All of the blather we’ve been hearing about Presiding Bishop (not Archbishop) Michael Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding last weekend obviously focuses attention not only on Curry and the duplicitous Justin Welby but on the Episcopal Church in general. I don’t doubt that same church, faced with years of declining membership and self-inflicted litigation costs, would like a shot in the arm with a few more visitors and members.
Those who have criticised Curry on doctrinal issues have, IMHO, missed a point. Episcopal ministers have been doling out vacuous, unchallenging fudge for as long as I’ve been on the earth and then some. The serious question is “Has their departure from the Gospel paid off for them (the leadership) and their parishioners?” The simple answer is no, and there are many ways this failure has happened, but I’ll concentrate on one: the social justice aspect. Curry told us that love will transform the world; they’ve had at least fifty years to pull that off with their obsession with social justice, has it taken place?
One thing that hasn’t taken place is a demographic shift. The Episcopal Church is still a largely white denomination with an elite demographic, even after all these years of trying to be the advocate of the poor. You’d think that some of the recipients of this support would show up just out of gratitude, but few have. For me, that runs into two serious problems from two separate sources.
Karl Marx told us that people like the Episcopalians were exploiters of other peoples’ surplus value; thus, they would always be the problem, to be overthrown in the revolution (and subsequently liquidated according to the usual Leninist and Maoist pattern.)
Jesus Christ gives the rich an entirely different challenge:
And a man came up to Jesus, and said: “Teacher, what good thing must I do to obtain Immortal life?” “Why ask me about goodness?” answered Jesus. “There is but One who is good. If you want to enter the Life, keep the commandments.” “What commandments?” asked the man. “These,” answered Jesus:–“‘Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not say what is false about others. Honor thy father and thy mother.’ And ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thou dost thyself.” “I have observed all these,” said the young man. “What is still wanting in me?” “If you wish to be perfect,” answered Jesus, “go and sell your property, and give to the poor, and you shall have wealth in Heaven; then come and follow me.” On hearing these words, the young man went away distressed, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22 TCNT)
When these disparate authorities tell you that you’re wrong from two standpoints, you have a problem. But TEC hasn’t addressed either of these; in fact, it’s embraced the pansexual agenda to paper over the inequality/social justice problem, just as the secular elites have. Moreover Bishop Curry, as a black man, is an outlier in a denomination that is even more unsuccessful in breaking out of its Caucasian trap than the Southern Baptists.
Personally I found the elite nature of the Episcopal Church not only unBiblical but stifling. That started to change when I swam the Tiber. Now I got to go to church where people, as my brother observed, actually looked like they worked with their hands. That expanded during my years at Texas A&M.
Today I go to a Pentecostal church. The demographic is the mirror image of the Episcopal Church. Real people have real problems that they cannot solve by throwing money at them, which was the usual approach in the bubble I was raised in, but must turn to God. The ethnic diversity of the church is amazing, not only on a national/international level but now on a local level. And the Gospel goes forth, to use the BCP’s phrase not only with our lips but in our lives.
It’s not perfect. It still suffers from the American obsession with moving up, although with some of our people to see God bring them out of where they started is wonderful. It’s too deferential to their “betters,” who usually turn out to be those in the church with the higher AGI. (To be fair, that problem even turned up in a church like Bethesda.) And the Scots-Irish are always there to complicate things.
Sometimes in my superannuated state, when I’m tired of one more maudlin paean to “the old time religion,” or I’m forced to worship to yet another new chorus “from the throne room,” I have moments like this. But I think that I would have to leave behind the people I go to church with, those who are, at the end of the service, happy, and whose lives have been meaningfully transformed by Jesus Christ. That gives me pause. A church isn’t made by its ministers but by its laity.
Curry can talk all he wants about love, but I’ve seen more of it in the church I’m in than the one I started in, namely his. And more social justice acted out, too, in the church which is the preferential option of the poor rather than just for it. If Curry and Welby want to show they’re serious, their respective institutions will have a “shoes of the fisherman” moment, rather then blowing smoke in the face of credulous elites. But I’m not holding my breath.