There’s never a dull moment these days, and to shut off the possibility of one occurring we now have the food fight around Kristin Kobes du Mez’ Jesus and John Wayne. The most recent volley has been around the illustrious Anglican Anne Carlson Kennedy’s review of same, with the usual suspects saying the usual things. For du Mez and those of her idea Kennedy poses a special threat since she is a) a woman and b) an Anglican. The first is obvious; the second will take some explanation.
I started out life as an Episcopalian. In the Episcopal world we had the classic Episcopal Snob, which I have commented on before. Such people believed and were convinced that the religion they had was superior to that which those around them practiced, especially those dreadful, hollering, money-grubbing fundamentalists. A corollary to that belief was that those who gave up their antecedent religion and adopted the colonies’ best substitute for the religion our former dread sovereigns fashioned for us were likewise invested with the same superiority. It’s not a very Biblical appeal for a church but it worked, and worked very well for the years immediately after World War II.
Such transitions were rougher than they looked. Shortly after I was inducted in the Acolyte Order of St. Peter, my mother and I were in the narthex after a proper 1928 BCP service. I was wearing the cross keys of St. Peter, similar to those on the Vatican flag. Our rector, Hunsdon Cary, pointed at each of the keys in succession and said, “This key is for Episcopalian and this one is for Baptist.” I’m sure that my mother–only confirmed a couple of years earlier–was thrilled at being outed in this way.
On the other side of the lake (and later the tracks) were those impecunious fundies, with their lack of either liturgy or trust funds, believers’ baptism and Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology. They’re the target of du Mez’s book. Militarized by World War II (weren’t we all really?) and facing the onslaught of the sexual revolution, they adopted a response that angers people like her. The old fashioned Episcopal snobs could have predicted this. But they were unprepared for the onslaught of modern and post-modern theology that took over their church.
I’ve lived long enough and been in enough places and churches to have been on both sides of this divide. I’ll also mention that I actually worked in men’s ministries for a long time. Frankly our society was better off when such divides didn’t have much to do with each other; we see the results of when they spend all their time in a state of virtual war. But I think I can make a reasoned estimate of which of these sides has the better merit.
There’s no doubt that, especially when conflict comes, one would wish that Evangelicals wouldn’t have considered the Sermon on the Mount a practical dead letter. And it would be nice if they didn’t consider centuries of church history as a void waiting for them to show up. But on balance the Evangelicals have the better case for being Biblical and having a viable path to eternal life than their counterparts to the left, including current-day Episcopal snobs. A comparison of core beliefs will show this, but I’m going to concentrate on my favourite topic relating to this: the economic disparity between those of du Mez’ idea and her Evangelical opponents.
Evangelicals (and especially Pentecostals) are in the greater scheme of things an underclass. That may shock some people but it’s true, not only in comparison to, say, the Episcopalians but also our very secular elites. Donald Trump’s years didn’t change that, but you’d never know it from the endless howling you hear about him and his supporters. And no one is more loathe to admit it than the Evangelicals themselves. But when it comes to to helping others in need, Evangelicals are more sacrificial in their willingness to give of themselves and their substance than their liberal counterparts. When I was a kid at Bethesda we had “mite boxes” but I’ve seen more “widow’s mite” moments as a Pentecostal than I ever saw as an Episcopalian.
Evangelicals’ biggest problem is their endless attempt to get out of the economic basement and move into the seat of power they think they’re entitled to. That, I think, motivated them in part to support Donald Trump (his opponents’ obsession with adopting non-Christian and anti-Christian policies also fuelled that.) It drives a great deal of what they do, even when they’re on shaky Biblical ground, such as the recent conflict I’ve gotten involved with about working in heaven. It hasn’t always been this way, but it is now.
But that leads us to the Anglican part: getting blowback from an Anglican woman is a real slap in the face for left-leaning evangelicals who aspire to move up into the Anglican world. Even Rachel Held Evans figured that out: she became an Episcopalian. The ACNA, stupidly I think, facilitated this movement with things like the Diocese of the Churches for the Sake of Others. (If that’s not pretentious, I’m not sure what is.) To move up and then face opposition from people like Anne Kennedy is hard to take.
But that’s the difference between lay people and clergy. Clergy–especially left-leaning clergy–expect the church they’re in to change to their idea. Lay people only get to leave and go somewhere else, and that’s not always easy. People like du Mez would be better off if they spent as much time building the church they want people to be a part of rather than nitpicking the one that’s there, but these days that’s too much to ask.