Friday, May 02, 2008

A Reading of the PB's Easter Message

That is always a danger, perhaps, of confusing the Kerygma, the Gospel proclamation, with the moral response the Gospel requires--which may well vary in particulars as the vices besetting the hearers of the Word vary.

For the PB, it seems Evangelism essentially includes moral appeal along with the proclamation of the Gospel. I'm speculating, but her basic idea might be that the Spirit operates with prevenient grace outside the bounds of the church to prepare potential disciples to respond to their Lord's voice.

They are prepared in many cases by a graced sense of conviction of sin not yet fully or clearly articulated. The Gospel tagged with a call to repent--delivered in preaching or proclamation by example appealing through mimesis--articulates the previously dim moral sense of being vicious, bringing it to clarity: at that very moment one is ready to begin conversion--the seed is sown.

She is betting--it seems to me--that our special sins, the grotesque distortions we are particularly prone to, have to do primarily with Gluttony: materialistic excess in hedonistic consumption that ends up abusing creation in defiance of divine will.

We already dimly know we consume too much, we waste too much, we take more than our fair share, we are emotionally addicted to materialistic pleasures and therein conceive ultimate happiness...and we already in a dim sense know better, and in a dim way know we are courting ultimate ruin in mortal sin.

To hear a clear call to repent from these sins of Gluttony in the name of Jesus is to know the Shepherd's voice as authentic, and to be positioned for an authentic response. Her proclamtion in the letter is patterned, so far as I can see, after an evangelical on the left. Her messages' critics, if I am right, may be caught up in actively resisting her call to repent. Witness their talk about her Easter message as if it were only concerned with cow flatulence.

I'm not kidding. Here is a partial list:

Midwest Conservative Journal
Hills of the North
VirtueOnline (see the comments)
Daily Camera--see Kendall Harmon quoted in the body

But ask yourself, why are cow farts a problem? Might it be because we are Gluttons--we can't help but connect our high standard of living to high consumption of beef, for example? A rather earthy fact the PB might well be onto and which her critics miss. But a timely fact as well: people are starvingto death for lack, in part, of the resources we spend on ourselves, growing fat cows for our fat selves.

Indeed, if you read her critics, going on about bovine flatulence, as in effect justifying our pluriform practices of Gluttony in spite of themselves and without really knowing what they are doing--ironically enough given Dean Turner's theme--as if her critique were some catastrophe, as if Vegetarianism or even a reduction of meat consumption were literally unthinkable, their "critique" of her Easter message appears, I dare say, in a rather new light.


At 8:16 PM, Blogger Bob Schneider said...

"Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are Mount Samaria, you who oppress the poor, who crush the needy." Amos 4:1.

At 9:40 PM, Blogger bls said...

Scotist, I've thought for awhile now that all this apostasy- and heresy-hunting on the part of the so-called "orthodox" - at least in certain circles - is really in the service of one goal: to make the argument that they are the true heirs of Anglicanism in America, and to supplant TEC in that position. And if that's the case, it's in their interest to drum up as many such charges as they can; remember that they are in fact a tiny minority in TEC and have no hope of gaining control of the church otherwise.

But don't worry; this will totally backfire on them. Trying to paint your enemy as "not a Christian" because she believes that it's wrong to ignore the poor in the rest of the world while Americans grow obese is about as ludicrous an argument as could possibly be made, as you point out. Anyway, even if the science were "bad and discredited," it would hardly imply that another person is "not a Christian."

What I think has also happened is that these folks have become accustomed at this point, as a result of the stand they have taken on the above, to view themselves as the "righteous remnant" - and of course the righteous don't have to examine themselves and their own lives and attitudes. They are right, and we are wrong. So they have become impervious to criticism of any kind - particularly criticism that comes from people they loathe and disdain.

It's all very sad, really; it's hard to imagine that people can hate somebody so much simply for being an advocate for certain knds of change that are aimed at making life better for the neighbor - or do they hate her for not saying what they would prefer to hear? (She doesn't always say what I'd prefer to hear, either, but that's life.) I don't know anymore - but never fear: God will prevail, so really, we have nothing to worry about.

At 8:12 PM, Blogger Perpetua said...

The concern articulated by the Rev Dr. Kendall Harmon in the article and by Rev Dr. Phillip Turner in his post at the ACI is what she didn't talk about -- the meaning to Christians of the Resurrection.

If you read past the first sentence, you will see that this was Harmon's point:
This short sermon seemed to focus more on affirming the doctrines of Al Gore than on proclaiming the reality of the Resurrection, said the Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and editor of The Anglican Digest. This is regrettable, since it's crucial for the modern church to do more to help protect the environment. This concern is, in fact, linked to Easter and to the ultimate hope for the renewing of God's creation, he said.

"The problem isn't so much what the presiding bishop said in this sermon, but what she all but left out of it," said Harmon. "The emphasis is totally on this one ethical dimension of our faith. ... That's important, but she didn't really connect it to what is the most important reality of all for Christians, which is that Jesus truly is risen from the dead and that really happened in time and in history and that changes everything -- literally everything."

Turner says:
The point is this. If the Presiding Bishop in fact knows what she is doing, she is proposing a moral understanding of the Christian Gospel that appears to ignore or reject the fact that the cross and resurrection of Christ have through the ages been understood as having to do first of all with the conquest of sin and death and so reconciliation with God and redemption from the great enemies of human kind. One can only celebrate the Presiding Bishop's concerns for the environment and the alleviation of human want and suffering. However, for Christians these concerns serve as a witness to a more fundamental belief. In the cross and resurrection God has bridged the gap that separates us from the true source of our life and in so doing has opened for us a new way of life. The Easter message is first of all that sin and death have been defeated and that God in Christ has proved to be faithful to his promises.

Both conservative theologians expressed that they shared with the PB the concerns for the environment. Their concern is that the PB's Easter Message ignores the ... well, the Easter Message.

At 10:50 PM, Blogger bls said...

I don't think that a complaint about "focussing more on affirming the doctrines of Al Gore than on proclaiming the reality of the Resurrection" is really based in "ignoring the Easter Message."

That is an argument way overfocussed on secular politics and right-wing Rush Limbaugh culture; they PB never mentioned politics at all.

Which is what makes me laugh out loud when the so-called "orthodox" (like Harmon) claim that TEC and Episcopalians are bowing to the "idol of culture." Heh.

At 11:40 PM, Blogger bls said...

Do the so-called "orthodox" really think that their talk, talk, talk about "doctrine" and about what they believe makes them better Christians? And that the PB has to be exactly what they demand she be in order to be considered a Christian? What petulance!

The PB is what she is; she quite clearly believes Christian faith requires an active response - specifically, the response of loving one's neighbor. She sees the disasters of poverty and want and catastrophe in the world, and she talks about how we can live out our Easter faith in the resurrected Christ. And gets pilloried for it! Very sad indeed.

The PB is as Christian as any of the so-called "orthodox"; that they think they can say the things they is quite telling, actually - and says a lot more about them than about TEC or the PB.

At 12:31 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Yes Robert--Amos! That's rich.


Thanks for your encouraging words here. In retrospect, you are probably right that their strategy will backfire--the best way forward may be simply to take note and let them push through further and further into absurdity by themselves. I think that sort of extremism will come to be seen by more and more as risible, unworthy of sincere consideration.

At 12:46 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


You seem to think--and I may be wrong--that a moral response to the Gospel is somehow separable from the proclamation of the Gospel itself, as if the two could be detatched.

A moment's reflection should convince you otherwise; Scripture gives examples of apostolic preaching--and even pre-apostolic preaching--on the form: "Repent and Believe!" It is said even Demons believe...their belief however has absolutely no merit, as it is belief without metanoia, belief shorn of repentance, apart from conviction and conversion. You must be convicted, you must return to the Holy Father; nobody should smugly settle for merely demonic belief.

But repent from what? What would a 180-degree turn in your life toward God even look like? "Count the cost"--what cost? The PB is addressing the issue of what we need to Repent of; it will not do to say "Jesus! I believe!" while going on in willful sin, never repenting.

Both Turner and Harmon try to address her comments as if they were moral--you are right to point that out. But I think that in picturing her comments that way, they make an elementary category mistake.

The issue is not Right versus Wrong, but Righteousness before God versus Sin. or: the issue of Vice versus Virtue is subsumed in the larger and more fundamental issue of Damnation versus Salvation.

That is, the PB's comments strike at the form Faith should take, and that cuts deeper than Morality, which as you know--and your heroes know I suspect--may go entirely without Faith: think of virtuous pagans.

There is a curious obstinance in Harmon and Turner and the others, a hardness of hearing if you will, so that they end up defending Gluttony, the pluriform vices of intemperance. They may not consciously mean to do so, but they end up there nevertheless--alas!

Verily, we live in a fallen world, yearning for the fruition of New Creation.

At 4:08 PM, Blogger Perpetua said...

Hi Anglican Scotist,

You articulate well the connection between repentance, belief and the fruits of new life in Christ.

But please do look at the PB's Easter Message which is here
It really does not focus on the Resurrection of Christ and the meaning of that.

The Christian tradition is to focus on key elements of Christian doctrine on particular Holy Days. For example, discussing our sins and repentance is given priority in Lent; Easter Sunday is the day Christians affirm their belief in the Resurrection and that sin and death have been defeated.

So, for the leader of a Christian denomination to give an Easter Message that does not use the opportunity to affirm these basic Christian doctrines raises significant concerns. When it is coupled with a program of righteous works, it is even more troubling.

(P.S. I am not against the environmental movement -- I drive a hybrid electric car and support NRDC, etc. My husband is one of the many co-authors of the IPCC)

At 2:47 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Thanks for your response; it gets right to the point. Still, I'm afraid I have to dissent from your opinion.

Tom Wright is getting in trouble for this too--his latest book calls for cancelling 3rd World Debt as a response to the Gospel, and he is taking heat.

If you think--against Tom Wright and Schori--that it is wrong for preachers to call for explicit, particular measures in response to the Gospel, then of course most of her message will seem worthless.

However, we find Jesus, Paul, and others calling for specific measures, and I think we can find ample ground in church history too. That settles the issue for me.

On the other hand, you might think our province has no special problem with Gluttony & that Schori should have been talking about something else, like 3rd world debt maybe.

I think a very strong case can be made, however, for Gluttony being a real problem among Episcopalians.

What is odd about her message, and what might strike you as odd too, is that it would be more fitting for Lent: Repent from gluttony, overconsumtion, greed, materialism, etc, repent, repent.

But note it does not have to be taken simply in a Lenten way: "See the sins and repent."\

She seems rather to say "Your new life, living into repentance and conversion, should look like this:..."--as if to say the Resurrection is anticipated in an amendment of life that should already have been intitiated.

Granted, she goes out on a limb by giving specifics. Moreover, as you note, she gets concrete very quickly and stays concrete through most of the message--but why is it more important to have a message filled with theological abstractions, doctrine sufficiently abstruse to render direct application opaque? Couldn't a tradition yielding up abstract churchspeak pander to a vice, even a mortal sin?

At 10:04 AM, Blogger Christopher said...

It's funny that when low (and some high) left evangelicals do this, howling is heard. But when the low (and some high) right evangelicals do the same thing about homosexuality, they don't see their own moralizing-as-replacement-for-the-Gospel. I think in either case, the purpose of preaching is to proclaim the Gospel first and foremost and on both sides, I often hear anything but. Jesus comes in fourth hat after we've told people what they need to do in response. It's backwards.

At 10:32 AM, Blogger bls said...

"Righteous works"? Is that how the so-called "orthodox" now view loving the neighbor - and amending one's own faults in order to become better at doing that?

That's really too bad. As I said above: the PB is what she is; personally, I'd rather have a PB who err on the side of loving the neighbor (and love is a verb, let's remember, not a squishy "liberal" feeling) than a terrific theologian and theorist who does not.

Granted, it would be wonderful to have both - but faith is about accepting reality if nothing else; I thought that was a "conservative" point of view, anyway? The PB is what she is - and as we've already seen, even the Pentecost message has now been denounced as wanting because of the lack of the definite article in one paragraph (which is in evidence elsewhere). The declaration that "Jesus is Lord" - not us or anybody else - is just not enough anymore, I guess. The grammar has to be acceptable, also.

The so-called "orthodox" have become parodies of themselves at this point, I'm afraid.

At 4:21 AM, Blogger LKT said...

Hello, Scotist! Wonderful, insightful analysis as always.

One thing I would add is the response to the PB's Easter message seems to ignore the context in which it is given.

When I read it, what I see is she is making the assumption that readers ascribe to the doctrine of the Resurrection ("the grace that you know in the resurrected Christ"). Why belabor something that is already a given on the table?

Furthermore, for those reading this as an Easter bulletin insert, it is to be assumed that the preacher will be giving a message focusing on the Resurrection of Christ and its meaning.

Given the brief space she is allowed for her message, her focus makes perfect sense to me. I hope I would say that no matter who wrote it. (I'd love to see church fathers and mothers quoted anonymously and get contemporary reactions, both right and left.)

Imagine trying to "explain" the resurrection (as if one could) on a bulletin insert.

My 2 cents, FWIW.


At 10:35 AM, Blogger Perpetua said...

Dear Laura,
I wish you were right about the context. What part of California were you in before going to Uganda? What I see is a lot of people hungry for the Easter Message and longing for a leader to ... set the lead.

At 11:09 PM, Blogger Fr. Bryan Owen said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11:13 PM, Blogger Fr. Bryan Owen said...

I'm very late to this thread, and it's probably already dead. But if I had gotten on board in time, this is what I would have said.

It's good for the PB to talk about ethics on Easter. It's just curious for many of us that - for two years in a row - she hasn't made a clear connection between her environmental ethical concerns and the central NT Easter proclamation: that Jesus has been bodily raised from the dead & vindicated by God as the world's true Lord.

While I abhor the viciousness of those who personally attack the PB, I share some of the concerns of conservatives regarding both her 2007 and 2008 Easter messages. In particular, I see little in them that a Buddhist or an atheist couldn't affirm. Which is fine as far as it goes - but this is EASTER we're talking about, the very heart and soul of the Christian faith!

At 11:20 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Your response mystifies me. It seems you deliberately ignore her reference to grace, sacraments, and the resurrected Christ.

Maybe you are not familiar with Buddhism or atheism. Don't be alarmed: that is nothing necessarily to be ashamed of.

Please let me assure you, normative Buddhism and atheism deny the resurrected Christ, deny our sacraments, and would be committed to denying the possibility of a life in grace through Christ. Trust me: Buddhists do not believe Jesus of Nazereth is the Son of God, the Word made flesh--and atheists do not believe in God.

What strikes me as odd about your line of critique--aside from what seems to be complete ignorance about Buddhism and atheism--is the fact you manage to demand she talk about "the very heart and soul of the Christian faith" namely "that Jesus has been bodily raised from the dead & vindicated by God as the world's true Lord" when in fact she DID talk about just that very thing, and she did it LITERALLY.

Did you skip over that part?

I cannot help but suspect many of her critics secretly resent the fact that Jesus is Lord, as what they object to most vociferously in her message is what Schori--quite plausibly--claims Jesus' lordship actually entails: repentance and amendment of life.

At 11:26 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Granted, she does not preach repentance in terms you might expect: "Quit your boozing, quit your whoring and whoremongering, quit your gambling and your swearing and your taking God's name in vain!" Maybe she should.

But perhaps most Episcopalians are not and would not be convicted by that kind of brimstone. So she moves in closer: "radically scale back your Materialistic Hedonism, yout Gluttinous Consumption, your meat-eating, your heedless CO2 emissions, your gas-guzzling, your suburbia-centered lives."

This sounds ridiculous to many, and it would be silly but for two simple points:

(1)she is right;
(2)most Christians will never Obey Christ as Lord by making the amendments she implies; most will contentedly remain Cows of Bashan: Obstinate.

At 9:29 AM, Blogger Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Dear Scotist,

Perhaps a more charitable response would be to say that we have both read the same material and we disagree on what the PB did and did not say in it.

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Perpetua said...

Dear Scotist,
I am not seeing that she talked about Jesus being bodily raised from the dead & vindicated by God as the world's true Lord, let alone LITERALLY. I am looking at Presiding Bishop's Message for Easter 2008. I see 6 paragraphs with 18 sentences. I see only two sentences with references to Jesus or Christ, both in the first paragraph:
"How can you enact the new life we know in Jesus the Christ? In other words, how can you be the sacrament, the outward and visible sign, of the grace that you know in the resurrected Christ?"
After that, the body of the essay does not refer to Jesus or Christ at all. It appears that she just used the references to Jesus Christ to segue into her real topic.
This wouldn't be a problem on an ordinary Sunday, when an Easter Message had not been promised.

At 11:32 AM, Blogger Perpetua said...

Please check out this recent post by Scott Gunn over at Seven Whole Days.

At 1:43 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

I guess you are right: charity would have us agree to disagree. Let's leave it at that for the time being.

At 1:53 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Gunn's post was good, right up to the very last bit where he wrote:

"Yes, my friends, I’m talking about works-righteousness. You don’t get into heaven by doing good things. You can’t get saved by doing good things. You can’t fix the church by doing good things."

The ad did not mention getting into heaven by works, or fixing teh church by works--Gunn just made that up. Why?

Well, it may be he would not have had a case had he not made some stuff up. And why not? He rejects good works, so why should he feel bound to only Bear True Witness, and restrain himself to the bounds of evidence?

As for slicing carrots, two points: (1)that seems to confirm my reading of Schori; (2)it is compatible with carrying out the Great Commission.

You and Gunn differ in thinking that mentioning Jesus up front and not waiting is a better strategy; you are entitled to your opinion. That is not enough though--you want to go further, dontcha?

What you really want to say is that the ad shows she and TEC do not want to mantion Jesus at all--now or later, right?

At 12:10 PM, Blogger Perpetua said...

Hi Anglican Scotist,

In my next to last comment, I questioned your claim that in her 2008 Easter Message the PB did talk about ""that Jesus has been bodily raised from the dead & vindicated by God as the world's true Lord' ... and she did it LITERALLY."

Can you support your claim? I hate to think that, like you accuse Scott Gunn of doing, you "made some stuff up".

Yes, both Gunn and I are concerned about the de-centering of Christ and re-centering of "good works". However, you are conflating our concern for the emphasis on "good works" in the messages with a rejection of "good works".

My social location makes me very aware of the social service requirements now expected of high school students who seek admission to selective colleges, and the cynicism this creates regarding the public performance of "good works". I am thinking you may not be in a similar social location and not realize what is going on in the top 5% of our society with regard to public performance of "good works".


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