Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: June 2009

Bravo to the C of E: The Church of England speaks out against assisted suicide

The Church of England has put of a web site to explain their opposition to assisted suicide.  Here’s a pit of the intro:

Protecting Life – opposing Assisted Suicide
Produced by Mission and Public Affairs, in association with the Communications Office

The Church of England is opposed to any change in the law, or medical practice, to make assisted suicide permissible or acceptable.

Suffering, the Church maintains, must be met with compassion, commitment to high-quality services and effective medication; meeting it by assisted suicide is merely removing it in the crudest way possible.

In its March 2009 paper Assisted Dying/Suicide and Voluntary Euthanasia, the Church acknowledges the complexity of the issues: the compassion that motivates those who seek change equally motivates the Church’s opposition to change.

Principles behind this position

  • Personal autonomy and the protection of life are both important principles that are often complementary but sometimes compete.
  • Personal autonomy must be principled and not without regard to others.
  • Protection of life should take priority when there is a conflict between the two.
  • When protection of life is impossible that does not undermine these principles.
  • Every human being is uniquely and equally valuable, hence human rights are built on the foundation of the ‘right to life’, as is much of the criminal code.
  • An obligation on society, doctors and nurses, to take life or to assist in the taking of life would create a new and unwelcome role for society.

{Read it all}

Death by Church?

Just read an excerpt of this book, Death by Church: Rescuing Jesus from His Followers, Recapturing God’s Hope for His People, over at the Missional Church Network.  I’ve put it on my reading list:

Our definitions of success are too often aimed at bigger, better, and more, and we work ourselves into exhaustion as mini-messiahs who are poor substitute for the real thing. We may get glimpses of God’s transforming or healing power, but those are the exception rather than the rule. The ‘church as vendor of religious goods and services’ mind-set is antithetical to the Bible’s insistence that the church is the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:19-22), the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16), and the household of God (1 Timothy 3:15). This mentality is harmful not only to the church’s members but also to other churches as they compete with one another to deliver the best experience.

All of this adds up to the increasing irrelevance and isolation of the American evangelical church. Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger comment, ‘The end result of this increasing isolation is that a spiritual culture now surrounds a secular church.’”

{Read more}

If you want to order it:

Rescuing Jesus from his Followers

Anglican Comprehension & Vocation

The Compass Rose, Symbol of the world-wide Anglican Communion

The Compass Rose, Symbol of the world-wide Anglican Communion

There are lots of interesting happenings in Anglican land these days with the inaugural Convention of the Anglican Church of North America on the one hand, while on the other those of us within The Episcopal Church gear up for next month’s General Convention.  This is an especially stressful time for those who belong to or support the group known as Communion Partners as it becomes (in my opinion) less likely that The Episcopal Church will display a broad openness to the proposed Anglican Covenant.  With the close of ACNA’s convention, and their resolution that they are prepared to adopt such a Covenant at the appropriate time, the stage is set for the interesting situation of The “official” Anglican body in the United States (i.e. The Episcopal Church) to reject the Covenant and therefore deeper participation in the global Communion (if not membership in the Communion per se), while the new province being formed by the various splinter groups is waiting in the wings to move into a deeper relationship with the Communion as a whole, and not simply their sponsoring provinces–assuming of course, that the Communion as a whole survives.

Simultaneously, the narrative that seems to have gained momentum within the Episcopal Church regarding so-called “dissenters” is such that those who support the adoption of the Covenant (and, therefore, continued growth into a world-wide Communion rather than a Federation) are seen by some as traitors.  Likewise, those who do not support the liberalization of the denomination are seen as ignorant and often bigoted.  And this conflict is, of course, happening at a most inopportune time when it comes to the health of the Church on much more prosaic and foundational grounds.  As the State of the Church report noted, TEC is loosing the rough numerical equivalent of a Diocese every year to death, even when accounting for total births (and assuming that all those children will remain Episcopalian–wishful thinking indeed).  All of this makes for a very interesting situation.  Not only interesting for those within The Episcopal Church and Anglicanism generally, but also for those engaged in ecumenical conversations with Anglicans.

For example, I have been asked to speak on a panel focused on the topic of the Catholic vocation of Anglicanism.  As I’ve reflected upon how to put this vocation, as I see it, into words, it has been interesting to see it demonstrated by the recent inaugural convention of the Anglican Church in North America.  Leaving aside other questions and opinions for the moment, I find it interesting that the major convention speakers at the ACNA Convention included the well-known evangelical mega-church pastor Rick Warren, as well as the once-was-Episcopalian Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America (I’m finding that there are a lot of people around who “used to be” Episcopalians–you find them in the most interesting places).  This is important, because as I understand it, one of the vocations of Anglicanism is to stand as an interpreter of practice, language, tradition, and of theology between the churches of the Protestant world and the ancient Christian churches, i.e. the various Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Church.  I do not believe that this is so much a matter of being a “bridge church” as many have visualized it.  As a late Bishop once told me, the joke in ecumenical dialogues was always “who want’s to live under a bridge!”  And of course, few people want to spend their spiritual lives in a place that is transient.  Instead, I mean that Anglicans, to the extent they serve as a bridge, do so by means of the comprehension that the best of Anglicanism demonstrates.

This comprehension has, of course, been the source of derrision directed at Anglicans from other corners of Christendom: “Come out from Babylon” some protestants might say, “complete the reformation!”  While Roman Catholics (and now Metripolitan Jonah) often exhibit a desire to see Anglicanism purge anything that can be considered protestant or reformed.  Just as some German academic theologians of the past have ridiculed Anglicans for doing theology to the sound of Church bells–and therefore not being rigorous or systematic enough–so have the different parties of Christendom critisized Anglicanism for not being “pure” enough, for not following on what they percieve to be the logical and therefore faithful course of action and fully aligning with one consistent theological camp or another.  If you want to be Reformed, they might say, then be like the Presbyterians.  If you want to be Catholic, other say, then you must look like Roman Catholics, if you want to be Orthodox, you must believe exactly as the Eastern Churches do.  Critics of Anglicanism who are deeply commited to their own taditions–particularly those wedded to a sort of internat consistency within their traditions–are often infuriated by what they see as the greatest Anglican fudge ever: the broadness of Anglicanism.  The rhetoric of such critics is particularly loud (and in some cases obnoxious) now, as Anglicanism is wracked with internal divisions.  “See” they say, “the Elizabethan settlement was bound to fail!  Your church is a hodgepodge, an ecclesiastical Frankenstien’s monster.  You should see that now!  And now that you’ve seen it, won’t you admit your failure and come be like us!”  To a certain sort of Christian, the very existence of Anglicanism is an affront to their religious sensibilities.

But the thing is, Anglicans have not held such diverse views, or striven for comprehension simply for the sake of political or cultural calm: indeed, one could make the argument that the Anglican commitment to theological comprehension has been a most difficult one to keep precisely because there are times when it millitates against peace and calm.  The collect for the commemoration of Richard Hooker puts the Anglican desire for comprehension into words quite well:

O God of truth and peace, you raised up your servant Richard Hooker in a day of bitter controversy to defend with sound reasoning and great charity the catholic and reformed religion: Grant that we may maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Anglicans hold diverse views on theological matters not because we are striving for peace, but because we are striving for truth.  Anglicans have believed that one must draw the theological circle wide in order to encoumpass enough ways of speaking about God so that what is said may be balanced and countered and not become distorted.  Two examples of this idea of comprehension are related to the sacrament of the Eucharist and the doctrine of the atonement.  In each case, Anglicans as a whole have been reticent (I believe appropriately so) to nail things down too tightly.  Indeed, there is a case to be made that nailing things down too neatly, explaining them too well via one theory, is to be unfaithful and to ignore elements of scripture.  Take the various theories of the atonement for example.  Many protestants gravitate toward the penal-substitution or sacrificial theory of the atonement.  Unlike some contemporary liberal theologians, I do not believe there is anything wrong or dangerous about such a view of the atonement–unless it is held exclusively.  And the same is true of the other views of the atonement–when held exclusively, I believe they begin to distort our views of God, while holding them together as expressing different aspects of the same glorious event, encourages a more three-dimensional view of God’s character.  All one has to do is read the letter to The Hebrews to see the majority of classical atonement theories expressed in the words of scripture–so staying close to the word prevents too great a reliance upon a single theological explanation.

But what does this comprehension have to do with Anglicanism’s vocation in the greater Catholic Church?  I believe it is the comprehension what we’ve (thus far) been able to maintain, that would allow an Anglican to talk to a Rick Warren and understand the tradition out of which he speaks and then turn to a Metropolitan Jonah and express that tradition in a way that makes sense from the perspective of the historic church.  What I am talking about however, isn’t a simple intillectual understanding–I’m not saying that Anglicans are like ecclesiastical translators, nor am I saying that such a role is necessarily needed.  Rick Warren can talk to Metropolitan Jonah perfectly well and they can understand one another on an intillectual level, no doubt.  The importance of Anglicanism is that it allows within itself a degree of expression, bound by the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, which enables a person to experience worship in a manner that is more or less close to either of these poles of Christianity.  This is why, when the Covenant authors got together in Dallas for our retreat, an evangelical Anglican from England was able to worship in an Anglo-Catholic Church in Dallas and participate in worship–and while he may not have taken part in some of the devotions, I know that he understands them.  The same would be true in reverse as well.  This is not to say that people don’t have their own beliefs about which way is “better” or more faithful–but it is to say that there is a latitude allowed, and a respect given out of a recognition that we are part of one body, whether we like it or not.  And I find that to be a possitive thing on the whole, rather than a negative.

A great little story

From Peter Leithart we have the following interesting anecdote:

Hippolytus tells the story that Apsethus of Libya trained parrots to fly over North Africa crying out “Apsethus is a god,” and Libyans were taken in and began to offer sacrifices to him.

Then a “clever Greek” caught one of the parrots, and retrained it to cry out: “Apsethus, having caged us, compelled us to say Apsethus is a god.”  Betrayed, the Libyans burned Apsethus at the stake.

All you can say is, that’s some parrot.

Now that’s a great story.

Just a thought…

Someone I know recently overheard a group of older folks at a local church event seriously discussing how clergy don’t really work during the week–they just sit in their studies and read (all while a priest was incognito at the table).  Here’s hoping none of these folks pass on a weekday, since that would mean tearing ourselves away from reading to bury them–and who wants to do that?  I’d much rather stay in my study :-p

Seriously, if these folks ever wonder why the average pastor lasts five years before hanging it up and going back to secular work, they should mosy on over to the mirror.

Monday: Day off Link Fest

I thought I would take the opportunity, since this is my day off, to share some of what I’ve been reading around the web.

  • There’s an interesting discussion starting up over at the Theology Forum about N.T. Wright’s latest response to his critics over his views of Paul, Justification etc…  I agree with the author that far too many people want to interpret “reformed” far too narrowly.  I also believe that many of Wright’s critics simply don’t understand his arguments.  Evidently he’s done a fair job of re-presenting them in his latest, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision.
  • James Matthew Wilson over at The Front Porch Republic discusses the way in which blogs with never-ending hyperlinks and continually burgeoning opinions result in an attenuated commentary on forgotten primary texts.  He then expresses his gratitude to FPR and its readers.
  • The Creedal Christian offers the following quote from Bishop Kallistos Ware in honor of Trinity Sunday:

    Why should God be a communion of three divine persons, neither less nor more? Here again there can be no logical proof. The threeness of God is something given or revealed to us in Scripture, in the Apostolic Tradition, and in the experience of the saints throughout the centuries. All that we can do is to verify this given fact through our own life of prayer. The Orthodox Way

  • The Art of Manliness provides some advice on how to tie a tie (with instructions on making several different knots).
  • Christianity Today has a wonderful article entitled “Keeping Holy Ground Holy” about a survey suggesting that seekers want anything but churches that don’t look like churches–instead, they would like churches to look like churches.  Imagine that.  (It also notes that one doesn’t need an expensive Gothic sanctuary to make a space feel holy and reverent.  Good news for those of us in congregations that are just starting out.)
  • And in a similar vein, the Archbishop of Canterbury believes Cathedrals are relevant for today.  I agree (indeed, I would say large churches to mega-churches are attempting to approximate the role Cathedrals once had, though with widely varying success.)
  • Mark Tooley of the IRD comments over at the American Spectator on the possibility that the tide of history may not, in fact, be moving in the progressive direction even in mainline churches.  I think he’s partially correct, but we’ll see.
  • Gordon Atkinson discusses his move from PC to Mac.  I have to say that we share the same final straw with windows machines.  Looks like we’re both happy mac users now.
  • Ok, whether you think she’d be a good addition to the Supremes or not, this news about Sotomayor just stinks.  I hope she heals quickly.
  • And finally, take a look at what we’ll be having for supper tonight: Thai fried chicken

From the Front Porch: Only A Man Harrowing Clods

I have found in Wendell Berry, like the late Neil Postman, an insightful critic of contemporary culture and a voice that we ignore at our own peril and to our own impoverishment. The Front Porch Republic has posted the following essay related to Berry’s work and I commend it to you.



For most fashionable American intellectuals, the life and work of the poet, novelist, and essayist Wendell Berry represents something of a scandal. Of course, it is understood to be a scandal in its current meaning as a disgrace and most certainly not in its older Christian sense as a temptation. Not only is Berry a writer who lives among the hoi polloi in rural Kentucky instead of cultivating a salon in New York City, but he also spends most of his time farming, or, in the vernacular of contemporary America, doing menial labor.

Further, with apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan, Americans tend to think of everyone who has been begat as either a Republican or a Democrat. Berry’s polemical work, however, is not easily classifiable under either label. In an age when people are leaving or being forced from their farms and when most Americans no longer understand that the phrase res publica refers to something more significant than ‘everyday low prices’, Berry is committed to the old Jeffersonian idea of an agrarian republic comprised of independent, self-reliant citizen-farmers.
Of course, Berry’s agrarianism has been dismissed as anachronistic by those for whom the idea of progress is religious dogma. However, as C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘as to putting the clock back, would you think I was joking if I said that you can put a clock back, and if the clock is wrong it is…a very sensible thing to do?’

Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry

Berry’s The Unsettling of America, which was published in 1977, appears at first glance to be a critique of American agricultural policy, which indeed it is. However, it also articulates a sustained, coherent, and compelling analysis of the fragmentation and alienation of modern American liberal culture, and offers an intimation of both an alternative understanding of culture and community, and a classical conception of human beings, their past, and their purpose.

According to Berry, America has suffered from a split personality since the time of the arrival of the first Europeans. In that European beginning, America was considered a land of economic opportunity, a colony in the modern sense of the term. It was understood as a resource to be exploited by the mother country. As Berry writes, “the first and greatest American revolution…was the coming of people who did not look upon the land as a homeland.” This America, the land of the get-rich-quick scheme, attracted fortune hunters, conquistadors, and assorted other adventurers on the make who treated the land and its inhabitants as a business venture.

At the same time, however, America was also a colony in the classical sense in that it was a place of settlement. This America attracted those who wanted a place to live and a land to cultivate, free from the religious and social strife which plagued Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Wallace Stegner, who was Berry’s teacher at Stanford, called the first of these types ‘boomers’ and the second ‘stickers’. A century and a half earlier, Tocqueville noticed this split and attributed it to the difference between royal, proprietary, and merchant colonies and colonies created by compact. However, for Tocqueville, the Revolution and the generally democratic character of the population overcame this dichotomous beginning.

{Read it all}

I highly recommend the following books by Berry:

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