Friday, November 19, 2010

2009: The Numbers

The 2009 statistics came out late this year, perhaps because of the need to get correct numbers for Ft. Worth and Quincy. At any rate, the diocesan totals can be found here.

Perhaps more interesting are the five year "fast facts", which contains a mixture of depressingly constant trends and curious statistical surprises. For instance, one can see that the rate of decline in membership and ASA has been fairly constant, but the five and especially ten year rates of decline have been growing. The median parish numbers have slid too, with a five year decline of 10% in membership and 12% in ASA. These numbers are each two percentage points smaller than the composite rates, indicating that not only are parishes shrinking, but that parishes are disappearing too. And looking at the top of the report, we see steady losses: a 4.2% decline over five years, with the rate increasing in the last two years.

Of course, at that point we are seeing the results from the departure of dioceses. The biggest decline in ASA, 65.5%, comes from Pittsburgh; second place is Ft. Worth, with 18.7%. Quincy, curiously, is among the gainers, at 3.4%. Twelve other domestic dioceses showed gains, but before we get all excited at this turn-around, it should be noted that only three dioceses had increases of over a hundred attendees, and only three domestic dioceses showed a increase greater than the domestic decrease decrease, all of them small: Utah, San Joaquin, and Quincy.

If one takes out Ft. Worth and Pittsburgh, then the declines are not so bad: a 2.4% decline in ASA instead of 3.2% for all domestic dioceses. Foreign dioceses, as usual, blunted the overall numbers. Haiti, however, did not report numbers this year, and as it accounts for a third of foreign membership and ASA, those numbers have to be considered very dubiously. Meanwhile, the drop in P&P continues, accelerating to 2.8%.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Epic Statistical Fail

The Studying Your Congregation and Community tables have been updated for 2009, and the next phase of departures can now be assessed (at least for the patient and dogged) for the effect on church numbers.

Except that they can't.

If you pull up the chart for the Diocese of San Joaquin, yes, it is still almost entirely gone. Pittsburgh also has dropped precipitously. The charts for Fort Worth and Quincy, however, don't look that different: Ft. Worth ASA shows a maybe 30% ASA decline, while Quincy shows a tiny increase. OK, what's going on here?

Well, the answer is that there is apparently a large scale pattern of misrepresentation if not outright fraud. Let's work with Ft. Worth, which in 2008 had 55 parishes. Well, looking through the charts, only 17 parishes show changes in reported numbers between 2008 and 2009, and there are only a couple more which show changes in reporting between 2007 and 2009. They are simply repeating the old values rather than acknowledging that the other parishes no longer count themselves as ECUSA congregations.

Of the seventeen that do show changes, only one does not show a loss from 2008 to 2009, and all show losses from 2007. Only three do not appear in ACNA Ft. Worth's list of parishes, and these three have relatively small losses (13%, 25%, and a gain of 11%). There are three other apparently contested parishes with relatively small losses (9%, 20%, and 35%). Every other parish lost at least 60% of its attendance, with the worst case going from 94 to 2 ASA, a loss of 98%.

Taken together these parishes have a combined ASA of 970, down from 2218 in 2008 for a loss of 56%. If one assumes that all the other parishes haven't reported numbers because they are no longer part of the ECUSA diocese, then given a reported 2008 ASA of 6945 (and this number isn't really accurate, because few parishes reported a change in ASA between 2007 and 2008) the drop in ASA was not around 30%, but in excess of 85%. It's a good thing that Ft. Worth is a relatively small diocese, because the loss I compute is 0.8% of total domestic ASA.

One hopes that there is a good (read, canonical and longstanding) reason for this kind of reportage. I'm told that the three phantom parishes in LA are still on the books, and one is led to suspect that there are others that haven't been checked. And of course, there's also Quincy, which at an ASA of 935 in 2008 isn't going to be sending statistical shockwaves out when its reporting is rectified, but still, it all adds up.

The diocesan numbers have now been released, and at least one of the peculiarities has been remedied: numbers for Ft. Worth now show departures. The Quincy numbers have also been updated, but they show little change from the previous year. I will have more analysis in a separate post.

On the Aging of Clergy

Over at The Lead in the Episcopal Cafe, we are pointed to an interesting table from the 2009 Clergy Compensation Report. Now there are some other curious numbers, such as why men are paid better than women except in curate positions, or my associates in Province VI are paid so poorly compared to those in other dioceses.

Table 5, however, offers the opportunity to recover some other demographics, if one is willing to indulge in a few suppositions, because it reports how many clergy are in each of four age brackets, and it breaks this down by gender. Now as Laura Toepfer points out in the comments, the clergy in each age range includes both those ordained at an earlier age and those newly ordained; therefore by making a few assumptions we can work out the ages at which clergy are ordained. The assumptions are actually pretty dubious on one level, but I believe that the likely errors tend to reduce the effects I am about to describe, so I'm not too unhappy about making then.

The central assumption is that the flow of people into each of the groups is constant, so that I can assume that the number of people ordained at a given age in the past is the same as it is now. This assumption, over the very long haul, isn't true, but when I say "long haul" we're talking before my lifetime: the pattern that is going to appear fits what I knew about ordination patterns back when I was in college. The second assumption is that people don't die or quit young. Again, this is a bad assumption, but the degree to which it is false will blunt the pattern, so it won't hurt to make it. The third assumption is that deaths and retirements in the last group are balanced by ordinations and aging into it. This is also dubious, but the likely error is in the direction of blunting the pattern, so again I'm not too concerned about this.

Using these assumptions, I can get the number of people ordained in each age range by subtracting out the number of people in the previous range from the number of people in the current range. Normalizing this over the these new quantities, we get the following:

Age groupMenWomenTotal
under 3515%15%15%
over 5539%38%39%

One result of this is very striking: only about a quarter of all ECUSA clergy are ordained before age 45, and over a third are ordained after age 55. I have a hard time imagining that this pattern obtains for any but mainline churches, and probably not even for most of them. It's impossible to avoid the conclusion that the Episcopal priesthood is, for most, a second career or even a post-retirement hobby.

And that conclusion is reinforced by the second pattern: the decided drop in women ordained in the 35-45 age bracket. Either a lot more women are reluctant to abandon careers in that age group, or child-rearing interferes with starting the ordination path. (I would note, BTW, that discernment processes, seminary and transitional diaconates apply about a five year bias to these numbers in terms of when people actually make their decisions to start.)

Of course one has to allow for the possibility that the Holy Spirit likes it this way. But there are plenty of reasons to suspect that economic realities and diocesan policies are likely contributors. Having to largely go without pay for several years surely accounts for much of the dip in the 35-45 bracket: unless a spouse can support the family themselves, people with families to support are unlikely to be able to afford to drop everything, especially with the risk of being dropped from the process and having to pick up the pieces of their lives. Kids fresh out of college lack the obligations, but there has been a historic pattern of discouraging them as being insufficiently mature. So instead we see people waiting until the kids are old enough or indeed out on their own. In any case this presents a very different picture of the priesthood and how it is to be lived, when it is not a primary profession, but a second stage in life. And it creates a very strong bias towards a priesthood whose peers are older. One has to wonder how much this affects the causes espoused by those clergy, who are so much older than the population as a whole.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Campaign

The level of rancor directed at the pope on the occasion of the his visit to England (including the beatification of John Newman) should, I suppose, be unsurprising. But then again, it should be surprising, because it is reprehensible. Perhaps he and Rowan Williams should feel a kinship as being, at heart, theologians who are cast into political struggles to which they are not naturally drawn.

The picture of Benedict as a tyrant is obviously false. It's clear that he wants to right a lot of what he sees are wrongs and abuses that have developed over the years; his vigor in pursuing this, however, is less than dictatorial. But for some reason it is important that the pope be this malevolent, cruel, heartless, fundamentalist tyrant, so that this what he is, at least when he is written about in the secular media. The level of dislike for him is wildly disproportionate.

So here we have Garry Wills misrepresenting a nine year old address by the then-cardinal, and here we have Jim Naughton commending the attack. I defy anyone, in a few minutes, to read what Ratzinger actually said in a few minutes and come up with a coherent and succinct summary of his views re Newman. The passage is subtle, complex, and highly nuanced; it is the address of a deep-thinking theologian meditating on one of his equals if not superiors. Wills's reduction of Newman to a dissident is absolutely wrong, and Naughton's commendation of this reduction is equally wrong.

But it is worse than just wrong, because Naugtton is, after all, an agent of the ecclesiastical establishment, not a dissident. So just two posts earlier in Episcopalian Cafe, he mounts an attack on the character of Dan Martins, bishop-elect in the Diocese of Springfield, which it is hard to characterize as anything other than a deliberate misrepresentation of what Martins said. And you can hear exactly what he said, or go from there to a copy of the remarks as he intended to say them, and you can see and hear for yourself that Naughton's claim of what Martins found shameful simply isn't true.

The posturing in the remarks on Naughton's post is, as usual, quite routine and tiresome, with plenty of powerful people bemoaning the rebuke to their acts. What is more striking to me is how this fits into a long pattern of Naughton serving as an agent of agitation for the liberal establishment. Naughton is, you may recall, the person behind publicizing the Chapman memo and trying to raise the alarms about IRD and Howard Ahramson. It all fits into a consistent campaign-- and everything shows that the present presiding bishop is a participant in it-- to deny dissenting traditionalists any access to power. I think Martins has a pretty good chance at this point to survive these attacks, because I think there are probably enough bishops in the middle who will stick to their guns in allowing him to be a dissident, especially since he isn't making any noises about taking his diocese out of the church. But the pattern of hypocrisy continues: people of power commending "dissidents" like Newman, and then moving to quash any dissidence within their own ranks, even if it means saying things about the opposition that really aren't true, and beyond that, attacking others for practicing politics when everything about their acts is political in the extreme. If prophecy is speaking to power, then these are the people to whom prophecy must speak, not a man whose words at GC were not heeded and whose ascent to power is in the hands of these so-called dissidents.

Monday, August 09, 2010

It's Not Just Me

For years I have complained about the liberal strategy in the church of breaking the rules against progress first and then getting their violations authorized ex post facto. Well, finally it seems someone else has noticed.

Philip Turner, writing on the Anglican Communion Institute website, is warning everyone not to trust ECUSA when it comes to "dialogue":
Dialogue, for TEC, is not a process of disciplined argument designed to clarify issues, expose false reasoning, and arrive at a truth both parties can hold. It is not even a process of critical examination that occurs before taking a disputed action. Rather it is an aggressive form of self-promotion built around “talking points” rather than disciplined argument—talking points that are meant to beat down opposition to a disputed action already taken. In short, the decision made by the Standing Committee is in reality a decision to allow TEC more time to gain acceptance for its actions. It is not, in TEC’s mind, a time to subject those actions to “consequences” or to critical examination.
Turner then goes right back to the point I also identify as the start of this strategy:
TEC’s recent history makes the truth of these charges abundantly plain. Let us begin with the first of the more recent challenges to the Communion’s common life–the ordination of women to the priesthood. Before I begin this tale, I wish to make it clear that I am a strong supporter of the ordination of women both to the Presbyterate and to the Episcopate. What I do not support is the way in which TEC made this change. The way in which it was done opened Pandora’s box, and now TEC seeks to spread the bad habits it learned though this event to the rest of the Communion.
He then outlines exactly the same steps I see: the "prophetic" step beyond the bounds, the "justice" supposedly denied by not working in process, and the failure of any discipline from church organs, presumably because to dare to insist on church order was to risk being tagged an oppressor.

It's pretty clear at this point that the larger agenda is for the liberal establishment to gain control of the first world Anglican churches, and the communion can go to hell after that because that establishment doesn't really care that much about Africa, Asia, or South America since they are too backward to be persuaded, especially since the American troglodytes have taught them some politics. That takes us right back to the deeper social purpose of the Episcopal Church, which is to make the world safe for the upper middle class. The possibility that they would listen to any truly prophetic voice is pretty much gone now, once they have converted the Church of England (a project now in progress in the form of the campaign to drive the Anglo-Catholics out by making sure they have no place in the hierarchy), they will be finished. Holding their members' feet to the fire over their sexual sinning-- not homosexuality, but their lack of interest in marriage-- is not going to be on the list. There will never again be a serious confrontation over abortion, because the freedom to copulate without consequences is going to always trump responsibility towards the children thus engendered. The persistent lie that they are in conflict with the establishment, when in fact they are the establishment, isn't going away either.

The only possible opening I can see in this is that the establishment is also so patently heretical. There is some hope that the next generation-- mine is too tainted-- will tire of all the clerics telling them to give up on any conventional faith, and will restore the church to some foundation of integrity, actually living out the charity and tolerance to which, at present, they only pay lip service.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Sacred Cow Tipping

Derek Olsen continues his campaign against modernist sacred cows with a pair of articles on the Virgin Birth and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary (part 1/ part 2). He and I come to different conclusions, as I (perhaps too modernist-tainted myself) have taken the interpretation that the PV is the result of excessive Marian piety. What is far more telling is that the remarks, from the beginning, have been dominated by controversy over the Virgin Birth itself.

It is a commonplace among various Catholic partisans to assert that the Protestants are all doomed to go to theological pieces because they don't have infallibility. This thread illustrates the more complicated reality and the weird power struggle behind the theology.

For example, consider this discussion of the proposal to put WEB DuBois on the ECUSA kalendar. DuBois did not, to put it mildly, have a positive opinion of the church, and his admiration for Stalin was at best delusional, at worst a defense of a mass murderer. As far as his advocacy of racial causes is concerned, I think it is a very safe bet that when November 14 rolls around we are not going to see a commemoration of Booker T., nor of the more overt religious GW Carver when his day comes up. I do not want to get too caught up in racial politics here, but the preference for the upper middle Yankee DuBois over the southern ex-slave Washington is quite telling. In any case I'm not the only one wondering why we are putting yet another non-Christian on the calendar.

Which brings me to the comments to Olsen's posts, in which I find myself engaged in a lopsided conflict with someone who is apparently some sort of Heidegger aficionado and who, along with another, prefers to refer to scripture as a "faith text", though apparently "faith text" means specifically "something we don't believe in". The resurrection is not an event, but a doctrine (which is apparently some modernist code phrase for "something the apostles just made up"). These are only more extreme examples of sentiments expressed by others; doubt apparently comes easily, but for whatever reason its proponents seem to have some trouble following through on the rejection of the gospel story.

At the same time we find another person chastising John Robison for "nitpicking" at the addition of DuBois to the kalendar. We should be feeding the hungry instead of wasting our time on such theological concerns, we are told. Of course, that one can use that juxtaposition against anything is sufficient reason not to take it seriously. But more telling is the implication in this that the nature of Christian life is essentially moral, and that matters of theology or worship can be set aside as unimportant. This perhaps also explains why at St.Gregory of Nyssa's dancing saints can include Malcolm X with his famous denunciation of Christianity as the "white man's religion", beyond the sheer radical chic of the thing. Moralistic therapeutic deism, crossed with liberal social activism, has become the theology of the those who like to see themselves as the church's ruling class.

Actually, they don't really believe that matters of theology are so unimportant as to justify simple acceptance of the tradition. They really believe that it's important for theology to express and realize their doubts. If they didn't believe that, they wouldn't keep making an issue of it, and the 1979 BCP would remain undisturbed. But instead-- and again, the form of this is quite telling-- the theology of the BCP must be altered specifically to make moral points about the place of women. But this is all OK because of this modernist doctrine that the scriptures really do not tell us anything definite and immutable. In any theological conflict, it is the (liberal) theologians who dictate what scripture says, even when a naive reading would say the opposite. Even Jesus is not immune: if he says "Father", well, we know better than the Son of God, and oh, that doesn't mean that he embodies God in any way, so his words can be set aside whenever they do not support our more enlightened principles.

This is what is going to destroy the Episcopal Church, not the fight over sexuality (though more on that anon). The persistent and increasing attempt by effective nonbelievers to control and direct the church is against the faith of the average believer in the church, who may or may not have a committed opinion on homosexuality but who more likely than not can say "born of the Virgin Mary" every Sunday without apology, and who, on low Sunday, hears the gospel account and has no trouble believing that Thomas's fingers were laid upon physical, living flesh. Having driven the evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics away, the ruling unitarians are going to run out of bogeymen; the cachet of opposing fundamentalism will pall when it turns out that fundamentalism includes, for instance, insistence on baptism. And even in sexuality the fight isn't ever really going to go away; people are going to keep their qualms in the closet, but I think it is quite safe to assume that reluctance about homosexuality is going to be with us in the church, because the spiritual authority of its clergy is so eroded by their faithlessness.

Meanwhile there is a new generation, whose members do not remember the glory days of civil rights and antiwar activism, and who do not make obeisance to mandarins of skepticism. At age fifty, I do not remember the glory days, and even in college I was impatient with the sophistry of "things no modern man can believe". Derek Olsen is a lot younger than I am-- decades younger, I would venture to guess.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Ugly Party at Prayer

I have become dismayed at the rhetoric being thrown around politically these days. I am apparently not the only one, judging from Michael Gerson's editorial in the Washington Post. He coins the phrase, "the Ugly Party", describing its rhetoric as "shar[ing] some common themes: urging the death or sexual humiliation of opponents or comparing a political enemy to vermin or diseases. It is not merely an adolescent form of political discourse; it encourages a certain political philosophy -- a belief that rivals are somehow less than human, which undermines the idea of equality and the possibility of common purposes." I personally think he is being way too kind to adolescents who are well past their "grow up by" date, and he shies away from the rampant stupidity and blockheaded certainty which are part and parcel of the ugliness. Nonetheless e has it pegged, and it's obvious that nothing good is going to come of this.

And nothing good is going to come of its analogue in the church. Bryan Owen comments on the Church of the Ugly Party-- that is, an awful lot of our church, or at least an awful lot of our church commentators. I can understand some of the anger expressed over at StandFirm, considering the course of the Kennedys' departure. After that it goes downhill rapidly, with over-the-top and unwarrantedly bitter remarks tossed off about every move from the liberal establishment. And as Owen observes, the other side is not really any better-- indeed, I would say that, as they are consistently winning, they really have little ground for the anger that spews from their pens. Yet you can read the comments in the "Thinking Anglicans" blog (a title which holds a slim lead over "Anglican Mainstream" in the contest for greatest hubris), and see if you aren't struck by the nastiness and dismissiveness therein (see, for example, this snarky article from Episcopal Cafe).

Meanwhile, I see that Fr. Jones of St. Peter's London Docks is discontinuing his blog. The reason, of course, is that he does not wish to make a spectacle out of his now untenable situation. I shall miss him; his Catholicism is not my Anglican "eth", but his dedication and faith are obvious, and he after all has something to lose: not just his parish, but even (so I am told) his pension if he leaves.I am told that his sort are a tiny minority, which I suspect is not so true in England as (after thirty years) it is in the USA.

I will reserve my views on the future for another post. Suffice it to say that I find it increasingly difficult to live with the nastiness that has come pervade my church.

Monday, July 12, 2010

New Horizons in Liturgy

Given the reappearance of clown masses a few years back, my daughter suggested we needed a pirate baptism:
Celebrant: Are ye willing to walk the plank for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

Candidate: Aye!

The crew responds, ARRRRGH.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hospitality, Inclusion, the Altar, and the Font

I have been following several discussions/posts about what Derek Olsen has taken to terming "communion without baptism" (or CWOB). As he and Tobias Haller have been engaging the Anglican Scotist (especially concerning this blog post), it struck me that I would prefer at this point to step back a little bit from the fray and take a larger view of those very current words, "inclusion" and "hospitality".

Now, as nearly everyone on the traditional side of the argument is wont to point out, the theology of the BCP is quite clear: baptism is what includes us in the church. Two passages from the catechism:
Q. How is the Church described in the Bible?
A. The Church is described as the Body of which Jesus
Christ is the Head and of which all baptized persons are
members. It is called the People of God, the New Israel,
a holy nation, a royal priesthood, and the pillar and
ground of truth.

Q. What is Holy Baptism?
A. Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us
as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body,
the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.
Also, consider Cramner's words in the postcommunion prayer:
...and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people....
This rather puts me in a position very close to that of Christopher, who writes that "If I were to make a distinction in the parlance of our day, I would prefer "incorporation" rather than "inclusion."" I think, however, I must take a more aggressive stance. Let me reiterate my chief concern of a few weeks ago: that those so "included" in communion, in this age at least, are those with a commitment to syncretism that leads them away from Christianity.

Christopher, and BSnyder in the comments here, and Derek here, and I are all agreed: communion takes place in a Mystical Body in which the chief sacraments are not only about feeding or whatever, but that the Christian life is about being bound into that Body, which is the life of Christ. But that leads me to a much stronger negative response, one that is elicited by Paul's statements about the consequences of sexual immorality. The problem with offering communion to Hindus and Wiccans and random New Agers and other people who have no Christian intentions is that we are joining Christ back to them. We thus make communion a Hindu/Wiccan/New-Age/whatever sacrament.

If we want a feeding model, we would be better off looking to the Syro-Phoenician woman. At first, she seems to fit the bill; but note also that she who gathers up the crumbs from beneath the table specifically acknowledges Jesus' unique authority in approaching him in the first place. One should also note the cases in the Acts: conversion of gentiles leads directly to baptism. There is something of the restorationist in this movement, as though something was lost even before the Diddache, perhaps even before Pentecost itself. It's hard to take seriously a theory that is supposedly based in historical analysis and which appears to skip the entire history of the church.

My final observation is how deeply insecure this movement seems, underneath. BSynder sums it up thus: "Episcopalians have been so worried for so long about offending people that our preaching has become soft and atrophied." I would put it another way: that the radicals in the Episcopal Church are fine with the spiritual, but are scared to death of appearing to stand for anything religious. And I think this is hurting our evangelism, because in the end we increasingly cannot give anyone a reason for joining our church as a vehicle for joining with Christ. In this case, we are opening up the sacrament of our unity with Christ to people who do not want such unity and reject that inclusion. Surely that paradox is not lost on many who might convert rather than visit.

Addendum: I would commend to the reader a series of posts by Matt Gruner, beginning with Baptized into Eucharist.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Come See the Violence Inherent in the System

When the presiding bishop's pastoral letter was released, I didn't read it particularly carefully. Thus, I missed this quite remarkable passage:
We also recognize that the attempts to impose a singular understanding in such matters represent the same kind of cultural excesses practiced by many of our colonial forebears in their missionizing activity. Native Hawaiians were forced to abandon their traditional dress in favor of missionaries' standards of modesty. Native Americans were forced to abandon many of their cultural practices, even though they were fully congruent with orthodox Christianity, because the missionaries did not understand or consider those practices exemplary of the Spirit. The uniformity imposed at the Synod of Whitby did similar violence to a developing, contextual Christianity in the British Isles.
Now, I cannot speak to the other issues, for I am not as conversant with the situations in question. Early English church history, on the other hand, is something of a hobby with me, so when this passage was pointed out to me, I was aghast at her grotesque misrepresentation of the council.

As Mark Clavier writes:"We have here a sort of theological variation on Avatar"-- perhaps more apt an analogy than he intended, considering all the woad, er, blue skin in the movie. Of course, as he points out, the matter was nothing of the kind; the council was called to resolve differences in practice which were becoming too disruptive to continue tolerating. It is strikingly presumptuous for the PB to deny the assembled churchmen (and women-- remember that they met under the authority of Hilda) the right and authority to make the kinds of decisions which they made. The Celtic churchmen were not victims; they were parties to a dispute, which for the most part they acknowledged losing with grace and forebearance. The greatest saint of the era, Cuthbert, acceded to the changes and eventually assumed a short bishopric under the "new" (that is, Roman) hierarchy and rites.

Clavier notes, as he should, that Celtic Christianity serves as a object of romanticism. But he neglects another point, the continuing paradox of the present struggle: that 815 2nd Avenue stands not just for Iona, but also for Rome, and the General Conventions of the Episcopal Church might as well all be held in Whitby. And yet there is not the charity which characterized the English council, but indeed, only, war, legal rather than phsyical, but combat nonetheless. Or if I may jump, not so charitably, to a parable: the ruling clerisy in ECUSA is altogether too much like the servant who is forgiven his debt, but then presses all the more on those in debt to him.

There is no mythology of dissidence and freedom within the communion which cannot come back to haunt ECUSA in the treatment of its dissident and rebellious dioceses and parishes. And of course the reality is that the Episcopal Church is safe from having its parish churches and cathedrals confiscated by Cantuar, as opposed to the relentless litigating within ECUSA. But of course, unlike the Hawaiians or Navaho, the modern reactionaries are irredeemably wrong and have to be made to change their ways,

Thursday, June 03, 2010

A Confused but Inclusive Mess

Judging from some discussions I'm seeing, the next assault on the church's theology is not going to be against the Father. Communion without baptism seems to have jumped to the head of the line. Now the prohibition against communing the unbaptized is so old as to be untraceable, to the point where in the New Testament baptism seems to be assumed. And while we're at it, in 2006 General Convention passed Resolution D084, confirming the restriction and asking the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops to make a presentation concerning the issue at the next GC. The paper so presented can be found here, and not too surprisingly it supports a pretty traditional yet middle-of-the-road understanding of baptism as an essential initiation into the life of the church, with communion being part of that common life together.

Nonetheless, the pressure against it continues, in the name of Inclusion. So, for instance, in the Daily Episcopalian we have a column by Linda L. Grenz, recently interim at Good Shepherd Silver Spring, presenting this line of thinking. So we get strung together the usual line of people we used to exclude: blacks, women, and homosexuals, with (for some reason) a detour to Hispanic workers for Walt Disney. We included them, the implication goes, so we should include everyone else.

This just completely ignores any kind of theology, because whatever exclusions there were varied widely, and the (good or bad) theology behind the exclusions was all over the map in the kinds of arguments made. Of course, women and blacks were always baptized. The exclusion of women from the clergy can be traced right back to specific statements in Paul's letters; whereas whatever theological justification can be wrung out of scripture for the exclusion of blacks from such positions was tortured at best. There was nothing in Paul, for instance, to hang the latter exclusion on, whereas the statement that in Christ there is no Jew nor Greek nor a long list of other, highly relevant distinctions plainly bears directly on the matter. This is surely why racial discrimination within the churches has been driven into fringey corners, while ordination of women must still fight for acceptance. Reconciling Paul's denial of distinction on the one hand and his flat prohibitions on the other requires theology, one way or the other.

Homosexuality is a quite different issue. Nobody claims it is sinful to be black or female; by contrast, the center of the homosexuality debate is over whether it is an ontological fact of sexuality which must be respected (and thus affirmed), or a manifestation of sinfulness which must be resisted. On the other hand, the rejection of Donatism implies that the only possibly insurmountable problem with Mary Glasspool's consecration is her sex, not who she chooses to have sex with. It stands as a symbol of the church's endorsement of homosexuality, but it doesn't delegitimize her office, at least if one accepts that a woman may be made a bishop.

All of this is preface to the observation that Grenz's essay doesn't come within miles of this. Indeed, considering the kind of inclusion that she discusses, I can only note Paul Goings's waspish remark at another place that he's "waiting for the movement to introduce ordination without baptism." I don't see the theology in this, only an inchoate urge towards Inclusion as the highest Christian value.

And furthermore, one should give a thought about how people who are not baptized may approach the rail (or should I say, altar, since rails are after all a realization of exclusion). People with strong religious commitments--faithful Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or atheists--are likely either to refrain out of piety or (perhaps in the case of the Hindus) reinterpret the act in the context of their own religion, in which case they may be ritual participants but not faithful participants. We cannot include these people with bread and wine.

From there we turn to that growing faith, the irreligious and the "spiritual but not religious". Here the paradox is made manifest: the problem these people have is their lack of religious commitment, so we "welcome" them by abolishing the requirement for that commitment! Or as I put it several years ago: "Open communion sends the message that you don't have standards." I have to think that these people are the ones most likely to transgress Paul's numerous warnings about approaching communion unworthily, not perceiving Christ in it. They are not being included; they are being indulged. They come to church with no commitment to Christ, and they leave the same way; in the middle they may persuade themselves that they've had some sort of deep spiritual (which, I am sad to say, is likely to mean aesthetic and emotive) experience, but the one person they do not want to meet there is John the Baptist demanding to know what they're doing there and calling them to repentance.

And naturally, as usual the clerics get to congratulate themselves on their radical hospitality. "Radical" means "rebellious", and if there isn't a bishop or the canons to rebel against, there's always the Baptists and the pope. "Hospitality" means catering to spiritual dilettantes. Meanwhile the church itself suffers, if only because of the old principle: "why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?"

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The power of a sacrament

Chasing down some remarks by Derek Olsen concerning communion without baptism, I came upon this striking statement from Fr. John-Julian, OJN:
I had a friend who was a military chaplain. He had been a Congregationalist, but the moment he left the military, he became an Episcopalian. (He wasn't allowed to "convert" while a chaplain!)

I asked him why he became an Episcopalian. He said: "I was on the battlefield in the front lines, and when one of the young soldiers was dying, I watched the Episcopal priest give him Communion and anoint him with holy oil. As a Congregationalist, all I could do was TALK to the dying -- and that was so bloody irrelevant. It was then that I literally SAW the power of a Sacrament -- and knew where I belonged."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Calming Down

The presiding bishop gives interview on the state of the church:
She said fallout from the 2003 decision to consecrate Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire appears to have settled out for the most part.

“The reactivity right now is much, much less than it was seven years ago,” she said during an interview at Christ Church, where Waldo's consecration will take place.

“I think the church, and certainly the part of the church in the United States, is reasonably clear about where we're going, even though everybody doesn't agree. And those in the church, I think, are willing to live with that tension.”

Some Episcopalians who believe Scripture is clear in condemning homosexuality have left the church and formed an alternative province, while some parishes, including one in Aiken County, have left the denomination.

Others, such as Jefferts Schori, believe the gospel, taken in context, doesn't condemn monogamous homosexual relationships.

“There are certainly parts of the Anglican Communion that continue to be unhappy with the Episcopal Church and the church in Canada,” she said, “but we continue to build relationships across the communion, mission partnerships, and I think those are probably stronger than they were 10 years ago, and there are more of them."
Is that so? You wouldn't know it to read Stand Firm-- but then, it seems that perhaps most of them have left. And really, I don't see the anger dying down on the radical left. They are triumphant, but they're angry all right.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

No Longer a Predominantly White Male Conservative East Coast Elite

One of the longer running revisionist talking points in the current battle is to paint it as the overthrow of the old white racist homophobic patriarchy. Our title comes from this remark by the white male Rev. Michael Russell of the Diocese of Los Angeles.

Anyone with any memory at all is aware that this isn't true. I was confirmed into the Episcopal Church in May of 1977, a year after John T. Walker was consecrated as bishop coadjutor of Washington. If my recollection is correct, he wasn't even the first black bishop. Of course, he was very patrician, in his way. Three years previous a set of upper middle class white women were illegally ordained; by the time of my consecration their ordinations were regularized.

All of this was a generation ago. In this age, if race even enters into the picture, it is because the upper middle class is still largely white. Berkeley has always been in California as Cambridge has been in Massachusetts, and social tinkering has never known gender.

The elitism, if anything, has gotten stronger, not weaker. The social stratum of the liberal ECUSA establishment is if anything more constrained than ever. Black, female, poor powerless America is emphatically conservative in church; Latinos, far more so. The current struggle in ECUSA is openly about denying less privileged, less elite conservatives access to the power that church structures afford. Indeed, if you listen to Jim Naughton, it is specifically about denying power to secular conservatives who are supposedly using the church as a tool in secular struggles. But Naughton's old expose implicitly presupposes that those conservatives are right, and so I can only presume that Naughton and the episcopacy he represents have the same intentions. If they are not "rich", it is only in comparison to the resources of a man like Ahramson; for by any reasonable standard, the people who back the Diocese of Washington are wealthy enough, and (male or female) they have access to the educational and social opportunities afforded by matriculation from institutions of the greatest American prestige. The social views given power in the church represent those people, not those of Wheaton College or Notre Dame or Bob Jones University.

Given what I have heard of church life and advocacy back in my single digit years, I do not think that PECUSA has represented a conservative white male position in my lifetime, especially if what it means is a Jim Crow southern position-- for that is what Russell's remark is supposed to remind me of. I would point out to him that I knew several not so young, socially progressive priests in my salad days-- several of whom learned their profession at Sewanee. They are all dead now, as is very nearly everyone who was a bishop back in the heady days of 1964.

Monday, March 22, 2010

An Infernally Symbolic Act

People who follow Stand Firm closely may have noticed a couple of times when I've tangled with Matt Kennedy. I don't know all the details of his long battle with his bishop, and I've been reluctant to endorse his "we can take this parish and attach it to some other bishop" ecclesiology. He and I have rather different views on Rowan Williams.

That said, possibly no act more perfectly epitomizes the current conflict between the presiding bishop's office and her subjects than the fate of the buildings in Binghamton, New York, formerly occupied by the Kennedys' parish. While they have been graciously accommodated by the local RC parish, the former Church of the Good Shepherd has not reopened. It has come out, instead, that it is being sold to a muslim group, one presumes for use as a mosque, at a price one third of what the departing parish offered to pay for it.

Thus we defend our faith.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Two Charts That Say A Lot

Kendall Harmon has been running a series of posts in T19 on Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) for various dioceses for the 1998-2008 period. I managed to find some older data on the ECUSA website going back to 1992, so I've created a couple of charts which examine this from a slightly different perspective.

Our first chart shows ASA by diocese as a percentage of 1992 ASA:

The bold red line is domestic ASA. The legend to the right shows the dioceses in order by 2008 increase/decline (right-to-left, top-to-bottom) so that S. Carolina is at the top and San Joaquin is at the bottom.

Our second chart shows percentage change on a year-by-year basis:

In this case I have omitted Navaholand and San Joaquin, the first due to its volatility and the second due to its extreme at the end. I've also omitted selected extreme values along the way for other dioceses. The heavy red line again shows overall domestic ASA changes.

Both of these show pretty much the same pattern: up until 2001, the church was holding its own, and in many places showing increases. From 2002 on, almost all dioceses show substantial losses. Of course, it's only going to be worse next year, as three more dioceses all but disappear.

Friday, January 01, 2010

On the Feast of the Holy Name

January 1 is, in the Episcopal Church, the Feast of the Holy Name. I couldn't find anyone on YouTube singing the Vaughan Williams tune, and the other tune isn't right for what I am about to write (also, I just don't like it), so I'm afraid you'll just have to sing along yourself:

At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess him king of glory now.
'Tis the Father's pleasure we should call him Lord,
Who from the beginning was the mighty word.

The upcoming year, for those of us who loved our church for what it was, is likely to be grim. When Mary Glasspool gets her consents, the church shall be riven yet again. The anger from on high (by which I mean, the heights of 815 2nd Avenue) will discourage the orthodox and incite the heretics. Dioceses will write (or worse, allow their parishes to write) their own rites for homosexual marriages, citing GC resolutions as authorization to do so, and many of the same dioceses will allow increasingly large deviation from our common rites. A shrinking, besieged band, often beloved but seldom honored, will remember and move in the old ways; but the dominant churchmanship will continue to slide towards a high'n'wide'n'happy style in which "celebrate" because the only word for everything we do.

In between attempts to write this, I came across Tony Clavier talking about the same thing, more or less. So I will go to him for a moment, as he is more articulate about the matter than I seem to be at the moment:
Oddly enough for a person who yearns for the unity of Christendom, I have come to think that our abandonment of the distinctively Anglican “flavor” of worship and devotion, an abandonment variously justified as bringing us closer to other liturgical churches as well as making worship more accessible to moderns, has enormously harmed our witness and compromised our evangelism. A wise Bishop of Michigan, now in glory, once remarked that our contribution to unity had to come from the depth of our own tradition. That tradition was intimately anchored in our liturgical heritage and in its patient pastoral application.


So I live in a community which has nothing much to do but “affirm” people and offer them shares in real estate and a part in what goes on in those buildings, organized into an expensive structure which busies itself in good works.

And yet, I have no place else to go. It was the old PECUSA which called me forth from the dormancy of my childhood, and it was in a chaplaincy of that church that I was called into faith again. I do not trust the notion that one can choose among the churches through a theological scorecard, and the claims of those catholicisms that deny that I even go to a church presume too much, and brush off their own deep deficiencies too casually. It is a bit ironic that Fr. Clavier says, "Instead we seem to have morphed into “denominationalism”. By that I mean that the institution itself now claims our allegiance, a form of genealogical affirmation to structure as opposed to content", because increasingly I find loyalty to be holding me here-- not loyalty to the institution's representatives, for they have too often betrayed the trust put in them, but loyalty to the corpus, the bride sore oppressed. And so I pray for her, and hope, that what was lost and set aside and scorned be restored and made new.