Horatio

Horatio
[Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

St. Thomas Becket's Day

When I was a teenager, I first saw the film Becket (on cable, I hasten to add) and was bowled over by the conflict between two friends divided by their best selves--Becket's duty to his Church, Henry's to the political role of King. In the film, their flaws unite them--Henry's wenching and drinking, Becket's collaboration with the Normans in their oppression of his Saxon people.

Of course, Jean Anouilh didn't get his facts at all right--Becket was not a Saxon as depicted, but a Norman, and a member of the prosperous middle class. But the archetypical conflict drew me to the story, and while I was impressed by both characters, I found myself sympathising more with Henry, whose pain at the dissolution of his closest friendship was so well played by O'Toole.

Imagine my surprise when, years later, I found out that one of the most pressing grounds for the conflict between Becket and Henrywas the treatment of "criminous clergy" who committed offenses against the laity; in the face of years of inaction by the ecclesiastical authorities, Henry wanted the right to try such clerics in the secular courts.

There was much more to it than that, of course. The real Thomas Becket may have been headstrong and arrogant, but he was also seeking to preserve the institution of the Church as it was entrusted to him, and to resist a King who was re-making the political institutions of his day and centralizing power in the King's person.

As to Becket's murder, the King's role in it has always been sharply disputed--the authenticity and meaning of the infamous quotation, "will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" have been debated for centuries. (An excellent account is contained in W.L. Warren's biography, Henry II).

What cannot be doubted is Becket's courage, and his fidelity to his vision of the Church. That it is a vision that is now very alien to us should not lead us to lose sight of those values. The reality may be less romantic than the movie; it's not less moving.

Friday, December 28, 2007

On Christmas day in the Morning

Further developments at St. Nicholas's Mission in Atwater. As reported by Father Jake, on Christmas Morning, the following was received at St. Nicholas's:
Dear Jo and Deacon Buck,

The attached document is the letter notifying Fr. Risard that his deployment at St. Nicholas is now over. We wish you to know that the Bishop and the Diocese are fully behind the continuation of your church in Atwater and will do all that we are able to support you during this transition.

There are many details to take care of, and many questions which you probably have for the Bishop or me.

The most important Directions from the Bishop to accomplish immediately include:

Change the exterior locks immediately, including the interior lock to the priest's offices and any file cabinets.

Retrieve the bank statements of any accounts that Fr. Risard had signature authority to: the discretionary account, and any other accounts.

Notify me of any minutes from past Bishop's Committee meetings for the past three months and forward them to me. This is especially important if there are commitments made to Mr. Michael Glass, an attorney referenced in the letter of Fr. Risard to the Bishop.

We will assume that the Deacon will be able to lead worship for a short period of time, especially this next Sunday. Reserved sacrament will be provided by the Rural Dean, Fr. Ron Parry, or by me if necessary.

Our prayers are with you during this time of transition.

Yours faithfully,
The Rev. Canon Bill Gandenberger
Now that's the Christmas spirit! Not enough to announce the termination of the priest, the reduction of services and the essential elimination of the mission two days before Christmas, let's cast an even greater pall over the Christmas Day services themselves, eh, John-David?

What was it Tertullian identified as the distinguishing feature of Christians even in the eyes of disapproving Roman society? "See how they love one another." Hardly in evidence, here--I'm an experienced litigator, and have seen timing of letters and documents as a ploy, but this takes my breath away. To put it with more charity than is probably reasonable, Schofield's unrestricted warfare against the public dissenters whose conscience he claimed that he would respect--"no one is being asked to act against his conscience," after all--gravely undermines any claims that he has to act as a Christian leader.

His actions have further deepened the rancor between factions in the Church; to take but one example, The Anglican Scotist, who previously praised the "surprisingly irenic tone" of Schofield's response to the Presiding Bishop, now understandably laments that "Schofield ... made an utter fool of me." (He didn't, Scotist; you're still one of the best. Your take on this story manages to go beyond passion and to tease out the theological dangers revealed by Schofield's action).

Interestingly, the "reasserter" blogs have been silent about this; as chronicled by the tireless Father Jake, neither Kendall Harmon nor Stand Firm have addressed it--indeed, SF, as above linked, deleted a post on this story from what it called an "open thread" asking for "the most outrageous Episcopal stories of 2007," only to have a commenter declare it "[i]nteresting that not one of the revisionistas has posted on this particular thread." Similarly, on another thread, SF cut at least 8 comments on this matter, and subsequently banned the commenter.

At a minimum, the "reasserters" seem aware that this action casts them and their cause in a revealing, and unpleasing, light. And, I would argue, this profoundly unchristian course of conduct--even if you agree with Schofield that he is still entitled to exercise authority over what was, after all, founded as a mission of TEC, he's violating the standard he set for himself, and punishing the parishoners for the dissent of their vicar--and all this on Christmas Day!--is consistent with the authoritarianism and self-righteousness displayed by other prominent "reasserters." To take an example I've quoted before, it's of a piece with Archbishop Akinola's official support for legal persecution of gays, lesbians and those who support their civil rights, and his astonishment that a gay man would dare shake his holy hand, which I would call quite literally pharisaical, except it gives the pharisees a bad rap. And the "burying the lede" by our "Worthy Opponents" (as they like to style us)? Rather like Martyn Minns's bland denial that Akinola is "an advocate of jailing gays" which was neatly bracketed--both before and after--by official written statements by Akinola advocating passage of a law which would do just that.

The plating is wearing through, revealing the base metal beneath.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Light of the World

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

(Jn. 1:1-14).

My oft-referred to hero, W. R. Inge, called St. John's Gospel "the charter of Christian Mysticism" in chapter 2 of his masterwork; Archbishop William Temple, another of my heroes, in his Readings in St. John's Gospel (1945), adamantly denied any mystical component to this Gospel. Years ago, at the Church of the Transfiguration, I hears a sermon about this "Logos Hymn" which sought to tie these views together, as a paen to the wonder--and reality--of the Incarnation.

However you see it, may the Light of the World shine for you and yours this Christmas.

(Photo: The Rose Window, St Bartholomew's Church, NYC, by David Shankbone)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Straining at Gnats...

Really, the current state of the Anglican Communion can be quite depressing. Take the little matter of Archbishop Akinola's Christmas Message:
The incarnation is the divine condescension. The birth of Christ which we celebrate is the decisive divine intervention into human history. By it, history is measured and judged. Before the birth of Christ, all of history is categorized as era ‘Before Christ’ (B.C.) and since then, we have been in the era of ‘the year of Our Lord’ (anno domini, A.D.)
****

Efforts to turn Christmas into a mere holiday season continue unabated all around us. ‘Christmas Greetings’ are replaced with ‘Season Greetings’ as if it possible to have a Christmas without Christ. ‘B.C.’ and ‘A.D’ are changed to ‘B.C.E.’ (Before Common Era), and ‘C.E’ (Common Era) all in an attempt to conceal the fact that Jesus came to save an erring world from sin and eternal condemnation


Leave aside the question of truthfulness (Archbishop? You are aware, aren't you, that people other than Christians write history? And that Jews, in particular, who have been the victims of centuries of persecution by Christians might not dig having to acknowledge Jesus's Lordship by giving a date? And that the "common era", previously known as the "vulgar era", dates back to 1617, and is therefore not some po mo plot to discredit Jesus?), it's the lack of perspective that stuns. Nigeria is roiled with corruption and human rights violations. The Church is proudly leading the charge to strip away legal rights from gays , lesbians and those who believe in their rights to free expression, while invading the United States to sycophantic coos of delight from those who prefer to blink at the violation of human rights, as set out in the Windsor Report, that it fosters. So, what weighty, spiritual insights does he come out with? A rehash of Bill O'Reilly's greatest fits. There's your spiritual leader, CANA. Be proud! And, sadly, judging from the comments, they are.

Meanwhile, as reported by Father Jake, Jean-David Schofield (does a bishop who defects get to keep his title?), attended at the TEC-loyal mission church of St. Nicholas, in Atwater, California. He was allowed by the vicar to preach and to preside over the service, despite previous correspondence between the vicar, Father Fred Risard, and Schofield. Then, two days before Christmas, in front of all the parishoners, Schofield, who came accompanied by leather-jacketed bodyguards, gave the congregation their Christmas gift a little early:
At the end of the service, the Bishop stood up and said he had not come to St. Nicholas to fire Fr. Risard or close down St. Nicholas, and then he proceeded to do just that. He said that because of declining attendance at St. Nicholas, he could only afford to send them a supply priest "occasionally". What will happen to Fr. Risard was left unspecified. Fr. Risard then stood up and gave an eloquent denunciation of John David and his policies.
I'm sure the children, in particular, were edified by this demonstration of christian spirit just before the holiday.

Fairness compels me to note that I have seen no commentary on this act of prelatical cruelty from the "reasserting" blogs yet--perhaps even they find it distasteful. But this act, combined with the "reasserters" embrace of Akinola, make clear their priorities: power, vindictiveness and suppression of all contrary views--all in the name of the Price of Peace, who will, I suspect, want to return this noxious birthday gift.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

'Tis the Season for Mariology?

Oh, as usual, dear. The Archbishop of Canterbury has pointed out the lack of scriptural foundation for much of the Christmas Story as popularly retold, and in so doing has expressed some hesitation regarding the historicity of the Virgin Birth, and of its doctrinal importance:
He said he was committed to belief in the Virgin Birth “as part of what I have inherited”. But belief in the Virgin Birth should not be a “hurdle” over which new Christians had to jump before they were accepted.

He hinted that decades ago he was not “too fussed” with the literal truth of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. But as time went on, he developed a “deeper sense” of what the Virgin Birth was all about.
The result? Consternation in the Conservative Anglican section of the blogosphere (especially in the comments).

To which I have to ask: Are you folks kidding me?

Let me quote Bishop N.T. Wright, who himself believes in the account of the virginal conception as a matter of faith, but acknowledges that it must, from a historical perspective, be placed in a "suspense account":
No one can prove, historically, that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. No one can prove, historically, that she wasn't. Science studies the repeatable; history bumps its nose against the unrepeatable. If the first two chapters of Matthew and the first two of Luke had never existed, I do not suppose that my own Christian faith, or that of the church to which I belong, would have been very different.
Roman Catholic historian Fr. John P. Meier, in volume 1 of his study A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (1991) at 220-222, punts, and comes to an entirely equivocal conclusion, that the virginal conception of Jesus is simply not susceptible to historical analysis, but turns rather on one's faith committments.

Father Meier, in particular, points out that the scriptural term translated "virgin" does not in fact carry the meaning in either Greek (Matthew and Luke)nor Hebrew (Isaiah) of one who has not yet had sexual intercourse. Like Wright, he points to conflicting texts, connotations and denotations of words, and the analogous stories of divine conception of emperors and heroes--and, rather more so than Wright, leaves these conflicts unresolved. (UPDATE: I am reminded by a commenter on Stand Firm of Raymond Brown's excellent study The Birth of the Messiah (1979) which likewise is inconclusive on the subject of historicity, but defends the tradition on theological grounds).

This position is hardly a new one; although Bishop Gore in his Dissertations (1895) mounts a theological and historical defense of the doctrine, the fact that he spent over sixty pages on it, and ends by adverting to the harm to the Church's teaching authority if so fundamental a creedal statement comes into general disbelief, illustrates how besieged Bishop Gore clearly feels on this point. (This is not to say that Bishop Gore's arguments are all at that level, or indeed that he is not persuasive on the questions of theological purpose to the doctrine. In fact, his views are not radically unlike those of Bishop Wright here, and, to the extent he relies on tradition and theology to justify his retention of the doctrine, Williams's views are a diluted version of a portion of those of Bishop Gore).

In other words, as the normally conservative Ruth Gledhill herself notes in the article summarizing Abp. William's interview,
Dr Williams was not saying anything that is not taught as a matter of course in even the most conservative theological colleges. His supporters would argue that it is a sign of a true man of faith that he can hold on to an orthodox faith while permitting honest intellectual scrutiny of fundamental biblical texts.
I think that Gledhill is clearly correct here--and that the heated response to Williams's comments is informative about the state of conservative Anglican thought today--reflexive, suspicious, close-minded, and profoundly out of touch with the Anglican tradition.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Limits of Anglo-Catholic Ecclesiology?

So, like everyone else in the Anglican blogosphere, I have been musing over the Archishop of Canterbury's Advent Letter, in which he addresses, at long last, the ongoing schism.

My first reaction to the letter was that it was a "plague o' both your houses" letter. Certainly it has David Anderson frothing at the mouth (TEC is "pharoah" and "going to hell"; the Archbishop speaks only "for the dead and dying Anglicanism"). On the other hand, TEC and TEC alone--and Bishop Gene Robinson--are singled out by name for strong censure, while the Windsor Report--and the "Windsor Bishops"--are valorized. Moreover, as Father Jake emphasized, the Anglican Covenant are very much front and center in this letter. A disturbing note in the letter is, as Father Jake also aptly notes, struck by Williams's reference to the "Anglican Church" in one place is very, very odd.

I can't help but wonder if this last isn't a reflection of Williams's Anglo-Catholicism, and if so, it would point to a problem for me in the direction he seeks to take Anglo-Catholicism. If Williams sees the Communion as one "catholic church", and not a family of separate churches, each held together by bonds of sympathy, this might explain why he seems so keen on the proposed Anglican Covenant. the Archbishop could, under this theory, actively desire to see the rise of a magisterial body out of the Primates, and view this as a natural and proper evolution of the Anglican Communion, into a single Church in name and fact, which would parallel the structure of the Roman Catholic Church, but hold a wider variety of views within it.

If so, then the Archbishop might be prepared to let gays and lesbians pay the cost of obtaining the accession of the "reasserters" (many of whom are more akin to congregationalists) to such a structure, which will gain them doctrinal conformity.

As for me, I have found a home in the Anglican variant of catholic thinking precisely because it divorced the benefits of Catholic sacramentalism, mysticism, and liturgy from the authoritarianism of Rome. Perhaps Williams is less fond of that separation than am I, and perhaps he hopes to take Anglo-Catholicism in a new--that is to say, very old--direction.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Good Cause Alert!

After the purported secession of the Diocese of San Joaquin, the faithful remnant of parishes loyal to TEC can use all the support they can get.

Visit Remain Episcopal. Send them a message of support in this time of schism. If you can afford to, consider donating. Above all, keep them in your prayers.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

PSA: An Amateur Analysis

As I recently mentioned, I'm not a believer in the theory of the Atonement commonly known as Penal Substitutionary Atonement ("PSA"). Now there are many forms of this doctrine, some of which even noted evangelical scholar J.I. Packer has called "crude," and addressing such a form of the doctrine is taking on a venerable part of tradition (dating to St. Anselm) only at its weakest--it's setting up a straw man. So, in the interest of fairness and intellectual honesty, let me use Packer's own statement, from his 1973 Tyndale Biblical Theology Lecture, "What Did the Cross Achieve: The Logic of Penal Substitution," linked above. In his lecture, after a careful and scholarly exegesis of biblical and traditional sources of the doctrine, Packer proposes his own statement of the doctrine:
The ingredients in the evangelical model of penal substitution are now, I believe, all before us, along with the task it performs. It embodies and expresses insights about the cross which are basic to personal religion, and which I therefore state in personal terms, as follows:

(1) God, in Denney’s phrase, ‘condones nothing’, but judges all sin as it deserves: which Scripture affirms, and my conscience confirms, to be right.

(2) My sins merit ultimate penal suffering and rejection from God’s presence (conscience also confirms this), and nothing I do can blot them out.

(3) The penalty due to me for my sins, whatever it was, was paid for me by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in his death on the cross.

(4) Because this is so, I through faith in him am made ‘the righteousness of God in him’, i.e. I am justified; pardon, acceptance and sonship become mine.

(5) Christ’s death for me is my sole ground of hope before God. ‘If he fulfilled not justice, I must; if he underwent not wrath, I must to eternity.’

(6) My faith in Christ is God’s own gift to me, given in virtue of Christ’s death for me: i.e. the cross procured it.

(7) Christ’s death for me guarantees my preservation to glory.

(8) Christ’s death for me is the measure and pledge of the love of the Father and the Son to me.

(9) Christ’s death for me calls and constrains me to trust, to worship, to love and to serve.

Thus we see what, according to this model, the cross achieved and achieves.
Packer's summation is admirable in that it reflects a nuanced, thoughtful exploration of Biblical text as understood throughout the Protestant tradition, and even invokes the Catholic tradition as well (Anselm over Abelard). He helpfully notes that the alternative meanings of the Cross (particularly the "moral theory") does not contradict PSA, that those meanings are all valid and contain truth. Despite these nuances, in my opinion, Packer's view underplays the Biblical theme of our "sonship" (sorry for the sexist terminology, but I'm quoting Henry Scott Holland's essay "Faith" from Lux Mundi). This theme, as explicated by Jesus himself, and consistent with the Book of Genesis, suggests that PSA rests upon too stark a vision of God's forgiveness and emphasizes human depravity over our status as children of God.

God as Parent

The central point of Holland's essay is that we can have faith in God because of the personal experience of relatedness to God that stems from cultivation of the spritual life. He described this as "sonship" and points to our feeling that Creation, in some manner, is ours as much as we are its. We feel privileged as heirs, not merely living by sufferance.

Biblically, of course, this concept derives from several statements of Jesus. John 1:12, and 10:34 depict him as describing his followers and Israel as "children of God" (or "sons of God," depending on translation). Jesus is, in Jn. 10:34, quoting the characterization of Israel from Ps.82:6. Similar statements can be found in Phillipians 2:15 and 1 Jn.2:1-2.

But I think the most telling statement is not a reference but an explication from Matthew 7:7-12:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets
See also Luke 11:9-13.

Moreover, in the Old Testament, God is depicted as not delighting in sacrifice, but in loyalty. Hosea 6:6; Ps. 51:16. In Genesis, of course, God intervenes before the sacrifice of Isaac.

And, of course, John 3:16: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish..."

Now these biblical texts do not, of course, disprove PSA--indeed, John 3:16 is deployed by Packer in support of it. But they do establish certain aspects of God and our relationship with Him that are central to Christian thinking:

1. We are called to be children of God;
2. God's love for us is like that of a parent to a child--only far more so--more pure, more giving, more generous;
3. God does not value sacrifice or pain for their own sake.

Packer's Assertions in the Light of Holland's Notion of "Sonship"

Moving on to Packer's nine-point summary of PSA, let's look at several of his points in the light of what we can glean about our relationship with God, from Scripture and relation as emphasized by Holland.

1. "God Condones Nothing and Judges Sin as it Deserves" Undoubtedly true. However, condonation and forgiveness are not the same. Forgiveness includes judgment, and can only happen after judgment that there is something to forgive. This is, if I may draw upon my legal studies, where many who write on retributive justice go astray: retributive justice does not merely provide a substitute for private vengeance; it rather represents an assay by the community of the weight of the transgressor's offense--an assessment of the scope of the infringement of the community's norms. That assessment is far different and distinct from the question of deciding what, if any, punishment should be inflicted upon the offender. Indeed, even in the criminal justice system, in rare but compelling cases, even serious crimes may be so judged but nonetheless deemed to warrant no punishment.

Theologically, we are told by Jesus again and again to forgive--seventy times seven times--and to not arrogate to ourselves judgment. Matt. 18:22. Indeed, we are incentivized to refrain from judgment of others by the warning that we shall be judged by our own measure. Matt. 7:1.

So, while I agree with this point, I do not see it as particularly supporting PSA.

2. "My sins merit ultimate penal suffering and rejection from God’s presence"

Well, this is the big step, isn't it? Let's think about this, though. Do the sins of mankind merit "ultimate penal suffering"? Well, if we're acknowledging that even the best of us is in need of God's salvific love, I'm on board. If we're saying that even those who devote themselves to Christ's service for a lifetime in humility somehow are as undeserving of God's love as the worst of humanity--that there's a moral equivalence between Vlad the Impaler and Mother Theresa--and that finite sins deserve eternal punishment--I have to say, that sounds to me a tad much. In jurisprudence, there's a concept called proportionality", which states that punishment in excess of crime is unjust. If we, who are fallen, can see this and moderate our flawed justice systems accordingly, isn't it arrogant presumption to believe our heavenly father is blind to such justice? At some point, even a weighty debt is, in justice, repaid. Is God who in Exodus 21:23-27, enunciated a doctrine of proportionality, blind to it Himself?

To accept this step, you must agree that, in the words of
Jonathan Edwards, "God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire." God abhors his children? That flouts Jesus's own words that we are as children to God--erring children, no doubt, sometimes even very wicked children--but if you have, as I have, condoled with a parent whose child has been convicted of a grevous criminal offense, and who knows that that child is guilty, you would know that the word "abhor" is not applicable. Love never dies--not a parent's, and, by Jesus's own express analogy, not God's.

3. "The penalty due to me...was paid for me by Jesus Christ on the Cross"

There's a lot of truth in this--and yet, I think that the metaphor of Christ the Lamb sacrificed at Passover has been overly literalized as deployed here. Also, doesn't this endorse the rather chilling words of Caiaphas in Jn. 11:50 that "it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not"? PSA here actually places God in a position that is less forgiving than we, his children, are told to be--we are told to forgive wrongs without payment, to carry the burden two miles when forced to carry it one, and to turn the other cheek rather than to return a blow. But God requires payment? But our Father is, we are told, more, not less, giving than we are capable of being.

Again, as a metaphor, it's powerful and conveys much truth--that if we do not take up our Cross, and follow Jesus, dying to ourselves to live in Christ, to borrow from St. Paul, we cannot fulfill our destinies as children of God. As a literal truth--dubious, I think, at best.

4. Justification By Faith: Agreed, but see 3 above.

5. "Christ's death for me is my sole hope" Well, add Christ's life and resurrection, and modify as described in point 3, above, and I agree.

6-9. Again, see 5 & 3. Christ's death is important--my next post will be on a Lux Mundi-influenced theory of the Atonement--but stressing Christ as Ransom over God as loving Father is to, in my opinion, concretize metaphor in an unhelpful fashion. Again, if we can forgive without payment, then surely God is able to. With great respect for Packer, I think in his enunciation of PSA he loses sight of that most basic, most biblical of truths.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Lesson of Coventry: A Fragment of Autobiography

My last post used, in discussing the Anglican Crisis, a photo of the ruins of Coventry Cathedral (and a quote from Shaw), to make the point that adversaries become all too often willing to destroy the beautiful based upon a caricature of the other side that allows for the pleasures of self-righteous rage. (George MacDonald Fraser once famously wrote that "hell hath no fury like a justified Christian," a remark we all should try not to live down to).

But Coventry deserves better than to be an example, and especially it deserves better from me. Because Coventry is where I went from being a vague theist, who believed God existed, but didn't feel any particular connection to Him, to being a Christian.

When I graduated law school, my parents took myself and my sister on a family vacation--a package tour of England and Scotland. It was a whirlwind affair ("ooh, look--there's Stonehenge! Gotta run!"), and we spent hours on a bus with tourists from Australia (a charming older couple), a family from Germany, and quite a few from the U.S. But it was my first time away from Norh America and I loved finally being in England.

And then we got to Coventry. The frail beauty of the old cathedral underlined the devastation wrought by the Blitz,and the new cathedral's modern lines reminded me of the swaths of raw concrete in London which replaced the neigborhoods bombed by the Luftwaffe.

Then I went into the ruin, and walked about marvelling at the devastation, and at the shell of the cathedral. I couldn't focus on the tour guide, because I was stunned that anyone could leave standing so utterly hollowed out a shell--

and then I encountered the altar. Or rather, the roof-beam cross fashioned by a cathedral craftsman, named Jock Forbes, shortly after the Cathedral was bombed in November 1940.

And then I knew why the buiding still stood. To commemorate not just the loss, but the fact that in November of 1940--with pain and loss all around, and the odds still massively tilted against national survival--Christians could, as the tour guide told us, hold a mass for the German pilots as well as the British dead. And that they could put up on the ruined sanctuary's wall, behind the cross, the words "Father, Forgive." That they could forgive, and seek reconciliation.

And that is when I knew that Christianity was not just true, it was alive. On a cold damp morning in Coventry, I discovered it because a group of Christians half a century before my visit rejected anger, rejected bitterness, rejected hatred, and and lived their faith.

And that is how mine became a reality, and not just assent to abstract principles.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Lighting Strawmen, Burning Flesh


I realize that many of the debates within the Anglican Communion are painful, but what is perhaps most painful is the way that we see each other across fences of distrust. I've already pointed to the verbal abuse the Presiding Bishop is subjected to by conservative bloggers, but let's look at something more serious; here's a characterization of the Episcopal Church from Leander S. Harding, Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at the Trinity School for Ministry:
It is widely thought here that the scriptures are intriguing cultural artifacts of the religious experience of time bound cultures but certainly nothing more than clues to how contemporary people might work out and recreate their own religion. Increasingly it has become clear that the majority who do indeed embrace a new spirit based and experienced based religion are not able to tolerate traditionalists in their midst. Religion is seen by the majority as primarily about “radical hospitality” and “inclusion” and “liberation.” Traditionalists are seen as contemporary equivalents of slave holders and betrayers of the central tenets of the new religion. I find it very hard to make a case on the basis of the revisionist theology as I understand it for the inclusion of traditionalists. Slave holders can be tolerated for strategic reasons but not for moral or theological reasons. We perhaps can be allowed as long as we do not try to extend our influence.
Sorry; long quote. But important, I think. Let's unpack it a bit.

First, I'm part of the "reappraiser" group he's talking about, and I recognize neither myself nor any of those I agree in the description. I believe in the Creeds, the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection--even the Atonement, although not in its "penal substitutionary" form. (That's grist for a future post, eh?) I stand with John Milton on the subject of strict predestination, but otherwise I'm pretty orthodox by all but the most rigorous Calvinist standard.

Second, I don't have the feelings toward conservatives that Harding describes. Oh, I get pretty upset with them, as witness this post, for example, but that's because I'm appalled at the extent of modern day suffering some of them are willing to inflict through coercive policies through the state (Yes I mean Peter Akinola and Martyn Minns). If a conservative wants to maintain a traditionalist position as an academic position, or argue that we should follow it in our church--well, I won't agree, but I don't need to to drive them out of the Church, either. I'll debate, civilly for preference, and hope that my view will prevail--or I should say (!), that in discernment, views will coalesece, and the will of God be known. In general, I want a strong traditionalist group in the Church to balance my own liberal views--to be sure that we hear the voice of the Spirit and not just of our selves. The tension, when not toxic, is healthy.

I think that one reason why we get heated, though, on the "reappraiser" side of the great divide surfaced in a discussion at Father Jake's. In discussing the pro-Iraq War position of many conservative Christians, I noticed that those defending the position were doing so on the basis that we have to look beyond a literal reading of Jesus's words, and focus on the overall message He was conveying. I asked "if it isn't a question of Scriptural authority, not unlike those on which the "reasserters" are splitting the AC? It's interesting how many reasserters find it easy to distinguish away the words of the Savior when they run counter to social "business as usual" (war) but then decree we must uphold with strict textual fidelity those words of St. Paul that serve the same social conventions."

My wording was harsh, perhaps, but I do think that there is something to the point: traditionalists have the difficulty of distinguishing between cultural mores and inspiration. It's hard--much easier to dismiss "reappraisers" as non Christians--easier than to ask where they would have stood in the early Twentieth Century on the traditional anti-Semitism of many Christian churches--a tradition tracing its roots through Scripture, the reasoning of Augustine, Aquinas, the Catholic Tradition (what price the Palio, eh?), as well as American and British anti-semitism. (Just read Dickens).

But that question is painful. So they depict us as neo-pagans with a love for social work. And, no doubt, we "reappraisers" can likewise caricature our "Worthy Opponents" and then grow unduly angry at those caricatures. I'm sure that we have been guilty of similar overstatement and lack of charity. It is one of the great, if costly, pleasures, after all, as Bernard Shaw had the repentant inqisitor explain in St. Joan:
You don't know: you havnt seen: it is so easy to talk when you dont know. You madden yourself with words: you damn yourself because it feels grand to throw oil on the flaming hell of your own temper. But when it is brought home to you; when you see the thing you have done; when it is blinding your eyes, stifling your nostrils, tearing your heart, then--then--
Then it is too late.

Perhaps we should all take a breath, and learn from the tragedy of Coventry Cathedral, bombed to a shell in the Blitz; the workmen fashioned a cross and set it where the altar had stood. Behind it, the wall of the ruined sanctuary reads, to this day, simply "Father, Forgive."

Must we wait until our church is destroyed, before we learn the lesson?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Another Moment

After my last post, in which I posited that the conflation of one's own political agenda with the will of God is a sure sign of hubris, what do I see (per Mark Harris) from the Church of Nigeria:
National Coordinator of Church of Nigeria Prayer Convocation, Rt. Revd Sosthenes Eze pointed out that Africa occupies a very important place in God's plan and purpose as he traced the involvement of the black continent from creation of the world to the death of Christ. He said that Africa provided the enabling environment for the purpose of God to thrive.

In an expository teaching, the cleric carefully x-rayed practical applications of God's dealing with Africa in molding the characters He used to bring about generational changes. From the generation of Adam, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Isaiah to Christ, “God has always depended on Africa to bring about deliverance to His people. God specifically chose Egypt in his programming and ordination to preserve Jacob and his household.”

He asserted that the pivotal role played by the Church of Nigeria in defending the truth that has been distorted in some pars of the worldwide Anglican family is part of God's plan and purpose to preserve a remnant for Himself.
'Myes. Well. See my point, then?

Monday, November 26, 2007

"We Stand at Armageddon, and We Battle for the Lord!"

If, like me, you recognize the above quotation, you probably can't read it without wincing. It's the exact moment when my boyhood hero, Theodore Roosevelt, completely loses it, conflating his own political agenda with God's will. It's a moment of hubris, arrogance, and the frightful effect of certitude.

We're seeing a lot of certitude in the Anglican blogosphere, and among various schismatic bishops. We're seeing condemnations of the "Worthy Opponents" to hell, and a Church smugly boasting of its role in secular persecution of gays and lesbians, as well as any who would defend their civil rights. So David Virtue, ante, writes in defense of Archbishop Akinola:
Now if Akinola were an African-American, white liberals would never dare say the things about him that they do. They get away with it because he is ensconced in Africa and does not have access to America's legal system. Bishops Spong, Griswold, Shaw, Bennison et all have all said things about Akinola and his fellow African bishops that would be deemed racist and be subject to lawsuits were they spoken on US soil to a US African-American bishop.
Well, simply put, no. Akinola is, of course, free to bring a case--but under decades old settled caselaw, he hasn't got one. I'm not aware of any racist statements made by the above-named about Akinola, but the First Amendment protects criticism of Akinola, even if it were deemed racist, as long as it was not likely to bring about imminent violence. See Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969). Virtue is, quite simply, without a leg to stand on here.

The ersatz bishop, Martyn Minns, prefers to misrepresent the Church of Nigeria's position on use of the power of the state; in a statement issued shortly before the Truro parish vote to affiliate with CANA, he rejected as "not true" a characterization of Akinola as "an advocate of jailing gays." The statement used to appear on the CANA website, but has been removed; as of this writing it remains here. In the Listening Report, the Church of Nigeria states that
In Nigeria the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2006 is passing through the legislature. The House of Bishops has supported it because we understand that it is designed to strengthen traditional marriage and family life and to prevent wholesale importation of currently damaging Western values. It bans same sex unions, all homosexual acts and the formation of any gay groups. The Standing Committee of the Church of Nigeria has twice commended the act in their Message to the Nation.
Prior to Minns's statement, Akinola had sent out a similar one under his own name.

So, let's review: seething anger, co-opting the secular arm to enforce religious norms, misstatements of law (Virtue) and false reassurances to the secessionists to ease their consciences (Minns).

Love and truth be damned; they stand at Armageddon, and they battle with the Lord, after all.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Anglocat On The Aisle

Today, I was involved in my first service as a Lay Eucharistic Minister. We trained for about a half hour last Sunday, focusing on the meanings of the sacrament, and on how to administer it to people who "dunk", who won't take the chalice, who--well, you get the idea.

What we did not discuss, and in retrospect, might have been a good idea, was our role in the procession. We preceded the clergy, folowing the choir. In vestments. Carrying the hymnal and singing. Just before we went in, the Rector smiled, and clapped me on the shoulder, welcoming me. He teased, "It's Rookies' Day today," just as the music swelled.

I had been briefed on my seating minutes before we began the procession. What I had not realized was that I was flanked not by the other LEMs, but by clergy--including two new priests I had not met before. I was nearest the altar rail, and closest to the congregation.

I was somewhat disoriented by my new view of the Church--all the details that normally surround me in my seat among the congregation were fresh and vivid with my new perspective. I saw the beauty of the Rose Window as if for the very first time. And the congregation was large. Larger than I'm aware of when I'm in it. I began to feel nervous, afraid I'd trip on an altar step, or some other Clouseau-level fumble. (The fact that someone had helpfully given me the leaflet for the wrong service ddn't help much, either).

But I relaxed a little as the service went on, and when the time came to administer the Sacrament, I found it took up my whole attention--making eye contact, pausing for the older lady who had her hand in a cast, and needed to be sure of her grasp of the chalice, guiding the chalice to the lips of one lady who clearly expected me to do the work. I was helped by the fact that I was working in tandem with the Deacon (a friend, with whom I do some parish work), and we found a comfortable rhythm easily.

We later processed out--with which we three newbies were not familiar with, but we just faked it. And, that was that.

Except it doesn't communicate the exaltation of having done it--of having been a part of the team, and of having contributed to the service. And here's today's lesson for the Anglocat:

I'm very comfortable using my analytical skills, my intellectual abilities. But I'm not used to the spiritual side of life when it's not bound up in the intellect. I don't know how to be in the moment, when the moment isn't a moment of thought. Hence my nervousness--I was out of my comfort zone. But in a good way, I think. I have the same problem--not feeling assured--with some of my parish work, say in the homeless shelter. I'm too used to running in my familiar grooves. The acts--in the shelter, or at the altar--may be simple. Their resonance is profound.

More than most, I need to be mindful of
George Herbert's lesson:
All may of Thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture--"for Thy sake"--
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and th' action fine.
I've a ways to go. But I think I'm learning.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Great Divorce

In the weeks since I started this blog, the pace of schism has accelerated measurably. We now have the Diocese of San Joaquin attempting to secede to the Southern Cone, joining Fort Worth's attempt. At least one Canadian bishop has followed suit, leading the Council of General Synod of Canada to fire a warning shot across the bow of the Good Ship Venables. Meanwhile, have we got litigation.

Clearly, the Anglican Communion is tearing, and "bonds of affection" have sundered. I firmly believe that the so-called "Reasserters" sought this chaos in an effort to create a more centralized curial body without the latitudinarianism and scope for amicable difference that has, until now, marked our Anglican Communion. They want, in my opinion, a more structured, doctrinally uniform world-wide church, and not a loose confederation. Hence the concommitant effort to force a Covenant that would for the first time empower the relatively new Primates Meeting to adjudicate disputes as to orthodoxy, and "in the most extreme circumstances, where member churches choose not to fulfil the substance of the covenant as understood by the Councils of the Instruments of Communion, we will consider that such churches will have relinquished for themselves the force and meaning of the covenant’s purpose, and a process of restoration and renewal will be required to re-establish their covenant relationship with other member churches." (Draft Covenant at 6.6).

In other words, discipline of formerly autonomous churches based on the will of the Primates as to what is orthodox and "core." We have seen what many Primates are prepared to do: seize property and power, and insist on their right to prescribe for the world.

Under this scheme, the Anglican Communion will cease to be, and will give way to a single, monolithic Church, which will impose uniformity at the whim of the Primates. The marriage, clearly, is dead. Our "worthy opponents" (to use their phrase) are not Anglicans, and are not interested in traditional Anglicanism. We should let them go, in peace. We should forgive their insults, and pray for them.

As to personnel and property, I think we should take a nuanced position:

1. Any clergy who does not apply to be released or transfer from the Episcopal Church should be deposed. Any clergy who applies, in proper form, for release or transfer should be granted it.

2. Any parish that seeks to leave as a unit should be denied such permission--people may leave, the parish remains. However, where there is such a supermajority of departing members and clergy, that the parish structure is temporarily not viable, the departing members and clergy should be encouraged to negotiate a lend-lease arrangement with the diocese such that services may continue during negotiations for both departing members and remaining members while negotiations go on over transition or sale of the property. (In other words, if the option is the historic church becomes a night club, sell it to the schismatics--better them than the Limelight; use the proceds to build smaller churches for our continuing members).

3. Restrict litigation to those parishes where the remaining Episcopal membership is viable, or no such negotiations can be pursued due to the "reasserters" refusal to bargain in good faith. Offer mediation before suing.

4. Depose any bishops who purport to take a diocese out of TEC. Period. If they seek release or transfer, be gracious. Treat parishes within their bishoprics on a case-by-case basis--loyal parishoners must be protected, and supported. It is not sufficient to tell them to saddle their own horses. (Pace, Bonnie Anderson). TEC must make sure that every loyal congregant is reached out to and provided with a place of worship.

5. If these steps (especially 4) require us to reduce our cooperative efforts internationally, that is regrettable, but we should do so. But we maintain our anti-poverty programs as a top priority; if we cut funding, cut Lambeth and other ecclesiastical subsidiaries first. We cut any support to church structure in provinces invading us. We send missionaries to such locations to sustain our brothers and sisters in such nations.

6. No more "fasting" from Anglican bodies' meetings. We show up, mindful of C.P. Snow's dictum, "Never be too proud to be present." We advocate for our members, and our brothers and sisters worldwide. If they expel us, so be it. We ally with Canada, Wales, anyone else who does not walk from us. But we do not sit passive while other provinces presume to sit in judgment of us.

7. Finally, we remain open--always!--to reconciliation.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Blogging Lux Mundi: Henry Scott Holland on Faith

Henry Scott Holland's contribution to Lux Mundi, his essay entitled simply "Faith," is extraordinarily fresh for a piece of writing that dates to the Victorian Age. His concern with responding to Darwinian theory dates the essay only slightly, as his response of incorporating each new scientific datum into the worldview of the Christian is as applicable now as it was then. Indeed, it's perhaps especially timely as Holland's prediction--that the scientific models of his age would eventually wear thin, and faith would again confront the problem of increasing scientific knowledge upsetting the world-view that has domesticated and, if you will, digested, the scientific consensus, may be said to be coming true today--quantum theory, exploration into space and even into the human mind's own mechanics--all these threaten the world view of those who view each scientific discovery as shrinking the sphere of faith. Holland takes a different course.

For him, faith is not about knowledge, or even reason, although these are tools through which it works--it is that sense of "sonship" to the Divine, the relationship between ourselves and God, which creates in each of us a sense of our belonging to the world and its belonging to us. It is, to put words in Holland's mouth, an expansion of Descartes's solution to the solipsism of only being able to know that one exists as a thinking being--Holland points out that faith enables us to be in a world whose rough parameters we can know, and rely on, even though our knowledge of its mechanics and workings are so imperfect. And then Holland gets really interesting.

Holland points out that faith is beyond reason in the way all love, or chivalry, is--it involves a response (an act) in relationship to an other, God. And, like all relationships, it involves highs and lows, and growing (or declining) intimacy. So God threatens, warns, and then--pardons, seemingly in the teeth of his warnings. (Here is where I get my claim below that Holland implies that God's warnings cannot be viewed in isolation, and that God yearns for reconciliation, not for justice). Holland points to the continuing development of the relationship as a people through the millenia as a growing understanding away from our own culturally conditioned response, an evolution from the "imprecatory psalms" to the mercy and love of Christ. Each person, likewise, can grow in relationship through experience of God. Faith, in short, is a love story.

While it's not a comprehensive catalogue of belief, Holland points out, faith does come with the growing knowledge of the beloved--and that's how he grounds the creedal understanding of who God is, what we can grasp of Him even though we see "through a glass, darkly." To know, and to reason, are necessary--blind faith becomes superstition. But to experience faith, as love and in loving relationship, is paramount.

Holland's views can speak to us even now, and remind us of the place of doctrine, and that of knowledge, and even that of reason--important, each and every one, but in the end subordinate to experience, to living the relationship in, ideally, ever growing intimacy, as sons and daughters.

A Commercial (?) Message

In these times of liberal-conservaive tension, it's a pleasure to be able to reccomend a cross-divide work, in this case the admirable work The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visons by Marcus Borh and N.T. Wright (1999). A good review of the book, by Paul Copan from the June 2001 Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, may be found here: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3817/is_200106/ai_n9002484

Rather to my own surprise, I find myself agreeing quite a bit with Bishop Wright. I think Borg is convincing on certain issues, but Wright is particularly persuasive as to Jesus's own view of his messianic role, which Borg tries to debunk, but (at any rate here) is left to argue from probablility. By situating Jesus in the context of first century Judaism, Wright ably argues that messianic belief fits snugly within Jesus's core message, his call for a Kingdom in, but not of this world. (Copan's summary is the best I've found online that is readily accessible, but is rather slighting of Borg's contributions, and in fact proves Wright's contention that too many pproach discussions of Jesus with a pre-conceived outcome, whether from what he calls "the attic" (enexamined doctrinal faith) or from the dungeon (modern reliance on what Robertson Davies called "police-court" facts). The work really must be read on its own).

A particularly admirable feature of the book is the co-authors obvious affection for each other, and willingness to learn from each other. To take but one example, Wright handsomely describes Borg's treatment of Jesus's description of the Temple as a "den of thieves" as "illuminating" his own view of the messianic call to repentance within Israel. Borg is ikewise open to Wright's corrections. This book is a good example of what I meant in my first post when I said that liberals and conservatives (or reasserters and reappraisers; I'm not in love with either set of terms, to be frank) need each other, and need charity for each other.

While the book is not as in depth as would be ideal, it serves to introduce Wright's work to those who might not naturally gravitate to it, and the same for Borg's. That in itself has been an eye-opener for me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Akinola's Advance

I know, I promised an essay on Henry Scott Holland on faith--and I will give a few thoughts on his contribution to Lux Mundi, which is cogent and reconciles seemingly disparate traditions and scientific knowledge that still holds today.

But, Peter Akniola, the self proclaimed Primate of All Nigeria (what, like there's a primate of Southwest Nigeria to confuse him with?) had to go and spoil the mood:
The Church of Nigeria is not interested in territorial expansion. The failure to
resolve these dual crises has been at the heart of the decision by our Church
and a number of other Global South Provinces to offer encouragement and
oversight to a growing number of clergy and congregations in the USA. These
pastoral initiatives are not and should not be seen as the cause of the crises.

Although they have variously been described as “interventions”
“boundary crossing” or “incursions” -- they are a direct and natural consequence
of the decision by The Episcopal Church (TEC) to follow the path that it has now
chosen.

These pastoral initiatives undertaken to keep faithful
Anglicans within our Anglican family has been at a considerable cost of crucial
resources to our province. There is no moral equivalence between
them and the actions taken by TEC. They are a heartfelt response to cries for
help.

http://www.anglican-nig.org/main.php?k_j=12&d=130&p_t=index.php?

Well, thankee. So what about the fact that the Council of Nicea explicitly forbade such border raids?
It has been suggested that our actions violate historic Anglican polity and
early church tradition with particular reference made to the Council of Nicea.
This assertion is both hollow and made in bad faith since those who make it are
more than willing to ignore historic biblical teaching on the uniqueness of
Christ, the authority of the Scriptures and the call to moral obedience.

Wait a minute--what does he mean about ignoring the uniqueness of Chist? Where's that come from? And whose call to obedience? That of Lambeth 1.10 and the Windsor Report? Because I have to tell you, Akinola's not doing so well there, as the same Lambeth Resolutions that the Episcopal Church is under attack for allegedly violating by the consecration of openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson, and by several diocese’s blessing same-sex unions, also requires churches in the Anglican Communion to participate in both a listening process with gays and lesbians (who are simply denounced in the Nigerian report as part of the Windsor process--you can see it here: http://www.aco.org/listening/reports/nigeria.cfm, which does not constitute compliance) and to support human rights laws, which Akinola clearly does not. See Lambeth Resolution 1.1; Windsor Report at par 146, et seq.; Appx. III. http://www.anglican.org.nz/Resources/windsor2004full.pdf

In short, Lambeth has become a door that swings only one way–against the Episcopal Church, but not against a prelate who uses the Church’s influence to legitimize legal persecution, and boasts of it in the "Listening Report".

More details at Father Jake's helpful compendium: http://frjakestopstheworld.blogspot.com/2007/11/nigeria-rejects-windsor-report-and.html

Akinola's power play is clear--he wants the Global South Primates to seize control of the Anglican Communion, enforce a Covenant and expel those who do not surrender to his vision of Christianity--a call to obedience to Akinola, and Akinola alone. Christ need not apply.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Conservative Response I

1: Anglicanism and Congregationalism

The response of American conservatives in seeking schism has been to essentially jettison the traditional hallmarks of Angicanism--a hierarchical church led by bishops acting in concert within the national province, loosely affiliated in a world-wide Communion bound not by a curia but rather by ties of sympathy. That's gone now; American conservatives are demanding the right, on the parish and even on the diocesan level to make their own policy, and to secede from the national church, while remaining the recognized Anglican presence within their geograpgical limits.

See, e.g., http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=6961;
http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/7321/

At the same time, they grant the national church no such autonomy, hailing raiding forays from Nigeria and Uganda to try to displace the national church within parishes and even dioceses that have decided to bolt, and calling for Communion imposed discipline.

See, e.g., http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/7052/

This is a pretty peculiar form of churchmanship from a movement that was born in the creation of a national established church in England, quite frankly. Moreover, it has long been established that the unity of the national church was a high priority as early as the organization of the Conventions of 1785-1789. Indeed, the dictates of unity transcended national borders in the founding period; notably a major objection to the consecration of Bp. Seabury was that, by receiving his orders from the Church of Scotland, he had been guilty of schismatic behavior toward the Church of England. (Manross, A History of the American Episcopal Church (1935) at 194; 195-202)). As a thesis significantly antedating the present troubles makes clear, secession was not deemed an option throughout the Church's history from the Civil War until the present era. See J.A. Dator, Confederal, Federal or Unitary (1959), which is archived at: http://www.edow.org/dator/ (Hat tip: the inestimable Fr. Jake!)

Moreover, while conservatives argue that parishes and dioceses are free to secede from the national church at whim, they also insist that the national church should be subject to discipline by the Anglican Communion as a whole, acting through the Primates. This innovation would create an Anglican Curia, but also note the odd structure that results: the Primates become, absent any formal act empowering them to do so, sovereign over national churces--which themselves enjoy no such sovereighty over the individual dioceses or parishes, under TEC's polity. In other words, the national church has accountability without authority, while the local parishes and individual dioceses enjoy autonomy without accountability.


NEXT POST: Henry Scott Holland on Faith

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Discerning Development

It is frequently suggested (see, e.g. http://www.standfirminfaith.com/media/DESSERT.pdf ), that those who argue that the Church is morally required to modify its view on homosexual relationships are really replacing Christianity with a new religion, that they are willing--even eager--to discard traditional theology and Biblical Christianity in toto and replace it with an ethic of niceness combined with a social services agenda--that they are merely caregivers in cassocks. (Not all who hold this view are conservatives; Rumpole creator John Mortimer is known for his depictions of clergy as "wet" liberals with no real faith in God, from his Paradise Postponed (1986) to The Prince of Darkness (1978)).

While there may be some who really believe in the jettisoning of the Incarnation, Resurrection, and other foundational beliefs, I am, simply, not one of them. Not at all. My analysis is based within a traditional creedal Christianity, and I accept that Richard Hooker's "three strand cord" or "three-legged stool" does not equate Scripture, Reason and Tradition, but requires Reason and Tradition to be used in interpreting Scripture, within Scripture's purview, defined by Hooker as "Matters of fayth, and in generall matters necessarie unto salvation ." (Lawes III, quoted in Wm. Harrison, "Prudence and Custom: Revisiting Hooker on Authority, Fall 2002 Angl. Theol. rev., archived here: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3818/is_200210/ai_n9132703/pg_1) Hooker notably distinguishes between matters of faith and custom, including in the latter questions of Church governance--thus, the Anglican Communion has been able to reconcile a growing role for women despite Paul's discomfort with women speaking in Church in 1 Cor. 11, 14. (Of course, there is a strong rear-guard refusing to recognize ordinantion of women in an exercise of a rather simplistic Biblical literalism, but they are truly a rearguard).

Likewise, Charles Gore, in his essay "The Holy Spirit and Inspiration," in Lux Mundi argues that inspiration does not result in a line-by-line, unambiguous perfection of text, subject to simple application to real-life issues, but requires a careful perusal of all the Scripture in light of the level of theologiocal and/or historical understanding of the time of writing. Add to that the statement in John 16:12, and St. Paul's own warning, that perfect understanding is not ours yet, and what has been called a "clobber verse" approach is revealed as too literalistic and crude to provide an answer to the question.

So, I would use Reason and Tradition to seek to understand the Pauline prohibition of homosexual behavior. I would also view it in the light of two sayings, one of Jesus, and one by Paul himself: First, Jesus's statement that "By their fruit shall ye know them"(Matt 7:16), and second, Paul's own statement that "the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life" (2 Cor. 3:6). One classically Anglican synthesis of these passages holds that the gifts of the spirit may be known by their fruit.

Tradition, of course, has supported the Pauline prohibition. For most of Chritian history, homosexuality has been heavily stigmatized, known as recently as the late Victorian Age as "the crime that dare not speak its name" or, in the 18th Century, the "monstrous and detestable crime against nature." (Blackstone). Of course, the tradition can be questioned, as indeed can the translation of the scriptural passages at issue; see J. Boswell's controversial Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994); on translation see Rev. Goran Koch-Swahne, here: http://gkochswahne.blogspot.com/2006/08/from-chastity-to-heterosexism.html and here:
http://gkochswahne.blogspot.com/2006/07/shellfish-and-other-animals.html

I lack the background to evaluate either Bosewll's or Rev. Koch-Swahne's analysis, so I will merely resort to the third strand, Reason, and ask what the fruits of this prohibition have been: Pain and alienation stemming from an inauthentic existence for gays who enter heterosexual marriages because they are not called to celibacy, but wish to have socially acceptable family lives; the pain caused by these half-marriages to partners who cannot be loved as they want and deserve, and to their children. See, e.g., http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1589/is_2004_Oct_12/ai_n6247338.

Moreover, violence has been directed at gays and lesbians throughout the millenia, often in the name of Jesus Christ, even after the horriffic example of the persecution of them in the Holocaust. See, e.g, the life and career of "Rev." Fred Phelps, whose website's address is alone enough to condemn it: http://www.godhatesfags.com/; a short account of the Nazi persecution may be found here:http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005261; the continued widespread phenomenon of assault against gays and lesbians just in schools, may be seen here:http://www.365gay.com/Newscon06/04/042606schools.htm

To me, this is all too reminiscent of the Christian tradition of anti-semitism, which drew scriptural support from St Matthew's Gospel, St. Paul, and St. John's Gospel; traditional support from Ambrose and (to a lesser extent) Augustine, the practice of the Catholic Church over centuries, and continued well into our own time.(A good account, if somewhat heated and personal, is Carroll, Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews (2001)). Just as with anti-semitism, so anti-gay bias and its violence stand as a reproach to the Church, and are all too often deemed to be co-extensive with Christianity.

Just as that scripturally-based tradition has shown itself to be not a gift of the spirit, but a cultural misunderstanding of the text's implications, so too I would argue that our traditional understanding of the passages relied upon as a blanket ban on homosexual relations should be rejected. For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Introductory

So as schism accelerates (see http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/03/us/03episcopal.html?_r=1&oref=slogin), we Episcopalians are forced to question some of the most basic tenets of Anglicanism--who are we as a Church, what are the "core tenets" of our faith, and to what extent are we a "Biblical" church or a "progressive church." We're forced to examine these issues, as well as what we owe those who disagree with us on the issues which seem to be tearing our church asunder. At such a time of questioning, I feel impelled to start exploring my own positions and to join in the discussion within the Episcopal blogosphere

So, to begin my own small effort to participate in the discussion:

Who am I, and Why Should You Care?

I'm an Episcopalian who was raised Roman Catholic during the papacy of John Paul II, and gradually felt myself shoved to the fringes of that church by its increasing authoritarianism and marginalization of dissent within. I studied with the Marianists and the Jesuits when Frs. Hans Kung and Charles Curran went from respected progressive voices to silenced outsiders, and the experience of seeing the Jesuits threatened with dissolution didn't exactly endear what one author has termed "the authoritarian monolith of Rome" to me. (A quick summary of this history is available here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/pope/johnpaulii_2.shtml)

So, although I'm a liberal, I understand what it's like to be a minority within a faith community, and firmly believe that as long as core doctrine is not in question, the widest possible scope for discussion must be encouraged--for both liberal and conservative.

I became an Episcopalian in 1996--and have never regretted it. The two parishes with which I have been associtaed--St Bartholomew's NYC and Trinity Wall Street--have given me a stirring example of a place where faith is lived, not just preached, and where "radical welcome" is not merely political correctness, but an intergral part of the Great Commission.

I admire the traditional Anglican way of holding both liberal and conservative, catholic and protestant, wings of the Church together in a dynamic tension that prevents either from lapsing into complacency. To my mind, the erosion of this aspect of our Church is the greatest harm to be effected by our present-day schism.

Why an Anglo Catholic?

Beyond the fact that Anglo-Catholicism (that is, as I understand it, a stressing of the "Catholic" theology and liturgy from the original Prayer Book to the present one, in the tradition of the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement of the 19th Century), tends to operate in a ceremonial that I'm comfortable with from my RC upbringing (even Rite II has more dignity than the rather awful prose used in parts of the Vatican II translations of the Mass), Catholicism properly understood steers clears of the two rocks of Bibilolatry and Calvinism that can drown the message of Christ in a fug of self-hatred and guilt.

Also, the Catholic tradition in the Anglican Church is more welcoming to mysticism, the raw material of religious experience, without reducing it to a quest for the paranormal or "altered state" for the jaded spiritual palate. (One of my Anglican heroes, William Inge, explains the development of mysticism in the Anglican tradition, stressing the rooting of faith in reason as well as revelation, and deploring the repressed emotional drives that can infect a purely emotional mysticism in his splendid study Christian Mysticism, which originated as the 1899 Bampton Lectures; you can read it online here: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/14596).

Aren't Anglo-Catholics Conservatives?

Well, not always. I'm more Lux Mundi (Gore, et al. 1889) than Pusey or Newman; Gore, with Inge and with William Temple and Christopher Bryant are my sources of inspiration in the Anglican tradition.

The more conservative Anglo-Catholics and I might agree on matters of liturgy and worship, but would not on women's ordination, the diminished role of the laity some seem to advocate, and many social issues.

What's My Over-arching Position?

Frankly, I think that today's conservative wing is largely in the wrong in church affairs, in that they are unwilling to share fellowship with liberals who hold views which are defensible within the framework of Christian orthodoxy--that is, while liberals are adjusting to modern social realities, and are trying to discern the will of God today, some conservatives are all to eager to demonize those with whom they disagree--labelling Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori as a "finger of the claw of Mordor" (http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/7276/) speaks not ill of her, but of the commentator, in my opinion.

That the faith develops and evolves is not of itself heresy; it's predicted expressly in John 16:12--a verse deployed by Inge in explaining his engrafting of the thought of Plotinus into understanding mysticism, and is consistent with St. Paul's famous saying (1 Cor. 13) that we see now through a glass darkly--which Inge uses to urge caution in applying literalism to the Scriptures, as well as to the process of discernment. And that is my overall approach--fidelity in core matters, treating the Scriptures as inspired but not inerrant (because the writers had their own cultural lenses through which they interpreted the message) and careful in discernment, respectful of those with whom we disagree.

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