Thursday, June 14, 2018

Pride and Contradiction


After nearly a decade in the Episcopal Church as a priest in a diverse parish and one who is committed to the life and health of our church, there are a few things I feel great liberty to comment on! 

I speak about my faith and family! We are an interesting bunch, a lovely part of the body of Christ! Episcopalians have so much potential, so much energy; there is so much beauty and mystery in our church! Yet we live among…such contradictions, which more often than not, we refuse to acknowledge or very expertly explain away! 

We pride ourselves on being progressive and cutting edge, yet are probably the most aged of all denominations. 

We take the Bible "too seriously to take it literally" yet ignorance of the Bible is rampant among Episcopalians...and sadly for many clergy, functionally irrelevant in modern life. 

We pride ourselves on diversity, yet are among the least racially and ethnically diverse of all Christian groups. 

We are a branch of “the Jesus” movement yet have a cafeteria approach to his actual words. 

We speak incessantly of inclusion yet are a bastion for a very narrow set of political and theological views of a progressive nature. 

We have signs that boldly proclain, The Episcopal Church Welcomes You! Yes, surely but on whose terms? I have found as a Latino, that often that welcome is on someone else's terms,  as if simply translating a document into Spanish, somehow made what was offered culturally appropriate or desirable.

We have plenty to say about fundamentalism, and how that puts people off to the church yet, some of the churches we critique, continue to grow as ours wither. 

We are all about Evangelism…this year, which of course has to be the Episcopalian version, yet a storefront church in my city, with no branding or refined techniques, has reached more unchurched people, in a decade than we have in a century! Currently there are churches all through the US and Latin America that have more people regularly in attendance on Sunday than entire dioceses of our church!   

We are ardent advocates for refugees and undocumented people, yet have scant diocesan resources to help these same people adjust to life in a new country, to help with financial burdens, to do paperwork for legalization or pay for legal fees. 

We speak of tolerance, have all sorts of patience and even admiration for people who, within our church, deny the major tenets of the Christian faith, as well as for those follow other religious traditions. Yet have an undeniable disdain for other Christians whose faith we deem too primitive, fundamentalist…and now, heaven help us, evangelical. 

We defend the rights and dignity of every human being, even the right to life for convicted criminals yet are silent on the killing of unborn humans. Even worse many clergy vocally defend the right to abort a child at any stage of development.

We balk at any change in the liturgy and the form of the sacraments, have a high regards for a host of Anglican customs yet, without blinking have, by vote, without regards to most in the Anglican Communion, redefined what marriage means in the church.

I think we have an overdose of education, more skepticism than is healthy for people of faith and definitely an overarching pride in who we are, who we feel we are meant to be! This undermines any real attempt at change! 

Perhaps we need a dose of humility! Maybe we need to teach less, preach less, have less echo chamber seminars and listen more to others who have succeeded where we are failing! 

Maybe what God told Solomon after the dedication of the temple, when fire and glory filled the place of worship could also apply to us! There was in that grand occasion, no note of congratulations, no mention of the beauty of the music or the adornment of the temple…but rather a reminder to be humble! 

 2 Chronicles 7:14 "...If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, then I will hear from heaven..."

Whether the present heirs of the “church of beauty” can do that and change the course our church has been on for decades, remains to be seen.  I sure hope the new generation of Episcopalians pause, notice and remember …If my people humble themselves and pray...!

Blessings

Seraph






Thursday, May 24, 2018

RECLAIMING JESUS???


First let me say that I respect many of the clergy who signed the document “Reclaiming Jesus”!  

The Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the  Episcopal church,  my spiritual home, is an example of a person committed to the love of God, the advancement of Christ's kingdom, and justice, a man I truly admire.

Yet, no person is infallible and we do not all have to agree! As the child of immigrants, an Episcopalian and a concerned citizen of the United States, I have reservations to aspects of this document that purports to invite Christians to “confess our faith in a time of crisis”.

Granted, I share all the concerns, which bring this declaration about!  Firsthand, I witness prejudice, racial injustice, and the separation of families due to our immigration policies,  I am concerned about the language and some of the policies in our present administration! These are things we pray about, oppose, strive to solve and work to change! 

Yet, some of the premises and emphases of said document in my view, overlook concerns of many Christians in our society!  There are statements that seem to simply parrot progressive political views of the day, and have, in themselves, little to do with the gospel.

Here are a few concerns:

I. WE BELIEVE each human being is made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26).

Wholeheartedly agree, yet how ironic that this declaration of the worth of humanity makes no mention of the unborn, the most vulnerable and at risk members of the human family in our nation! 

Abortion has claimed the lives of over 4,000,000 unborn children so far in 2018 and it does not merit being part of a discussion about human dignity for these religious leaders? Really? Incredible!!!!

Secondly, I find it a bit narrow to speak of racism and bigotry solely targeting people of one race, whites! 

There is enough prejudice, racial bigotry and injustice to go around in our society. To make only one racial group the exclusive culprit, seems to give the rest of us a pass! We experience it, and it is there for all to see in Latino communities, among immigrants and communities of color! Do we not see it or  is it politically incorrect to mention in our society?

The attitudes and behaviors, rightly called out in this document, are entrenched in the hearts of people , it is sin, and should be called out as such! We all need to repent of something, change our words, our ways , our actions...not just white folks!

III. WE BELIEVE how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself. (Matthew 25: 31-46)

Complete agree with this premise! Yet let us not confuse the Biblical mandate of helping the poor, with government programs that may not have proven benefits in helping people out of poverty 

There is no command in Scripture that we should support any effort that has the potential of keeping families in a cycle of dependency! 

The Apostles of the same Jesus, who tasked us with helping the poor, even as they collected money and goods to feed poor widows, also gave strict guidelines as to who should be helped!

It was the Apostle to the gentiles who said the now infamous words 
  
2 Thessalonians 3:10 “If any will not work, let them also not eat..” 

Certainly the poor should be given every possible aid, all that is needed, with the goal to get them out of need! But, to have people always expecting and dependent on help,  may not be what Christ had in mind!  

Of course, health care should be provided for the sick but the details about how that is accomplished is a matter for societies to decide! Where things can be improved, they should be! 

It is my experience that the health mandates that help one family can cause financial hardship to another. We need a better health system in our country, but to think that our attempts at one provided a solution for all, is to ignore facts!

Programs are tried; they can succeed or fail, come and go, but our responsibility as Christians remain. 

V. WE BELIEVE that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination.THEREFORE, WE REJECT any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule. 

Amazing statement from people many of whom have been silent about authoritarian rule in Cuba, many nations in the Middle East or some of the countries where people flee to the United States to escape oppression! 

These words are also ironic after the silence of these same leaders during the last administration’s exercise of autocracy! 

At that time, the executive branch ruled this country by executive order, bypassing Congress and the normal channels for the passing and implementing of policy. Some of the problems we face today, especially among immigrant communities, are due to the shortcuts taken to bypass debate over our nation’s immigration laws! 

The president, due to the adverse political situation of his party, decided to govern by fiat, by the power of his pen and signature; that is autocracy, and here we are enduring the consequences!  I pose that we would all be more credible if there was some consistency to our principles! We object now...seemed to not care much then!

VI. WE BELIEVE Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples (Matthew 28:18) THEREFORE, WE REJECTAmerica first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ.  

Huh? Who made that hermeneutical leap? What in the world does making disciples have to do with a nation’s obligations to its citizens first?  

Even in Scripture such an idea is not reconcilable with reality  Here is St. Paul’s take on priorities when it comes to help;  
Galatians 6:1o “ whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone--especially to those in the family of faith … .
 Jesus conversation with Peter about the Temple taxes comes to mind.
Matthew 17:24-26 “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” From others,” Peter answered. Then the children are exempt,” Jesus, said to him.   
 Notice no clarification from Jesus about how this was unfair! Nothing about how citizens and strangers should be equally treated with respect to taxes.


The second and much more disturbing concept is the idea that a political philosophy can be a “theological heresy for followers of Christ”! Heresy, as Mark Tooley aptly reminds us is, “…an attack from within the church on the church’s understanding of God’s core identity. Arius was heretical for claiming Christ was created rather than eternal…”. 

There are no explicit nor implied claims about God, Christ, or any elements of the Creeds, in whatever policy priorities have been pursued under the name America First so far ! I am certainly disturbed by some of them, think that there is room for debate and disagreement but to call it heresy is out of touch and out of place.  

 Progressive Christians whose communities of faith have been busy dismantling some longstanding belief and traditions among Christians, should be a little more careful throwing the  H word around, especially in the context of politics!

And I must ask;  Is this select group of pastors some sort of “magisterium” or a council of the church empowered to make such an outrageous statement? Is this declaration of heresy some type of progressive “fatwah” now? 

These and other thinly disguised politics as spirituality in the body of this statement they can keep! I find that neither compelling nor useful! 

The conclusion I applaud, with these words I can wholeheartedly agree! 
“…If Jesus is Lord, there is always  space for grace. We believe it is time to speak and to act in faith and conscience, not because of politics, but because we are disciples of Jesus Christ—to whom be all authority, honor, and glory. It is time for a fresh confession of faith. Jesus is Lord. He is the light in our darkness. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12)…”

Blessings

 Seraph