Well, I feel a little silly doing this, but I wanted to check out Paypal’s donation function before I add it to St. Francis’ web site. Since my wife and I are about to build a house, I thought I’d post this here, as well as in the side bar and let anyone who might be feeling particularly generous help out. Alternatively you could go and donate to a more worthy cause, or sponsor a child through compassion international. But if you’ve got money to spare, why not help us out.
I just read the following while looking over a collection of books I’ve thought about recommending to people for Lent. This is from a sermon by Stanley Hauerwas found in his collection of sermons and prayers entitled disrupting time. Here is what he said:
The loss of any clear sense of what the ministry is or should be about reflects the confused state of the churches. To be ordained today is to be ordained in a church in ruins. That the churches, for example, are being torn apart over questions surrounding homosexuality suggests that we have a problem much deeper than that issue in and of itself. I often joke that the Methodists may split over the issue of homosexuality. Methodists can split because we have always confused church unity with bureaucracy. The Episcopal Church lacks sufficient organization to split. The Episcopal Church will just crumble, which is but an indication that whether we like it or not–and I do not like it–we have all become Congregationalists. (p138)
OK, I just subscribed to my own feed for the first time (something I probably should have done a long time ago) and I noticed several things. First, I noticed that when I edit a published post, the original version of the post stays in the reader, it doesn’t update. Next, I discovered that my neat little Scripturizer plugin that puts in a “Show/hide” button next to any Bible verses that are used actually inserts the entire cited text into the feed. So, I want to apologize to those of you who have continued to struggle through posts exploded by large chunks of scripture. I’m looking for a solution for this, but for now I’m disabling the “show/hide” feature on the plugin.
[Note: I posted the entirety of this post at Covenant as it regards an ongoing discussion going on there.]
I once had a very odd dream wherein I found myself in the side balcony of a large church. Unlike normal balconies, this one was divided in the middle and rather than having the pews facing the nave, half faced the front of the church and half the rear. At each end there was an altar. The strangeness of the dream came from the fact that there was a service going on at the time and I found myself in the balcony pews that faced the rear altar where a priest was celebrating–and yet not. The thing was, somehow (it was a dream after all) I knew the priest at the rear altar was merely miming the priest at the front altar and yet I could not turn around. At the same time I knew that even if I turned toward the front I would not be in the true service, for that was taking place in the nave.
Sometimes I feel like our approaches to ecumenism and inter-faith relations are a bit like this dream: we find ourselves going through the motions without the substance, mimicking each other in things that are already less than authentic while the real work of the Church goes on elsewhere.
This issue was recently brought back to the forefront of my mind by the reports of a “Hindu Rite Mass” celebrated in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. This was not the first I’ve heard of such a service. In fact, the first time I heard of a service that blended elements of Christianity and Hinduism in a way that seemed to me to be syncretistic, I was a seminarian at the University of the South (Sewanee) where I had the opportunity to hear Roman Catholic theologian Elisabeth Johnson (author of She who is) describe a Roman Catholic service in India where the Bhagavad Gita was read in the place of the Old Testament reading. There were some additional similarities between the two services–I seem to recall the use of flowers–but I cannot recall Dr. Johnson’s descriptions well enough to comment beyond the general chord of similarity the Los Angeles Times story struck.
These examples raise very important questions about the appropriate boundaries of inculturation verses syncretism–indeed, is syncretism even a possibility? And they also serve to demonstrate the fact that these issues must be dealt with by all Christians who want to engage our world in a meaningful way–just as sexuality issues cannot be ignored because our society is so awash in them.
There is an additional question raised by the written statement of Bishop Jon Bruno of the Diocese of Los Angeles which was said to be “a statement of apology to the Hindu religious community for centuries-old acts of religious discrimination by Christians, including attempts to convert them.” The story continues by quoting from Bishop Bruno’s statement:
“I believe that the world cannot afford for us to repeat the errors of our past, in which we sought to dominate rather than to serve,” (you can read the whole story here).
Of course, there is nothing at all wrong with that portion of his statement–not having seen the rest, I hesitate to comment on it, other than to say that apologies for past abuses should also come hand in hand with acknowledgment of and repentance for current abuses (Hindu nationalism anyone?), especially given the irritating tendency of some stripes of liberals toward a sort of non-constructive chastised worldview.
But the real question is whether Christians ought to apologize for “proselytism”, which for the purposes of this post, we’ll refer to by the less loaded term evangelism. I would argue that while Christians might apologize for the manner in which evangelism has been pursued in some cases, we cannot and dare not apologize or regret evangelism itself. It even seems appropriate to say that a Church that does not evangelize can no loger claim to be faithful. In The Open Secret Leslie Newbigin puts into words something that has been the heart of much Christian activity in history, namely that “a church that is not ‘the church in mission’ is no church at all.” (Leslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 2) This statement is not so much condemnation as observation; that it is possible for us to hear it as condemnatory speaks volumes about our particular shortcomings as contemporary Christians.
Below are the books referenced in this post. I was critical of Elizondo, but he does make some good points, even if I believe he goes too far.
Google continues to add cool things to their goody-box. One of these is the ability to “share” items from your RSS reader in something called a “clip.” If you look to the right sidebar, you’ll notice a new section entitled “Things I’m reading,” right under the prayer section. Take a look at it.
And just because I missed it when he posted it, and I think it’s so good, I want to direct your attention to Thom Chittom’s reflections in his post “The Universe in Twain,” where he reflects on the negative consequences of the fundamentalist shift–a modernist response to modernism:
By furiously barricading every door and window to dialogue with science, and by shutting themselves away from methodologies that too closely approached the method of Bacon and Galileo, they severed the cord of authority which secured them a voice in the public square. In time, they became a cultural museum.
I’ve written before about how I believe the South can provide a remedy for the general American tendency to downplay our faults and forget our own history. There is an article in the Oxford American that says much the same thing while approaching the subject from a literary standpoint. I commend it to you:
Even today the Northern visitor hankers to see eroded hills and rednecks…to sniff the effluvium of backwoods-and-sandhill subhumanity and to see at least one barn burn at midnight. So he looks at me with crafty misgivings, as if to say, “Well, you do talk rather glibly about Kierkegaard and Sartre…but after all, you’re only fooling, aren’t you? Don’t you, sometimes, go out secretly by owl-light to drink swampwater and feed on sowbelly and collard greens?”
—George B. Tindall, in the 1963 speech “The Idea of the South.”
You know the situation from TV: a one-way mirror separates two rooms. You’re in the second, dimmer room, and the mirror allows you to gaze through into Room One, where the lights blaze and the action rolls. The people there can’t see you, though occasionally somebody strolls to the glass and peers at her reflection, as though suspecting something.
This metaphor suggests the position in which contemporary “Southern” writers find themselves vis-à-vis the mainstream American literary establishment. I use quotes to draw attention to a dubious distinction: No other group of writers in this country is typically tagged by place. John Irving and Annie Proulx, for instance, aren’t identified as “Northern” or “New England” writers, or writers from the “Deep North.” Though “Southern” may be applied—and often is applied—without belittling intent, the effect makes clear that Southerners are “Other,” from a “there,” not here. And here, Room One, the center whose centrality is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be specified, is the Northeast. Room One is New York.
Must reading for those interested in the current issues in the Episcopal Church:
In August of 2007, we posted on the ACI site an essay by Dr. Jacqueline Jenkins Keenan. (Why Theology Should Precede Change ) In this essay, Dr. Keenan provided an overview of a number of recent scientific studies questioning the claims made by many that there is a biological basis to homosexuality that renders it an immutable condition. These claims have also been made by some leaders in the Episcopal Church as part of their defense of the church’s affirmation of homosexual unions. They were made quite formally by the official response of TEC to the Anglican Communion’s request for an explanation of the American church’s reasoning in pressing for such affirmation, a response contained in the report To Set Our Hope On Christ. Dr. Keenan’s essay, therefore, stood as a direct challenge to at least one important aspect of TEC’s argument offered to the rest of the Communion.
[Note: I've held onto this for a few days, hoping to smooth it out in places or expand on some of what I've written, anticipating some of the questions my musings might bring...but honestly I don't have any more time to put into it right now. We'll see about the future, though with Lent coming up, I somehow doubt I can sustain a long and extremely in-depth conversation. Oh well... maybe it will inspire some thoughts.]
Many questions have been raised recently about the motivations of clergy and laity who decide to depart from or remain within the Episcopal Church. Since I am a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee and two priests and congregations with whom I have close relationships with have decided to affiliate with other Anglican bodies, several people have asked me why I have remained. Sometimes the comments have not been so much questioning as accusatory. (I do want to say, that no one actually associated with these two congregations has acted negatively toward me-we know and love each other too well for that I believe). I want to caveat my comments by saying that, in this moment in time, because of the stage and degree of conflict the Episcopal Church is experiencing, it is wrong for people to cast aspersions on those who come to different conclusions than they do. This is a sketch of my personal reasons for remaining where I am, and no one else should assume this is a demand that they agree or come to the same conclusion.
At times I am tempted to classify myself as an “ecclesiastical cynic.” What prevents me is that such a terminology might indicate that I do not have hope for the Church, which of course I do as a follower of Christ. But what I believe is expressed in that joking moniker is the fact that I don’t expect very much of the Church as an institution because I don’t expect very much of people in general. There are times I have been disappointed, certainly, but whenever I feel that way (or worse, feel as though someone has done something negative to me personally) I try to take a breath, think about it and remember they are sinful people just like me. Perhaps because such an experience of equality in sin and brokenness lies at the heart of my call, I strive to recognize the great capacity for the good and the bad within all of us and by extension the institutions we inhabit. But because I don’t expect very much of the Church, I suppose many of the failures of the Episcopal Church have struck me somewhat less deeply than some of my friends and acquaintances—especially those who grew up in the Episcopal Church and can remember the “good old days” before heresy and…for lack of a better descriptor, silliness, became the rule of the day.
I can understand the desire of my friends to disaffiliate from TEC and move on to a better place. Where I believe I part company with them is that I’m not sure such a place truly exists. Oh, I’m sure that they don’t waste their time fighting some of the battles that are now being fought within the Episcopal Church, but I’m confident they will find other things to argue over eventually. I’ve seen it happen already in a few congregations, if not on a broader scale yet. And while I may personally prefer some of the possible disagreements within some of the newer Anglican formations in North America, God has not placed me there. I am where I am, and to not deal with that unless and until I am called out would, as I see it, be unfaithful.
But what, some might ask are my underlying assumptions that would enable me to have a clear conscience while being an orthodox priest in what appears to be an increasingly heterodox body? The list below is a summary which I will expand on in greater detail and explain their interrelation:
- We have unity with all baptized Christians, and share communion with them based upon their word.
- Leaving the Episcopal Church doesn’t separate us from our errant brothers and sisters, remove the stain of guilt from us or lessen our responsibility to call them back to faithfulness.
- I have not been hindered in preaching the Gospel and don’t feel a practical need to depart.
- The only other reason I would have to leave at the moment is bad press.
- That may border on idolatry. It’s part of an economy of Icons where people gain worth from something other than their identity in Christ and as people made in the image of God.
I. We have a unity with all Baptized Christians (whether we want to or not.)
Within Anglicanism—particularly the Episcopal Church—we practice what in the 19th century was termed “open communion.” That’s not the same as the contemporary discussion of whether or not to commune the unbaptized, rather it refers to the practice of allowing all Baptized Christians to receive, regardless of denomination. This Eucharistic sharing is rejected by some denominations because, in their understanding it portrays a unity that doesn’t exist. The flip side of the argument, which is the basis for open communion among Christians, is that there is already a unity that cannot be denied.
On a related note, the only real form of discipline available to Anglicans is Eucharistic discipline. This is why I do not think it wrong for orthodox to refuse to commune with those with whom they are not in love and charity or vice versa. At the same time however, the only way this can be discipline is if we recognize we are part of the same body. Otherwise it is simply personal piety and has no real effect, just as it wouldn’t really have an effect if a Roman Catholic chose not to commune at an Episcopal Church–it simply serves as a testimony to what is.
II. Leaving the Episcopal Church doesn’t separate us from our errant brothers and sisters, remove the stain of guilt from us or lessen our responsibility to call them back to faithfulness.
Someone left the following comment on my website recently:
“Wasted time, wasted breath, wasted money. Goodbye Episcopal Church.”
I suppose one could say that about any denomination if the denomination where what one was concerned about. The question really is what makes any alternative a true alternative? I believe the whole Church (or at least the greater part of it in the west) is under judgment at the moment—we’re in a wilderness as Christians—and a failure to recognize that simply leads one to exchange one set of problems for another in most cases when one changes institutions. What we need to recognize is that no human allegiance can give the security of allegiance to Christ. Another way to look at it is whether the sacraments can be rightly administered and the Word proclaimed faithfully anywhere within the Episcopal Church. At the moment I think the answer to that is yes, though the number of places it is becoming more difficult has increased. What has also increased is the level of mental and spiritual anguish on the part of those of us who can’t support the false teachings of some in our national leadership. But the reality of the unity of the Church is that I should be equally offended by their false teachings and statements regardless of whether I am an Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist etc… to say nothing of a fellow Anglican, whether we share an institutional framework or not. The question of institutional affiliation should really only come up when such falsehoods prevent or hinder our ministries. At the moment I cannot see how my ministry would be any different in a body other than the Episcopal Church. My sermons would be the same, my counsel to my congregation wouldn’t change, and indeed I would have the same set of worries that I do now.
I used to be very concerned that in bringing people into the Episcopal Church and preaching the Gospel to them I was perhaps “setting them up” to move on later on and be taken in by some wacky theology at another Episcopal Church. What I realized is that most people no longer have the same “brand loyalty” that clergy have. My experience has been that the most faithful Christians I’ve met in the Episcopal Church don’t really care so much about the denominational accretions as they do about the Eucharist and being part of a believing community. Many share my conviction that the three-fold ministry is the most faithful way of forming the church and have a deep affection and love for the prayerbook tradition, but as far as “the Episcopal Church…” that’s just the name on the letterhead. They want a place where they can worship and receive the sacraments.
At the same time, while in prayer about this issue I had the realization that my primary concerns would be the same if I were in an independent Bible Church or a Baptist Church or what have you. I come from a Southern Baptist background, and I know there is theology there that is at least as bad as some that comes out of corners of the Episcopal Church (though obviously with different tendencies). So in any case, my responsibility to my people is to preach the Gospel faithfully and give them the tools to recognize crap whenever and wherever they hear it, whether it comes from someone in a pointy-hat or a televangelist etc…
III. I have not been hindered in preaching the Gospel and don’t feel a practical need to depart.
As I said over there at Kendall’s, I will not be commenting on that particular thread anymore. If anyone has anymore questions, post them below and when I write my response as to why I am personally still in TEC, I will try to reply. It will probably be late tonight or tomorrow (I do have more to do than blog).