Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bishop William Mercer Green: "Upon the safe and happy middle ground of Catholic truth"

Whilst recording, as in duty bound, these lapses of our clerical brethren, I do it with unfeigned sorrow and humiliation.  But, at the same time, I cannot repress the grateful thought that the extreme views, which in all these cases, led those once sound in the faith to depart from the purity and catholicity of our standards, have no place, so far as I know, amongst us.  My brethren of the clergy and laity, may you and I never be drawn aside from the faith and practice of the Prayer-book, which is but an epitome of the Bible, either by the seductive wiles of Romanism on the one hand, or the levelling, popularity-seeking of a diseased Protestantism on the other.  Upon the safe and happy middle ground of Catholic truth may we ever be found, battling for God and his Church. 

~ The Rt. Rev. William Mercer Green, first Episcopal bishop of Mississippi, in an address to the 24th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi on May 9, 1850

Source: Journal of the Proceedings of the Twenty-Fourth Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Diocese of Mississippi, held at St. Andrew's Church, Jackson, May 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th, 1850


Lynn Hooks said...

The BCP being the epitome of the Bible, and creeds a a protection to the integrity of the Gospel- very thought provoking. LH

Eugene said...

Sad to think that he probably had slaves maintain the lawns around te church, although I doubt the attended services.

Bryan Owen said...

Many thanks for the comments, Lynn and Eugene.

It is a sad truth that many Southern church leaders of that era owned slaves. But that doesn't detract one iota from the truth of what Bishop Green here says, anymore than the sins of a priest render the sacraments over which he/she presides invalid.

Eugene said...

Re: slaves, that may be true. Many people were captive to their times. I can recall some very bigoted remarks from two of my heroes, C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, which I'm sure they would have not made today.

On an interesting note: when saints in the Egyptian desert or Constantinople saw demons, they would often appear as "dark Ethiopians," which sounds very bigoted. But when saints in Russia saw demons, they would sometimes appear as "Swedes with red hats!" I guess everybody demonizes that which they fear the most.

Joe Rawls said...

"Leveling,popularity-seeking diseased Protestantism". Almost as good as Swedes in red hats.

C. Wingate said...

I may state, with some irony of course, that we can be sure that slaves attended the Episcopal parish closest to where I now sit, because the gallery still retains rings to which they could be bound during services.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for the additional comments.

It's been almost 163 years since Bishop Green made these comments. Do Episcopal bishops ever talk like this anymore? Do they take straying from "the faith and practice of the Prayer-book" seriously enough to discipline deacons and priests - and each other - if they do so?

Eugene said...

I do like the phrase "the epitome of the Bible..." The Prayer Book is indeed a wonderful book in many ways.

C Wingate, I find your comment about the rings in the pews very iron-ic indeed.

Ha ha. I guess.

The Reformed Reinhardt said...

I don't think anyone on this thread knows whether Bishop Green owned slaves or not, or if he even supported the institution. What we do know is that Eugene's comments are a great piece of the ongoing case study that clearly illustrate why any mature discussion concerning theological coherence (or even basic Christian beliefs) is a complete waste of time within our current Episcopal Church. As with most "Progressives" in ECUSA, Eugene clearly doesn't want any conversation on any of these issues, and the fact that he immediately said "psst...slaves!" rather than consider the implication of the Bishop's argument (which I find somewhat flawed myself, but for different reasons) indicates that he thinks it more important to stop discussion rather than engage in it. Either this is true or the progressives have become so accustomed to using 'ad hominems', 'strawmen', and other mean-spirited logical fallacies for so long that these have become their natural, involuntary response to all things theological.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for taking time to comment, Reformed Reinhardt. I wonder, though, if there is a better way to make your points which, IMO, come very close to stepping on my request that comments here be respectful in the tone and language used.

I don't know Eugene, so I'm not in a position to ascertain whether or not his comments "clearly illustrate" the generalization you offer about "progressives" in the Episcopal Church. Perhaps, in the interest of furthering rather than stopping discussion, asking for clarification would be in order.

Regardless, I continue to think that Bishop Green's comments and concerns stand in stark contrast to much of what we're seeing and hearing from our bishops today. I'd be willing to bet that in comparison to the views of Bishop Spong on core doctrine, for instance, the offenses of many of the clergy named by Bishop Green were relatively minor. It all raises the question: how likely is it today for a clergy person to be disciplined for publicly promoting theological views which contradict the Prayer Book?

The Reformed Reinhardt said...

Hello Brian:

A few responses:

(1). Just as you have a specialization in theology, I have a specialization in communication and rhetoric, so I think I can offer a little insight here. In our contemporary political mud pits where I wander from time to time (whether we’re talking about the blogosphere or MSNBC, etc.), when someone drops something out of the clear blue sky like “birth control” or “slavery” into a political conversation, it is usually never to invite a contemplative discussion on the ideas of history. No, when a person of the left brings up things ‘slavery’ or ‘birth control’, especially when they have no relation to the issue at stake, then this is usually a ruthless rhetorical ploy: it is designed to shame the other person into being quiet. There is a definite meme that I have observed from our political culture. If Eugene had a different purpose, then I would be happy to listen to any clarification he would like to offer. I find it very, very curious that Eugene threw ‘slavery’ out there.

(2). Since I came short of telling Eugene to “kiss my trigger finger” (polite substitution), I’m not sure what you mean by my “tone” and “language”. However, aside from such observable characteristics as vulgarity and direct insults (I don’t consider a rebuff and insult), etc., I find most discussions of “tone” to be very esoteric or something based on mutable likes and tastes. I’m not sure such a discussion here would yield much fruit, but feel free to clarify if you wish.

The Reformed Reinhardt said...

(3). If I might offer a different observation from yours: I think what you call my “tone” is actually my doubts—or perhaps a better way of putting it would be my ‘lack of innocence’—concerning the motives of most ECUSA leaders (not just bishops or priests) and the future of our church. Because of my experiences (both universal and particular in dealing with those who strive to make our church mirror the culture instead of the other way around), I am more distrustful and cynical of theological liberals and their motives. While I have good individual relationships with theological liberals, when they speak in a group about being a “big tent” or use other such clichés, I don’t take their words at face value.

I think my doubts and cynicism might come across in my responses, and maybe that is what you object to? I read your blog sometimes because many people I respect recommend your posts. On many issues you and I are simpatico, but there is one difference between us: to me, at least in what I’ve read here, you seem to cling to an innocence not on TEC issues (where I agree with you), but as to their motives and where this is all leading...which is a complete takeover and a new orthodoxy that is against the catholic and apostolic teachings.

You also sometimes seem to imply at times that Episcopal conservatives (like Mark Lawrence+) have some sort of equal culpability with Episcopal progressives for the current state of Anglicanism in America.

While I cannot agree with you, I haven’t engaged you on these points because I am conflicted on whether it is better to be cynical and doubtful like me and ready for the worst, or innocent and be blindsided later as most of us were in 2003. On the one hand, maybe I’m right and you are being naïve; but on the other, I often wonder if Christ is not telling me “What is that to thee? Follow me.” While I’m in a very conservative parish, most of the people there seem to think the battle will come in 10 years. I know it will come sooner, maybe less than 10 months, but I sometimes wish I could be like them, and I once was before I came face to face with the ugliness in my old parish.

Anyway, I cannot make you be someone you are not, and you have to reach your own conclusions in your own time. That is the way of our Christian faith, not just in these Episcopal matters. Rather than lecturing me on elusive elements of “tone,” I hope you also understand that I cannot be ‘innocent’ again: I cannot make myself believe things will be okay when I believe they will not. Above all, we should all pray that Christ will show us the proper balance between being “shrewd as serpents” and “harmless as doves” in this conflict so that we move together and not apart.

In Peace,

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for the clarifications, Reformed Reinhardt. I definitely see your point about rhetorical ploys. That has been a concern of mine in both the political and ecclesial arenas now for some time.

However, I'm not sure how helpful it is to characterize another person's comments by saying that they "clearly don't want any conversation on any of these issues," or to characterize them as engaging in "'ad hominems', 'strawmen', and other mean-spirited logical fallacies" as "their natural, involuntary response to all things theological." You could very well be right in this particular case. But not knowing Eugene, those characterizations strike me as themselves border-line ad hominem.

My point is simply to ask: is there a better way to speak the truth in love? IOW, is there a way to speak the truth that does not itself participate in the rhetorical ploys so tragically prevalent in our church and culture? In my experience, those ploys shed more heat than light and almost always lead to more conflict, bitterness, and resentment.

I know that, many times, I have been guilty of doing the very things I've accused others with whom I disagree of doing. So I'm not exactly innocent here! But without sacrificing the integrity of of the faith (indeed, precisely for the sake of rightly defending that integrity!), I am concerned that we find "a still more excellent way" to do so (1 Corinthians 12:31).

The Reformed Reinhardt said...

Dear Bryan:

I think I meant to say that Eugene's comments was an indicator of a ploy (which I thought allowed a modicum of benefit of doubt when it came to his personal character). However, I now realize that I should have stated it sooner because I can see how it might come across as a personal attack. You are correct there, and I'll try to be more careful in the future.

We just have to disagree on "tone". (Or we disagree on where the markers should be.) While there is a lot of misinformation and ignorance out there that should be handled differently, there is also dishonesty and envy that masquerades as morality and holiness, and I don't understand why some clergy (it's not just you) are asking parishioners like me to be more sensitive about it.

Do all of you cringe when you read the tone of Peter's or John's epistles? :-) I'm no apostle here and so maybe it is an issue of authority, and I would accept that argument. But when I see the things that are happening not just in the Episcopal Church but in the world and my little rural economically/spiritually depressed community...well, I don't feel given to periods of quiet and tranquil ruminations. :-)

We both want to be faithful and try to strive for the cross of Christ, but there seems to be nothing to gain from a slippery-slope discussion of "tone". Also, some guys in black (not saying you) seem lecture first rather than stop to consider how different personalities or levels of engagement are a factor in how some of us react and take things in.

Anyway, thank you for your pains and care. I appreciate your thoughtful responses. As God as my maker, I swear I came on here to learn and listen, and not to bother you.


Bryan Owen said...

Greetings again, Reformed Reinhardt. I initially missed the third point you made in a previous comment (my apologies - I didn't see the email notification until after I posted another response).

I'm frankly not sure how to respond to all of the points you are making, other than to say that I hear and respect what you're saying. And also that you're not bothering me at all! I actually think we're more in agreement than disagreement.

Some might consider me naive about the motives and end-game of "progressives" in TEC. But I am well aware of how ruthless things can get in TEC. For the hard-core Left, orthodoxy cannot be tolerated.

I think you're absolutely right to note our Lord's exhortation to be "as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16). However, rarely do I see many of us managing to do both at the same time!