In a letter to the editor of the Charleston, SC, Post and Courier,
retired Bishop C. Fitzsimons Allison writes:
The troubles facing the Episcopal Church (and other denominations) have to do with being divided between two faiths. A new religion has arisen that uses the terminology of Christianity but is a serious alternative to it. Oxford Prof. V.A. Demant in 1947 described it as "… an unsupernatural and unevangelical religion. It equates Christianity with good ideals. It attaches no vital meaning to sin, grace, redemption or to the church as a divine society."Response by The Rev Thomas B. Woodward
This religion paid no attention to the psychiatrist Karl Menninger when he warned the churches about ignoring the essential human problem in his book, "Whatever Became of Sin?"
E. Brooks Holifield's "A History of Pastoral Care in America: From Salvation to Self-Realization" sums it up in his subtitle.
Individuals can be reconciled but these two faiths cannot. Those who are substituting good ideals for Christian hope are so unconcerned with Christian doctrine that they do not notice its prevailing denial among our leaders and seem undeterred by its shrinking numbers and repudiation by the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The churches that acknowledge the reality of sin and persist in their trust in forgiveness, redemption and salvation will not only survive but prevail.
This piece makes me very sad. It simply is not true. While one may find isolated examples of what Bishop Allison asserts, moderate and progressive Episcopalians are quite serious about sin, grace, redemption and the Church as divine society. The self-styled conservatives and those who refer to themselves as "orthodox" have been distressingly silent about the sins which beset us as individuals and as a culture. I refer here to the evils of armed combat, of institutional and personal racism, of the greed and acquisitiveness which is eating away at our common life, of structural poverty, of the reduction of human sexuality to talk of body parts instead of Christlike relationships.
Likewise, we have not seen or heard much lately from the conservatives about grace or divine forgiveness or the Church as divine society. Rather, they offer more and more restrictions for membership in the kingdom and they offer ever more support for relegating to second-class citizenship some of the Baptized. We hear a lot of Paul and very little of Jesus.
I monitor several "conservative" Episcopalian or purportedly Anglican blogs, including TitusOneNine
, Drell's Descants
, and the (grossly misnamed) VirtueOnline
. In their postings – and especially in the comments they allow on their sites – I see attitudes that would make our forbearers wince, if not cry aloud. There is such condemnation. Such outright hatred. I trust the dedication of many conservative leaders to the Church as divine society and to us being the very best that we can in Jesus Christ – but the blogs that surround us do not reflect the best that we need from conservatives to bring to our common life and the dialogue that is necessary.
The "ideals" of moderate and progressive Episcopalians are those of the Beatitudes, Matthew 25, the Sermon on the Mount, and a world redeemed through the Cross and made whole through our participation in the Resurrected Life of Jesus Christ. That has never changed. And repetitive rhetoric from "orthodox" leaders and blogmeisters cannot erase that commitment of moderate and progressive Episcopalians. I, myself, do not need to have anyone attempt to shame me or my faith with the words of Karl Menninger. Dr. Menninger was a frequent visitor in my home in Topeka, Kansas, and was responsible in good part for the spiritual formation of me and my brother, Pete, who also is a priest in The Episcopal Church.
My sadness in reading the words from retired Bishop Allison comes, in part, from his seeming reduction of sin to certain sexual acts which he does not approve. The Biblical vision of sin and redemption is so much more vast than that. We need to look to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and Micah, to Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Desmond Tutu, to John Hines and Jonathan Daniels and Sojourner Truth. In such company, James Dobson and Matthew Kennedy and Bishop Allison have much to learn.