In my sermon last week, I gave you some background about Isaiah the prophet, his historical context, and I focused on the images he used, especially the images of beating swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. I’d like to continue to look at Isaiah this week, even though the gospel encourages us to reflect on John the Baptizer. Continue reading
The House of Bishops Theology Committee released to the public its “Primer on Ecclesiology” last week, just in time for Thanksgiving and Black Friday. An earlier version of the document was presented at the Fall House of Bishops Meeting and I offered some comment on what we learned then here.
Crusty Old Dean provides a thorough reading of the document in his inimitably crusty style. He asks a number of pertinent questions and points out various places where the document is less than accurate historically. These misrepresentations are problematic because as the document states in its introduction,
The study of the Church begins with history and governance: how it came to be and how it makes decisions. To understand how and why The Episcopal Church functions the way it does today, we must start with its origins in the Church of England.
A lack of adequate historical understanding results in inadequate ecclesiology. I will leave aside a discussion of developments in America. What concerns me are certain misrepresentations of the History of Christianity in Early Modern England, matters about which I actually know something.
The first major problem I want to highlight has to do with the sixteenth century. It is quite true to see Henry VIII’s efforts to gain control over the Church in England in light of similar efforts by his contemporary European rulers. Kings did it; even the city councils of Imperial cities in the Holy Roman Empire used the Reformation to gain power to control the clergy in their territories. But to say that the matter was “purely a matter of governance and political power” and that Henry had no religious, theological, or ecclesiastical motives is a serious misunderstanding of the mindset of early modern rulers. Kings believed that not only would they be answerable for their own sins on the Day of Judgment but also that they would be held responsible for the Christian faith and morality of their subjects. It’s impossible to separate the motives of sixteenth-century people into distinct categories of religious and non-religious.
The primer’s discussion of developments after Henry is even more confused and confusing. It seems the authors are attempting, as they did in Henry’s case, to distinguish cleanly and completely between religious and non-religious spheres. So, for example, a sentence like this:
After his death, the first Book of Common Prayer was published in 1549, and a second Book in 1552, while Henry’s son Edward was king, reflecting the growing importance of doctrinal concerns to the Church.
There had been lively, passionate, divisive, even fatal debates over doctrine in England since the 1520s. Henry had executed both Evangelicals and Catholics who refused to toe the theological line. At times, reformers seemed to hold sway; other times the conservative Catholic party seemed in charge. Under Edward, it becomes clear that the Evangelical party (to call them “Protestant” is misleading; it doesn’t fit the English scene in the Tudor period) was setting policy.
Crusty points out the enormous problems in the brief treatment of Elizabeth. The Elizabethan Settlement is usually dated to 1559-1560, with the publication of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer and the Act of Supremacy. Elizabeth’s excommunication by Pius V only acknowledged the reality on the ground. The document overlooks one very important issue in the development of the settlement and the need to distinguish between the roles and competencies of Crown and Church. Elizabeth was a woman. A great deal of Henry’s desire to have a son was general uncertainty about the fitness of women to rule kingdoms and to have a woman as head of the church was an affront to many churchmen and reformers. John Knox fired off “blasts of the trumpet against this monstrous regiment of women” in which he voiced his opposition to Elizabeth’s reign. The attempt to distinguish “the Archbishop of Canterbury as spiritual head and the Crown as the governor of the church’s temporal existence” was in part an attempt to remove the possibility that Elizabeth, a woman, was “head” of the Church of England.
Crusty’s takedown of the paragraph on the seventeenth century is worth repeating:
The historical narrative here is confusing and problematic. Cromwell and the Commonwealth are called the “zenith of Presbyterian experiment in the church of England.” This is simply inaccurate. Cromwell was an Independent (what we could call a Congregationalist) and actually introduced religious toleration.
He also alludes to the primer’s consistent and misleading of the terms “spiritual” and “temporal” to distinguish the roles of clergy and laity (or church and crown). The ultimate example of this confusion comes somewhat later in the document where it distinguishes between the clergy’s responsibility for worship, “the Church’s principal act” and the laity’s responsibility for finances.
Looking at the discussion of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in light of this distinction between spiritual and temporal, it becomes clear to me that the document is attempting to do something quite interesting. Its construction of the Elizabethan Settlement is an attempt to make a connection between the Church of England’s structure and governance with that of the Episcopal Church, each being adapted to the local context. Thus:
While the present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, has only a formal role in governing her Church, she symbolizes the considerable power that the laity exercise across England. This original balance of her great ancestor’s Settlement has been a key element of Anglican provinces around the world, including the Episcopal Church, the first Anglican Church outside the British Isles.
In other words, the Elizabethan Settlement, with the Crown as “governor of the church’s temporal existence” and the Archbishop of Canterbury as spiritual head become the foundation for both the Episcopal Church’s hierarchical structure and for the existence of General Convention with its lay representation.
This is deeply problematic in at least two ways. First, it attempts to map onto the sixteenth century our categories of religious and secular (although using the terms “spiritual” and “temporal”). “Spiritual” in the sixteenth century did not mean what it means today. The English Bishops were lords “spiritual;” that is to say, they sat in the House of Lords by virtue of their appointment as bishops, yet exercised vast political power both in Parliament and in their own dioceses. “Spirituality” in the sixteenth century referred not to some nebulous, internal, religious state or mode of being; it referred to the clergy as an order, with unique political rights . The term “spirituality” used in our contemporary sense first appeared in France in the 17th century. To give just one obvious example of the Crown’s involvement in “spiritual” affairs in the 16th century: forced conformity to the Church of England. Elizabeth famously said there were “no windows into men’s souls” but she certainly demanded that everyone in her realm outwardly conform to the Church of England doctrine, discipline, and worship.
This raises the other difficulty I have with the document as a whole. As I read through it, I kept thinking of James I’s statement at the Hampton Court Conference, “no king, no bishop.” To tie the structure and governance of the Episcopal Church to historical developments in sixteenth and seventeenth century England ties the Episcopal Church to the English monarchy and to the Church of England’s establishment; in other words, “no king, no bishop.”
Of course, the Elizabethan Settlement is part of our history as Episcopalians, but the decision in the 18th century to bring the historic episcopacy to the United States was a theological decision, a creative response to the new political reality that emerged after the Revolution, born from the product of almost two centuries of the inculturation and adaption of Anglicanism to a new environment. That decision is clear evidence that the episcopacy is not dependent on monarchy for its existence,nor is the English monarchy’s involvement in the Church of England a determining factor for the laity’s involvement in the Episcopal Church. A primer on ecclesiology in the Episcopal Church should make that clear.
I’ve had a chance to read the pope’s apostolic exhortation Gaudium Evangelii, and I’ve also been following much of the media and blogoverse response. Much of that has focused on his statements about capitalism or his affirmation of traditional church teaching on the ordination of women, abortion, etc.
I had a conversation last night with a first-time volunteer at our First Monday meals for the homeless community. He’s an active and committed Catholic and he said to me in the course of our conversation, “What you’re doing here, that’s what the Pope is talking about.” Then I read about the unconfirmed and officially denied rumors that Pope Francis is going out at night dressed as a priest to be among the homeless of Rome. Whether or not the rumors are true, a church that is active in the community, active among the poorest, the outcast, the suffering, that is what Pope Francis is talking about, and it’s what Jesus talked about.
But that’s not all that Pope Francis is talking about. What so much of the media, secular and religious, seems to have overlooked is the title and overall theme of the document, “The Joy of the Gospel.” His discussion of the economy comes in the context of his discussion of what hinders evangelization. The document is about sharing the Gospel, but more deeply, it is about the joy of the gospel, the joy of life in Christ. Some of the most profound and challenging sections of the document come early on.
22. God’s word is unpredictable in its power. The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps (Mk 4:26-29). The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking.
 An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be.
27. I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with him.
This document is not only a challenge to Roman Catholics; it is also a challenge to all Christians, and especially to clergy. It is a challenge to us to examine our priorities, to remember and embrace the joy of the gospel, and to proclaim the gospel’s joy in a world full of suffering, and to people who are struggling to find meaning and hope. It is a challenge to all of us to keep our eyes focused on the gospel, on the joy of life in Christ, and on the importance of sharing that joy, and the redemptive love of God in Christ with the world around us.
And what is Pope Francis’s vision for the church?
It is to be a joyful community of believers completely unafraid of the modern world, completely unafraid of change and completely unafraid of challenges. Not everyone will like this document. Some may find it frightening. For it poses a fierce challenge to the status quo–explicitly: “Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way,’” he writes in a section entitled “Ecclesial Renewal.”
Dreams can be powerful things, especially when articulated by leaders with the realistic capacity to translate them into action. That was the case 50 years ago with Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and it also seems to be the ambition of Pope Francis’ bold new apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.”
I think Pope Francis is encouraging us to view service to the poor differently. It is not, first and foremost, about securing our own salvation, a case of our moral status. It is about something deeper. It is about a genuine “culture of encounter” in which the faithful encounter the poor not only because we are commanded to, but with the awareness that the poor hold a privileged place in God’s love. We will meet Christ when we “go out” to meet the poor. The privileged place the poor are accorded in the Gospels, must translate into their receiving a privileged place in the heart and mind and work of the Church if we are to remain faithful to the Gospels, if we are to be continually be nourished by the Lord, if our Eucharist is to be a worship in truth, not isolation. That vision permeates the text.
From a free-market Catholic (Pascal-Emanuel Gobry):
We as economic thinkers and commentators must take seriously Pope Francis’ calls for a more humane, more equal, more inclusive economy. When hard money types hold to a moralizing vision of the economy whereby recessions are punishment for excesses and lead to a worldview that says to the poor “suck it up,” and “stay marginalized,” we should heed Pope Francis’ call for more equality and more inclusion. The answer of economic policy to unemployment must not just be “Move to North Dakota to get an oil shale job.” We should in fact be very mindful of promoting economic policies that target full employment and are inclusive.
And from Andrew Sullivan:
Read Gaudium Evangelii for yourself here:
I was shopping for a belt sander this week—one of my next projects around the house is to strip and refinish the staircase that goes up to the second floor. I visited a couple of stores as I began to price the tools and I was struck again by how much has changed in the world of carpentry since I was a teenager working for my dad. My dad was a finish carpenter and contractor who began to work in that trade in the late 40s. He began just as the revolution in power tools was beginning, and until the end of his life he continued to use the drill and the router he first purchased. Continue reading
by Mark Sandlin
Good and gracious God,
There is a tension that comes
with giving thanks.
Even as we recognize
and are grateful for
the blessings in our lives,
we are confronted with
enjoying our abundance
as we recognize the reality
that there are those
who have far too little.
Even as we celebrate a holiday
with roots which reach back
to the beginnings of our nation,
we are confronted with
the reality of
the genocide and slavery
upon which it was found.
We do not forget these things.
We do not celebrate them.
We do not give thanks for them.
In this our tale of Thanksgiving,
they are the terrible storyline
which we must not forget.
and our pursuit of possessions
have constantly stood
alongside of our blessings
as a reminder.
They remind us why we give thanks.
They remind us that life
is sacred and fragile
and that we
are its biggest threats.
They remind us that we do not want
to be those people again,
people who lord over others
and are self-adsorbed and self-important.
They remind us to appreciate
what we do have.
So, we give thanks.
We give thanks for this moment.
We give thanks for the things
that are right about the world
in this moment.
We give thanks for family and friends.
We give thanks for love and laughter.
We give thanks for grace and good company.
We give thanks for the tension
we find in a day like today
because it provides us the insight
and the motivation
to create better tomorrows.
Not just for ourselves,
not just for our families,
not just for our friends
but for the world.
So, today and everyday,
we give thanks
and we work to create a world
that gives more reasons
for which to be thankful.
You don’t have to go further than Madison.com to see our dysfunction. Mayor Soglin is in the news again for wanting to bring in private security guards to monitor homeless people in the City County building. The article points out some of the problems caused by the regular presence of homeless people in and around the building, and also cites County executive Joe Parisi’s opposition to the proposal. The projected cost is $42,000, money that might be better spent on providing services to those who need them–like showers, rest rooms, and, perhaps even, some housing.
Also today, news finally broke that the County is hoping to purchase a facility on the east side for a permanent day center. I had a chance to tour the facility last month. It needs some renovations, especially additional bathrooms and showers, the location isn’t great, but it has great potential with ample space not only for a day resource center, but also for other agencies that work with homeless people. Unfortunately, the current owners won’t be vacating until spring, and the facility probably won’t open before summer. In the absence of such a facility this winter, homeless people are pretty much forced to seek shelter wherever they can, including the City-County Building.
We’ll see how the dynamics of these two stories play out.
Our neighbors down the street at the Freedom From Religion Foundation went next door to the Federal District Court and achieved a ruling that’s been a long time coming: revoking the clergy housing allowance tax exemption. In case you don’t know about this benefit, clergy are able to exclude from taxable income up to the fair market rental value of their housing (that’s in addition to being able to take the mortgage exemption).
There are some pretty good reasons for this exemption. Clergy tend to be mobile (serving roughly five years in a particular congregation), and traditionally many clergy have lived in housing owned by churches. The tax exemption was intended to equalize the situation for clergy who provided their own housing. Because salaries for clergy tend to be lower than in the secular world, the housing allowance is especially important for clergy serving smaller, rural, or inner city churches. But it is rife for abuse and the regular media reports of the lavish lifestyles led by megachurch pastors (the pastor of a Charlotte megachurch is building a multi-million dollar mansion) make the exemption in its current form hard to defend.
Simply revoking the exemption seems fairly simple, but the implications are significant. For example, will clergy who live in church-owned housing be subject to tax on the value of the housing they receive? What about members of religious orders who live in community and receive little or no salary? Will their room and board be taxable income?
My twitter and facebook feeds have been full of comments about this action and no doubt if allowed to stand, the decision will have an enormous impact on the income of clergy. There are already significant challenges facing smaller churches. In the Episcopal Church, more and more congregations are finding it difficult to fund full-time clergy. The ruling would hurt clergy at the lower end of the income spectrum and it would hurt churches that serve low-income and minority communities. Wealthy churches and their pastors have little to worry about. If a pastor is able to build a million dollar mansion, he can easily pay income tax on it as well.
But there’s a larger issue here, too. I’m sure the FFRF has its eyes on a much bigger prize: churches’ property tax exemption. The situation is rather different because non-profits of all sorts (universities, hospitals, etc) are exempt from paying property taxes as well as churches. If that exemption goes, I’m not sure how a congregation like Grace Church would survive. I shudder to think what our property tax bill might be, certainly in six figures. Our budget can’t sustain that kind of a hit and it’s not like we could sell a building that’s a national landmark.
This is one of those situations that could hit our pocketbooks and the budgets of our congregations quite hard. Our first response might be anger or concern for our economic well-being. I’m sure some will cite this as another example of the persecution of Christians by our secular culture. I think it’s important that clergy, congregations, denominations, and other religious traditions work together to develop a response to this issue that focuses on creating a just and equitable solution for clergy. As written, the law is the relic of another age and needs to be revised. There are other issues, too. For example, clergy are considered self-employed for tax purposes. But I’m doubtful that in our current political and cultural climate, a more rational law is possible.