Thursday, July 30, 2009

A voice from St. Clement's

Another good reflection, post-General Convention, this one from the Rev'd. Canon Gordon Reid, Rector of St. Clement's, Philadelphia....

Our Church has been having a busy time, with General Convention having stirred up as many controversies as usual. Although I certainly do not agree with all the conclusions they came to, nevertheless I was impressed by the civility and candour with which weighty matters were discussed and decided on. This is in marked contrast with much of the hysteria and sheer unpleasantness of many of the opponents of the Episcopal Church.

I must say that the people who amuse me the most for sheer illogicality are those who accept the ordination of women, but who then react violently against the ordination of openly gay priests and Bishops. Talk about “straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel”!

Such people claim to believe every word of the Bible, but there is less in the Bible against homosexuality than there is about women being decidedly inferior to men and having no part at all to play in conducting the Church’s worship. If they really believed the Bible, no woman would be allowed to read a lesson in church, much less be a priest.

In the same way, Jesus is not recorded as saying anything against homosexuality, but he had a good deal to say against divorce. Yet many of the priests and bishops who have left the Episcopal Church over its many liberal stands have themselves been divorced and remarried, sometimes more than once. I find it hard to believe them when they say they are against homosexuality because the Bible forbids it. They don’t really believe what the Bible says at all.

Well, neither do I – at least not in the way that fundamentalists, both Catholic and Protestant, claim to believe the Bible. I am an Anglican because I believe that along with the Bible, we have to take into consideration both tradition and reason. And as far as tradition is concerned, it can be changed, and often has been changed through the centuries. For example, it used to be a cause of excommunication for a Christian to serve in the military. And Roman Catholics ought to remind themselves how short a time ago it was that they could be excommunicated for reading eh Bible in English, and how many martyrs were burned at the stake in England and Europe for this “crime”.

These traditions were changed because of the third leg of our doctrinal stool – Reason. As cultures change, so the Church has changed with them, while always maintaining the same Good News of Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection. All else is secondary and can be changed. The Church has done this boldly from the beginning: even in Scripture it is recorded that the apostles in Jerusalem decided that Gentiles could be admitted to the Church without circumcision – now there’s a revolution for you if you are a Jew!

So although I wish that the Churches could act together and that the Anglican Church did not have to go its own way on certain things, nevertheless I cannot rationally oppose this – after all we certainly had no hesitation in going our own way in the 16th century when we broke away from Rome because of the corruptions of the medieval Papacy. I am quite content to remain an Epicopalian, because I am sure that schism and the self-righteousness that comes of thinking that only I am right and everybody else is wrong, so that I cannot worship our Father with them, is far worse than the mess and muddle which has always been one of the consequences of the Anglican insistence on Reason as well as Scripture and Tradition. Some would say more strongly that this is indeed one of the glories of Anglicanism. I used to dislike the phrase used by Episcopalians in the 60’s and 70’s about our Church as “the thinking man’s Catholicism”, but it had some truth in it (as long as we are willing to add “the thinking man’s Evangelicalism” too!)

If you want certainties, the Episcopal Church is not for you. But we walk in faith, not sight, and the only certainty we need is that our Lord Jesus Christ was sent by a loving Father to live, die and rise for us, and that we now walk with him in his Spirit till we come to that heavenly Kingdom where we shall “know as we are known”, face to face with reality.

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