On Anglicans and ApostasyAugust 3, 2010
In my last blog posting I brought up the very heavy word “apostasy.” Allow me to be clear: I do not wish to point a finger at anyone, including +KJS, and say: “that person is an apostate.” Instead, I believe we should look at the Communion and ask ourselves: are we suffering a condition of apostasy? And I believe the answer to this question is: yes.
For obvious reasons, no one who associates with the church likes it when someone points a finger at them and says, “you are an apostate.”
Furthermore, anyone who does so must ask themselves, “how did this condition arise, such that this person is bringing into the church another gospel?”
We will find that it is not merely “this person,” but a whole set of conditions which allowed for this to happen. All of these conditions must be addressed. It could be that the person at whom we are pointing is rather innocent. Allow me to give a rather extreme example. If we were to bring a devout Muslim into the church, and our pastor introduces this person, saying: “Here is someone who will tell us about Jesus – listen! This is the truth about Jesus which we all should believe.” And then the Muslim goes on to explain how he believes that Jesus was a prophet, but not the Son of God, etc. etc. …
Of course, this is a very far-fetched example. But it does illustrate the person that we may first be likely to point at, is not necessarily the one who we should be most concerned about regarding apostasy. In this case, it is most clearly not the devout Muslim about whom we should be concerned. There is another dynamic going on which allowed this to happen, and it is this general dynamic which we should study more carefully, and about which we should be concerned.
The apostle Paul very rarely points out individuals when he deals with discipline problems in the church; he addresses “you,” meaning the whole church. Jude does not single out individuals; nor does John in the epistles.
When addressing the issue, however, we are always asked to bring evidence to the table. It is not enough for us to say, “we have become apostate.” We are in a kind of a Catch-22 situation; someone asks for evidence, and then someone else accuses us of “throwing stones.” There is little that we can do here except to be charitable in our treatment of our subjects, while being honest; to not ascribe blame where there is not adequate evidence; and to continue to point to how this issue is more an issue of corporate guilt, rather than it is the guilt of specific individuals. What I am saying here is that we should not be saying, “Bishop X is apostate”; rather: WE ARE APOSTATE, with the emphasis on “we,” rather than us as individuals. Individuals who are Anglicans and faithfully follow Christ needn’t worry that they are “condemned” as individuals, though they should worry at the state of their whole church and about their corporate guilt.
It is not in the scope of this short piece to address why I believe that we suffer from a general condition of apostasy in the Communion; it is an issue, however, which I think needs to be addressed with the greatest seriousness, and which we in general are avoiding as we are so focussed on issues of sexuality (and missing Christology, where symptoms of apostasy are most obviously present). For symptoms of our apostasy, see our article on Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori on the Resurrection and the Divinity of Christ.
No one likes to speak about apostasy, or to shine a light upon our apostasy. Very few undertakings are as excruciatingly unpleasant as reflecting upon apostasy. However, this undertaking is for ourselves, rather than others to do for us; and if we do not do so, the wider Christian community will need to take up its responsibility in shining upon us this awful light.
In studying apostasy, we must take account of many things. What kind of language is used by people who are advocating positions which we feel may lead to apostasy? Do they ask questions with hidden presuppositions? Are there any confusions, which we can dispel with a bit of simple logic or demonstration that the assumption rests more on a faulty linguistic construction rather than an actual state or condition? What sort of behaviors and attitudes are there in our interactions which could be contributing to a loss of faith? How can doubt and lack of faith amongst the ordained best be dealt with? Does it help if we make clear that we feel corporate pain when there is a lack of faith, and how can we best express such corporate pain without diminishing the dignity of the individual? What steps take place when an individual clergyperson makes the transition from doubt to advocacy of positions which are contrary to the Gospel, at what point is a person truly stepping over the line and “bringing another gospel into the church?” What do we do when entire communities of faith seem to be predicated upon beliefs which are themselves apostate, or at least count such amongst the things which they in some way or other hold sacred? Is it better in some cases for a person who has lost faith to leave a church community, rather than remain in it? Etc. etc..
I also believe that we need to make more clear to the LGBT community: that they are not the cause of apostasy in our midst. Many LGBT people are suffering needlessly because of how we have chosen to engage in the conflict we currently have in the Communion.