A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Monday, September 13, 2004

I'm a Christian today because of the Episcopal Church. As an undergrad I was nudged out of Intervarsity because I helped start a Jewish campus group. As a college student this might have been the time to leave the faith, a common route, but I found a local Episcopal campus ministry (and some other mainline groups as well) where I found my doubts and concerns were welcomed, not shunned. It was Episcopal authors like Carter Heyward that provided rich ideas about God, the ethical demands of the faith, etc. that drove my interest in pursuing graduate study in religion.

I admit that I'm not an Episcopalian. I find myself closer to lower church forms of protestantism, within the mainline. Today I'm primarily active with a UCC/Disciples campus ministry program. But I've always taken an interest in the Episcopal Church. Even went so far as attending the Episcopal Nat'l Convention in Minneapolis last summer, watching the House of Delegates vote for Gene Robinson 2 to 1. But the very things which kept me in the church, which made the ECUSA so welcoming, are cause for the turmoil denomination faces.

When the Episcopal church consecrated Gene Robinson, who is gay, as bishop of New Hampshire, other Anglican churches in the developing world expressed outrage. That outage, if followed with dialogue and working to hold the communion togther could have produced something novel for the church. But that possibility has been rejected by these church bodies. They seek to punish the Episcopal Church, with their eventual goal being the expulsion of the ECUSA from the communion. Historically the Anglican communion's provinces had autonomy. For example some churches ordain women, some do not; it varies by province. But on this issue, autonomy has been thrown out the window.

But the expulsion would not mean the end of an Anglican body in the US. The plan would be to take the small group of churches within the ECUSA (and some outside of the denomination) who are on the right, and who oppose gay and lesbian inclusion, etc. and declare them as the new Anglican province. The framework for such a body has largely already been created via the Anglican Network. Now Rowan Williams, the head of the communion, is faced with a choice.

Either keep faith with the sort of Anglicanism which allowed for diversity and autonomy and lose most of the churches in the developing world which are fast becoming the largest segment of the communion. They would be lost because they promise to leave the communion if the ECUSA is not removed. Or one could ditch the ECUSA and perhaps Canada as well, keeping the largest portion of the church, and allowing the Communion to be largely taken under the direction of the right wing. In the latter case, it'd be impossible to remain a liberal within the communion, without becoming a target of the right.

A commission was established by Williams to figure out how to keep the communion together and its recommendations are due to come out next month. But portions of the report have been leaked to the press and it looks like punishment and then expulsion will be the route they recommend. Such a course, is finally raising the alarm not just in the US but around the world. After all, it's not just a problem of the ECUSA, it is any church which includes religious liberals within it. In the UK, religious liberals within the church have spoken out against the possible recommendations, going so far as to predict mass resignations if the church is taken in such a direction.

Originally the plan was to target the US, but with Canada's affirmation of same sex unions within the church, with liberals to be found in some dioceses in the UK, South Africa, Australia, and Ireland, no one who is a liberal could be safe of recriminations. Canada, or at least the New Westminster diocese in British Coulmbia, could face the same fate as the ECUSA. It's a church devouring anyone not on the right, the result will be a very different communion. But it raises for me, fundamental questions about the nature of the Christian faith.

If there ever was any group in church history which could allow for a diversity of views, which could include doubters and true believers, liberals, conservatives, high church, low church, protestant, catholic, with provinces all around the world, it was the Anglican Communion. It's transformation into a rightwing outfit that kicks out those who differ from it's religious beliefs and practices, means the death of the possibilities of the Anglican communion. And the death of the dream that any religious body can actually break down walls and include the diversity of human existence.

But it also makes me wonder: what room exists for religious liberals within Christianity? It gets old being the enemy, hated simply over issues of sexuality and theological differences. The conservatives, armed with the numbers, are in a position to take over the United Methodists. The Presbyterians are racked with heresy trials. The Episcopal Church faces expulsion from the communion. Is there any place which is safe, where one is not the target or considered the enemy in the church? I don't know anymore. It certainly has shaken my faith in this religion and what role I could play within it.


At 4:34 PM , Blogger Jake said...

Sure, there's a place for progressive Christians. It's called the Kingdom of God. :)

There's many more of us than one might think. Just because not as many are as outspoken as the right doesn't mean we aren't out there.

Watch what happens when the Eames Commission issues their recommendation that ECUSA be "punished." There'll be a bigger outcry than anyone expected, I would imagine.

If ECUSA was to give in to the current "thought police" within the Anglican Communion, you'd see quite a few resignations on this side of the Atlantic as well. Mine would be one of them. I promised to proclaim the Gospel when I was ordained. I cannot be party to the mean-spirited, exclusionary tactics presently being used by the right extreme in ECUSA, as it is contrary to the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

At 4:48 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't despair, friend. The true church of Christ has been crucified in every age since Constantine. It is always unwelcome leaven, especially among (so-called) adherents and the institution which co-opts its name.

At 11:36 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seem to be very pro-gay in your views. My question is this: how do you reconcile the numerous Bible passages that seem to speak against homosexuality (Romans, Deuteronomy, etc) with your faith?

"I don't know anymore. It certainly has shaken my faith in this religion and what role I could play within it." Your faith shouldn't be in a religion - it should be in your relationship with God, who should be the foundation of Christianity anyways. I mean no offense, are you sure you aren't trying to conform Christianity to your own ideas rather than objectively looking at the Bible and seeing what it has to say?

At 11:00 PM , Blogger Joe G. said...

Your thoughts remind of some of my own doubts and apprehensions. Then I recall that there are all sorts of progressives in other denominations despite the ongoing "culture wars" that sometimes take place. We're in a time of great change and that always causes a lot of ripples and battles along the way. Who knows where it will take us!

At 12:10 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Chris, formerly of Progressive Protestant.

I'm starting to believe there will no longer be any place for progressives among the mainstream Christian churches. Perhaps I've just gotten too cynical because of my own experiences (check your email!), but I see the exact same judgmental attitude Christ railed against creeping into every single congregation I've been a part of. It's not just one or two people--the wrong comment will turn the entire congregation against you, at least in the Lutheran churches I've been part of.

I'm not sure where that leaves my faith. The poster above is right about the difference between a faith and a religion (a difference our illustrious host understands quite well, I assure you), but the two are connected. I cannot call myself a Christian without drawing up tons of associations, many of them negative, in the mind of the person I'm witnessing too. What good is calling myself a Christian if the actions of other Christians will drive that person away from Christ before I even speak to them? It's not a cross we have to bear, calling ourselves Christians in spite of all the hatred spoken in that name--it's actually interfering in the mission work of the church.

At 3:59 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you on the judgementalism that has been moving into some congregations - Christianity has certainly burned its share of bridges in the past, and I agree that a better attitude on the part of Christians would certainly help their collective witness.

On the other hand, I see over-judgmentalism as the over-shooting of the nonetheless important perogitive of sound doctrine. Christianity will cease to be a distinct faith (as well as losing the power of Christ's real message) if it is inundated with by the tolerance movement and fails to take a stand on important social issues. Christ hated judgemental elitists and loved sinners, certainly, but He also hated sin, and righteousness is important as well. I believe the church needs to strike the fine balance between being accepting of humans as imperfect creatures and still being ready and willing to denounce the things that seperate people from God for what they really are: sin.

At 12:30 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

I've appreciated the number of thoughtful comments in response to this post. I should start off by noting that my faith in God is not affected by the church per se. What is affected is my belief in the possibilities of Christianity. I see religions largely in instrumental terms...they work to point us to God. When they succeed they have done their job well. My concern is that the church is failing at the task in profound ways.

What will set me apart from some conservative responses, is that I see the Christian faith, including the scriptures as the testimony of people in a given tradition, a tradition which is still being worked on, improvised, adjusted, expanded, etc. So I don't have a problem with change per se. But I agree there are standards, but I don't find them in doctrinal claims as much as coming out of a particular ethical vision, which I think the Gospels point us to and that's the reconciliation of humans to one another and to God.

What has unsetteled my faith is not as much where the church may go with this issue. It's the failure to live together. It's the heresy trials, the careless use of words like apostate, non Christian and the like. For many liberals, including myself, one knows if not directly then indirectly folks who have been targets in the church because of who they were or because of different views. It's ceasing to be safe to live out one's faith within the church and lack of charity towards differences is the norm.

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