Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Our Goals for Lent

So the presiding bishop wants us to think about the Millennium Development Goals for Lent:
I invite you to use the Millennium Development Goals as your focus for Lenten study and discipline and prayer and fasting this year. I’m going to remind you that the Millennium Development Goals are about healing the worst of the world’s hunger. They’re about seeing that all children get access to primary education. They’re about empowering women. They’re about attending to issues of maternal health and child mortality. They’re about attending to issues of communicable disease like AIDS and malaria and tuberculosis. They’re about environmentally sustainable development, seeing that people have access to clean water and sanitation and that the conditions in slums are alleviated. And finally, they are about aid, foreign aid. They’re about trade relationships, and they’re about building partnerships for sustainable development in this world.
But they are also about obsessing about the sins of others, rather than our own sins. Look, I can give two reasons for leaving the MDGs to fend for themselves for a while, and neither of them is concerned with whether, as political points, they are even good ideas. The first reason is that old Mary/Martha thing. Much as my sympathies have always been with Martha, the Episcopal Church now has a serious problem with taking the Mary side for granted. As a church, we need to give people religious reasons for coming to us, and by and large, we haven't bothered with that; instead we have tended to take religion for granted, and spent all our effort on this work in the world stuff at a time when the powers that be are more resistant to us than ever. It's really about time we actually spent some effort trying to make more people into believers and getting more people baptized and into communion with us. That 3% a year loss needs to be the first focus of church action.

But beyond that problem in priorities, the emphasis on contemplation of social action, specifically action which we cannot carry out, means that we sit around for weeks congratulating ourselves on what right-thinking people we are. It is, in other words, an invitation to self-righteousness. That's not the way to keep a holy Lent.


Bryan Owen said...

Very good points in response to (yet another) disappointing seasonal message from our PB. I have no issues with the MDGs per se, but I fully agree with you that "we need to give people religious reasons for coming to us."

One of my clergy colleagues summed up what's wrong with the PB's message very well: "These are all truly great things that are a part of faith (acts of mercy), but her message is totally devoid of the meaning and purpose of Lent with regards to repentance and renewal of faith in our Lord. In fact, faith isn't even mentioned."

I'm puzzled as to why aging progressives would think that all of this would be a big draw to the younger generations. Even if younger folks share similar social justice views, they can find plenty of other organizations and movements to pursue their causes that won't ask them to make an annual pledge to pay for clergy/lay staff salaries and to maintain the church building and grounds.

As important as it is to live our faith in deeds as well as words, some in TEC see us as little more than just another social service organization and/or political action committee. The understanding of the Church as "that wonderful and sacred mystery" recedes further and further into the background.

C. Wingate said...

I don't think the clerisy of the church has been that concerned about what its youth thought; I got the sense for years that, well, of course they were all progressive, activist types like their fore, um, parents. In reality the division in attitude between someone my age (just over fifty) and those a decade older is quite strong. The romanticism of student protests was faded if not entirely dead; the big furor on campus was the appearance of the notorious campus evangelist Tom Short. The Episcopal campus ministry was by that point already struggling, in spite of Wofford Smith's manifest charisma and sympathy. The fundagelicals seized the flag of faith and ran with it, and we were reduced to wrangling an invitation for Jack Spong to push Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. It was entertaining to hear a radical feminist take him apart, but it surely did nothing to advance the church cause on campus.

Now they are panicked, but they cannot admit that they've screwed things up for a generation.

Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity, what does Spong believe that a radical feminist would disagree with?

C. Wingate said...

The main thing that Spong was pushing in Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism was the acceptability of homosexuality; part of his argument to get there was that sexuality is an inborn trait and not in any way a matter of choice. Well, something he apparently wasn't aware of (but I was, having brushed up against it via Mary Daly) was that there is a radfem trope of sexuality being a political choice and statement. And indeed a young woman arose from the audience during the Q&A to denounce him and to proclaim that her sexuality was chosen by her in exactly that way. Spong had no reply to her

Anonymous said...

I've heard that stance before (author Rita Mae Brown and others). But now, ironically, Spong's version seems to be the "orthodox" theory. A few months ago Cynthia Nixon said that homosexuality was a choice, but was forced to recant by the orthodox contingent. Strange times.

Bill Dilworth said...

It seems that the claim is only made by women (at least, I've never heard it attributed to men) which perhaps suggests that at least for some women choice is a factor; I'd not be surprised if sexuality is determined by different means in different people. Or perhaps it represents a rejection of the label bisexual. Or maybe it's a political stance without much bearing on sexuality itself.