Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Scrutinized to Death?

by The Rev. Jeffrey A. Mackey
a priest in the Diocese of New York
and canon theologian of
the Anglican Order of Preachers.

On a recent Sunday, I worshiped in a parish served by a faithful and good priest — a woman. Normally I do not have any reaction to such a reality since long ago I settled in my own mind and heart that “faithful and good” were the adjectives I wanted to apply to a priest, and that gender was insignificant to any discussion of call and integrity.

My convictions have not changed. But my perceptions are changing in light of the multiplication of “Anglicanisms” in the world. I fear I must be honest, for there are many faithful and good female priests.

I used to joke with my Baptist friends that they belonged to the “Heinz 57 Variety Denomination.” There were Southern, Northern, American, Missionary, Independent, Fundamental, Free-Will, and seemingly infinite other numbers of Baptists. I have many Baptist friends, and when we are together, we agree to drop the modifiers. Now Anglicanism is giving our Baptist brothers and sisters a run for the money. There seems to be a new acronym weekly. We have CANA, AMiA, REC, CAC, AAC, CCAC, ad infinitum. Each of these factions — and let’s be honest, they are factions — has its own position on catholicity, scripture, ritual, gender, et al. And no one knows all the nuances of all the factions.

I remember being an Independent Baptist for 14 months. It was a fearful thing, for one night at about bedtime, several deacons appeared at our door to determine if Mrs. Mackey, my wife, was wearing pajamas with “legs in them.” For anything with legs was, of course, meant for men! She was safe, I assure you, and we were allowed to remain undisciplined in the church.

I am fearful that we may be on the verge of vigilante tactics in the church as various groups will not tolerate certain ritual, certain clergy dress, certain scripture translations, certain genders to do sacerdotal ministry. Might it happen? It already is happening. In parish churches, institutions, and other church-related organizations, people are being put under severe anti-Christian scrutiny. I fear for many.

But I digress. Back to the wonderful priest a few Sundays ago. I looked at her doing her ministry, fulfilling her calling. She wore an alb and chasuble, read the morning lessons from the New International Version of the scriptures. I prayed that some of the acronym-hungry Anglicans were not present, for there was a real sense that where this woman was as a priest and leader of a congregation was due precisely to the actions and vision of those who would not be part of the acronym groups that are generally out of step with The Episcopal Church. I thought, “You are in a precarious place, dear priest and pastor.”

First, many of those who have found that they cannot continue in The Episcopal Church are people who find much catholic ritual, including vestments, unacceptable. The so-called “low-church” view of ritual and vesting is sufficient and the regalia of catholicity is anathema to many of the acronym-related crowd. I hoped there were no spies in church that Sunday. Had it not been for the progressive liturgical movement, the priest would not have been so arrayed that Sunday morning.

Then I knew that she had employed the New International Version for scripture readings. The very fact that this is allowed rubrically over the historic King James is a sign that The Episcopal Church progressives sought to broaden our experiences in hearing the scriptures.

Finally, a woman at the altar was a testimony that progressive visionaries reread the scriptures and found that indeed Paul may have just meant that in Christ there “is no male or female.” And so I fear for all my female priest friends, that they may find themselves the focus of inattention at best and defrocking at worst as much of emerging Anglicanism is not favorable to female priests. It happens, I know, for an ordained Southern Baptist friend of mine was recently sent a letter telling her that her ordination from some 20 years ago was no longer valid.

And I fear as well that those who are faithful saints in the acronym crowd will not succumb to the works-centered righteousness of fundamentalism. Newfound power can corrupt just as much as long-held power. And those who think they stand may need to watch, lest they fall. So my fear is for those who have reaped the benefits of progressive visionary thinking and praying and acting as well as for those who, ignoring previous progressive visionary thinking and praying and acting, are acting out of a non-Anglican ethos and are falling headlong into an individualistic congregationalism with bishops.

A thoughtful piece!


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