Monday, July 16, 2012

Daring to Dream (updated)

By now you are aware of several opinion pieces in the press and on blogs decrying the results of General Convention and the "secularization" of liberal Christianity. These have been well-covered by the Episcopal Cafe. (Aside: It's particularly rich to have Ross Douthat, the token Conservative Catholic apologist on the NY Times, scold Episcopalians. What arrogance.)

Numerous takedowns have been published ranging from George Conger to Diana Butler Bass (how's that for a spectrum), again, quoted extensively at the Cafe.

In addition to numerous factual errors (particularly in the WSJ piece; also see box below), the assumption is that "liberal" = "secular" . I find this particularly annoying, since I spend my Sunday mornings at a very liberal, progressive parish with a very high liturgy and very clear commitment to Scripture as well as faith and reason. Many of my Episcopal friends there would agree with Jay Emerson Johnson, who writes, "I am socially and politically liberal because I am theologically and religiously conservative."

But what's striking to me, as one who followed GC pretty closely (I was running our Diocesan blog, believe it or not), was how far these dark prognostications were from the energy and enthusiasm I saw on twitter, on the various blogs, and in the returning warriors….er, Deputies.    As a relative outsider, I found GC very hopeful.  Finally, moving beyond the sexuality issue as the only concern;  a meaningful and heartening desire to restructure the church in a positive way, a recognition that "all" really has to mean "all".

Are there challenges ahead? Sure, but the Episcopal Church is maneuvering to meet them better than most. It may even do so "nimbly" (SCORE!)

I've exhorted you before to stop hiding what you have to offer under a bushel. In fact I keep saying it, your own atheist evangelist. After all, you have community, liturgy, and mission to offer; you welcome intelligent people, you allow questions, you like science, you aren't hung up on sex….but you need to figure how to tell people this.

Still, there is regenerating hopefulness and not just in Episcopalians. As the Rev. Emily Heath writes, many mainline protestants are daring to dream.  Much of this is driven by twitter and other social media (e.g., #mainlinedreams; you can read her piece for other hashtags used by individual denominations).  Hearteningly, clearly many people are energized--not just the young.

 The Acts8 group I mentioned before is just one example of how people are stepping up. (That would be #Acts8 for the twitterati.) None of these will come up with a single way to adapt and grow, of course. But it makes me think of how new growth insistently pushes out of the soil after a fire (it's that season here in Southern California), how life insistently and hopefully reclaims and re-establishes itself. The landscape changes but life goes on.

You should feel pretty good about what you did at GC.  As Winnie Varghese writes in this fabulous article, 

What happened at General Convention? Besides beginning to think about restructuring the church and passing a whopping huge budget, we made many statements of belief in the resolutions we passed. Here are some: We believe that God cares more about the nature of your relationship than its biology, and we have a beautiful blessing to offer. We believe that God created you to express your gender the way you feel moved to express it. We believe that no one should be assumed to be breaking the law because of his or her appearance. But mostly, we believe that we are received into the household of God in baptism and partake of the body of Christ in the Eucharist, and through the sacrament are given a glimpse of God's vision for a just world, and the courage to make it real, and we want you to join us. 
Now go invite someone to church on Sunday.  ;-)

Just the facts: While the critics point (with an a-HA!) at reduced numbers, as though that's specific to Episcopalians, that's not true at all. It's not even liberal Christianity that is declining. It's organized religion overall, and particularly Christianity given that is the dominant faith expression in the US. Indeed, trends suggest that the conservatives have poisoned the well for everyone.
  • Every mainline denomination is shrinking
  • Even conservative evangelicals are concerned
  • The Roman Catholic faith is hemorrhaging "cradle Catholics" and kept afloat by immigrants 
  • The most rapidly growing religious group in the country is "none". and a lot of those are disaffected young Christians turned off by anti-science, anti-gay policies.


Counterlight said...

How many years has it been that the right has been banging that shoe and declaring "We will bury you!"?

They've been writing the obituary for the Episcopal Church for 20 or 30 years now.

I've had the same experience. That aging dying Episcopal Church of empty pews and gray hair must only exist in right wing fantasy land. I've been an Episcopalian for 30 years, and during that whole time in many different cities I've seen far more active, happy, and committed Christians in Episcopal Congregations than I ever saw in the Methodist Church of my Texas childhood.

dr.primrose said...

The Los Angeles Times front page offers a good example of why schism is so bad -- St. Mary of the Angels fight drags on. It just leads to further schism.

St. Mary's left The Episcopal Church in the 1970s because of women's ordination. Now the parish (60 members - so much for the claims of church growth due to schism) is a knock-down fight between the rector and a minority that want to go to Rome and the rest that want to stay part of the Anglican Church of North America.

The fight so far includes restraining orders, security guards, calls to the police, changing the locks, and breaking the locks under cover of night. The current situation has one faction occupying one floor and the other faction another. The Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem brought to California.

IT said...

Here's an example of the negative effects of polarization, from the RC side:

I have been an active member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Washington, D.C., for more than 31 years. My faith is my bedrock; my parish is my home.That is why I am worried and deeply saddened to see partisan politics increasingly creeping into our faith community. A few months ago, I attended a meeting at our church when a fellow parishioner publicly expressed outrage that there were cars in the church parking lot that had “Obama bumper stickers.” The intensity of his tone and the fact that I had such a decal made me so uncomfortable that I left the meeting.

Smaller, purer church much, Mr Douthat?

JCF said...

For a couple of years (2008-2010, before I moved), I weekly attended an RC adoration chapel...w/ my Obama bumpersticker on my car. I did used to worry something could happen because of that! [My tires and paint job remained intact, however]

God bless TEC!

IT said...

From Winnie Varghese's inspiring HuffPo piece:

Orthodox theology teaches that this creation is in the image of God. All of it. It also teaches that we are fallen from perfection, from the beginning, fundamentally fallen short, sin filled. I believe that fallen-ness is most visible in our trashing of the systems of life on the earth and in our degradation of our brothers and sisters through systems that create and perpetuate poverty, abuse, neglect, slavery and violence.

The other side believes our fallen-ness is most visible in our desires to have sex outside of the bounds of heterosexual marriage, ordaining women and sometimes in voting for Democrats. I disagree. Jesus of Nazareth's critique of empire and power in the Gospels is visible for any who have eyes to see.

I really like how liberal Christians are feeling inspired to push back solidly to defend their faith in the face of the insults of Douthat et al. Go read Winnie's whole piece!