Friday, July 21, 2006

An Episcopal Priest Writes His Parish

A good defense for the traditionalist perspective...

Father Dow Sanderson Writes His Parish

From the Rector’s Desk…

From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity,

Good Lord, deliver us.

These words from The Great Litany are familiar to us, remembering them as being chanted in Solemn Procession during penitential seasons such as Lent and Advent. It occurs to me that they might also be words on which we all might reflect and pray in our current situation.

On the 28th of June, I wrote, and the Standing Committee affirmed, a statement for the Diocese of South Carolina asking for Alternative Primatial oversight from the Archbishop of Canterbury. From the moment this statement was made public, I have been receiving innumerable letters, e-mails, phone messages etc. that exhibited considerable want of charity. Some have been peppered with profanity of the nastiest sort. I have been accused of “betraying” my ordination vows, and, by appealing to “a crown-appointed, un-elected member of the House of Lords”, as being downright un-American!

Most of these insults I have received with a grain of salt. But some of the letters to the editor that we read in our daily paper have served the purpose of further driving wedges by those who have their own agendas. That is to say, we have been ridiculed as being closed minded, intolerant, bigoted, etc. etc. For the record, our statement begins by rejecting bigotry. Homophobia is a sin. Categorical cruelty, verbal abuse and the like are always sinful. I have friends as well as family who are gay people. Clearly I love and care for them. They are welcome in our lives, in our homes, and in our churches, as are all other fellow-sinners. But loving and including are not the equivalent of blessing and ordaining. So when people write letters that accuse us of intolerance, they are simply using what the Archbishop of Canterbury calls the rhetoric of inclusion as a tool to ridicule anyone who holds to the traditional Christian perspective. It really is ludicrous if followed to its logical conclusion. Was Mother Teresa a bigot? Pope John Paul a shameless homophobe? Of course not! But the shrill voice of condemnation for anyone who dares embrace a traditional view of Christianity would have us think otherwise.

Another tiresome argument is that we conservatives waste our energies on trivial things like sex and gender, while the “real” work of the Gospel like feeding the poor and fighting disease go undone. My cynical side wonders how many of our detractors themselves roll up their sleeves to do such things. But that is not the real issue. The real issue is that many revisionists have embraced a mission for the Church that would make it hard to distinguish from some sort of amalgam of the United Nations and the United Way. In this re-visioned church, acts of mercy and justice are in and of themselves the ultimate purpose and raison d’etre. But the Biblical mandate is still the Great Commission. We exist for the sole purpose of bringing people into a saving relationship with the person of Jesus Christ who is the only name under heaven by which men may be saved. ALL the good works in the world (which we are indeed commanded to do) are ultimately pointless if divorced from a Christological context.

The problem arises when our bishops, priests, missionaries, and seminary professors no longer believe in that scandal of particularity. When one says, as has the Presiding Bishop-elect, that claiming Jesus as the unique way to salvation puts God in a very small box, we have a picture of how great the divide has become. On one side, we have those of us who believe in the Jesus as he is described in the scriptures and the creeds. On the other are those who are intellectually embarrassed by such quaint notions. On one side of the divide, we have those who believe that male and female natures are radically equal but complimentary aspects of being created in the image of God. On the other are those who believe that gender differences are arbitrary and essentially determined by culture. Is the sacrament of Holy Matrimony a participation in the Divine mystery of the Holy Trinity? Or is it a social institution shaped by human culture and adaptable as times and seasons make necessary?

These are some of the profound issues, and I may have already taxed the limits of a parish newsletter. Let me conclude by saying that the Church is not a cafeteria. The Bishop’s job is to guard the faith as it has been received through the ages, and my job as rector is to assure that within the parish of the Church of the Holy Communion, what is taught and lived is the Catholic and Apostolic Faith. You and I are under the authority of Christ’s truth, through which alone we can be made free. But the idol of this world is personal judgment and autonomy. One way brings life. One way brings death. The stakes are that high. May God bless us and keep us as we seek to be faithful. The days ahead are filled with opportunity as well as challenges. I am grateful that we are facing them together with hope and expectancy.


–The Rev. Dow Sanderson is rector, Church of the Holy Communion, Charleston, South Carolina, and President of the Standing Committee of the diocese of South Carolina

No comments:

The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...