Monday, July 13, 2009

Is this the death knell for the ECUSA?

Most of you have seen the remarks made by Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the 2009 ECUSA General Convention. Bishop Jefferts Schori stated that "the great Western heresy" is that "we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God." She goes on to say that "It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being."

She is referring to the "sinner's prayer" which is a staple at tent meetings, Billy Graham revivals, and other evangelical extravaganzas. Perhaps, there is a point in the midst of her comments, although we must dig and make assumptions in order to find it. There is a problem when salvation becomes "fire insurance" and is promoted and proclaimed as only an individual pursuit. There is a notion that "I got saved now I am going to go home." Salvation, as Wesley thought, is a life long pursuit that is done in a community of love, grace, and accountability. There is a distinction between this kind of individualistic salvation and establishing a true community of believers. She is calling for the latter as opposed to the former. This is the point that I think Bishop Jefferts Schori was trying to make.

However, her comments or rather her poor attempt to place them in context allows for other assumptions to be made. Is baptism not an individual pursuit? Is the baptism ritual not "reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus?" Where does this heresy begin and end for her? She needed to be much more specific and clear when making a serous charge of heresy. She is calling out Evangelicals using the same tactics that they use. You faith is not genuine because it is not like mine.

There are many people, including Episcopalians, Methodists, and other mainline Protestant Christians, who began their faith with a "sinner's prayer" at camp or at a revival, etc. In calling this heresy, Bishop Jefferts Schori is cutting their faith at the knees. Some might feel that her comments insist that their faith is disingenuous or false. I don't know. Her comments leave a lot of room for interpretation and even misuse.

The ECUSA is already experiencing schism and possible exclusion from the Anglican communion because of its stance on gay and lesbian clergy. I can imagine that the ECUSA and its members are hurting and need words of healing and these were not words of healing. They were a ideological declaration of war on a large swath of Christian history. Her words cut at the heart of many people's faith. I think I understand her meaning, but it should have been done in a better way. I would be interested to hear the thoughts of Episcopalians.

No comments: