Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: February 2008 (Page 1 of 2)

Burke Lecturship: Stanley Hauerwas on Bonhoeffer and Truth in Politics

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is well known for his heroic opposition to the Nazis. Dr. Hauerwas’ lecture examines Bonhoeffer’s understanding of lying and why it’s approporiate to hold politics to a higher standard of truthful speech. This relationship between truth and politics is a particular challenge for democratic regimes. Series: Burke Lectureship on Religion & Society.

I love Hauerwas’ writing and appreciate the questions he raises even when I disagree with him. Probably more than any living Christian thinker his work has affected the way I think about contemporary issues, and I particularly appreciate his recent works on Bonhoeffer. I recommend this lecture, but as always with Hauerwas, watch for the salty language.

My favorite point made in the lecture is when Hauerwas explains Bonhoeffer’s view of truth by giving the example of a school boy called in front of the class and asked by the teacher whether his father comes home drunk every night. The child then determines to say “no” even though it is a fact that his father does come home drunk every night. In an ideal world the child would be able to answer the question while satisfying the demands of truth which pull him from the direction of his family and the authority of the school, personified by the teacher. However, because the world is not perfect and the child tells a lie–and Bonhoeffer would say it was a lie–the child is forced to honor a greater truth, i.e. the familial bond. As a result of asking an unfair question in an unfair way, the guilt for the lie falls not upon the child who speaks it, but upon the adult who wrongly put him in such an untenable situation. But one must recognize the statement as a lie in order to assign guilt properly. Enjoy.

I also highly recommend this collection of Hauerwas’ essays, dealing with and inspired by Bonhoeffer:

{HT: Inhabitatio Dei}

First Things: "The Giving and Taking of Organs" by Gilbert Meilaender

Gilbert Meilander has written an interesting piece in the most recent issue of First Things on a new proposal by Prime Minister Gordon Brown:

[Paul] Ramsey’s comparative analysis might remind us that the prime minister’s proposal is not the worst we can envision. Ours is a world in which an increasing number of voices support some form of payment for organs (or, sometimes, for organs from specific populations, such as prisoners nearing death)—thereby turning potential donors into vendors and the body into a collection of parts that are available and alienable if the price is right. This would, Ramsey seemed to think, and I am inclined to agree, be worse than what Mr. Brown has in mind.

Nor, I think, will it do to object to Mr. Brown’s ­proposal on the ground that my body is my property alone, no part of which should be taken or used ­without my explicit consent. There are, after all, ­occasions—if, for example, an autopsy is deemed ­necessary—when we allow the needs of the larger ­society to override the bodily integrity of a deceased individual. More important, though, is that “property” does not seem to be the right way to think of my body’s relation to me. Thinking in those terms may, in fact, leave us defenseless in the face of arguments supporting a market in organs.

Nor is the body of the deceased best thought of as property of his surviving family. If their wishes about its disposal ought to be honored, that is not because they own the body. It is because the life they shared with this one who has died obligates them to give his body proper burial—and the rest of us should do nothing that makes their duty more onerous than it of necessity is or that forces them, while grieving, to fight for the right to carry out such a fundamental human duty. “There is,” as William F. May once put it, “a tinge of the inhuman in the humanitarianism of those who believe that the perception of social need easily overrides all other considerations.”

{read it all} subscription required.

The Christian Century: Anglican Maneuvers

Sam Wells (Anglican priest and chaplain at Duke University) gives a good review of Anglican Communion in Crisis: How Episcopalian Dissidents and their African Allies are reshaping Anglicanism in The Christian Century.

It is the emergence of the third option that Miranda Hassett describes in her evenhanded, informative and wholly admirable book. She plausibly identifies a series of significant moments in an unfolding drama. In 1996 a committee of bishops threw out charges of heresy against Bishop Walter Righter after he was accused of knowingly ordaining a noncelibate gay man. The precedent convinced conservatives that the Episcopal Church could not be reformed from within. Revolution by acronym began, with the American Anglican Council and the Ekklesia Society among the protagonists.

Having lost the battle for orthodoxy within the Episcopal Church, as they saw it, American conservatives changed tactics and looked instead toward the global South. In a series of significant gatherings at Kuala Lumpur, Dallas and Kampala, they developed an ethos, a strategy and momentum for transferring the American conflict onto a world stage.

Homosexuality, already an emblematic issue in the North American culture wars, became a signal issue in many African bishops’ effort to redraw the postcolonial map of Anglican power and decision making. While American conservatives rapidly learned the vocabulary of debt relief and other apparently key African issues, African bishops quickly acquired the techniques of conference management—the caucuses, the lobbying, the friendly amendments—and became adept at using the Internet.

Late in the three-week 1998 Lambeth Conference, the sexuality debate finally came, and a remarkably conservative, though subtly moderated, statement was overwhelmingly passed, with the support not only of Southern postcolonial revisionists but also of scores of Northern moderates who feared that otherwise there would be something much less digestible. (The majority was huge: if the African bishops had all voted against the resolution, it would still have passed.)

{read it all}

Worship & Evangelism

One of the questions that arises in a Church plant is exactly how much one’s worship should be geared toward evangelism. This is not just a question of worship styles, but also of sermon content (does the preacher assume a certain level of Christian commitment on the part of those in the congregation for example). I have been attempting to walk that line at St. Francis. The following are some articles on the subject that have been helpful.

Touchstone: “Sunday Guests” by Peter Toon

I recall the days when the Salvation Army called the Sunday morning service the “Holiness Meeting” and the evening service “Evangelism Meeting.” That is a careful and workable distinction between a service of worship, edification, and calls unto holiness for believers, and a service to which others were invited with a view to converting them to Jesus Christ. Many churches today, especially those much into “church growth,” have conflated, confused, and complicated the relation of evangelism to worship.

Touchstone: “Guide for the Ceneplexed” by John Parker

The cinema concept was already in place at the church on Sundays: early-morning “traditional” Communion service with no music in the neo-gothic historic chapel, with the celebrant in cassock and surplice; a 9:00 “contemporary” Communion service in the parish hall, complete with praise band and torchiere lighting to set the mood, and the service projected on the wall; a concurrent 9:30 prayer service for children and their families in the old church, with the celebrant only in an alb; an 11:00 traditional Eucharist with full, vested choir in the chapel, with the celebrant in chasuble; and a concurrent free-flowing 11:15 service, which went beyond contemporary, with bands, skits, and so forth, and definitely no vestments. The concept was this: We’ve got something for everyone, and at every standard Sunday morning hour.

From Allelon: “Worship as Evangelism” by Sally Morgenthaler

Two years ago I taught my last seminar focused solely on worship. A year ago I disbanded my worship resource site, Sacramentis. My colleagues were concerned. How could I leave the work I’d begun? Did it mean I no longer believed worship was important? Who was going to take up the torch of worship evangelism? Was I just going to waste my legacy? Was I crazy?

Maybe I was, but a storm had been brewing in my soul for five long years. I remember meeting with the worship leader of a well-known church in the fall of 2000. He had followed my work and respected many of my viewpoints. When we met
over coffee, he shared a concern he’d had for a while over my book Worship Evangelism. In his view, Worship Evangelism had helped to create a “worship-driven subculture.” As he explained it, this subculture was a sizeable part of the contemporary church that had just been waiting for an excuse not to do the hard work of real outreach. An excuse not to get their hands dirty. According to him, that excuse came in the form of a book—my book. He elaborated. “If a contemporary worship service is the best witnessing tool in the box, then why give a rip about what goes on outside the worship
center? If unbelievers are coming through the doors to check us Christians out, and if they’ll fall at Jesus’ feet after they listen to us croon worship songs and watch us sway back and forth, well then, a whole lot of churches are just going to say, ‘Sign us up!’ ”

To be honest, I wasn’t surprised. The attitude he described certainly didn’t fit every congregation out there in contemporary-worship-land, but it matched too much of what I’d seen. The realization hit me in the gut. Between 1995 and
2000 I’d traveled to a host of worship-driven churches, some that openly advertised that they were “a church for the unchurched.” On the good occasions, the worship experience was transporting. (I dug a little deeper when that happened. Invariably, I found another value at work behind the worship production: a strong, consistent presence in the community.) Too many times, I came away with an unnamed, uneasy feeling. Something was not quite right. The worship felt disconnected from real life. Then there were the services when the pathology my friend talked about came right over the platform and hit me in the face. It was unabashed self-absorption, a worship culture that screamed, “It’s all about us” so loudly that I wondered how any visitor could stand to endure the rest of the hour.

Anybody have any other helpful resources?

An Oldie but a Goodie: Phil Turner on Unworkable Theology

Matt over at Religiocity points our attention to this commentary from Phil Turner on the Unworkable theology of mainline Protestantism (especially the Episcopal Church):

It is increasingly difficult to escape the fact that mainline Protestantism is in a state of disintegra­tion. As attendance declines, internal divisions increase. Take, for instance, the situation of the Epis­copal Church in the United States. The Episcopal Church’s problem is far more theological than it is moral – a theological poverty that is truly monumen­tal and that stands behind the moral missteps recently taken by its governing bodies.

Every denomination has its theological articles and books of theology, its liturgies and confessional statements. Nonetheless, the contents of these documents do not necessarily control what we might call the “working theology” of a church. To find the working theology of a church one must review the resolutions passed at official gatherings and listen to what clergy say Sunday by Sunday from the pulpit. One must lis­ten to the conversations that occur at clergy gather­ings–and hear the advice clergy give troubled parishioners. The working theology of a church is, in short, best determined by becoming what social anthropol­ogists call a “participant observer.”

For thirty-five years, I have been such a participant observer in the Episcopal Church. After ten years as a missionary in Uganda, I returned to this country and began graduate work in Christian Ethics with Paul Ramsey at Princeton University. Three years later I took up a post at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest. Full of excitement, I listened to my first Student sermon – only to be taken aback by its vacuity. The student began with the wonderful ques­tion, “What is the Christian Gospel?” But his answer, through the course of an entire sermon, was merely: “God is love. God loves us. We, therefore, ought to love one another.” I waited in vain for some word about the saving power of Christ’s cross or the declara­tion of God’s victory in Christ’s resurrection. I waited in vain for a promise of the Holy Spirit. I waited in vain also for an admonition to wait patiently and faithfully for the Lord’s return. I waited in vain for a call to repentance and amendment of life in accord with the pattern of Christ’s life.

{read it all}

I really appreciate Matt’s take on this, and invite you to read his post as well. At least he provides a bit of hopefulness.

Uganda may pull out of the Communion

[Update: the Church of Uganda has now denied that it has threatened to pull out of the Anglican Communion.  That’ll teach us to trust the press ;-)]

The Associated Press is reporting that the Church of Uganda is threatening to pull out of the Anglican Communion if no action is taken over the Episcopal Church’s flirtation with legitimizing and blessing homosexuality.

Uganda’s Anglican church threatened on Monday to secede from the 77-million member Anglican Communion unless U.S. clergy condemn homosexuality.

The announcement was the latest salvo in a fierce dispute about homosexuality that has overtaken the global fellowship of Anglican churches since its U.S. wing — the U.S. Episcopal Church — consecrated its first openly gay bishop in 2003.

“Anglicanism is just an identity and if they abuse it, we shall secede. We shall remain Christians, but not in the same Anglican Communion,” Church of Uganda spokesman Aron Mwesigye said.

There are about 9.8 million Anglicans in Uganda, according to the country’s last census in 2002.

Last week, Uganda’s Anglican bishops said they would boycott a once-a-decade gathering of worldwide church leaders this summer in England because of the Episcopal Church’s stance on homosexuality.

Mwesigye said the Ugandan church is now considering a complete severing of ties “because we have complained against homosexuality several times but no action is taken.”

“If they don’t change, and continue to support homosexual practices and same-sex marriages, our relationship with them will be completely broken,” Mwesigye added.

{read it all}

Interested in interest?

The Ugley Vicar brought this to my attention. Evidently something that slipped in under the radar of the Sharia dust-up was Archbishop Williams’ questioning of the use of loaning at interest:

LP: Thank you. Another, another fairly down to earth. “Our existing world order is based upon usury with control by manipulation of rates of interest. In Islam this is not just illegal but sinful. How can this be reconciled with Christianity? And this Christianity also condemns the existing order as the law of Mammon.”

RW: I’ve often been rather surprised by the ease with which the Christian church changed its mind about usury in the sixteenth century, without any very great public fuss. Martin Luther strongly disapproved of it; he was a good medieval Catholic in ail sorts of ways, and he disapproved of it like his medieval predecessors on the basis of the Bible, tradition and the authority of Aristotle. But within about fifty years of the beginning of the Reformation, virtually everybody had mysteriously and imperceptibly decided that there wasn’t a problem.

Now, without going into details of the history of that fascinating issue, I think that in all seriousness what theologians and moralists have said about lending at interest in the modern economy, is simply to raise the question “Is this what is prohibited in Jewish scripture?” And they’ve answered on the whole, “No”. And yet I have to say there remains, or should remain for the Christian moralist, a level of discomfort around this. Taking absolutely for granted the manipulation of rates of interest as the engine of an economy, ought to leave us with some unfinished moral business, let’s say, and I believe that rather than, so to speak, address that head on, we need to look – and this has been said by many people – at what are the alternative protocols and ethical frameworks for banking that are around. And that is one reason why ! am personally go very interested in the ethics and practice of micro-credit as a way of addressing serious poverty.

Read the rest of the Q&A here.

I find this interesting because I’ve made a similar observation about the rather rapid acceptance of contraception by protestant Christians. It was a rather dramatic about-face to reject the previous 1900 years of moral teaching in a period of less than 50 years.

The American Spectator: Bad faith bestseller

The American Spectator opens up a broadside against Christopher Hitchens’ god is not Great:

Many, many refutations have been written of Christopher Hitchens’s god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Readers can take some small comfort that this won’t be another.

After all, what would even be the fun in piling on at this point? The Washington Post reviewer cast Hitchens as a latter day incarnation of the censorious anti-liberal Pope Pius IX and professed to have “never encountered a book whose author is so fundamentally unacquainted with its subject.”

In religious venues — even tolerant, liberal, kitten-hugging ones like Commonweal–the response has been not shock and outrage but open mockery. Conservative publications from this one to the Claremont Review of Books to Taki’s Top Drawer have dissected and made a study of the book’s many errors and eccentricities. On the other side of the pond, Hitchens’s brother Peter dropped the normal sibling non-review rule and had a run at it in the Daily Mail.

Hitchens’s public defenses of his thesis haven’t been much more successful. True, he bested the Reverend Al Sharpton in a televised debate — barely. But whenever he’s come up against serious opponents, it’s been ugly. Near the end of their exchange in Christianity Today, Douglas Wilson borrowed a line from Wyatt Earp in Tombstone to ask Hitchens, “You gonna do something or just stand there and bleed?”

His argumentation has been found flimsy by philosophers and rhetoricians; riddled with errors by biblical scholars and theologians; sloppy and tendentious by historians of religion; unrigorous by social scientists; breezy and brazen by literary critics; and obnoxious by most readers of good will. One is half surprised that

{read it all}

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