Saturday, March 11, 2006

Where's Elizabeth when you need her?

That would be Queen Elizabeth I -- the one who managed against all odds to pull of what we still call "The Elizabethan Settlement" putting to rest (at least institutionally!) the theological wranglings between the firmly entrenched camps who were frankly more interested in keeping the argument going than they were coming to some kind of settled compromise that would let the church get back to the work of being the church and quit burning each other at the stake.

The Elizabethan debate du jour was over questions that make today's divides look positively "bridgeable": Transubstantiation or Real Presence: was "it" the Body of Christ or not? Was the Church of England going to be Protestant or Catholic? (to name just two of the "biggies.")

If Elizabeth had waited for agreement -- consensus -- to come on these and other theological issues that consumed the 16th century equivalent of the "blogs" of her day there would have BEEN no Church of England ... and no Anglican Communion for us to be arguing about these many centuries later. Perhaps there would have been no Golden Elizabethan age at all, as the energies of those who turned their attention to securing their borders, exploring the "New World" and writing the sonnets and plays we still treasure today would have been used up by continuing to beat each other up over the church splitting theological issues of their day.

Instead we had the brilliant "Elizabethan Compromise" -- believe what you want about the bread made holy but come to the rail to receive it -- summed up in the quote attributed to Her Majesty: "I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls. There is only one Christ, Jesus, one faith. All else is a dispute over trifles."

And couldn't we do with a good-sized dose of that kind of leadership about now? The kind that was willing to recognize that the coming together in communion is far more important than the differences we bring to the rail? The kind that was willing to give up the fantasy that we could achieve agreement over differences that are in a very real sense irreconcilable and leave them instead to be reconciled in Christ?

That IS the tradition we inherit as Anglicans -- and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the "orthodoxy" being championed by the revisionist neo-Puritan ideologues who insist that agreement with their understanding of the “clear truth of scripture” is the criteria for communion and demand that anyone whose theology fails their litmus test be voted off the Anglican Island.

A case in point this week is the conservative blog site titusonenine. While not exactly known for its hospitality to diverse perspectives on a good day, the recent posting of the Eucharistic Prayer Louise and I chose for the liturgy for the Blessing of our Covenant last month has elicited a feeding frenzy of theological outrage. Adoptionist, Gnostic, Lucifer-designed and Pagan were but a few of the descriptors in the 70+ comments so far on a text that from my perspective falls firmly within the bounds of Anglican Eucharistic theologies.

Imagine how much closer the kingdom would be to coming if that level of outrage was focused on … say … those whose lives hang in the balance in Darfur. Those who remain homeless and hopeless in New Orleans. Those suffering from the AIDS pandemic with no access to the drugs that would make survival at least a possibility.

Nope … we’re too busy making windows into men’s souls and bedrooms for that – too busy protecting our precious orthodoxy from the pollution of inclusive language, incarnational theology and (God forbid!) couples who want to commit themselves to Christ and to each other and make a life together.

The rabid insistence on theological uniformity consistently reflected in the polemic of the conservative fringe is yet more evidence that they are indeed committed to keeping the “fight” going rather than seeking a settled compromise. Nothing short of complete capitulation will be enough to keep us in communion with each other.

Elizabeth had an answer for that: get over yourselves and come to the table anyway. Like I said, where is she when we need her?


Anonymous said...

Amen sister! Where indeed is an Elizabrth of someone of her ilk? Dare we trust that in the midst of this apparently impenatrable morass way will open, as our Friends sisters and brothers say? What you say about needing to come to table together being the most important thing is clearly true, at least to me. What I want to know is can it happen? Can we come to the place where we agree to accept each other and agree to come to the rail regardless of our disagreements? The voice of faith says "it's happened before by God's grace, it will happen again". It just seems like a terribly long shot right now. My unbelieving side says "it's not going to work. The people who want to enslave us to biblical literalism, who want to force us back nto the closet, are about to win on all fronts." Maybe that's the same kind of unbelief that motivated Peter to make his response to Jesus' announcement of suffereing and death that we heard in today's gospel. Rev. Susan, please keep on holding out the hope that you do.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth is dead and gone. So is the possibility of living together with differences. It's wishful thinking. It's time to move on. Let the wacko's go. Their stated agenda is to destroy the Episcopal Church. Let them go and form their own church. Good riddance!!!


Kind of the "yin and the yang" of comments here ... and they totally reflect the kind of email I get: about equally balanced between "keep it up" and "give it up."

As for geof's question -- of course it can happen. Any God who could bring Easter Sunday out of Good Friday can certainly find a way to keep the Anglican Communion together -- the question I guess I have this afternoon after a morning full of readings about the cost of discipleship and giving up stuff for Jesus' sake would be: is keeping the Communion together God's plan or our idea?

Anonymous said...

Even Elizabeth I had some core of belief that was at the heart of her convictions about Jesus. She did not want to give up the Trinity, the Incarnation, or the Cross. She stuck by the Creeds as a description of theological reality.

Is there a truth, or not? Are we simply dealing in things that produce, in some way, particular feelings and attitudes? What are good goals to strive for in life? How do we know what they are and why should we strive for them?

Youl leave an awful lot assumed. I read your liturgy. While you could find some degree of support in Scripture or in a major theologians writigns for any given statement, taken as a whole, the liturgy seeks to change the whole vision of who God is, who humanity is, what the human problem is, and how that problem is to be dealt with. You have made a major shift in meaning.

Like the Gnostics, the terms you use are from the Christian faith, but they are not the historic faith. You think that they are true -- apart from a variety of subjective sources (such as your own limited and time-bound experiences), how do you know they are true?

What do you believe in common with those who hold historic theological conviction? If you have nothing in common, other than the use (but not a shared meaning) of some ancient terms -- why do you want to be part of the same organization? Why should not those who believe what their great-grandparents believed (on core convictions) have the institution, rather than those who have redefined the content of the Christian faith?

Waht difference is there, at heart, between what you expressed in that liturgy (which changes the words of institution to something that Jesus did not say) and second century Gnosticism? Not much, from my perspective, and that of many others.


Some what-I-hope-will-be thoughtful exegesis of the Eucharistic Prayer in question a clergy colleague posted to "titusonenine" and then emailed to me"

Having graduated from Bob Jones Academy some thirty years ago, I am familiar with the tenor of most of the commentary to this Eucharistic prayer. It is interesting that so much is being read into this prayer. The assumptions of the writers–the theology or lack thereof–the intent.

If you test me my the creeds, I am as orthodox as Athanasius, but God is working on my reactionary nature. If we bring this down to the level of say…Jesus… “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt. 22:6-40) the question would then be–where does this prayer stand up to those standards? Remember the earliest followers of Jesus were called followers of “The Way”, not “Orthodoxy” or “Christianity”. That was ascribed in a Gentile pagan context.

Must every Eucharistic prayer be a dogmatic dissertation? Was Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper “orthodox”? Must we make sure that whatever we say is exactly understood by the “hearer”? Would we subject Cranmer’s liturgy to this degree of critique? Gross assumptions are being made and the legitmacy of the gospel is not being questioned. Sin is not being denied. “Hamartia” missing the mark–could be separating ourselves from God — COULDN’T IT? (ie Adam and Eve “hiding” — and God did call all the creation “good”) or did not Jesus Christ come to reconcile the creation to himself? (Col. 1:20)

This is a pastoral prayer, much as any prayer of conciliation might be. God has not implanted fear in our reactive hearts. The Holy Spirit seeks God’s peace. Whatever happened to “in essentials unity, in non-essentials, diversity, in all things charity.” “You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” (Rm. 14:10) Remember, we are all heretics, we simply do not know where is our heresy! (Unless we really ARE claiming to be God!)

Is there anything in this prayer that is “not” true Biblically? No. Does this prayer deny the Trinity? No. Does it deny sin? No. Does this prayer deny the incarnation? No. In fact, if we have been baptized into Christ and made partakers of the Divine Nature, (I Peter 1:4) and if we consider the very, very old Orthodox as in “Eastern” theology of “theosis” (i.e. the Hymn: “God Himself is With Us” What about “Christ in us, the work of glory?” (Colossians 1:27)I believe it is a denial of the words of Jesus to say we are “NOT” co-creators as part of our being in the Body of Christ.

Fr Timothy Matkin said...

I'm confused about the source of the Eucharistic Prayer. Did you and Louise choose it from a prayer book or other liturgical collection that is available somewhere? Or like Hiram (above) states, did you or someone else compose it for the occasion?

Susan, could you clarify?


The Eucharistic Prayer in question is one that has been used for years here at All Saints and has been online on the Beyond Inclusion website ( as part of "Terry & David's Liturgy."

Louise and I picked it in consultation with the rector when we met to plan the service months ago.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I think that was a wonderful post filled with truth and writen extraordinarily well. I came across your blog a week ago, and this post clinhes it, you are one admirable cookie!

Take care!

Anonymous said...

PS -- another part of the Elizabethan Settlement was the Thirty Nine Articles. These were the boundaries within which the theologians, bishops, and clergy were expected to preach and teach.

So, how about the Articles? Will you uphold them, or do you simply look to the past as a place to get examples that will support your current position?

Anonymous said...

I find in recent years the practice of picking and choosing what we like and want to believe from Holy Scripture, as well as from history, and leave the rest to hang out in the wind. Like the 39 Articles from Elizabeth's day, or pulling Creationist Theories out of science textbooks, or denying the Holocaust ever happened...or God's Divine Word is not really relevant for today. Especially when it is difficult to hear, and even harder to follow. The danger in that is obvious in the World History context. We would never dream of denying the Holocaust happened(unlike the president of Iran). It becomes less apparent when applied to The Word of God. Would I like God to approve of all the things I want to do, regardless of what He has spelled out for me in his Word? Would it be easier for me to be a Christian if I didn't have to follow ALL the things Christ talked about? Because gossiping really can't be that bad, and I could afford for my kids to do some extra things if we didn't tithe to the Church. God really didn't understand what it would be like to try to live on 1 income with 4 kids. But the danger is, when I start to pick and choose what makes my life easier, pretty soon I have wittled down my faith to nothing of substance. Nothing life altering. Nothing Life Giving.

Sometimes the cost is too high for us to not fight the good fight. By sending a message that everything is ok in God's eyes, that he is ONLY a God of love, that denies those seeking true healing a chance to really know the saving grace of Jesus Christ. It may lead some the wrong way altogether. The Episcopal Church is leading its flock astray...and Jesus said it would be better to have a millstone tied around your leg...well we get the picture, if it one that we will admit it there. There are Truths that are indisputable, and sadly can not be shoved under the communion rail. While I do not think that ugly and hurtful words solve any problems, and do more harm than good for the greater cause, I do feel that these issues will cause a split. We can see for ourselves time after time in the Old Testiment the proof that God does not like His Children to reinvent His rules and standards. The Isrealites finally learned the hard way... I pray that we won't have to.

Jon said...

ronf, while co-creator language could be indicative of arrogantly assuming we are God's equals, it is not invariably arrogant. Because we are created in God's image and because we have free will it is quite reasonable to talk about humanity as being co-creators with God, especially co-creators in that we are very much able shape the future.