Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: May 2007

From the Pew forum–> Global Schism: is the Anglican Communion Rift the First Stage in a Wider Christian Split?

The language, the sentiment and the depth of hatred in these events has been quite striking. We could have a competition as to which remark is the least conducive to Christian charity. (Laughter.) I have a couple of candidates. Candidate one is Akinola’s remark that the U.S. Episcopal Church is like a cancerous lump that has defied all treatment, and the time has come for it to be excised altogether. Candidate two is from one of the gay pressure groups within the Episcopal Church, when someone said: “All I can say to you African bishops, is why can’t you go back to the jungle you came from and stop monkeying around with the church?” We’ll have a vote afterwards as to which is the more offensive remark. (Laughter.)

The big turning point is next year when we have what’s called the Lambeth Conference, which is the Anglican Church’s grand convention that brings all the primates together every ten years. The odds are at the moment that either the U.S. Episcopal Church will not be allowed to participate or that some of the American clergy under African churches will claim the seat of the U.S. Episcopal Church or maybe that the event will not happen, and that instead of Lambeth there will be a separate Anglican convention run by the African and Asian clergy.

The reason all this is so important is how the numbers are proceeding: Christianity is going south very rapidly in terms of numbers. I’ve give you a quick overview, and I’m going to talk about Africa a lot. Simple reason: back in 1900, Africa had 10 million Christians representing 10 percent of the population; by 2000, that was up 360 million, to 46 percent of the population. That is the largest quantitative change that has ever occurred in the history of religion. A rising tide lifts all boats, and all denominations have been booming. The Anglicans have done very well, and the Anglican Church is going to be overwhelmingly an African body in the near future.

Why are African churches so conservative?

First, I want to stress a couple of things. Some American media have made a mistake in focusing personally on Archbishop Akinola. Archbishop Akinola has got very definite opinions, but if he walked in front of a bus tomorrow, it would not change the equation within the Anglican Communion at all.

Among conservative Episcopalian congregations in the United States, it’s almost as if each group has its own pet overseas bishop or primate. For instance, Pittsburgh is a big center of conservative Anglicans; they look to a man called Henry Orombi, who is the archbishop of Uganda. Some people look to the province of Rwanda. And others look to Singapore where you have, again, very conservative Anglicans. It is not a personal Akinola thing.

{read it all}

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Thoughts on Violence, Paternalism and Rambo

Last night Anna and I stayed up late watching TIVO’d episodes of Monk–the only way we can generally watch TV–and at the end of the many episodes the television automatically reverted to live TV.  It happened that Rambo: First Blood was on, and I watched for a few minutes, enjoying the nostalgia.  Because neither Anna or I could exactly remember what the plot of First Blood was, I looked it up online, only to discover as I surfed the net, that there is a sequel to the Rambo franchise in the works entitled “John Rambo.”  I watched the trailer (and the critics are right, if it makes it to the theaters with the level of realistic gore seen in the trailer, then it’s going to be one very violent film.  But that’s not what really interested me…instead, I was intrigued by the plot line. The trailer, which is three and a half minutes long, lays the story out pretty well: John Rambo has escaped the problem of reintegrating with society in the US by moving to Thailand and operating a boat on the Mekong river.  This part of the trailer is quiet, with Rambo leading a quiet life, fishing etc… Then some western aid workers come to him about hiring his boat to go up-river to Burma, to the ominous warning from Rambo that “Burma is a war zone.”  the western aid workers it turns out are Christian missionaries, and they end up being captured and tortured by the Burmese/Myanmar military.  Much violence and ethical questioning ensues.  The most interesting juxtaposition was the prayer of the missionary “Lord make me an instrument of your peace” voice-over right as Rambo decapitates one of the Burmese soldiers.  At one point Rambo highlights the contrast with these words: “When you’re pushed, killing is as easy as breathing…”

Now, I don’t know that I’ll watch “John Rambo”–the graphic nature of the violence in the trailer was greater than I usually watch, and I find myself less and less interested in violent movies–but I was interested in what seem to be indications of a sort of paternalism toward the Christian missionaries who, bless their hearts, thought they could do some good in such a cruel world without being more stone cold.  I hear subdued versions of this in many popular justifications of war and violence and the attendant negative comments about pacifism.  Most people don’t seem particularly hostile to pacifists, they just treat them with a sort of paternalistic condescension… they might as well be patting them on the head saying “Ok, you be peaceful if you want… believe that you can be in this world, but we’ll be here to protect you from the bad guys–and yourselves.”  The worst–and most ironic–part of this attitude however, is that it completely disregards the fact that most of the peace churches, Mennonites and Amish for example, know exactly what they are doing when they declare their pacifism–and they live by it, just think about the Amish school shooting and its aftermath.  They are certainly familiar with the ways of this world, their response is simply not to take part in it.

This is not to say that there is not also a legitimate Just War position within Christianity–certainly there is, and it is often forgotten as many mainline churches embrace a “functional pacifism” that lacks the integrity of the stance of the peace churches, it being more evidence of political leanings than anything else.  But I do think that those of us who lean toward being “just warriors” need to give more credit to our brothers and sisters who take the stance of Christian non-violence out of true theological integrity.  We also need to take to account the popular paradigms that would make Christians–whether just warriors or those practicing non-violence–seem naive about the realties of the world, for certainly we are not, especially our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world who lay their lives down every day for our Lord.

One thing that the tradition of Christian non-violence challenges us to do, is to look at our governments and ask the question: if I do or support this, am I supporting God or Caesar.  If I am supporting Caesar, am I doing so in a way that is consistent with scriptural admonitions to obey laws etc… or am doing the modern equivalent of sacrificing to the emperor’s genius.  Too often the answer as been the latter in the Church as we have found ourselves becoming not only the foot soldiers but the apologists for evils perpetrated in the name of the state.  One has only to look at the weakness of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe and it’s support for Robert Mugabe to see how easily this can happen.  So we need the two stances of the Church to stand with integrity together, calling one another to account.  For the traditions of Christians of non-violence which have tended to be sectarian, we can call them to continued or greater social engagement.  For the just warriors, our brothers and sisters can call us to greater obedience to creed over country, and a recognition that the most important thing is serving Christ.

Perhaps no film portrays the difficulty inherent in questions of defense and violence so well as The Mission, and of course, the thing there is that it doesn’t matter which side is chosen, they all have to trust in God’s mercy.  Better God than Rambo.

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From Preaching Eugenics

I wanted to post the following selection from the book Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the America Eugenics Movement:

On 8 May 1926, the Reverend Phillips Endecott Osgood, rector of St. Mark’s Church in Minneapolis, ascended the pulpit to deliver his 11:00 A.M. Sunday Sermon. […] That Sunday was Mother’s Day, and from his pulpit, designed in the form of a chalice and encircled by intricately carved figures of famous predicants, Rev. Osgood eschewed the usual praise of womanly virtues in favor of the exotica of an Oriental bazaar. Amid the haggling shopkeepers and motley crowds of such a bustling marketplace, Rev. Osgood told his congregation, you will come across a man quietly toiling over a charcoal brazier. He is a refiner, bent on his task of purging dross and alloy from his bubbling concoction of metals to reveal pure silver or gold. So, too, are we refiners, Osgood said, but with a very different task: improving the human race. “We see that the less fit members of society seem to breed fastest and the right types are less prolific,” Osgood preached, but he emphasized that a practical solution to this alarming problem was at hand. “Taking human nature as it is and not ignoring any legitimate emotion or tendency, eugenics aspires to the refiners work.” Decrying the “insane and criminal specimens of humanity” whose “slatternly daughters” and “idle, ignorant” sons strained social institutions, Osgood warned his flock, “Until the impurities of dross and alloy are purified out of our silver it cannot be taken unto the hands of the craftsman for whom the refining was done.” The Kingdom of God required eugenically fit believers, Osgood said: “Grapes cannot be gathered from thorns nor figs from thistles.”


Certain kinds of religious leader gravitated toward eugenics in the early twentieth century, ministers anxious about the changing culture but also eager to find solutions to its diagnosable ills. Theirs was a practical spirituality better understood in terms of worldviews than theologies. Many of the religious leaders who joined the eugenics movement were well-known, even notorious, for their lack of coherent doctrinal vision… And it was when these self-identified liberal and modernist religious men abandoned bedrock principles to seek relevance in modern debates that they were most likely to find themselves endorsing eugenics. Those who clung stubbornly to tradition, to doctrine, and to biblical infallibility opposed eugenics and bacame, for a time, the objects of derision for their rejection of this most modern science. (Preaching Eugenics, p3-5)

Related resources:

Against Their Will: North Carolina’s Sterilization Program A resource provided by the Winston Salem Journal about their investigation of North Carolina’s Eugenics Program which was controled by the Eugenics Board from 1929-1974.

Eugenics in the Golden State A collection of resources about California’s Eugenics program

Eugenics archive
a collection of resources and images relating to the Eugenics movement as a whole.

Theology of the Body: Death by Selection

MM over at Theology of the Body has posted some troubling information about In-vitro Fertilization (IVF) which I’m certain many (most?) people haven’t considered.  I think this is especially important for the Protestant Christian community, since we have no unified ethical voice, and as a result it seems as though many Protestant churches avoid confronting ethical issues that may be uncomfortable for their members or visitors (or, as I think may more often be the case, protestant pastors haven’t thought about the ethics involved in a variety of issues since there is nothing bringing it to their attention unless an astute seminary professor mentions it). 

I know that this is an important issue as it was brought home to me during a visit to a parish in my home town.  People were sharing reasons for praise and at one point an older gentleman in the congregation got up and shared his joy that his daughter and son-in-law had been able to conceive a child after many years of trying.  The thing was, they had conceived by way of IVF.  While I rejoiced with the man and his family for the new life in their midst, I couldn’t help but wonder if any consideration had been given to the morality of IVF, or the value of the lives that are routinely destroyed in the process.  To be fair, the happy grandfather may have been as conflicted about the process as I am, and was just sharing the joyous aspect–but I don’t know.  It’s still an issue Churches need to address, along with a host of other issues.  I thin I’ll be posting more about this in the future; until then, here’s a bit of what MM said:

The act of IVF affirms a wrong idea of children as a “right” or
“entitlement” to be engineered rather than as a precious *gift* to be
recieved from God.

{read it all}

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Latest sermon audio

I’ve just uploaded my latest sermon audio files, from the Second Sunday of Easter:

“The Whole Message of this Life” The Rev. Joseph B. Howard, Second Sunday of Easter: Acts 5:12-29; Revelation 1:1-19; John 20:19-31; Psalm 111

And the Fourth Sunday of Easter:

“It’s Believing that’s Seeing” The Rev. Joseph B. Howard, Fourth Sunday of Easter: Acts 13:15-16, 26-39; Rev. 7:9-17; John 10:22-30;

Also, I need to give a HT to Eric Twist over at “Of Priests & Paramedics“, since it was the pic from his blog that inspired the direction of the second sermon.

Leadnow conference

Hey folks, I’m up in DC for a conference called “leadnow” put on by the ministry rightnow. The schedule looks good for the next three days. In addition to the large group sessions, there are smaller “connections” that we can choose from.  I’ll post more about them soon… but topics include:

Free Market Jesus–Donald Miller

They Like Jesus, but not the Church–Dan Kimball

Ten lessons from leading a 20 something Church–Mark Batterson

Re-introducing Jesus in a Culture that has already rejected him–Rob Strong

Knowing your bride–Tod Phillips (about the nature of the Church)

Equipping your business professionals to live on Mission–Justin Forman

Lessons learned: 7 years of mobilizing young adults through missions media and events (the Rightnow campain).

Homosexuality: Out of the Closet and into the Church–Dan Kimball

My Life as a Leader: One lie that nearly killed me and another lie that still could

Retro vs. Metro: a Practical Guide to understanding the emerging generation.

More later…

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