Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Episcopal Parish Revises Baptismal Liturgy to be Interfaith Inclusive

Back in April of this year, I noted how Kevin Thew Forrester, the then bishop-elect of Northern MI, had arrogated to himself the authority to revise the liturgy for Holy Baptism by rewriting the Presentation and Examination of the Candidates for an Easter Vigil. This was just one of the many problems that derailed his election from receiving the consent necessary for his consecration as a bishop.

I probably shouldn't be surprised, but illegal revision of the Baptismal Rite has happened again, this time at Church of the Holy Trinity in New York City. Beginning with an explanation for the revisions followed by highlights of the revised liturgy, here's what I learned about what happened from Facebook (I've omitted the child's name):

On the Second Sunday of Advent, Holy Trinity, Manhattan, baptized an infant girl named N., whose parents are from Sri Llanka and whose godparents represented the different world religions of Sri Llanka. One of the godparents, moreover, described himself as an atheist. All of the godparents expressed a commitment to support N. as she followed the Way of the Christ. Working with the parents and godparents, Holy Trinity revised the Presentation and Examination of the Candidate in the Baptismal liturgy of The Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer so that the godparents could answer with authenticity.

Presentation & Examination of the Candidate
N. is blessed by the love and care of godparents whose faith traditions are Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism. Out of respect for their faith commitments, and with gratitude for their spiritual commitment to N. who will follow the Way of the Christ, the questions posed to the parents and godparents during the examination will be interfaith.

Will you support N. and her parents in seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life, and that she will gain a wider understanding of our companions in faith?

Will you by your thoughts and witness help this child to grow into appreciating this diverse world and a blessed creation?

Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?

Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?

Do you renounce all sinful desire that draw you from the love of God?

Do you turn to a spirituality on earth?

Do you put your trust in humanity’s grace and love?

Do you promise to honor the faith that is in you, serving as a vessel of love?

The Baptismal Covenant, BCP, p. 304

Prayers for the Candidate, BCP, p. 305

The prayers will include a reading from The Crescent Moon: Child Poems by Rabindranath Tagore. The poem "Benediction," originally written for a baby boy, has been adapted for N.

Read by N.
Bless this little heart,
this white soul that has won the kiss of heaven for our earth.
She loves the light of the sun, she loves the sight of her mother's face.
She has not learned to despise the dust, and to hanker after gold.
Clasp her to your heart and bless her.
She has come into this land of an hundred cross-roads.
I know not how she chose you from the crowd, came to your door,
and grasped your hand to ask her way.
She will follow you, laughing and talking, and not a doubt in her heart.
Keep her trust, lead her straight and bless her.
Lay your hand on her head, and pray that though the waves underneath
grow threatening, yet the breath from above may come
and fill her sails and waft her to the haven of peace.
Forget her not in your hurry, let her come to your heart and bless her.

Hymn 296 (v. 1-2), We know that Christ is raised, Engelberg

During the hymn, the Altar Ministers, Candidate, Parents, and Godparents process to the Font.

We know that Christ is raised and dies no more.
Embraced by death he broke its fearful hold;
and our despair he turned to blazing joy.

We share by water in his saving death.
Reborn we share with him an Easter life
as living members of a living Christ.

Thanksgiving over the Water, BCP, p. 306

The Baptism, BCP, p. 307

The towel used at the Font for today’s Baptism is a hand-knitted gift from the Knitting Circle of Holy Trinity to the newly baptized.

Hymn 296 (v. 3-4), We know that Christ is raised, Engelberg

During the hymn, the Altar Ministers, Candidate, Parents, and Godparents return to the crossing.

The Father’s splendor clothes the Son with life.
The Spirit’s power shakes the Church of God.
Baptized we live with God the Three in One.

A new creation comes to life and grows
as Christ’s new body takes on flesh and blood.
The universe restored and whole will sing:
Alleluia! Amen.

Anointing with Chrism (Holy Oil), BCP, p. 308

Welcoming the Newly Baptized, BCP, p. 308

The fitting place to start is by noting the problem of authority the revisions raise. Deacons, priests, and bishops make solemn vows in the ordination rite "to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church" (The Book of Common Prayer, pp. 513, 526, & 538). When I first started blogging, I made these observations about this solemn vow:

The “Oath of Conformity” represents a deeply countercultural commitment. For as fashionable as it is for many bishops, priests, and deacons to take a stand on any given issue because their conscience dictates it [or to revise liturgies in order to be more "welcoming" and "inclusive"], we clergy have promised to be conformists. We have solemnly promised that the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church over-rides individual conscience by setting the boundaries for what is and what is not normative. As a consequence, we clergy have voluntarily given up our “right” to ecclesial disobedience.

Prayer Book revision falls under the authority of General Convention alone. This means that clergy who take it upon themselves to alter the language of the liturgies in The Book of Common Prayer are both rejecting the norms of the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church in favor of the private judgment of individual conscience and changing the Church's core theology. This constitutes a particularly serious violation of ordination vows for a tradition which places as high of a value on common prayer as we do.

These general points should be born in mind as we take a closer look at selected portions of the Facebook posting.

One of the godparents ... described himself as atheist.

I'm really not sure how an atheist can make the renunciations and the act of adherence, and also make the Baptismal Covenant promises, as a godparent. After all, the first half of the Baptismal Covenant is the Apostles' Creed, and the first of the Baptismal Covenant promises is to "continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship" (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 304). In an earlier posting entitled "All of the Baptismal Covenant," I wrote this about that particular Baptismal Covenant promise:

Before we say what we promise to do as Christians, we first say what we believe as Christians. The doing follows from the believing. And it's no accident that the very first thing we promise to do is to "continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship," and there's no better summary of the apostles' teaching than the Apostles' Creed. So while the doing of our faith may take "progressive" forms, we only get to that doing by first giving ourselves in faith and trust to the orthodox faith of the Church.

The first and most elementary thing the orthodox faith of the Church articulated in the Apostles' Creed says is this: "I believe in God." An atheist cannot say this with authenticity.

Speaking of authenticity brings me to the next problematic part of the explanation for this revised liturgy:

Holy Trinity revised the Presentation and Examination of the Candidate in the Baptismal liturgy of The Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer so that the godparents could answer with authenticity.

According to this explanation, the theological content of the Presentation and Examination of the Candidate has been revised in order to accommodate the views of persons who, due to their religious faith (or lack thereof), do not accept the tenets of the Christian faith. The idea here seems to be that respecting the integrity of atheists and other faith traditions requires us to change the core content of our tradition. We'll see how that plays out in the following revisions of the liturgy (the revised portions are in bold, and for comparison's sake, what the Prayer Book actually says is in bold italics).

Will you support N. and her parents in seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life, that she will gain a wider understanding of our companions in faith?

Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life? (BCP, p. 302)

An accurate understanding of other faith traditions is a laudable and a necessary goal in our increasingly pluralistic world. And it's one that can be accomplished in many ways. But this change in the wording of the Presentation makes "a wider understanding of our companions in faith" perhaps the central meaning of "the Christian faith and life." In addition to the issues of authority and revision already flagged, I think it would be better to cover the concern for achieving this wider understanding under the baptismal covenant promise to "respect the dignity of every human being" (BCP, p. 305). Indeed, such a concern is an excellent one to flag in pre-baptism instruction. But for heaven's sake, we don't have to change the content of our faith to show respect for other people's beliefs, nor do we have to try and accommodate everybody else's views to achieve this goal! That sounds more like codependent people-pleasing than genuine inter-religious engagement.

Will you by your thoughts and witness help this child to grow into appreciating this diverse world and a blessed creation?

Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ? (BCP, p. 302)

Depending on how they are understood and enacted, appreciating diversity and creation are good things, to be sure. But notice what's missing in this revision. Christ has been edited out of the picture, as has our call to be formed into the "full stature" of Christ. The revision turns away from a promise to assist the baptized in substantive Christian formation and towards an open-ended, ill-defined notion of diversity appreciation. It's at this point that this revision begins to change the faith of the Church into something less than fully Christian.

That change bears fruit in the revised three-fold act of adherence:

Do you turn to a spirituality on earth?

Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? (BCP, p. 302)

Do you put your trust in humanity’s grace and love?

Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? (BCP, p. 302)

Do you promise to honor the faith that is in you, serving as a vessel of love?

Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord? (BCP, p. 303)

It's hard to imagine a starker contrast between the revised liturgy and the Prayer Book liturgy, or a more clear-cut evasion of what is central to the Christian faith and life: namely, Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is all the more interesting in light of the fact that the renunciations - which state the overwhelming magnitude and unmanageable character of the problem of sin and evil - are retained. But the answer to the problem of sin and evil in this act of adherence has been fundamentally changed, which, in turn, alters the magnitude and unmanageable character of sin and evil.

For instance, instead of turning to Jesus as savior - as the one who alone has power greater than ourselves to save us from the powers of sin, evil, and death - this revised liturgy locates salvation in "a spirituality on earth." I'm not sure exactly what that means, as the term "spirituality" is notorious for meaning pretty much anything anyone wants it to. Presumably, it might mean becoming Christian, or Jewish, or Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, etc. But as my posting entitled "Preslianity: Religious Devotion to Elvis Presley in America" demonstrates, "spirituality" and/or "religion" can hardly be circumscribed within the limits of the great religious traditions alone. That, too, is part of what it means to live in an increasingly pluralistic, interfaith world. Whether or not there are any limits to what this liturgy asks the Church to affirm and embrace when it comes to such interfaith diversity, no matter how far off the reservation such diversity may take us, is an open question.

In a subtle way, changing the language from turning to Jesus Christ and accepting him as savior to embracing "a spirituality on earth" suggests a common essence view of religion according to which the world’s religious traditions are basically all saying the same thing. So it doesn't really matter which "spirituality on earth" you choose, just so long as you choose something. And so things like creeds, liturgies, doctrines, dogmas, ritual practices, ethical norms, etc., are non-essential to the true, essential core that all religions share in common. I detected this view of religion at work in Kevin Thew Forrester's Trinity Sunday sermon, and in my posting entitled "Zen Christian" I noted some of the serious problems such a view entails. I hear echoes of this common essence view between the lines of this revised liturgy. That would, in part, account for why such "non-essentials" as the affirmations of Christ as Lord and Savior have been edited out of this revision in favor of things more "universal" and "trans-historical" (such as "vessel of love") that purportedly are affirmed by the core of all religious traditions.

Continuing with the rest of the act of adherence ...

Instead of putting our whole trust in Jesus Christ's grace and love, this revised liturgy has us putting our trust in humanity's grace and love. This revision has the merit of at least being clear and unambiguous in its shift away from a theocentric or Christocentric to a humanocentric understanding of conversion and salvation. But making this shift also entails rejecting a theological anthropology which understands humanity as essentially fallen (perhaps even infected by Original Sin) and in need of healing and redemption, in favor of one which envisions human beings as essentially good (perhaps there are echoes here of Matthew Fox's Original Blessing?). Little wonder, then, that the previous act of adherence turned away from the language of Jesus Christ as Savior, for if we are essentially good, there's really nothing we need to be saved from. Perhaps the problem is a lack of sufficient understanding and compassion. I must say that I find this an incredibly naive understanding of human nature, and one which doesn't make much sense in the aftermath of the unspeakable horrors of the 20th Century.

Finally, and consistent with the previous two acts of adherence, the revised liturgy edits out language of promising to follow and obey Jesus as Lord in favor of promising to serve as "a vessel of love." Like the vague term "spirituality," the word "love" is, at best, ambiguous when unmoored from the substantive particularities of the Christian faith and from the One who alone perfectly models what true love is and who alone has the authority to command us to act accordingly. But perhaps that's the point: to move away from the scandals of Christian particularity for the sake of embracing trans-historical, disembodied principles. How ironic that such a revision was used during a season of the Church calendar year when we look forward with hope and expectation to God coming to us in the flesh as a very particular, historically, culturally and religiously-grounded human being.

This revised act of adherence brings to my mind one of H. Richard Niebuhr's most succinct and blistering criticisms of theological liberalism as a religion devoted to "a God without wrath [who] brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross" [The Kingdom of God in America, (The Wesleyan University Press, orig. 1937; 1988), p. 193].

Given the substantive theological changes made in this revision of the act of adherence, it's hard to know what to say about the rest of the liturgy remaining mostly intact. That strikes me as theologically schizophrenic, at best. At least Kevin Thew Forrester's revision of the baptismal liturgy was more consistent insofar as it changed the renunciations, too.

In light of the ways in which this case echoes the case of Kevin Thew Forrester earlier this year, I'll close with something I said in response to those commenting on my posting "'Buddhist' Bishop-Elect Revises Liturgy for Baptism":

The Forrester case is, indeed, a wake-up call that the Episcopal Church has been infiltrated by both bad and heretical theology at all levels. It may not be as pervasive as the more stringent doomsayers cry, but it's there and, left unchecked, will spread and come to seem more and more "normal." We need to build on the unified opposition across the spectrum in this case to start saying "No!" in other cases.

This posting is my modest contribution to saying "No!" to Church of the Holy Trinity's unauthorized revision of the baptismal liturgy and the theology which fuels it. And it's also a way to say that we can engage in respectful interfaith dialogue and cooperation - even worship - without throwing the Christian baby out with the bathwater.


Joe Rawls said...

Talk about empty, meaningless ritual...

Matt Gunter said...

It appears Anglicanism will never fully escape the spirit of its island homeland "whose people are ready to listen to anything novel, and never hold firmly to anything." So wrote Bede and so it seems to be nearly 14 centuries on.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bryan, to say I am not surprised that this has transpired does not change the fact that I am appalled. As with the debate that has taken place here in NZ over a 'billboard' that was erected pre-Christmas that trampled all over the Doctrines of the Anglican church I am moved to ask what position do the parishioners of this church take. How could you stand by and let this take place as part of the family that is the worshiping body at that church? Maybe they did protest?

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks Joe, Matt, and George for the comments.

I'd not heard that quote from Bede before, Matt. How true it still is!

George, I wish I could answer your questions about whether or not there was any blowback from parishioners in response to these revisions, but I just don't know. My guess, however, is that there was little if any protest. And that's why, several times on my blog, I've flagged the infiltration of this kind of bad and heretical theology in TEC which needs to be nipped in the bud before it starts to seem "normal."

My concern is that it's too late ...

BillyD said...

"Do you turn to a spirituality on earth?"


My distaste for the words "spiritual" and "spirituality" aside, where else would I turn to a spirituality? And what does that mean?

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for weighing in, BillyD. You're asking precisely the kinds of exasperated questions that immediately hit me (and raise my frustration and anger) whenever I see this kind of stuff.

I think it's far more honest and respectful for a Muslim to tell a Christian that he's wrong about X, or a Christian to tell a Buddhist that she's wrong about Y, than to pretend that the substantive differences between our rival, incommensurable claims to truth simply don't matter because we've conveniently re-defined those differences as non-essential to the core of what religion is "really" all about.

I'd much prefer to engage an adherent of another religious tradition in open, honest, respectful dialogue that explores both how our understandings of ultimate truth are irreconcilable and ways in which our traditions overlap, using that open, honest, respectful, dialogue as a basis on which to explore the question, "Okay, so now that we have a clearer understanding of rival truth claims we can never reconcile, how can we build on the values we do, in fact, share to work for a more peaceful and just world?"

It simply won't do to pretend that we don't have real, substantive differences. Much less jettison them as though that will somehow make everything okay. IMO, that's disrespectful to both our interfaith dialogue partners and to our own religious tradition.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this and revealing yet more revisionist insanity.


Joe said...

Fr. Owens,

I appreciate your posting this information and I wholeheartedly agree that all Episcopalians who value orthodoxy, and the conformity which "common prayer" requires, should protest the actions that you describe. But, isn't there more that can, and should, be done? Should not you, and other clergy, make specific comments of protest to your bishop and call upon him to make similar protest to the bishop with jurisdiction? After all, each bishop of The Episcopal Church is obliged by his consecration vows to be a "guardian of the faith" and neither "the faith" nor "the worship and doctrine of The Episcopal Church" are matters that permit local option for revision unless specific authority for such revision and variation is provided by The General Convention.

I realize that what I suggest is likely to be uncomfortable, but isn't what is right more important than what is comfortable? Being held to account is rarely "comfortable" though, is it?

God's peace.

Joe <>< (Cotton Country Anglican)

Bryan Owen said...

I agree with you, Joe. My annual meeting with my bishop comes up in about a week or so. One of the things I plan to discuss with him is both the case of Kevin Thew Forrester and this particular case and why the implications of both are so deeply disturbing. Frankly, this is the sort of stuff that makes me wonder why in the hell I've made the commitments that I have to this Church in my ordination vows. I did not sign on for this!

Part of the problem in the Episcopal Church is that our bishops are by and large unwilling to hold each other accountable. This has been a problem for many years now, to the point that a kind of laissez-faire attitude to these sorts of flagrant violations of the basic norms of our identity are met with shrugs and ho-hums.

Add to the mix the reality that the House of Bishops is becoming increasingly liberal, and I can easily imagine bishops who would openly celebrate these kinds of revisions as "cutting edge" and as examples of offering a "generous pastoral response." Some, no doubt, already do.

Joe said...

Fr. Owens,

I'm glad to hear that you will raise these matters with your bishop but, alas, I do not expect that you will receive anything more than a ho-hum and a shrug. Sadly, what I have seen from your bishop places him among those "increasingly liberal" bishops of The Episcopal Church. Nonetheless, he should be told precisely why these sorts of things bother you and me and, importantly, asked if he cares whether priests like you and lay persons like me remain Episcopalians or not. If he claims to agree with you, and to care about the things that we are here discussing, then he needs to honor his vow and start acting like a bishop (by guarding the faith).

Forgive my rant; I know that I am preaching to the choir ...

God's peace.

Joe <><

Bryan Owen said...

My reading of Bishop Gray is that he's a Centrist with (on some issues) conservative leanings. He's not a culture warrior, to be sure. But he has certainly bent over backwards to make room for clergy and laypersons across the theological spectrum to have a home in this diocese. For that, I am grateful.

The Underground Pewster said...

Thanks Bryan for bringing this to light.

I was shocked by most of the revisions, but the one that made my hair crawl was this:

"Do you put your trust in humanity’s grace and love?"

If this is the case, who needs Jesus, the cross, and who needs baptism?

Umm...and all along I thought we were stiff necked, rebellious, and stubborn people. I guess all that stuff got edited out in the revision.

Bryan Owen said...

I, too, was utterly floored by the profession of faith "in humanity's grace and love." I simply cannot fathom how anybody can seriously say something like that after 9/11.

Perpetua said...

Hi Bryan+,

Thank you so much for your good work on this post.

In reflecting upon on your post, I began to think that the innovation of the 1979 Prayer Book Baptism question:

Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ? (BCP, p. 302)

could actually be a problem.

It implies that we, as individuals, can attain the full stature of God. Christ is God the Son. We can become little lower case "g" gods. But Christian theology does not say that we can, as individuals, attain equal stature with Christ our God. As a community, yes, the church is built up to become the full measure of the Body of Christ, and taken in context, that is what the Ephesians passage clearly refers to.

Once this misinterpretation of Ephesians became common among Episcopalians through exposure to the innovative Baptismal questions, Episcopalians were sitting ducks for all sorts of "New Age" thinking.

Bryan Owen said...

Perpetua, I think you're right that his portion of the BCP's Baptismal liturgy could be problematic, but only if it's interpreted wrongly. Certainly, there are a variety of hermeneutic lenses out there to help persons misconstrue what this language of growing into the full stature of Christ signifies. Perhaps this is one of those places where the Eastern Orthodox understanding of theosis could provide a way to interpret this language that stays within the boundaries of Scripture and Tradition.

Matt Gunter said...

It might be merely an indication of my own lack, but trusting in humanity's grace and love requires more blind faith than I can muster.

Rabbi Jack Moline who co-taught an introductory course on Judaism at Virginia Seminary, once quoted another rabbi who said, "After the Holocaust, it is difficult to belive in God. But it is impossible to belive in man [sic]."

Bryan Owen said...

Wow, Matt! The rabbi really nails it!

hawk said...

On numerous occasions, I've been asked if Godparents have to be Christians and my answer is always an emphatic "yes." I don't have a problem with the Buddhist brother or the atheist sister standing in places of honor as witnesses, but those making the "will you" and "do you" statements are Christians.

For me the conformity statement in the ordination rite is a bulwark against my own propensity to undermine authority and go my own way. When I've been in search processes and been asked my position on this or that hot button issue, I always point to the conformity statement as the beginning. It really isn't what I think or believe but what the diocesan bishop thinks or believes. I might have a personal position, but from the pulpit and from my position as an ordered person, my positions are the church's positions.

I recently officiated at a graveside service at a military cemetery. The service was given a fifteen minute window. The cemetery was only available on Monday through Friday from 10-2. Families were only allowed to view the gravesite from 15 feet away. Etc... I often wonder in our zeal to provide pastoral care, if Episcopal clergy (and other clergy) are far too willing to sell out the faith handed down from generation to generation in the church. We don't want to offend the Buddhist; rewrite the covenant. We don't want to offend our Jewish neighbors; leave the offensive parts out of John. The bride is an atheist; rewrite the marital vows. The military cemetery is probably a poor example, but my experience made me reexamine my own willingness to be flexible for pastoral reasons (there are always good reasons) at the expense of the church's theological health and my own spiritual and personal health.

Bryan Owen said...

A hearty 'Amen!' to your comments, hawk!

There's one piece of the conformity issue with regard to the bishop's authority that I think it's important to clarify. It is true that, as priests, we have promised in our ordination vows to "be guided by the pastoral direction and leadership of ... [the] bishop" (BCP, p. 532). But I also note an important qualification and check on the bishop's authority in the Presentation (I've highlighted the relevant clause in italics): "And will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work" (BCP, 526)?

I interpret this to mean that the bishop's authority applies - and a priest's obligation to obey - only within the boundaries established by the canons (which includes authorized liturgies). In other words and for example, if the bishop under whom I serve tells me to start baptizing in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer instead of in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, then he/she has stepped outside of the bounds of his/her legitimate authority. And given the rest of the vows I've made (particularly the Oath of Conformity), I am duty-bound to disobey that particular directive. But all other respects in which the bishop conforms to the canons and doctrine, discipline, and worship of TEC, his/her authority remains legitimate and I am duty-bound to obey.

I'm sure that many other possible examples of things that violate the canons and the doctrine, discipline, and worship of TEC come to mind.

Let me be clear that I am not advocating willy-nilly disobedience to our bishops, but simply pointing out a check and balance (however subtle or overlooked) that's right there in the Ordinal, and for good reason.

Malcolm+ said...

From your post:

"clergy who take it upon themselves to alter the language of the liturgies in The Book of Common Prayer are both rejecting the norms of the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church in favor of the private judgment of individual conscience and changing the Church's core theology."

A small quibble. While obviously true in this case, it does not necessarily follow that any unauthorized change to the liturgy constitutes a change in doctrine.

On a couple of points in the comments:

Regarding the marriage service, if one of the parties is a non-Christian, there should be some pastoral sensitivity. That said, there are limits to what revisions can be done without the service ceasing to be Christian marriage as reasonably understood (leaving aside the same sex union issue for the moment). In Canada, for example, there exists an approved form for the solemnization of a marriage where one of the partners does not profess the Christian faith. (I don't have the copy to hand since I'm writing from home and the material is at the church.)

On the necessity of godparents to be Christians, part of the problem is that people don't understand that part of the roloe of godparent is (as we frame it when baptising those of riper years) sponsorship. In order to sponsor someone as a member of any organization, the sponsor has to be a member in good standing of the organization, whether it's the church, the masons or the kiwanis. As the commenter says, there can easily be other roles for non-Christian friends and relations.

Bryan Owen said...

Malcolm, you're right that changing the language of BCP liturgies does not necessarily change the Church's core theology. But sometimes even small changes can and do affect that theology. And certainly, in this case, the changes take us off the Christian reservation.

I would say that just as we have promised to faithful with the big things, so, too, we should be faithful with the small, seemingly insignificant stuff.

As to the marriage service, I think we do well to keep in mind that marriage is not Holy Matrimony.

Malcolm+ said...

I think we are agreed about the first point. As a rule, the liturgy should not be altered based on the opinions and preferences of an individual, whatever the intent. I might be more prepared than you to offer some latitude based on pastoral sensitivity, but with the clear boundary that such alteration should not imply any alteration or dimunation of doctrine. The liturgy referred to is clearly way out of the park by any reasonable standard.

Valid and important point about the distinction between Holy Matrimony and marriage per se. In the case of a couple where one is and one is not Christian, it seems to me one has something that falls between "mere" marriage and "Christian marriage." Certainly the Christian obligation and vocation of the Christian partner is no different - neither greater nor less - than if the other partner were Christian. So is it not (at least for that partner) Holy Matrimony? I shall have to ponder this some more.

Bryan Owen said...

Malcolm+, I'm interested in seeing your further thoughts on the marriage/Holy Matrimony thing.

bob said...

I've seen several Anglicans disapprove of the "Rite". What is undeniable is that whoever is the victim of this black ritual is in complete communion with every other Anglican. He/she can now receive communion. Fully a member in good standing, as is Ann Redding, the "Muslim Christian" in Seattle, WA.
What a lot of fuss over something that is completely acceptable to Anglicans. If it weren't, something would be done. Don't hold your breath. I would read that item above about Orthodoxy, though. The Orthodox church can't understand anything like this going on.

Bryan Owen said...

bob, calling this a "black ritual" is a bit over the top, don't you think? Words like "heterodox" (at best) or "heretical" (at worst) seem fitting. But I'm not seeing anything Satanic here.

You seem to be implying a problem with the baptized's status as a full member of the Church. Since full membership is a function of baptism, such a question would imply that the child's baptism is invalid. I am not aware of any evidence that Church of the Holy Trinity baptized this child without water and the proper words of administration. And it's worth remembering that if water and the proper words of administration for the baptism were used, then, according to our Prayer Book (and the Anglican tradition more broadly), that is both necessary and sufficient to make the baptism valid.

So unless you can point us to some evidence to the contrary, the issue here is not the validity of the child's baptism or his/her membership in the Church. The issue is the theology of the revised act of adherence and the implications of allowing such theology to go unchecked.

Malcolm+ said...

Bob also seems to miss that the Bishop of Rhode Island has taken steps wrt nee Holmes Redding and that her particular syncretism has NOT been allowed to stand. There have been SOME on the Anglican right who have ignored that because it tends to weaken the value of AHR as a club to beat the rest of us with. It all seems a trifle disingenuous to me.

Bryan, I'm not sure what the timeline is likely to be on my ponderings about marriage . matrimony, but I expect it will eventually appear on Simple Massing Priest. 'll try to remember to alert you.

Bryan Owen said...

Excellent point about the bishop of Rhode Island, Malcolm. Sadly, there is a tendency among some (on both the Left and the Right) to conveniently overlook facts on the ground that actually support their concerns when doing so also doesn't support the overarching political agenda du jour.

Please do let me know if you post additional thoughts on the issue of marriage vs. Holy Matrimony.

David said...

This makes me want to puke. I can NOT understand why a Bishop, defender of the faith, tolerates this.
When I worked for 2 weeks at a church in NYC when in seminary, this type of thinking was evident. They didn't care if godparents believed (even admitted - hey there are a lot of our parishioners with Jewish friends they want to be godparents, so how do we say no), and when I asked a group of adults (about 75 people) if they sent religions Christmas cards to non-Christian friends, they were horrified to even consider the possibility, although EVERY ONE of them said they are not offended to get a Hanukkah card or the like from non-Christian friends of other faiths. Why are we so afraid to say what we believe?

bob said...

The bishop of Rhode Island defrocked Ann Redding. What this says is "You may not be a Muslim and a cleric in my diocese". Recall, the Diocese of Olympia couldn't care less about her being a Muslim before she was suspended, then defrocked. What the Bishop of Rhode Island, and every other Anglican bishop so far has **NOT** done is say "You may not be a LAYMAN and a Muslim". And that is the great joke. You can be a layman in good standing in the Anglican communion *after* renouncing your baptism. That is what it means to become a Muslim; you stop being a Christian. It's called apostasy. It seems Muslims understand this a good deal better than Anglicans do.
There is no "Core" theology in Anglicanism, that's why revising baptism doesn't attract much attention. Haven't you noticed; most Episcopal churches don't care if you're baptized or not to receive communion.
Your brother is an Orthodox priest, I believe? Run the text by him. Ask him how he would receive this person into the Orthodox Church should they want to do so someday. I know a fair number of Orthodox clergy who would baptize (Note, not "Rebaptize") any Anglican convert nowadays. I'm sure you wouldn't do this sort of thing. I'm sorry you have to be in the same organization with those who do.

Bryan Owen said...

Actually, bob, my brother is a layman in the Greek Orthodox Church. I'm not sure what his take would be. I may ask him.

As to the issue of core theology in Anglicanism - I'm not with you on that one. Indeed, from my perspective, it's only because there is, in fact, core theology in Anglicanism that I am able to give theological and biblical reasons for why this revision is wrong instead of merely expressing my subjective disapproval. Same thing can be said for the how the bishop of Rhode Island handled the case of Ann Holmes Redding.

The problem is not that we lack core theology. That theology is very clearly articulated in the Prayer Book, the creeds, and in the canons. The problem is our unwillingness to be held accountable - and to hold each other accountable - to the norms that already exist.

And I quite agree that this accountability piece applies to laypersons, too. As I've written about before, lay Episcopalians are bound by vows, too.

Danielle SP said...


Hi, I have no idea if I will get a response as this is undoubtedly quite an old post, but I would be extremely grateful if someone were to provide one. I came across this because I was searching for a solution to a dilemma:

My husband is a very committed Lutheran Christian. His family is Greek Orthodox. My family is Jewish, and while I am not religious per se, I have a strong cultural connection to Judaism, and a strong aversion to personally disavowing my Jewish identity. (For one thing, my great grandfather was killed in Nazi Germany for this identity, leading my grandmother and her mother to flee to the US with only a single trunk of belongings.)

Before my husband and I were married, we agreed that our children would be baptized. It was/is incredibly important to him, and as I have no opposition or aversion to Christianity, it's alright with me. I personally am entirely unwilling to be baptized, for the reasons stated below and above, but our daughter is not in my position, and I am alright with it in her case. So, we scheduled the baptism, sent out invitations, bought her dress, planned a reception, and only now did I independently think perhaps I should google what the ceremony actually entails, and I discovered that it involves the parents having to profess their belief in "the Creeds," among other things. I have no issue with committing to raising her in the Christian faith. What i have an issue with is professing my beliefs, when they are not my beliefs. Setting aside my own personal feelings of betraying my own heritage and identity, it also feels disrespectful of a rite that I know is core to Christian faith and tradition (were I to just say it without it being true.)

I would like to rock the boat as little as possible, and be respectful of the tradition to the extent possible, but I don't know the best way to do that. I simply am not Christian, and cannot become Christian just because it would be convenient. In light of this, what do you suggest that I do?

A bit more about my understanding of my identity and tradition in case it is useful: I have respect for many Christians and for Christianity in many of its forms, and know quite a lot theologically about Christianity. I've read the new testament, and have read more on the Christian faith by Christian theologians than your average Christian probably has. I have respect for many of them. I also think that Jesus was an incredible prophet, but not a God. And I have a lot of issues with the idea that there might be a barrier to "salvation" or some greater level of holiness on the basis of "faith," rather than virtue as a human being, goodness and morality in society, and commitment to justice. To me, the latter things are far more important, and the former more often than not distracts from them.

Thank you so much for any help you can provide.

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Hi Danielle. Many thanks for your comments and for your honesty.

While I'm not familiar with the baptism rite in the Lutheran Church, I'm betting that in many ways it's similar to what we have in the Episcopal Church. Which means that parents and godparents who present someone for baptism are - if they fully participate in the service - affirming core tenets of the Christian faith, including Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In the Episcopal Church, the entire gathered assembly reaffirms the Baptismal Covenant, which includes the Apostles' Creed. That Creed outlines the basics of the Church's faith in a Trinitarian God, and in Jesus as God's "only Son, our Lord."

From what you've written, it's clear that you are committed to your Jewish heritage and not interested in converting to Christianity. It's also clear that you are a person of moral integrity who respects other religious traditions. You do not want to pretend to be someone you aren't.

It's hard to offer counsel via a blog comments section rather than in person, but here are a few things that come to mind.

First, I think it's critically important that you not violate your conscience. Just as you respect others whose beliefs and practices differ from yours, respect your own core convictions enough to not set them aside just to get along.

Second, be honest with your husband and other family members and friends about the struggle you feel with supporting the decision to have your daughter baptized on the one hand, and your unwillingness to pretend to be Christian when you aren't on the other hand. You still want to be supportive and you aren't saying anything negative about anybody.

Third, I think it's a good idea for you and your husband to meet with the Lutheran pastor who will preside over the service to share your concerns. He/she needs to know what's going on and be given an opportunity to offer pastoral counsel and guidance. When it comes to the actual service, the solution may be as simple as having you stand with everybody else as a sign of loving support without you actually saying any of the words that suggest commitment to beliefs you do not hold.

I have no idea if any of this helps or not. But my prayers are with you and your family as you discern the best way to move forward.


Fr. Bryan Owen

Danielle SP said...

Hi Pastor Bryan,

Thank you so much for the feedback. It's very helpful.

Best wishes for your continued ministry (and blog!).


Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Hi Danielle. I'm glad to hear this is helpful and I continue to wish God's blessings upon you and your family.