Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Be a Bishop OF the Church, Not FOR the Church

Bishop Martins pegs the chief issue with the Presiding Bishop's sermon:
I'm going to cut right to what seems to me a rather larger and more fundamental issue, which is the duty of all Christians, but particularly those in ordained leadership, to operate from within the tradition, as an insider looking out, and not from a critical distance, as an outsider looking in. [....] As an insider looking out, as an apologist and cheerleader for the establishment, a bishop sits under the authority of the tradition, particularly the authority of sacred scripture. There are interpretive roads that are open to others--outsiders looking in--that are properly closed to bishops (and, by extension, to priests and others who preach and teach).
This is exactly right, and precisely delineates one of the two great besetting problems of the Episcopal hierarchy today. There are too many Anglican bishops out there who see their episcopal seat as a "bully throne", which they can use in the interest of whatever their theological or moral position may be, without regard to what the Church teaches. It is not entirely dishonest for them to say,"this is what the Church teaches, and this is what I teach," though it is the rankest hypocrisy to sponge off the diocesan dollar when doing so. But often enough even this nicety is given the go-by. The presiding bishop makes an exegetical howler which everyone from John the Divine to John Paul II would denounce in a heartbeat, and which indeed much of the present-day church was quick to disavow; and yet her sermon put it in the mouth of every Episcopalian.

As Bishop Martins says, bishops take vows to defend the teaching of the church. It is perhaps true that the presiding bishop didn't attack that teaching, though I find that reading of her words strained. And prophecy being what it is, and blowing where the Spirit pleases, the only spirit I heard was that of the Age. Her shaky bridge was constructed entirely out of the common tropes of modernist, semi-secularized textual skepticism of the sort where doubt of the text is supposed to increase faith. It was typical of the strain of modernist solipsism which brought forth all those bad sermons back around Easter and which felt that Jack Spong's nonsense was something that needed to be taught to laymen in Holy Week. There is none of the dialogue and caution which characterized the true Anglican line of theological inquiry.

Thus was the pastoral office abused. Look, whatever the virtue of inclusivity, we don't have anything to say to the much larger majority who are straight and whose vocation is to bear children and raise them. Our bishops and clergy have naught to say to the multitudes who without finger-crossing can say the creed (which I must point out is ritually led by the candidate at an episcopal consecration) except to tell them that there is something wrong with believing what their own church teaches in the liturgy. This is patently destructive. And if a prophet risks all for the truth, it is impossible for me not to see Lewis's "Episcopal ghost" in this, and to ask of these latter-day "prophetic voices", "What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came-popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and finally a bishopric?"

Friday, May 24, 2013

Sermon Feedback from Above (or somewhere like that)

It seems that St. Paul has some feedback to offer concerning the PB's sermon....

Another Winner from the PB

It seems to be the program these days that a major sermon by a bishop or dean in a liberal diocese has to (a) be about same-sex marriageinclusivity, and therefore (b) make veiled asides about Evil Conservatives, but also (c) drop some theological howler into the mix, even if it doesn't fit with anything else. Apparently the PB missed her opportunity to cast doubt on the resurrection at Easter or on Low Sunday, so instead she took her message down to Venezuela, where she preached on the Acts 16:16-34 reading in which, among other things, Paul exorcizes a slave girl whose possessing spirits proved to be very annoying. Now it's not too terribly obvious that this whole passage is about liberation from the bondage of sin and of bad religion, but here we have KJS's take on it:
There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it. Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God. She is quite right. She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves.[1] But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness. Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it. It gets him thrown in prison. That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so! The amazing thing is that during that long night in jail he remembers that he might find God there – so he and his cellmates spend the night praying and singing hymns.
So she's so intent on going down on Paul, archenemy of Integrity, that she doesn't notice that he, through the power of the Saving Name, has freed the poor woman from bondage to this spirit. She would much rather insinuate some sort of self-righteousness to the apostle, rather than admitting that having someone bellowing along behind them, even if they do bellow truth, is not necessarily conducive to transmission of the gospel.

But it is the following paragraph that really set orthodox believers on edge:

This time [after the earthquake in the prison], Paul remembers who he is and that all his neighbors are reflections of God, and he reaches out to his frightened captor. This time Paul acts with compassion rather than annoyance, and as a result the company of Jesus’ friends expands to include a whole new household. It makes me wonder what would have happened to that slave girl if Paul had seen the spirit of God in her.
It is hardly surprising that people took umbrage at the final sentence, with the implication that the divinatory spirit is also to be see as a divine spirit. To be fair, it doesn't precisely say such a thing, but then, that's really part of the problem too. Every time I read one of her sermons, I find myself having to choose between believing that her views are heterodox, or concluding that, if they are orthodox, she cannot express them so. Frank Griswold could be excessively veiled in his theological expressions; she more commonly comes out, at best, garbled. And so it is in this case. The actual sermon point comes before this, with the expression of her standard upper-middle-left-liberal views on economics and sexuality; but the problem, as far as I can tell, is that the actual text of the Acts is really quite uninterested in these notions. But that's what she feels she needs to preach on, and thus she needs a way to get to that point. So instead of the time-honored method of simply leaping across a non sequitur of sufficient span, she mangles the text.

Several people have defended her sermon to me in typical "big tent" language and have assailed her detractors as narrow-minded. If that's the general state of lay thinking in this church, we're in trouble. Look, the "big tent" language I don't take seriously: given how she keeps keeps coming up with these theological howlers, one could just as well conclude that she wouldn't mind getting rid of anyone with a commitment to orthodoxy, since that would make it easier to prevail in rendering church property safe for homosexuals. But more to the point, her primary job is religion, not social justice preaching. She can preach the latter, but she really needs to get the theology right as well.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Liturgy Question for the New Monetary Era

My parish, like many others, has made arrangements to allow parishioners to pay their pledges on-line. So I was intrigued to find, in the pews of a Lutheran church where I was hearing a concert, a stack of little laminated cards, to be put in the offering plate as tokens for the donations made on-line. Along with text explaining this purpose, the card bore a QR code which if used with a smart phone would take the user to the parish's on-line giving page. Any comments on this?

Monday, May 13, 2013

All Is Well, sayeth the Dean

I was inclined to put up my own analysis of this, but I rapidly concluded that it was a poor use of my time to listen to every word of the Dean of Virginia Theological Seminary explaining to us about how the Episcopal Church is not in decline. But of you must, you can listen to Part One here and Part Two here. Or you can spare yourself a half hour of throwing yourself about the room at the sophistry of it and read Bryan Owen's response here, along with snarky comments from others (including myself).

Once one gets past the incontrovertible statistics of dropping membership, dropping attendance, closing churches and departing parishes and dioceses, there's not much left to say about the facts. There is no great statistical fallacy to invoke: the numbers correctly record literal decline. And given the continuing issues with clerics who cannot even get the creed right, it's hard to see how smaller numbers add up to more intense faith. So I must conclude that either the dean's thinking is hopelessly muddled, or that this is an act of the most dishonest rationalization. I am inclined to go with the former, but between the two interpretations I am left with the conclusion that he is likely either intellectually or morally unqualified to direct one of the church's largest education institutions.