Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Inclusivity Revisited

In lieu of an update while I still explore my alternatives, I am reposting this 2014 article, because I deem it most relevant to the decisions I face just now in evaluating what it truly means to join an "inclusive" church. Obviously, ECUSA has not achieved all that it expected from its plan to "broaden" its outreach while deposing those who dared to oppose its progressive agenda.

There is no future for those who would strive to remain orthodox within the oppressive atmosphere of ECUSA. This post from 2014 says it all:


Consider the following Canon of the Episcopal Church (USA), Canon I.17.5:
No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons.
(There is a similar Canon applying to the discernment process for would-be clergy.) The words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity and expression" are the most recent additions to the list of grounds upon which Episcopalians are called not to discriminate. As this Canon's predecessor stood from its adoption in 1964 (at the height of the civil rights movement) until 1982, it read:
Every communicant or baptized member of this Church shall be entitled to equal rights and status in any Parish or Mission thereof. He shall not be excluded from the worship or Sacraments of the Church, nor from parochial membership, because of race, color, or ethnic origin.
With only slight rewording in 1982, the threefold grounds of "race, color, or ethnic origin" remained untouched until General Convention 1994, when the categories were expanded by one Resolution (1994-C020) to include "national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities or age." Most recently Resolution 2012-D002 added the categories "gender identity and expression."

What we see here is a progression from characteristics which define every human being, to characteristics that define only broad segments ("national origin, marital status, ... disabilities or age"), to ones that are much narrower ("sexual orientation" -- meaning, of course, "other than heterosexual"), and concluding with a category that characterizes a tiny minority indeed ("gender identity and expression").

Paradoxically, however, there appears to be an inverse relationship between the number of persons who could be placed within a given category and the sub-categories within that category.  Thus "marital status" breaks down into categories of single, married, divorced or widowed. Likewise, "race" and "ethnic origin", while capable of many gradations, are still defined by less than a dozen boxes on the census forms. But as Facebook (the largest social media site on earth) now is recognizing, there are no less than 58 sub-categories of "gender identity and expression."

Episcopalians point to this progression of smaller and smaller categories as one of increasing inclusivity. "There will be no outcasts in this Church," said Presiding Bishop Browning in 1986.

At the same time, the Episcopal Church has, since around 2000, been alienating hundreds of thousands of churchgoers, and deposing nearly a thousand of its clergy. What single characteristic do you think best identifies with those who have left or have been forced to leave?

If you responded "orthodoxy in tradition and belief," you would be correct.

And that fact speaks volumes about the Church's "inclusivity."

When the disenfranchised minorities pressed over the last ten years for their listing in the anti-discrimination Canons, where were the voices speaking up for the orthodox? It's a good question.

One could certainly put forth a modest proposal to rectify this increasing discrimination against the orthodox by those in ECUSA. It would propose to amend Canon I.17.5 (and its clergy counterpart) to read as follows:
No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, orthodoxy of belief or practice, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons.
I can see people at once objecting: "How do we define 'orthodoxy of belief' or 'orthodoxy of practice'?" To which the obvious answer is: "Difficulty of definition was not an objection to adding the words 'gender identity and expression' in 2012, so why should we get hung up on definitions? Judging from the number of clergy being deposed, the Church leadership has no difficulty whatsoever in discerning just who is 'orthodox'."

Consider: we already have attacks on bishops and other clergy who do not march with the LGBTs, or who do not speak out enough against anti-gay laws, or who will not back same-sex marriages and blessings. (Does the word "homophobe" sound familiar?)

The addition of these words to the Canon would at least furnish a basis for trying to limit or end such attacks. They would also create a "safe harbor" for those who read their Scripture as it had been read for at least two thousand years before General Convention 2003.

And do you know what? That is exactly why such an amendment would never be adopted at General Convention.

For those now in charge of the Church want to keep up the pressure on the orthodox to go elsewhere. They are all for inclusion, but not of the traditional or orthodox. Those who once held power must apparently pay for the years of oppression they (albeit unintentionally) inflicted on minorities -- simply by being who they are, and upholding their traditional understandings of Holy Scripture.

It is Father Neuhaus' Law in spades: "Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed." The tendency to limit orthodoxy by making it optional, and then to proscribe it altogether, cannot be stopped so long as the new liberalism of self-identity holds sway.

And why is that? In the essay just linked, Fr. Neuhaus gives a very perceptive explanation:
Orthodoxy, no matter how politely expressed, suggests that there is a right and a wrong, a true and a false, about things. When orthodoxy is optional, it is admitted under a rule of liberal tolerance that cannot help but be intolerant of talk about right and wrong, true and false. It is therefore a conditional admission, depending upon orthodoxy’s good behavior. The orthodox may be permitted to believe this or that and to do this or that as a matter of sufferance, allowing them to indulge their inclination, preference, or personal taste. But it is an intolerable violation of the etiquette by which one is tolerated if one has the effrontery to propose that this or that is normative for others.
I think Fr. Neuhaus has it exactly right. To adhere to tradition is to adhere to standards of right and wrong. People could disagree over particulars, and it was possible to have debates about the finer points. But no longer:
With the older orthodoxy it is possible to disagree, as in having an argument. Evidence, reason, and logic count, in principle at least. Not so with the new orthodoxy. Here disagreement is an intolerable personal affront. It is construed as a denial of others, of their experience of who they are. It is a blasphemous assault on that most high god, “My Identity.” Truth-as-identity is not appealable beyond the assertion of identity. In this game, identity is trumps. An appeal to what St. Paul or Aquinas or Catherine of Sienna or a church council said cannot withstand the undeniable retort, “Yes, but they are not me!” People pack their truths into what Peter Berger has called group identity kits. The chief item in the kit, of course, is the claim to being oppressed.
Oppression means that there are victims and oppressors, and the latter must pay for their sins against the victims. But first, they must forced to acknowledge the error of their orthodox ways. Are they against "being inclusive" or "being accepting"? Who would dare so be? So hit them with guilt -- after all, they are rich, white Episcopalians:
The proponents of truth-as-identity catch the dissidents coming and going. They say their demand is only for “acceptance,” leaving no doubt that acceptance means assent to what they know (as nobody else can know!), [and] is essential to being true to their authentic selves. Not to assent is not to disagree; it is to deny their humanity, which, especially in churches credally committed to being nice, is not a nice thing to do.
The culture of identity, however, is one of increasing fragmentation. For very few others can have shared all the experiences you have gone through to make you what you are -- i.e., there is no longer any common ground of experience. And the lack of common ground is the ultimate barrier to consensus and agreement on going forward. Appeals to past tradition and Scripture fall on deaf ears:
This helps explain why questions such as quota-ized representation, women’s ordination, and homosexuality are so intractable. There is no common ground outside the experiential circles of identity by which truth is circularly defined. Conservatives huff and puff about the authority of Scripture and tradition, while moderates appeal to the way differences used to be accommodated in the early church (before ca. 1968), but all to no avail. Whatever the issue, the new orthodoxy will not give an inch, demanding acceptance and inclusiveness, which means rejection and exclusion of whatever or whomever questions their identity, meaning their right to believe, speak, and act as they will, for what they will do is what they must do if they are to be who they most truly are. “So you want me to agree with you in denying who I am?” By such reasoning, so to speak, the spineless are easily intimidated.
Those who are not intimidated simply grow weary of the endless attacks on their orthodoxy, and the  stridency of those behind the attacks. But both kinds end up leaving -- not just in the hope of finding peace and quiet, but also because being constantly on the defensive is both spiritually debilitating and physically stressful. Religion is not supposed to consist of confrontation, of having continually to justify your faith while being called a "bigot", a "homophobe", and worse.

For traditional conservatives, religion used to be a communal affair. You were baptized in the church, married in the church, and given a funeral in the church -- in the midst of your community. (Indeed, that is the only reason, for example, we know when William Shakespeare was born, when he married, and when he died: the dates are all due to carefully preserved parish records.) The church was, for better or worse, the thread that linked all of your significant life events.

But the point was not that you made the church; instead, you came to the church in all humility, as an infant, and the church thereafter sheltered and supported you as you passed and marked each of life's milestones. It had its own authority, derived from the community that comprised it and the God they  worshipped, while you derived from it the nourishment that came from being part of that community which worshipped God. Nevertheless, it is due to man's fallen nature,which makes him think that he does not need God to help him, that man eternally tries to remake the church in his own image.

There is much more to commend in Fr. Neuhaus' essay of six years ago. Not least is his longer view, in which he contrasts the forces behind today's identity-liberalism with the forces that gave rise to the Anglo-Catholic movement in the 19th century. Both took on their respective cultures. While the latter was transformed in the process, we are unfortunately not yet able to see just what kind of transformation the current ideology will undergo.

Nevertheless, the two movements differ greatly in their essential goals. Anglo-Catholics sought to travel the via media of Anglicanism on a path toward the ultimate reconciliation of Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The modern crop of identity-liberals have no common goal other than to celebrate their own individuality, and to make others respect (and even honor) it. It is difficult to see, at this juncture, just how a church can stay together when the center no longer holds.



Monday, April 24, 2017

Turnings -- a Series (I)

Spring has been slow to come to the Sierras this year. Interspersed with periods of cold and freezing, we have experienced the heaviest rainfall thus far in our recorded history. It is raining even more as I write. The official season will not end until September 30, so the new record being set will keep pushing higher until then.

The copious precipitation is keeping, and will keep, our meadows and fields greener longer than ever this year. Normally they start to turn brown in early to mid-May (which is the usual start of California's "dry" season). The wildflowers are running riot, and the birds and the bees have plenty to do before the weather warms up.

With spring this year came Easter, of course. And with Easter came some significant changes in your Curmudgeon's household.

I still link to this post on the masthead of this blog, because it describes a significant milestone for me: it marks the date I decided I could no longer be a member of ECUSA, due to the blasphemous marriage rites adopted by the House of Bishops in General Convention. Although I had been a member ever since my earliest years (I was baptized into our local parish as an infant, and started singing in the choir at the age of four), June 30, 2015 marks the date when I became a wanderer in search of a denomination. ECUSA itself was irretrievably corrupted, and the choices available within even an hour's driving time were severely limited.

I still cherish nothing but warm feelings for the parish that raised me, and as they remain fully orthodox, I have trespassed upon their generosity by continuing to attend Sunday communion there. But the dichotomy of being now a guest in what was once my home has caused the connection I felt since childhood to be lost. It used to be a coherent part of a larger body for me, but now appears (I speak only for myself) disembodied. Moreover, the parish is undergoing a transition to a new (and as yet unknown) rector, and what it will be like in another year's time is very much an open question (in which I have, for the first time, no role to play).

Meanwhile, my dear wife of forty-five years patiently suffered through this time of limbo with me, until finally she could drift untethered no longer. Following up on an interest that she had developed from our attending a conference of the American Chesterton Society, she began taking instruction last year as a candidate who would follow in the path of that great man (and his wife). At an Easter vigil ceremony on April 15 this year, she was formally received into our local Roman Catholic Church.

And so for the time being (just as the Chestertons were, because Frances was too Anglican to follow G.K. into Catholicism immediately), we are a denominationally divided household. Though we both may of course still attend services and sit and pray together, I cannot take communion any longer with my wife, as she can no longer take communion with me. (If there were an Anglican Ordinariate parish within driving distance, our joint decision might be far less difficult.)

This temporary state of affairs has spurred me to look into just why it must be so. Of course I know the historical reasons, but I know just as certainly that there will not be any denominations after the Second Coming. So if we as Christians will not look to them in the future, why exactly do we have need of them and their arbitrary boundaries now? Salvation is a matter of faith through God's grace -- even the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics have reached agreement on that much. The other things that divide us are things that the Second Coming will render irrelevant, such as the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, or the catechism, or the prayer book.

Blogging has fallen away precisely because of my preoccupation with these (for me) vital questions. With the five hundredth anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation this year, I have been spending my available time going back through the history of those momentous times, in an effort better to understand how we Christians all ended up where we are today.

Scholars appear to agree that Luther did not intend to start a new denomination, but his own temper and acerbity provoked his opponents to meeting his attacks with wounding parries of their own. Nevertheless, there was not just one Reformation between 1517 and 1648, but many, once Luther gained the princes' attention (with the help of the printing press), and once the momentum he built up then spread across national borders.

There was no one driving force behind these individual movements. Instead, it appears to be a case of many pressures having built up to the point that the customary boundaries of religion and society could not withstand the internal and external onslaughts from so many directions at once.

Likewise, as we today appear to be heading into the end times, there are many currents that threaten, just as they did in the 16th century, to overwhelm and engulf what traditional religious outposts remain to provide society's glue. The secular forces of today are allied as they have never been before by their common contempt for the principles of orthodox Christianity -- by which I mean the faith once handed down to us by the saints. For that matter, the defenders of those principles appear as few and far between.

It is too early in my explorations for me to say whether I will eventually be able to bid Anglicanism goodbye, since its spirit still runs strong in my veins -- no matter how much the weak-willed Welbys of the world appear bent on diluting it. But as I foreshadowed in many posts here long ago, the tocsin is now sounding the passing of the Church of England; its days as a single denomination are numbered. And once the mother salt loses its saltiness, of what use is it to the rest of us Anglicans?

Although I have long considered myself in the tradition of Anglo-Catholics, it is the patrimony of Cranmer, Hooker and Jewel -- and their identification with the Catholic traditions that came before -- that I cherish more than any label of the service that I attend. I respect those worthies' attempts to stay Catholic (i.e., retain the saltiness of their mother church) within the bounds that the English monarchy's own selfish desires set for them. And Sir Thomas More remains one of my great heroes precisely because he refused to yield up to the demands of his monarch his faithfulness to his church.

Luther, though, is a different story. For one thing, unlike the other heroes I have been mentioning, he was inseparable from his own ego, even while he no doubt believed in his heart he was unable to do (or stand) other than as he did. But his sheer inability to see other points of view made him into a one-note record: he either drowned you out, or drove you away, and he cared not which, just so long as you ceased offering opposition to his views. There was nothing to admire in his scorn for Erasmus, who tried so hard to keep Luther from burning all the bridges that originally tied him to Catholicism. After their final and very public rupture in 1526, the rest is history. And western Christianity has never recovered, but become only more and more splintered.

So as I continue with my readings and researches, I hope to put before you from time to time some preliminary results, as well as pointers toward future and further inquiries, along my path to a new discernment. I invite you, as always, to share your civil comments and insights as you are moved to do so by what appears here. And I thank you for your patience and indulgence as this old dog tries to find a place where he may lay his head. Please keep us in your prayers -- may God bless you all.








Saturday, April 1, 2017

Episcopal Church Forms Title Company, Acquires Law Firm

Unable to obtain title policies any more on any of the thousands of properties held at the national, diocesan or local parish level, the Episcopal Church (USA) announced plans today to use part of its endowment to establish its own company to provide title insurance for its members. At the same time, ECUSA announced it has acquired a national law firm in an effort to control its litigation expenses, which reportedly are out of control.

"The [title insurance] problem appears to be with our [so-called] Dennis Canon," said a Church spokesperson at the national headquarters in New York City. After a full review of the more than 90 cases in which the title to church property has been disputed in the last sixteen years, the national association of title insurance companies recommended last month that no further title policies be given to any parish, diocese or other entity affiliated with ECUSA, or to any person purchasing property from any Church unit.

"All we have been told," the spokesperson continued, "is that multiple uncertainties over the meaning, application and effect of the Dennis Canon, as demonstrated by the extremely variegated reception it has had in State courts across the country, make it impossible for title companies reasonably to assess the risks of insuring such properties. And without being able to assess the risks, they are unable to set any premiums for such coverage. So, if a property was ever at any time arguably under the strictures of the Dennis Canon, they just won't issue a policy for it any more."

Asked whether it was a problem that the Dennis Canon purports to create a nationwide trust in favor of ECUSA that is unrecorded in any State, the spokesperson admitted: "We understand that is a significant part of the problem, yes."

And why can't the Church simply proceed to record trust documents in every State, to get around that problem?

"Well, that's why we resorted to the Canon in the first place," the spokesperson responded. "We simply could never count on the over 7,000 individual parishes across the country agreeing to sign such documents. So we just created the trust on our own -- and it worked very well for the first twenty years, because no one ever noticed what we had done. But ever since that case in South Carolina -- the Wiccam case, or whatever its name was -- there have been nearly a hundred cases brought either to enforce or to nullify Dennis Canon trusts."

"And we've reached a decision, just like the title companies, that we can't continue in this fashion. So we're forming our own Title Insurance Company of The Episcopal Church for Terrae Omni Ecclesiae -- that Latin part means 'all Church properties'.  That abbreviates as TICTECTOE, which we think is rather a handy mnemonic for our clergy and vestries."

In a separate announcement today, ECUSA gave a nod to its burgeoning litigation activity on all fronts, which to date has included: (1) filing suit against its own Church Insurance Company; (2) being sued by its own former employees; and (3) bringing suit against the donor of one of its most valuable properties, to say nothing of (4) suing over 90 of its former parishes, dioceses, bishops, and clergy. The statement released from its 815 Second Avenue headquarters reads as follows:
The Episcopal Church (USA) is pleased to announce its acquisition of the national law firm of Dewey Sooem and Howe, in order to bring the handling of all civil and ecclesiastical litigation under one roof. "We see this as a natural continuation of our policy to serve Jesus by having all our legal matters handled in house," said Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

In order to avoid violating legal professional norms, all partners in the famed firm have agreed to accept priestly orders in the Church; associates will be ordained as deacons. While the salaries they will be paid will not even approach what they had earned in their own firm, a partner said off the record that they were handsomely compensated by the buyout, and further that, as clergy, they could now look forward to the extremely generous benefits paid by the Church Pension Fund.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry stated that the $160 million expense of the acquisition will be offset by future savings in fees paid to outside law firms in the various States, which Curry said had cost the Church and its 110 dioceses over $60 million to date. "We will make up the cost in just five to eight years," he said. "From that point forward, litigation for the Church will be an addition to our bottom line, instead of the constant subtraction it has been till now. Moreover, when not busy with litigation, the firm's members will be available for us as supply priests for all the new missions we are hoping to establish in the coming years. So from our point of view, it's all win-win."