Copyright © 2005
by the Fellowship of St. James.
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A reader from Lake Charles, Louisana, writes in response to all the messages on the dilemma of conservative Episcopalians:
It was the year 2000, my 19th year as an Episcopalian, when I looked into the choir loft and realized the truth. There before me (among others) were a sodomite couple, organizers of the local Planned Parenthood, multi-divorced men and women, and a paid singer, a Buddhist. One of our associate priests was divorced and remarried to a divorced and remarried woman. And we were in a so-called "conservative" parish!
And so it was that I made the decision to swim the Tiber, based at first solely on this: Pascal's Wager works with Catholicism. Come on you guys! The water's fine! And Chesterton is so very right. Catholicism is so much larger from the inside looking out than from the outside looking in.
There is not a day goes by that I don't love Holy Mother Church more.
A response to my "Nowhere to go" from the Rev'd Robert Hart. Fr. Hart is a priest in one of the Anglican bodies sometimes called "Continuing Churches," because they maintained a form of traditional Anglicanism after leaving the Episcopal Church. His is one that considers Anglicanism a Catholic Church, while others think it a Protestant Church.
You made this statement about the problem Episcopalians face if they leave to leave, instead of leaving to enter something else: "The Catholic Church will not take you just because you don't want to be an Episcopalian any more, nor will the Orthodox."
Where no strong Anglican alternative is available, such as the non-ECUSAn Anglican church I serve in Easton, an Episcopalian does face this dilemma, for he cannot abandon his catholic principles to join a Protestant church. He has to learn something altogether new to him if he wishes to enter the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church; he has to believe that all of the doctrines of that church he is entering are true; that is every teaching that is dogma.
Even though some Roman Catholic and Orthodox people do not believe this themselves, and thus are to a degree dishonest about their adherence to the faith, it remains the standard of those churches, and therefore of every honest person wanting to belong truly and fully to his church. For example, if I wanted to join the Roman Catholic Church, it would not be enough that I can believe that the magesterium is guided by the Holy Spirit and is right in 99% of its teaching. I am sure they would let me in, but not in the way that satisfies their principles, not to mention my conscience.
Episcopalians (including conservative ones) are in the habit of choosing the teachings they like and rejecting anything else, having no one in authority who can say what is right or wrong. But, this is not because of Anglicanism, which though broad in allowing doctrinal differences among its members, really does have formularies which the people are required to believe.
The fact that ECUSA cannot live with these formularies is proof that it is in no sense Anglican any longer. Yes it is "in communion" with Canterbury, but it rejects the Anglican formularies, which is a more important issue. When people come from ECUSA to us, they have to accept those formularies; they have to accept the fact that we hold the line on doctrine.
An example of this is that we had a woman in our congregation many years ago who wanted to be a priest. She was told a few times that this is not possible; and now she is gone. Any Episcopalian leaving ECUSA, and wishing to hold to catholic principles, is in the position of having to submit to the teaching of the Catholic Tradition on a level which will be new, and possibly difficult; this includes those who seek to remain Anglican outside of the non-doctrinal easy-chair of ECUSA.
A Catholic thinks any Anglican church a Protestant church, of course, but as I said in my blog, a distressed Episcopalian who distinguishes Anglicanism from Presbyterianism or Methodism or Baptism (if that's the right word) is going to have great problems finding a church home. I can understand their feelings. They are bound by principles and the world does not seem to supply anything that satisfies those principles. It must be very hard for them.
On another matter, I don't think Fr. Hart is right that the Catholic Church would let him in even though he doesn't completely accept her teaching: in this case, a miss is as good as a mile. (Though Fr. Hart might find some lazy or overly "pastoral" priest who'd take him in.)
Some churches, like the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church/Missouri Synod, insist on this complete acceptance more than others. People (inside these bodies as well as outside them) think this very picky, petty, small-minded, and selfish of them. Why make the entrance fee so high? they ask. Why not be generous and let someone in even if he doesn't accept everything you teach? Why keep Christians divided when it is so easy to bring them together?
There is a good reason for being so picky. Joining a Church — and this applies to any Christian body — is like a marriage. It is a total commitment, not allowing any reservations, because every little point is still a crucial point, a point upon which the health of the whole thing depends. Leave out one of these little points, so apparently insignificant, and you do something very bad to the marriage.
You may commit yourself to staying out of bed with anyone not your husband or wife, but if you keep to yourself the right to think lustfully about someone else, your thoughts — small, occasional, and private as they may be — will eventually deform your marriage if they don't help destroy it. Traitorous thoughts do as much damage, if more slowly and not as obviously, as traitorous bodies.
You may want to distinguish physical adultery from mental fantasies and believe that if you promise to avoid the first your spouse should allow you the second. But faithfulness requires purity in body and mind. It is not divisible. It is an all or nothing affair.
And joining a church is the same sort of thing. Whatever it believes, you have to believe it all. Even if it believes almost nothing and declares that all roads lead to God, you cannot join it while believing Jesus to be the way, the truth, and the life.
As we (the editors of the magazine) keep insisting in various places, God will bring true unity to his scattered and divided people only if they are faithful the Faith as they know it. He can do something to reconcile real Catholics and real Baptists, but he can't do much with lazy, ignorant, or dishonest ones. I suspect He can do even less with those who value "inclusivity" over truth.
So if you want to do something for Christian unity, keep your entrance fees high and demand 100% acceptance of everything you teach, and trust the Lord to work it out in His own way and time.
A WEAKER SEX:
An interesting article giving yet more evidence for the obvious: "Israeli women won't see combat", from the Washington Times. My thanks to the Rev'd Robert Hart for the link. The story begins:
Young women who are drafted into the Israeli military will be barred from most combat duties because of a medical study that has determined they are, after all, the weaker sex.
. . . The medical study, carried out by the army medical corps, found that women safely can carry 40 percent of their body weight compared with 55 percent for men.
The fact that military-age women weigh 33 pounds less than men on average makes the average disparity in what they can lift more than 44 pounds.
The study also determined that men could be trained on marches of up to 55 miles, but that marches of more than 32 miles were too arduous for women.
A THIRD RESPONSE:
A third response to Steven Hutchens’ blog of two days ago, "A response to Mr. Cox", from Byron Murgatroyd. You will notice that Steve has already posted a response to the two responses I posted last night
For those of you who don’t know the players to whom Mr. Murgatroyd refers:
— the AAC is the American Anglican Council, the conservative group trying to rally conservative Episcopalians against the ordination of the openly homosexual Canon Gene Robinson as Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. They sponsored the large meeting in Dallas two weeks ago.
They call themselves “orthodox,” but I call them “conservative,” because while they are strongly, passionately, anti-homosexual, they are also strong supporters of the ordination of women. In other words, they would be satisfied — if not exactly happy — if the Episcopal Church returned to the state of the late seventies, eighties, or even nineties.
It is only the approval of homosexuality that seems to have rallied them. Heresy does not. Even gross heresy does not. One bishop has recently endorsed the Nestorian position condemned by two different ecumenical councils — see the November issue for details — but you will not hear them responding to him in any way. This seems to me to get things exactly backwards: a man in authority denies some fundamental Christian teaching and they ignore him, i.e. ignore a man who has said something rather worse than the teachings that led their Reformation Fathers to break with Rome, but when their body approves for bishop a man living in sin they act as if the sky has fallen.
— the AMIA is the Anglican Mission in America, a mission of the Anglican Churches in Rwanda and Southeast Asia that has taken some ex-Episcopal parishes and planted many new ones all over the country — that is, the group establishes an Anglican witness in the area “owned” by the Episcopal Church. This upset a lot of people, including a lot of conservatives, but seemed to me a perfectly rational, and theologically justified, response by people who believed in the Anglican form of Christianity and saw it absent and even repressed in large areas of the country.
I think the writer is wrong to say that the AMIA “is not really in communion with anyone,” because they are members of two Anglican churches that are in full communion with every other Anglican church (including the Episcopal Church, which seems to me a problem for them). Anglican officialdom has tried to treat them as illegitimate children best not mentioned in public, but they are full members of local churches that are full members of the Anglican Federation (a.k.a. Communion).
Mr. Murgatroyd’s response to Steve:
S. M. Hutchens’ question about whether the time is NOW to avoid perdition by leaving an ECUSA [Episcopal Church] parish is a good one, but for someone in the rank and file not so easily answered. Of course there are those in traditional and/or orthodox dioceses that are waiting on the promises of realignment from the AAC and others. For someone in a liberal diocese, the problem has become somewhat more profound. First, for someone like myself who has only relatively recently returned to the ECUSA after a 25-year absence, the first question is whether I am an Anglican or not.
I have made a few discoveries since my return: the failures of the 1979 prayer book (my thanks to the US Prayer Book Society, and especially the Rev. Dr. Peter Toon for deepening my understanding that it seems like the '79 prayer book is telling 1/2 the gospel + a bunch of silly secular stuff), the stance on abortion, remarriage (especially priests and bishops), being told that the 39 Articles were never adopted by the US church and so don't constitute any kind of doctrine, the Righter trial showing there is no "core doctrine" within the ECUSA about anything other than canon law and the bishops are kings, the successive general conventions with incredibly unbiblical statements about sex outside marriage and seeing the holy face of (our own) god in the ones we have sex with outside of marriage, now the blessing of same-sex unions, and in general that the only thing that seems to hold us together is a prayer book that can change at any time based on the whims of a handful of liberal activists.
If this is how the entire Anglican communion works, then I have to conclude I'm not an Anglican, at least circa 2000. The ECUSA seems to have evolved into a Unitarian church with a centralized money-collecting power system with people who like to dress up in 10th or 11th century clothes.
But, if these are just the problems of the western church, and there is doctrine and discipline based on biblical strictures then I might well be an Anglican of some sort, but which sort? The continuing churches are not in communion with anyone and in my area are somewhat sparse, the AMIA is not really in communion with anyone, as it is technically a mission of the Anglican churches of Rwanda and Southeast Asia, etc.
Also, it looks like the primates punted the idea of discipline off for a year — does that mean it is punting indefinitely or do they really (and I mean really, really really really) mean it this time that there will be discipline? And if there is realignment and a new church, will it be one that drops the innovations of the last 50 years or only some of them, which ones, and are the innovations they keep (such as the ordination of women, although perhaps not as bishops) ones I could live with? (After all, the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have to admit that they must have something wrong vis a vis what God wants — after all, we see through a glass darkly.) And finally, is the Lord calling me to stay and fight as a faithful remnant in the realignment, or should I simply abandon the entire sect?
I guess in summary, in your reference to Dimble, he is presented as the clear, unambiguous "good and correct" course versus the clearly incorrect and evil present situation. If you have such a clear choice for those struggling to read the tea leaves of the primates statement, Rowan Williams, et al, then please please please enlighten those of us struggling to discern what to do and where to go.
Otherwise, while the time to make a decision to leave is indeed NOW, what to do with that decision is still something of a mystery. My rector and parish know my feelings about what's transpired. In the meantime, I will put my faith in God, and trust in my salvation through the Way, the Truth and the Life, Jesus Christ, and that the Holy Spirit will guide this miserable sinner, keeping in mind that something has to give, it's just not clear what.
LEWIS READERS RETREAT:
The Schwan Center in northwest Wisconsin will offer A Weekend With C. S. Lewis: A Readers' Retreat December 5th to 7th. The two speakers will be Dale Nelson and Angus Menuge, two Lewis scholars both of whom have written for us. They'll be speaking mainly on Lewis's lectures The Abolition of Man and his novel That Hideous Strength, which put the insights of the lectures into a story.
I have never met Dr. Nelson but I do know Dr. Menuge (and recommend the collection he edited, C. S. Lewis: Lightbearer in the Shadowlands) and expect that the two will provide an informative and stimulating weekend.
WHAT OF THE GOOD CHURCHES?
The earnest and eloquent letter from my California respondent deserves an extended reply.
I have often heard Athanasius invoked as a reason to stay in the Episcopal Church, but wonder if he would have stayed in communion with a church that had actually become Arian. His whole reason for fighting as he did was to prevent that from happening, and, as it turned out, he and those who were with him won, laus Deo. Had he lost, would he have continued fighting? Or would he have been compelled to recognize that a division had occurred between true and false churches and orient himself accordingly? The latter, I think. There is a difference between a church infected by heresy and a heretical church.
A physician who is experienced with death will not try to revive a body once he believes it dead. There comes a point at which death happens, when, to use biblical imagery, "Ichabod" is written over its portals by the hand of God--when the Lord removes the church's light from his lampstand because of its unfaithfulness. Such things do happen; they have happened many times, and we, like Athanasius, are called upon to respond appropriately. Appropriate response does not include intimate contact with the corpse.
Now, to be sure, from our limited vantage it is a matter of judgment as to whether the body has actually expired, and all my writing on this subject of late has rested upon my (fallible) conviction that this has in fact happened. I will not ask my correspondent to sit through a review of the evidences for this once again, but ask her to look frankly and honestly at what the Episcopal Church now is, in spite of the efforts of orthodox Episcopalians to prevent it.
They have for more than a generation now been fighting a real war, and fighting for a real victory that would have been marked by certain things happening and the prevention of others. These victories, had they occurred, would have been celebrated as such. Some are now calling upon us in effect to regard the defeats they have suffered instead as somehow less real, and with less real impact, than the victories they wanted but couldn't win. The hard fact remains that at the end of a long series of real defeats, they are now members of a church that, by the hands of those who represent them, holds all its members in a homosexual union.
Now, by all means, save what can be saved from the wreck. But this requires a place from which to do the saving that is not the wreck. Healthy congregations, to remain healthy, should sever themselves not only from the baneful influence of the visible structures of this church, but from the mystical union from which these arise. This is done by agreeing and declaring it to be so in prayer, and then taking the steps to loose the physical bonds that accompany the spiritual ones--just like any other penitential act. It is for the sake of these little ones of whom you speak, these who have discovered and loved the truth of Christ, for whom this must be done, for this is part what must be done by those who love truth, and by the pastors who lead them. It is not enough simply to feed the flock well (blessings on them for doing it!). It must also be protected from the wolves, wolves whose real danger and real desire to consume the sheep they should understand. This is also part of their pastoral duty.
Can't your wonderful congregation be just as wonderful in quarters that are not controlled by the Episcopal Church? Cannot your priests, and your bishops, if they are such, be godly pastors in communion with others who have not made themselves enemies of the faith? Since when have submission to the structures, the authority, or the communion of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America been a necessary part of being Christian? Since when has the Episcopal Church been worthy of being spoken of or treated as though it were the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church? No, the Episcopal Church is just one more Protestant denomination, like the Unitarians, the Methodists, or the United Church of Christ. The situation was somewhat different in Athanasius's day.
I believe we cannot begin to achieve the unity for which Christ prayed until faithful Christians break away from unfaithful churches and place themselves in communion with faithful ones, and those faithful churches bind themselves with others. It is not just a matter of getting out of something, you see, but getting into something else. To enter Christ’s freedom, certain burdens must be cast aside so that other more worthy ones may be taken up.
God be with you.
ON "NOWHERE TO GO"
Well, it's not an easy question for me either, but finding ourselves in a similar situation, we are attending a Baptist church. The church is not liturgical, and does not consider itself sacramental, but believes and teaches the "fundamentals of the faith" (i.e., the Creed), strongly upholds Christian moral standards, and has excellent preaching--better than I've heard in any liturgical church except Fr. Reardon's--and that's because he preaches like a Baptist. That's good enough for us, for now, and we're thankful for what we've got.
NOWHERE TO GO:
Another reader, from Texarkana, Texas, writes in response to Steven Hutchens’ last blog:
You ask "Doesn't that mean NOW?" to that I would have to say yes, I'd like to leave, but where am I / are we to go? I know for my own family and others in our traditionalist ECUSA parish of the Diocese of Dallas, in rural north east Texas, we have either tried the Roman Catholics, have left the RCC, or for various reasons can not join the RCC, and there is no other choice in our community or nearby for sacramental liturgy and catholic theology. No continuing Anglicans, no Orthodox, no AMiA [Anglican Mission in America].
So, it's easy to say, why don't you leave, you have to leave . . . but we have nowhere to go. We have to make do with what we have for now.
She asks a good question, and I suspect I think it a better question than does Steve. One ought not to go anywhere just to escape. The Catholic Church will not take you just because you don't want to be an Episcopalian any more, nor will the Orthodox. A Christian should only leave the body he is in now, presumably because he believed he was obeying the Lord when he joined it, if he thinks the Lord is leading him into a new body. Without somewhere to go, the Episcopalian like our writer feels like someone in a burning building, with the flames creeping closer when he is too high up to live if he jumps.
I understand the writer's problem. But she has another problem she does not recognize: she wants a church offering "catholic theology" but she doesn't have that now. It is hardly good Catholic theology to remain knowingly in full communion with apostates like Spong, Griswold, and Robinson. The election and approval of Canon Gene Robinson to be Bishop of New Hampshire changes nothing whatsoever, because the apostates have been apostate, and the conservatives in full communion with them, for years. (And I'm not even raising the serious problem that the Bishop of Dallas ordains women and is thus himself a doctrinal innovator who has rejected the teaching of teaching as understood by the Church through the ages, not substantially different from those who advocate homosexuality.)
I don't know what to suggest to people in this situation. I would say that they ought to leave the Episcopal Church and find another Protestant Church, but they don't believe the Episcopal Church to be a Protestant Church or at least they do not believe it to be interchangeable with the Methodist or Lutheran or Baptist Churches. They must feel like the man in the burning building.
DREHER ON AN ABUSIVE MUSLIM:
Our contributing editor and Dallas Morning News editor Rod Dreher has just written a useful column, “This Islamic group tends to extremes”. It begins:
All I had done was ask a simple question of Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, the general secretary of the Islamic Society of North America, who recently met with The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board.
Dr. Syeed’s revealing reaction — he said that my query reminded him of “Nazism” and that I would have to “repent” — tells us a great deal about American Islam’s extremist problem . . . and ours.
As you may have guessed, the evidence Rod then offers suggests that Dr. Syeed’s organization is up to no good. Those of us who are veterans of the ideological wars recognize bluster and insult as the ideological scoundrel’s greatest weapon, playing as it does on the average American’s politeness (a virtue) and dislike of confrontation (a fault).
As a rule, when a man responds to a probing question by calling the questioner a Nazi, even his answer, if he ever deigns to give one, should not be trusted.
THAT WONDERFUL PROTESTANT QUESTION:
A reader from California writes in response to Steven Hutchens’ “Response to Mr. Cox”:
S. M. Hutchens writes: “It appears to me that the moment (whatever its duration) this becomes “institutionalized” is the moment when Christians must withdraw from the institution. And when this is I must leave to them, but not without asking, Doesn’t that mean NOW?”
I tremble to write this, because I usually agree with the writers of your magazine, and when I do not, I take my disagreement seriously, because your articles have made me think long and hard about it. I also tremble to write this, because my disagreement with the above comment is largely based on my (perhaps faulty) memory of my Christology lessons from about four years ago. (Some of it is also based on the preaching of our most excellent parish priest, and there I stand on much firmer ground. Still, I might get what he said wrong. So please credit him for any good parts, and me for any mistakes I might make.)
But I do disagree that we should withdraw from the Episcopal Church because of the heretics. When I hear people saying this, I can’t help but ask myself that wonderful Protestant question, What Would Athanasius Do?
I was taught that Athanasius was exiled from the church of his day many times on account of his stance for the truth, because in his day many of the leaders of the church, and those in favor with the government, were Arian heretics. But Athanasius stood firm. As many times as they exiled him, he returned to speak the truth. He did not just shrug his shoulders, sigh, and give the church over to the heretics. Why should he? It was not their church.
Neither does the Episcopal church belong to the heretics. It is not theirs. It is God’s. And if it is God’s, why should God’s people leave? Why let the heretics win, and the church of John Donne, George Herbert and C. S. Lewis go to the dogs? Why not stay, and be faithful, as Athanasius was faithful, though it looked like the whole world was against him? It is God’s church, though they try to corrupt it. It seems to me cowardice to run, just because the tide has turned against us. Who will turn it back if we do not stay? Why give up? The heretics make me angry, but I do not see why they should make me afraid. The one they lie about is scarier than any of them.
I would give a reason why I think we might win if we stay: at least in our diocese, it is the orthodox churches that are growing. My own church has seen a huge increase in numbers of young people, mostly college students. (By “huge increase,” I mean something along the lines of forty or fifty extra college students filling our pews — on Sundays seating is squished, but everyone’s happy about it — and participating in the parish ministries.)
The increase was so marked, and the life of our parish so vital, that our parish priest was asked to go and speak to the diocese just this past month. This hadn’t happened in many, many years. But now, with the church he is leading stuffed to the brim every Sunday mass with young people who are drawn there by the uncompromising Biblical teaching and uncompromising love that the clergy and laity of that parish convey, the diocese wanted to hear our parish priest tell them why this was happening. They asked him to bring one or two of these college students if he could scrape them up.
The response was so overwhelming that he had to ask permission for more to come, and about ten did, willing to sleep on the floor if it would give them a chance to tell the bishops what God was doing in their church. When they did go and speak, the bishops listened. They even laughed and nodded and asked questions.
What’s more, our church has had an unprecedented number of marriages to celebrate during the past two or three years, as the young people it attracted made their homes there. These marriages are well on the way to fulfilling the command to be fruitful and multiply — and that’s more for the ranks of the faithful, Lord willing.
I think that our numbers will increase, and the heretics’ will decrease. Why would anyone become a Christian to hear the same sort of mealy-mouthed stuff that you can hear on the evening news? The people of my generation that I see joining our church join precisely because our parish insists on love and truth. As my sister, one of our college students, told the diocesan crowd, “If you have snot on your face, you don’t want someone who will ignore it. And you don’t want someone who will make fun of you for it. You want someone who will tell you, ‘You have snot on your face. And here, let’s use this Kleenex to wipe it off.’ You want someone who tells you the truth, and then helps to fix you. That’s what they do at our church.” That is why our church is growing, and the rest are going stagnant.
To close, please forgive any untoward passion in this post; as I reread it, I realize that it is vehement. My parish church opened up the apostolic faith to me - it is the place where I learned how to pray the prayers that Christians have been praying for centuries, where I learned the Nicene Creed and the Gloria and the doctrine of the real presence. It is the place where I have learned how to truly worship, with my mind and heart and body.
Therefore, it has been a shock to learn that it is embattled. I don’t want to give up what God has so richly given me, and all my fellow parishioners, without a fight. That is why I say we don’t withdraw. I say we persevere, and watch and see if God will help us win.
RESPONSE TO MR. COX
I understand and sympathize with John Cox’s reaction to my “Varieties of Suicidal Experience,” but wish to make it clear that the style may be accounted for by sheer exasperation. I was not gloating. Just what has to be done, I keep asking myself, to convince the people to whom I was referring, who are clearly serious Christians, to get themselves out of communion with the likes of Bishops Spong and Griswold?
C. S. Lewis captured my frame of mind precisely in Cecil Dimble’s confrontation with Mark Studdock near the end of That Hideous Strength, when the old scholar was trying to persuade the younger man to leave the N.I.C.E.:
“I see you don’t trust me,” said Mark, instinctively summoning into his face the manly and injured expression which had often served him well in headmasters’ studies.
Dimble was a truthful man. “No,” he said after a longish pause, “I don’t quite.”
Mark shrugged his shoulders and turned away.
“Studdock,” said Dimble. “This is not a time for foolery, or compliments. It may be that both of us are within a few minutes of death . . . . I don’t trust you. Why should I? You are (at least in some degree) the accomplice of the worst men in the world. Your very coming to me this afternoon may be only a trap.”
“Don’t you know me better than that?” said Mark.
“Stop talking nonsense!” said Dimble. “Stop posturing and acting, if only for a minute. Who are you to talk like that? Straik was a good man once. Filostrato was a least a great genius. Even Alcasan—yes, yes, I know who your Head is—was a least a plain murderer: something better than they have now made of him. Who are you to be exempt? . . . .
“Nevertheless,” continued Dimble, “knowing all this—knowing that you may be only the bait in the trap, I will take a risk. I will risk things compared with which both our lives are a triviality. If you seriously wish to leave the N.I.C.E., I will help you.”
One moment it was like the gates of Paradise opening—then, at once, caution and the incurable wish to temporise rushed back. The chink had closed again.
I—I’d need to think that over.” he mumbled.
“There is no time,” said Dimble. “And there is really nothing to think about. I am offering you a way back into the human family. But you must come at once.”
“It’s a question affecting my whole future career.”
“Your career!” said Dimble. “It’s a question of damnation or—a last chance. But you must come at once.”
I have never told anyone precisely when or how he should leave the Episcopal Church, for the fate of that institution as a “denomination” or the status of any person as a “member” thereof does not interest me. What concerns me is that Christians who have joined themselves to those churches have seated themselves at the Lord’s table, sharing the body and blood of Christ, with those who publicly deny him and proudly, openly, and deliberately disobey the laws of God, crucifying Christ anew and putting him to open shame. It appears to me that the moment (whatever its duration) this becomes “institutionalized” is the moment when Christians must withdraw from the institution. And when this is I must leave to them, but not without asking, Doesn’t that mean NOW?
A response to Steven Hutchen’s "Varieties of Suicidal Experience" from John Cox of Amesbury, Massachusetts.
I read with growing confusion Mr. Hutchen’s blog entry for September 10.
I readily acknowledge that I don’t get it.
His main thrust seems to be that one group of Big Kooks, and another group of Notsobig Kooks, both of whom are “ ‘orthodox’ Episcopalians,” are joining together in an improbable, inconsistent, and incoherent alliance to Do Something because they’re pretty riled up in the wake of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention actions regarding homosexuality.
Why not just say that? What does his repeated use of “ ‘orthodox’ Episcopalians” mean? That they’re not really orthodox? Or they’re failed orthodox? Or incompent orthodox? Or they are orthodox wannabees? Or they’re no different from the people they’re so riled up about? And the patronizing tone grates: just one example being the reference to one group as “good folks . . . [who] are clearly insane.”
I consider myself an orthodox Episcopalian. Minus the quotation marks. I’m still trying to figure out what I do next, let alone what my parish, or the Anglican Communion, does.
What would be helpful, not to mention charitable, would be counsel, encouragement, even admonishment.
Gloating is unseemly.
LAST WEEK’S SILENCE:
You didn’t find any new entries from last Thursday afternoon to Sunday, because all the editors were at Touchstone’s annual conference. A good time seems to have been had by all. I thought all the talks were very good, and everyone there had a chance to talk with the speakers and each other during the breaks and the evening social hour. The conference center is beautiful and unbelievably quiet. Eighth Day Books provided a huge booktable.
I think we will be publishing abridged versions of the eight papers — the papers were long anyway, and a few of the speakers had written more than they could deliver — in the magazine and put the full versions in a book. We got a good range of papers from a diverse group of speakers, on an issue of some importance to Christians.
You might mark your calendars now for next year’s conference, titled "Praying and Staying Together." It will be held in Mundelein (about an hour north of Chicago) from October 21st to 23rd. The main speakers will be:
— Elisabeth Elliot, “Christian Hearts, Christian Homes”
— J. Budziszewski, “Getting Real About Sex: What we already know”
— Frederica Mathewes-Green, “The Christian Family in a Consumerist Age”
— Thomas Howard, “Blessed Presence: Your home as a holy place”
— Rod Dreher, “The Christian Family and the Media
— Vigen Guroian, “The Moral Imagination and the Heart of the Child”
This means two Protestants, two Catholics, and two Orthodox, by the way. The conference will also include a performance by Chuck Chalberg as G. K. Chesterton.
KER ON WAUGH:
A very good article on Evelyn Waugh: "Waugh the Catholic" by Fr. Ian Ker, best known as the author of the magisterial biography of John Henry Newman. It appears in the latest issue of the English Catholic magazine The Tablet. The same issue also includes Cambridge historian Eamon Duffy on "A giant among popes".
AN ORTHODOX ON THE POPE:
Jim Forest, author of “Rest for our souls: confession in an age of self-esteem” in the October issue, sent round a short memoir of his meeting with Pope John Paul II. Jim, an American living in the Netherlands, is the head of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and author of a biography of Thomas Merton.
I met him in rather early in his pontificate, in December 1980. At the time I was General Secretary of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. One of our members, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, had received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo a few days before.
Adolfo, a devout Catholic, had asked if I could arrange a private audience with Pope John Paul. I made contact with the Papal Nuncio in The Hague. I knew there might be difficulties and pointed out to the Nuncio that the Argentinean bishops would oppose any such meeting — Adolfo was the leader of the human rights movement in Argentina (Servicio Paz y Justicia), while the country’s Catholic bishops were supporters of the military junta and had been silent about its murderous methods of dealing with anyone who was regarded as an opponent.
Adolfo had been among those kidnapped and tortured by agents of the regime. It was only his being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize which saved his life. (We never thought he would actually be awarded the prize; we were simply trying to prevent his murder.)
To make a long story short, despite the opposition of the Argentinean hierarchy, we got our audience. It followed the weekly public audience, which I watched from the press gallery high above and so had a good view of how much interaction there was between John Paul and the many people in the large hall. He made brief but intense contact with literally hundreds of people, listening and blessing. Then, finally at the front of the hall, he sat on the papal throne while various pilgrim groups were introduced.
After this he gave a lecture on marriage, one of a series of lectures on this topic that spread over many week. As I recall, it was given in Italian and then a summary was given in various other languages. At the end of the audience there were “semi-private audiences” where he met with specific groups of pilgrims. I was amazed how much energy and focus John Paul had throughout the morning.
At this point, Adolfo and I plus Adolfo’s wife and a priest friend of ours from France were escorted to a smaller hall where our private audience would take place. Soon after John Paul arrived. Adolfo had a number of items to discuss.
The situation in Argentina was on the top of the list — Adolfo gave the pope a scrapbook of photos and biographical information about many of the people who had disappeared (at the time there was hope some of them were alive; we now know they were all murdered).
Then there was the issue of the potential war between Argentina and Chile. In 1980, war seemed more than likely. Adolfo had a letter signed by many young men in both Chile and Argentina thanking the pope for his peace efforts and committing themselves not to fight in war between the two countries should his efforts fail. (There was no war; probably John Paul’s efforts were the decisive factor in preventing it.)
The next topic was El Salvador where the reigning bishop, Dom Oscar Romero, had recently been murdered. Adolfo urged the pope to appoint a particular bishop as Romero’s successor.
This was not a hurried presentation. John Paul mainly listened (standing throughout the meeting), occasionally asking a question. I was astonished at what a patient and careful listener he was. He responded positively to everything Adolfo proposed. (Nor were these empty words. Within a few days the appointment regarding Romero’s successor.)
Finally we had a gift for the pope: the first edition of my biography of Merton, which all of us had signed. Adolfo explained to John Paul what an inspiration Merton had been in his life. It was through Merton’s writings that he had learned the use of the Jesus Prayer, which had sustained during the days he was undergoing torture.
John Paul responded that Merton was familiar to him as well, that many of his books had been published in Polish translation and that he had read them all. In fact the publisher of the pope’s writings in Poland was the same person who had arranged translations of Merton’s books. (A photo I treasure is of me putting the Merton biography in the Pope John Paul’s hands.)
Finally the pope gave each of us a rosary and a final blessing.
I look back in that meeting with profound gratitude.
In discussing the papacy, many people have a tendency to focus on points of disagreement. In my own case, I wish that the Catholic Church used a more conciliar model. I wish that the married priesthood could be restored. I wish that the blanket condemnation of birth control were lifted. I wish the Church’s structures were not as centralized as they are.
But it’s helpful for me to know firsthand something of the many good qualities possessed by John Paul, and the many points of agreement. He is a remarkable human being and an outstanding bishop.
Jim has also written Confession: Doorway to forgiveness (Orbis), from which parts of his latest article were drawn, and The Resurrection of the Church in Albania (World Council of Churches).
SORRY WE WERE OUT:
For those of you who tried to access the site this morning and got an error message, as I did, here is a message from the company that provides the website:
This fall has not been without plenty of challenges. Within the last few days, we have had 2 backbone routers crash causing parts of our network to become unreachable to the outside world. We suspect the cause to be related to the aggressive filtering that blocks Internet viral worms that attempt to infiltrate our network. We have been working with Cisco to identify the root cause to prevent further occurrences.
A reader, Mark Cameron of Ottawa, Canada, has written in response to some items both Dr. Hutchens and I have written over the last few months, commenting on the theological peculiarity, and thus the practical instability, of Episcopalians who think the ordination of women wrong (i.e., the members of Forward in Faith) allying themselves so closely with conservative Episcopalians who think it good and perhaps great (i.e., the members of the American Anglican Council). He writes:
S. M. Hutchens and David Mills call out those who reject homosexual activity and same-sex blessings, but accept the ordination of women (or are willing to make tactical alliances with those who support it). As a Roman Catholic convert from Anglicanism, I obviously believe that both practices are wrong.
However, there is a clear distinction between the two. Acceptance of active homosexuality is a violation not simply of Scripture and Tradition, but of the natural moral law. It is quite legitimate for people who sincerely disagree about a matter of church governance which is based on divergent interpretations of Scripture and Tradition to cooperate in defending the fundamental moral law (just as a traditional Lutheran may oppose the necessity of episcopal ordination in the apostolic succession, while a traditional Anglican supports it, yet cooperate together in convincing their respective churches to oppose abortion).
Furthermore, Forward in Faith’s position, particularly in the context of the Church of England, makes more sense than Mr. Hutchens allows. The Church of England has actually respected the “doctrine of reception” — the ordination of woman is not yet allowed at the level of the episcopate, and priests and parishes which object to the ordination of women can seek episcopal oversight from bishops who share this teaching and are committed not to ordain, receive communion from, or concelebrate communion with women “priests”. FIF is looking for an independent province which would have its own episcopal hierarchy, and would clearly not be in full communion with Canterbury (although it may wish to enter discussions with Rome or Constantinople).
If FIF/NA [i.e., the North American branch] and American Anglican Council are working together it is a) because FIF/NA has not developed as clear an ecclesiological and canonical vision as FIF/UK [for United Kingdom] and b) they recognize that the AAC’s quest for alternative episcopal oversight and/or a separate province would quite naturally lead to a further division between those parishes that accepted women’s ordination and those that didn’t.
My suspicion is that over time, the new “conservative” Episcopalian body would roll back ECUSA lunacy on many issues, such as acceptance of abortion, and would gradually come to make some uncomfortable decisions about women’s ordination and divorce and remarriage. FIF/NA is right to be working with them as allies, because the integrity and logic of the catholic position on women’s ordination, divorce, and other issues will eventually win over more and more of the evangelicals, particularly without the catholic-looking but atheist acting liberals there to cause mischief.
Mr. Cameron offers the most charitable view of the alliance. He may be right in part, in arguing that the members of FIF/NA are making but a temporary and tactical alliance. But Dr. Hutchens in particular was commenting on an issue of FIF’s newsletter in which the group both praised the AAC and denounced in the strongest of terms the ordination of women. You can’t say what they said about the ordination of women and then praise so highly, and ally oneself so closely in an ecclesiological enterprise with, those who practice that innovation. You just can’t, if you want your thought and practice to be coherent.
In response to Mr. Cameron’s argument I would say — as would Dr. Hutchens, I think — that his parallel does not apply here. The alliance of FIF/NA and AAC is not a matter of people uniting despite their theological differences, on a matter of the natural or moral law clear to all men of good will, as in the example he gives.
It is a matter of people uniting on a theological matter despite their theological differences on that very matter. They both oppose the approval of homosexuality, but from significantly — crucially, radically — different readings of Scripture. One reads it so as to definitively exclude the ordination of women as well as the approval of homosexuality, the other to allow if not in fact require the first and still deny the second.
Or rather, the alliance is a matter of one group joining a second to reject a third, when that group is almost as divided from the second as it is from the third and for the same reasons. Steve and I have only pointed out what FIF/NA’s own theology requires of them. That is the reason we both question FIF/NA’s alliance with the AAC.
We criticize the conservative — not orthodox — Anglicanism of the AAC because they embrace one innovation while denouncing another, which we do not think biblically and theologically coherent. (It seems to me to express the prejudices of suburban middle class white culture far more than any "merely Christian" reading of Scripture.) As lots and lots of people have pointed out for at least forty years, every reason to ordain women is a reason to marry homosexuals.
If sex does not matter (as the conservatives claim in their inevitable abuse of Galatians 3:28), sex does not matter.
DARK AGES CHAPEL:
And for your history and archaeology buffs: "Unearthed: a luxury Roman villa with chapel and granny flat". It begins:
The earliest private chapel from Dark Age Britain has been unearthed in the foundations of a Roman "stately home".
The fifth century font and baptistry were built into the ornate mosaic floor of an unusual double villa in Wiltshire not long after the Romans left Britain.
Although there are older chapels, archaeologists say it is the earliest example of a landowner converting rooms inside his home for baptisms.
A grim story, sort of: "Fijians Issue Apology For Eating Vicar", by Craig Brown writing in The Scotsman. It begins:
A tribe of former cannibals on the Pacific island of Fiji is to apologise to the family of an English missionary whom they ate 136 years ago.
The residents of the remote village of Tui Navatusila on the Fijian island of Viti Levu have invited the descendants of the Rev Thomas Baker to visit them next month.
Mr Baker, a Methodist missionary from London, was killed and cooked on 21 July, 1867, for the crime of removing a comb from a chief?s hair. In doing so, he broke the taboo that forbade anyone to touch the head of a chief. One villager who took part in the feast was recorded in contemporary accounts as claiming they "ate everything but his boots".
TWO EVANGELICAL VIEWS:
Christianity Today’s website offers two views of last week's statement by the Anglican Primates:
— J. I. Packer’s view (optimistic); and
— Doug LeBlanc’s view (not optimistic).
I think Doug is right. My own comments appeared on Thursday in "Primates (Non)Statement." I could write a lot more on this, but just can't find the energy. "Anglican bishops equivocate" is a story I've written regularly for almost twenty years, since I started writing on things Anglican, and a writer does like to say something new.
NOLL ON EDWARDS:
For those of you in the Pittsburgh area, Mark A. Noll, a Professor of Church History at Wheaton College, is giving two lectures at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary:
— MONDAY OCTOBER 20, 7:30 pm
"What Edwards Got Right: The enduring legacy of Jonathan Edwards as Pastor-Theologian."
— TUESDAY OCTOBER 21, 2:00 pm
"What Did Edwards Get Wrong?: Learning from Edwards' Trials in Northampton."
I have heard Dr. Noll lecture before and can recommend these lectures without hearing them.
CELIBACY YET AGAIN:
The National Catholic Reporter is concerned about the priest shortage in the Roman Catholic Church in America (see here, here, and here). It reiterates the liberal line that ending mandatory celibacy would help alleviate the shortage.
But, as is mostly clear from the NCR articles:
The number of priests might increase, but married priest would necessarily be able to give less time to ministry, and the overall availability of priests for ministry might not change.
The big difficulties are in rural areas of the Midwest and South, and one problem is that some of these areas are depopulating. They have a shortage of doctors and teachers and other professionals, as well as of priests.
Many Protestant churches have empty pulpits for the same reason - the churches are small, rural, and in areas unattractive to a man with a family (poor rural schools, limited health care, limited cultural opportunities, limited opportunity for spousal employment).
Although the number of priests has decreased and the number of Catholics has increased, churches are frequently half-empty. Catholics don't attend mass anywhere as much as they used to, confession has almost vanished as a sacrament. Many urban parishes could fit all parishioners into one mass but have four or five masses for the convenience of parishioners who have other things to do on weekends. I suspect almost all the Catholics who go to mass in Baltimore City (and certainly in the northern half of the city) could be accommodated at 4 or 5 masses in the Cathedral of the city, Instead there are a dozen parishes with a handful of people at various masses.
This suggests that population movements are a big source of the problem. The other source is the low spiritual temperature of the laity which is producing enough priest to provide for its lowered spiritual demands. A fervent laity would produce more priests as it did in the 1950s.
In stead of trying to get the Vatican to end mandatory celibacy liberals would be spend their energy more wisely by asking why the Vatican imposes mandatory celibacy on the Eastern Catholic Churches in the US, contrary to the canon law of those churches. If celibacy is the problem, allowing the Eastern Churches to follow their own discipline in the US would provide a controlled experiment.