Sunday, July 22, 2018

Prayer Book Revision Happened, and the Result Was Not Pretty

It was apparent within the first few days of General Convention that revision of some sort was going to be pushed through. And though the bishops balked to a degree, we not only got revision, but we got revision now. First, the permission to use Enriching Our Worship was not only extended, and not only given no end date, but regulation by the ordinary of the diocese was removed. Any rector may now use it and their discretion, without having to consult with their bishop.

On top of that, we were given a revised Rite II, reworded to reduce usage of "Father", "Lord", "kingdom", and of course supressing any use of the male personal pronoun for God. Again, this thing has no expiration date and no regulation by the bishop. And it has the exactly the same issue that both Matthew Olver and I remarked upon in EOW: the avoidance of "Father" makes for a rather lopsided trinity.

It's all the more obvious here given that one has the 1979 rite as a standard against which to measure the changes. The biggest is that the eucharistic prayer proper is no longer addressed to the Father, but to "God" as a whole. This breaks the preface "of the Father" because they changed not a word of that, but since it is said in the context of speaking to the Father in the first place, it is no longer of the Father at all. Now, I do not know why eucharistic prayers are address to the Father, but older examples all are. Thus we have a potentially substantial change sprung on us, with little discussion. Indeed, the hasty nature of this was evident as two changes had to be backpedaled, and Prayer C was taken out of consideration entirely. Never minding my problems with the whole project: I would have objected to the substitution of "reign" for "kingdom", if only because Elizabeth II reigns over the United Kingdom. To me the substitution is too alienating from scripture, a problem which also besets the many suppressions of the word "Lord", which after all means specifically the Name of God.

But then, it seems that I don't get to object, the convenient grounds being that I am male and old enough to be dismissed if I'm not with the program. On one level one cannot object to an all-female committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation, but their report has some major problems, not the least of which is that their resolution pushing "expansive" language essentially puts it in opposition to theological consideration. I don't believe their problems are something that can be fixed that way anyway, but they persist in a narrative of theological history that has some serious faults, not to say untruths. For example, they say that "In the 1928 BCP and Hymnal 1940, the generic use of masculine nouns and pronouns to encompass all human beings established a concept of maleness as normative and femaleness as the exception or “other.” Decisions at the 1970 and 1973 General Conventions made clear that such generic use was not actually inclusive: the masculine-gender nouns in the canons were interpreted to exclude women from ordination to the priesthood." I doubt that anyone on the committee was actually there in those years to relate the discussion that ensued on the floor, but it is a very safe bet that nobody relied on the legalism of the wording of the canons, and that they went straight to the traditional arguments from Paul and from the symbolism of representing the person of Christ. And the further reality was that in '74 there were enough men on their side to defy the canons. While one may argue how much the use of the male as the default 3rd person singular pronoun creates a bias, this attempt at mind-reading is flatly unconvincing to me.

Beyond that, the pushback against trying to erase the maleness of Jesus has been strong enough to protect "Son"; moreover, attempts to push "Mother" have largely failed, again perhaps because the theological problems are too severe for a younger generation to swallow. Thus it is conspicuous that we see here, in the end, a rejection of the divine parental in general. And that's a really huge problem, because it is there, after all, that we find the locus of sin. At any rate, as Benjamin Guyer points out, the aim of a purified liturgy is unachievable. The tension between the language of scripture and the language of feminist activism tends to be resolved by abandoning not only the scriptural text, but by substituting the old Enlightenment illusion of a liberalized humanity redeemed through right thinking. And it doesn't matter, it seems to me, how much that thinking turns out to be wrong; it doesn't matter how likely it is that the theories of the present will fail the test of time. The point, after all, of scripture is that we cannot achieve such redemption, not in that way.

But meanwhile, we have a serious problem here: revision has already happened, and even if the 1979 book is not rejected or replaced, it is pretty likely right-thinking rectors and deans will largely suppress its use.

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