Wednesday, July 01, 2009

"That's not in the Prayer Book now," says the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

So it seems we may have yet another example of the "dumbing down" of the covenant of Christian marriage as being just about what she vaguely calls "companionship," and not as scripture describes marriage as being akin to the relationship of Christ and the Church (which is a tad more than about a vague companionship). She justifies the reduction as saying, well, that old definition is no longer in the Episcopal Church's Prayer Book, so that's about it. Sorry, Jesus, sorry, St. Paul. Looks like those folks up in arms in the 1970s over the TEC Prayer Book may have been right after all.

Jefferts Schori's visit to Nashville comes at an uneasy time in the Episcopal Church.

The church faces shrinking membership, aging demographics, and ongoing disputes over sexuality and theology. Earlier this week a rival denomination, made up mostly of conservative former Episcopalians, launched in Texas. And in a few weeks, the Episcopal Church holds its general convention in Anaheim, Calif., which probably will be contentious.

Still, she's hopeful about her denomination, especially its social ministry to the hungry and poor.

"We are paying attention, in a deeper way, to the need of people who are hurting in other parts of the world," she said. "When we are doing that, we don't have as much time to pay attention to the nit-picking."

That comment highlights the dividing line between Jefferts Schori and the critics of the Episcopal Church.

Jefferts Schori, who is based in New York, believes that the mission of the church — to love God and serve suffering and oppressed people — trumps theological disputes.

The Rev. Ray Kasch disagrees.

Kasch is rector of St. Patrick's Anglican Church in Smyrna, part of the rival Anglican Church in North America. He says that without a common theology, a common mission is impossible.

"She told The New York Times that she doesn't believe that Jesus is the only way," he said. "We could not stay in the Episcopal Church after that."

Kasch is former pastor of All Saints Episcopal Church in Smyrna. He and most of the congregation left the denomination after Jefferts Schori's election in 2006.

Is Jesus a tribal savior?

But Jefferts Schori believes there has to be room in the Episcopal Church for differing views on theology. She also says some Christians think that Jesus will save only people who share their theological viewpoint.

"Is Jesus just our savior, a tribal savior?" she asked. "Or is Jesus the savior of the whole world? … Most Christians will affirm that Jesus' life, passion, death and Resurrection changed something between God and humanity. Jesus died for the whole world — and when you start there, Jesus can't be a tribal savior. He is the savior of all humanity."

She also said it wasn't her place to decide who God will save and who will be left out. She said that people want black and white answers on that question. But she doesn't think it's that simple.

"How people get saved is really a matter for God to figure out, not for me to figure out. My job is to figure out how to be the best follower of Jesus that I can."

When it comes to controversial issues, like homosexuality, Jefferts Schori says she begins with studying the Scriptures.

That includes looking at the messy human families found in the Bible.

"In the Old Testament, there are lots of examples of what holy and blessed marriage looks like, and what unholy marriage looks like," she said, "including polygamy and concubines being normal."

In the New Testament, she said, Jesus never married and was celibate. Paul wasn't married either.

"He said don't get married — unless you have to — because Jesus was coming back soon," she said.

Even among Anglicans, the idea of marriage has changed. In the 1600s, she said, one of the main reasons for marriage was to "avoid fornication."

"That's not in our prayer book now," she said. "We say that the primary goal and good of marriage is companionship. That's different from even what the first Anglicans said. If our goal is to help people live holy lives, which I think is the church's function, maybe we could think about people of the same sex living holy lives together."

Ah, so the "f-word" is out.


mousestalker said...

Looks like the Episcopal Church is deriving its theology from Outback Steakhouse commercials.

Undergroundpewster said...

A theology derived from the 1979 BCP is an absurdity.

TLF+ said...

'cept you come away from Outback fed and filled.

But as to the commercials, how do you think the PB hears the fourth word?

No rules, just right

No rules, just rights

No rules, just rites


Jody Howard said...

Our liturgy professor at Seminary tried to claim the same thing about the 79 BCP. The problem, of course, is that unless one sees the 79 as standing in the continuum of earlier BCP's, it is anemic because it does not explicitly state many of the things it nevertheless takes for granted. Without that tradition it falls prey to nearly every criticism leveled at it. This is why it is important that those jurisdictions that allow the 79 to be used emphasize that it be interpreted in light of the whole Anglican tradition, in contrast to Schori and others in TEC who would like it to be a rejection of the things they view as--well--uncomfortable.

The 79 isn't the first BCP to soften the language of the marriage service--compare the preamble in the 28 with that of the 1662--the "brute beasts that have no understanding" are no where to be found. And yet, that is obviously in the background.

Don said...

"Looks like those folks up in arms in the 1970s over the TEC Prayer Book may have been right after all."

BB, I vividly remember those controversies. And, frankly, I was mystified by them. But now we know.

I think a lot of the problem is that, growing up hearing the words repeated Sunday after Sunday, they make more of a subliminal impact than they do a conscious one. But, if one sits down and really studies them--and compares them to other prayer books and liturgies--then the light comes on.

It's also interesting to note that the PB gives the 1979 BCP "magisterium." That's a nice Affirming Catholic kind of thing to do. What it means is that, according to their idea, Christianity is only what they say it is.

Now if we could only ditch the "Contract on the Episcopalians" (oops, I meant the Baptismal Covenant...)

Anonymous said...

Ms. Ailes -

Are you writing these pieces at the request of Martyn Minns and others as part of an effort to fire up the base of your alphabet soup?

Why not stop attacking the Episcopal Church, especially since you've left? You've used the divorce image before - isn't this a bit like the bitter spouse bashing the ex at every opportunity?

It seems small, petty, and unhealthy. Leave them alone.

Unknown said...

You may be new here, Anon - for if you are a regular here at the Cafe you know that around here we don't use the divorce analogy.


Anonymous said...


Keep shining your Light into the darkness!

Two in TEC

The Lakeland Two

Anonymous said...

The words you place in italics at the start of your post are nothing like what the Presiding Bishop says – you are merely placing words in her mouth. This is called slander. Check your Bible.

The TEC Prayer Book in fact clearly states “The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.” and nowhere was the Presiding Bishop denying that. She only mentioned that BCP in the 1600s had the second purpose of marriage to be “to avoid fornication” – and that we would and do express the purpose differently now.

Unknown said...

The PB's views conflict with scripture which takes a much deeper and more profound view than a reduction of marriage as being mere companionship.

It is no accident that Paul's letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 5) follows up his warnings on sexual immorality with the explanation of the rationale for Christian marriage - or for that matter Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (I Cor. 7) when he explains the context for marriage. It's a difficult word to today's culture - make no mistake about it. The Prayer Book implied scripture - one did not read it without knowing scripture (and of course scripture is woven through it in the lectionary, though even that is being messed around with with another published lectionary by The Episcopal Church that is not in the 1979 edition of the BCP).

" 22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. 31"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."[c] 32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." (Eph. 5)

That is a far deeper, far more profound, far more specific definition of marriage - especially with the magery of Christ and The Church - than perhaps modern ears want to hear, but if it's true it will set us free. It is in this context that we read the Prayer Book.


Unknown said...

Sorry, Kate. The marriage vows are a bit older than the 1979 revised BCP, and the ECUSA does not have the power to legislate history, human nature, or divine revelation. The vows and conditions we have today, to love, honor, cherish, etc., have been essentially unchanged since Moses attested to them about 3500 years ago. No committee, no matter how many purple shirts or MDivs are sitting there, can change that one, immutable fact.

Dale Matson said...

Ah yes, ongoing revelation. Whenever will we finally get it right?

Daniel Weir said...

This reminds me of a complaint by one of those who wanted to keep the 1928 BCP. He wrote that in the 1979 BCP, marriage was no longer described as a covenant. I knew that wasn't true and after reading the service in the 1928 BCP, I discovered that he had the matter backwards and the covenant language wasn't in the 1928 BCP.

Althugh I find "companionship" an inadequate word, I see the purposes of marriage as the BCP does: "The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is
intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort
given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is
God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture
in the knowledge and love of the Lord." Having had the privilege of having same-sex couples in our parish - and having baptized their children - I see their covenant realtionships as fulfilling the intentions that God has for marriage. The question that the Episcopal Church needs to face is how the Church is to view those relationships.

Undergroundpewster said...

As far as the covenant language goes Fr. Weir, I ask you to open the on line 1928 BCP to page 303.

"O ETERNAL God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind,
Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life; Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy Name; that
they, living faithfully together, may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, (whereof this Ring given and received is a token and pledge,) and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live accord-ing to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I recently read the late Peter Toon's Episcopal Innovations 1960-2004. His opinion of the 1979 preface is found on page 20. He of course looks at things from a viewpoint that there exists a divine order for man and woman, and this order is present in holy matrimony when he wrote,

"This statement stands clearly within a 1970's culture of artificial birth control and the fulfillment of psychotherapeutic ends."

I wish we could have used the 1928 version when we married.

Daniel Weir said...

Thank you to the Underground Pewster for correcting me. Like the priest that I was criticizing, I was sloppy in my research.