Thursday, June 7, 2007

We Like Sheep

Episcopal Café recently featured an article entitled "Have You Given Up Hope And Reason", which raises questions about statements made by Rev. Dr. Leslie Fairfield in an interview posted at the Diocese of Pittsburgh website. Dr. Fairfield's remarks generally propound the worn myth that the Episcopal Church is divided into two “camps” – one that believes in the true Triune God and one that does not – rather than the real division between those who want to stay within the Episcopal Church (the majority, which encompasses a wide variety of theological views) and the those who wish to leave (a group apparently united on their views of homosexuality but diverse in most other respects).

Two features, however, were noteworthy. First, as John Chilton pointed out at the Café, was Dr. Fairview’s assault on scientific understandings of certain aspects of human behavior, thoughts, and emotions. I find it fascinating both in the context of the larger debate about religion and science and as an odd fish plopped into the pond of the current troubles within the Episcopal Church. I hope to discuss it further at some later date, but for now, I'd like to simply point out the second thing that struck me in the interview, which was this throwaway line from Dr. Fairfield:

“To sum it up, Modernism uses all the old familiar Christian words, but changes all the meanings. And it neglects to tell the laity.”

What was interesting to me was not the usual charge that They (for Dr. Fairfield, the “Modernists,” who apparently are all those who do not share his theological views) do not “truly” believe in Jesus Christ or a personal God, but rather that They are an “It” who “neglects to tell the laity.”

Bullseye. So the supposed divide between the two opposing “camps” in TEC is clergy- (and bishop) driven and we dumb sheep, the laity, have had the wool pulled over our eyes.

Well, it comes as no surprise that there are theological words being tossed to and fro and that most of the current unpleasantedness has been driven by clergy. However, it is news that at least some of the self-proclaimed righteous think that the heart of the problem is that we in the pews are woefully ignorant of what our clergy and fellow pew-sitters “really” mean when we gather for worship, speak, stand, kneel, and sing all the words of Book of Common Prayer, partake in the Eucharist, meet in Bible study and fellowship, and seek to serve the poor, the sick, and those who are distress. Apparently what people like Dr. Fairfield can see, and we cannot, is that the root cause of the troubles is that our clergy have swallowed Modernist theology hook, line, and sinker in seminary and ever since have been bound and determined to sneak it into our chalice cups, on the sly. It looks, sounds, and feels like the real thing, but, of course, it couldn't possibly be.

Aside from the fact that many of us in the pews have not only critically read some so-called Modernist theologians, but know more than a little about the history of and trends in Western thought, pro and anti-Modern, Post-Modern, etc., the real insult here is what it says about all the clergy who are not joining the charge to leave TEC. Those clergy (no doubt like many of their colleagues in the other "camp"), spend virtually all their time doing the same things – leading traditional worship, visiting the sick, caring for the needy, burying the dead, baptizing, marrying, and pastoring, all the while puzzling over budgets, staff problems (if, in fact, there are any staff to worry about), how to pay the heating bills the next winter, what to do when person A and person B clash, as they have been for the many years they have been in the parish together, etc., etc. Most clergy have also made great sacrifices in deciding to accept a calling to ministry, financial and otherwise, whether it is a first or second “career” for them. They work hard, have little time to relax or care for their own needs, pray, read, and speak the same "old familiar Christian words" day in and day out and do their best to live by them.

So what’s the difference? Some believe it’s imperative to preach and practice that GLBT persons should be fully included in the life of the church and in society in general, and some believe that they cannot share the same church with those who do. As far as I can see, that’s it, give or take different emphases on mission, different worship styles (low, high, contemporary – all of which flavors are practiced by persons on the conservative and liberal sides of the church political spectrum). It goes without saying that this difference has become the fault line in the church, over which deep divisions have and may continue to occur. But it’s got nothing to do with clergy “neglecting” to tell the laity about their seminary training in theology. Nor is it credible that legions of clergy are out serving in parishes just “pretending” to believe in God, secretly crossing their fingers, and not “meaning” any of the words they stand at the altar and say in the name of Jesus Christ, feeding his body and blood to his sheep before them.

Maybe it's time for us sheep to speak up and call off the real wolves who seek to herd and divide us. We are not "pretending." We are not coming to church, working in mission, or sharing in the Eucharist for the sake of the god of Modernism. We believe and we're not going away.


Grandmère Mimi said...

Klady, I liked the way you picked up on the use of Modernism to turn the "opposition" into non-persons. That makes the criticism easier, because it's a thing that you criticize rather than a person.

This pew-warmer is speaking out, but I don't know that any besides those who pretty much agree with me already are paying attention.

It would be difficult for me to believe that vast numbers of clergy swallowed Modernism hook, line, and sinker in the seminaries, and are now faking it. That's a long stretch.

klady said...

I suppose this was rhetorical overreaction on my part, but I guess it really (may I say "pisses") me off every time I read such nonsense and think of the so-called "liberal" priests I know who function very much like any of the most "orthodox" variety, who were called to ministry, and have served, day in and day out, adhering to and preaching fundamentally the same beliefs the conservatives claim to subscribe to. There is no "new" thing going on in the derogatory sense the dissenters claim, no disemboweled liturgies, no expurgated creeds. While there is something to be said for some liturgical innovations, and I personally have no problem with many of them, especially when they are done with care, the fact of the matter is that in most places in TEC, church goes in much the same fashion it always has.

As much as the Matt Kennedys of the world drive me batty, I strongly suspect that when he's not blogging about denying people the Eucharist or plotting strategies for the demise of TEC and establishment of whatever it is he thinks should take its place, even he is ministering to the people in his parish in much the same ways as those he despises. Yet the Big Lie that we're all so different goes on.