Friday, June 26, 2020


On Nov. 12, 2017, I posted a blog piece entitled, "It's Human Rights Stupid." Find it here . It is time to revisit this concept. In the crisis of societal relationships swirling around us these days, the fundamental issue is still the same---human rights. Racism is one aspect of this.

We have to have empathy for our brothers over in the Anglican Church in North America. They are going through gyrations  trying to match vertical religion with a horizontal problem, like a round peg into a square hole. At best this is interesting theater, at worse downright cringe-worthy. Let's see how they have done.

The underlying issue of the schism is now and has always been human rights. The schismatics often denied this and tried to disguise it in many different fashions, but this did not work. The problem in dispute was how religion should interface with God's creation. Seventy years ago, the Episcopal Church adopted the attitude that all human beings were created equally in the eyes of God and it was the job of the church to right the wrongs that had been done to God's children in the world. TEC developed a horizontally-oriented religion. The church actively championed, both within the church and out in the secular world, the human rights of African Americans, the disabled, women, Indians, homosexuals, and the transgendered. 

However, not everyone wanted to go along with this social gospel turn. Some church people wanted to have a vertical religion. In this, the job of the church would be to save lost souls in a one-to-one relationship with a God who was an all-powerful being upwards in space somewhere, like us only greater. Since he controls the universe, he would bring blessings on those who worshiped him and damnation on those who did not. In short, one approach saw God as transactional in human relationships, the other saw God as a separate body somewhere above. The Verticalists tended to be like the Pharisees who were conspicuously self-righteous and in their sense of law-abiding superiority, judgmental of others. When the Horizontalists in the Episcopal Church prevailed and confirmed an open homosexual as a bishop, many Verticalists bolted. In five dioceses, the majorities voted to leave the Episcopal Church. South Carolina was the fifth.

Make no mistake about it. The schism of 2012 was directly caused by the church's treatment of open homosexuals and women. This was confirmed by acts the schismatics carried out after the schism. The leaders of the schism, and probably the majority of their followers, wanted to preserve a conservative order of society.  

The Anglican Church in North America is a vertical-oriented religion which, in my view, shares a lot with the Pharisees. In fact, its very raison d'être was to stand in judgment on homosexuals and women. From its creation in 2009, it condemned non-celibate homosexuals as sinful people and women as innately inferior to men. It insisted the only way to salvation was individual surrender to the all-powerful being vertically positioned above.

Now the ACNA is encountering a horizontal problem, systemic racism in American society and it does not quite know what to do about it. The ACNA archbishop, Foley Beach, an ACNA bishop in Charleston, Mark Lawrence, and other ACNA bishops have published several missives recently seeking to deal with the problem of racism. Their efforts are illustrative of the current Verticalist dilemma. 

To begin with, four ACNA bishops (where were the other 46 or so?) published an open letter on May 29, 2020, admirably stating the problem. They identified the issue as denial of human rights:    "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27). What happened to George is an affront to God because George's status as an image bearer was not respected. He was treated in a way that denied his basic humanity...We mourn alongside the wider Black community for whom this tragedy awakens memories of their own traumas and the larger history of systemic oppression that still plagues this country. [Note. This implied that "the wider Black community" was different than ACNA. In fact, there are many "Black" people in ACNA.]

Beach published an address on June 23, 2020, echoing the four bishops:  We each bear the image of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Any hostility between brothers and sisters in Christ, especially because of skin color, is an affront to God and damages our souls and the "blessed community" so many of us seek.

So, now we have the problem identified, racism is a failure to respect God-given human rights. Now, what to do about it. How should we as Christians individually and the church collectively respond to this? Beach started off with some lofty if vague platitudes such as:

We need the people of the Anglican Church in North America to display the kind of tenderness and compassion that is needed in this time. We need listening ears. We need thoughtfulness. We need preaching. We need humility. We need grace...
We need to look within ourselves. And it starts with me. What the Lord has shown me about me in the past few weeks is this---I have failed to understand the incredible burden and pain that many of my black brothers and sisters live with every day...

OK, so good so far, but back to the question of what to do about it. This is where vertical failed to connect to horizontal. Beach and his fellow bishops offered no specifics. Instead, they fell back on the vertical posture of appealing to God to solve the problem, as Beach wrote:

They may have some impact, but the deep change we all need will be through revival that comes from repentance---turning away from our sin and toward God and his righteous ways in Jesus Christ.

On June 2, Beach had issued a Call for a Week of Prayer and Fasting in which he gave a long list of suggested petitions to God. Missing from the list was any mention of systemic racism or human rights. The Call was a vertical response to a horizontal problem. It called on God to deal with the problem. It offered nothing specific in the way in which Christians could end racism in America.

Bishop Lawrence has written two essays which also reflected this vertical approach. In the first , he said racism is the problem, then declared: Frankly, I do not know what I think. I am still struggling to know what I feel. Really? I assume this is just a poor choice of words. Racism is not a morally ambiguous issue. People who claim morality should know what they think and how they feel about racism. It is right or wrong. Anyway, Lawrence went on to call everyone to prayer and to "action" although he did not identify any actions.

So, maybe we would get more direction in Lawrence's second essay . This time he said we should stand in the breach. This one, I am sorry to say, went over my head. What breach? Where is the breach; and why should we be standing in it? Again, we get the vertical approach:  We pray for the light of Christ to come into our darkened world, and after this week of prayer and fasting to show each of us what the next step is, so we might fulfill the promise of our Lord. "You are the light of the world...let your light shine before others that they may see your good world and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

Putting all of this together, we can see that the bishops of ACNA identified a problem, the failure of society to respect the God-given rights of certain people. This is an admirable start. But that is about as far as it went. There were two subsequent problems: 1-they failed to recognize that other elements of society have also been denied human rights, and 2-they failed to offer any specific solutions to the problem they identified. They called on God to guide them to any possible action to solve the problem. So, we wait to see what, if anything, the ACNA bishops actually do to end racism in America. So far we have seen nothing, but it is early yet. We should give them the benefit of time. Of course, meanwhile the people of horizontal religion are very busy directly acting today in all sorts of ways to end racism.

The bishops of ACNA have made a good start. No one should criticize that. These good men are struggling to reconcile a very difficult issue by matching their understanding of God with a terrible problem all around them. They have opened their hearts, or at least said they had, to the great truth that all people are made in the image of God. For that, they should be applauded and supported. This is what the Episcopal Church was saying all along. 

Now, while they are waiting on messages from God about what to do with racism, they should look inside their own institution and see what they done regarding the human rights of others such as the gays, the transgendered, and women. These people were made in the image of God too. They deserve the same dignity and respect. These children of God certainly do not deserve the condemnation of people who claim to respect God's creation. 

Our faith holds that all human beings were made by God in the image of God. Religion always has to begin with a vertical moment, a personal connection of a person and God. Then, it should develop into a mature horizontal religion because faith without works is dead. Vertical is a starting place but it should not be the ending place. Human beings were made by God for a reason, to be his representatives in the world. He did not have to make them. In order truly to be God's representatives, human beings must practice horizontal religion. It is the mature development of our relationship with the divine. This is a lesson ACNA should learn. It has made a start.      

To ACNA, and to everyone else, the message of the day is, to paraphrase James Carville:  It's still human rights, stupid.

(Note. No blog entries for the next few days. May you find courage and strength for the living of this hour. Peace.)