Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Donatism and the Episcopal Church

One of the reasons that we are given for blessing same sex unions or recognizing that homoerotic relationship are blessed is that people claim to see evidence of God's grace in those involved in homoerotic relationships.

I believe that this is what I call Reverse Donatism.

Donatims, if you will recall, is the heresy that states only the sinless can be ministers of God's grace. It comes from the aftermath of the persecutions in the Roman Empire. The donatists formed a very ethically religious church that would not allow clergy who had caved during the persecutions to continue as clergy. They stated that the Holy Spirit had departed from them.
This later came to represent the idea that only the sinless can minister God's grace or have leadership positions in the Church. Of course, this is not an Anglican concept. We believe the God's grace works through sinful people and if it doesn't we are all in deep, dark serious trouble.

But here is how I describe Reverse Donatism.
Let's take the behaviour at hand - homoerotic relationships. It could be anything, but this will do. First, we say that we see God's grace active in the lives of people involved in this behavior. The next step is to say that this is evidence of God's blessing on the behavior. In between these two steps is the unspoken (and wrong) idea that God's grace cannot be present where sinful behavior is present, therefore, the behavior in question cannot be sinful.

Thus, since God's grace is evident in the lives of people involved in homoerotic relationships, the homoerotic behavior itself cannot be sinful.

Again, if God's grace cannot act or be evident in the lives of sinful people, then we are all in very serious trouble. The problem with this is that it sounds so good and "right" or logical to us. We constantly look for signs that God loves us and approves of us. To see the greatest sign that God loves us, we need to look only at the cross. To see if God approves of our behaviors, we need to learn to understand God's self-revelation in Holy Scripture and in the Natural Law and we need to do that in community - the larger the community the bigger the chance that we will correctly discern God's will for our actions.

Phil Snyder

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bishop Shori's Visit to Dallas

I've returned and reflected a bit on the clergy Q&A with our Presiding Bishop. Here are my impressions of that meeting. Because I have not run this by anyone else, I will only name myself and Bishop Schori.

There was a mixture of reasserter clergy and reappraising clergy - including some from Fort Worth and NW Texas. Oddly enough, the majority of rappraising clergy sat on the right and the reasserters sat on the left. This is not a word for word or blow by blow recounting. It is only the highlites from the meeting.

We started off with prayers. The Presiding Bishop then opened with the story of Jesus' baptism. She said that Jesus rose from the water and heard "You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased." (Note, she did not use the word "Son" as in "You are my beloved Son." Jesus then went to the wilderness to be tested. She said that she felt these to events recapitulated the first two ceation stories where God creates man and it is "Very Good" and then the second story with its tale of broken relationships. We then spent 5 minutes in silent reflection on hearing God say to us "you are my beloved. With you I am well pleased."

After that, we shared in pairs or groups of three about our experience. We then shared (as desired) with the whole group. I shared that I heard God call me His beloved and that He loved me just as I am, but that He loved me too much to leave me that way. "Follow Me" He said "and I will make you Righteous - I will Justify You for your life is not your own. You do not know yourself. Only I know you and your life lies hid with Christ in God."One person shared that being God's beloved involved some ethical changes. We need to know that we are God's beloved, but we also need to know that being the beloved involves living a certain way.

After a few more people sharing, the floor opened up to questions. One person asked about how we could rectify hearing that we (and everyone else) were God's beloved whileat the same time bringing lawsuits against them. Bishop Schori mentioned her fiduciary responsibility because the property was given for the Episcopal Church. The questioner then asked about our responsibility to keep the faith and that the church buildings were given first to further the Gospel and we, as the Episcopal Church ,have changed that. She indicated that she felt that all people on this issue honestly believe that they are following and proclaiming the Gospel.

Another friend of mine asked about how she decided what was holy living (living as God's beloved). She turned the question back on him and he pointed this out, but went on to talk of the importance of Holy Scripture to determining what is holy living. She said that we are not a "Sola Scriptura" church. For her Scripture is the primary source of our authority. A couple other questions were asked, then I asked my question.

First I thanked her for saying that Scripture was the primary source of authority. I said that we bless marriages, not because they are pretty or fun or we like marriages or married people, but because of four reasons:

  1. God ordained marriage in Creation
  2. Jesus adorned marriage at Cana
  3. Paul indicates marriage represents Christ and the Church
  4. Holy Scripture commends it to be honored by all people.

I asked here where, in Holy Scripture, any of those is true for blessing same sex unions. She (predictibly) asked me how I read the story of David and Jonathon and the healing of the Centurion's servant (she used the Greek word).

I mentioned that David and Jonathon was a tale of two warriors who had faced combat together. My father was an Air Force officer and he felt closer to some of the men he faced combat with than he did his wife. It is a different kind of love. She smiled. However, I said, even if David and Jonathon were in a homoerotic relationship, does that mean that David is our examplar of sexual morality? (this statement elicited a chuckle from many people). She said that no person was totally sexually pure. I pointed out that David was a rather egregious example of sexual immorality.

As for the Centurion's servant and the implies sexual relationship there, I asked if the master-slave paradigm was what good homoerotic relationships were built around. She indicated that this was not the case. She said that I just dismissed here biblical warrants. In other words, she did not have an answer to my question.

Other questions were asked - some by reappraisers and some by reasserters and some by people I would classify as moderate. Among those were what to do about the declining numbers since 1965 and what to do about the average age of the clergy. She talked about the "idol of numbers" and asked us what we were doing about the aging clergy. She asked if we were talking to 9 year olds about ordained ministry and talking to high school students about ordained ministry.

One of my favorite questions was about the "Dallas Plan." I don't know a lot about this plan in its most recent incarnation. It started out as a way to allow for the ordination of women to the priesthood from the Ft. Worth diocese. Now, as I understand it, there is a movement afoot to allow congregations in Ft. Worth that don't want to leave the Episcopal Church to receive (temporarily) Episcopal oversight from Bishop Stanton. Bishop Schori said that this was a bad Idea and that 815 was against it because it was extra-canonical. One of the reasserters asked her why she was so liberal in interpreting the scriptures, but so literal in interpreting the canons. She said that the canons are what order our common life and she didn't think she was interpreting them literally.The whole morning lasted about 1.5 hours (after the meditations).

In all, we kept a respectful tone and were treated respectfully in return. She does know how to work a room and deflect uncomfortable questions. We occasionally saw the mailed fist inside the velvet glove - especially when discussing the Dallas Plan as it pertains to congregations in the diocese of Ft. Worth.


Phil Snyder

(note: Edited to correct the spelling of Schori - I misspelled her last name and have corrected it).