The following letter appeared on titusonenine on January 7, preface by a brief comment by Kendall Harmon. I wrote a reply and tried to put it in the comments section, but by the time I did the letter had already been pushed into the archives. So the good people of CaNN published it as a PDF on their London 2003 site for January 14.
It would take too long to post the original letter of Fr. Belser that inspired Mr. S.’s reply. However, I thought that it might be a good thing to post both the S. reply and my reply to S. here because a) it will be archived on this blog, b) I would be interested in other folks’ comments, c) anybody who missed it the first time can look it over here, and d) I think it only fair to post both the original letter and my response together. So here goes . . .
As a preface to these comments, let me say that I appreciate Bob S. very much, having had the privilege of serving with him for three years. He is a winsome Christian and an insightful scholar, particularly on matters having to do with the relationship between science and the Christian faith. Dr. S. is also a rare Episcopalian who understands something of American evangelicalism, and can place it within its broader context, and not one, like many in the Episcopal Church’s establishment, who is simplistically dismissive of it. It is a real credit to Bob not only that he reads this blog as these comments show, but that he took the time to write me a personal note about the anguish I was caused by the most publicized decisions in Minneapolis. Bob’s was one of the few notes I got at all from those whom I term reappraisers. –KSH
Since the consecration of V. Gene Robinson, really since General Convention 2003, I have been trying to understand the nature of the opposition to this act. Why are there so many angry people? And why are so many of them saying that this is the “last straw” for them? Several friends, including a layman who attended the Plano meeting, have spoken of their great dissatisfaction in general, and usually kindly, terms. But I recently found a major general accusation articulated in the following statement, taken from a address by The Rev. Richard I. H. Belser, rector, Saint Michael’s, Charleston, S.C., that Kendall Harmon posted on his weblog. Here’s what Fr. Belser writes:
“The reason, I believe, was that for the past 30 years, the Episcopal Church in this country has been moving toward the development of a new religion. At those official church conventions, the name of Jesus was occasionally mentioned and there was much talk about mission, but if one listened carefully, it became clear that the “Jesus” being invoked was not the Christ of Scripture, the unique Son of God and only way to the Father, and that the mission being endorsed had a lot to do with politics and little to do with the Gospel of Salvation. Some years ago, Bishop Fitz Allison, who has been God’s prophet to warn the Episcopal Church that this day was coming, and like all prophets, has been both vilified and ignored, Bishop Allison explained that the Church’s new religion called for disclosure and acceptance of human sin, rather than for repentance and forgiveness. It’s a therapeutic religion, where clear moral standards are set aside in favor of ethical ambiguity and broad tolerance of each other’s choices. Where tolerance rules, love becomes sentimentality, nobody is called to repentance, and the Cross of Christ becomes unnecessary. It’s possible, according to the new religion, to have what our current presiding Bishop calls pluriform truth. You have your truth; I have mine. We’ll pretend God doesn’t care what we believe as long as we get along with each other.”
Now as I puzzle my way through this, you need to know that I am a cradle Episcopalian who left the Church around 1970, at the age of thirty, and didn’t darken its doors again except on ceremonial occasions for twenty-five years. I returned to faith in the early nineties, around the age of fifty, because God blessed me with two spiritual experiences, of his immense Compassion and of his creative power-the first brought inner healing, the second awe, the mysterium tremendum. I spent some time with the Quakers, then realizing that I thirsted for a sacramental spirituality, returned to my Episcopal roots and found that I had come home. By the time I had returned, women were being ordained (thank God!), and the Prayer Book had been revised. It took me a while to get use to the “new” one and discover its riches, but I have grown to love it despite some loss of the majesty of the language of the ‘28 version. I also liked the spirit of the Church-its inclusiveness and in the case of my parish, St. Luke’s, its commitment to be a sanctuary of compassion and healing for all, because when I returned to the New Testament, that was precisely the kind of God and Jesus I found there.
So I took the consecration of Gene Robinson in stride, though as a brother in Christ and former committee colleague of Kendall’s I knew that there was strong opposition from men and women of conscience. What I was unprepared for was the depth of anger expressed by so many. It appears that this event has triggered a long train of grievances. So, what is it? What are the changes that many people are so unhappy with? Why do so many think that ECUSA has departed from the Faith and from tradition?
Why do these Episcopalians think the church has given in to secular and political influences and abandoned the gospel of Christ’s salvation?
Well, it certainly is clear to me that the Church has changed in many ways. Take some major decisions, the first having to do with internal discipline and orders. The decision in the late 1940s to allow persons who had been divorced to remarry in the Church was certainly a big one (though I was too young at the time to know). It would seem to be directly contrary to Christ’s interpretation of the Mosaic law. Yet now, one hardly blinks an eye at it, and even clergy who have divorced and remarried prior to their call to ministry now serve the Church. Would anyone today claim that their ministry was not the result of the calling of the Holy Spirit? Or be unhappy that this act of reconciliation broke down a barrier that doesn’t belong in the Body of Christ?
Then there is the civil rights movement of the sixties, which I witnessed first hand in the South as a student at Sewanee. We Episcopalians now would never think of going back to segregated churches, but it was a real struggle then, with many pastors way ahead of their flocks. That was a big change. But, can anyone think that the Church was not led by the Spirit in this struggle? Here was an excellent example of the Church having to respond to the heart of the Gospel message and break down another barrier both in society and in the Church
Then, during my absence came the ordination of women, following which (along with the prayer book revisions) many left ECUSA and joined one of those twenty or so splinter Anglican churches that don’t ordain women. Evidently many who stayed were not particularly happy, as several who have left since this fall have cited women’s ordination as something that still sticks in their craw. I think there is still discrimination in the Church toward women priests, but, my, we have come a long way since 1976. Yes, I’ve heard the argument that because Christ became a man, only men can image his priesthood; that position implies that Christ was incarnated into masculinity instead of into humanity. Can anyone think that in this case the Holy Spirit was not at work, breaking down an artificial barrier that denied us wonderful female pastors, teachers, preachers (I’ve yet to hear a bad sermon by a woman-maybe some day), evangelists, and, thank God!, maternal figures? I am truly puzzled that there remain so many Anglicans world wide who think ECUSA departed from the True Faith when the Church brought women into the apostolic succession.
That brings me to the Prayer Book. The Rev. Dale Brown, former leader of the Church of the Brethren, once said to me, “Episcopalians can tolerate a good deal of diversity in matters of theology and biblical interpretation, but there are two things they always fight over, the Book of Common Prayer and the apostolic succession.” He said that around 1980. After getting acquainted with the new Prayer Book, I began to pick up on its significant changes from the ‘28 version. It is certainly more catholic: many new liturgies of both daily prayer and major feasts ground it more solidly in the catholic tradition; the addition of two rites of Reconciliation encourage private confession; the rubrics that encourage a much greater participation of the laity enhance the ministry of the Baptized; the spirit of the book is even more sacramental than the older one. Now, I also think that the ‘79 book is less penitential, and that seems to upset many, both evangelicals and catholics. It lack phrases like “miserable offenders” and some of the language of wretchedness and breast beating found in some of the eliminated collects. Yet, contrary to some of its critics it hardly abandons the word “sin” (which appears not only in the Eucharistic Thanksgivings but in countless other places).
So, here I am, still trying to figure it out. Looking back over the litany of changes I hardly see that what has come into being as what Fitz Allison (another Sewanee connection) called a “new religion.” Rather, I see a church that takes more seriously Jesus’ message that the reign of God is inclusive and breaks down barriers of class, race, gender, sexual orientation and status; and a church that tries to live out the Pauline message that we are to be “ambassadors of reconciliation.” I see ECUSA trying to live out the good news of God’s inseparable love in Christ Jesus. Now, is the Church I have returned to “therapeutic,” as Allison claims? Yes, and why not? Is that not the kind of ministry Jesus conducted? Has he forgotten that the Greek word used when Jesus heals means “saves”? Did not Christ reach out to the outcast, those declared “unclean” by the religious of his day? And was he not faulted for it? In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31ff), the Son of Man doesn’t say, “Oh, you’ve confessed yours sins, now you can come to heaven.” He says, “You fed the hungry, clothed the naked, etc., so come, blessed of my Father!” That is the Church’s task. What the church welcomes are broken persons who need healing of spirit and soul, and tries to show that the best medicine is God’s love and compassion, and the best model for our own lives is the Jesus who called him “Abba” (and so can we), and that we can be Christ to each other. Perhaps that accounts for the fact that in my own parish, nearly 90% of our parishioners were baptized in or have been confirmed or received from other denominations, some of whom were verbally beaten up for their sins from the pulpits of their former churches and are in recovery from toxic forms of Christianity.
As one who sins, I can personally testify that what brings me closer and closer to righteousness is my responding to the overwhelming love of God in Christ, that tells me that I do not have to carry these burdens any more and encourages me to change for the better. Because of this therapeutic model of salvation, I do not any less meditate on the mystery of Christ’s suffering or death or feel any less joy in his resurrection or in his presence in the Eucharistic feast and in the congregation of those gathered to celebrate this wonderful gift.
Perhaps what we have here is a problem of language. People who are committed to the traditional language of repentance, confession, atonement, etc. do not see that the kind of therapeutic language I am comfortable with brings out another dimension of the gospel message, and so they confuse it with the secular language of therapy that I think Allison and others like Fr. Belser accuse ECUSA of embracing. But I have to say that in my limited experience in the “new” ECUSA, I’ve heard no one say that one’s sins are accepted and don’t matter, and that anything goes (frankly, I think those phrases are coded references to homosexuals). I do think that there is less emphasis on a formal set of moral rules and a more of a recognition that there is such a thing as moral ambiguity, and that intention is a central part of moral or immoral behavior, and that therefore, as Jesus advised us, we shouldn’t be passing judgment on others, but leaving judgment to God. All the better, since his Justice is swallowed up in Mercy, whereas ours too often is not.
No better examples of the latter are the fulminations that have been hurled at ECUSA since General Convention, over the issue of homosexuality and homosexuals in the Church and ministry. I’ll spare the reader my arguments “pro” except to say outright what must be clear by now, that I wholeheartedly support the elevation of Bp. Robinson and any gays or lesbians called to holy orders. And I cherish my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I share in the ministry of the Baptized at St. Luke’s. It also strikes me that one of the most ironic things about the opposition is its own failure to address the dilemma its proponents have created for themselves. If you insist that “homosexuality” is a sin (failing in this to distinguish between orientation and behavior as well as the contexts of the latter), then what do you do with gay men and women who say, “The Holy Spirit is calling me to ministry.” Do you say, “Shh, go back into the closet”? Do you say, “Depart from me into outer darkness, you sinner”? Do you pull a Baptist and say, “I hate your sin but love you the sinner” (as if the two could be separated)? “But in any case, we don’t want you ordained.” How are they going to handle this?
So, has my Church abandoned the faith? No. Does it fall short in living out the Gospel? Yes. Just as every other church does. But I am glad to be back, thanks be to God!
–S. is retired from full-time teaching at Berea College and is presently an adjunct in philosophy and religion at Appalachian State University in Boone, where he teaches New Testament Literature. Since 2000 he has served on the Working Group on Science, Technology and Faith of the Executive Council (on which Kendall Harmon also served from 2000-2003).
Below is my response. IRNS
Many readers of this weblog, including myself, have responded to portions of Mr. S.’s letter to Kendall Harmon. No one, however, has attempted to respond to the entire letter. This is understandable—it’s a blog, after all, and the format does not encourage lengthy comments. However, I would like to do so now, before Mr. S.’s letter and the associated comments are crowded into the archives by other events. So this will be a long post, but I hope it will not seem presumptuous.
Mr. S.’s letter raises several issues:
1 – His puzzlement at the anger of those opposed to the consecration of Gene Robinson.
2 – His own experiences with, or views of, the changes that have taken place in the Episcopal Church over the last several years, to wit:
a – the change in marital discipline
b – the civil rights movement
c – the ordination of women
d – the new Prayer Book of 1976/1979
e – the acceptance (as he sees it) of homosexuality
1 – “Why are there so many angry people? And why are so many of them saying that this is the “last straw” for them?”
Fr. Harding has already addressed this well in his comment on Mr. S.’s letter. Much of the anger comes from a sense of deception and betrayal. Indeed, the recent comments by Susan Russell and Claiming the Blessing (see the posting) illustrate this: first claim that you say the creeds, but then admit (after ordination or appointment to some position of authority) that you reserve the right to “translate” them; then, when others object to your “translation,” tell them they should leave. A “dialogue” that is conducted while (as Fr. Harding puts it) facts are being changed on the ground shows only contempt for the other partner in the “dialogue.” Who would not get angry at such treatment? Thus the ordination of women, the ordination of practicing homosexuals, even the consecration of Gene Robinson, all preceded the canonical acceptance of these actions, the church being forced to choose between an onerous discipline and just going along.
As for why this is the last straw, it is because the acceptance of homosexual practice—in retrospect, something that all the other changes have been leading up to—is inescapably contrary to Scripture. Not even Humpty-Dumpty (“Words mean what I say they mean”) could hide this one, and in fact the proponents of the consecration of Gene Robinson have said so, by now openly and on several occasions: “Just because Scripture and Tradition say it’s wrong doesn’t mean it’s wrong.” We are at such a level of fundamental principles here that further conversation is impossible, and when those of us who still adhere to Scripture and Tradition look up and see that those who have rejected them are in the majority and control the levers of power, the response is one of frustration and impotent rage.
”Why do these Episcopalians think the church has given in to secular and political influences and abandoned the gospel of Christ’s salvation?”
It is tempting to answer that this is so self-evident that if Mr. S. can’t see it, I really don’t know how to tell him. It is rather like someone insisting, against mathematical proof, that 2 plus 2 simply must equal 22. But perhaps a better way would be to ask a counter-question: salvation from what? This is something that Mr. S. answers later in his letter and so I will deal with further on.
2 a) “The decision in the late 1940s to allow persons who had been divorced to remarry in the Church . . . would seem to be directly contrary to Christ’s interpretation of the Mosaic law. Yet now, one hardly blinks an eye at it, and even clergy who have divorced and remarried prior to their call to ministry now serve the Church. Would anyone today claim that their ministry was not the result of the calling of the Holy Spirit? Or be unhappy that this act of reconciliation broke down a barrier that doesn’t belong in the Body of Christ?”
The final line in the paragraph just quoted employs a tactic used several times in this letter: ask a question that presumes its own answer. However, to respond the general issue he raises: the changes don’t seem to be directly contrary to Christ’s interpretation of the Mosaic law—they are directly contrary.
When the changes in marital discipline were made, it was felt that there should be no ‘double-standard’, that clergy and laity should have the same discipline. But instead, allowing clergy to divorce and remarry has resulted in almost no standard at all. There is now almost no marital discipline for anyone, clergy or lay. In fact, it isn’t just clergy who have divorced and remarried prior to their call who “serve the church.” By now, divorce is common among clergy even after their ordination. By the time of his trial for the ordination of a homosexual, Bishop Righter was on his third wife. When Elisabeth Taylor married her fifth husband (Senator John Warner), guess who performed the ceremony? You guessed it—an Episcopal priest. So yes, some of us would “claim that their ministry was not the result of the calling of the Holy Spirit,” at least not their calling to the ordained ministry. We blink our eyes at this all the time.
Divorce is sometimes a tragic necessity, but it should carry consequences. If not, what is the marital teaching of the Episcopal Church? Serial monogamy? Why not hold clergy to a higher standard?
2 b) Yes, the Church took part in the Civil Rights movement. I’m quite proud of our role in it. There are indeed times when the church must speak truth to power.
But in the years that have passed since then, it is quite clear that this singular moment has so gripped the minds of a generation of clergy that they have taken it as the model of what the church is and for what it exists. Being on the cutting edge of change, locked in a tense battle with an obvious evil and experiencing a profound community of spirit with one’s comrades in such a struggle, can be addictive. It can lead to the illusion that wherever and whenever a minority voice speaks its opposition to a resistant majority or greater power, be that majority or power the government, the culture or even the church, that voice must somehow represent the Spirit.
This has led the leadership of the church (Paul Moore was perhaps the classic example) to speak ever more loudly and certainly through a series of cultural and political conflicts that were in fact ever more complicated and where the questions of good and evil were more subtle and nuanced. The Devil does not always reveal himself so clearly as he did in segregation and Jim Crow.
2 c) “Yes, I’ve heard the argument that because Christ became a man, only men can image his priesthood; that position implies that Christ was incarnated into masculinity instead of into humanity. Can anyone think that in this case the Holy Spirit was not at work, breaking down an artificial barrier that denied us wonderful female pastors, teachers, preachers (I’ve yet to hear a bad sermon by a woman-maybe some day), evangelists, and, thank God!, maternal figures? I am truly puzzled that there remain so many Anglicans world wide who think ECUSA departed from the True Faith when the Church brought women into the apostolic succession.”
There is a certain note of arrogance here. “Can anyone think” such a thing? The assumption is that no thinking person could oppose the ordination of women; only prejudiced dolts could stand in the way. It is interesting to note that Mr. S. has only “heard” the argument that “only men can image his priesthood.” Apparently he hasn’t actually read any of the excellent, careful, nuanced, scripturally and patristically supported arguments.
In any case, I for one have never been opposed to female pastors, teachers, preachers or evangelists. I have certainly never been opposed to maternal figures! In fact, I doubt Mr. S. would find very many of those opposed to the ordination of women who are. We are opposed to the illusion that there can be women priests.
If he would care to, Mr. S. could read the report issued by the AMiA, now available free as a PDF file on their website. He would discover that there are, in fact, several arguments against the ordination of women, only one of which is the so-called ‘iconic’ argument. I should add however that, although the report is quite good and tries to be thorough, it does not in fact do justice to that particular argument. It would take far too long to rehearse it here, but I’ll leave Mr. S. with this question: just what is this “humanity” into which he claims Christ was incarnated? Has he ever seen it? I dare say not, nor has anyone else, ever. It is an abstract concept, useful only as such. To claim that Christ was incarnated into a generic “humanity” is arguably to deny the incarnation. St Paul appeals to our common “humanity”, based on Genesis 1:27, in Galatians 3:27-28. But in his discussion of gender relations in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and in his rehearsal of salvation history, of the Fall and Redemption, in Romans 5:18-19, St Paul relies on Genesis 2, where the headship of Adam/Christ in the order of creation and redemption is central.
The Gnostic and docetic roots of the ordination or women is, alas, too long and complex for here, but I will be happy to send him (or anyone else) documentation if he desires.
2 d) The new prayer book. Here I must agree with much of what Mr. Schneider says. I too find much that is good in the new book, including many of things he cites and a good bit more.
However, it IS lacking in penitential language; the new psalter has many, many problems; there are far too many eucharistic canons; and what perhaps sticks in the craw of many is not simply the liturgical language, but the relegation of all doctrinal texts, including the Articles, to the category of “historic documents.” The implicit message is that doctrinal standards are optional.
2 e) “I see a church that takes more seriously Jesus’ message that the reign of God is inclusive and breaks down barriers of class, race, gender, sexual orientation and status.”
Lumping distinct categories together and thereby equating them is a favorite tactic of revisionists, used over and over again in the teeth of its obvious logical fallacy, so much so that opponents cannot help suspect that those who do so are engaging in intellectual dishonesty (hence some of the anger which puzzles Mr. S.). Just call them all “barriers” and somehow this constitutes an argument, a tactic Mr. S. employs earlier in his comments on marriage and divorce.
Gender, of course, is part of God’s original plan for creation. What are or are not just distinctions between male and female should, for a Christian, be considered in this light. Class and status are results of the Fall. Race is an entirely non-volitional category; invidious distinctions based on it are results of the Fall (i.e., sin).
Sexual orientation has never been viewed as a sin, though it may reflect a disordered nature. However, whatever the origins of homosexual desires, homosexual acts are inescapably volitional. Even homosexuals admit that there are sexual sins, and that these involve choices; the question in dispute is whether there is a category of homosexual activity that is not inherently sinful and that can therefore be blessed.
Mr. S.’s list, in fact, consciously or unconsciously echoes St Paul’s famous list of Galatians 3:27-28. Yet conspicuously missing from St Paul’s list is “sexual orientation.” Does Mr. S. still wonder why this surreptitious addition inspires suspicion, why it suggests that Scripture needs “improving”? In the words of Bishop Bennison of Pennsylvania, “We wrote the Bible; we can rewrite it.” Does Mr. Schneider still wonder about a “new religion”?
“a church that tries to live out the Pauline message that we are to be “ambassadors of reconciliation.”
Reconciliation is not always something achieved when two sides see that they had simply misunderstood each other. Sometimes, reconciliation is only possible when one side, or the other, or both, admit that they were wrong. For example, reconciliation was achieved in South Africa when the government admitted it was wrong.
St Paul thought that the church should be an ambassador of reconciliation, not between mutually misunderstanding parties, but between God, who is wholly righteous and entirely holy, and the human race, which is locked in sin. This reconciliation is made possible by Christ but is conditioned on repentance.
“Now, is the Church I have returned to “therapeutic,” as Allison claims? Yes, and why not? Is that not the kind of ministry Jesus conducted?”
No. Jesus healed many people—but they all still had to die, even Lazarus. Physical healings were a sign of His compassion and His power, but miracles—apart from the Resurrection—were not the substance of His ministry. Those healed still had to face their Maker.
“Has he forgotten that the Greek word used when Jesus heals means “saves”? Did not Christ reach out to the outcast, those declared “unclean” by the religious of his day? And was he not faulted for it? In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31ff), the Son of Man doesn’t say, “Oh, you’ve confessed yours sins, now you can come to heaven.” He says, “You fed the hungry, clothed the naked, etc., so come, blessed of my Father!” That is the Church’s task.”
No it is not. Along with the Parable of the Sheep and Goats must be set our Lord’s counsel to the thief on the Cross, who was indeed saved by his confession of faith. Is it really necessary to rehearse that we are not saved by good works? Mr. S. should reread Article 12. Even the Roman Catholic Church at it’s most medieval, most (so to speak) John Tetzelish, never believed that works alone were enough to save anyone.
”As one who sins, I can personally testify that what brings me closer and closer to righteousness is my responding to the overwhelming love of God in Christ, that tells me that I do not have to carry these burdens any more and encourages me to change for the better. Because of this therapeutic model of salvation, I do not any less meditate on the mystery of Christ’s suffering or death or feel any less joy in his resurrection or in his presence in the Eucharistic feast and in the congregation of those gathered to celebrate this wonderful gift.”
Exactly! But there seems to be some confusion here on Mr. S.’s part over the meaning of “therapy,” as he himself suggests a bit later in his letter. Why does he respond “to the overwhelming love of God in Christ, that tells me that I do not have to carry these burdens any more and encourages me to change for the better”? Because Christ has forgiven his sins and he doesn’t need to carry the past anymore? Or because God says that he was never really sinful, that healing consists of ‘accepting yourself’, that “I’m OK, you’re OK, and (I guess) God’s OK?” The former is Christianity’s form of therapy; the latter is the secular culture’s version. Which one does he suppose Fitz Allison is thinking of?
”I do think that there is less emphasis on a formal set of moral rules and a more of a recognition that there is such a thing as moral ambiguity, and that intention is a central part of moral or immoral behavior, and that therefore, as Jesus advised us, we shouldn’t be passing judgment on others, but leaving judgment to God.”
Of course there is such a thing as moral ambiguity—for us! Our vision is clouded by finitude, mortality and sin. But does Mr. S. think that God’s vision is morally ambiguous? In any case, moral ambiguity at one stage implies moral clarity at another—that is, a clash between competing moral goods. Somewhere, something has to be clear, or else appeals to moral ambiguity are logically meaningless. The problem of homosexuality is indeed, at least in part, a question of competing moral goods; but just throwing out a word like “ambiguity” doesn’t help. We must still seek clarity because, in the end, we must still make choices.
“If you insist that “homosexuality” is a sin (failing in this to distinguish between orientation and behavior as well as the contexts of the latter), then what do you do with gay men and women who say, “The Holy Spirit is calling me to ministry.” Do you say, “Shh, go back into the closet”? Do you say, “Depart from me into outer darkness, you sinner”? Do you pull a Baptist and say, “I hate your sin but love you the sinner” (as if the two could be separated)? “But in any case, we don’t want you ordained.” How are they going to handle this? “
The level of logical confusion in this one paragraph is staggering. First, we don’t fail to distinguish between orientation and behavior. It is Mr. S., and the other supporters of Gene Robinson, who do so, precisely when he says “as if the two could be separated.” This paragraph, if it says anything meaningful at all, makes it clear that it is Mr. S. who insists that they cannot and should not be distinguished, and that the lesson he draws from this is that to condemn one is to condemn the other.
We don’t say, “Shh, go back into the closet.” We say, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
So what is this “new religion”? I can’t speak for Fitz Allison, but to judge from Mr. S.’s letter, it is a religion of works, not faith; of salvation by acceptance (secular therapy) rather than by repentance (Christianity’s therapy); and the knocking down of an endless series of “barriers,” be they race, class, gender, divorce, sexuality, or whatever comes up next on the liberation-of-the-self agenda of the secular culture.
However, I agree with Mr. S. that this is not a new religion, as Fitz Allison claims. It is an OLD religion—just not Christianity. It is in fact gnosticism, minus some of ancient gnosticism’s more baroque metaphysics, but otherwise quite recognizable. The opposition to the God of the Old Testament, who is seen as a God of oppressive rules, and the setting of this God over and against the God of the New Testament, who is seen as a God of love and “inclusiveness.” The declaration that St Paul, insofar as he reflects this “judaic” mentality, must be edited of any such references. The hostility to matter and God’s instrument for continuing mankind in a world of matter, i.e., gender, which is somehow done away with in baptism along with other “barriers.” The belief that salvation comes from discovering the inner light of self-truth through self-discovery and then accepting this inner self, an inner self which must come from the true God and therefore must be good (i.e., therapy). It is an old, old story, and it has become the official creed of the Episcopal Church.