Today the Anglican bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, used the BBC's "thought for the day" to propagandize for approving of homosexuality. In "Blessed by a committed, faithful love", he begins by claiming that
The dispute is not between goodies and baddies. It is between two sets of principled people who passionately hold, with integrity, two opposing points of view. Both subscribe to the controlling authority of scripture.
You will notice that in three sentences he has relativized the subject so that his opponents cannot claim any presumption in their favor, as orthodoxy has traditionally asserted against liberalism and liberals have generally accepted. (Hence their claims to be prophetic and the like.) He goes in the rest of the paragraph to make the standard view that all these principled people just disagree on what Scripture means - which, if its meaning is so unclear as to seem to different people to commend sodomy and forbid it as a great sin, does make one wonder why anyone should bother appealing to it at all.
You will also notice his claim that even the moral innovators accept the controlling authority of Scripture. This appeal to Scripture is a fairly new development in the debate, and one forced upon the innovators, I think, by the apparent success of conservatism in bodies like the Church of England (where, it is said, over half the ordinands are Evangelicals).
For years the doctrinal and moral innovators pressed their claims without great regard for Scripture, because they saw (rightly) that it asserted ideas they (wrongly) thought outgrown. But now they declare their love for Scripture at every turn. Judging from my close observation of the moral innovators in the Episcopal Church, I do not believe them.
I am sure some love to read Scripture and try to live by it, but even they do not seem to submit themselves to any disciplined, principled reading of Scripture, so that it might challenge them in any way they do not wish to be challenged. By taking Romans 1 seriously, for example.
Bishop Harries follows this with the story of a great priest and a great man who suffered greatly because he was homosexual, and how happy admitting this to himself and forming a relationship with another man made him. Those of you who have read this sort of thing will recognize it as a quite standard move, so common as to be a cliche. Quoting the preacher at the man's funeral, the bishop claims that his "partnership" with another man "transformed" him and made him a much happier man. Nothing is said about whether the partnership made him a better Christian and a better priest.
And then Bishop Harries concludes his short thought for the day:
The question facing all those who call themselves Christians is quite simple: Does Jesus rejoice in such transforming friendships, such love, or not?Some honestly believe that the scriptures are so clear we cannot answer, yes. Others believe that the live experience of good people helps open our eyes to the true meaning of scripture.
You will notice how he has loaded the opening question, so that the kind-hearted feel - actually, any normal person feels - they must agree with him and so that anyone who disagrees looks like an ogre who wants to deny these poor misunderstood people simple human happiness. This is also so common as to be a cliche.
How could Jesus possibly be against "such transforming friendships"? Of course He's for them! Yet there are people - gasp! horror! - who think "the scriptures are so clear we cannot answer, yes." But of course any one who really accepts Scripture knows that it can't really prohibit what Jesus wants and rejoices in!
Then Scripture must teach us to approve of homosexuality! The people who don't see this must just hate homosexual people. They're just not Christ-like.
So run the feelings the bishop must want to create in his listeners. Faced with this argument, the orthodox believer looks like the man with horribly bad breath stuck on a crowded elevator. People move as far away from him as they can and avert their faces. They long for the moment he goes away. They know the elevator will be a better place when he is gone.
Harries' is a bad argument, of course, to the extent it is an argument at all. It does not honestly present the thought of those who disagree with him. All in all, the bishop's short thought is a sort of "moral blackmail," as Peter Toon put it in an e-mail he sent round.
Alas, though, Bishop Harries is right. Sodomitical partnerships are indeed "transforming relationships," if Scripture as traditionally read is right. They may well produce a form of earthly happiness, to the extent they imitate marriage, which is so good a thing that its imitations may themselves bring some earthly goods, even if, strictly speaking, the imitations are perverse.
But if Scripture tells us the truth about the sexual order God has given us, and has built into the way we work and the way human society works, the steady and unrepented practice of sodomy will transform the men and women who engage it into something they ought not to be, and almost certainly do not want to be. It will transform them into people who rebel - truly if (we hope) unconsciously - against God.
Of course we are all rebels against God in our own ways. I have no doubt that many a happily married man pursues his business so corruptly and exploits the poor so brutally that he is shaking his fist at Heaven far more vigorously than many quiet homosexual couples who seem to live exemplary lives, lives of genuine charity, outside the bedroom.
But those who accept "the controlling authority of Scripture" and do not pretend that Scripture might say something no one has ever before found in it, must still say that however happy the homosexual's partnership makes him, it is changing him into a man who is turning his back upon God. There are transformations, and there are transformations.
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By the way, I dealt with another of Bishop Harries' peculiar ideas in a View published in April, "When Jesus Says the Wrong Thing".
A cheering story from Catholic World Report: "Mexican Bishops Defy Legal Threats, Urge Pro-Life Votes" (I think this is available only to subscribers). The bishops had urged people to vote in accordance with Catholic principles, not least in defense of the life of the unborn, and various people - including the "Mexico Possible" party - had threatened to sue them for their alleged violation of the Mexican constitution's prohibition of "political intervention."
Mexico's attorney general has issued a ruling against the bishops, warning them to "abide by the constitution or face legal consequences."
Nevertheless, the bishops of the southern dioceses of Acapulco, Chilpancingo, Ciudad Altamirano, Lazaro Cardenas, and Tlapa have issued a fresh statement calling upon all Catholics to vote "according to the Gospels and the moral principles that sprout from them." The bishops also urged political candidates to "take the side of life, by taking political measures in favor of the family, the unborn, and parents' rights to form and educate their children."
Three cheers for the bishops. Americans ought to note the possible precedent.
READING THE BIBLE WITH THE FATHERS:
A useful short article from Zenit: "Reading the Bible With the Church Fathers", an interview with the historian Robert Louis Wilken. In it he discusses his new book The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God (Yale), published a few weeks ago. From my very quick skimming of the book, it looks quite good.
A "New Oxford Note" in the latest (June 2003) issue of The New Oxford Review defends our contributing editor Rod Dreher. (FYI: Rod recently left National Review, where he had been a senior writer, to write for the Dallas Morning News.)
This story will be of most interest to Catholics, but I think Protestant and Orthodox readers will find it of interest as well. You will have faced the same situation in your bodies, I think, and seen men who spoke as frankly as Rod treated as hysterics or traitors, when their speech only proved their sanity and loyalty.
Rod had written in The Wall Street Journal of March 7th an analysis of Pope John II's eagerness to speak out against the United States going to war in Iraq while saying little and doing less about the dissenting and time-serving bishops who do so much damage to the Catholic Church in this country. It seemed a fair point to make, but it upset several conservative Catholics, who criticized him in print and privately.
NOR's website only goes up to the March issue, so I can't give you a link to the Note, and I am certainly not going to type it all out, but I commend the Note to the attention of those of you with access to the magazine. The Note - written, I assume, judging from the style, by the editor Dale Vree - examines an attack on Rod by a J. P. Zmirak and I think shows its failings. For example:
Incredibly, Zmirak thinks he's found a justification for John Paul's neglect of internal Church governance in the example of Bush Jr. Says Zmirak: "Count the Holy Father end the crisis in the Church overnight? Sure he could - by removing all unreliable bishops, excommunicating their followers and leading the remnant Church untroubled by dissent." A remnant Church?
Zmirak knows better, for he later admits that in such a scenario the Pope would "probably hold onto much of Latin America, the Philippines, Asia and Africa." That's a pretty big "remnant"! Moreover, it's in those areas of the globe where we find the most vitality in the Church.
What the Pope should do about the Church in the West is too big a subject to address here and now (which means: when I've got to get home for supper). It is a subject someone without his responsibility and his charism will comment on only with hesitation and humility, but it is a subject loyal laymen like Rod and me can say something about, even if we think we must speak critically.
I think I understand what Mr. Zmirak fears, and he is quite right to fear it. Discipline can harm as well as correct, and souls may be lost that might be saved if given more time or approached differently. I know that a pastor will not want to lose any of his flock, no matter how far they have strayed, and that he will know how many of his flock are (to switch metaphors) hanging on to the Faith by their fingertips. (Pawtips. Whatever.)
But I also know that the sheep who have strayed too far will be eaten by wolves - not may be eaten if they are unlucky, but will be eaten simply because they are defenseless outside the fold. They will do things no wise sheep would ever do, because doing these things will not separate them from the flock. Though these things will, eventually, unite them with the wolves in the most intimate way possible.
For their own good, and especially for the good of the so-far obedient sheep who tempted to follow them into the wilds, the shepherd must often bid them goodbye. The shepherd may well alert the straying sheep to their danger by telling them clearly that they are no longer sheep of his flock, and this may well be the only way they will listen to him at all. (And if they don't listen, are they really any the worse off?) As long as he does not tell them in ways they can understand - and remember that sheep are stupid - they will assume they are safe because they are, they foolishly think, still under his protection, no matter where they go.
The Note concludes that the Pope's
contribution to Church teaching has been prodigious. But an administrator he is not. He simply does not "mind the store," does not attend to the chores of Church governance. We have been blessed by this Pope, and his teachings have laid the foundations for the restoration of orthodoxy.
But it will fall to another people to carry out his vision, to insist, over his dead body, that the teachings of the Church are taught by the bishops with conviction, follow-through, and dire consequences for saboteurs in chancery offices, seminaries, Catholic colleges and universities, and elsewhere.
This seems to me exactly right. I love Pope John Paul II, and his picture looks down at me both in my study at home and in my office at the Protestant seminary at which I serve. (Before I moved my office I had his picture on my door, in fact, in the same place as a colleague had his picture of John Calvin.) I pray for him daily, and I not only ask for his healing and his continued reign but thank God for him and his work.
But he is clearly not an administrator and he has let men continue in office who should have been sent to a monastery near the South Pole. An unheated monastery. It is not a sleight to a great man to say that he is not a perfect man, and in acting as if it were Rod's critics have done him wrong.
And harmed their own thinking to boot, by treating the Church more idealistically than a Catholic should, and forgetting the extent to which it is a living body moving, sometimes with compelling beauty, sometimes staggering as if drunk or dying, through history. No Catholic should expect perfection in a pope. Remember St. Peter.
If I differ from Rod, it is in thinking that we could not reasonably ask for more in a pope than we have gotten in John Paul II. I think Rod may have expected too much. All men, even the greatest, are strong in some things and weak in others. Teachers and prophets almost never run things well, and the men who run things well almost never think and speak as profoundly as John Paul II.
As The New Oxford Review says, he has laid the foundations for the restoration of orthodoxy. I assume that this is what God gave him to us to do, and that our Father knows what we need next. He gave the Catholic Church - and indeed to all Christians - a great man who could do great things but could not do everything. While accepting that in this fallen world no man will do everything that must be done, we must pray that God gives us another man as astonishing as Pope John Paul II.
A friend sent the following, which "appeared about ten years ago in the newsletter of one of the Third Order Dominican chapters associated with the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C." It is a selection from the diary of Ida V. Kosciesza, written on the day she found out that she had cancer, which would eventually kill her.
She seems to have been an amazing person in merely worldly terms: an award-winning reporter (among her rewards was one from the National Press Club), an opera signer, the editorial director of a publisher, and mother of nine. I thought that some of you might find the diary entry helpful.
Attended midday Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes and afterwards stopped to pray at the Blessed Sacrament altar. Tried to figure out how this fits in with the plans I know God has for me.
Have knelt in this same place many times over the past four years, asked the Lord to show me the direction He wants me to go, what He wants me to do with the rest of my life. Suddenly, there's not much doubt about what He wants of me right now. He wants me to have cancer - possibly to die of it within a year or two. At the least to spend the rest of my life with a troublesome handicap. This may not be what I had in mind when I prayed to know His Will and to have the strength to follow it, but that shouldn't surprise me. His plan for me has never been what I had in mind, but it's always worked out for the best.
My mother is almost ninety years old, and, until this month, I'd assumed I had a similar life expectancy. Right now I want to serve the Lord, but can I be sure I will hold to that resolution for the next thirty years? I pray every day for the grace to persevere. Maybe this is God's answer to my prayers. Maybe He knows I don't have the stamina to stay the course, so His way of helping me "finish the race" is to reach down and make the finish line closer.
I get a deep sense of peace as I realise that, with God's help, I can face whatever comes, whether early death or life. After all, a good death is what I'm working toward it, isn't it? Suddenly it seems a lot closer.
Realise with astonishment that I can actually accept the fact that I have cancer and may die of it. This would have been impossible four years ago. In that alone is proof of God's mercy. He gives us only the burdens He knows we can carry. Four years ago I wasn't ready for this. It seems as if now I am. Have tremendous sense of joy. Feel tears flowing down my face.
This is the next step in the pilgrimage, the next challenge to meet. I know I can meet it because He's helping me and because He will tailor it to my strength just as He has timed it for my readiness. I resolve here and now to welcome whatever comes, unite it with the sufferings of Jesus, and offer all of it for the conversion of my children - another thing I've prayed for in this spot many times over the past four years.
A friend has been sending around selections from the Short stories of Saki. I enjoy his stories and would recommend them, but the whole site looks useful, though the stories by classic writers are mixed in with stories by people you've never heard of, which vary in quality.
Another interesting response to "The limits of conservatism" (posted yesterday), this one from the Rev'd Robert Hart, a "continuing Anglican" priest and frequent contributor to Touchstone:
Though none of the men you quoted would believe that this is the case, the trap they seem to have fallen into is a notion of relative orthodoxy. The danger is believing that one is orthodox based upon the shifting standards of apostasy after apostasy, heresy after heresy, by comparing himself to a most extreme example of all that is wrong. False weights and measures are an abomination.
I am afraid it is all too easy now to imagine conservative Episcopalians finally someday accepting or overlooking what is today's major crisis, and reacting very strongly to the first proposed Man Horse Wedding, perhaps with Rites for blessing such unions having been given General Convention legitimacy over the protests of "Speciesists." I can picture someone who has given in on Women in Holy Orders, lax divorce and remarriage rules, and even homosexual "covenants", digging in his heels and objecting when a man lusts after his horse, and seeks a Church blessing on his "union" - as "The Bible clearly says 'Each shall seek his own kind'."
This is the issue that has the serious potential to lead someday to a split in the Church. Setting aside the authority of Scripture on this issue could well bring an end to the Anglican Communion."
Until the next potentially Church splitting issue goes a step further.
An interesting response to "The limits of conservatism" (three blogs below ) by Craig K. Galer:
My comment is more of a quibble, but an important one, I believe. The moral problem of Canon Robinson is not that he is "living with another man," but that he is living with another man in an open homosexual relationship. In our culture, "living together" has come to carry sexual overtones, but on the face of it, "living together" is not the problem.
Several years ago, the local newspaper in the college town where I live (which has a large, Big Ten university) tried to make the claim that homosexuality was part of the American mainstream, because over 50% of the households in the city consisted of same-sex people living together. Well, college students have been living together with same-sex roommates for hundreds of years, having little, if anything, to do with homosexuality.
Around the same time, my dorm roommate and I were suspected of being homosexual because we were, well, a little odd - as seniors, we were tired of living in our bedroom, so to speak, so we removed the beds from our room, furnished it as more of a living room, and slept on the floor. This was just too strange for some of our dorm-mates to process, so they assumed we must be homosexual, which we assuredly were not - we have both been happily married for over 20 years, with ten children between the two of us. (I hope I haven't transgressed any bounds of good taste by sharing this with you).
More generally, there is an increasing tendency in our culture to identify close same-sex friendships (especially male ones) as homosexual - I have heard sermons identifying David and Jonathan as a homosexual "couple." This is yet another mark of the impoverishment of our culture, that it cannot conceive of a love that is not sexual.
He is quite right about the sexualization of friendship and its pernicious effects. I had used the phrase "living with another man" knowing it wasn't quite accurate but trading accuracy for breeziness. It is amusing that his dorm-mates thought people who slept on the floor must be homosexual. I would have thought that such austerity is if anything a clear sign that they're not.
MORE ON MUGGERIDGE:
Something else on Malcolm Muggeridge, the hundredth anniversary of whose birth we celebrate this year: Roger Kimball's "Malcolm Muggeridge's journey", which appears in the June issue of The New Criterion, one of the most enjoyable magazines I know. His writes at the beginning that he suspects that the revival of interest in Muggeridge
will prove to be a brief and haphazard revival, however, and more's the pity. Muggeridge is a tonic force, well worth resuscitating. He could be crankish. Sometimes he was downright absurd. But, at least until the last decade of his life, when his powers guttered, he was rarely merely crankish. Often he was incandescently perceptive. Above all he provided an intelligent admonitory voice, a voice against the grain of received opinion, urging caution, broadcasting unwelcome truths, nudging his interlocutors beyond the warm circle of their self-absorption.
He goes on to write what I think is a perceptive (and short) portrait of Muggeridge, particularly perceptive in stressing that he was a fundamentally serious writer, despite his great rhetorical gifts and general mischievousness. For example:
There was a large streak of the contrarian in Muggeridge. If all good society were united in believing "X," he was likely to give "not-X" a sympathetic airing. It was part of his lifelong campaign against highminded earnestness - which is not, I hasten to add, the same thing as a campaign against seriousness.
I like to think, by the way, that Touchstone is the most Muggeridgean of religious magazines. At any rate, we'll have a few articles on him in the December issue.
STANDING BY YOUR ATHEIST
Stockholm, 17 June (ENI) - Members of a Danish Lutheran congregation are standing by their parish priest who was suspended from his duties after a newspaper quoted him as saying he did not believe in God.
Hundreds of churchgoers in the Danish town of Lyngby-Taarbaek rallied to protest against the suspension of the Rev. Thorkild
Grosboll, with some saying a deep cleavage had developed between the church and the people and expressing fear that it was
"If there is no place for our pastor in the church, then there is no place for many of us either," Lars Heilesen, head of the parish council, told a public meeting on 10 June.
Grosboll has been at the centre of a controversy since the weekly newspaper Weekendavisen at the end of May quoted the 55 year-old priest as saying: "There is no heavenly God, there is no eternal life, there is no resurrection. That kind of talk never appealed
Well, this is to be expected when the Gospel is changed to become merely toleration and all-inclusivity. Apparently the parishioners are getting what they deserve. But why is it that I have a suspicion that one day in the future in some mainline church someone will be disciplined and removed for the sin of claiming to know that God does exist and that he has spoken clearly to us in his Son? You know, the sin of dogmatism?
SINKING COMMON GROUND:
In the "New Oxford Notes" section of the latest (June 2003) issue of The New Oxford Review, is short entry on "The waning legacy of Cardinal Bernadin." His Seamless Garment Network has renamed itself Consistent Life because the name has "been met with quizical looks by many. Our junk mail always contains advertisements for garment workers and the like."
The idea of the "seamless garment" was that Christians should be as strongly against the death penalty as against abortion, and as strongly for the life of the convicted murderer as for the life of the unborn child. I don't agree with this, but it is an idea to be taken seriously, though many people suspected that the group's main purpose was to discourage the pro-life movement by broadening its focus and to stigmatize pro-lifers who were not also activists against the death penalty.
The "Notes" go on to mention the late cardinal's famous Common Ground Initiative, which sought to find common ground between believing Catholics and liberal Catholics. Other bishops dismissed the attempt, and rightly, because it treated as legitimate a position of rebellion against Church teachings, and it never caught on. NOR comments that this group may also need to change its name and suggests:
The Common Quicksand Initiative.
THE LIMITS OF CONSERVATISM:
Conservative Episcopalians have reacted against the election of Canon Gene Robinson to be the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire because he is living with another man. They should howl and hoot, of course, but I must admit that a friendly outsider like me feels bemused when reading their reactions.
They long ago weakened their ability to protest the approval of homosexuality with any great coherence and effect, to the extent that they are now like a man trying to throw punches while sinking in quicksand. Just read through the following.
From the Rt. Rev'd James Stanton, the Episcopal bishop of Dallas and head of a group called the American Anglican Council:
Some will say the direction taken by New Hampshire is the leading of the Holy Spirit in a new age. But the apostles' teaching is that the Spirit leads to unity with God and one another, not to greater division. And nowhere is the Holy Spirit seen in the New Testament to contradict God's revelation in prior ages.
Some will say the growing conflict is about justice and compassion. But without faithfulness to the apostles' teaching - the church's charter - only disorder will be the result. And disorder never leads to either justice or compassion.
From the Very Rev'd Dr. Peter Moore, dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry (my former boss and a man I like and admire, let me make clear):
Only hubris can have motivated otherwise well-intentioned people to scorn the wisdom of the church that through its history has taught that sex belongs within the covenant of heterosexual marriage.
From the Rev'd Todd H. Wetzel, director of Episcopalians United:
[Canon Robinson's] exemplary capabilities do not warrant an exception to 2000 years of the teaching of Scripture. The Old and New Testaments, are clear in defining a homosexual relationship as an abomination - clearly in violation of God's will. Further, the New Testament declares that a man engaged in ministry must be the husband of one wife (not several; or of another man.) (1st Timothy 3:2).
. . . By Scripture and the world-wide Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1998 and by past resolutions of our General Convention, he can not be a bishop at all.
The election strongly highlights the low state to which the Authority of Scripture, theological discussion and submission to the wider Anglican Communion have fallen in Episcopal circles, and how sentiment has replaced reason in the voting of many Episcopalians.
From the Rt. Rev'd Edward Salmon and the Rt. Rev'd William Skilton, Episcopal bishop and suffragan bishop of South Carolina:
The Anglican Communion now faces one of its greatest crises ever over the question of whether or not same sex relationships are sinful or to be blessed by the church.
. . . The union in which Canon Robinson participates is not Holy Matrimony but an intimate relationship outside the bounds of marriage. This would be true whether he were cohabiting with a man or with a woman. For the church implicitly to sanction such a partnership will be a clear repudiation of the teaching of Holy Scripture and the tradition of the church; it also would signify a massive overhaul of the Christian theology of marriage by the Episcopal Church.
You may have noticed that everything these men say against approving homosexual living could be said against approving the ordination of women, which all these men approve, I think rather enthusiastically (I know almost all of them). They all appeal to a tradition they themselves do not obey. They appeal to a unity they themselves helped shatter. They appeal to a way of reading Scripture they have already disregarded.
Mr. Wetzel even asserts the requirement that the bishop be the husband of one wife, and therefor not the husband of one husband, without noticing that husbands are male. (I don't think his organization has ever protested the ordination of anyone with two or more spouses living, though his use of St. Paul's rule leads one to think they object to it as strongly as they do to the ordination of a homosexual man.)
Anyway, one does raise one's eyebrows to hear men who believe in ordaining women speak out against the violation of 2000 years of tradition and call such an innovation hubris, and declare that "nowhere is the Holy Spirit seen in the New Testament to contradict God's revelation in prior ages" while advancing an apparent contradiction. They helped push a boulder over the edge of the cliff and are now angry that it did not stop rolling halfway down the hill, and though they didn't mind it smashing the homes of people who lived near the top, are upset that it's now smashing into their homes.
They would argue that the two cases are different, and that there are biblical arguments to be made for ordaining women as well as men, arguments we have only in the last thirty or forty years seen and understood. But then that is exactly what Canon Robinson's supporters say. And with as much reason. The conservatives don't have any reason, beyond a belief in their own exegesis, to say that their innovation is Godly and the homosexualists' ungodly. They cannot appeal to tradition as the authority for their reading of Scripture now, when they disregarded it then.
When faced with the election of Canon Robinson, the approval of which (certain to come) will be the Episcopal Church's official approval of homosexual coupling, their approval of the first innovation leaves them, as I said, like a man trying to throw punches while sinking in quicksand.
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By the way, all these quotes were taken from stories published by the Episcopal news service Virtuosity.
The local district attorney did not charge the Catholic Bishop of Phoenix with criminal neglect for keeping child-molesting priests in office, in exchange for his agreement to remove himself from overseeing the clergy. (The bishop has just been arrested for hit-and-run driving, in which a man crossing the street was killed. The news story I saw said that his car's windshield was pushed in, which, shall I say, does not speak well of him.)
I did not know that deciding how institutions should operate comes under the district attorney's authority. I thought that DAs were supposed to decide which accused criminals to put on trial and then try to convict them and get them the punishment their crime deserves. That's their job.
As a citizen, I would much rather the DA put people accused of a crime on trial, than play social engineer. As a Catholic, I would much rather the DA put bishops accused of a crime on trial, than play ecclesiastical engineer. If Phoenix's district attorney wants the Catholic bishops to change the way they treat predatory priests, he would encourage them ever so much more effectively if he put the bishop in jail.
WRIGHT ON EASTER:
An interesting article on Easter sermons which I just stumbled across, by N. T. "Tom" Wright, the New Testament scholar and the new Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, "Easter: Wright and Wrong". He contrasts the sermons of Pastor Gospelman and the Rev. Mr. Smoothtongue, the first of whom preaches the bodily resurrection but rather misses its point, the second of whom dimly glimpses its point but undermines his insight by denying that it actually happened.
I think Wright's caricature of the liberal Mr. Smoothtongue more generally true of liberals than his caricature of the conservative Pastor Gospelman istrue of conservatives, but that is the only caveat I'd offer. Most of you will enjoy, as I did, his insight into the liberal inability to speak rightly of Easter, but he does have an insight into the exclusively next-worldliness of much conservative preaching, even from mainstream preachers who do not think that they are preaching "pie in the sky when you die," though they are.
Let me just quote Wright's description of the Rev. Mr. Smoothtongue's answer to the question "so what?" asked of the Resurrection:
When it comes to the "so what?" Mr Smoothtongue is emphatic. Now that we've got away from that crude supernatural nonsense, the way is clear to "True Resurrection". This, it turns out, is a new way of construing the human project, breaking through the old taboos (he has traditional sexual ethics in mind, but is too delicate to mention it) and discovering a new kind of life, a welcoming, yes, inclusive approach.
The "stone" of legalism has been rolled away, and the "risen body", the true spark of life and identity hidden inside each of us, can burst forth. And č well, of course, this new life must now infect all our relationships. All our social policies. Resurrection must become, not a one-off event, imagined by pre-modern minds and insisted on by backward-looking conservatives, but an ongoing event in the liberation of humans and the world.
. . . Mr Smoothtongue's final point has a grain of truth in it, though all his previous denials make it impossible for him to see why it's true or what its proper shape is. The resurrection is indeed the foundation for a renewed way of life in and for the world. But to get that social, political and cultural result you really do need the bodily resurrection, not just a "spiritual" event that might have happened to Jesus or perhaps simply to the disciples.
And his insistence on "modern science" (not that he's read any physics recently) is pure Enlightenment rhetoric. We didn't need Galileo and Einstein to tell us that dead people don't come back to life.
Anticipating the General Convention of the Episcopal Church next month, Presiding Frank T. Griswold has written a letter to all bishops in which, among other things, he addresses the controversy reported last week about the election of a gay divorced bishop who is currently in an open "relationship" with a male "partner":
The election of the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson by the laity and clergy of the Diocese of New Hampshire to serve as their bishop
Coadjutor has received wide comment in the press and other media. Great joy and deep distress are emotions being felt by many within our church. Some view the election as prophetic and an action of the Holy Spirit, while others view it as disregarding Scripture, Tradition and the larger view of the Anglican Communion, which they see as expressed in a resolution on sexuality of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.
This variety of opinion should not surprise us. As the report of the Theology Committee so clearly stated, "The depth and complexity of human sexuality are reflected in the multiple understandings and interpretations held by thoughtful people." We have seen these various interpretations articulated over these last days in response to the New Hampshire election, and discussion will doubtless continue.
In the face of strongly-held divergent opinions on what constitutes God's desire, my concern is how we move with grace through this time. As Presiding Bishop and chief pastor of the church, it is my duty to ensure that all perspectives are treated with reverence, care and mutual respect in the service of a unity, not of our own creation, but rather given to us through our baptism into Christ. This means that though we may disagree, no one can say, "I have no need of you" to another member of the church. I hope that in the weeks ahead we will be mindful of this, and of the following points as well.
Note that "all perspectives" must be treated with "reverence." Really? All? A "perspective" that countenances mortal sin should be revered? And the quotation from St. Paul ("I have no need of you") is misapplied, just a bit. Apparently in this new dispensation (the all-inclusive gospel) no heresy should be cut off, no heretic excommunicated.
Does the Church really need a divorced bishop who sleeps with another man? Is this even Christianity? Will anyone, or can anyone, in The Episcopal Church, effectively say īno'?