Monday, April 23, 2018

(with addendum, 24 Apr.)

"Why the Battle? Different God, Different Gospel?" Why, indeed.

This was the title of a recent course at St. Michael's Church, in Charleston, conducted by the Revs. Al Zadig, rector, and Kendall Harmon, Canon Theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina. It included six lessons, the first three by Zadig, the last three by Harmon. Find more information and all the links to the materials here . Printed and video versions are provided. 

I have read and studied all of the lessons and the questions and answers provided online. In so doing, I have tried to understand the thinking of the leaders and people of St. Michael's and the DSC. What are their views about religion? Why did they make the schism? Why are they so concerned about homosexuality? Why are they hostile to the Episcopal Church? I think people on the Episcopal Church side need to have as much understanding of these as possible both for their own sakes and for the events to come in the future.

St. Michael's is one of the 29 parishes that almost certainly will be returned to control of the Episcopal Church bishop. The South Carolina supreme court ruled such last August. The federal judge, Richard Gergel, recognized this reality in his recent ruling. In February, DSC appealed the SCSC judgment to the United States Supreme Court. It is now pending. Odds are SCOTUS will deny the appeal. At any rate, we should know by the end of June whether the court will accept or deny DSC's petition.

Meanwhile, last December, DSC issued a secret plan to its parishes on how to move congregations out of the old parish properties. In March and April, the DSC leaders zeroed in on St. Michael's and St. Philip's, hence Zadig and Harmon's course at St. Michael's of a few weeks ago.


The course at St. Michael's really made only five simple points and did so with much repetition:

1---DSC lives "under" the Bible which is the one and only authority.

2---TEC lives "over" the Bible. That is, it follows a "false gospel" that is not biblical. It has turned away from Jesus Christ as the one and only source of salvation and veered into "Universalism."

3---Homosexual activity is sinful. TEC has endorsed sin.

4---Marriage is a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman.

5---DSC is Anglican. TEC departed from true Anglicanism. The Anglican Church in North America is true Anglicanism.

Bottom line:  DSC/ACNA=good; TEC/TECSC=bad.

No one sitting in the course could miss these few big points. The unspoken take-away from all of this obviously was:  The people of St. Michael's should remain with DSC/ACNA and should not return to TEC.

Actually, there was nothing new in the lessons of the course. It was all a reiteration of the well-established assertions that leaders of DSC have been making for many years.  


---Zadig's first three lessons emphasized what is wrong with the Episcopal Church. He used the term Episcopal Church a total of 27 times, more than any other topic. "Anglican" he used 17 times while bringing up references to sex only 10 times. He repeated the term "false gospel" 7 times, all in regards to TEC. 


"remaining with the Episcopal church is choosing a false Gospel." (Mod. 1).

"the conflict we are in is a reality because the leadership of the Episcopal church has taken a stand to be over Scripture, and is therefore immersed in Universalism."(Mod. 2).

"It's Biblical Christianity here, or False Gospel there." (Mod. 2).

"My friends, can you be part of a church actively leading people astray from Scripture?" (Mod. 3).

---Regrettably, much of the evidence Zadig offered was questionable. For instance, he cited the defeat of a 2003 resolution in General Convention as an example of TEC's rejection of the authority of the Bible. (Mod. 1). This is a serious misinterpretation. Actually, that resolution came from conservatives in GC who were attempting to sabotage the vote on bishop-elect Gene Robinson, an openly gay man. The Convention affirmed his election. In fact, the resolution was all about stopping the affirmation of a gay bishop and the Convention saw through it and acted on it. In fact, TEC has never rejected the authority of the scriptures anymore than it has the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.

---Zadig offered numerous Biblical quotes to support his opinions. At least one of these is also a misinterpretation taken out of context. He cited Romans 1:26-27 as denunciation of homosexuality. If one reads the verses before and after 26-27, one will see that the text is clearly meant to condemn idolatry; and it is God who causes women and men to behave as described:  26: "Because of this [idolatry], God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27: In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error."(NIV). The text is plain that God caused people to turn to homosexuality ("God gave them over") as the consequence of their idolatry. Thus, using Romans 1:26-27 to condemn homosexuality is an insubstantial convolution of the obvious meaning of the text.

---While there were many Bible references given, they were opportunistic, or cherry picked. Many appropriate verses were simply ignored. For instance, St. Paul's admonition of Christians suing other Christians (I Cor. 6: 1-8). Perhaps Zadig forgot it was DSC that first sued TEC and started all of the litigation. So, are we to choose the verses that confirm our preconceived notions and ignore the others? Are we to live "under" only some of the Bible? Who is to choose?

Harmon's last three lessons focused on two main themes, sexuality and the Anglican Communion. I counted 31 separate references to sex, sexuality and the like. This was rivaled only by the word "Anglican" which Harmon repeated 30 times, all in the last lesson.

On sexuality, Harmon reiterated the well-established DSC talking points: people are born male or female and must follow assignment, sex is allowed only in context of lifelong heterosexual marriage, homosexual unions are not marriage in the traditional sense, TEC has deviated from the universal church's definition of marriage.

On Anglicanism, Harmon also saw TEC as deviating from the Anglican Communion which he implied was a worldwide religion governed by a "conciliar" system. His point was that ACNA is truly Anglican while TEC is not. There were two big problems I saw with this view. In the first place, TEC did indeed arrive at its decisions by "conciliar" process through the consensus of the Church, that is, through General Convention. All of the resolutions and canonical changes for women and homosexuals went through the legal and open institutional process of the Church. The second big problem is the structure of the Anglican Communion. It is a collection of 39 independent churches. It lacks a central or unitary system. There is no executive, legislative or judicial branch in the AC. It has Four Instruments of Communion but none has power over the individual churches. Furthermore, to be an Anglican, one must be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The DSC and the ACNA are not in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. They are not Anglican. The Archbishop has said more than once that ACNA is a separate religion. It is not in the Anglican Communion and almost certainly will never will be. So, the idea that TEC is not Anglican and ACNA is, to be charitable, silly.

Now, the question arises, How well did Zadig and Harmon impress the attendees in St. Michael's? We get a glimpse in the posted Questions and Answers of Modules 1-4. These were questions that the audience wrote out after the sessions. The dualism, TEC-bad, DSC-good apparently went over very well. There were 11 mentions of TEC in the Questions, and 6 for Anglican. The most surprising revelation was that the people seemed mostly uninterested in sexuality, a topic Harmon had expounded at length. There were only 4 references to sexuality in the Questions while there were 5 references to salvation, 4 to the scriptures, 4 to the church, and 2 to Hell. Actually, the crowd seemed more interested in the effects of the schism than in the promoted topics of sexuality and the uniqueness of Christ.

One question in particular illustrated the course:  
"Q 4. Is there any chance for reconciliation? 
A. No. Perhaps mediation; but not reconciliation. TEC has 'gone over the waterfall.' You cannot put the water back at the top. Remember this all comes down to worldview and our over-under understanding of scripture." (Q & A, Mod. 3-4).

The answers were illuminating in other ways too. In one question, homosexuality is seen as a disease to be cured: "What we want to do is help those with unwanted same-sex desires to be healed...This may or may not cure them... (Q & A, #10, Mod. 3-4).

Another answer implied that Jesus condemned homosexuality. Actually, the Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. (Q & A, #14, Mod. 1-2).

Another answer was wildly inaccurate:  "At the last world gathering of Anglican bishops in England in 2016, TEC was demoted to observer status withing the Anglican Communion....Archbishop Foley Beach of the ACNA was not only invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but was given full participation. Until the disagreements are settled, TEC is demoted and ACNA is a full ecumenical partner of the Anglican Communion." All of this is untrue. In fact, the TEC was not "demoted" to anything. Beach was not regarded as a primate and not allowed to vote. ACNA may be an "ecumenical partner" as many other churches are, but the implication that it is part of the Anglican Communion is flatly wrong. ACNA is not in the Anglican Communion. TEC is the only branch of the Anglican Communion in the U.S. The assertion that ACNA is truly in the Anglican Communion and TEC is not is an untruth almost on the level of the claim that TEC has abandoned the uniqueness of Christ (the most outrageously false of all of DSC's wild attacks on TEC). 

So, when all is said and done about this course at St. Michael's I am left in profound sadness. I grieve for the good people of St. Michael's who have been put in a terrible position. For many years now they have been given one side of the story. At the moment it is being thrown on them in new urgency. What are they to do? DSC is trying to convince people why they need to abandon their iconic ancestral building, a national and local treasure and all this entails. The people certainly have a right to their religious views. I just wish they could have the other side too before they break up their church family (again). (There's an idea---Rev. Zadig, let me give a "lesson" on this history of the schism at St. Michael's. Judging for the turnout I have had in other places, there would be a big crowd.)

It is useful to stand back and look at the big picture. DSC's schism from the Episcopal Church is part of a culture war now going on in the U.S., and to some extent in the world. DSC is part of a reactionary backlash against the democratic reforms adopted by the Episcopal Church from the 1950's to the present, what I call a turn to horizontal religion: civil rights for racial minorities, democratized prayer book, and equality for and inclusion of women and homosexuals in the life of the church. What is fueling this backlash against this turn is fear, fear of change, fear of loss, fear of the unknown. Christian fundamentalists, with whom I would put the leaders of DSC, fear that the fundamentals of the old religion are under assault by the forces of secular humanism and so are retreating into a defensive posture of the past. The ACNA is the creation of the Anglican fundamentalists in hopes of defeating this humanism and restoring fundamental Anglican religion in America. 

The leaders of DSC, and their followers, certainly have the right to decide their own religion. No one has every questioned that. That is not what is at stake. The issue is whether they can take the property of the pre-schsim diocese with them as they embark on their separate journey of faith. It looks as if the courts will say no they cannot. Hence, the desperation at St. Michael's and St. Philip's. As President Trump might say in a tweet: SAD! 

ADDENDUM (April 24):
Following the course above, Dr. Peter Moore addressed the congregation of St. Michael's church on March 18, and Bishop Lawrence on April 22. They continued the theme of preparing to leave the buildings.

Moore continued the clear-cut differentiation of "us/them" that has worked so well for so many years. Manichean dualism has been an integral part of the theology of the people who made the schism; and it has been very effective in separating the majority of the old diocese from the Episcopal Church. He made disparaging remarks about the Episcopal Church that were, to be charitable, great exaggerations. Finally he got to the ultimate point of his sermon: property. He echoed Jean Toal's words about judicial confiscation (in fact, she was the only one of the 5 justices to say the Dennis Canon had no effect in SC). Moore told his listeners: "Jesus knew that what would sustain his disciples through the stormy days ahead was to be grounded in the Word of God.... He alone will carry us through the storm. If we lose everything, we still have Him.... Buildings or no buildings, we are here, and we are not going away." Well, nothing subtle about that.

It seemed to me Moore signaled loudly and clearly the people of St. Michael's should prepare to vacate the premises.

Lawrence's message of last Sunday to St. Michaelites was more muted but still unmistakable. He preached on the text from the Gospel of Mark about the paralyzed man who was let down through the roof of the building to be healed by Jesus. He said "There are lots of ways to be paralyzed in life." He observed that paralysis is all around us as "fear grips many people's hearts today." However, he said, "people are not made for buildings." Ah, there we are on the unimportance of buildings. He continued, "Some of you this morning are paralyzed by what you do not have power over." Finally, "What will you do?...Do not be paralyzed any longer." His point: Trust in God, God will lead, God will heal, through Him we can overcome our paralysis. I expect everyone got the meaning that I understood: do not be afraid of leaving the building.

It may be easy for people who have little personal or ancestral attachment to St. Michael's church to tell the people of St. Michael's they should abandon the old church structure, but it is far from easy for people whose lives are embedded in that historic treasure at the corner of Meeting and Broad, the very essence of old Charleston. The idea of leaving that ancient building is devastating to people whose very identity is in its walls. Telling them to leave is close to giving them a death sentence. I know from personal testimony there are people in St. Michael's who are heartbroken and who are agonizing between what their leaders are telling them and what their hearts are saying. This is a tragedy; and it is one that did not have to happen. My heart goes out to the people of St. Michael's. What I want to say to you is that one day all of this will be over. St. Michael's has weathered the worst that history and nature can throw at it. It has survived and you will too.