6/23/2009

Giving up stuff, Reconstituting, and otherwise saying good by.

Moderator Robert Duncan, to be installed as Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, gave an opening address Monday to the ACNA meeting in Texas. Among other things he had several observations about martyrdom, reconstituting faithful Anglicanism and muscular Christianity. They tell us a lot about the worldview of either the Moderator / Archbishop or the whole of ACNA.

He said, "Many of us have sacrificed a great deal to follow Jesus to this place. Many of us have lost properties and sacred treasures and incomes and pensions and standing and friends."

How true is this? A number of properties and sacred treasures have gone with the realignment group, although for how long in some cases is unclear. Some who left lost incomes, although quite a few, leaving with their parishes, were able to continue. Anyone who leaves the employ of The Episcopal Church stops giving to the Pension Fund and their benefits (which are based on years of service) stop growing. But those who leave do not lose their pensions. They lose the right to continue expanding their pension with the Church Pension Fund. That is precisely why it was wise of the Anglican Communion Network and now ACNA to have a plan in place. As for standing, they left because they thought their standing in what they now believe to be an unChristian entity (The Episcopal Church) was not worth sticking around for. So in all of these elements of martyrdom, the level of suffering is not only less than the glory that is about to be revealed, but for many it is less that as dramatically portrayed. For some the suffering is yet to come as miserable financial times, possible need to return property is determined and salaries are frozen or cut back, or cut out. So how true? True enough, but not in ways that do not also affect people remaining with The Episcopal Church.

We too have parishioners who have lost their parish, treasures, etc. We too have clergy that suddenly are without a job, whose pensions are affected, etc. And, lest we forget, there is the continuing suffering of gay and lesbian members of the Church who still must deal on a regular basis with the results of second-class citizenship.

But this isn't a game of my suffering is greater than yours. In every such struggle there is pain enough to go around. The thing is, when the Moderator calls it out as a special characteristic of the founders of ACNA in these days he is drawing attention narrowly, not broadly. The split off has been caused by and causes suffering in many quarters.

About the last of his list - friends - he is entirely right. We have all lost friends in this mess. One person commenting on a previous blog entry on Distinguished Visitors at ACNA said, "I note that two friends - I hope they still are! - are listed - Bishop Alpha Muhammad and Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi. One of the sad things about all "divorces" is that they strain friendships." They do indeed. I look through the list of clergy deposed in San Joaquin and see names I recognize, or think about people I know in Fort Worth, or remember my friendship with Bob Duncan, I realize the terrible cost of this sort of mess. We lose friends and connections and they not easily found again. Again, it is not unique to the founding members of ACNA, it is true for us all.

Playing the suffering card does not work.

The Moderator then says, "As we begin – as we gather to re-constitute a faithful Anglican Church here in North America – this drawing together of so many fragments from so many places – the Lord just wanted to remind us about conversion and witness and sacrifice, and about our part in each, for the transformation of others. The work is not over yet, in fact, for us, only just beginning. The giving is not complete yet. The Kingdom has not fully come yet. Like Alban (and the unnamed priest who dared to tell Alban about Jesus) we actually stand at the beginning of something, something that will come to be called Anglican."

At the core of my opposition to ACNA and to the Anglican Communion Network before it is the bold, and I believe amazingly erroneous, proposition that The Episcopal Church, its leadership in particular, have forgotten, displaced, thrown out, or otherwise disposed of the faith "once delivered to the Saints," and in particular to the people who came to be called Anglican. The whole justification of ACNA is that The Episcopal Church is no longer Christian, or barring that certainly no longer Anglican. And that is rubbish. Not very good rubbish either. It is judgmental, condemning, and unworthy the best in the critical efforts to continually reform the Church.

Playing the "I'm Christian, you are not", does not work.

The Moderator also said, "

"... Some here will remember the dictums (dare I call them “battle-cries”?) of that muscular Christianity that once reigned in these lands – in Canada and in the US: “No cross, no crown!” “No pain, no gain.” The fugitive priest was ready. The layman Alban was ready. Are we ready? Are we willing?"

The reemergence of the notion of a muscular Christianity is a call to a return to martyrdom, but oddly it is also a call to a kind of strong-man theology, in which if we in America (sorry Canadians and all others of the Americas) just got our bodies in shape we could better reflect the glory that would come to a people whose bodies were as muscular as their faith. We as a Christian nation would perserver. Charles Kingsley seems to have been the great Victorian proponent of this, although he did not like the phrase. (a cartoon of him preaching the word to a young man is to the left.)

Muscular Christianity does not have an unmixed history. It may have spawned the YMCA and basketball and volleyball, but it also produced issue which was decidedly homoerotic, sometimes racists and often picked up by unpleasant people who thought the manly graces, Christian virtues, and the worship of the State all went together just fine. It is decidedly unpleasant to have the Moderator call up this image in his address. Muscular Christianity is filled with the grit and stick-to-it virtues at are clearly manly but also oddly counter intuitive to what we know of many of the Christian virtues.

Having just this week learned the extent to which "no pain, no gain" is false, let me suggest that "some pain, some gain, lots of pain no gain." My knee is swollen having taken on more pain for gain that this miserable body is equipped to handle. As for "no cross, no crown," I thought the whole point of the Cross was a once and for all sort of thing. Perhaps the saying is better, "One Cross, One Crown, many crosses lots of dead people." Oh I know, we all have to suffer, etc. But if our suffering has been taken upon Him, perhaps we need not go in for more suffering to prove our worth. We are worthy not because of our suffering, but because of His.

Muscular Christianity is a distinctly stupid idea.

Well, that's at least how I read it.

I ache for losing friends, but they are lost. I am a member of The Episcopal Church and we are the Anglican Church that is part of the Anglican Communion in this neighborhood. I think muscular Christianity is a really really odd thing to bring up at this time.

Then again, I am not starting a new church either.

I wish the people of ACNA find peace and new grace in being together.

I also hope they understand that we are Episcopalian and we are Anglican and we have no intention of acceding to their judgment of us. We will need to be watchful, for these are difficult times and the wreckage in the fast lane is an unpleasant sight to behold.

34 comments:

Lapinbizarre said...

"Sauce for the goose" time, from David Virtue at the Ft Worth ACNA meeting:

"A number of his [J. Iker's] Ft. Worth priests were recently seen at the Anglican Use conference in Houston. He has told them that if they want to go to Rome, they can do so, but they can't take their property with them."

revkarenj48 said...

And of course the whole notion of "muscular Christianity" has a distinctly hyper-masculine flavor that doesn't make a whole lot of room for women except as pew sitters, casserole makers, and Altar Guild Ladies. Not that any of these things are bad (Lord knows what I would do without the Altar Guild!), but the vision itself is not only incredibly limiting for a large number of Christians, but is a clear message to us womenfolk that we need to find our place and stay there. And it ain't on the altar, that's for sure.

Counterlight said...

"Many of us have sacrificed a great deal to follow Jesus to this place. Many of us have lost properties and sacred treasures and incomes and pensions and standing and friends."

Sorry to play the competitive suffering game, Mark, but when my LGBT ears hear sentiments like this, the words "unmitigated gall" spring to mind.

A whole lot of us sacrificed our lives.

For a truly thrilling new beginning full of risk that took place 40 years ago this weekend read this

Fr. Daniel Weir said...

After the ordination of women to the priesthood was approved, a colleague decided that his convictions made it impossible for him to remain in the Episcopal Church. When he told the bishop he was leaving, the bishop noted that he had several months before he would be vested in the pension fund and said that he would not accept his renunciation until he was vested. A gracious act and I hope there are more such acts.

Andy said...

Some grist for the mill here; to my understanding, the Maker saw fit to equip both sexes with musculature. I know legions of women of faith who've rocked heaven and earth even praying a hole through a bronze sky or being a jackhamer in God's hands, breaking through the hardest of hearts.

Can we set our arguements, strawmen and hobby horses aside for a moment of self-reflection?

If we Episcopalians had taken a more muscular stand rather than our laissez faire approach to matters of faith,expression and life, would we be in the position we now are in?

Just a thought,

Andy

WilliamK said...

Muscular Christianity is a distinctly stupid idea.

Amen, Father! ... and I would go a step further and suggest that it is "heresy", at least if we judge it against what St. Paul learned from his "thorn in the flesh": "'My grace is sufficient for you, for [my] power is made perfect in weakness.' So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Mary Sue said...

I'm really, really, REALLY annoyed with this constant consideration that of course having strength means you have to use it gracelessly. Hardest punch I ever took was from a 125 pound professional ballerina, because her strength training focused on the small and the fluid movements, when she got all those skinny, tiny, not-terribly defined muscles going the same direction she laid my 275lb self OUT.

(By complete accident, and she was shocked and appalled and apologized very profusely for months afterwards. It was in a martial arts class, I learned that while it was okay for me to tell the other new students to come at me full speed, I always had her at half speed.)

Jim said...

It is within to wonder if Dr. Williams a self-professed liberal is comfortable with this stupidity? "Muscular Christianity" is heresy, so it sort of fits.

FWIW
jimB

Allen said...

All of the increased attention and cyber space is given to a group who was dismissed as "just a few, who don't want to be with us." Must be more than previously thought.

Maybe now that the OCA is ending relations with TEC, we'll also hear how that once forged ecumenical relationship wasn't worth keeping either. Don't be surprised if the Moravians aren't cuddling up closer after all. The Catholics, et al...well they never mattered much because, apparently, God has spoken to a speck of leaders of TEC and the rest of world Christianity missed it and is messing it up.

How about MORE time being spent on how the wizened leadership of TEC will do more than bust a gut to run to the fringe groups of the Church. How about some honest to God self-examination on WHY this Church is bleeding from all parts and losing its credibility?

Enough of the critiques of those who were long ago dismissed. But, I guess that it takes one's mind and responsibility elsewhere to do so.

Leonardo Ricardo said...

I think muscular Christianity is a really really odd thing to bring up at this time.¨ Fr. Harris

This brings to mind for me Rumsfeld and Karl Rove issuing masculine challenges to enter war...you know, because we are heroic fools who believe lies and jive? I suggest as Bob Duncan continues to pontificate in Texas that he ¨remember the Alamo¨ as he adornes himself with a pointy Davey Crocker hat.

robroy said...

I don't like the term "muscular Christianity" either. It evokes stupidity like Bodybuilders for Christ, a notion that is antithetical Jesus' turning the other cheek as well as the cross itself. ABp Duncan isn't talking about that silly notion. Rather, he IS talking about a call to suffer, to take up one's cross.

I read this about the emasculation of the mainstream denominations:

What does the church today emphasize? Relationships — a personal relationship with Jesus and healthy relationships with others. By focusing on relationships, churches partners with women to fulfill their deepest longing. Very few churches model men’s values which include risk and reward, accomplishment, heroic sacrifice, action and adventure.

Face it. Lesbian clergy preaching about the blessings of abortions are not go to draw men in. Most women would like to attend church with their menfolk, so men attending church attracts women as well. This is reality.

P.S. - an excellent tale of graciousness, Father Weir.

henry austin said...

At the risk of sounding a little "off thread," I, a frequent reader but rare commentor, would like to note the opportunity bestowed on us by the ACNA crowd's formalizing of the split. It seems to me we are now unwed. We can now re-focus on the real needs of the world, and stop obsessing about what our "ex" is doing.

I confess that I come here, and to other church blogs, almost daily to read about the latest outrage. Focusing so much energy on the conflict is surely normal when one is in the middle of it. At some point, we need to move on.

There are pressing commitments we need to fulfill--of doing justice to our LGBT brothers and sisters. Let's live into our prophetic call and realize that at GC. Let's repent of using them as a bargaining chip in the Anglican wars, and clear the way for ordinations and same-sex blessings. Let's move on.

I can say without rancor, and with a blessing for those who've departed, it's time to let go. There is no intention to engage in a "listening process," nor to abide by a moratorium on boundary crossings. We are forebearing, in hopes of saving a relationship that has ended.

The Episcopal Church is full of wonderful, faithful people, who need their leaders to lead, and stop obsessing over the past. We are living through a time of great change. Let's not be afraid to move ahead and do what is right.

Henry

Daniel Lee said...

Before I got banned at StandFirm - I posted on a thread, wondering out loud if realignment was the New Leather, except for lacking a two way adult consent process and a safe word or two? - I slogged through a thread or more about how Christians these days just needed to Man-Up.

Lots of symbolic talk about gunning for Jesus. Really. I was a little taken by surprise; but in retrospect, probably should have seen it all coming.

Part of what makes Duncan, Duncan, is that he considers himself a sort of John Wayne man-believer.

Brad said...

And now the Orthodox Church in America has transferred its affections.....

Brad said...

It reeks of male hetero fears that religion in general (and christianity in particular)was (and is) becoming a woman's/gay male thing.
Which, if you look at any mainline protestant seminary, is pretty accurate.

Phillip Cato said...

The comments on muscular Christianity do not reach back far enough. I first heard the term in a theology lecture by William Wolf of The Episcopal Theological School back in the late fifties. He spoke of Pelagius, who was said to have "arrived in Rome fresh from a British YMCA with muscular Christianity." Wolf was obviously quoting someone even earlier. Justly, or not, Pelagius was condemned as a heretic. Perhaps would-be ++Robert is trying to revive a point of view that has only been supported in a half-hearted way by the Episcopal Church. Why be a semi-pelagian when you can with enthusiasm go the whole nine yards?
Phillip Cato

Bonnie said...

Just saying, if they want "Muscular Christianity," I think they need to excerise the part of their brains that deals with high ideals rather than low cunning.

Brad said...

Please take a look at George Carlin's material-it's just over a year since he died, so check out what he had to say about religion.
It may help you.

it's margaret said...

OMG!!! That image of the crucifix....!!!! OH BARF!!!

Whew --No strong man Jesus for me, thanks!

Brian F said...

I can understand why someone would use the term "muscular Christianity" but certainly have reservations about its use - not the least of which is the sense of using force to spread the faith. I would much prefer that the term "Christianity with conviction" was used instead, to get away from the mystic waffle which seems to be invading some sectors. That term would honour both sides who equally hold deeply seated although opposing views on matters of faith and morals. Hopefully it would also eliminate any overtones of hyper-masculine domination, but convey the sense that there are things about God about which we can be certain.

There are few things worse than a vapid Christian. Jesus knew what he was on about and didn't waste people's time or prevaricate with the truth. He was the strongest man who ever lived, not in a worldy sense that we need to depart from, but in the sense of his conviction of who his Father is and what he needed to do. The trouble is that many liberals are still asking the question "what is truth?", and talk about being on a journey to still discover the truth when it is right in front of their eyes. If only we were all more like Jesus.

Observer said...

Sir, I am hoping you will now address your old friend Bob Duncan as "Archbishop" rather than "Moderator" - given his title has changed, even if you have issues with ACNA and do not recognise his title in TECUSA or the AC context, out of respect for the man, I hope you will no longer call him "Moderator"

Counterlight said...

I could be wrong, but wasn't "no cross no crown!" a slogan of the anti-immigrant anti-Catholic No-Nothings of the early 19th century?

As for "muscular" Christianity, I can think of no better rejoinder than this painting by that pansy Amsterdam liberal, Rembrandt:

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_CijcaA9yq58/SkLVcnIEQfI/AAAAAAAACiU/oO8zB9a4qAg/s1600-h/Rembrandt,+Christ+on+the+Cross,+1631.jpg

rick allen said...

I always thought that the term "muscular Christianity" originated with Charles Kingsley and his circle, an implicit rebuke to what was considered the excessive femininity of Victorian Catholocism, especially as exemplified by Newman.

If I remember correctly, P.G. Wodehouse used to love using the term in connection with Bertie Wooster's great pal, the large and clumsy Rev. Harold "Stinker" Pinker.

WilliamK said...

Someone wrote:
How about MORE time being spent on how the wizened leadership of TEC will do more than bust a gut to run to the fringe groups of the Church.

No one for whom Christ died and whom the Church has baptized is part of a "fringe group"... though there will always be people who want to marginalize some of their brothers and sisters in Christ; such people need our constant prayers for their repentance and conversion.

Bonnie said...

Henry Austin--Say more, post more. Your comments are so timely and true.

Brad said...

"No Cross, No Crown" was the title of a book by William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania. It had nothing to do with beating up catholic immigrants.

Counterlight said...

""No Cross, No Crown" was the title of a book by William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania. It had nothing to do with beating up catholic immigrants."

But it wasn't exactly about pulling yourself up into heaven by your own bootstraps either.

Brad said...

No, counterlight, and that was not what I was suggesting. Penn's thesis was that nobody is truly a follower of Jesus without suffering. He wasn't claiming that believers have to "feel the burn" on earth to avoid burning in hell.

Counterlight said...

"Penn's thesis was that nobody is truly a follower of Jesus without suffering. He wasn't claiming that believers have to "feel the burn" on earth to avoid burning in hell."

So, how much suffering is enough to pass this test?

It seems to me that there is plenty to go around already with misfortune, illness, pain, and death being the common lot of all of us, rich and poor alike. In addition to that, there is a surplus of extra suffering out there. Firewood is still the primary fuel for a third of humankind, to take just one example among many out there. While the Church is so preoccupied with policing everyone's genitals, thousands upon thousands of people in this country are losing their jobs and their homes. Illness forces thousands on people into bankruptcy here. So much of the modern economy depends on the poorly requited (or not requited at all) toil of millions. Our convenience more often than not depends on someone else's suffering. I should think that kind of exploitation degrades God's image in us all far more than what anyone does on a Saturday night.
Could it be that all this sex-policing is just another way to keep us all cowed and under control in order to preserve the status quo that is so very profitable for a fortunate few?
I don't hear the Supreme Leader of ACNA saying a word about any of those issues.

It seems to me that Christ coming into the world and throwing around love and salvation to all like candy should be welcome in a world where people have to endure far more tests and pay more admission fees than they can already handle.

I stake my faith on the belief that God offers us His salvation because He wants us to be with Him, not because anyone "earned" it. No one could possibly earn that, not in a million lifetimes.

In the words of William Blake:
"To God, if you have formed a circle to go into, then go into it yourself and see how you would do."

Word verification: didityel
Indeed it did.

Brad said...

Unfortunately, Friend Penn didn't say. He seems to have led a fairly comfortable, privileged existence so I'm guessing not too much.

Brad said...

Please remember that I was trying to clear up a misconception, not trying to make the point that the more pain you have in life, the better your afterlife will be. Not my point at all.
I don't think that suffering makes you a better person, that it makes what you have to say more interesting or more moral; I certainly don't think that 'hermeneutical privilege' comes from having suffered or being a member of a group that's suffered.
By making historical grievances an important part of public life, both Left and Right in church and state have given a huge numbers of hostages to fortune.

Counterlight said...

Who said anything about privilege? We all suffer. It's part of being mortal.

God is the Lord of History. We are all creatures of history. We can't step out of it or see out of it.

History is not just 1st century Judea. History is here and now, and it is our responsibility with all its vulgarity, dirt, and messiness.

Brad said...

"Macho, macho man..."

Christopher (P.) said...

Re: Robroy's comment,

"What does the church today emphasize? Relationships — a personal relationship with Jesus and healthy relationships with others. By focusing on relationships, churches partners with women to fulfill their deepest longing. Very few churches model men’s values which include risk and reward, accomplishment, heroic sacrifice, action and adventure."


"Jesus said, 'The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.'" Mark 12:29-31; as found in the Penitential Order of the Book of Common Prayer.

Seems to me that robroy is concerned with "values"; but the Gospel trumps values, every time.