Does It Get Worse?

The folks at Stand Firm have dug up a bulletin insert wherein the Epistle reading at the bishop-elect’s church is replaced by a reading from the Qur’an announced as a biblical lesson.

It’s also noted there that the preacher is a Muslim-American scholar who, in the weekly calendar is listed as giving a Q & A during coffee hour.

We don’t have much context for what’s going on here. I read this as a Muslim-Christian inter-religious occasion where a Muslim speaker is explaining his faith and the piece from the Qur’an may well be part of that. But again, we don’t know.

I will say this:

1) The inquisitors at SF have not demonstrated that this replacement of readings is a pattern at this church. But I know that it is elsewhere; there are other Episcopal congregations who routinely replace Scriptural readings with non-biblical texts. It’s wrong and it needs to stop.

2) As evidence for or against the bishop-elect, it continues a trend of poor and questionable liturgical decisions. I’d have no problem with a one-time occasion where the sermon space is given over to a speaker on Muslim-Christian relations or even a reading from the Qur’an—but not in place of a regular lesson and not liturgically treated as such.  I.e., if the speaker wishes to refer to a Qur’anic text, then it should be read in the context of his presentation. [[Ok—I was trying to be broad-minded. Nope, shouldn’t be done, especially not in a Eucharistic context.]]

The pattern that is emerging around this candidate is not good: A questionable Christology, improper changes to the liturgy, and an overly-enthusiastic embrace of the practices of another faith without  clear grounding in his own tradition. Any one of these may be a misunderstanding, but here we have a pattern of a progressive who has progressed outside the bounds for one who is supposed to be a guide, guardian, and teacher of the core commitments of Christianity.

3) In the bulletin insert, Ps 40 is “paraphrased” with “Here I Am, Lord”. ‘Nuff said—this dude is toast.

20 thoughts on “Does It Get Worse?

  1. The Postulant

    The main reason I believe in Purgatory is that it’s perfectly clear that people who inflict “Here I Am, Lord” on congregations are going to need some remediation before they are ready to join their voices with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

  2. Christopher

    I also read his eucharist sermon.

    There are parts that are thoroughly encompassed within the tradition. Atonement as Jesus’s self-offering, for example. (As an aside, I think he misunderstands St Anselm because for St Anselm Jesus is not somehow merely on the receiving end of the Father but Jesus’s will is at one with the (angry or wrathful) Father–again a misreading of St Anselm. Jesus offers himself to the Father in keeping with their being one.) Moreover, there is room for wrath toward Sin without that wrath being toward creatures. Bl Julian, F.D. Maurice, C.S. Lewis, and A. Michael Ramsey give us insights into this.

    I think in this other sermon he over-determines Greeks versus Syrians. What of that Gospel of St John, for example? Lots of life language there. It’s trying to split off images, metaphors, synedoches from one another when all of them are necessary for sufficiency.

    What I notice, however, is not a clear understanding of the unique event of the Incarnation as distinct from yet related to our own humanity and life both generally as part of Creation and specifically as members of Christ’s Body the Church. The tendency then goes either adoptionistic or pantheistic.

    For example, he says, “We might learn to be still and know that God is present in us and as us.” It is true in one sense, as St Augustine would affirm that in in the ongoing life of the Word and Spirit hiddenly in the Creation and explicitly in the Church, that through us and all created things God is present, but we are not God. A sacramental or iconic understanding prevents this conflation, which would make of us idols rather than icons. This “as God” results in a tendency to suggest that our “essence” is unCreated/God rather than willed (St Maximus), created (F.D. Maurice). For example, “he reveals to us that we are already at one with God – and why? Because God is always at one with us. God dwells in the center of the center of your heart and my heart and the heart of creation as a god of love and a god of forgiveness and there is nothing we can do that will turn God’s face from us.”

    We’ve been down this road before. I think of St. Irenaeus. The problem is not merely knowledge or lack thereof, it’s Sin–alienation, separation from God. It is through Jesus’s self-offering, who is at one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, that Sin is overcome, relationship is restored, and we are therefore by grace, by Love Himself renewed and made capable of seeing and treating the creation and one another as sacramental, iconic. As Bp. Breidenthal notes, this goes missing in Bp.-elect Thew Forrester’s thinking. The way of Love revealed through, with, in, and as Jesus Christ is not separable from His embracing us even unto death, death on a Cross.

  3. Christopher

    I’m also concerned because he misuses the liturgical scholarship of Dr. Winkler. His reading of her work is overly simplistic.

  4. bls

    What really angers me about all this is not what this particular person did or didn’t do – but that many Episcopal “leaders” seem perfectly content to allow laypeople to remain almost totally ignorant about our own faith.

    They seem to prefer to be “clergy stars” (and sometimes the laity get in on the act, too – as witness “Stand Firm”) who promote their own causes du jour at the expense of everybody else. And with the result that Episcopalians know almost nothing about the basics of the faith, or anything else, in fact. (And as I’ve mentioned before, the clergy don’t seem very interested in the wellbeing of their own parishioners, either, so I continue to ask: why are we throwing away so much money on these people?)

    Who needs this baloney anymore? I’m so sick of ego in this church….

  5. bls

    I mean, it wouldn’t all be so bad to “explore” other traditions, if these guys could actually teach the Christian faith.

    Or even demonstrate that they know something about it.

  6. Christopher


    The ego gets old, I agree. So does a seeming lack of concern for catechesis and ongoing adult Christian education in the faith. But though some of our priests and bishops be inadequate at times, their office is for me a mark of the Church catholic. I honor the office even when particular members of it dishonor it. Indeed, it is because we have a reserved yet wholesome approach in such things as the Quadrilateral that on so much else we can be comprehensive, allowing for Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics and Liberals and High Church…

    And I love this Church. Writing my dissertation has really opened my eyes to how rich is our tradition and how Anglican I have become. I know you love this tradition. Your blog is a daily feast of our best.

    It is my task and your task as thoughtful laypersons to also be concerned for the faith. And sometimes that means lifting our voices to address inadequacies and to be clear about the Good News and its relationship to daily life. This is the heart of the prophetic task. Sometimes that task places us in the extremely uncomfortable position of teaching bishops and priests.

    But we’re not alone. There are other thoughtful laypersons, like Derek and Caelius, and there are thoughtful and caring priests, like Frs. Cramer, Haller, and Postulant, and amazing bishops like Bp. Breidenthal.

  7. Matt Gunter

    I’m all for interreligious dialogue and anything we can do to move toward mutual understanding.

    But, does anyone else think that, even as a once off, reading the Koran as a scripture lesson and having a Muslim preach in the context of a Eucharist is nonsensical?

  8. lutherpunk

    The purpose of a sermon in the liturgical action of the Church is to proclaim the Word of God in Law and Gospel (sorry, Lutheran here). It is not a speech or a lesson or a message. This is NOT a time for interfaith dialog. I have had Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and Hindu speakers, but never in the context of the Divine Service.

  9. Peter Carey

    If the sermon is the place to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ, how does an adherent of another faith preach that message?

    Interreligious dialogue is so vital and important, and can happen in forums, lunches, retreats, evening sessions, etc. Cal me crazy, but the Eucharist, and the sermon don’t seem to be the place for it…

  10. Christopher

    If I am uncomfortable with proclaiming even texts of the Fathers for the Lessons during the Holy Communion (this has happened in places as Derek once pointed us to), how much more so the texts of another religious tradition, a text mind you that denies the Trinity and Incarnation quite explicitly. So, no, this should not happen.

    It is quite another thing to host a luncheon following coffee hour, read from the texts of other traditions, and have an expert in that faith tradition give a talk.

    Again, we seem to be having some confusion about what is permissible with regard to inter-religious practice, thought, and dialogue. A confusion that those of other faiths are less likely to make. Real inter-religious dialogue and conversation allows each faith to be itself and allows for real disagreements and differences to be a part of the conversation. Jesus is fully God and fully human is quite different from Jesus is the greatest of the prophets or an illuminating teacher. He is both of the latter, but because of the former, not despite it.

  11. Huw Richardson

    We were discussing this tonight after Vespers at a local (Orthodox) Monastery.

    I *still* dont’ get it. Your PB is a mess, theologically. I think a case could be made against most of your house of Bishops. This priest isn’t saying anything I’ve not heard from nearly *every* priest or preacher I’ve ever heard…

    From when cometh this drive for “orthdoxoy”?

    And who is defining it?

    I don’t disagree, mind you, with the accusations of heresy. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m just wondering who crossed the line, when, and how? What was the straw that broke the camel’s back?


  12. Pingback: Sarx » Blog Archive » The ECUSA Kerfuffle

  13. Chris T.

    Huw, I have to disagree with your characterization of the theology that is preached from Episcopal pulpits. Maybe it’s that way in some dioceses (I’ve heard some horrible stuff from pulpits in DC, though there are also, I should stress, some wonderful clergy and parishes in that diocese, too), but it’s certainly not that way in all.

    As a sojourner in a parish of the Diocese of NC, I can affirm that I’ve never heard anything but orthodox theology from the pulpit in the dozen or so churches I’ve visited. The same is true of the few times I’ve worshiped in the Diocese of Atlanta. And I don’t mean it was “orthodox by omission”, that is, assumed orthodox because I didn’t hear anything heterodox. My experience of this diocese and several others has been that even some very liberal folks preach and live a deeply orthodox faith grounded in Jesus Christ and the worship of the trinity. The dreck that is occasionally found in blogs of the extreme left (of various confessions, not just TEC).

    Sorry to get a little wordy there, but I get tired of this meme that the mainline (and TEC in specific) is everywhere collapsing into indifference and heterodoxy. It just ain’t so, from where I sit.

  14. Chris T.

    Oops, I meant that the dreck occasionally found in the blogs of the extreme left is NOT what I see in the parishes day-to-day. This theological crisis moaned about on Stand Firm and the other usual suspects seems not to have hit the dioceses where I’ve worshiped.

    I will admit the theology of some of the bishops makes me cringe — but the lived faith in the parishes seems pretty strong.

  15. Huw Richardson

    Your final sentence in both posts, Chris, is well said. I don’t mean to slam all of ECUSA. Certainly my former parish in Asheville is such a place. But, again, I’ve not ehard anything from the Bishop-Elect I’ve not heard before from Episcopal Pulpits (and although I’ve been in a lot of places…)

    My question stands though: such ideas and preaching is *very* common. What’s the trigger point? Why now?

  16. Derek the Ænglican

    Why now?

    1) Teh interwebs. The internet has (obviously) revolutionized American popular religious discourse. We’ve used it to
    a) get a better sense of what “regular folks in the pew” think and
    b) partisans left and right have begun leveraging it as ways to radicalize their bases.

    Now at this point, news items that might have trickled to a few people in a few parishes are being trumpeted from websites accross the communion. Yes, blogs, bloggers, the major sites have been up for several years now, but this is one of the first times (as I recall) where a consents case has come up with the time and public conversation to do anything about it. We’re not just griping about the news here—we’re doing something about it.

    2) Backlash. The current leadership of TEC does indeed lean left, politically and theologically. But, theologically, there are boundaries.

    Apostolic Succession.

    Yes, I’m yelling about this as a violation of the creeds. And I’ll continue to do so no matter how much worse it gets…

  17. Huw Richardson

    Derek, I agree 200 percent (or more) with your description of the internet as the cause. It’s why we can see inside of Roman and Orthodoxy as well – and see there are no monoliths!

    As far as the consent process, this is the first time it’s ever come out, at all. The entire process is usually not transparent at all and I’m glad it is, in this case.

    But I ask this, Derek, constantly of protestants who make the appeal to Tradition.

    How do you define it? Or, more importantly, *who* gets to define it? For, certainly, we have the changed creed (filioque) in our prayer book – and despite several attempts of the House of Bishops to remove it in recent conventions, it was placed back by the deputies. We have canons, of course – but equally we’ve rejected several canons passed by ecumenical councils with far more authority than (eg) Cramner, or Laud or our own Bishops. We’ve made minor adjustments to the Canon of Scripture in recent times (last 500 years) that Protestants can justify on the basis of scholarship and yet claim that, at a certain point, we no longer have to listen to scholarship (eg, modern Biblical criticism). And a huge portion of Christians (east and west) have a radically different understanding of “apostolic succession” than the Roman and Anglican traditions. Who is right and, again, who gets to decide?

    My point is not that we can’t not call “foul” on someone’s bad theology – but let him who is without heresy cast the first stone, as it were. We’re protestants. And either we’re all heretics – or we have none.


  18. Huw Richardson

    dang… another oops. “My point is not that we can’t not call “foul””

    How many negatives can I place in a sentence?

    The point is not that we’re forbidden to call foul….

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