Friday, August 28, 2009

Welcome to the Episcopal Collective

The Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop issues a statement following that fray caused by her "heresy" sermon at General Convention. From here:
I always am delighted when people listen to what I say in a sermon or address. Sometimes I am surprised by what they hear.

In my opening address at General Convention, I spoke about the "great Western heresy" of individualism (see the full text here). There have been varied reactions from people who weren't there, who heard or read an isolated comment without the context. Apparently I wasn't clear!

Individualism (the understanding that the interests and independence of the individual necessarily trump the interests of others as well as principles of interdependence) is basically unbiblical and unchristian.

The spiritual journey, at least in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is about holy living in community. When Jesus was asked to summarize the Torah, he said, "love God and love your neighbor as yourself." That means our task is to be in relationship with God and with our neighbors. If salvation is understood only as "getting right with God" without considering "getting right with (all) our neighbors," then we've got a heresy (an unorthodox belief) on our hands.

The theme of our General Convention, ubuntu, was chosen intentionally to focus on this. Often translated from its original African dialects as "I am because we are," ubuntu has significant biblical connections and warrant. The Hebrew prophets save their strongest denunciation for those who claim to be worshiping correctly but ignore injustice done to their neighbors (e.g., Amos 5:21-24), and Jesus insists that those who will enter the kingdom are the ones who have cared for neighbor by feeding, watering, clothing, housing, healing and visiting "the least of these" (Matt 25:31-46).

In my address, I went on to say that sometimes this belief that salvation only depends on getting right with God is reduced to saying a simple formula about Jesus. Jesus is quite explicit in his rejection of simple formulas: "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven" (Matt 7:21).

He is repeatedly insistent that right relationship depends on loving neighbors – for example, "those who say, ‘I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen" (1John 4:20). The Epistles repeatedly enjoin the followers of Jesus to "give evidence of the hope within you" (1Pet 3:15ff), that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:14-26), that our judgment depends on care for brother and sister (Rom 14:10-12) and that we eat our own destruction if we take Communion without having regard for the rest of the community (1Cor 11:27-34).

Salvation depends on love of God and our relationship with Jesus, and we give evidence of our relationship with God in how we treat our neighbors, nearby and far away. Salvation is a gift from God, not something we can earn by our works, but neither is salvation assured by words alone.

Salvation cannot be complete, in an eternal and eschatological sense, until the whole of creation is restored to right relationship. That is what we mean when we proclaim in the catechism that "the mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ" and that Christian hope is to "live with confidence in newness and fullness of life and to await the coming of Christ in glory and the completion of God's purpose for the world." We anticipate the restoration of all creation to right relationship, and we proclaim that Jesus' life, death and resurrection made that possible in a new way.

At the same time, salvation in the sense of cosmic reconciliation is a mystery. It's hard to pin down or talk about. It is ultimately the gift of a good and gracious God, not the product of our incessant striving. It is about healing and wholeness and holiness, the fruit of being more than doing. Just like another image we use to speak about restored relationship, the reign of God, salvation is happening all the time, all around us. Where do you see evidence?

Read it all here. We are not saved by loving people, by the way - we love people in response to our being saved. Very, very different.

And beware of those who shoot down what they complain and redefine as "individualism" (though it may be couched in flowy happy talk) - note that she defines "individualism" to suit her collective interpretation. Selfishness is not a virtue, certainly, but neither is collectivism masquerading as community.

"Individualism" is at the heart of privately held property, of our individual liberties, and it keeps in check the powers of the state. It is intensely creative - and dares to step out where no one has gone before. Individualism is not a heresy - except to those who are threatened by liberty. The General Convention of 2009 was run like a collective - make no mistake about it.

Sometimes it's individualism - and sometimes it's just Gary Cooper.


22 comments:

Tregonsee said...

So many people believe that duty is what others expect of you. It is what you expect of yourself. Very different.

Creighton said...

Damage contrrol....Hey, folks, you misunderstand, I did not mean what I said...you got it all wrong....by the way I have some wonderful Kool-Aid for you to drink...

SometimesWise said...

"Salvation cannot be complete, in an eternal and eschatological sense, until the whole of creation is restored to right relationship."

umm - no...and even if she was a little bit right, the kind of salvation she is talking about is revealed to us in the book of Revelation, and "we" aren't the ones doing the saving. What arrogance.

TLF+ said...

She's made a statement-a-month on "salvation" this summer, and the three taken all together are inconsistent and ultimately incoherent.

Analysis will be up on Norther Plains Anglicans on Monday morning.

Athanasius said...

Fr. Fountain,

In truth, ALL the Presiding Bishop's statements are incoherent! The fact that she even got into holy orders points to the incoherence of episcopal leadership in TEC as a whole. Incoherence breeds incoherence. The virus is pervasive and virulent.

Allen said...

"...from people who weren't there, who heard or read an isolated comment without the context".

ARROGANT! People DID hear and read and found her interpretation very amateurish....or..as she admits.."I wasn't clear".

But note well me pretties that she had to slam YOU the reader or hearer for her own failure.

Nikolaus said...

In truth the episcopal concept of faith is one of the most individualistic there is to be found. Thanks to an abusive contemporary interpretation of the Elizabethan Settlement, individual members of EPAC can believe abosolutely anything and everything - or nothing at all. EPAC turns an honest understanding of what a Christian community should be on its ear.

Anonymous said...

The PB said:

"Individualism (the understanding that the interests and independence of the individual necessarily trump the interests of others as well as principles of interdependence) is basically unbiblical and unchristian."

How does she reconcile this statement with TEC's unilateral actions that go where most of the AC have begged TEC not to go? How does she disconnect what she says from what she does? I know - it's a polity thing....

RalphM

BabyBlue said...

Exactly, Ralph. Over and over again the Episcopal Church was warned not to act unilaterally - a type of corporate individualism. I wonder if Hagrid will share his bottle of Old Ogden's Fire Whiskey.

bb

The Underground Pewster said...

TLF+,

Looking forward to the analysis.

Anonymous said...

i agree with the Presiding Bishop. I thought her sermon was clear, and spot on, the first time. In a way, she did not need to write this "clarification," but it does show her willingness to reach out to those who either misunderstood or chose not to have "ears to hear."

Floridian said...

Anon, OUR ears are tuned to The Chief Shepherd's voice, not that of a stranger who preaches another gospel.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how many of you folks have been the dean of an Episcopal Seminary, but she was. I saw it right there on her resume. So, please ask yourselves if you are the match of her hermeneutics, wisdom, or intellect. They are probably not equal to hers.

Unless your rearview mirror SpiritCatcher is mightier than our Presiding Bishop's, just shut up.

Impressed Priest in LA

Anonymous said...

The Lakeland Two says....

Impressed Priest in LA - cute tongue in cheek comments. Loved the dean thing and the spiritcatcher comment.

Lemmee see if I get this straigt.

There is just so much wrong with this letter. I think she wrote it just to tick off even more conservatives in the hopes they too would leave as individuals.

After all, the property is more important than the people. And the MDG's are dispensable at the drop of a hat. Maybe she should open a restaurant, because that's the only way she's going to serve any "food".

BabyBlue said...

Sadly, Anon, Katharine Jefferts Schori was NOT dean of an Episcopal seminary. She merely had responsibility for the adult education program at a parish in Oregon. Yep.

bb

Anonymous said...

Was there not a pre-Reformation period in Europe of individual rligious worship and private prayers--especially in the Low Coun tries?

Lydia Evans said...

I live in community, and I worship in community, but I come to Christ as an individual. I cannot be corporately saved.

Rather, I come as a miserable sinner remembering not what I've done but instead what He has done for me.

Lord, Lord...

Fr. Daniel Weir said...

I think we often get caught in either/or when in truth it is both/and. I would fault Bp Katharine on that as well. As Lydia Evans stated so clearly, we come to Christ as individuals. However, coming to Christ brings us into community and it isin community that Jesus works to transform us.

Anglican spirituality is deeply influences by Benedictine spirituality. The three promises of Benedictine life are stability, obedience and conversion of life. Stability in community is the context for our hearing and responding in obedience to God that we might be transformed,that our lives might be converted. A friend used to talk about pew-hoppers, people who weren't willing to be in a stable community relationship. God can call us to move on, but I think we're to stay put until God calls us to move.

Observer said...

"Anon"....the PB is really well qualified to talk about....oceanography. Even if she had been a dean of a college, if she contradicts clear passages such as Romans 10:8-11 .... we do not have to bow and accept her contradictory message......ain't it great Cranmer and others were keen on the bible being in English so we can read, mark and learn and spot error when it is spoken by a theologian or an oceanographer. No person (not even the ABC with his big brain and many academic distinctions in theology) has authority to contradict scripture.....and the PB's "western heresy" is found in Romans 10...... I bet St Paul knew better what he was talking about.....

Anonymous said...

The Lakeland Two says...

Fr. Weir, don't faint! We agree 100% with what you just wrote. And written beautifully.

AMEN!

Daniel said...

It takes more than agreement to make me faint! We could discuss the Creeds for hours and find ourselves in agreement. I keep reminding myself of something I heard decades ago: Christians have nothing in common except Jesus and he is everything.

Anam Cara said...

And yet, Lydia, you are corporately saved.

Show me what about what is said here is wrong:

"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven" (Matt 7:21).

He is repeatedly insistent that right relationship depends on loving neighbors – for example, "those who say, ‘I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen" (1John 4:20). The Epistles repeatedly enjoin the followers of Jesus to "give evidence of the hope within you" (1Pet 3:15ff), that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:14-26), that our judgment depends on care for brother and sister (Rom 14:10-12) and that we eat our own destruction if we take Communion without having regard for the rest of the community (1Cor 11:27-34).

Salvation depends on love of God and our relationship with Jesus, and we give evidence of our relationship with God in how we treat our neighbors, nearby and far away. Salvation is a gift from God, not something we can earn by our works, but neither is salvation assured by words alone.


God created man (humans) in His own image. What is the image of God?

God is free. God was not required to do anything including create. He is free, as are we - including free to reject God.

God is unique. There is only one God - He is unique, as are we. There will never be another you or another me. Although we are called ot be conformed to the likeness of Christ, we will always be unique.
But uniqueness is only found if you have a relationship with others. And relationship is the other thing we see in the "image of God." The Godhead shows us this in the relationship of love among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What would one be without the others?

God is relational. When you talk about "people," you have no relationship with them. They are just people - non-descript, could be anyone, we sometimes talk about people as being just numbers. There is no love. But when you see someone as a person, as a human, knowing them, knowing about them, then you can love. You cannot be unique if no one knows you - if you are not a part of a community. You become just a "number." You cannot love others if you are just a "number."

God created us to be in a relationship with Him and with others. To be human is to be free, unique, and relational.

It takes community and love to be conformed to the image of God. You may come to God alone, but you are saved in community with God and others.