professor at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa., said Browning was caught up in a liberal agenda that cut out those who disagree.
"Bishop Browning began his tenure claiming 'there will be no outcasts' and ended it presiding over an attempt to expel four bishops and many other Episcopalians from leadership," said Noll.
But even many conservatives saw Browning's pastoral qualities. Bishop Keith Ackerman of the Diocese of Quincy, Ill., is one of the four bishops who do not ordain women but have been told by General Convention that their dioceses must do so.
"I have seen his pastoral nature first hand," Ackerman said. "When he knew of the personal difficulties my family has had, he has always responded.
"He has been very concerned with my wife's health, my son's health and has assisted in other [family] problems we had. That has meant a great deal to us, and to be able to see his concern for all his bishops and their families whenever they are in crises."
Ackerman declined to say if he thought Browning should have tackled some issues differently. "We're always going to be disappointed about something. I am sad about the current state of the church, but I offer it up to God and leave it up to his church."
Browning's passion for his ministry sometimes came at the cost of his personal health, culminating in a brief diabetic coma during a Far East trip last spring.
Diane Porter, who served until this year as senior program executive, said of Browning, "What I think I will remember most is his willingness to push beyond his own physical capacity, especially around the Middle East situation. ...
"I hope that the lasting effect [of his years leading the church] will be the church's willingness to engage in issues around peace and justice."
To some, Browning's strengths of loyalty could also be weaknesses. Suffragan Bishop Walter Dennis of the Diocese of New York credited Browning with engaging in controversial issues. But, he said, "I think his stumblings were that he didn't realize how deep-seated the opposition was in the church towards the gay-related issues. ... I got the feeling that it was personal." That included some bishops, Dennis said.
But to those who worked closely with him, Browning was an inspiration to become more involved, to be unafraid to become passionate.
One of those was just-retired Bishop Sam Hulsey of the Diocese of Northwest Texas, who worked closely with Browning for many years.
"The thing I will remember the most is that he has made himself very vulnerable and by doing that he has helped the rest of us get in touch with our deeper selves, [he's] encouraged our humanity and the very best of our being," Hulsey said. "He was like this loving, inspiring parent."

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