Let’s Finish With Hagee Before Moving On

I just returned from a clergy conference where David Gortner of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) conducted a very worthwhile workshop on evangelism. Sooner or later we Episcopalians have got to get with the program in a way that suits our theology. More on that later, but I want to finish up with the John Hagee question.

What discourages me about the lack of response to the Hagee endorsement of McCain is the strong implication that it is not news because it is not threatening to a majority of white Americans. It stuns me that for all his bombastic preaching filled with hatred and threatening God’s wrath on anyone who is not an ultra-conservative Christian, Hagee is not controversial. To the contrary, he is popular enough to be on daily national television, and it appears to me that he, and others like him, are understood to represent Christianity at its nationalistic best. His damnation of those who are not of his brand of highly politicized evangelicalism is not seen as an abomination but as a proclamation of the core self-identities of good, white, conservative Americans sheathed in the name of Christ. His is the voice of a nation acting out of fear, and a nation that acts out of fear is a nation in decline with little hope for the future. That really bothers me and leaves me deeply troubled about the future of our nation. Now I’ve got a treasured friend, a wheat farmer east of town, who will go ballistic if he reads this, but I also know he will think about it, and that’s all I ask.

Endorsed by John Hagee

You recall that not long ago there was a nation-wide outcry fueled by a media feeding frenzy over the intemperate words of the Rev. Wright.  What I want to know is this; where is the nation-wide outcry fueled by a media feeding frenzy over Sen. McCain’s latest endorser, the Rev. John Hagee whose hate filled, bigoted preaching that is his his stock in trade is broadcast daily all across the country?  I think I have a partial answer, but I would much prefer to hear yours before suggesting mine.

After this I quit the whole question of orthodoxy

OK, one more swipe at orthodoxy and then I call it quits.  Martin Marty wrote a column on Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (I guess the White House got mixed up with plagiarizing him in some way that I missed) and offered this excerpt from his writings:

“Anybody in our midst who boasts that he is a liberal or a conservative obviously cannot count to three – Nobody can be anything but a liberal conservative or a progressive reactionary.”  To this Marty added that “we might say that anyone who claims to be orthodox or heretical cannot count to three.  Nobody can express anything except heretical orthodoxy or orthodox heresy.”  I like that!

An Afternoon on Campus

A couple of weeks ago a young international student at one of our local colleges committed suicide.  I was at the scene as Fire Department Chaplain, and on behalf of the department attended his on-campus memorial service this afternoon.  It was a remarkable event.  On this “secular” campus the ballroom was oversubscribed.  Around fifteen adult members of his family were present from half way around the globe. Readings from scripture and remembrances from friends and professors were tasteful and poignant.  There was a well done photo-tribute to his young life projected on a huge screen.  Then came three remarkable moments.  The photo-tribute ended with a very well crafted poem written by the family and attesting to the power of their Christian faith as their hope in this most terrible of times.  His father rose to give thanks to the college for being with them and for them at this time, and then offered a very moving and appropriate testimony of the faith shared by the entire family that was carrying them through.  The event closed with the entire family singing the Aaronic Blessing in perfect four part harmony. There were few dry eyes in the room and nothing but awed respect for the presence of a faith that many, if not most, either took for absent minded granted or rejected altogether.  So why would a young man from such a strong family commit suicide?  I have some knowledge and a little insight into the matter but it will have to remain with me alone for the time being. 

The Messiness of Orthodoxy

I seem to be on an orthodoxy kick these days.  Drawing on an article by Garret Keizer in  April 22 edition of Christian Century I offer this citation from Kenneth Leech that speaks well for my own view on these matters:

The rejection of paradox and ambiguity is the characteristic of heretics in all ages.  Heresy is one-dimensional, narrow, over-simplified, and boring.  It is straight-line thinking, preferring a pseudo-clarity to the many sidedness of truth, tidiness to the mess and complexity of reality.  Orthodoxy by comparison is rooted in the unknowable. 

Not Orthodoxy but Truth?

This morning a member of our lectionary study group said that he is not interested in orthodoxy but truth, and it seemed to me, as the conversation went on, that any of us who wanted to proclaim the truth of God in Jesus Christ were dismissed as orthodox and therefore not true seekers of the truth.  Moreover, any appeal to scripture as revealing truth is suspect on the grounds that it is only self justifying and, in that regard, no more reliable than scripture from any other religious tradition.   As I tried to listen I also got the impression that he was as ironclad in his religious ideology as are the “far right” fundamentalists.  

I have not yet decided whether or how to respond, and you know from the tone of some of my posts that it is not hard for the curmudgeon to come out of hiding.  I’d like to avoid that.  

Here is my sense of my own orthodoxy.  I am convinced that the Christian faith as framed by (but not limited to) the Nicene Creed follows in the path of God’s eternal truth.  

I have no doubt whatsoever that God is the creator and sustainer of all that is, but that does not keep me from rejoicing in all that science and philosophy are able to discover about God’s ways.  And on a curmudgeonly aside, people who keep attacking or defending Darwin are no different than those who would turn to the Wright Brothers for the last word in aeronautics or Thomas for the last word in theology.

I have no doubt that God was manifested, incarnated, in Jesus of Nazareth in a way that is utterly unique, and that we have the most limited of human words to express what is ultimately a holy mystery.  But that does not keep me from rejoicing in the many others through whom God has spoken and in whom the light of God’s love shines.

I have no doubt that the resurrection of Jesus was a bodily resurrection through which his full divinity was revealed to some significant numbers of his followers.  But that does not keep me from rejoicing in the power of a wholly spiritual resurrection that continues to be with us through many channels.

Therefore, I have no doubt that what Jesus said and did was as full a revelation in human form of what God desires and expects of us, and, that in a most mysterious way, his life, death and resurrection are both signs and means of our own paths to eternal life in God’s presence.  

Everything else is provisional.

As an Anglican I do not have to believe in the literal historicity or inerrancy of the bible to  believe that everything in it has something to say to us about God’s truth.  When we say that the bible is the Word of God we mean that everything in it reveals, illuminates and informs us about God’s truth.  Since I believe that, in truth, it is inspired by God (not dictated) I also believe that it is not fragile and does not need to be protected.  Every tool of lower and higher criticism can be brought to bear without fear of damaging it.  

It also means that our understanding of God’s truth will change as we mature in faith, experience and wisdom. 

That’s not only what I believe but it is that on which I stake my life.  And don’t give me that bs about whether non-believers are saved.  You know very well that’s a straw man.  Oops, sorry, curmudgeon sneaking out.

What about you?

Sin on a Sunny Sunday – don’t bother to read this. Go outside and enjoy spring.

The April 22 edition of Christian Century provided a short snapshot of American attitudes on sin as published by Ellison Research.  It seemed to me to have missed any clear understanding of the concept of sin and many of the sins listed were, if anything, mere snippets of behaviors God has called sin time and again.  Some were only marginally connected with anything the bible has to say on the subject.  Adultery, racism, drug use, abortion, homosexuality and the like topped the list, and it led me to suspect that the American religious public (Christian) continues to be yoked to an idea of sin that is obsessed with sex, drugs and various forms of personal moral turpitude while it ignores the more complex and harder hitting biblical exploration of sin in which God roundly condemns both personal and political behaviors that violate the integrity of human relationships.  I’ve long thought that the reason we don’t want to delve into the matter too deeply is that it would expose too many of our favorite personal and political pastimes as displeasing to God as we enthusiastically engage in them while waving the banner of Jesus Christ.

I was reminded of a stern lecture given to our House of Deputies a few years ago by an outraged deputy from Texas who accused the entire church of having failed in its teaching on sin, it’s duty to name and condemn sins and sinners, and to boldly proclaim that heaven belongs only to those who have accepted Christ as their personal savior and confessed and repented of their sins.  As she prattled on it became clear that there were only two things that concerned her: homosexuality and a rigid Calvinist understanding of salvation as interpreted by early 20th century fundamentalism.

So I decided to take a look at the full Ellison report, which you can find here.  It looks like they predetermined (in good Calvinist fashion) what kinds of things might be considered sinful and then asked their respondents to rate them from really bad to not so bad.  If that’s the case the data are of limited value from a theological point of view, but the study’s assumptions and its findings are a reminder that we have been lousy teachers about sin and have left most of our people with a narrowly superficial understanding of it.  

In one of my old posts I suggested some standards for measuring political platforms and candidates against biblical standards of morality, which I drew mainly from the Ten Commandments, Amos and The Sermon on the Mount.  I still think that they well articulate what God has to say about sin and that we, as teachers have got to be more boldly diligent in our teaching of what God has to say.  It’s easier said than done.  I taught a yearly class on the subject for fifteen years without making much of a dent, although I do admit that many of the same people came back each year.  The most memorable responses were the several (no more than that) who stomped out in anger accusing me of ignoring the bible and pushing a left-wing, liberal, revisionist, socialistic and darn near Godless political agenda.  How dare I call into question their own closely held values as possibly sinful when they are the very values Jesus himself held, and to use the very words of Holy Scripture to do it – how disgraceful!  Oh well, at least they didn’t stone me.  

Purifying the Church – an Alternative Approach

In these days when purifying wayward denominations and claiming a truly orthodox orthodoxy seems to be the driving force within some Christian circles, I am struck with how forcefully impure and unorthodox Jesus seemed to be.  Take, for example, a brief passage out of the early chapters in Matthew just after Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him.  He went about Galilee (of the Gentiles) preaching, and his fame spread throughout all Syria.  How about that for going in the wrong direction?  Then they brought to him all the sick, pained, diseased, demoniacs, epileptics and paralytics and he healed them.  Going in the wrong direction, being surrounded by the ritually unclean, and restoring to wholeness those who were “obviously” afflicted by virtue of their sin and God’s wrath.  To top it off, the crowds that began to follow him were first from Galilee and the pagan cities of the Decapolis, and then from Jerusalem and Judea.

Since all of that is very earthy, what about the idea of shedding all things “earthly” in order to be more “spiritual.”  Whatever else he has to say on the subject, Paul keeps coming back to a central point that is articulated quite well in Colossians.  To me, at least, the earthly things we are to get rid of are the very things we are most likely to cling to in the defense of purity and orthodoxy:  anger, wrath, malice, slander and foul talk.  Paul goes on to suggest that the conditions for our greater life as Christians are ones we are least likely to adopt because they are the most likely to threaten our purified orthodoxy: among us there can be no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ “is” all and “in” all.  Dang!  It looks like to follow Jesus and listen to Paul according to their ways of becoming a more pure and more orthodox Christian one has to wade more deeply into the earthly morass of the here and now.  To do that, Paul suggests adopting holy and spiritual ways of being characterized by compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, patience, forbearing of one another, forgiving of one another, and love, which binds everything together with the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts.  Sounds like you have to be a wimpy door mat who will just lie down and let anyone tromp all over you, right?

For crying out loud, this could ruin everything.  This sort of stuff just tosses out the window any chance of forcefully demanding a more orthodox church that strictly adheres to biblical moral standards, and it makes a mockery out of political efforts to reform America into the good and moral (white, Protestant) Christian nation that it once was.  No, we can’t go that way.  I think we need to come up with something else in order to bring true Christianity back into the world.  I’ll check with Akinola.  I’ll bet he has some good advice.  

Social LIfe Begins After Retirement

Our social calendar has gone nuts.  In years gone by people would often commiserate with how busy our lives must be with invitations galore to households and events all over town.  Not true.  Maybe it was once, and maybe it still is for some pastors, but not for us.  Our social calendar was pretty skimpy and devoted almost exclusively to church related things or the few community organizations with which we were (and are) involved.  I’m not sure what retirement has to do with all this, but we have never been so busy. Lunches and dinners with friends, community events of all kinds, and, in our valley, dinners hosted by wineries – it has our calendar more than full.  Maybe it has something to do with not being someone’s pastor any more that makes it possible for a healthier and fuller friendship to blossom.   I have to say that we are enjoying it quite a bit, even going out on (gasp!) Saturday nights.   We’re even daring to do the unthinkable such as going out of town over a weekend.  I imagine that there is a theological point in here somewhere, and if you find it, let me know. 

First Century Christian Fundamentalism?

I work out at the ‘Y’ a couple of times a week.  The YMCA that is: the Young Men’s Calisthenic Association (whatever was Christian about it ceased years ago, and, for that matter, it’s really a family place often with more women than men and old men than young men, but I digress).  Anyway, there is something of a dribble of ministry that goes on there with a person here and a person there wanting to engage in a little God talk or bend a willing ear for a moment on some matter of deep concern to them.  A fellow I  often see decided to share with me that he has become a true Christian, a First Century Fundamentalist Christian.  Now that left me speechless, which is not easy to do.  I know the church he attends, and it is a very fundamentalist congregation.  He was so happily proud of his new identity that I just didn’t have the heart to tell him that first century Christians were the radicals of their day, and anything but fundamentalist.  They had no christology, no doctrine of the Trinity, no clear teaching on how exactly their salvation was in Christ, no New Testament scripture, and their reading of the Hebrew scriptures was anything but literal.  Moreover, and as you well know, the kind of fundamentalism his congregation practices is a product of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Paul offered some wise counsel on matters such as this in both of his Corinthian letters.  In one place he maintained that he had not used all of his rights as an apostle but had endured a lot of abuse from them rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ; in another place he claimed to put no obstacle in anyone’s way so that no fault might be found with his ministry.  Taking Paul’s advice, I’m a little reluctant to give my friend a brief lesson in church history and teaching the next time I see him.  But if this is the kind of stuff he is learning from his own minister, that person should be ashamed of such egregious distortions.  I don’t know, maybe he (and I can guarantee it’s a he) is just plain ignorant.  In any case, it is a rapidly growing congregation, but is it a congregation of  the ignorant and seriously misinformed?  Does it matter?

What do you think?