Four Things for Mid-January: My Heroes Have Always Been Episcopalians

1. On Quotes and Tattoos

If this blog had arms, I would tattoo this quote from Michael Curry around its bicep:

“Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.”

For the other arm, I might go with this one from Jim Naughton: “We can’t repent what isn’t a sin.”

Those phrases came, of course, in response to the decision by the Anglican Primates Meeting to suspend the Episcopal Church from decision-making bodies for three years as a result of its support for LGBT rights, including marriage. That decision is disappointing, though, as the Reverend Mike Angell outlines here, it won’t change anything in the day-to-day life of the Episcopal Church. Nor will it result in the church being kicked out of the Anglican Communion, or anything like that.

2. The Episcopal “Consequence” and the Religious Right

The reaction to the vote by American conservatives is exactly why I’ve paused my conversations with the Religious Right. Here’s old favorite Dwight Longenecker, for example, with “Seven Ways the Episcopalians Will React to the Suspension.

What bothers me about that post?

The pointlessness of it all.

Before reading a word of response from the Episcopal Church, Longenecker decided we’d be wrong.  If we weren’t too prideful, we’d be too hurt. If we accepted the decision stoically, we’d be “false martyrs,” and if we argued against it, we’d be “counter-attacking” with ruthless rage. The guy who complains we’re wishy-washy Moralistic Therapeutic Deists was now predicting we’d be too defiant.

And I don’t even know what to do with this lovely “prediction”: “The African bishops will be portrayed as homophobic gay killers. They will be portrayed as ignorant jungle bunnies who ought to mind their own business. It will get racist and it will get ugly.”

Sigh.

To give you an idea of just how little Longenecker knows about the church to which he once belonged, here’s Prediction 7: “The Episcopal Church of the USA will leave the Anglican Communion and become just another one of the nearly 150 Anglican style breakaway churches.”

And here’s the end of Curry’s statement: “God is greater than anything. I love Jesus and I love the church. I am a Christian in the Anglican way. And like you, as we have said in this meeting, I am committed to ‘walking together’ with you as fellow Primates in the Anglican family.“

As Ruth Gledhill put it, that is “a genuine turning of the other cheek. He is not threatening to walk away, he is pledging his Church to walk together with all the Primates of the Anglican Communion.”

Does Longenecker see that? No. Or, if he does, he writes it off as “false martyrdom.”

See how it works? There’s literally no response that the Episcopal Church could offer that would satisfy writers like him. Apart, of course, from renouncing all of the theology and moral logic that has led it to its current position.

But, oh, yeah. Longenecker says that theology and moral logic don’t exist. See Prediction 1: “Their response will not be with reasoned argument, proof for same sex marriage from the Scriptures, the church fathers and the tradition of the church. This is not only because there is no such proof, but because they have abandoned the whole idea of objective truth long ago.”

Now, everyone knows that’s untrue. The Christian case for gay marriage has been elucidated over and over and over and over again, with reason and with reference to Scriptures and the tradition of the church. Even secular writers, like Damon Linker, and orthodox Catholics, like Marc Barnes and Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, get that the current push for gay rights unfolds from the basic precepts of Christianity.

If writers like Longenecker want to disagree with the logic that reaches the Episcopal Church’s progressive ends, fine. We can have a conversation. But if they want to pretend it doesn’t exist, if they just stick their fingers in their ears and say lalalalala… I can’t hear you, what’s the point of talking to someone like that?

3. What’s the Point of Talking to Someone Like That?

Sigh again. The point of talking to someone like that is that the example of my Presiding Bishop demands it. Seriously, how can I read Curry’s words and not feel a responsibility to stand with him in rebuke, and both forcefully with all the compassion I can muster, make and remake the arguments that folks like Longenecker want to pretend are not there?

Curry is a perfect example of why my heroes have always been Episcopalians.

4. A Pattern Language

On a different note, yesterday Rod Dreher pointed out this piece by architect Christopher Alexander. If you’re not familiar with Alexander’s classic book A Pattern Language, definitely check it out. One of my wife’s professors made her buy it in college, and it has been one of my favorite books on our shelf ever since.

Why do I like it so much? I don’t know. A Pattern Language is about, as Dreher puts it, “which architectural patterns produce buildings that please us.” It’s sort of a doorstop-thick Elements of Style for designers, full of bold-type commands like “Wherever paths run along the edge of buildings, build arcades, and use the arcades, above all, to connect up the buildings to one another, so that a person can walk from place to place under the cover of arcades.” Or, “Build waist-high shelves around at least a part of the main rooms where people work.”

I guess what I like about it is what Alexander identifies in this new essay: behind all of these “rules” and commandments is an idea that we can experience the divine in the physical. It’s a sense that Dreher calls sacramentalism, and it’s a notion that always enchants me, whether it comes from Andre Dubus writing about the sacredness of making sandwiches for your daughter or from Casey Cep writing about writing:

One way of understanding the sacraments, perhaps best articulated by liturgist Gordon Lathrop, is that simple things become central things. When Christians refer to the bath and the table, they refer not only to the specific sacraments of bathing and eating, but they point also to the sacramental character of every bath and every table. The setting apart of one table and one bath shows forth the splendor of all tables and all baths.

That setting apart is the calling of Christians but also the vocation of the writer. moreThe attentiveness of the writer is shown in how that writer lifts to the level of extraordinary the most ordinary of people, places, and things.

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