Lies, truth, and who cares?

August 26, 2006

I was responding to a post on one of the sites I read a lot but don’t usually comment on, The Episcopal Majority, and I started thinking.

The post is called Falsely Accused, by the Rev. Thomas B. Woodward.

Now don’t get me wrong– I think he did a great job of writing that post.

I just have my own opinion and the post got me to thinking.  I have a slightly different emphasis and I wanted to express it.  After all, that’s what the blogosphere is all about, right?

And before we start– I may sound a little… angry?  bitter?  something in this post.  I realize that I’m arguing with an invisible debate partner.  So no offense to anybody in particular when you’re reading- it’s not personal.  At least it isn’t intended to be.

My original comment on the post was essentially along these lines:  Yes, the ultra-right wing folks may say all those things about us, and no it may not be true- but it doesn’t really matter.  The thing which we should focus on is the fact that it doesn’t matter whether or not it is true.

We are not the Presbyterian church, who has a Book of Confessions, which is revised every time they have their General Convention and dictates what their orthodoxy and theology is.  The Lutherans have something similar- the Book of Concord, and so do other denominations.  We just don’t work that way.  Oh, I know, I know– we can talk about the quadrilateral and the articles and the creeds and blah blah blah.  That’s just not the same thing.  We are not a confessional church.  We do not spend much time talking about our common theology.  We spend the bulk of our time worshipping together around a common liturgy.

There may be an embedded theology within that liturgy.  But we don’t spend countless hours talking about it in our common life, other than maybe in the blogosphere.  I can’t remember the last time I heard of a local parish meeting on whether or not to revise the theology to more clearly re-articulate our belief in predestination or not to present for general convention, and so forth.  We are more busy acting on our faith than talking about what our faith should look like from an esoteric point of view.  And that’s one of our strong points.  We should sell it, and sell it hard.

If we don’t like it, or if some don’t like it, then they should propose changing it.  Let’s sit down and have an honest and open dialogue about having a confessional document listing out what we think about all of it.  Everything.  Every cotton-pickin’ thing.  And we thought GC06 was hard.  Because if we’re supposed to all agree, I think that’s what we’re talking about.  But I don’t think that’s what anyone really wants.

No, I’m not talking about the infamous Anglican Covenant.  We’re talking about something right here in the good ol’ Episcopal Church.  I like it the way it is.  I don’t think we need it.

We could make a list of our own.  We could promote the extreme right-wingers– walk up and down ranting about creationists that want to limit God to such a small being that God might be incapable of creating science, or about the zealots who believe God sent them to kill the abortionists and destroy life in order to “protect it”, or whatever.

That isn’t what we’ve been doing, though– it isn’t our response– at least not mine.  Because I believe that even for those who believe radically differently than me, there is a place in this church.  Even for those with whom I cannot possibly reconcile the concept of the God of love in whom I so ardently believe, I know that to cast them out of the church is not my privilege.  If any of us get into that game we are all in trouble.

That which holds us together, that which binds us, is worship of that which is Holy.  We have a book of common prayer.

We do not have to believe the exact same things.

In fact, if we did, don’t you think that God would have ordered Christianity so we didn’t have any choice about our church, our denomination?  That there would only be one true church?  Because now we are talking about whether or not others in other churches can even receive grace.  If you are prepared to say that you think that somebody doesn’t receive the grace of our lord Jesus Christ because you have such infinite knowledge of his will and you are prepared to say that somebody else should go to another church or start another church because you know so much about it, well… I guess you are just a little smarter than me.

I’ll take the humble path.  I’m sticking with full inclusion.  Everybody.  Radical inclusion.  God’s love is bigger than we would like.  I believe it, and I think that it hurts sometimes.

j

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18 Responses to “Lies, truth, and who cares?”

  1. Tom Says:

    Dear Jeff,
    Thanks for the post. I agree with you about the place of The Book of Common Prayer in functioning as a kind of Covenant — enriching our inclusiveness rather than restricting what has been our glory in past generations.

    We do have different emphases — and that is fine, because we can complement each other without worrying if we are contradicting. I like what you have written — there is a lot of meat and evident commitment to God through the Episcopal Church. Nice going.
    Tom Woodward

  2. obadiahslope Says:

    I think it was Elizabeth Kaeton who most recently made the point that we don’t have common prayer as a communion. The prayerbooks vary from province to province. Most of us have stuck with 1662 as the doctrinal basis of Anglicanism. Others such as TEC and Aeoteroa/NZ have changed their prayerbook more radically.
    In your last par you imply that you are a universalist. is that right?

  3. Jeff Says:

    Hi obadiahslope – haven’t seen you in a while.

    Yes, I realize that we don’t have a completely common prayer book as a communion. Nor do we have a common book of confessions as a communion. My post here is more directed within the TEC than talking about the communion as I indicated with my comments about the proposed Anglican covenant; although we could probably find a way to relate the two discussions.

    I am what you might call a “trinitarian universalist” if there is such a thing. My primary point in that is that it is not my job to decide who God judges, if God judges anybody at all. My job is to spread the love and healing power of Christ Jesus, and not the fear of God through some kind of judgemental condemnation. If God works through judgement, it is strictly God’s perogative and not mine or anyone elses here. I don’t happen to believe he chooses to work that way because his love is so big and infinite, although I suppose he could if he wanted. As a result, we must make room for everyone within the church, so I believe.

    j

  4. obadiahslope Says:

    Lets try to seperate two issues – just for a moment. I readily admit they are connected though.
    The first is who we welcome to church. All are invited.
    The second is are there human behaviors that God disapproves of and how can we find out what they are. I assume we would agree that scripture would be authoritative – but we may disagree on how authoritative!
    To welcome everybody to church is not to endorse everything they do.
    So a radical welcome – and a God who may have a strong opinion about what humans do – are not exclusive.

  5. Jeff Says:

    Yes, I understand the distinction.

    We have two groups of bona fide Christians who have legitimate differences about a certain thing. On the one side we have GLBT folks and many straight folks who believe that homosexuality is not a sin but a classification. On the other side we have straight people who believe that homosexuality is a behavior which is a sin.

    Given those two positions, there is no reason why these two groups must agree in order for both to remain authentically Anglican or Episcopalian. We can and should keep talking about it, but there is simply no precedent for needing to agree about this issue in Anglican history that I am aware of. We just don’t work that way.

    The point here is that we are not bound by a confessional statement of belief that a certain set of behaviors is “bad” or “good”. We are bound chiefly by doing the work of the church- being together in worship. Yes, there are differences between our books of common prayer. But they are much more similar than they are different. My guess is that an American Episcopalian would be much more comfortable in an Australian Anglican service than in, say, an American Pentacostal worship service. Worship is what binds us together. Not common theology.

    Of course the Anglican Covenant might change that to a certain degree at the Communion level. But my post here is focused within the Episcopal Church. And if somebody wants to change that within TEC, that’s fine– let’s just address it directly and talk about it instead of implying that it already exists, because it doesn’t.

    j

  6. FrMichael Says:

    Jeff:

    Although a theological conservative, I don’t understand the conservative agitation within TEC. If conservatives want to belong with a church with a magisterium or least more conservative theology, they ought to move to one that does– there are no lack of alternatives with Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and even some denominational Protestant churches, including Anglican splinters. Conservative Anglicanism is clearly a dying force in the ordained ministry and theology of TEC. What is the theological rationale for fighting to the bitter end?

  7. Phil Says:

    Jeff, there’s a difference between being a confessional church and deciding, at some point, that some beliefs have gone over the line. Do you see the distinction?

    The impulse on the extreme Left (we can talk about an extreme Left if “extreme right-winger” is thrown around, right?) is to refuse to affirm any core beliefs or any Anglican distinctives. But, not only is that not true, it is, in practice, organizational suicide, as we are now seeing. “That which holds us together, that which binds us, is worship of that which is Holy,” is insufficient, since even Arius or Nestorius could have affirmed the same. Historians tell us that the church experience between Donatist and Catholic communities in North Africa in those early centuries would have been nearly indistinguishable, yet one has been declared outside the Faith. So, common liturgy and a vague worship-the-deity communitarianism are insufficient bonds.

    You may rightly ask whether homosexuality is a sufficient dividing line, when, contra Tom Woodward, ranks of church leaders downplay the resurrection or uniqueness of Jesus Christ, but a dividing line there is.

  8. Jeff Says:

    Phil –

    I do see the distinction. However I fail to understand why this one thing should be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

    Were the issue at hand one in which theological conservatives were concerned that theological progressives were pushing univeralism and teaching the salvation of the non-Christian I might understand (I think you confuse that in your post and misunderstand the worship of the Holy to be the generic Holy rather than the Holy Christ Jesus).

    But that isn’t what is doing it. It is a rather (in my view) insignificant point about human sexuality, at least insignificant when considered along the grand spectrum of the theological scale.

    In that light, I do think that common liturgy and worship of Jesus Christ are sufficient bonds– at least they have been to date.

    My response is simple then: If you don’t think ththese bonds are sufficient anymore than that is fine, but let’s have an open and honest dialogue about changing the ground rules of the church to become confessional.

    Instead what has happened is that the conservatives are insisting that we are and always have been confessional which is simply incorrect.

    Again– I am not proposing here that the proper course forward is confessional or not (although I certainly have my opinions).

    My main point is that conservatives should, rather than trying to insist that the church’s current orthodoxy requires all Episcopalians to believe in the improperness of homosexuality should instead that they want it to, and they want a framework in which they can make similar rules requiring certain theological understanding of all Episcopalians in order to hold us together. There is a big difference between this statement and what you have said.

    Does that make sense?

    j

  9. obadiahslope Says:

    Jeff,
    From its beginning, Anglicanism has had its limits. When we had a common prayerbook the limits were indeed defined by a common worship which was theologically defined. Some people could not accept that form of worship – for example those who wanted the big C catholic mass – and so they had to operate outside the church. Try telling a recusant catholic in 17th century England that Anglicanism was a big tent!
    I see the gay issue as one straw amongst many. Your 1979 prayerbook which moved away from the other anglican provinces which generally retain 1662 and/or the 39 articles as their standards, and the failure to discipline teachers such as Spong are perhaps whole bales of straw.
    There is always a presenting issue when a debate hits up. That is probably the best way to describe the gay issue in anglicanism.
    It is all a matter of perspective. Rather than seeing the small group of conservatives in TEC reacting against the decisions of your GC, you could equally see TEC as a small groups of p[rogressibves reacting against Lambeth 1998.
    Both views are valid in my view. Which one you see depends on where you are looking from.
    If TEC wants to stay in the Anglican Communion (and you will know better than I whether it has more than a nostalgia for the AC) it would be wise to come to a settlement to allow its dissidents to stay. It can then say “treat us with the same generosity we have treated your bother/sister conservatives”.
    The conservatives know they have lost the battle about whether Episcopalians have a conservative rules about homosexuality.
    Now what is at issue is whether Anglicans should have conservative rules about homosexuality. If the TEC wishes to be given some room on this, they will be asked if similar generosity has been shown within the TEC structure.
    More and more of the communion is linking to the US conservatives. The numbers are drifting the wrong way for you, AFAIK. I wonder if the TEC leadership is bold or creative enough to come up with a solution?

  10. Jeff Says:

    Obadiah –

    I understand your point, but it is not mine.

    My point is not to address issues arising outside of TEC.

    I am not as concerned about staying a part of the Anglican Communion. I would love to remain a part of the communion, but if the communion is intent on heading towards a Covenant that defines my orientation as a sin then I have no problem with the exclusion of TEC from the communion.

    I am speaking entirely of the autonomous functions of TEC, matters which the Archbishop of Canterbury and other members of the Communion have no authority other than the common bonds of affection which hold us together. My impression is that some would rather see us trade the pastoral needs of the marginalized in order to keep the bonds of affection strong with those who are not marginalized. That is exactly the problem that Jesus faced with the pharisees, and it is a problem where I will side with the marginalized even should I be faced with martrydom as a result. I cannot change my calling; my destiny; nor my being as created by my creator; nor will I deny it simply to appease the bonds of affection which would cast me out because of it.

    No, this is about the autonomous function of TEC. This is a response, as I understand it, to challenges from within the US as summarized by Rev. Woodward. We haven’t even addressed the challenges raised outside our autonomous province in this thread.

    j

  11. Phil Says:

    Jeff,

    On the question of making the church more confessional in nature, I confess (unintended pun) I’m coming around to the view this is something we should do. And, I agree completely with you that the question should be placed in the open for debate and a decision.

    I don’t think conservatives are saying we’ve always been confessional, but I do think there was a time in the past when certain basics of Christianity were held in common, without need of question or fear that those inside the church would tear them down. This core belief is what I think really allowed the Anglican experiment to remain cohesive: the Trinitarian understanding of God; the belief that Jesus is Lord; the belief that Jesus was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary; that Jesus really suffered, really died and bodily rose on the third day; that He ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of the Father; that He will judge all men at the end of the world; that we are to remember him in the sacrament of the Eucharist; that Christians are to be baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; that Holy Scripture really is the inspired Word of God, not a bunch of error-prone musings by itinerant preachers from antiquity; that our side of the deal offered to us freely by Jesus is that we repent and seek amendment of life; and that there are standards of Christian morality that we can and should use as guideposts in our Christian walk.

    I do believe this situation has changed, and I do believe many theological progressives are pushing universalism and worse. It’s either the loss of this common core or the refusal to acknowledge that there is a common core – I’m undecided on which – that has undermined ECUSA.

    Seen in that light, the argument over homosexuality sure seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. What is it about homosexuality? Nothing, and everything, in my opinion.

    Nothing, because, per the analogy, there is nothing particularly special about the 31st person – the last straw – that made the deck built for 30 collapse. It’s just that the deck wasn’t built to carry more than 30 people, as the camel can’t carry every little thing you would like, and as even Anglican comprehensiveness can’t be stretched to be a theology of everything. No organization can do so, ultimately, or you have anarchy.

    And, everything, because homosexuality as a behavior is precisely the very last thing that can reasonably be argued about within a Christian context. Of all the things we might dispute, this is one of the issues on which Scripture and Tradition are crystal clear. No Christian community, anywhere, at any time, has seen it other than as proscribed behavior. In our current time, as it is being put forward as healthy and good, we see it running parallel to trends in the very culture that we are to be in but not of – in other words, that the agenda is a secular one is clear. There is no argument from Scripture, really – a sloppy one was thrown together when the Communion demanded it, but it’s not like some neutral scholar was sitting around and realized 2,000 years of readers had missed something. The exegesis, such as it is, came after the end point had already been decided. And so, this episode reinforces the idea that Scripture is held in low regard by progressives in a way that an argument over, say, the Real Presence in the Sacrament could not. This is literally a case of saying black is white.

    I regret saying that, because you have a very personal stake in the matter, but, of course, I believe Scripture convicts me of much behavior as well. Such is true for all of us. But, this is the way I see it. Perhaps there could have been some kind of common ground without all of the baggage that has gone before in the prior thirty or forty years of deconstructionism within the Episcopal Church, but we have to live with the history we inherit.

    For that reason, while the more I hear from him, the more I’m convinced he’s no moderate, I think Tom Woodward’s essay is the most important one we’ve seen in a long time. It deserves sustained, intense discussion by the best minds and the not-so-best minds on all sides.

  12. Jeff Says:

    Phil –

    I think we have some common ground here.

    I’m of the view that the discussion of whether to change the world order of TEC to a confessional state of affairs is really the proper framework for the dialogue.

    The discussion about the content of the confession– the nature of homosexuality, women’s ordination, creation and evolution– all of these “issues” that relate to how we apply scripture to our reason and tradition then have to be defined in that context.

    What interests me is not so much the theology that any person or group might want to put in such a confession, but whether or not anyone really wants to do such a thing when it comes down to it?

    Who will write it and decide what it contains? 

    How comprehensive need it be?

    How often would it be allowed to change?

    Who would have the authority to change it, and on what basis would they be authorized?

    These are the things that we cannot agree upon right now, and even thinking about answering them gives me indigestion.

    I just don’t understand where God gets any room to move in here– but that comes back to a basic difference in our theologies that is implicit; I believe in a transcendent God capable of working in today’s world here and now working in ways that reveal new insight into the ancient Holy Scriptures, not one who may only be found in the ancient Holy text.

    j

  13. obadiahslope Says:

    “I believe in a transcendent God capable of working in today’s world here and now working in ways that reveal new insight into the ancient Holy Scriptures, not one who may only be found in the ancient Holy text.”
    If, as a non-TEC person I can still comment… I guess everyone here agrees with the notion of a trancendent God, working in today’s world and even revealing new insight into the scriptures.
    Where we might disagree is whether God will contradict the New Testament in revealing new insight. What do you think?

  14. Jeff Says:

    Hi Obadiah-

    First – let me say that by no means did I intend to exclude you from the discussion just because you don’t hail from the US; I just meant that the intent of my post was framed towards the US institution, for which I welcome your comments.

    On your question, I believe we have found many times that God clarifies the New Testament in revealing new insight. We change the context of our understanding when we receive such insight. For many years, it was quite clear to the people who were doing the interpreting that Paul in no way, shape, or form intended women to lead worship. We have broadened our understanding of that text. We have, as Rev. Wilma Jakobsen puts it, “Gone on a journey” with the text. We are in the middle of that journey now with homosexuality.

    500 years ago it would have been quite unthinkable in Christian thinking to allow a woman to serve the Eucharist. That isn’t true anymore. Has God contradicted scripture in our new understanding? No. God has revealed more information about how we understand the teaching. Perhaps emphasizing other parts of the Scripture. Perhaps something else. That is the journey we have gone through.

    Was it an easy journey? No. We are even still in the midst of it for women’s ordination. Even for transubstantiation we are in the midst of it. Some believe in the incarate flesh/body of the bread. Today’s daily office Jesus says pretty directly to the disciples (after Jesus has just said “eat my flesh” that it isn’t about the flesh it is about the spirit. Sometimes it just takes a while for us to get it.

    That is what the continuing revelation is about, in my opinion. About our inability to get it the first time (just like the disciples)– and God’s patience in showing us over and over again through the centuries until we finally understand what the point was and is.

    j

  15. Esther392 Says:

    Jeff,
    The Episcopal Church does has a common belief and you can find it in the Book of Common Prayer. It is called an Outline of the Faith or a Catechism. You can read it here:
    http://vidicon.dandello.net/bocp/bocp7.htm#page845

    I am surprised Rev. Woodward or Rev. Michael did not direct you to this when you stated that ECUSA does not have a common belief.

  16. Jeff Says:

    Hi Esther –

    I am familiar with the Episcopal Catechism. However having a catechism does not make us a confessional church. The Lutheran Book of Concord and the Prebyterian Book of Confessions, which make them confessional churches, are quite different documents than the catechism.

    I was raised Presbyterian and can only speak to the use of the book of Confessions. The Presbyterian church, for example, requires the clergy to uphold the book of confessions as their basis for theology and teaching. We, as Episcopalians and Anglians, have no such vow in our ordination that I can think of off-hand.

    We do not regularly discuss what the “Confession” should consist of. We do not sit down as a body and revise the catechism to reflect current teaching of the church; maybe once or twice every century. We do not use the catechism as an “instrument of purity”. It has a different function.

    The introduction to the catechism states this explicitly: “It is a commentary on the creeds, but is not meant to be a complete statement of belief and practices.”

  17. Tom Says:

    What a breath of fresh air Leaning Towards Justice is!! I can’t tell you how thrilled I am with the gentle but direct conversation on this blog.

    One concern I have with a Covenant is that it is the very people who want to be freed from Canonical Law of the Episcopal Church in forming a new province or obtaining Alternative Primatial Oversight are the people now wanting stricter boundaries. The other concern is that we have lived so well with Anglican comprehensiveness that this move would tend to make permanent the recent evangelical move to severely tighten or to do away with that comprehensiveness. I have heard that the first thing to go will be any gains in inclusiveness for gay and lesbian people, the second, the ordination of women and the third, the possibility of remarriage after divorce. Kind of takes one’s breath away.

  18. Jeff Says:

    Thanks Tom, for the kind words on the site.

    And what an interesting and ironic comment. I suppose the jist of what you are saying could be boiled down to this: we already have canons that are not being followed; effectively the folks that want “stricter” canons seem to want to re-write only the canons that they don’t want to follow or that make them uncomfortable.  If I hear them correctly (and I realize this sounds a little bitter), it doesn’t bother them that the canons they propose might make some of us uncomfortable, nor that they may still follow their practices and teach their doctrines in any way that they want in their parishes and dioceses.

    That brings me back to the point I asked earlier: who gets to decide what the “confession” looks like? We already have a process for guiding the church and it doesn’t seem to be “enough.”

    In this case, it seems to be like when some legislators don’t like the way the vote is going in the legislature so they hold the vote open until 4:30 in the morning in order to get the outcome they want– anything rather than give up to the fact that the process that we all agreed to has spoken. It is the post-mortem re-writing of the rules.

    That’s why I say let’s have someone propose the “confessional” idea and then have a real open debate about it– to my knowledge it has never been proposed although it is exactly what I hear from the orthodox as the intended outcome. Then we can let the process take its course and let the Spirit do its work.

    j


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