Monday, March 29, 2010

Understanding Anglicanism in Africa

Killing the Buddha is hosting an essay that is a "must read" for all Anglicans: Notes from the Tangled Anglican Web. The author, Mary-Jane Rubenstein, is Assistant Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University and the former Assistant Director of Religion and Public Life at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Professor Rubentstein helps us sort out some of the complex dynamics at play within Anglicanism in Africa.

There are a number of noteworthy nuggets to be found in this essay. I'll just mention a couple.

Professor Rubenstein refers to the work of Ifi Amadiume; Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Sex and Gender in African Society:

...Focusing on the small Igbo town of Nnobi, Amadiume locates pre-colonial power in the goddess Idemili, who possessed certain women in order to make them her ekwe, or human representatives. The women this goddess chose were the most economically successful in the community—those who were prominent in the marketplace. And the surest way for a woman to become prominent in the marketplace was to take a few wives. These wives would manage the house and care for the children while their “female husband” focused on economic and political life—and again, those women who succeeded often gained access to considerable religious authority as well, becoming spokeswomen of the goddess.

Unsurprisingly, the first thing the British did after they had made significant inroads into the region was to ban all worship of the goddess and to insist that all households be composed of one man, one woman, and their biological children. From that moment on, a priestess or female husband was out of a job. From one angle, then, what the Anglican world is witnessing is not the imposition of some “primitive” mindset upon a “modern” Anglo-American Church, but rather, a redeployment of the modern code of gender and church hierarchy imposed upon West and East Africans at the turn of the century...
Rubenstein also identifies, correctly in my opinion, what it is that yokes the two groups that some African Anglican leaders, like Peter Akinola of Nigeria, consider to be the biggest threat to the Church. What is the common thread in Ankinola's defense of the Church against the dual threats of Islam and gay rights? A lack of a sufficient amount of machismo among Anglicans:

...What seems to connect the threat of homosexuality to the threat of Islam, then, is a crisis of Christian masculinity. It is not clear which came first—anxiety over virulent Western homosexuals or anxiety over violent African Muslims, but the two threats seem to echo and intensify one another...
We have certainly seen the result of Peter Akinola's understanding of what it means to be a "strong man." In "defense of the Church," he encouraged the incarceration of all gays. His "strong man" response to Islam was to incite violence against Muslims and be implicated in at least one massacre.

Akinola has now retired, but it appears that his successor is going to carry on the tradition of identifying Islam and the gays as the primary threats to the Church.

As a sidenote, in his inaugural address, linked above, Abp. OKoh made this curious comment:

...Do not be afraid of being called homophobic. It is a term designed to close down any expression of a contrary view. Respond by accusing them of gunaphobia – an inordinate fear of women and of relationships with women...
I would agree with the Archbishop on this point. I believe a fear of the feminine is indeed at the root of much of our disagreements, but perhaps not in the way he imagined this fear is manifested. To quote Nancy Myer Hopkins:

"What is driving the intensity of our current church infighting?" Is it really just about what people do sexually with each other?

Probably not. A more likely reason for a significant amount of the negativism is that same-sex relationships violate the rules laid down by all patriarchal cultures about how men and women should behave in relationship to one another. The same rules also narrowly define acceptable relationships between people of the same sex.

Looking through this lens, we can see that the offenses pile up rapidly. If a lesbian woman does not need a man to satisfy her, protect her and keep her in line, the threat of the feminine is there; if a gay man is able to access the feminine side of his being, his every move can be considered suspect and an affront to many. If long-term relationships between two people of the same sex toss the age-old formulas attached to male dominance and female submission out the window, what are we left with? And if we must allow people who are partnered in this way to live openly and with our blessing -- so that we can't pretend that this is not happening -- how offensive is that? It is only offensive if we continue to cling to a patriarchal framework which keeps the feminine in her "proper" place...

But, I'm now straying away from Professor Rubenstein's essay, which contains many more ideas worthy of discussion. Go read it. What other points jumped out at you?


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Atonement Redux

Note: What follows is part of a piece that I wrote a few years ago. By request, I'm posting it again, with a few minor edits - J.

Since we are nearing Holy Week, it seems an appropriate time to talk about the theories of Atonement. It's a big topic, which I cannot possibly give the amount of time it deserves, but maybe I can offer you some thoughts to get your own conversations going.

For starters, let's form the question in a way that everyone, regardless of their theological or biblical background, can engage it. Here's the question: What is the significance of Jesus dying on the cross?

Here's a few background verses from scripture:

Isaiah 53:4-6, 10, 11 - "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all [...] It was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin [...] By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities."

2 Corinthians 5:21 - "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

Galatians 3:10, 13 - "All who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.' [...] Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us - for it is written, 'Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree'"

1 Peter 2:24 - "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness."

1 Peter 3:18 - "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God"

Isaiah and Paul did not spell out exactly what they meant, which left it up to the early Church to figure out how to explain the cross.

What some claim was first taught was the Ransom Theory, which proposed that Jesus was a ransom paid to Satan to free all of humanity from sin. God tricked Satan, through the resurrection. Some claim (I'm hedging here on purpose; you'll understand why later on) that this was the teaching, with some variations, of Irenaeus, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine and Bernard of Clairvaux.

As you can imagine, some folks had some difficulties with this idea. It makes Satan out to be, to some degree, an equal to God, suggesting more than a bit of Dualism. The victory is won through an act of deception by God. Further reading here.

Next came Anselm's Satisfaction Theory, which was similar to the Ransom idea, but the price was paid to God, not Satan. As it arose in the 11th century, it is not surprising that it is somewhat derived from European feudal culture, in which a serf must honor their human lord who owned the land and controlled their lives. It is about honor. Since sin dishonors God, a price must be paid to restore God's honor. This is sometimes spoken of as satisfying the "ethical nature" or "justice" of God. This idea is also connected to the "sin sacrifice" found in the Hebrew scriptures.

Although fitting very well with some of Paul's writings, this theory has been troubling to many people, as it claims God requires a sacrifice for justice to be preserved. Although it removes the Dualism of the Ransom theory, it now depicts God as having some of the questionable qualities previously attributed to Satan. Read more here.

An early objection to Anselm's theory was offered by Peter Abelard, writing in the early 12th century, who is credited with presenting what is now known as the Moral Influence Theory. Basically, this is the idea that the life and death of Jesus Christ serves as a a moral example to us all. Through this example, we are moved to leave our sin and draw closer to God.

One difficulty with this theory is that there is a strong dependence on our own response. It leans very far towards the idea that we can save ourselves. Abelard was condemened as a heretic, by the way. Read more here

In the 16th century, the early reformers, including Luther and Calvin, developed a new twist to the Satisfaction Theory, which is now usually referred to as the Penal Substitution Theory. It is the dominant theory of Atonement among Protestants today. It takes Anselm's idea that God demands satisfaction a step further; insisting that God demands punishment. Read more here. Also, I found this discussion to be very helpful.

One last theory must be mentioned; Christus Victor. In 1931, Gustaf AulĂ©n reintroduced the term. He argues that this was the theology of the atonement of the early Church Fathers, not the Ransom theory. "Ransom” is seen as a rescue or liberation of humanity from the slavery of sin. Some have suggested that this approach to Atonement is much more along the lines of what the Orthodox Church has always taught. It begins with the Incarnation; the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Death becomes part of the human experience. What has not been assumed has not been redeemed. Read more here.

Now, regarding my personal take. Having come from an Evangelical background, praying before a crucifix was new to me when I arrived at seminary. It is now my preferred setting. When I gaze upon the cross, I find myself powerfully moved. Sometimes it is simply the story of the Passion that evokes such strong emotions. Other times it is from remembering that God is not indifferent to human suffering, having experienced it. Sometimes it is from being reminded that I cannot be indifferent either. Recalling the suffering of those who are around me when before the cross leads to heartfelt intercessory prayer.

If you wanted something definitive regarding Atonement, sorry to disappoint you. Personally, I don't think there is one right answer. But I do agree with this segment of C. S. Lewis' opinion of the matter:

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...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Yes We Can

If you followed the health care debate this week, you may have caught Rep. John Boehner's final "HELL NO YOU CAN'T!" rant.

Here's the best response to the minority leader's ouburst I've seen yet:

Yes we can.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lambeth Response

In response to the news that Mary Glasspool has received the necessary consents to become bishop suffragan for Los Angeles, there has been a brief and somewhat vague statement from Lambeth Palace:

It is regrettable that the appeals from Anglican Communion bodies for continuing gracious restraint have not been heeded. Following the Los Angeles election in December the archbishop made clear that the outcome of the consent process would have important implications for the communion. The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion reiterated these concerns in its December resolution which called for the existing moratoria to be upheld. Further consultation will now take place about the implications and consequences of this decision.
It may be time for some, including the occupants of Lambath Palace, to recall the heavy handed strategies employed by the House of Bishops, and our Presiding Bishop, to force the Deputies to pass the "existing moratoria."

That particularly unpleasant piece of legislation, known as resolution B033, defined the "existing moratoria" in this manner:

Resolved, that this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.
That restraint, gained by the emotional manipulation of the House of Deputies, is the only "existing moratoria" recognized by the Episcopal Church. The Windsor Report is a report, nothing more. Canterbury, the Primates and the ACC are free to make recomendations, but they are not able, under our polity, to define what constitutes appropriate "gracious restraint" nor to establish Communion-wide "moratoria." They do not have that authority.

The "existing moratoria" in TEC, defined by B033, was never the mind of the House of Deputies. It is questionable if it was even the mind of the House of Bishops. Reports of the discussion that led to the Bishops passing it suggests that there was some serious arm twisting being employed by Presiding Bishop Griswold.

The fact that B033 was never representative of the mind of TEC meeting in General Convention in 2006 became quite obvious at the next Convention in 2009, when resolution D025 passed both Houses with very little debate. The relevant section follows:

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention recognize that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God's call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, and that God's call to the ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church...
Now, at the time of the passing of D025, I was in agreement with the opinion that D025 did not change anything; it did not rescind B033. As one example, that opinion was articulted by Bp. Epting:

The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops’ passage of resolution D025 does not overturn last General Convention’s call for care and “restraint.” That last resolution (B033) was never a “moratorium” on the ordination and consecration of gay and lesbian persons. It counseled care in approving any bishops whose “manner of life” would cause additional strain on the Anglican Communion.

Quite apart from the press’s (including Episcopal News Service) usual misunderstanding of such things, D025 simply re-asserts what has always been true — the ordination process in The Episcopal Church is governed by the Constitution and Canons of this church...
I find myself having to rethink some of those assumptions today.

First of all, we have to assume, based on the brief statement released from Lambeth Palace, that in Canterbury's mind, "gracious restraint" is indeed synonymous with "existing moratoria." We can play with the meaning all we want, but it seems clear to most people that the phrase "exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion" was indeed intended to be a moratorium in regards to the consecration of gay and lesbian persons.

So, D025 was necessary, in order to clearly state that such a reading of B033 was not the mind of the House of Bishops or the House of Deputies. But, as with all resolutions, it is still simply words, open to various interpretations.

That has all changed now. That a majority of Standing Committees and Bishops have given consent to the consecration of Bishop-elect Glasspool will once and for all put to rest any speculation regarding the interpretation of both B033 and D025.

The message from Lambeth concludes with these ominous words:

...Further consultation will now take place about the implications and consequences of this decision...
The consequences? How about a church that will not justify bigotry in the name of God? How about a church that strives to be a place for all the baptized? How about a church that seeks to raise up leaders that are clearly called by God, without placing artificial stumbling blocks in their way?

Yes, there will be consequences. Thanks be to God.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bishop-elect Glasspool Receives Consent From Bishops

Last week, we learned that Canon Mary Glasspool had received the necessary consents from the Standing Committees to become bishop suffragan of Los Angeles. Today we are informed that she has also received the necessary consents from the bishops with jurisdiction.

Here is a brief statement from Bishop-elect Glasspool:

It is a privilege to serve in a Church gathered around the life, ministry, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our Church takes seriously its leadership, and so engages in a process whereby the lay and clerical members of Standing Committees of The Episcopal Church, as well as bishops from each of its dioceses, have the opportunity through prayer and discernment, to confirm the appropriateness of the election to leadership of each bishop. Thus, I am overjoyed that a majority of Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction have given their consent to the elections of both Bishops Suffragan of the Diocese of Los Angeles.

I am profoundly grateful for the many people - in Los Angeles, in Maryland, and around the world - who have given their prayers, love, and support during this time of discernment. I am also aware that not everyone rejoices in this election and consent, and will work, pray, and continue to extend my own hands and heart to bridge those gaps, and strengthen the bonds of affection among all people, in the Name of Jesus Christ. I am so very blessed to be working with Bishop Jon, Bishop-elect Diane, and the incredible people of the Diocese of Los Angeles; and I offer deep gratitude, as well, to Bishops Chester Talton and Sergio Carranza, whose Christ-centered leadership have moved the Church closer to God's Reign on earth.
From Integrity:

..."Integrity continues in its commitment to turn the resolutions of General Convention into realities on the ground for Episcopalians in every diocese," said the Reverend David Norgard, Integrity President. "Today's affirmation of the election of a superbly qualified candidate as a bishop in the Episcopal Church is good news not just for those who work for the fuller inclusion of the LGBT baptized, but for the whole church"...
From David "I like a good fight" Anderson, speaking for the AAC:

What this means is the majority of The Episcopal Church's leaders - down to the diocesan level throughout America - are exercising no restraint as requested by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the primates of the Anglican Communion. Despite pleas to the contrary, they have given their consent for a partnered lesbian to become a bishop, not just for Los Angeles, but for the whole church...
And yesterday, we heard these wise words from Mark Harris:

...The tipping point has already been reached. There will be all sorts of muttering about how the consents for Canon Glasspool or her actual ordination will spell the end of the Anglican Communion as we know it. It will not...

...In the world of supposedly newsworthy triumphs and defeats the election of Canon Glasspool was touted as yet another occasion for jumping up and down and yelling about the end of the "Anglican Communion as we know it." The call has sounded. Don't believe it this time, which ever way it goes for Canon Glasspool.

There are also those who will claim that in giving consents we will have proof that The Episcopal Church has "walked away" from the Anglican Communion. To the contrary, we will have proof that we have walked into its future, already here...
Congratulations, Bishop-elect Glasspool. Please know that you will be in my prayers.

Pray for the Church.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Who Will Be The New Bishop of Alaska?

The candidates for Bishop of Alaska just completed their "fly about" around the diocese. The electing convention will begin on April 8.

Two of these candidates seem to me to be excellent choices. Look over their materials and watch the videos. Who do you think will be the next Bishop of Alaska?

In an attempt at full disclosure, I will confess that one of these candidates is a friend of mine. Consequently, I may be a bit bias in my choice of the top two candidates. Thus the reason for asking for your opinion.

Now, some of you know me well enough to identify which one is my friend. If so, please keep it to yourself for awhile, ok? Let's let a few others make their more objective opinion known first.

Alaska has its own unique blessings and challenges, which is going to require a particular skill set in their next spiritual leader. You may want to review their diocesan profile before making your choice.

So, let's hear your opinion of this set of candidates. Who do you think will be the next Bishop of Alaska?


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mary Glasspool Receives Consents From Standing Committees

From the Diocese of Los Angeles:

...The Los Angeles Standing Committee reported March 10 that within the last 64 days it has received 61 consents needed to the election of Glasspool, and 78 consents to the election of Bruce. In each election a majority of 56 consents was needed from the counterpart Standing Committees of the 110 dioceses of the Episcopal Church...
We still have to hear from the bishops, but, according to Susan Russell: " this point what we DO know "anecdotally" is that MOST bishops and standing committees are coming out in alignment."

Is this significant? Well, for one thing, it will officially make B033 null and void. I know that some said resolutions passed at General Convention accomplished that, but if you listened carefully to the spin from quite a few of the bishops, they were rather clear that it would take an election to the episcopate, and the necessary consents, to thwart that particular distasteful bit of legislation.

Yes, we may have to hold our breath for a few more days, but I think it's a done deal. Thanks be to God!

Now it will be interesting to observe the reaction in other parts of the globe. I predict that there will be less heat than we might have anticipated. The shift of perspective on these matters over the last few years in the UK is but one example of why I am making such a prediction.

Watch for the announcement on the bishops' consents.


Thursday, March 04, 2010

MadPriest Trusts in God's Redemption

MadPriest, the owner of the well known OCICBW blog, has been informed that his contract will not be renewed at St. Francis. As of May, he will not have a cure.

Jonathan referred to this development in his sermon for the second Sunday of Lent. Ruth Gledhill provides us with a little more information (make sure you read the comments at Ruth's).

Then, of course the extremists had to chime in, making it all about some imaginary blessing service.

What I found particularly noteworthy was Jonathan's response to all of this, as voiced in his sermon:

...However, although I do not believe for a moment that any of this was God's doing, as a Christian and as a priest, I strongly believe that God will redeem it. To put it bluntly, God will bring something good out of the unhappiness. I have to accept that this may not be for my benefit. It may be the church, you people, who receive a blessing because of what you have been through. Maybe it will be the new vicar whose life will be fulfilled by his or her appointment at this church.

I am not Jesus. I don't claim to have anywhere near the fortitude and faith that he possessed. But I do use his example to inform my attitude towards my own predicament. I have my own Jerusalem to face and it will be painful. It has been painful. However, something of God will be made possible because of it. Just as something of God was made possible through Christ's suffering...
If you visit his blog, you will see that he has continued to add new posts, with his usual rapier wit and musical interludes. Apparently, he really does trust in God's redemptive power, and has not let this news turn him bitter.

I know I have something to learn from Jonathan's example. You see, at the moment, I'm still more than a bit disenchanted with the institutional church, for various reasons. And this development doesn't help.

There's thousands of blogs out there. Most are pretty much the same. But Jonathan set out, from the very beginning, to try to create something different. He has been constantly pushing the boundaries of what one can do with this medium. In the process, he has created a close online community. In my opinion, OCICBW is one of the most outstanding blogs currently on the net.

Yet, someone with such demonstrated creativity and community building skills cannot find a place in the institutional church? Unbelievable. But, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least four highly gifted people who are currently being held at arm's length by the Church because, for one reason or another, they are considered "a risk." What I want to know is why is that a bad thing?

If bishops and search committees continue to believe the wise thing to do is to "play it safe" and never take any risks (yes, unfortunately, being "creative" is considered "risky" in many Church circles), then they can expect a small return on their investment. And, if they continue to insist on running a Church as if it were a business, with "risk management" factors built into their personel choices, I'll take a pass, tyvm.

Give me the risk takers, those living on the edge. That's where you'll find the modern day prophets, those seeking the movement of God in this present moment, and not afraid to follow where it leads.

But, in the end, it does all come back to redemption, doesn't it? As I rave and grow more fierce and wild, I am reminded that my life has proven to me over and over again the truth in Paul's line: "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."

All things work for good.

Learning to see how God is constantly redeeming this world takes constant practice. It requires us to set aside our view of our lives as a series of good times and bad times, with shades of both in between. Instead, we seek out the movement of God. And the movement of God is always from glory to glory. Our task is to set aside our perceptions of what is going on, and then move with God, from faith, to faith, and so becomes partners in God’s work of redemption.

Yes, all will be redeemed. Maybe even that dear institution we call the Church. Imagine that.

Keep Jonathan in your prayers.

And pray for the Church.