Since I started looking for a church, the one that has appealed to me the most has been the Episcopal church. I liked the Lutheran church, too- in practice it was very similar, but I wasn;t excited about it having Luther’s name attached to it, and I felt like a British church was slightly more culturally relevant to me than a German church, although the preference is only mild.
Anyway, when I look for a direction to go, a way to follow Christ, Anglicanism (and since I’m in the US, that means the Episcopal church) continues to beckon as an attractive and meaningful path. In all honesty, the odds are decent that this is the direction that I will eventually go, once I get all of my issues sorted out.
Of all the mainline Protestant denominations I am familiar with, the Episcopal church appealed to me the most for several reasons. I like the liturgical aspect, and I like the communion/eucharist-centered service. However, my concerns with Episcopalianism/Anglicanism that I am going to express in this post also apply to the rest of mainline Protestantism So keep that in mind. In general, I am more interested in older Protestant denominations, though, i.e., the ones that came more or less directly out of the Reformation.
Anglicanism’s via media is very appealing to me. In theory, it has the good parts of Catholicism- the meaningful liturgy and ritual, an ordained clergy that can trace apostolic succession, and a lot of tradition, coupled with basic Protestant theology, a lot of tolerance, and (in theory) a tradition of latitudinarianism that allows for a pretty theologically diverse bunch to all be united in one communion.
I also really, really like Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. If allAnglicans were like him, I would join the Episcopal church without reservation. He is intelligent, creative, insightful, and he is able to maintain the same kind of balance between theological orthodoxy and progressive social action and an inclusive attitude that Brian McLaren advocates. Except where McLaren is kind of adorably fumbling about it, the Archbishop does it all with such elegance. Unfortunately, it seems that instead of a church of Rowan Williamses, the Anglican communion is more a church of John Shelby Spongs and Peter Akinolas, tearing at each others’ throats, and I want nothing to do with either of those types.
First I want to address my Bishop Spong problem, and it’s really not a problem with Spong per se so much as it is a problem with theological liberalism in general. But given how outspoken Spong has been, and the kind of “Christianity” he has advocated, he’s kind of my lightning rod for everything I think is wrong with that side of the theological spectrum. In my opinion, theological liberalism is dross. Why be a Christian is you don;t really believe in the empty tomb, the incarnation, the resurrection? Why bother?
As Rowan Williams put it in his eloquent (if slightly academic) response to Spong’s 12 theses, back when Williams was the Bishop of Monmouth,
For the record: I have never quite managed to see how we can make sense of the sacramental life of the Church without a theology of the risen body; and I have never managed to see how to put together such a theology without belief in the empty tomb. If a corpse clearly marked ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ turned up, I should save myself a lot of trouble and become a Quaker.
If Jesus is just a mortal philosopher, I see no reason to bother with Christianity at all. I realize that accepting Jesus as God means having to deal with some hard issues and maybe living with some serious paradoxes, but I see it as the only way to be a Christian, and I want to be a Christian.
My point is that mainline Christianity in general and the Episcopal Church in specific are so riddled with theological liberalism that I don’t know if they’re really worth bothering with, or if I’ll just be frustrated all the time.
At the same time, I think religious fundamentalism is equally ridiculous. Both religious fundamentalism and theological liberalism are the bastard children of modernism, and are in my mind the chief case for why modernism was horribly bad for Christianity.
If the Episcopal church could find a way to be progressive without compromising the essential beliefs of Christianity, it would, in my opinion, be the best of all worlds. Unfortunately, at least the American Episcopal church seems to be doing a whole lot of compromising.
I have other concerns with the Episcopal church, too. Chief among them is that so far, I haven’t seen much in the way of authentic community. Juice and cookies in the undercroft do not a community make. I imagine that part of this is a matter of finding the right parish, and also of persisting- real community is like a living thing, and living things don’t usually spontaneously spring fully grown into existence.
There’s also a teeny tiny bit of stigma attached, since becoming an Episcopalian would mean pretty much embracing the ultimate expression of WASPishness. But I guess I can deal with that.
Next, I think the worldwide Anglican Communion’s current shenanigans over homosexuality are shameful. Don’t get me wrong- I think Christianity’s attitude towards homosexual people has been decidedly un-Christian. However, I think that by stepping out on its own to ordain gay bishops and bless homosexual unions, the American Episcopal church pretty much pissed all over the idea of unity within the Communion. It was rash and reckless, and probably (if also unfortunately) too soon.
At the same time, the response of the Northern Virginia parishes has been tantamount to “taking our toys and going home” when the game doesn’t go their way, which is equally disrespectful to unity and togetherness. And Peter Akinola’s response, to actually promote the schism, has been the crowning deed of the whole affair, completely un-called-for and inappropriate, displaying a kind of scorn and derision to the Anglcian Communion as a whole that completely undermines everything that it is supposed to stand for.
Whatever it turns out that God really wants, I’m pretty sure it’s not recriminations and schism. The actions of both sides of this debate betray a disregard for Christian unity and brotherhood/sisterhood that makes me very sad. Kudos to the Archbishop for dis-inviting both sides to the Lambeth conference.
Now, as a non-Anglican, it can be argued that the whole thing is none of my business. But at the same time, I’m considering becoming an Anglican, and so the situation is important to me. I’m not excited about the prospect of joining up and then being caught in the ultra-liberal faction of a schism that never should have happened in the first place.
But I have to weigh that concern against the incredible good that I see in Anglicanism. I feel the sense of authoritative-ness that I’m looking for, both in the clergy and in the institution. I feel that there is so much room for spirituality and even mysticism (especially with Rowan Williams in the Archbishop’s seat), and also Christlike life and social action. The churches and the liturgy are beautiful, and they bring a sense of holiness and connection to God.
In any case, this is the situation where I am seriously torn. I want very badly to go down this road, but I am afraid that the obstacles are simply too great.
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