Many Reject Episcopal Priest with Buddhist Ties

By Lillian Kwon, The Christian Post, Jun. 6 2009

Michigan, USA -- Unofficial tallies show that an Episcopal priest who practices Zen Buddhist meditation and holds controversial theological views will not likely be consecrated as bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan.

The Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, who was elected during a special diocesan convention earlier this year, needs the consent of a majority of bishops and standing committees from the denomination's dioceses in order to be consecrated.

Although early numbers show Thew Forrester will not receive the required consents to lead the diocese, Forrester told the Episcopal News Service that he will continue to "respect" the 120-day consent period, which ends in July.

Thew Forrester's election in February fired up blogs as the election process, and later his ties with Buddhism and views on Jesus became the center of debate.

He was the lone candidate presented by the search committee at the special convention to succeed James Kelsey, who died in 2007. Many questioned the process of election, especially considering the one candidate who was put forth before delegates devoutly practices Zen Buddhist meditation.

Thew Forrester also received a Buddhist lay ordination. The bishop-elect said Christianity is his only religion but the Buddhist ordination ceremony deepened and confirmed his practice of meditation.

Many in The Episcopal Church have expressed greater concern over Thew Forrester's revisions to The Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer and his views on core Christian doctrines.

The Mining Journal quoted Thew Forrester as once saying, "God does not demand that Jesus be killed ... (W)hat the cross reveals is that even in the face of Roman and human crucifixion, Jesus would not hold back on his embodiment of God's love and would share it with us to the end, even if it meant his own death. And that expression of divine love is redeeming for us."

He has also said, "Sin has little, if anything, to do with being bad. It has everything to do, as far as I can tell, with being blind to our own goodness."

Some diocesan leaders and retired bishops have come out in defense of the bishop-elect.

Responding to criticisms of Thew Forrester's Buddhist meditation, Rustin Kimsey, retired bishop of the Diocese of Eastern Oregon, said, "[W]hen did the way in which we are deepened into the presence of God become a litmus test for being a follower of Jesus Christ?"

"Kevin could not be clearer: he is a Christian who on occasion practices Zen Buddhist meditation," Kimsey stated, according to the Episcopal News Service. "I would think he would be commended for such exploration into a milieu that is known for peace and healing and harmony."

James Tonkowich, president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, however, argued, "The issue is not whether meditation is good, it is what is being meditated on."

"While church leaders may respect other faiths, their vow of Christian ordination has always meant an exclusive commitment to Jesus Christ and the Christian faith."

Earlier this year, an Episcopal priest who claimed to be both Christian and Muslim was defrocked. Ann Holmes Redding was an ordained minister in The Episcopal Church for over two decades.