The Episcopal Snobs and the John Wayne Evangelicals

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 heavenIt 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.

Things Going Your Way? A Holy Week Reflection

Many of you know that I used to work for the Church of God Department of Lay Ministries.  One of my colleagues, who did most of the graphic design work, was a good friend in addition to being a coworker.  Sometimes he’d greet me with the phrase, “Things going your way?”

It’s an easy way to say “how are you” because you just assume that, if things are going your way, they’re good.  But the more I think about it the more I realise that there’s something missing here.  The assumption that, if things are going your way they’re going the way they should, needs some review.  I was raised in an environment where I was told that it really didn’t matter whether things went your way or not; you just dealt with what was thrown at you.  Finding out that much of the world doesn’t see it that way–especially Christians–has been a life long struggle.

No where is this more evident than full gospel Christianity, with prosperity teaching following.  The idea is very current that, if you’re in God’s will, things will be going your way.  If they’re not, something is wrong with you.  Many people who experience adversity decide that it isn’t them, and that’s the unrolling theodicy disaster we’re seeing now.  The practical application of this is that people–Christians and others–are conditioned to go to pieces when things don’t go their way.  We’ve seen this play out in the past year with the COVID pandemic, but it antedates that.  This kind of attitude makes life in the U.S. very difficult to endure.

Such an attitude is profoundly unBiblical, and the whole story of the Passion and what follows shows this.  From Palm Sunday things go downhill for Our Lord.  First Judas sneaks off, first to make the deal with the Jewish leadership and then to make good on that deal.  The other disciples are erratic at best; they can’t stay awake when Our Lord needs them the most and bail on him when the going gets tough.  He endures gruesome torture and ultimately death by crucifixion, taunted by things like this: “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! He is the ‘King of Israel’! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He has trusted in God; if God wants him, let him deliver him now; for he said ‘I am God’s Son.'” (Matthew 27:42-43 TCNT)

But then things change: he rises from the dead, turns disciples into apostles by commissioning them to take the good news to the world, ascends into heaven, and sends the Holy Spirit to start the church.  (The church, sadly, has tried to do the job without the Paraclete, and has the results to show it.)

The lesson of this is simple: just because things aren’t going your way just now doesn’t mean that they aren’t going God’s way.  Our first objective in our walk with God is to follow him, not to expect him to follow us.  When we do that we can find the happiness he has for us, both here and on the other side.

The Problem With Social Justice is That It Always Involves Changing Someone Else

Anne Kennedy makes an interesting observation in her piece “What is Really the Problem?”:

Second, human people are wicked. All people. ALL have sinned and fallen well and catastrophically short of the glory of God. All of the cries about white supremacy, white evangelicalism, patriarchy, and racism all illumine the very false and foolish idea that if you or I were able to fix “other” people, and the systems they inhabit, that all the bad things would not any longer happen.

I recently illustrated the social justice thread in the 1928 and 2019 Books of Common Prayer.  But the whole idea of “social justice” has bugged me since the 1960’s for various reasons.  I think that Anne has put her finger on the problem: social justice involves changing someone else rather than yourself.  For someone who came to a religion where the change was personal first, that’s never set well.

One of the things that evangelicals have always said about everyone else who claims the name of Christ is that they are basically cultural Christians who have never made a personal commitment to the Lord Jesus.  Although these churches are good at producing people like that, it’s not universally true.  Growing up as an Episcopalian, I internalised many things from the New Testament, especially the Sermon on the Mount, and found that others had done the same.  Evangelicals in this country tend to ignore the Sermon on the Mount and concentrate on things like the Great Commission and the moral requirements of the faith.  The two trade insults along these lines; both are right and wrong at the same time.

With social justice warriors, it’s always the same: someone else is doing wrong, or is just inherently wrong.  Someone else is bigoted, homophobic, transphobic, the wrong race, the wrong religion, whatever, and must be beaten into submission, cancelled, or thrust into the outer void at the first opportunity.  There’s no real requirement for the warriors to be paragons of virtue at all: as long as they shove their righteousness down everyone else’s throat, they’re fine in their own eyes.

Some of the problem is that we have democratic process.  To get anything done, for better or worse, we must create a bandwagon effect, coupled with bribery at the right places, to achieve our purpose.  If our self-righteous elites would be honest with themselves and the rest of us, stop touting democracy as the ideal and rule in their self-righteous confidence by decree, the dynamic would be different.  But things like that are why our society is fundamentally duplicitous.

Evidently we have conveniently forgotten the following:

And why do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, while you pay no attention at all to the beam in your own? How can you say to your brother ‘Brother, let me take out the straw in your eye,’ while you yourself do not see the beam in your own? Hypocrite! Take out the beam from your own eye first, and then you will see clearly how to take out the straw in your brother’s. (Luke 6:41-42 TCNT)

But in our post-Christian society, self-righteousness is no longer a sin, but a virtue.  Why Christians of all types blindly go along with this is beyond me.

ACNA: About That Celibacy Thing…

Edgar Noble’s piece Yes to Gay Identity, No to Gay Sex? The Concept Shaking the Foundations of the ACNA is a thought-provoking piece on a subject that, to be honest, I didn’t think would come up this quickly in the ACNA’s life.  As I noted in the last post, we have TEC, why do people feel compelled to bring this into the ACNA? I’ll come back to that later.

I look at this as a “meaning of life issue.”  What is life all about?  What is our real purpose and goal?  What are we trying to accomplish along the way?  I grew up in a world–upper class and progressive at that–which put forth the idea that life was all about getting laid, high or drunk (in that order,) and that there is something basically wrong with people who didn’t subscribe to that.  That’s really the core of the conflict between the “arbiters of taste” in our society and Christians who uphold the traditional sexual ethic.

If you look at the culture wars the last fifty years or so, that’s pretty much the essence of the matter.  But it predates that: the ancient world was filled with fertility deities and all of the “wide open” practices that went with that.  Christianity (and before that Judaism) came and and opposed that, and the pagan world has hated us for it ever since.  The issue at its crudest is simple: is our God the creator of the universe, or does this deity reside between our legs?

Under these circumstances, the whole concept of celibacy is a form of secular blasphemy.  If life is defined by our sexual activity, then how is it possible for us to abstain and be human?  Part of the core of Christian belief and practice is that all of us have to practice celibacy at some point in our lives.  The fact that such periods exist for anyone is deeply offensive to those who make sexual activity the centre of their existence.

The whole course of the current LGBT movement needs to be seen in that context.  We have a group of people who are defined by their sexual activity, whose identity is bound up in that activity.  How is it possible for people to be celibate and yet claim this identity?  That’s a question the ACNA needs to find an answer for and not get lost in the post-modern mushiness that surrounds most of our cultural debates.

Noble mentions that people have been conditioned to view their sexual orientation as immutable.  That’s being challenged by the “T” part of LGBT, that not only should our lives be determined by our sexual activity, but that domination extends up to and including changing the tools out.  It’s a conflict that has led to the “TERF wars” of which J.K. Rowling is the most famous general.

And now we should consider a question we started with: why fight this battle in the ACNA and not simply move to TEC, which has embraced the LGBT community for many years.  One thing the left in this country is obsessed with is existing institutions.  They seldom think of starting their own; they work hard to take over ones that are already there.  Evidently the ACNA, in spite of its relative youth, is an “existing institution” of sufficient prestige to warrant such demands from the left.  Personally I think that the ACNA, like TEC, is a victim of its own privileged demographics.  Largely white and well off, it’s a natural target for movements like this.

That being what it may, the ACNA was born in the defence of basic Christian doctrine and life.  It either needs to stand for it or fold and admit that all of the money, pain and litigation were simply a waste of time.  American Christianity has for too long been a popularity contest.  Real Christianity has never been popular, and that simple fact needs to be understood completely.

ACNA, TEC and Those Social Justice Prayers

It’s worth noting that the following appears in the (relatively) new 2019 ACNA Book of Common Prayer:

For those of you who think this has its origins in that dreadful 1979 BCP, this also appears in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

Other than the modernisation of the language and the expanded doxology at the end (one reason why the 2019 BCP is so much longer) the two prayers are the same in content.  (This prayer was not in the 1892 BCP, FWIW.)  What this means is that the impulse towards social justice goes back a long way in American Anglicanism and is even perpetuated in the group that split off from the Episcopal Church.  I think some comments are in order because, the way the ACNA is going these days, there are elements in same that want to take it in the same direction as TEC went, which is silly because a) TEC is still there for those who want to go that way and b) it begs the question as to why the ACNA was started in the first place.

The first comment is that the existence of meaningful social justice movements depends upon the people’s freedom to express their opinion either individually or collectively in a meaningful way.  This is something that gets lost between those who see social justice as a Christian imperative and those who think it is profoundly unBiblical.  The New Testament was written in the Roman Imperial period, where there was really no way to petition the government to act on things like slavery, infanticide and the like.  (The Republic supposedly had mechanisms like that but, as the Gracchi found out the hard way, they didn’t deliver as one would like.)  Both of the prayers recognise that fact.

The second comment is that the quest for social justice is no substitute for personal regeneration in Jesus Christ.  Since we are not Southern Baptists, that regeneration doesn’t end at salvation; it continues, as I note in this comment re the comfortable words.  Liturgical churches’ greatest occupational hazard is in thinking that, just because we go through the liturgy and experience the sacraments, we’re okay with God and can move on to other things.

That leads to the third point: the social position of North Americans in the Anglican-Episcopal world is a two-edged sword.  It makes their quest for social justice potentially more effective but at the same time makes them part of the problem.  Evangelicals constantly prattle about being “influencers,” but Episcopalians (and now non-Episcopal Anglicans) are disproportionately that from the get-go.  Some reflection on that before you go off and try to “change the world” is certainly in order, especially since life has probably rendered you unable to grasp the lot of those you’re trying to help.

Finally, you need to understand that you don’t need to simply ape non-Christian social justice movements just because they’re trendy amongst your peers.  That’s especially important now since our moneyed interests are “woke,” and that many so-called social justice movements simply shill for those moneyed interests.  Put another way, it’s hard to speak “truth to power” when you’re really just part of power.

Social justice is a noble goal; the road to it, however, has many potholes.  Or, to put it in a more mathematical way, the arc of history may bend towards justice, but it may not be smooth, differentiable or even continuous.

Vindicated About Justin Welby

They probably admitted this a long time ago, but this admission on Anglicans Unscripted about Justin Welby’s unsuitability for his position is gratifying:

There are some of us who saw this early on.  The problem isn’t as much with Welby–although he certainly has his issues–but his church and the fact that he is appointed by the state.  This is the same state which enacted the Equalities Act along with same-sex civil marriage.  It was unrealistic to expect such a state to appoint a truly orthodox Archbishop of Canterbury, which is one reason why I’ve felt for a long time that North American Anglicans’ desire for reunion with Canterbury was, to use a good Islamic term, a mirage.

The church is also an extension of the UK’s foreign policy as well, and the same comment applies there too, especially with his relationship with GAFCON.  Rowan Williams tried very hard to put the “Humpty Dumpty” Communion back together, but he failed.  I think some in the government–and Welby himself–thought that someone with some negotiating skills could do better.  But the problem wasn’t the negotiation but the substance, coupled with the fact that the UK’s ability to sway its formal colonials isn’t what it used to be.  So Welby has failed at this.

What the neocolonialist Anglican Communion needs more than anything else is a well-executed parting of the ways.  Canterbury would probably end up with most of the provinces it has in number but not in membership.  It would give birth to a truly non-Western centred part of Christianity, which is the shape of things to come anyway.  Whether Welby’s successor will attempt this or continue to demonstrate that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result remains to be seen.

 

Overcomplicating Anglican Eucharistic Theology — The Bossuet Project

I’ve been reading with interest the Rev. Ben Jeffries’ Is the Eucharistology of the Anglican Reformation Patristic? As those of you who follow this blog and Positive Infinity know, this is of special interest, as it was to the great Bossuet

Overcomplicating Anglican Eucharistic Theology

Against the Liturgical Optimists — North American Anglican

Within American Christianity, and especially within American evangelicalism, we have seen a rise of interest in liturgy. Taking a quick look at InterVarsity Press’s site, one finds recent titles such as The Liturgy of Creation, Liturgy of the Ordinary, and The Liturgy of Politics. At Conciliar Post, Wesley Walker has compiled a list of articles such as “#OccupyWallStreet: A Liturgy” and “The Quiet Liturgy of Fred Rogers.” These are just a few examples; the word ‘liturgy’ is everywhere, often in unexpected places…

Those of us in the Anglican tradition, with our emphasis on common prayer and right liturgy, could be encouraged by this renewed emphasis on things liturgical — but, I believe, there are reasons we should be skeptical of the liturgical turn.

From the North American Anglican

How to Get Episcopalians Fired Up About Hand Sanitizer

Traditionally, it’s been hard to get Episcopalians fired up about much of anything.  The whole point of the religion was to leave the enthusiasm for “them” and have a nice, proper religion where we worshipped “Gawd” on Sunday according to the Prayer Book.

The culture wars, starting in the 1960’s, changed all of that.  Some Episcopalians got fired up when V.G. Robinson was made a bishop.  Others (like KJS, although she’s a ringer from the RCC) got fired up when the first group tried to leave with property.

Now we’re facing COVID-19.  One of the infallible nostrums for this disease is the use of hand sanitizer, most of which contain alcohol.  This alone should generate enthusiasm amongst clergy and laity alike; as my second year Latin teacher (a fine Episcopal minister) noted in class, when four Whiskeypalians get together, there’s always a fifth.

And that leads me to my point; when your Episcopalian friend or relative (or those who are in the ACNA, REC or one of the “Continuing” churches) balks at the use of hand sanitizer, instead of, say, telling them that it has 70% alcohol, just tell them it’s 140 proof.  They’ll slather it on with gusto after that.

I must confess that, after my upbringing, when told about the alcohol content, I made the mental conversion to proof.  There are more things than liturgy and “smells and bells” which are “continuing” in the Anglican/Episcopal world, and I guess this is one of them.  (This is another.)

The Part of Psalm 91 That No One Likes

A favourite psalm of many is Psalm 91.  Everyone likes this part:

Praise of a Song, by David. He that dwells in the help of the Highest, shall sojourn under the shelter of the God of heaven. He shall say to the Lord, Thou art my helper and my refuge: my God; I will hope in him. For he shall deliver thee from the snare of the hunters, from every troublesome matter. He shall overshadow thee with his shoulders, and thou shalt trust under his wings: his truth shall cover thee with a shield. Thou shalt not be afraid of terror by night; nor of the arrow flying by day; nor of the evil thing that walks in darkness; nor of calamity, and the evil spirit at noon-day. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. (Psalms 91:1-7 Brenton)

It’s a favorite these days, and was one in the wake of 9/11 (and in the military during the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.  But there’s a part that most people are unaware of, and that’s this post’s subject.

Let’s go down towards the end of the psalm:

For he shall give his angels charge concerning thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up on their hands, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. (Psalms 91:11-12 Brenton)

If this looks familiar, it should.  We like to quote this psalm, but during the temptation in the wilderness so did Satan:

Then the Devil took him to the Holy City, and, placing him on the parapet of the temple, said to him: “If you are God’s Son, throw yourself down, for Scripture says- -‘He will give his angels commands about thee, And on their hands they will upbear thee, Lest ever thou shouldst strike thy foot against a stone.'” “Scripture also says,” answered Jesus, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.'” (Matthew 4:5-7 TCNT)

As it turns out this was the beginning of the conflict between Christ and Satan while Our Lord was on this earth.

During the passion, crucifixion and death of Our Lord, it certainly looked like Jesus should have taken Satan up on his bargain.  It’s for sure that Satan thought so.  But Satan’s apparent victory evaporated when Jesus Christ rose from the dead and won for us eternal life.

God has promised to protect us.  Sometimes, however, the road to victory and ultimate protection has some “bumps” in it, but that doesn’t mean that all is lost.  If Our Lord had to go through what he did, what can we expect?

No, the more you share the sufferings of the Christ, the more may you rejoice, that, when the time comes for the manifestation of his Glory, you may rejoice and exult. (1 Peter 4:13 TCNT)