Monday, August 17, 2009

Anglican Fudge or Anglican Goo?

Fr. Thomas (aka "The Postulant") recently preached an excellent sermon in which he distinguishes between "Anglican fudge" and "Anglican goo."

In the culture wars of the Episcopal Church and the broader Anglican Communion, the term "Anglican fudge" is typically used as a derogatory term. As such, it signifies hedging, avoiding issues, watering down truths, avoiding commitment, double-speak, etc., etc. It's what happens, for instance, when politicians are asked direct questions and, in response, they talk around the issues without actually giving any clearly defined, coherent answers to which they can be held accountable. Such, we are told by some critics, is what the Archbishop of Canterbury routinely does in his statements, or what General Convention does in any given resolution, or why Episcopalians don't have confessional statements that provide litmus tests for faith and doctrine, etc.

Fr. Thomas' sermon goes a long way towards rehabilitating the term "Anglican fudge" in the positive sense of a generous orthodoxy by contrasting it against the real problem we face: the boundaryless, norm-rejecting, subjective mess of "Anglican goo." A few excerpts make the point:

Anglican fudge means finding a way to affirm every truth you can but to make no particular theory about that truth mandatory. If you like clear boundaries and a definitive list of what doctrines are in and what doctrines are out, Anglican fudge can be absolutely maddening. But when it’s done with integrity, it allows us to maintain a middle way, as one of our collects says, “not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth.” ...

Is the Eucharist a memorial? Yes, it is. After all, how many times in Scripture does Jesus say “Do this for the remembrance of me”? But do we receive Jesus in the Eucharist? Yes we do. For do we not read in today’s Gospel, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”? So we had
better eat his flesh and drink his blood in the meal that he has given us. And what particular theory of how that works do we have to sign on for? None. Our Lord’s command was not “Take, theorize” or “Take, analyze.” It was “Take, eat.”

And so let’s hear those words again:

“The gifts of God for the people of God. Take them” – God in Christ is offering you himself. Take what he offers. You need not understand, you need not theorize, because Jesus calls you to the altar, not to instruct, but to feed you. Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Do you want to abide in Christ? Then take these gifts. Take them “in remembrance that Christ died for you.” Yes, this meal is a memorial, and we go to the altar to be reminded of what Christ has done for us. He says, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh,” and how can bread be given unless it is broken, as his flesh was broken and his blood poured out for us? We do well to remember that great sacrifice. But we should do more than just remember: “feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.” Feed on him. Jesus said, “whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Thanks to Anglican fudge, that’s all there in those words: not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth. ...

We are not called to unanimity, but to unity. And that unity is not guaranteed by any theological theories or Biblical interpretations. It is guaranteed by the one body given for us, the one bread broken for us. If we obey his commandment to “do this for the remembrance of me,” if we feed on him in our hearts by faith, with thanksgiving, and then go forth into the world carrying that broken body in us and living like people in whom Jesus abides not merely as a pious memory but in very truth, strengthening our lives with his life – why then, any disagreements we might have over theories and interpretations are really beside the point, aren't they?

Wait. Any disagreements? I mean, can we really say that none of that stuff matters as long as we eat his flesh and drink his blood? Is it really all about what we
do and not at all about what we believe? Well, no, not quite. If there are no limits at all, we don’t even have fudge any more, just goo, and I’m not here to commend Anglican goo. ...

A certain priest was elected bishop in one of our dioceses. Now even though our dioceses choose their own bishops, the Church as a whole has to approve episcopal elections by a majority vote of all the diocesan bishops and a majority vote of all the diocesan Standing Committees. Usually this sort of thing proceeds without much attention being paid, but in this case, for various reasons, people started to get suspicious about this priest’s theology, and more and more people began to think that he had gone too far, even by the rather generous standards of Anglicanism. One of the turning points in the whole process came when one highly respected bishop – who is very much on the liberal side of things – wrote a public statement saying, basically, “I can’t see that this guy believes that Jesus’ death was a sacrifice, or that it accomplished something for us that we couldn’t do for ourselves, in any way whatsoever. So I can’t consent to his election.” In the end, a majority of both bishops and Standing Committees said no.

Though I grieve for the diocese that now has to go through the election process all over again, I rejoice – you have no idea how much I rejoice – that our beloved Anglican fudge was not allowed to melt into Anglican goo. After all, how can we really accept the gifts of God for the people of God – how can we feed on Jesus in our hearts by faith, with thanksgiving – if we do not acknowledge in some way that Jesus gives his flesh to be broken for the life of the world?

There have to be some core elements somewhere, to keep our Anglican fudge from melting into a pile of goo. But what are they? They are the essentials of believing without which our doing makes no sense. When a theory or interpretation or theological speculation empties the meaning from our liturgy and strips our actions of their purpose and significance, then that theory or interpretation or theological speculation must be rejected. Then there can be no compromise for the sake of peace; there must be a rejection for the sake of truth.

Those essentials of belief, the ones that give meaning to our worship and prevent Anglican fudge from going all gooey on us, are stated in the creeds. To our shame, we Episcopalians haven’t always respected those boundaries – don’t ask me to explain Bishop Spong, because I can’t – but the story I’ve just told you is a heartening sign that we are returning to a proper Anglican balance of freedom, yes, but freedom within boundaries. We will not require unanimity, but we will require a unity that is enacted at the font and the altar and given shape and meaning by the creeds.

Read it all, and listen to it here.

Fr. Thomas does not locate the core of Anglicanism's "comprehension for the sake of truth" in the kind of unanimity of belief we find in more confessional traditions (overcooked or burnt fudge?). Rather, he affirms the creedal character of Anglicanism by saying that the "essentials of belief ... that give meaning to our worship and prevent Anglican fudge from going all gooey on us, are stated in the creeds."



Christopher said...

Very fine. Confessional and magisterial traditions are different baked goods altogether. Our fudge is unique to us.

DavidB said...

On an earlier post, someone was commenting that the Episcopal church is deficient because of the likes of Spong or because Ann Redding, a priest who made a misguided attempt to synthesize Christianity with Islam, is a layperson in good standing in her diocese. I would argue that the fact that heresy trials and excommunications are rare in our church does not turn the "fudge" into "goo". Anyone who thinks the Episcopal Church has jumped on Spong's bandwagon en masse should read "Can a Bishop Be Wrong?", a book that thoroughly rebukes Spong, with several Episcopal bishops contributing. There is no branch of the Christian church that excommunicates or holds heresy trials in every case that it's possible to do so. There is always an effort made to help the person return to a correct understanding of the faith. The fact that the Episcopal Church exercises discipline of this manner less than the Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches does not mean that our church is apostate :) It simply means that we have chosen to let people find their way back to the truth with our encouragement instead of our censure.