Friday, September 18, 2009

Diverse and Inclusive, or Catholic and Evangelical?

Recently I received this comment as a response to my blogpost of July 27, “Blessed Sacrament Decides”:

The strength of the Anglican Communion is its diversity and inclusivity, as well as the freedom to dissent from the powers that be. Schism, even if based on conscience, is inconsistent with that. In reaching the accomdation that you did, you failed in your duty as a leader and rector. You can - and should - vociferously express your disagreement with TEC policies. You also can - and should - encourage your parishioners to express dissenting views from yours. Your job as Rector is create an atmosphere of unity through enforcing respect for the differing opinions that will always be present in a truly Anglican communion. It is that diversity, that tolerance of disent, that makes us Anglo, and not Roman, Catholics.

The writer was a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament for several years, and moved away roughly twenty years ago. Although he stated that he was responding to the blogpost, the assertions and accusations he put into his comments show that he’s not familiar with what we have published or what we are doing—and not even aware of what the blogpost said. As I read what he wrote, I scratched my head wondering if he had even read what he claimed he’s responding to.

His comments tell me what I can and should be doing; these statements puzzle me since I have been doing these very things in the parish for over thirty years. He should know this first-hand from his time as a member of this parish; I DO encourage parishioners to share their convictions when they differ from mine and from each other. This individual was certainly allowed a place in our parish life without being muzzled in any way, and stayed with us for many years—comfortably, I believe, and hope.

Read my print: This parish is NOT going into schism, and we have consistently rejected that course of action, and repeatedly explained why. Further—along with most of the Anglican Communion—this parish has vociferously and publicly rejected the escalating and continuing apostasies of the Episcopal Church. We will not accept them and we will continue to protest them, though it is evident that the leadership of the Episcopal Church is swelled up with monstrous arrogance and determined to keep the pedal to the metal as the institutional juggernaut (not the same thing as the Church) hurtles along the downward slope toward unrecognizablity. A report on the state of the Church prepared for the General Convention provides a number of telling points: 1) The Episcopal Church is rapidly losing members; 2) The Episcopal Church has to cut back its budget severely because of diminished income; 3) the biggest reason for this is conflict in The Episcopal Church over its revisionist policies and practices; 4) full speed ahead!

The writer mentioned “freedom to dissent” and “tolerance of dissent” as a strength of Anglicanism. “Tolerance of dissent” can mean a number of things. When it means living charitably with anomaly as things settle out, it is a vital Christian virtue well described in theory and practice in the New Testament. If it means letting people hold beliefs and maintain practices inconsistent with the faith of the Body, then it is abdication of leadership, which is powerfully condemned in both Old and New Testaments. Genuine leadership must show both clarity and mercy. This is notably different from espousing “inclusivity”.

Further, the often-touted “inclusivity” of the Anglican Communion in general and the Episcopal Church in particular has rarely existed in real life. From the days of the English Reformation, Anglican authorities have consistently and strongly persecuted every renewal movement that arose from its ranks. (For details see the article I wrote for “The Living Church” years ago called “The Myth of Anglican Tolerance”.) Unless I am wrong, the term “inclusivity” has not been claimed by or applied to the Anglican Communion; it is a term only recently devised in the Episcopal Church to apply to itself. Watching recent history unroll leads me to conclude that this term, dubious from the beginning, was used to hoodwink the trusting faithful and manipulate them into thinking of themselves as “open minded” by tolerating the “revisionists” who sought positions of influence in the Episcopal Church. Once the “revisionists” had enough votes, one didn’t hear about “inclusivity” much any more—instead one heard about “conformity”, with serious consequences for not adhering to the “doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church”, which obviously meant whatever those who had the votes could install without regard to any recognizable elements of generally accepted and authoritative Christian doctrine, discipline, or worship.

For a decade or two or more, many Episcopal bishops and other authorities have persecuted bishops, priests, parishes, missions, and lay leaders who disagreed with their revisionist ideology, and violated canon law and even basic principles of fairness and ethics to do so—none more openly, egregiously, and arrogantly than the current leadership. A genuinely liberal and charitable bishop, such as Bishop Jon Bruno, is the rare exception.

Moreover, the sloganistic words “diversity” and “inclusivity” have little or nothing to do with the Christian faith of the New Testament, which is the foundation of our life. Diversity and inclusivity are valuable principles only when they are expressive of the much richer and deeper Christian virtues of firm adherence without compromise to revealed truth, lived out in powerful charity. When these convictions are held, then “diversity” and “inclusivity” do not need to be mentioned, for they are already being done. I don’t think you can even find these words in the New Testament—you find much more powerful and richer words than “diversity” and “inclusivity”. How can one be more inclusive than to “preach the Gospel to every creature”? When one is committed to preaching to every creature, one doesn’t have to repeat how “inclusive” one is being. The very appellation “Evangelical” requires “inclusivity”. And how can one be more diverse than “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female—you are all one in Christ Jesus”? Being incorporated into Christ does not obliterate or ignore these real differences, but rather affirms the uniqueness and value of each believer and revels in the differences that make up the one Body. The very appellation “Catholic” requires “diversity”.

If “diversity” and “inclusivity” are not part of the evangelical and Catholic Gospel, then they are little different from masks for allowing people to believe whatever they want without standards of discernment or authenticity. Recently the principles of “diversity” and “inclusivity” have been the catchwords of narrow and tyrannical ideological rigidity: “The Episcopal Church is inclusive, and the authorities will tell you what that means; if you don’t agree, you will be put out.”

If holding to these principles implies “failing in my duties as leader and rector”, then I am unrepentantly guilty. However, I call it “keeping the faith”, and the good fruits of that faithfulness are abundant at Blessed Sacrament—a parish that welcomes and accepts all people, and holds up a standard of the fullness of faith and the call to holiness without compromise.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

My New "Job" Description

This past week has been physically and emotionally rough, due to brutal side effects from some medication I had been taking and probably also cumulative stress through almost unmitigated overwork and overstimulation. Because of these things I missed the ordination of a friend and parishioner that took place in another state where I had been scheduled to preach, an event I had looked forward to for a several years. That grieved me and angered me, but during the week I also had some enforced quiet moments, although rarely far from electronic communication like email.

Electronic communication is, or can be, very exciting and beneficial. I’ve definitely been extremely blessed by email, websites, online searches, etc., in ways that I could not have known without electronics. I’ve made new friends, found old friends, collaborated on and written books, and studied online. But electronics are like the sea, at once incredibly wonderful but also unrelenting and destructive, pounding even rocks into sand. For months, I have been sleepless well into the night, my mind whirling with messages I’d read or needed to respond to or to initiate, not to mention what St. Paul calls the anxiety of the church(es). (I only have one, he had dozens.) Ministering to people, administering the ministries of others, wielding the sword of the Spirit, jumping into crises, teaching, nurturing the weak and fallen, lamenting the departure of both pilgrims and victims, welcoming neophytes, evangelizing the searching and the resistant, etc. etc. Not to mention seeing to my own spiritual health.

During this past week I realized that there is a lot in my life that is under my control—probably a whole lot more under my control than most people have the privilege of enjoying. I realized that I had allowed myself to become too busy, too pent up with too many things that demand my attention. Too many emails logging in at both home and church, more than I can give proper attention to. Etc. This is not a new lesson, by any means; there have been previous occasions in which I’ve learned that lesson and changed myself because of it—but stuff has a habit of creeping in, and patterns of life change, so that “accumulation” looks different from what it did before.

I took on this blog almost three years ago at the request of a number of people who wanted to see what I’d write, and while it was (and is) fun and cathartic and (I hope) useful to some, it also took time. I like these entries to be reasonably well written, even though if they’re read at all, like a newspaper they’re quickly out-of-date and rarely if ever referred to again.

Then I took up Facebook a few months ago. Not so much “quality writing” is expected, but a lot of information can be put out there and a lot can be read in a short time. Facebook is shorter and busier than a blog. I like it.

But when I found that Twitter is about 144 characters at the most (or whatever) to allow people to whip snippets of information to crowds of other twitterers, I snarled and refused to participate.

Then a day or so ago this verse from Job came to me: “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed” (Job 38:11). The “you” in that passage did not refer to me but to the things that would overwhelm me if I let them. So I drew a line and took back some control. I realized that sometimes what God wants is for us to NO into all the world.

So now I will refuse to let things overwhelm me. Here shall their proud waves be stayed. I’m taking this on as my new “Job” description. Sadly, some emails will not get answered—not because I don’t want to answer them but because I just can’t. Those that do get answered may not get the polished writing I’ve tried to maintain. Even this blogpost is not going to be carefully sculpted and polished. Twitter can go blow. I won’t read church emails on my day off, and whenever possible I will shut down the electronics early in the evening.

My favorite time of the year is autumn. The nights are mild, often there is a very light breeze. There is beautiful music to be listened to in dimness. There is a wife to spend time with. There is a God to be simply enjoyed. Enjoying him is better than constantly serving him. Jesus called it the “best part”. I hope that by committing to this new direction I am being a better pastor than before; I think it’s good Christian living and a good example to set for others. If anyone doesn’t think so, be sure to send me an email about it.