Skip to comments.On this week's New Yorker article "A Church Asunder"
Posted on 04/19/2006 12:46:19 PM PDT by sionnsar
[Link to article here. Material from the New Yorker may not be posted on FR. --sionnsar]
Let me start by saying that the article is terrible, though not at all surprising. The New Yorker, after all, is not exaclty a Christian publication. Here follow some of the reasons why I think the article to be so awful. If you haven't read it, link to it through the comments below (see Tom Becker's comment). I make some initial comments and then assess the main arguments lobbed against the conservative Anglicans by both Griswold and Robinson.
According to the portrait painted by the article, the overwhelming majority of the world's Anglicans are to be completely dismissed because their thinking en masse only reflects the conventions of primitive Nigerian "taboos" (i.e., is not informed by their faith, etc.). Apparently, we "conservatives" stand poised as bigots (the article associates us with words like "frozen" and "amber") who basically still deny the existence of the wheel, and, yes, we are also likened to the Nazis, which is the new classic in argumentatively unfair manipulation. The damaging implications of that single sentence basically tell the whole story.
Furthermore, the contemporary persuasive power of "experience" is used against us in the article from start to finish, portraying Gene Robinson as the victim, and us as the ministers whose experience of contemporary American culture (and reality) is nil at best, and basically Amish. Also, the mention of Griswold's academic credentials, but not my father's equally impressive stats (i.e., Browning, Harvard, Oxford, Tubingen) displays the bias of the article perfectly. And the quoted slogan of the 19th century missionaries, the one about evangelizing "the heathens", is also damaging. Please don't misinterpret this article as being "fair", or even-handed; though it appears to be, it is not! p.s., My hunch is that it was heavily edited and arrived to us readers in a significantly different form from the original submission given by Mr. Boyer, its author.
(assessing the arguments)
You may notice that Griswold suggests that human beings have changed as has their culture around them. Do you really believe this for a second? Imagine what it would be like if you could travel back in time, say, 2000 years or so, to Jerusalem. I suspect that after about twenty minutes of thinking: "wow, this is amazing! It's so different!" you would then see people shopping in markets much in the same way that you see them today, shopping in malls; you would see pub brawls pouring out into the late-night streets, you would see parents caring for their toddlers after an unexpected fall, etc. I guarantee you that the similarities (i.e., the unchanging reality of the human heart), would rise to the fore, and the (surface) differences would underwhelm, to say the least. So forget that, because, like the Beach Boys sing, "Wouldn't it be nice if..." but it isn't.
Do you think that the universality of human nature trumps the reality of cultural divergence? I do. Can you relate to people who don't share your culture? I can. Have you ever seen the ridiculous (though very serious in tone) 80s movie "Ice Man" with Timothy Hutton? There is a scene in it where Timothy Hutton teaches the unfrozen cave man to sing Neil Young's classic "Heart of Gold". For real! And the cave man gets it. The universality of humanity transcends. So Griswold and many revisionists argue that times have significantly changed. I don't buy it; I think they've changed, just not significantly.
But given this simple, oh-so-empirically-verifiable fact, we come to the second key argument made in defense of Gene Robinson's position. He mentions that his sexuality is "not a choice", that it is "who he is". No one on the conservative side is rightly disputing that point. We conservatives are perfectly happy to concede that such is the case, that homosexuals do not have control over the inclinations that control them.
Our disagreement lies in the fact that we don't think that a lack of choice thereby determines how right or wrong a thing actually is. Nobody believes that a murder committed in a drunken black-out is not deserving of judgement because conscious assertion was not part of the offense. To suggest that, to the extent that a person cannot control doing a thing, that thing becomes justified, is ludicrous, right? Have you ever slept through work? Does the fact that you didn't hear your alarm mean that you are, in effect, not actually late? Of course not. Yet that is the argument being put forth here. To not have control over an action is different from that action's being defensably justified. It's as though we conservatives are really just asking the more liberal lobby to make a little more sense. Many conservative Episcopalians had a warmer, more compassionate understanding for the Christian homosexual position until they started being offered such weak, non-Christian arguments.
But human ontology is indefensible ground for any Christianity that believes in Sin. This is the meat and potatos of the Anglican faith espoused in the church's founding articles 9, and 10 of the 39 Articles of Religion, which are the closest thing Anglicans have to a comprehensive statement of our theology. For many of us, we feel as though all dialogue has left the Christian arena the moment humanistic presuppositions are even uttered, for such notions reflect an entire belief system that is founded upon an opposing (i.e., opposite) premise, and Christianity has always believed in sin as naturally occuring inclination. Or has all of that changed too? You see why it's hard to tango, and why the issue at hand has little to do with homosexuality in particular. This is about human nature and whether or not what Christianity has always posited about human nature has suddenly changed in the last 5, 10, or maybe at max 35 years.
In fact, as believers in that classic (and oft misunderstood) Christian doctrine of Sin, we conservatives whole-heartedly embrace the notion that "who we are" (at our core), is wholly determinative of our relationship to God. That relationship is just "off" and not "on", until Jesus enters the picture. This means that most Christians have always traditionally believed that humans are sinful by default (and not just in the context of actions), and it simply refers to the desire we humans have to run the show for ourselves and by ourselves a priori, from in the womb. Such is the nature of a fall from Grace.
Being out of whack with certain ideals does not thereby illegitimize those standards. Far from it; it affirms just how right they are (see also: Romans 7). We can't do the good we know we should do. What dieter can't relate to that statement? The crux of the Protestant read on the human predicament is that we are not free to do that which is right (consequently, we do/ are wrong), and, yet, strangely, we are held responsible for that wrong which we cannot keep from doing, as though we were able not to do it. What a bind! Here enters the significance of Jesus (i.e., as a Savior).
This is what Christians have always believed: "who we are" points away from God, not toward him, and that is why we need to put our faith in Jesus whose inner world was not tinged with inclinations away from his Daddy. "Who's Your Daddy?" says the old hip-hop adage. Jesus knew, and never lost focus, but we are, at best, only ever of a double-mind on the matter of choosing God's ways over our own ways, that is, unless we are given Jesus' credit, which is the thing that makes a Christian a Christian. Our bondage (a.k.a., sin) is that we do exactly that which we want to do. That's the problem.
My hope is that these two points clarify where conservative Christians are coming from: I have said that 1) We do not think humans have changed in any important or fundamental sense since the Bible was written. And 2) we also don't think that "who we are" lines up with the God's intention for us. Never has, never will. That is, of course, unless that Godly intention is found in Christ.
This is also the way in which humanism and Christianity are totally incompatible and irreconcilable. The former says that the Human heart is naturally angled in the direction of that which is right and good. The latter suggests the opposite. You tell me which premise accounts for more of the data you read about in the news paper. It's not necessarily the case that we Christians haven't read Thoreau, Emerson, and Aristotle, it's just that we've rejected what they have to say as being blatantly untrue, given the reality of suffering and selfishness.
I hope that Christians do not expect the non-believing world to understand their Christian religion better than its adherents. I also hope the fact that the overwhelming majority of believers in the Anglican Communion (i.e., members of that particular blend of Christian religion with which ECUSA considers itself a member) disagree with the more liberal / minority position, will not so easily be dismissed by those people that find themselves looking from the outside-in after reading this week's New Yorker. I mean, would the secular world dare tell Judaism how best to be accurately Jewish? Yet, that is exactly what is happening to ECUSA with this problematic article, and apparently the vast majority of the world's actual, believing Anglicans are allowed no say in the matter,... but this does not come as a surprise.
The divide between pew-thinking and pulpit-thinking in ECUSA is revealing itself as church numbers continue to wain across the board for liberals, though not in the conservative Diocese of SC (peculiarly, or not?). A church radical and a church progressive are not the same thing apparently. I stand for the former and the latter makes me cringe in the way that Diane Keaton cringes in "Annie Hall" when she revisits her young self, first arrived in New York City, telling a flakey actor guy that she completely understands what he means when he says he "wants to be torn apart by wild animals". "Great,...this guy wants to be eaten by squirrels?" comments Woody Allen.
I write this as an Episcopalian Anglican, currently in training for the ministry at Oxford University, where I study with more than 100 like-minded Anglican ordinands. We do not look much like the majority of the Anglican Communion's members; less than 5% of us come from the world's Southern Hemisphere; The New Yorker refuses to account for us.
-- John Zahl
In light of all of this renewed interest in these issues, I encourage you to consider reading a book my father wrote last year with his friend and (liberal) theologian, Ian Douglas. The book is called "Understanding the Windsor Report", and it gives a thorough and helpful look into the current contrasting positions found in PECUSA at the moment. The entire thing was written by email, so it has a very informal, warm immediacy. Plus, in it Dad makes many of his funniest jokes to date! Therein one finds a very reasonable traditional Christianity on offer as well as the one with which it disagrees. Please read it, and, for those of you with friends who are not as familiar with the current situation in the Anglican Communion as it relates to Gene Robinson, encourage people to read it as well. Lend them your copy if need be. Despite the dry title, I couldn't put it down!
Here's the Amazon link:
Oops. I guess I should direct what I said to the one who wrote the article about Boyer's article, not to Sionssar, who I see is just posting it here. Sorry Mr. Sionssar.
If you click on "John Camp" it should take you to John Zahl's blog.
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