Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: June 2012

About the New Historicism

[Incedentally, the New Historicism isn’t all that “new” anymore.]

I recently ran across this interesting post on the New Historicism on the Religiosity blog.  Below are some of my thoughts in response:

Michel Foucault. One of the major influences on New Historicism

I was trained in New Historicism as an undergraduate, as that was the dominant school of thought in my history department. However, the primary take away that was emphasized there, was that “history is everything,” i.e. a historian shouldn’t limit oneself only to evidence that has traditionally been the realm of historians. Instead, it’s perfectly alright, even imperative, that historians look at, for example, the music of an era, or its popular literature. While it’s true that the New Historicism tends to reject meta-narratives, following the general postmodern drift away from them, the corollary of that–which I take as a very positive thing–is that the New Historicism takes the particular much more seriously, and appropriately so, in my opinion. It’s interesting that he links this tendency against universalizing to conservatism… as a traditionalist conservative (but fundamentally *not* a modern tea party type conservative), that may be one reason I like it.  I don’t think it negates the ability to draw conclusions about trends, etc… it just means that those theories are taken with a grain of salt, and the weight is toward viewing a particular time as largely peculiar in itself.

“The past is a foreign country.” –L. P. Hartley

Check out Rev.

I often find that the depiction of clergy in television and film leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve recently been watching the British show “Rev.” and I’ve been happily surprised. To be sure the main character, The Rev. Adam Smallbone, is a bit of a screw up, and he finds himself in awkward situations (think uncomfortable humor similar to “The Office,” but applied to the Church). That said, he’s not completely inept, corrupt or foolish. He cares for his people and his conversations with them, as well as his prayer life, while oversized for TV, are actually quite realistic in many aspects.

I’ve seen the first three episodes, available on Hulu, and have thoroughly enjoyed them. I believe the writers must be consulting with real-life clergy to get some of their ideas, because so many events and characters are just too good for them to have come up with without some reference to actual experience.

Here’s a clip from a recent episode that cracked me up:

[Note: there is occasionally coarse language in the show, and, in one instance, a construction worker is seen to moon the Vicar. Take that under advisement.]

First Things on Eric Metaxas on Bonhoeffer and the Health and Human Services Mandate


Christ tempted by Satan

Christ tempted by Satan: Christians are always in need of Discernment to know whether they are falling prey to temptation or being faithful

First Things has published a video (also available after the break) in which Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, takes a shot at what Bonhoeffer might have said about the Health and Human Services mandate that has raised such a furor and so many questions related to individual liberty vs. religious liberty as well as the common good. Some of you might remember Metaxas from his prayer and presentation at the National Prayer Breakfast. It might also interest some of you to know that Metaxas did–and as far as I know, still does–attend the Episcopal Church of Calvary-St. George’s in New York.

At any rate, I left the following comment on the post over at First Things, and I think it expresses my ambivalence on this question quite well. On the one hand I am uncomfortable with the government taking on greater and greater authority to define the boundaries of religious institutions and their functions. On the other, I’m not quite certain that the “cooperation with evil” portion of the argument against the Health and Human Services mandate rings true. Perhaps that’s because I think simply existing in our society means we cooperate with evil every day (that’s something i think Bonhoeffer would agree with), so we have to b careful how we frame these sorts of arguments. Additionally, I think a good argument can be made for the mandate from the area of supporting the common good of our society (many of the treatments covered by the mandate will serve to improve overall health and may, if statistics are any guide, actually result in fewer abortions as well as better overall health for women).  At any rate, here’s the text of my comment:

In many ways it seems that the most troubling part of the mandate is that it draws the circle even more narrowly in terms of what sorts of organizations are considered religious organizations and, as has already been mentioned, unnecessarily and harmfully forces religious institutions to weigh whether they can in good conscience offer services for the public and the common good.

At the same time, David Nichol is right that there are always certain agreed upon restrictions to religious liberty. For example, I imagine far fewer Americans would find it problematic to require employers–including non-profits–that were associated with the Jehovah’s Witnesses to provide for blood transfusions than there are folks who find the contraception/sterilization/abortion issue problematic. A lot more could be said about this, but where I really have the question is in another arena.

The public conversation has focused on who pays for specific treatments etc…, and whether it is moral or constitutional to mandate that a religious institution provide insurance that covers procedures or treatments that they find objectionable rather than on the question of who defines religious institutions. The deeper question, to my mind, is related to individual choice. Insurance is a benefit that is simply one part of a persons compensation, and many people put forward a certain amount of their monetary compensation to pay for a portion of their own insurance. If it is morally objectionable for an institution to pay for an insurance policy that would, in the event the individual chose to avail themselves of a certain service, cover a treatment that the employer felt was immoral, then why is it *not* morally objectionable to provide a salary to a person who might go out and choose pay for the same procedure out of pocket. Simply having the option of having a treatment covered by insurance doesn’t mean that a person will choose to use it, and not covering it doesn’t ensure that a person might not use other resources provided by their employer to attain it. In the end, it seems that they are the same degree of separation away and the real issue is that an institution is employing folks whose moral reasoning they find questionable or lacking.

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Will Evangelicals’ Immigration Shift Mean Common Ground With Obama? – The Daily Beast

If the Obama team is looking for an issue that can “break the fever” of the conservative opposition, as the president puts it, then immigration reform might be shaping up to be the most obvious choice. Thanks to an emerging coalition of religious leaders, it might be the only issue where there is plausible common ground to be shared between the White House and the GOP base.

via Will Evangelicals’ Immigration Shift Mean Common Ground With Obama? – The Daily Beast.

Thoughts on the Ordination of Women on the Occasion of the Church of England opening the Episcopal Office to them

Recently the Church of England, the mother church of the world wide Anglican Communion, became the latest province to open ordination/consecration to the Episcopate to women.1 This decision was not without deliberation, and it will not be without some consequence from and for those opposed to the ordination of women.

I personally believe that this is something to celebrate, though not without recognition that it is one among a number of issues–theological, cultural, and institutional–that will ensure continued separation and divergence among the various segments of the Body of Christ.

That said, this occasion is one that should inspire us to look at the history of the process that has led twenty-nine provinces of the Communion to ordain women to the presbyterate, many of which have now opened the office of Bishop to women as well.2

This issue is also important as the issue of women’s ordination will be one of the primary focal points of the next Anglican-Orthodox dialogue. During the last round of dialogues, which resulted in the agreed statement Church of the Triune God (a wonderful document, especially as it concerns ecclesiology and the office of Bishop), Orthodox members of the dialogue evidently agreed that the ordination of women was theoretically possible, but indicated they had reservations because of tradition–particularly over the question of whether the condemnation of Montanism appropriately included a condemnation of women’s ordination.

With all this in mind, we should consider the driving forces behind the ordination of women in the Anglican Communion. In talking with opponents of women’s ordination about this–specifically thinking of those within the Episcopal Church–the issues that, more than any others, seem to turn them against the idea is that 1) the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church was initially framed as a rights issue and was political in nature and 2) that it serves as a step down a slippery slope that leads to the acceptance of homosexuality as compatible with Christian morality.

Leaving aside the lengthy discussion of Christian sexual mores for the moment, I will just say that I’ve often pointed out that there are a number of denominations that have ordained women that have not subsequently drifted down a more liberal path. One might consider churches such as the Free Methodists, Cumberland Presbyterians, Assemblies of God (among other Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations that ordain women–and there are several that once did, but no longer do), Church of the Foursquare Gospel etc… The point is, of course, that one may have legitimate reasons for opposing the ordination of women, but considering it within the limited frame work of what is considered liberal or conservative at this moment in the United States–or even in a particular region of the United States–can only be seen as parochial and limited. Instead, it is far more helpful to look at the traditions that have ordained women, why they did so, and when.

The point of looking at the various denominations that were the first to ordain women, is to highlight the fact that the bulk of them were what we would call frontier churches. These were the bodies that grew on the fringes and were involved in dramatic missionary growth. Why is this important? Because we need to recognize that the actual origins of the ordination of women in the Anglican Communion were likewise in the mission field.

I’ve recently been reading a wonderful book by Lamin Sanneh entitled Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity (Studies in World Christianity). In it he has a fantastic section on Christianity in China, a portion of which bears on the discussion of women’s ordination in the Anglican Communion. I am going to quote this section at length:

The Role of Women in the Church: New Wind of Change

Meanwhile, the Anglican Church was involved in a project of genuine indigenization quite independent of political events, though it coincided with them. Showing frontier Christianity at one of its critical and creative turning points, the project assumed the form of an initiative for a fundamental reform of the clerical office. Accordingly, a movement was launched, unprecedented in the Anglican Communion, to advance the cause of women’s ordination. It came to a head with the ordination of the first women, Florence Lei [Li Tim Oi], in 1944, which sparked a revolt in the Church of England. It was the kind of smoking gun the standard bearers of the West needed to confirm their worst fears about the hazards of an unsupervised, immature post-Western Christianity. In spite of pleas from China and at home, Rev. Lei was pressured to repudiate her ordination and to resign. She did so [NB: she resigned her license to officiate, but never renounced her orders], she said, for the sake of the greater good of the church. Her supporters, on the other hand, had every reason to wonder if that cause was not already hers.


The resolution tabled at Lambeth was submitted by the Diocesan Synod of Kong Yuet and circulated by it to all the other Diocesan Synods. The document urged the ordination of women on the grounds “that God is using China’s age-long respect for women, and her traditional confidence in women’s gifts for administration and counsel, to open a new chapter in the history of the Church.” The Memorandum noted that the request of the church in China for the ordination of women had local reasons and support but that “the principles and considerations involved are of importance for the whole Anglican Communion.” The implicit challenge of the Memorandum was for the West to accept the consequences that Christianity was a world religion. “A conservative adherence to traditions which are not of the essence of the Gospel may be proclaimed as loyalty to the Faith and yet, in reality, involve a misunderstanding and a denial of its essential meaning,” which in this regard meant extending full equality to women Only then could the church we recognized as true to the gospel.


There was a paramount, unavoidable, and compelling moral obligation for the church to repudiate what was patently unjust and to take the action that alone could restore it to the place God appointed for it. The “Memorial” concluded: “If men and women were considered first and foremost in respect of their COMMON REDEEMED HUMANITY; that is, the things they have, as Christians, in common and not in difference, if they were considered, in short, as human beings, not as sexes, they could come forward freely, and fall naturally into their place in one common diaconate, one common priesthood, even as they do already in one common laity. There is no other way. ‘All are one in Christ Jesus’ means what it says” (p.9). For all their prophetic passion and compelling logic, the Memorandum and the “Memorial” failed to sway the 1948 Lambeth Conference.

Yet those eloquent views show a remarkable ripening of the thought emerging between progressive voices in the West and the church leaders on the missionary frontier, and may be a helpful correction to the standard depiction of post-Western Christianity as a reactionary phenomenon.3

The texts mentioned above, both the Memorandum of the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Huiand the Memorial of the working group to the 1948 Lambeth Conference can be found here on Project Canterbury. They make for very interesting reading, especially in light of these events regarding the ordination of women in 2012.

  1. The Church of England first approved the ordination of women in 1992 and ordained their first female priests in 1994 []
  2. Currently six provinces of the Anglican Communion do not ordain women (Central Africa, Melanesia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, South East Asia, Tanzania), three provinces ordain women as deacons only (Southern Cone, Congo, Pakistan), ten provinces ordain women as deacons and priests, but not as bishops (Burundi, Indian Ocean, Jerusalem and the Middle East, Kenya, Korea, Rwanda, South India, Wales, West Indies, West Africa) and seventeen have approved–at least in theory–the ordination of women as Bishops as well (Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia; Australia; Canada; United States, Bangladesh, Brazil, Central America, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, North India, Philippines, Scotland, Southern Africa, Sudan, Uganda) []
  3. Disciples of All Nations, p 260-262 []

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