Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Happy Epiphany

January 6, 2009

As 2009 begins I find myself aware of both the reality of economic recession and some measure of hope for reasonable change with a new President, administration and congress on the horizon. I’m reminded of the exilic prophets who preached a real and holy hope to a broken, exiled and often suffering people. As we try and read the tea leaves as to where our annual appeal fro support will end up, I’m clear that whatever the outcome of this canvass that we are going to have to plan to do more with less in the next few years. Our conversation is about whether we have any areas of our programmatic life that we can do without and whether there is a way to reduce our staff without compromising our program. We are also talking about how to increase our congregational giving for those in need even as we look for cuts. While not easy, this is not all bad and we are seeing many people who can step up and increase their giving doing so, even as we learn of stresses and strains from those who find themselves unemployed or severely restricted as they try and live on a fixed income..

Our church struggles seem pretty unimportant in the face of all this. The California courts have found that church property belongs to the Episcopal Church rather than the local congregation. Our bishops remain clear, for the most part, that The Episcopal Church is not hazy about our identity or our polity and continue to express that clarity with the mantra that individuals can leave the church but that parishes cannot. Various congregations and dioceses, the majority of whose members wish to have nothing to do with TEC keep trying to challenge that clarity by talking about ‘revisionist theology’ among other things. They have had some success in fanning the flames of discord in some instances. Others of a conservative bent are adjusting to their new and unaccustomed role of being the ‘loyal opposition’ and remaining within the Episcopal Church.

I have tried over and over to get a handle on what exactly is meant by ‘revisionist theology’ and it keeps coming back to the question of how the church should view GLBT people. If we follow the American Psychological Association and similar bodies we find that there has been and continues to be a fundamental cultural shift in how such people are viewed. The analogy here would be something akin to the Copernican revolution, the opposition that Galileo encountered with a new view of the place of the earth in the universe, or Martin Luther King and his followers encountered with a new view of the full humanity of black people in America. Essays and Reviews published within three or four years of Darwin’s Origin of the Species was attacked as ‘revisionist’, but in a relatively short period of time one of its contributors was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury and people wondered what all the fuss was about.

What is different today is the sense that we are part of a world wide communion with some people arguing that one constituent church ought not proceed with ‘innovation’ until there is a considerable measure of support for such moves. I continue to believe that those who want that kind of discipline have a fine alternative in the Roman Catholic Church, and prefer that we continue to find ways to be in relationship with one another in ways that allow differences to make for strength in the proclamation of the Gospel.

Sometimes concern is expressed about whether all Episcopalians affirm the uniqueness of Jesus, and particularly what that means for salvation. The theological conversation behind that concern has a long history and could hardly be described as ‘revisionist’, wherever we find ourselves within the conversation. I think it would be revisionist if we were to decide that the Nicene Creed was not the sufficient statement of our faith, or that the historic Episcopacy, locally adapted, was something we should do without, or that the Scriptures did not contain all things necessary to salvation as the Word of God. Those changes would require revisionist theology. The phrase as bandied about during our disagreements however seems to me to be an empty slogan and one day it will become clear that the emperor has no clothes.

I rather hope and expect that there will be less heat and less interest in our inter-Nicene struggles in the year to come (although a General Convention will always stir the pot in one way or another) and I look forward to having less of that upon which to comment.

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