Skip to comments.Straight Talk to a Troubled Laity
Posted on 04/05/2005 4:57:29 PM PDT by sionnsar
Whose fight is this, anyway?
Can't the huge and divisive controversy in the Episcopal Church just be handled by the clergy - who, after all, have the benefit of theological education and are in this business full-time?
The first part of the answer to that question is that over three decades of continuing disagreement among the Church's clergy should prompt serious misgivings about their ability to alone resolve the deep problems we face in our Church today over differences in Scriptural authority and the role of the Bible in our faith and in our lives. The 1% of our Church membership they represent has every right to expect more from the rest of the 99% - the laity - if we have any hope of stopping the Episcopal Church's headlong dive into irrelevance as a denomination.
The next part of the response has to do with the word "similar." While today's dispute over Scriptural authority and the role secular culture should play in the Church's responsibility as moral standard bearer has been skillfully characterized by many as similar to those of recent decades, the current crisis is profoundly different. The difference is so profound, in fact, that the natural human tendency among the majority of laity to again simply "ride it out until it passes" is unacceptable under even the most minimal expectations of everyday Christians.
Looking back on those earlier disputes, where is the "similarity" in the recent decision of the Anglican Primates to effectively suspend the Episcopal Church from the Communion for up to three years to give it time to think more about its actions and to be told to come and explain those actions once again to the Anglican Consultative Council? Where is the "similarity" in the seriousness of the divisions wrought by our Church's actions being so profound that the Primates of the Communion were unable for the first time to bring themselves to even consent to celebrating the sacrament of the Eucharist together? Where is the "similarity" in finding ourselves in a situation in which a clear choice is being placed before us to decide whether to remain Anglican or to break away into a separate, uniquely American sect?
The Episcopal Church's current crisis is similar to earlier ones only if one thinks that every argument is alike. But just as people in the real world know that a minor disagreement between a husband and a wife over smaller matters is far different from an argument over whether it's possible to remain in their marriage together, so must we recognize that it's our "marriage" to the Anglican Communion that's now at issue.
The Preamble to our Church's Constitution stipulates that:
"The Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, otherwise known as the Episcopal Church... is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and Regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer."
Don't be misled by false comparisons. Let's be clear about this. Nothing we've argued over in recent decades has forced the Episcopal Church to face as clear a choice as stands before it today between retaining the foundation of our Anglican faith and being part of the worldwide Anglican Communion - as we stipulate clearly in our constitution - or going our separate way.
In the end, though, the more basic question for all of us laity is whether we are content to just "do church" - go through the motions each week unconcerned over whatever theology is being preached - or worship God with an awareness of what our beliefs really mean to our own lives and what we model for our children and grandchildren.
If you're thinking, 'Somebody really ought to do something!' you're absolutely right. Somebody should. You should. This is no time to be missing in action while countless thousands of other parishioners carry the load for you. If your Church ever needed you to stand up and be counted, this is the time. Pray on it with all your heart, but at the same time have the courage to either stand up and help man the pumps or be ready to launch the lifeboats.
The Question of Consequences
It's fair - and, I think, inevitable - for every layperson comfortable in his or her parish to ask the question "Are there really any consequences if we remain aloof to the ongoing crisis even if we may not agree with the latest changes in our Church's innovations?"
First, there's really no fooling yourself about "remaining aloof to the crisis." What we're faced with is rooted in a fundamental difference in belief - in fact, two opposing theologies - not minor differences or razor-sharp distinctions. Nor are the differences ones over which an average layperson can hope to keep "sitting on the fence." Silence is not fence sitting - it's tacit approval. Make no mistake about it - not to decide is to decide.
The answer as to whether there could be consequences for inaction ultimately depends on how you view the value and authority of Scripture in your life. If you believe human experience - what you see around you in the society and culture you live in - has primacy over submission to Scriptural authority or that even if you don't believe what the Church believes you can stay in it because you'll not be judged by association, then you'll likely conclude there are no consequences for individual inaction. If you believe the Bible is a "book of poetry with a lot of history in it" as one bishop has described it, you'll probably come to the same conclusion.
If you believe a traditional understanding of and submission to Scripture is the bridge which enables the Holy Spirit to come into your life, you're likely to come to a very different conclusion. You might rely in that assessment on biblical examples of corporate accountability or any number of admonitions throughout the Bible warning Christians to walk apart from heretical teachers. For many faithful Episcopalians, jettisoning core Christian beliefs to accommodate the surrounding culture means nothing less than placing their own souls at risk. They believe strongly that remaining in congregations or pastoral relationships based on a rejection of foundational beliefs carries serious consequences whether individually or corporately.
For those who prefer only to rely on a theologian's or clergy person's answer to the question, you're in the same dilemma you find yourself in when you look for definitive answers when you want to invest your money. The best economists and investment brokers in the country offer opposing views that cover a wide spectrum. Likewise, the best theologians and scholars our Church has to offer come down on different sides of these issues.
But just as you can make your own determination about how the economy is going by the return you see on your personal investments, the price of food and gas, and how far your monthly household budget goes without having to consult the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, you can apply your own faith and beliefs to what you see in your personal life in terms of how you view the positive or negative direction society and your church are moving and make your own determination.
Faith-guided common sense and the God-given ability to make reasoned judgments based on knowledge and belief are well within the capacity of the average layperson. Your views are not without merit simply because they lack the basis of deep theological education.
Pray on it, search your faith, and draw your own conclusions from all the trustworthy sources you can put your hands on, remembering that in the end all we're asked to be is faithful.
The Toxic Context for Today's Christian Dialogue
While new and sometimes radical theological positions are carefully and incrementally peddled with quiet subtlety, there are recognizable signs of change in the context of dealing with the changing theology over the past couple of decades that nearly every Episcopalian must recognize.
For instance, the very word judgment - in apparently almost any context - has evolved into a purely pejorative term rather than reflecting the more traditional recognition of the responsibility every person and certainly all Christians have to distinguish truth from falsehood, good from bad, right from wrong, etc. and to help guide their children and neighbors in such knowledge. Rising right to the top of the list of deadly sins in today's "new and enlightened" vernacular, however, judgment is considered horribly misguided. The "J" word... Attempting such distinctions becomes downright evil.
In a related context, a person brave enough to partake in the discouraged exercise of making judgments is more likely to voice disagreement with the new theological innovations of universal acceptance and affirmation and risks immediate labeling as uninclusive even from - and sometimes mainly from - the pulpit, of all places. This is yet another derogatory term introduced to us by victimhood-based political correctness movement that today's secular culture equates to the worst evil a person could possibly perpetrate on mankind. For even the most distinguished scholar to take issue with theological innovations in our Church prompts immediate charges of exclusionary thinking.
Ironically, being labeled uninclusive almost always results immediately in one being roundly excluded. I don't need to tell you that truth suffers when there's only one "acceptable" voice in a debate.
The illogic surrounding assertions of the evils of judgment and the near worship of inclusivity, however, are obvious enough that many laity find the creep of such political correctness into our revered sanctuaries odious and are alert enough to recognize that the intimidating environment they create has been introduced simply to forestall all but the most superficial treatment of new theological innovations.
Making judgments will always be a Christian imperative as we try to guide our lives toward truth. Inclusion of all children of God is also a given if one wants to call himself or herself "Christian," but it's essential to recognize the real meaning of the word rather than the invented one. Christ's inclusion makes demands of us in order to receive the benefits of His wonderful promise of transformation and redemption. It's not a "free pass" to continue down any path we choose with no thought of repentance.
For informed 'conversation' or 'dialogue' to take place in this cynically invented environment is not only unfortunate, but unacceptable if we hope to arrive at the truth. Only through having the courage to stand up and refuse to accept it will a way out of our tragic dilemma be found.
--Bill Boniface is a retired U.S.Navy Captain, former Senior Warden of St. Thomas Croom, MD and currently serves on the Board of the American Anglican Council of Washington, Inc.
"The 1% of our Church membership they [the Church leadership] represent has every right to expect more from the rest of the 99% - the laity - if we have any hope of stopping the Episcopal Church's headlong dive into irrelevance as a denomination."
This really sums it up. the faithful in the ECUSA are throwbacks to the 'silent majority'. It is time to begin speaking up. Time to be clear that we are not represented by Griswold, Spong, Crew, et all.
Too many Jews went, docile, to their fate during the Holocaust. Is that what awaits (I pray only figuratively) the faithful within ECUSA?
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