Saturday, September 30, 2006

Lee and Minns

There are still a few more mows of the lawn that need to be done before the grass stops growing here in Middle Tennessee, and I was out there doing one of those mows this afternoon. As I did so I mulled over the news that Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia has licensed Bishop Martyn Minns of Truro Church and the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, which is part of the Church in Nigeria and primarily provides covering for Nigerian and some other African Anglican congregations.

I have seen all sorts of comments that this would not have happened, etc., if Martyn had not been Rector of a large and wealthy parish, which may be true, but it seems to me that there is something positive about this to be rejoiced over. To me, it is a little crumb of comfort.

Those who led the Episcopal Church into the chaos in which we find ourselves by their actions in August 2003 seemed to come away from that Convention and the resulting furor with the notion that things would settle down, everyone would get used to the idea, and so on. This demonstrates how detached from reality their minds were. Like so many postmoderns they refused to recognize that idea and actions have consequences -- and that there would be a huge fallout from such actions.

What those who perpetrated these acts seemed to think was that even if they continued a process of radically changing the substantive doctrines of the denomination, while the structures would remain unchanged and the funds would continue to flow in. That obviously is not the case -- as I said in the previous paragraph, actions and ideas have consequences, and one of them is the eventual radical reordering of Anglicanism in the United States, a process that has already begun.

Thus, while championing notions that are far from God's self-revelation, those on the left continue to cherish the bizarre notion that the old-fashioned geographical diocese is going to remain untouched. Not only is this not the case, but the Lambeth-Chicago Quadrilateral allows for alternative approaches to the shaping of the historic episcopate as an appropriate means of oversight and catholic continuity.

Although it is hard to see what will take the place of the present structures at this point something will. It is also hard to see how the ECUSA dioceses will related to the elements of Anglicanism in North America that are part of the Communion, but not part of ECUSA -- like Minns' CANA.

What encourages me about this willingness of Bishop Lee to license Bishop Minns is that this is a tiny baby step of recognition that we cannot go back to the status quo ante August 2003, and that new relationships and approaches to being in connection with one another (or out of connection with one another) will have to take the old structure's place. At least Peter Lee is looking for an orderly way ahead in finding linkages, which is more than can be said for some of his fellows in the House of Bishops -- and their more vocal supporters.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Sad Day In Rochester, NY

In the last few days I learned that All Saints' Anglican Church, in the leafy Rochester, NY, suburb of Irondequoit was taken back into possession by the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester under court order. I was the Rector of All Saints' Church from the late seventies until early 1985, and although the years we spent in Rochester were very difficult for our family, I feel grieved for the people of that congregation -- some of whom were parishioners when I served there.

While I am not sure that the congregation behaved wisely in its approach toward the Diocese of Rochester following the unfaithful actions of the General Convention in August 2003, neither do I think the Bishop of Rochester and his supporters have shown the smallest shread of grace and generosity toward the parish. Last November they removed All Saints' from the diocese by declaring All Saints' extinct, using a diocesan canon whose intention was entirely different from the purpose to which it was put. This kind of canonical gerrymandering is the kind of disingenuousness that is designed to further alienate.

Since last year I have often found myself thinking about the old long-time members of All Saints' that I remember during my years there, some of whom were charter members of the parish, and who spent their whole lives as members of the congregation. I buried the last founders of the parish while I was there. All of them would be appalled at what the Diocese of Rochester has become as a well-endowed pioneer of an agenda that not only deconstructs the Gospel, but is profoundly damaging Anglican Christianity both at home and around the world.

I am sure that the Bishop of Rochester and his chums are as pleased as punch that they have taken the building, but I suspect they will not only be incapable of replanting All Saints' Episcopal Church because 'progressive' Christianity has very limited abilities at reproducing itself, but that in a relatively short period of time "For Sale" signs will appear on the church lawn and those funds will be dropped into the already bloated coffers of the Diocese of Rochester.

Much of Upstate New York is very much a spiritual burned over district for biblical Christianity in any shape or form, and has been for many years. The years I spent there were among the hardest in my life, and I am in touch with pastors of various denominational traditions from my time in Rochester, but now elsewhere, who look back on those years for themselves in their own traditions as some of the most difficult. I suspect that today it is virtually impossible for an orthodox ordained person to play any part in the Diocese of Rochester, and I suspect that the statistics demonstrate the Episcopal diocese is seeing the same kind of decline in membership that we were seeing when I was there more than twenty years ago.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI and Islam

The Islamic world is once again in uproar, this time at the Pope. On Tuesday, September 12, Benedict XVI returned to the University of Regensburg, Germany, where he had once been a member of the faculty, and there he addressed a gathered audience, presenting a paper that dealt with the relationship between faith and reason, with some personal reminiscences thrown in.

Today, Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, there are protests and renunciations all over the Islamic world, accusing the Pope of dishonoring their faith. In places like Egypt and India there are street protests with the burning of effigies of the Catholic pontiff, while in Pakistan troops are guarding Roman Catholic churches. The Palestinian Prime Minister said, "In the name of our Palestinian people... we express our condemnation of the statements of his Excellency the Pope, against Islam as a belief, sharia, history, and a lifestyle."

What on earth is it that so careful a man as BXVI has done to merit such an outcry? Well, he seems to have used a rather unfortunate illustration in the context of a closely argued and philosphical speech so that the whole weight of what he said has been lost under the welter of fury. I spent some time this morning reading Benedict's paper and I have to say to the Palestinian leader and others of his ilk, "Come on, guys, read with care the words the man said, not what you think he said."

In 1391, probably somewhere close to modern Ankara, Turkey, the erudite Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, was involved in a dialogue with a Persian academic about Christianity, Islam, and the truth of them both. In the debate the emperor said that there should be no compulsion in religion, for compulsion tended to compromise the rationality of faith, and in the midst of these long conversations he questions the tendency of Islam to violence, describes this as unreasonable, and "incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul."

In the midst of the cut and thrust of debate around this topic the emperor is reputed to have said, "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Benedict quotes this. At this point it needs to be remembered that this man grew up in the midst of the violence that once was Germany, which helps put his own detestation of violence into perspective.

He then goes on in his paper to talk about the Christian faith and its rootedness in reason, with the suggestion that because for the Muslim God is "absolutely transcendent... his will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality." He continues closely arguing his case, drawing on the Reformation, liberal theology of the 19th Century, and 21st Century pluralism by way of further example and illustration. It is a tightly argued case, too, and I suspect that for many of the media who might have been present, the Muhammad illustration could have been one of the few parts that they thought they understood!

There is nothing in this paper that gives the slightest suggestion that Benedict shares the mindset of Emperor Manuel II Paleologus, merely that he is philosphically presenting the rationality of God, and this he thought was a good springboard into the point he is making. Yet now there are tens of thousands of people, egged on by certain leaders, very few of whom will have read (or understood) the Pope's argument, condemning him for his hatred of Islam.

The trouble is that there is nothing in the paper or in much of the conduct of Benedict XVI toward Islam which suggests hatred. If by their fruits you shall know them he has been working hard to understand Islam - which seems to have been undone by a mixture of inadequate (perhaps irresponsible) reporting of the Pope's remarks and their context, as well as the hot-headedness eagerness in certain corners of Islam to condemn what they thought might have been said.

Was the Pope wise in his choice of illustration? Even popes have occasional lapses of wisdom, and I suspect he could have given this a little more thought; but he was probably naive enough to believe that what he said would not be as badly misrepresented in the media as it is. I have garnered most of my information from the BBC Website (, and think that they have been less than helpful in the extracts of the paper that they have published when put alongside the full text( this is text out of context stuff.

I wonder how many members of Pakistan's parliament had even looked at what he was saying before passing a resolution which contained the following renunciation, "The derogatory remarks of the Pope about the philosophy of jihad and Prophet Muhammad have injured sentiments across the Muslim world and pose the danger of spreading acrimony among the religions."

I do not see that the Pope has anything to apologize for, although he is probably rather sore that something said (he thought) in all innocence has been blown up out of all proportion and damaged bridges he thought he was building. All this demonstrate that when it comes down to it, there are large swathes of people in the Islamic world who are determined to misunderstand, and have elevated their Prophet to a level that is above study, analysis and contradiction. This can hardly be said to be rational behavior -- but then the same thing goes on in the West, too.

Toward the end of his paper the Pope says of ourselves that, "The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur -- this is the program with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time."

He concludes by saying, "'Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God,' said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invate partners in the dialogue of cultures..."

My response to that comes from the culture of Southern religion, "Preach it, Brother Benedict, preach it!"

Saturday, September 09, 2006

"Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality" by Jack Rogers -- A Book Review

Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality by Jack Rogers (Louisville:Westminster-John Knox, 2006, 126 pages, plus endnotes)

A Review by Richard Kew

I no longer take the Episcopal News Service very seriously, but the other week as they touted Jack Rogers' book, Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, I decided I ought to read it. Intellectual honesty demands that we take serious the viewpoints of those with whom we disagree with a view to, perhaps, changing our minds. Besides, it was high time I took another look at what is being said by those whose take on human sexuality is different from my own.

Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality promised to be interesting because it is not often that a former professor of an evangelical seminary gets endorsements from Gene Robinson and the Moderator of the Metropolitan Community Church! (Rogers taught at both Fuller Seminary and San Francisco Theological Seminary). Jack Rogers has been a leader in the Presbyterian Church (USA)for many years, and was at one point Moderator. He has a sterling evangelical pedigree, but has been in trouble in the past for thinking outside the box. I expected to be challenged, and I was.

I spent the Labor Day weekend grappling with Rogers, learning much and asking fundamental questions of myself and my beliefs. Unlike so much that I have read on the permitting side of the sexuality issue, Rogers seriously attempts ground all that he says in a scholarly use of the Scriptures and a biblical worldview.

Because the book maintains a relatively eirenic tone, there were parts I thoroughly enjoyed, and especially good is his chapter on interpreting the Bible during controversial times. This, coupled with the insights that he give into the development of theology over the past couple of centuries, makes the book of value regardless of the debate over sexuality in which we are all involved. While Rogers' jumping off point is the historic and confessional documents of Presbyterianism, there are many points of contact with mainstream Anglicanism. Yet the book is doggedly Americo-centric and makes absolutely no reference to the wider church in both space and history.

Rogers rightly complains that conservatives are often selective in the way they use information and Scripture, and this is something that needs to be address with great seriousness. But the finger also points back at Rogers because he uses his own flavor of selectivenes as he attempts to promote the theology and agenda to which he now adheres. Perhaps given the emotive nature of this presenting issue, it is impossible for anyone to come at it without seeming to grind their own axe.

But let me get to the substance of the book. Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality is partly Dr. Rogers story of his own journey from the exclusion to the inclusion side of the equation when it comes to the role of openly homosexual people in the life of the church. He uses what I would describe as his own eccentric doctrine of theological development to give legitimacy to his arguments.

In summarizing he writes, "The best methods of interpretation, from the Reformation on down through today, call upon us to interpret the Scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ's life and ministry" (Page 126). The case he makes is an attempt to demonstrate that it is not an unreasonable leap from that starting point to the point where we accept that "using this method, we see clearly that Jesus and the Bible, properly understood, do not condemn people who are homosexual. In church governance, our confessions and the Book of Order embody a trajectory of ever-greater inclusiveness. To bar gay and lesbian people from ordination and marriage is a violation of those fundamental principles of our faith" (Page 126).

It is Rogers' thesis that as we look back over the history of the Christian faith during the last couple of hundred years, we see a process of theological modification going on that has increasingly opened the doors to minorities and the excluded. He demonstrates that not long ago the churches in the United States not only accepted slavery and racial segretation, but attempted to justify it from the Scriptures. More recently the same can is true of the role and place of women in the church and society.

If, he argues, we did the right thing modifying our theology to correct these injustices, then should we not now apply the same principles when it comes to another excluded group -- those who are defined and who would define themselves as homosexual?

He points out that Christians have, in order to be pastoral, modified their application of what Scripture teaches about marriage and remarriage, so why cling to old prejudices regarding those who are of a homosexual orientation and wish to live in a faithful relationship with a lifelong partner? He believes this entirely appropriate and writes, "Jesus did not set forth immutable laws to break people. Rather, he set forth an ideal toward which we all should strive -- lifelong faithfulness in married relationships. That ideal could apply to gay or lesbian couples as well as to heterosexual couples" (Page 44).

There is little doubt that doctrine develops, and also that since the beginning each generation (or sub-grouping) has fallen into the temptation of reading the bible through its own culturally-conditioned set of presuppositions and prejudices. This means that there is a steady development of Christian doctrine, as by a trial and error approach we sift what God is saying within the context of changing circumstances, then making course corrections on that basis. The truth is that it sometimes takes centuries to get things right, while at the same time shaped by the cultures in which we live we ourselves read fresh errors and misperceptions into the text.

Neither does doctrinal development proceed in anything approaching a straight line evolution in one direction or another, as Jack Rogers would like us to believe. Ideas and theology develop within the context of a culture, being shaped by it, but also they seem to move forward in a particular direction, then they back up, then they begin to identify nuances or partial mistakes that need to be taken into account, and so forth. For example, the modernists who seemed to be carrying all before them in the early part of the 20th Century on both sides of the Atlantic would have laughed you to scorn if you had said in the latter part of that century their ideas would wane and give way to an evangelical resurgence of both numbers and academic theology.

So enamored is Rogers by his theory of development that he is unwilling to critique the manner in which the culture shapes the Christian churches, demanding that they conform to this image. He seems to assume that the radical individualism and emerging sexuality of our times do not require justification when measured against Scripture (however it is handled), and the development of doctrine in the church.

There is, for example, an uncritical acceptance of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association's consideration that homosexuality bears none of the marks of a disorder. The only take that he has in opposition to the APAs is that of Dr. James Dobson, which is hardly representative of a larger swathe of discomfort with these particular decisions. While the APAs may reflect a certain segment of their professions at this moment, there is no reason to believe those in these professions who disagree with the professional organizations' stance will always be on the outs as research continues and new ideas emerge.

Neither do I find Rogers' handling of the biblical materials concerning homosexuality convincing. Firstly, he merely deals with a handful of "purple passages" that either address, or are purported to address homosexuality, and secondly, he tends to dismiss strong cases that are made from an intense study of the Scriptures on a very flimsey basis.

A clear example of this is that early in the book he questions Scottish Common Sense philosophy that he rightly believes shaped American thinking and theology from the 18th Century onward. When he gets to addressing what Scripture teaches he dismisses Robert Gagnon's extraordinary thorough critique of the Scriptural text, The Bible and Homosexual Pracice, as "a classic example of the misuse of natural law in theology" (Page 81). Those from St. Augustine to Karl Barth knew little of Scottish Common Sense philosophy...

It is here, I find, that Rogers flies in the face of his stated principle that Scripture should be read as a whole without individualized proof-texting. He quotes Richard Hays as saying, "The Bible hardly ever discusses homosexual behavior" (Page 69), but from the outset Scripture presents male and female as complimentary genders to one another, together reflecting the image of the God who reveals himself.

Maybe contemporary perceptions of what it means to be homosexual are somewhat different than those of biblical times, as Rogers makes clear, but present perceptions do not justify a radical decontruction of sexual morality as found in Scripture. Furthermore, while Scripture as a whole raises significant questions about the morality of slavery, segregation, and the subordination of women, it is extremely difficult to say the same of homosexuality within the wider context of biblical morality as understood by the church catholic and historic Judaism.

When I was at high school I regularly receive back papers I had written which had emblazoned along the top in red ink the words "Good Effort," then when you looked at the grade put beside these words it was less than stellar! I would say the same of Rogers' book. It is a good effort, a nice try, but he needs to do a lot more with it if the case he makes is even to begin to start holding water. I learned a lot from it, was made more sensitive, but the case he makes was far too weak to change my mind regarding the nature and priority of biblical sexual morality against which homosexuality should be measured.

Where I am in agreement with him is that we in the churches have little to be proud of in the way in which we have handled gay and lesbian Christians. There has been tremendous pastoral insensitivity, probably rooted in prejudice, for which we need to seek forgiveness. Yet coming as you are into a healing community of Christians does not mean you should stay as you are when confronted with the radically transforming power of the Cross -- whatever your identity when you enter the church. This is the position of Archbishop Rowan Williams, and I believe it holds water when measured against the Scriptures as a whole within the context of the church as a whole.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Lee A. Buck -- R.I.P.

I learned this afternoon of the death of Lee Buck, one of the most committed of lay evangelists I have ever met.

Lee was a larger than life personality with a deep and abiding commitment to Jesus Christ. There was nothing he loved more than introducing people to the Savior, and he was prepared to travel around the world proclaiming Christ -- very often at his own expense. He loved to tell you how many he had shared Christ with.

Working his way up from the bottom following service in the Navy in World War Two, Lee became one of the leaders in the insurance industry. When his name was in line to become the President of the huge company for which he had worked for so many years, he side-stepped that opportunity in order to take early retirement and stretch his wings as an evangelist.

Audrey, Lee's wonderful wife, was his confidante, prayer partner, and closest advisor. There was always warmth and great hospitality to all-comers at the Buck home, and while Lee was the expansive host, Audrey was the one who did a tremendous amount to make it happen.

As far as I am concerned, Lee was one of those people who I loved passionately and by whom I was exasperated -- sometimes all at the same time! I will certainly miss him, he was a man whose transparent commitment to Jesus Christ shone in all that he set out to do.

Lee passed away today at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. We give thanks to the Lord for his life, and that he is now with the Lord who he served so faithfully for so long. He will be sorely missed by the church and by his family alike.