Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Episcopal Church Welcomes All Viewpoints and Interests - Really?

I came across a website called Panorama which describes itself as "Blog of the Episcopal Church." The first posting kicks off with a reflection on the familiar slogan visible on many church signs: "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." The posting notes that, in spite of differences and even "heated discussions," we Episcopalians still do a pretty good job of being gracious and welcoming towards each other. Sure, there are exceptions, but on the whole that strikes me as a reasonably accurate assessment. So far so good.

But then things take an odd turn with the following:

Panorama will show that all viewpoints and interests are welcomed in the Episcopal Church. Panorama provides an avenue for these various voices to be previewed and highlighted.

"All viewpoints and interests are welcomed in the Episcopal Church." Really?

Surely not!

The fact is there are many viewpoints and interests we reject as unworthy of inclusion within our church. Don't we take a strong stand against racism and sexism? Don't we reject anti-Semitism as incompatible with the Christian faith? Don't we reject hatred and discrimination against persons because of their sexual orientation? If we're being faithful to the theology of our Prayer Book and to what is affirmed on the Episcopal Church's official website about the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, then aren't we including the orthodoxy of Nicaea and Chalcedon while rejecting other viewpoints as heretical (e.g., Arianism, Docetism, and Gnosticism)? And aren't there plenty of other viewpoints and interests we rightly say "no" to and commit ourselves to proactively excluding from our church when we promise in our Baptismal Covenant to "continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship" and to "respect the dignity of every human being"?

The desire to be inclusive is a good thing. But there are limits to inclusion. It's not just the fact that some viewpoints and interests should not be included for theological or ethical reasons. It's also that inclusion of certain viewpoints and interests necessarily means excluding other viewpoints and interests that contradict or reject what the Episcopal Church has included and affirmed as normative and acceptable.

It's more accurate to say that the Episcopal Church does not welcome all viewpoints and interests. And rightly so!


Jeff Marx said...

In a discussion some years ago I tried to explain to some of our clergy that making "inclusion" a first principle of our faith was impossible; it is self referentially inconsistent (for all the reasons you state above). Inclusiveness cannot include exclusiveness, which means it cannot be inclusive. It is the sort of thing which makes computers go crazy, right?
Great post, I appreciate your work.

Bryan Owen said...

Well said, Jeff. Thanks for commenting.

Kelso said...

Well, I do know they don't care for my viewpoint. I'm a 1928 BCP Episcopalian. There is no place left for me in the Episcopal Church - I'm not welcome.

Joe Rawls said...

My parish, of course, is so inclusive that I now get up at 6AM on Sundays to attend the early service, which still has the Nicene Creed that has been temporarily (perhaps)replaced at the 10 o'clock. The rector assured me that "we value theological diversity" in this parish. I almost laughed in his face.

Pray for me, a theologically unfashionable sinner.

Bryan Owen said...

While it's arguably the case the the inclusion of Rite I in the 1979 BCP was an attempt to accommodate 1928 BCP Episcopalians, that's an interesting point that goes to the point, Kelso. Thanks for the comment.

And thanks also, Joe, for your comment. My prayers are with you!

For readers who are interested, I weighed in on what's happening in Joe's parish in a posting entitled "Dumping the Nicene Creed for Easter."

As for the rhetoric of "we value theological diversity" - in my experience, that's often code language for proactively privileging some perspectives to the exclusion of others (typically on a politically correct basis) and thus a signal that "diversity" actually means ideological uniformity.

Anonymous said...

Joe's situation seems sadly typical of parishes that seek to be inclusive of all. They end up offering an illusion of welcome while in fact demanding a surrender of a foundational orthodox belief: that the creeds are normative for all Christians.

In the Anglican Church of Canada, to which I belong, it's common to have an 8 am Book of Common Prayer service (a slightly revised version of the 1662) even at very heterodox parishes who drop the creeds at the 10am. This is supposedly to let orthodox-minded parishioners know they are welcome.

However, to accept that arrangement pushes one to accept a premise that an orthodox Christian can't accept: that the creeds are an optional expression of Christian faith rather than normative. In other words, the 8 am orthodox service is a bone thrown to us to keep us pacified, but that is a bone we receive only if we are willing to accept that the creeds we like don't reflect objective reality. Otherwise, we would expect the creeds to be treated normatively at the 10 am service, and that just won't do!

That's what happens when we try to have the cake and eat it too. Something's gotta give.


Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for offering thoughts on the basis of your experience in the Anglican Church of Canada, Stephen. It is sad and disturbing to learn that there are Anglican/Episcopal parishes for which "the creeds are an optional expression of Christian faith rather than normative." Something's gotta give, indeed!

Christopher said...

I wrote on this recently:

James said...

I think that the Panorama blog's description isn't so bad - all viewpoints and interests may be welcomed - but with the caveat that if someone's viewpoint or interest isn't taught by the church, they shouldn't be upset. I.e., we teach what we teach; though we're willing to listen what you have to say.

Unfortunately, in some quarters of The Episcopal Church, this distinction isn't recognized. At moments that we aren't affirming some particular "progressive" agenda in our teaching - we hear but I thought we were supposed to be open to ALL viewpoints. And once that agenda is largely being taught, and a view differing from this is raised - we hear, sorry bud, that's not what we teach. Meaning, basically: it's never really about inclusiveness.

I was participating recently in a discussion on "inclusiveness" and wrote a couple of blog postings on how, when this becomes too central in our notions of the church, it can have a rather ugly effect - here. The problem with "inclusion" is it indirectly raises the question, "Who's in, who's out?" This is a question that shouldn't be answered first ... it's answered only after we've understood the identity of Christ, and then of His body, the church universal. When we're too stuck on the question, "who's in, who's out ..." - we get into quandries with potentially nasty results.

Michel S. said...

Over-emphasizing inclusion, to the point of abandoning BCP-based worship for the main service (both Stephen+'s example and the NZ experience of Bosco in the "Dumping the Nicene Creed" post) seem to go against our very nature as Anglicans...

I often attend Unitarian Universalist services, and while I admire the intellectualism of their clergy and the strong social justice emphasis, the free-willing liturgy means that congregants don't really have a common faith experience that bind them together -- I'd hope that fate does not await TEC and the Anglican Communion!

Fr. J said...

Some people are intolerant of others. I hate those people.