Thursday, July 30, 2009

ECUSA: The Not Thinking Church

One of the things that General Convention actually did (as opposed to the controversial resolutions, which didn't so much do anything as permit people to talk about whether they did or didn't do anything) was to pass the wretched kalendar changes put forth in "Holy Women, Holy Men". And if you want to understand ECUSA these days, you need to know that though this is taken from a hymn lyric, the source is in fact the emasculations of The Hymnal 1982. I imagine that one of the reasons it was picked was that "women" appears before "men".

I say this because reading the list of people they added to the kalendar reveals some profoundly questionable choices, and in particular leads to questions about the theology of even having commemorations. A fair number of those listed aren't Anglicans; several weren't even Christian. Three of them are Anglicans who crossed the Tiber. And then there's the collects, whose peculiarities wash over into the other set of supplemental liturgies brought before GC. As Dan Martins points out, the collects are highly adverse to the word "Lord". And a number of them ascribe lordship not to the Son, but to the Father. (They are also terribly written, but that's par for the course.)

Objection to this can be found all over the place. A friend of mine, John Robison, offers much the same critique. Yet this thing seems to have sailed through GC almost without consideration. Robison says at one point, "This [commemorating the atheist John Muir] is just one example of the "cool kids" making a decision and rolling with it." His next post discusses the "cool kids" further, in light of GC starting up eucharistic relations with the United Methodist Church and the failure of Forrester to gain consents. The latter is, I think, one of the most notable developments of late, because it indicates that, however weak, there is a core of orthodox belief about baptism and trinitarian theology. It is especially germane to the present point that objection to Forrester focused particularly on his tampering with the baptismal rite, as nearly every bishop and standing committee who gave a reason for withholding consent made that objection. Yet you would hardly know that from watching the output of GC; about the only orthodoxy-endorsing act was the bishops' reaffirmation of the virginity of the Theotokos. The UMC communion-sharing action simply ignores the differences in eucharistic theology between the two bodies, and while there are probably Episcopal priests out there who hold Zwinglian views (because there isn't any heresy you can't find in the church somewhere), by and large it seems to me that Episcopalians in this day and age hold to the high theory of substantial change embodied in the 1979 rites. Methodists, I gather, mostly do not. But it's what the "cool kids" want, so now we have it.

And that leads to Robison's central point: "Most matters of theological distinction are really rather unimportant to many in power in our Church. [....] Trivialities and feel good affirmations as well as sociology and political aphorisms have replaced the hard work of theology." I'd put it another way: the church does theology like a mob of Harvard undergraduates-- Harvard sophomores. Superficially well-informed, convinced of their own superiority to the point of considering criticism to be something akin to lèse majesté, insular, lazy, fond of a certain radicalism, and given to excusing all manner of coarse behavior among their own kind. So the Office of Women's Ministries puts forth a liturgy containing Old-Testament-condemned pagan practices, and their response upon being challenged about this is to go off on a completely (and ironically) irrelevant tangent about copyrights, when everyone else is wondering how a priest can defend being a druid on the side. And then the next liturgy they put out, once again, has verbiage that is conspicuously from pagan sources. Meanwhile the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music continues their decades-long campaign against God the Father, while dropping all sorts of theological novelties into the texts they want us to adopt. All of this is stuff to gladden the heart of an Ivy League academic (or even more so, one from the Seven Sisters), but it bespeaks a milieu that was passing from the University of Maryland College Park even in the days of my attendance there, thirty years ago. Yeah, we had our supply of radical feminists, but already they had a dated quality to them.

So this stuff comes onto the floor of GC, and rather than being picked over and sent back with a scathing rebuke, the, well, Harvard freshmen among the deputies and Harvard faculty among the bishops wave it on through. I mean, celebrating (and God, I am beginning to hate that word) Kepler and Copernicus in church is so cool! Well, perhaps the fight over homosexuality had them distracted. The next time around, when the homophobes have been more thoroughly routed, will they have that excuse? The next battle is plainly going to be over liturgical revision, and at present I don't think they're going to able to stand up to the "cool kids" who still think that clown masses are groovy and that the bible is so sexist and patriarchal and that having standards of faith is so oppressive. And thus, unless someone else rebels, we'll end up with a liturgy that is so "relevant" that the only thing it in't relevant to is religion.


Anonymous said...

As a Seven Sisters graduate, I take issue with your sweeping assumption that all Seven Sisters academics (and by implication, their present and former students) are wild-eyed radical feminists. I most certainly am not. I am an Anglo-Catholic who finds Rite II banal and dysphonic and thinks the English language has been going steadily downhill since the days of Donne and Herbert. And I have zero patience for commemorations that owe more to political correctness than sanctity. So there.

C. Wingate said...

Oh, I realize I'm engaging in a gross caricature, and of course not everyone from Harvard is like that either.