To some friends in dialogueJuly 30, 2010
An extensive reply here due to comment limitations elsewhere.
One of you wrote:
“That death has been downplayed and diminished even in how it is handled in KJS’s Easter sermons. Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. And He submitted to God fully even unto death.
To deny or diminish even a portion of Jesus’s sacrifice is reprehensible and offensive to many of us. That many including (a few of you) don’t grasp how horrific it is and can just wave their hands like it didn’t happen diminishes their credibility.”
I think that the objection is not that your own personal words imply a lack of sensibility, but rather your refusal to acknowledge how awful KJS’s words are in the way they diminish Christ’s teachings about who He is raises certain questions.
One of you has contended that since I do not cite a phrase in which she patently and directly denies e.g. the resurrection, that he is ethically free to ignore my words since he is bound to treat me as a hostile and unethical interlocutor, and the best treatment is to ignore such an interlocutor. Or something similar – I am “expanding” his rather simple words in order to try to understand the full warrant of this belief and failure to address the issue in a serious manner. Others have said that they are not convinced that she denies these things, though they have not taken the effort to describe any mistakes I have made in drawing these conclusions.
It is difficult to draw the conclusions since she uses a convoluted mixture of words and most certainly does not wish to be pointed at as someone who denies Christ. However, she is most certainly denying the importance of the resurrection by substituting its position in faith with some “meaning” (and context allows us to reasonably imply that this is environmentalism and some other ethical mandates – all very good ones, by the way). One might think that they would take the time at least to address how sad her choice of words is, or to commit themselves to protesting that TEC embraces a more robust and clear Christology, even though some will most certainly complain that this involves “defining” such things (thereby leaving the door open to reducing the word “God” to nothing more than a signifier for a particular form of ethics tied to therapy).
For them I can say:
– there is indeed some kind of “shock value” in hearing “KJS denies the resurrection” – though I find her words to be clear enough that she is doing this, and that we need to be woken up
– many when confronted by something shocking are numbed by it instead of woken up. I am aware of this risk. It may also damage the faith of some who were unaware of this. I am aware of this risk as well, but I believe the risk of not exposing her words to the lamp of reason is far worse.
– many who are at first numbed will nonetheless, later, see that something is very, very, very wrong and find time to reflect on this matter.
– it is incredibly difficult for Episcopalians to criticize their church leaders for this type of issue. They risk estrangement or being branded as someone who is an extremist, wishes to destroy the church, or is homophobic (no matter what their views on sexuality).
– there is no “gentle” way of addressing this issue in a manner which also does it justice. Cf. Paul in Galatians 1:6-8. So it is terribly polarizing. Schori’s own formulation, I believe, was intended to “bring together” those who believe in the resurrection, and those who don’t – but she errs thereby in denying the importance of the resurrection and creating the myth that there is some “meaning” of an event which can be separated from the event itself.
– this is not a situation of their making, and in fact ALL of us who are Anglicans are in a way responsible for it. KJS is not “the only one responsible here” – she justly points out that salvation is not an exclusively individual phenomenon, but has communal aspects. Mutandis mutandis, when we have a problem of this scale, it is also, in some sense, all Anglicans who are culpable. And they may not yet feel that other Anglicans are supporting them, but rather trying to “paint” them in the same corner as KJS, and declaring themselves somehow as “pure” and sin-free.
We might not have been in this situation had the Communion acted on the ugly Christology of Spong in addition to its actions regarding sexuality. And for a Trinitarian, the denial of Christ by a church leader is by far worse than any imaginable sex act or abuse.
– there is something so ugly in even the thought that this may have occurred that one wishes to avert one’s eyes.
One of you asks another of you why you, if concerned, do not write to KJS if you are an Episcopalian? I suppose you might, but I wonder why a church claiming more than 2 million adherents, apparently none has done so yet? Or why no one seems to think this is a “big deal?” This confirms for me that there is very very little hope that TEC can be “saved” in the next generation and that the Communion as a whole must repent of what it allowed to happen. None of us are “innocent.”
I would suggest that it is probably easier for those outside of TEC to look at this more objectively, since TEC is so embattled, and members of TEC often feel they are being pointed at and castigated, and must struggle to defend their institution. Much is “exaggerated” about TEC – I find much of the reporting about TEC sadly uncharitable, and this must be apparent to many members of TEC.
I wish there were a more “friendly” way of pointing this out, a more “gentle” way. I am afraid that there is none. I only hope that the Communion recognizes this as a serious issue, and acts in such a way as to inspire those in power to select as successors persons within TEC who have a confident faith in the Risen Christ (and there are quite a few), and perhaps in a generation or two TEC might be deemed as a place which is “safe” for us to send our brothers and sisters who do not already have a robust faith.
As it stands, we Anglicans are no longer Trinitarian Christians in practice, and we would do best to inform our ecumenical partners of this fact so they can help us in whatever ways they find fit; and preventing the assumption that we are Trinitarian from damaging or diminishing their own faith.
Neither Spong nor Schori are particularly brilliant, neither engages in scholarship and thinking that are truly challenging for a person with a minimal education in religious matters. We have given up our Christology for this ugly, cheap stuff. Such a condition could only come to exist in a backwater of a dismal lack of education in theology. We often pride ourselves as being “educated” and “open-minded” but in truth we are rather ignorant compared to other churches, and we are rather dogmatic in our pronouncements of the flaws of these other churches. These other churches – whom so many Anglicans accuse as “leaving their brains at the door” – are in general far better educated than we are in theological matters, and they don’t engage in telling lies about other churches in an attempt at helping their adherents to feel better about themselves (Spong).
Friends in dialogue who find it difficult to accept these criticisms of KJS – I do not wish to imply that any of you are like Spong or KJS in any way. And I understand “where you are coming from.” I was once an Episcopalian myself, but am no longer after having changed continents. I enjoyed bashing non-denominational evangelicals, Catholics, baptists, pentecostalists, etc. etc., without realizing what utter tripe my own denomination was peddling to the weak and intellectually destitute with this Spong stuff. I must step back and admit my own error. In the area of intellectual integrity and theological education, we Anglicans are definitely at the very bottom of the pile. We need these non-denominational evangelicals, these Catholics, these baptists, these pentecostalists to come to us and teach us who Jesus is, and to show us that many of our preconceptions about them are simply insular stereotypes garnered from the media or the Anglican grapevine, and that they are much, much better at elucidating challenging, nuanced, and difficult areas of faith in a rational and charitable manner than we are. And that so many Anglicans go about saying that “we don’t leave our brains at the door” – is utterly pathetic when one thinks about it, pathetic enough to drive one to tears. All in all, as a Communion, we are neither witty, nor intelligent, nor kind.
One might say, “Wilf, it sounds like you don’t have much respect for KJS, or for people who like Spong.” All I can say is, if you are a Spong fan, that I am ashamed that the institution to which I belong let you down by failing to teach you some very basic facts that should be a part of the education of any Trinitarian Christian, and which are taught in many basic catechism classes; and that we allowed ourselves to pollute your sensibilities to such an extent that you are attracted to material which is more full of ad hominems and straw men than it is informed by honest and reasoned argument, and which is so appealing to one’s sense of schadenfreude. I would advise you to look back at the texts, the arguments, and the emotional appeals, and the implicit appeals to the reader to feel better than other classes of persons who, we are taught, believe in such things as “divine sperm” etc. etc.., and that a more charitable reader would have first ascertained whether there are any such people who believe such things, before being drawn to believe that people of other denominations are so blightedly irrational and reprehensible in their moral vision – something which should be apparent, to quote Spong, to “anybody who is able to read, though parts of Georgia and Kansas have a hard time with that.” You should cultivate “alarm bells” that warn you of language which tempts you to believe by arrogating yourself above others, or the implication that you are worthless if you do not believe.