Bob Marcotte’s recounting of the story of Episcopal minister Algernon Crapsey reminds us of many things.
The first is that the storm in the Episcopal Church that is now the spectacle of the world didn’t start with Vickie Gene Robinson’s being made a bishop. It didn’t even start with James Pike’s journey to nowhere. It started long before that with ministers such as Crapsey. Pike was able to get away with what he did without a trial (unlike Crapsey) because he had more sympathisers in TEC than many realised.
Second, Crapsey’s departure from orthodoxy was tied to his embrace of the social gospel:
As Crapsey later wrote in his autobiography, “It was the humanity of Jesus and not his divinity that won and held my allegiance.”
Or as one commentator notes: “In stressing Jesus’ humanity, Crapsey sought to motivate Christians to follow Jesus’ example and become more responsive to the suffering of others. More concerned about moral reform than adherence to doctrine, he emphasized the spiritual meaning of the creeds rather than their historical veracity.”
That was true for many people. But the tie between social liberalism and theological heterodoxy wasn’t a given in Crapsey’s day. If it were, why didn’t the Pentecostals, at the bottom of society, make the connection? The Pentecostals added injury to insult by emphasising miracles and healing, not just in Biblical times but today.
The problem with people like Crapsey is that they don’t make the connection between the Incarnation–where God himself comes and shares our condition in the worst way–and the need for Christians to reach out and share God’s love for us with others. Put another way, without a divine impulse, the impetus to relieve human suffering and equalise incomes isn’t obvious. The Pentecostals, contrary to Main Line legend, were as concerned with helping others as their better heeled counterparts. But their view of it–and the resources they had at their disposal to deal with the problems in front of them–were and are entirely different.
Today we see a left that is secularising rapidly. But it’s real concern for social justice–not the phony rhetoric trotted out at election time–is fading. It would rather support “tolerance” for well-heeled groups than tackle real inequities with solutions that would empower other groups rather than just subsidise them. The “social and heterodox gospel” combination of people like Algernon Crapsey was not necessary in his day and certainly isn’t now. A better connection is the one between a fully divine Saviour who came to share our condition so that we could be set free from it, some in this life and entirely in the next.
“Jesus, in the days of his earthly life, offered prayers and supplications, with earnest cries and with tears, to him who was able to save him from death; and he was heard because of his devout submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from his sufferings; and, being made perfect, he became to all those who obey him the source of eternal Salvation, while God himself pronounced him a High Priest of the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 5:7-10