Saturday, September 16, 2006

Nearing Rock Bottom

Archbishop Williams' appointment of Drexel Gomez to chair the Anglican Covenant committee is certainly provocative, as Gomez prima facie cannot be described as a neutral arbiter who like Williams is ready to set personal conviction aside in the interest of catholicity. Of course I may be wrong, but this appointment--at this time--is enough to drive some on the Anglican left, like me, who saw a covenant process as a reasonable way forward, near to despair. With Gomez in charge, it seems the covenant will have the sentiment of Lambeth 1.10 written in as a condition for full, normal communion. We will in effect have moved from the "Lambeth Quadrilateral" to the "Lambeth Pentagon," where what is now a partisan reading of Scripture will be taken as normative for the fullness of a church's Christian being. That would be a curious and deplorable turn of events, and one well worth resisting while there is an iota of a chance of success, and even after should the worst come to pass.

I cannot help but see Willaims' hand forced in all this by the current state of the Church of England. He cannot abide its disintegration, but probably feels that siding against Lambeth 1.10 would lead to the CoE's disintegration via schism with right wing evangelicals. For instance, Alpha et al have been enormously successful in promoting the evangelical wing of Anglicanism in England, whereas the Affirming Catholicism movement there as elsewhere simply has not kept up.

That is to say, the Anglican left is being forced to the wall by its failure to recommend its way of living Christianly and responding to the Gospel. The Episcopal Church may be somewhat different, inasmuch as our evangelicals remain a minority--still, TEC has not done well across the board evangelizing into its distinctive way of living Christianly. A future shift in the Anglican Communion from apostolic catholicity to enforced right-wing dogmatism would be part of a broader difficulty, one ranging widely within Christianity as a whole: the right wing in various forms increasingly dominates more and more of a shrinking pie as globally Christianity moves further and further into a post-Christian era, where numerical success increasingly comes at the intersection of evangelicalism and megachurch "wealth gospel" dreck of the Word Faith movement variety, signalling Christianity's near complete capitulation to the lifestyle of secular materialism.

Partly it may be that the cause of truth and justice--properly God's cause--seems to too many better pursued elsewhere, so that the secular minded may see little point in prayer, baptism, and eucharist. They may ask, what's the point of all that extra stuff, when what needs to be done is so clearly over here instead?

How well can you explain the difference being Christian makes, or being part of the Christian church makes, to those among the virtuous secular?

I know--and you may know as well--a number of young people in Gen Y and Z who are unbaptized, and have reached the age of reason and beyond oblivious to the church as they pursue their various laudable secular paths. When I have talked to them, they are shocked to see anyone educated entertaining Christian belief--or even theism. And that is as good a place for evangelism to dig in and start its work as anywhere alse. What would you say?

11 Comments:

At 10:09 PM, Anonymous D. C. said...

Re your last paragraph: Family lore has it that every spring for over 50 years, my late grandmother put a fresh coat of shellac on her upright-grand piano. When you pull the piano out from the wall and look in the back, the original wood is rather pretty. From the front, however, the wood is barely visible; frankly, it's kind of ugly. My brother and his family have the piano now. One of these years we need to strip off the thick, dark build-up of shellac so that we can see the beauty of the original wood again.

Likewise, Jesus preached a simple, powerful message. He emphasized putting God first; seeking the best even for your enemy just as you would for yourself; and changing your mind, heart, and life when you realize you've gone astray. And he didn't just talk the talk; he followed what he saw as his duty even at the cost of his life. In the 300 or so years afterwards, however, his message and example got corrupted into a new religion about Jesus himself.

The church needs to focus on an evidence-based Christianity, to show skeptical young people why Jesus's message and example are worth making big life bets on.

 
At 10:51 AM, Blogger bls said...

D.C., the problem is that many of these people, as Scotist notes, don't believe in God to begin with, so exhorting them to "put God first" just won't make any sense at all. Many of these people didn't grow up with Christianity as we did.

Here's something I was pointed to recently, that might be of interest. It's hard to tell if the people referred to are already Christian or not. But more people seem to be taking an interest in monastic spirituality, I'd say because it's a practice, rather than an ethical program. And they get 500 people for Compline at St. Mark's in Seattle every Sunday night. Perhaps it's simply the grounding in something that's very old, which we don't have access to very often in this country.

Ethics are great, but secular ethics are very strong. Christianity is about ethics, but also more than just ethics, and IMO we have to demonstrate this rather than talk about it.

 
At 11:10 AM, Blogger bls said...

I'd also like to point out that early Christianity - from what I know - succeeded among the educated precisely because it was a very high-end concept, one full of interesting Greek philosophy and theory. So I don't think that cutting that stuff out for a simpler program is necessarily the way to go.

As far as what I personally would say about what difference faith (not the Church!) has made to my life? It's helped me feel that my feet are on a true and deep spiritual path, that I'm beginning the crucial journey of my life. It's helped me face the world and the future without fear - or at least with far less fear. Best of all, it's taught me to love deeply, and to begin to be able to transcend myself and my own ego. Love is the key, really - and this leads to the desire to live according to Christian ethics. I'm only a beginner at this, but the spectacular nature of it is already apparent.

I'm sure I wouldn't bother with the Church except for these things. The beginnings are mystical, not ethical (although ethics certainly follow). I don't know if I'm unique in this; I'm sure a variety approaches would work for the great diversity of human beings.

 
At 8:35 PM, Blogger *Christopher said...

Scotist,

I think bls is correct. What strengthens me is my monastic connections and practices because they are rooted in practice which forms us in virtue, in the shape of the Trinity in a way of relating in community. I saw St. Mark's ability to draw folks into Encounter with the Living God. Ethics follows encounter, not vice versa. It isn't that I don't have ethics, obviously, but that they flow out of an ongoing relationship with Christ. What we have here is a reading of Scripture and moralism being elevated to near-dogma. Akinola's latest remarks demonstrate to my mind, that though harsher than most, reveal the deep nastiness of the way fellow Christians treat queer Christians in the Body. Much of it is just more subtle and therefore more easily denied or covered up. Recently Staneley Hauerwaus praised Williams for hoping for a Church in which gays could be resident aliens. The problem with that whole line is that it reveals how deeply heterosexist we are, as I am not a resident alien, but a fellow citizen in the Kingdom.

When I read this about Gomez, what most concerned me is the number of centrists who might very well go along as they're so concerned for good order they're willing to let folks like myself take a back seat. It seems clear to me at this point that Williams intends to make Lambeth 1.10 binding, at least, in the first section. I wrote of this possibility with some sense of loss and sadness and preparation:

Likely Lambeth 1.10 will become some part of canon law in this brave new covenant now that Williams and others have played powerfully with history turning recommendations into laws (just as with Windsor), and given that scenario, I won't be able in good conscience to continue to identify as Anglican and sign on to such a binding relationship, though my practice as a Christian will continue. Where I might go, I don't know, but the alcoholic dynamics (Centrists are too often enablers in many cases) of the Anglican family are such that I won't go with threats or a bang, but with a simple acknowledgement that I learned much here, but I have enough self-respect not to be treated thusly any longer, even if this places me outside the Church, especially when those who claim to be shepherds calling others to Christ beat the sheep.

I'm not sure how much "resistance" I have left in me. So much of focusing on where TEC and the AC are going rather hinders and beats down one's spirit. Today, I was treated to a lecture series on Bonhoeffer for the founding day at the seminary where I work. Bonhoeffer noted two things I though important when the Church has failed utterly:
1) continue praying to God
2) continue in the work of treating others as you would wish to be treated

Now some might question that the Church has failed utterly, but until one has experienced the Church as a queer Christian, one does not know the depths to which the spiritual ability and too often willingness to destroy or get in the way of Christ shapes our present relating together or my ability to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with other queer persons.

 
At 8:41 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks for these replies.

DC,
I think you are drawing attention to the distinction between Jesus' preaching and showing the Kingdom on the one hand, and his dying on the cross and the empty tomb on the other. Granted, institutional Christianity has found it very tempting to emphasize the Cross and forget the Kingdom--but the two can be cultivated very well together: Kingdom and Cross seem continuous, for instance if you consider living out nonviolent activism. You might well, under the nightsticks, tear gas and rubber bullets find the Cross while striving for the Kingdom.

bls and christopher,
Let me agree up front that a parish's worship, extending into the prayer life of its members, should be rock solid--at least so that bringing a newbie along stands a good chance of success on any given Sunday. And that should include developing a rule of life in some form as part of the being of the community--granted.

However, how to evangelize in the field, when worship together isn't on the table? I come back to emphasizing the inevitably of death, the threat of all one's efforts being ultimately meaningless,the oddity of injustice and evil being unanswered, the spectacle of a humanity unable to get out of the hole it has dug itself in. There are echoes in the Bible of each of the above themes, but it is a dark opening indeed nonetheless.

 
At 8:58 PM, Blogger *Christopher said...

Scotist,

Sure without worship together there's a problem, but don't you see when the worship becomes held captive to these dynamics, most folks I encounter are likely to say "no" or laugh in my face or tell me to "f-off". If our community together has come to that, that an entire class of persons really do say we have no good news, there's a serious problem. No point worrying about the newbies if their queer, if we move in the direction I suspect, they'd be right to say "no thanks". As it is, the Church both in my personal life, in my relationship, and as a whole, has been a mostly negative reality, and there is a point where one's spirit is completely and simply tired of the whole affair. I've reached that point as my partner now has been informed he will be disciplined by his bishop for being in a relationship. I think every bishop and priest needs to read and reread Ezekiel 34 for some clarity of the dangers of their position. In the end, I cannot sign onto a covenant that would treat me as lesser human, as I take covenant theology quite seriously, and my concern is many liberals and centrists really don't if we can have some kind of order.

 
At 10:52 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Well, thanks for bringing me back to what is sure to be an intensifying problem: we are on the verge, it seems, of predicating our identity on writing second or third or nth class status of lgbt people into a confession. Obscene, even if it were mere possibility that did not come to pass.

I've considered other ecclesial options--as you may have: old catholic, moravian, congregational, and so on, but there is a price and with some the price is quite steep. Nevertheless, a move is a real option.

Barring such a move--or the formation of a noninstitutional, intentional community like an ad hoc house church--resistance is the only option. Assimilation to institutionalized brutality would be unacceptable. Granted, if there were a witch hunt at the parish level, even an oppositional way of life within TEC might become impossible, but things are not at that point yet.

We are outnumbered, and we have been outmaneuvered, prima facie. But we already know that our Nigerian/Network/AAC opposition can at best have only temporary victory, and there is cause for some small hope in that thought. Mybe enough.

 
At 2:45 PM, Anonymous D. C. said...

Scotist writes: [W]e are on the verge, it seems, of predicating our identity on writing second or third or nth class status of lgbt people into a confession."

I wouldn't worry too much about it, because it won't be "our" identity — the TEC General Convention will never go along with it. The imperialist noises coming out of the so-called Global South today are going to infuriate even a lot of moderates in TEC. And remember that most of Canada, England, New Zealand, and probably Australia will be with TEC, as well as probably others.

Scotist writes: "We are outnumbered, and we have been outmaneuvered, prima facie."

I wouldn't agree with either point.

As to being outnumbered: In TEC, the moderates and liberals are in the majority. Sure, Akinola & Co. can claim to have millions of Anglicans. So what? Recognizing them as brothers and sisters in Christ, and listening respectfully to their views, doesn't automatically mean blindly following their leader's dictates.

As to being outmaneuvered: Earlier this week a trad parish (in Syracuse?), that had tried to split off from one of the NY dioceses, was handed a defeat on summary judgment, on grounds that the parish's property belongs to the diocese. That won't happen in every state, but it will in quite a few.

I'm waiting to see what comes out of the Camp Allen meeting this week. In the meantime, "be not afraid."

 
At 4:53 PM, Anonymous David Huff said...

How well can you explain the difference being Christian makes, or being part of the Christian church makes, to those among the virtuous secular?

I've been thinking a lot about just this topic for many months now - and honestly, I'm not sure I could. There's certainly nothing that the avg conservative "evangelical" could say that would be valuable.

Any response I'd make, if I could articulate it, would revolve around the same thing that draws those 500-ish people to Compline at St. Mark's in Seattle that bls mentioned.

When I have talked to them, they are shocked to see anyone educated entertaining Christian belief--or even theism.

There are days I could sympathize ;) Of course, it'd be a real stretch to identify me as a theist. As far as I can tell, I belong in a sort of sloppy Panendeism.

 
At 11:27 AM, Blogger *Christopher said...

Scotist,

In that case, given the ability of the Net, I recommend that networking begin.

 
At 10:51 PM, Anonymous J.C. Fisher said...

Thoughts off the top of my head---

I'm reminded of the subtitle of Jim Wallis' recent book: "Why the Left doesn't get it, the Right gets it wrong"

Secular Left: doesn't get "God"

Religious Right: worships a false god, (I call "GeeZus": pronounced the same, but zero connection to the Socially-Liberating, Individually-Merciful---and inclusive of all---Christ of the Gospels!)

The Religious Right feels under attack by the Secular Left...

...and the Secular Left really IS under attack by the Religious Right!

Seen this way, the religion of the RR is a kind of insanity (if not demonic possession!). They need Christ the Healer.

The Secular Left's need is more nuanced. How do you keep fighting---for the ethics the SL already has---in the face of the constant onslaught of the RR (aided and abetted by corporate capitalism and militarism)? I think---in the long run---the SL needs Christ the Feeder/Soul-Feeder ("Bread for the Journey": both literal AND sacramental!)

How do we reach out to both? (Recognizing that the RR, whether insane or possessed, is only going to come to Jesus of Nazareth kicking and screaming? And that the merely similar sounds of "Jesus" and the RR's "GeeZus", will continue to scare off the SL?)

I have more questions than answers.

Lord have mercy!

 

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