Thursday, July 05, 2018

2018 General Convention, Day 3

Though the legislative sausage-making has barely only begun, and it's way too early to make predictions, the "buzz" is that some move toward Prayer Book revision is getting more traction than I, personally, had expected. The SCLM's "Option Two" proposal (get better acquainted with the Prayer Book we have) appears headed for oblivion. 

Leaving the whole marriage issue aside, the energy toward revision emanates from the discomfort felt in some quarters with language that might be understood by someone with no theological formation as implying that God is "a guy in the sky," or, as a once-popular euphemism puts it, "the man upstairs." So the masculine pronouns--he, him, his--are the putative primary offenders here. (There is another stratum that objects to any pronouns, masculine or feminine, that support the notion of binary gender, but I won't go down that rabbit hole here). Closely following are terms that are felt to denote patriarchy--Lord, Kingdom, and the like. And, of course, there's Father, as in the First Person of the Trinity. While nobody in this conversation, to my knowledge, disputes that the Second Person of the Trinity became incarnate two millennia ago as a male human being, there is a resistance, when not referring specifically to the historical Jesus, to using Son. The Holy Spirit seems to get a pass.

I'm not going to solve this issue, or persuade anybody of anything, in a blog post. And I've paid attention to the arguments; this is nothing new. So all I want to do here is flag the idea that Christianity is a revealed religion. Literally, "you can't make this stuff up." We know nothing about God that God has not decided to make known to us. There is general revelation, in nature and in the human intuition. There is the supreme revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ. And there is specific revelation about God, made available to us in the words of sacred scripture. (Ordinands in the Episcopal Church are required to profess belief that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are "the word of God.")

We didn't invent God. God has self-disclosed to us. And part of what God has self-disclosed is an identity as Father, the Father of the Eternal Son, who is Lord of lords and King of kings. That's what it is. That's the revelation of God. Does that information exhaust the reality of who God is? Heavens, no. Is God a man, or any sort of male? Certainly not. Christian tradition has been clear on that all along. Is God revealed in masculine gender categories, and not feminine or neuter gender categories? Yes, he is. Those are the cards we've been dealt, and it's above humankind's pay grade (to say nothing of the competency of the General Convention) to ask for a re-deal. 

I get it that some find this reality very troubling. It's not my place to dispute anybody's experience or analyze their motives. But, I believe our collective invitation is to engage things that are challenging, even sources of pain, with courage and faith, looking for a way through and not a way around. The language about God that is in our liturgical tradition, including all the masculine pronouns, is there, I dare say, because God put it there (by putting it in scripture). Even if it were possible to felicitously render our liturgical texts in ways that skirt the offensive language and somewhat resembles actual spoken English and does not fall into heresy, an aspiration yet to be demonstrated, we would be stepping outside to scope of our authority in doing so.

I expect to be pretty much a voice crying in the wilderness on this, but I had to get it out there.

Since I'm writing in the late morning, and there is more to happen today, there will probably be a supplementary post late this evening.

9 comments:

Mark Harris said...

Bishop Dan: Good rumination. On a local level (St. Peter's, Lewes, DE) we are a farily consertavie, but progressive, parish. That is, given to keeping the pronoun and genender specific references to persons of the Trinity pretty much as received, but occasionally making variations (usually in a liturgically useful way) as a way of reminding us not to be simplistic in our visioning of God's character. So Creator, Redeemer, Incarnate One, etc, show up, as to alternatives to Lord, King, etc. But the norms of usage given by the BCP are retained, and the norms are attended to, even if they are not absolute. In blessing couples on the anniversary of their marriage, we use "these two persons" or "this couple" rather than "this man and this woman." That is pretty easy. All of which is to say we mostly work with language that has informed us in our time in living in a faith community, and we are pretty conservative in language. But we work for inclusive language when possible, and variations as a way of stretching the mind and heart.

One of the more interesting ssues is not about pronoun language, but about how we appropriate bits and pieces of Roman Catholic piety, brought by the many cross-overs from the RC Church. About a third of our members are former RC. About a third (not the same but overlapping) are Gay. About a third Episcopalian, and the rest, who knows? Not too many radicals (sigh), not too many visionaries (sigh again.) but it is a vibrant and health church SOLIDLY part of the Episcopal Church.

Hope your week goes well. Having been in a minority position in the church all my life, I have some sense of how it must be for your at times. I am glad you are there even if we would not agree often on things. I'm sorry I am not.

Kofi Wing said...

Thank you, Bishop Martins.

I am still praying that some sort of miracle will come out of Genera Convention, even when we think all hope of retaining the historic faith within the Episcopal Church is lost. Perhaps it will happen when we have lost all hope, to show that "power belongs to God" and not to us.

Speaking of power, it has been said by someone (I don't remember who), that the mark of a true Christian is how they treat those over whom they have power. I think that the majority of the Episcopal church has one last chance to prove their Christian faith in how they use their power over the Communion Partners. If they allow us to do what we believe we have to do, they will prove that they have some measure of Christian charity left in them. If they do not, that will (I think) be a warrant for those of us who have traditional convictions to go into open rebellion, taking St. Athanasius as our patron. I may be getting ahead of myself on that, so its a good thing I am just a layman.

This will also be the test of whether Bishop Curry's much-vaunted talk of "love" amounts to anything.

We hear plenty of people calling themselves prophetic. The most liberal priest I have ever met made a very wise comment: "Prophets are very conservative, they call us back to the old ways." Also, any self-appointed prophet is not a prophet, since the Old Testament prophets all seem to have entered the prophetic calling only very reluctantly, after much urging from God. The prophets balance their message with insistence on both justice and tradition.

Episcopalians talk all day long about being "inclusive," not realizing that they usually mean excluding the so-called "exclusive." As for "True Inclusiveness According to the Word of God" (a sermon title that Fleming Rutledge once used), see Romans 11:32: "God has consigned all men to disobedience, in order that he may have mercy upon all."

Richard+ said...

There are some dangers to dropping the traditional formula for the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) that worry me. I have attended services where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are replaced with Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. My problem there is that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each participate fully in all three of these actions. It is not the Father alone who creates -- Scripture is clear that creation occurred through the Word (Son) spoken as the Spirit moved over the face of chaos bringing order. The Son is not alone in Redeeming us: the Father sent the Son to save us and the Spirit empowered the Son in his redemptive ministry. And it is not the Holy Spirit alone who Sanctifies us: Sanctification involves, and is impossible without, a relationship to the Father through the Son. I would hate to see us settle fop some modalistic heresy based primarily on our inability to fully comprehend God. The fact is that most of us cannot fully comprehend God as he has revealed himself to us, much more than how is is in his entirety.

Steven Hardy said...

In addition to what Richard said, I have to wonder if they realise that such a change will render their baptisms invalid?

Greg said...

Bishop Martins, you and I disagree on many things in the church. I support the ordination of women and LGBT individuals as bishops, priests, and deacons, as well as same-sex marriage. However, I think I have found an area where you and I agree. Please, I am begging you, vote against a comprehensive revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Besides the fact that I love the 1979 Prayer Book, I also believe that it is the culmination of over three thousand years of belief and worship and contains liturgies from Judaism, the Eastern Church, and the Western Church. What I am hearing about a comprehensive revision would not be a simple translation from Hebrew, Latin or Greek, but would be a changing of words. Changing the words of the liturgies would change what we believe. What we pray is what we believe. The dust has not even settled on our many battles in the church. I cannot believe we are even discussing a comprehensive revision. We may have a new prayer book in 2030, but there may be very few people left in our church to use it. Thank you so much for representing our diocese, and for working so hard at the General Convention. Personally, I hate church politics. I don't know how you do it. I hope this finds you and Brenda, well. In Christ, Greg Lynch

Unknown said...

Thank you for taking the time to create this blog. Its a helpful peek into a bit of what is going on at Convention for those of us who cannot be there.

Anonymous said...

Our family left the Episcopal church in 2005. We ended up Catholic. On our way out, our biggest struggle was that we had to do our discernment and our leave-taking alone. There was no clergy to guide us (until we approached a Catholic priest). We had no friends to accompany us on our journey. More importantly, there was no priest or bishop to gather together those of us whose conscience could no longer allow us to stay in the Episcopal Church. I appreciate your staying to shepherd your flock. I can’t help but wonder what the church will be like for the young children in your diocese when you retire and they are teens and young adults. You are in our prayers.

Dale Coleman+ said...

This is vital. The language names the members of the Holy Trinity. Father was and is the name the eternal Son names the Father. He names Himself as Son. The Spirit is named (along with comforter) but named. These are not Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, because those are the job descriptions of the Trinity. I preach every Trinity Sunday that we receive the names, and then we pray to the persons named. A few years ago there was a request from the Presbyterian Church to offer new names for the Trinity. I sent in Moe, Larry, and Curley. Then because they are all male names, I also sent in Rock, Paper, Scissors. I received a nice thank you.

Fr. Chip, SF said...

+Dan, My prayers are with you in this mess. There's no other descriptor for TEC since 1976.
I had to leave, my ordination is now with another Anglican group. The further prostitution of the Bokk of (no longer) Common Prayer is disheartening, to say the least.
The 1979 BCP, with seven liturgies for the Eucharistic Feast is seconded only by the Lutherans, with five. Common prayer? I think not.
My heart aches, especially for you, as the one holdout for the "Faith Once Delivered". That faith is gone, never to be seen again, I fear.
God's Peace to you.