Friday, April 29, 2005

Are the Revisionists & Progressives of ECUSA the consistent ones?

A discussion starter

Since World War II there have been many changes or developments within the Anglican Way. In the West, and particularly in North America, these have been continuous and consistent. A decision was made, or a route was adopted, at the beginning of the second half of the twentieth century by the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. to become relevant within and acceptable to the changing culture and “the spirit of the 1960s”. From this move, which was as much being caught up in the wind of change as making a decision to take a new path, has come a whole series of innovations and changes in the worship, doctrine, discipline and polity of the Episcopal Church. Protests have been made from time to time by the would-be faithful before, during and after each innovation; but usually the protestors have eventually accepted the latest innovation and prepared themselves to resist the next one, only to accept this in due time. Some people have voted with their feet and departed (so the membership of the Church has dropped by as much as 66 per cent since the 1960s).

Resistance to the sexual innovations of recent years seems to be rather more sustained and widespread than earlier resistance – but it may be the final kick as it were of the dying horse.

The progression of innovations, changes and revisions, is relatively simple to plot from the middle to the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. From the changing emphases and curriculum in the seminaries which produced a new kind of priest, less the man of God and more the man of the world, through the acceptance of remarriage in church after divorce, the imposition of a new prayer book, the setting aside of the classic formularies, a new hymn-book with inclusive language, the advent of the “You-God”, the arrival of the feminist agenda with the ordination of women, the use of inclusive language for human beings and also for God, the mandating of the acceptance of women as priests, the acceptance of the human rights’ agenda, the granting of rights to actively homosexual persons, the blessing of same-sex unions, to the changed function of a Bishop as the CEO and Chief Liturgical Officer, and so on.

It is important to see the relations and connections between the various innovations. Without the acceptance of the human rights philosophy and agenda there would have been few innovations. And the same can be said of the influence of the influence of psychotherapy and the pursuit of self-worth and human dignity programs. Likewise of the peace and justice movement from the 1960s. Further, without the background of the arrival of the divorce culture in the ECUSA, there would have been little basis on which the LesBiGay agenda could be based. For, if the heterosexual persons have the right to fulfillment of their feelings and the right to be true to their orientation in serial monogamy blessed by ECUSA priests, why cannot the homosexual person have the same rights and opportunities to experience his own orientation?

The protest today by those who call themselves “orthodox” against the progressives (or “revisionists”) may be said to have little credibility because the “orthodox” themselves accept in practice if not in theory not a few of the innovations of the second half of the twentieth century – e.g., the new formularies of 1979, ordination of women and the remarriage of divorcees in church (with few questions asked). And, let it be noted, the same type of exegesis and interpretation of sacred Scripture which makes it possible to claim that serial monogamy and the ordination of women is approved by God also can be put at the service of showing that long-term unions of same-sex couples is not contrary to Scripture and tradition.

Therefore, logic and justice would seem to be on the side of the progressives for they have been consistent since the 1950s in their adoption of modern ideologies and culture and the changing of Church doctrine and practice by their ethos and content.

For the “orthodox” to be consistent – and I really want them to be so -- they need to be prepared to go back, as it were, behind all the innovations, recapture the authority of Scripture and a right way of reading It, and also restore the Formularies as the guide to worship, doctrine and discipline. For as long as they challenge the progressives from within the actual innovations that they share in common, their credibility and voice are muted; and further, they stand on sinking ground.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon April 29 2005

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