Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bishop Katharine: "We are God's Beloved"

The "fireside chat" with our Presiding Bishop was, for the most part, a wonderful event. The theme of her opening remarks were "You are God's beloved." Having seen videos and transcripts of Bp. Katharine's addresses to other dioceses, I think it is safe to say that this theme, or a similar one, is the message she is offering to Episcopalians at this time in our common life.

It's a good message, even though it will be most likely twisted by those who are looking for reasons to condemn her. Personally, I think such criticisms can usually be ignored, as rarely are those making them honest about their own personal biases. If they have already decided that Bp. Katharine is in error, either because she is a woman or because she is supportive of Bp. Robinson, then one can expect such a critic to anticipate more errors in her thoughts. They will find such errors, even if it means taking sentences out of context and attaching meanings to them that go beyond the context in which they were offered.

Having said that, I would hope that those to whom Bp. Katharine is offering her message can set aside their own personal biases, in order to receive the gifts being offered by our spiritual leader.

Bp. Katharine reminded us that there are two stories of creation in Genesis. One begins with the creative act of God, after which we are told that God looked upon creation and declared that "It is very good." The other creation account fouses on the fall in the garden.

The divisions among Christians today can be seen to be loosely along the lines of which of these stories we choose to emphasize. Do we begin with recognizing that we were created "very good," that the intention was always for us to be "God's beloved," or do we begin with the story of the fall, beginning our relationship with God with the idea "I am a miserable sinner." Where we begin influences the nature of our conversations, not only among other Christians, but with the world, and with God.

Another way to sum up these differences among Christians today would be to suggest that there are those focused on "the depravity of man" and those who choose to focus on "the glory of God." Of course, in the end it is not a matter of "either/or" but "and/also." However, if we choose to begin the story of God with a blessing, that will lead us to quite different conclusions about the nature of our relationship with God in comparison to beginning with a story whose conclusion involves judgment and punishment.

This is not to suggest that sin does not exist, or is not an important consideration in regards to our relationship with God. Of course it is important. But to suggest it is so important that it must be the primary concept by which we identify that relationship seems to me to be to miss the glorious truth that we were created to be loved by God; that we are, and have always been, God's Beloved. The story of the garden reveals what happens if we somehow attempt to ignore the true nature of our relationship with God, and imagine we have no need for such a relationship. Sin is that which sepatates us from God. To heal that relationship requires confession and amendment of life.

The stumbling block for some seems to be their understanding of what it means to claim "Jesus died for our sins." Some Christians seem to think that it is essential that every Christian believe that Jesus was a sin offering; that God demanded a blood sacrifice before our sins could be forgiven. That is certainly one understanding of what happened on the cross; a belief usually referred to as the "penal substitution theory". It is certainly not the only way to understand what "Jesus dying for our sins" means, however. There are at least five different understanding of this that can be found within the Christian tradition. I'm not going to get into the details of these various theories right now, but if you are interested, we had a rather lengthy discussion of them here. What I will offer is a quote by C.S. Lewis:

...We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ's death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself...
During the question and answer period, Bp. Katharine was asked about the Time interview, in which she suggested that to limit God to acting only according to our understanding of what "through Jesus" means was to "put God in an awfully small box." Our discussion about why there was nothing terribly controversial in Bp. Katharine's remarks can be found here. In response to the question yesterday, Bp. Katharine said something to the effect of; "If Jesus died for the whole world, then it was for the WHOLE world...Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior...I believe he died for the whole world. How God works that out is God's business, not mine."

Another question, which was really a suggestion, was in regards to Bp. Katharine often being misunderstood by the Evangleical wing of the Church. The suggestion was that she learn their language, and strive to meet them where they are. Bp. Katharine graciously accepted that criticism, and admitted that she had spent most of her life in settings that did not include much of the Evangelical rhetoric, and so acknowledge that that may be one of her growing edges.

In response to another question, which I believe was about if Bp. Katharine had ever considered sitting down for dinner with Bps. Iker, Duncan and Schofield to just talk things over, Bp. Katharine made an interesting comment. She inferred that she did have some level of a relationship with Bps. Duncan and Schofield, but none with Bp.Iker, as he had rebuffed any attempts she had made to be cordial. The first time she had the opportunity to meet Bp. Iker, she approached him to introduce herself. His response was to say "I know who you are," and to then turn away.

I had the opportunity to ask one question. I chose to ask about the Title IV charges against Bp.Duncan. Bp. Katharine affirmed that my reading of Title IV Canon 9 is the one that she is using. The inhibition, requiring the consent of the senior bishops, is not connected to the depostion. Bp. Duncan will face the charges of abandonment after his 60 days to recant have passed. The lack of inhibition does not nullify the charges certified by the Review Committee.

We are blessed to have such a competent and inspiring leader.

Pray for our Presiding Bishop.

Pray for the Church.


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