The incredible success of Frances Perkins in Lent Madness has had the Episcopal Blogosphere talking the last two weeks. Derek Olsen and the Crusty Old Dean have done some in-depth reflection. Much of the debate has to do with modern vs. older saints, and how modern saints seem to do better. Some have put forth a preference for the more hagiographic saints of the past. The problem probably has more to do with how we write history than the saints themselves. The difference between Perkins and, say St. Brigid, is an issue of cultural norms of story telling rather than content. The chroniclers of St. Brigid lived in a culture where resurrection of livestock was considered quite possible, if fantastic. But what Perkins and Brigid accomplished economically was in many ways very similar. Brigid seems more “Numinous” due to the way the Irish wove her story and her historical distance. But while we can certainly debate how we should go about “making saints” and what the criteria should be, I think “the ”numinosity" is in the eye of the beholder. For me, Frances Perkins is pretty numinous.
This reporter has come across disconcerting news after intercepting personal correspondence to Scott Gunn, President of Forward Movement. Lent Madness, supposedly a tool for learning about the saints during the time of Lent, is actually a front for a startling ecumenical power grab! A Methodist pastor in Waukesha, WI narrowly avoided bodily harm from a booby-trapped Lent Madness mug! To quote the Rev. Kris Androsky of First United Methodist Church:
"However, when my mug arrived, I was appalled that my ecumenical sense of duty was not reciprocated. I simply could not believe that you, personally, would do such damage to a new and budding ecumenical relationship! The mug was wrapped in approximately 25 layers of bubble wrap, yet the handle was still broken off of the mug. I've attached a photo for you to see that I am telling the complete and utter truth. It is very clear to me that you, personally, chose to send me a mug that obviously had an explosive device planted on it. I cannot think of any other possibility considering all the bubble wrap yet damaged goods. I can only thank God that the mug did not explode after I had opened the box as a shard might have flown into my eye and made me blind, like Lucy."
A reader writes in:
"My question is do you have any advice for how to raise kids in a spiritual sense when both parents have very different beliefs?
I was raised in the Pentecostal tradition. My husband was raised loosely Catholic, but when I met him he was more agnostic. Now he has said he is almost sure he is an atheist. This problem didn't come up until my father wanted to take my son (5 yrs old) to church with him. My husband has flat out refused saying he doesn't want his kids indoctrinated at such a young age.
Now there is a tug of war between my parents who try to teach him bible stories and my husband who tells my son that Jesus doesn't exist, and it's all in your head."
That's a really difficult position to be in as a parent. It used to be that an "Interfaith" marriage meant one between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant. But these days, it is likely to be between a Christian and a non-Christian theist or even, as in your case, an atheist. How do you handle a conflict between parts of your family as you describe? It's going to be different for each family, but here are some pointers:
In your specific situation, here are a few things that might help:
My prayers are with you. This is one of the stickiest wickets of parenting.
An old friend of mine, noticing the press the Episcopal Church has been receiving over the approval of Provisional Same-Sex Blessings asked me a question about how I would go about preaching Ephesians 5:22, one of Paul’s famous passages about the place of women.
Eph. 5:22 For example, wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. (CEB)
How you interpret this passage has a lot to do with how you read scripture. The “Common-sense” approach is the default American method of scriptural interpretation. As Mark Knoll writes in The Civil War as a Theological Crisis:
By 1860 a substantial majority of articulate Americans had come to hold a number of corollary beliefs about the Bible-specifically, that besides its religious uses, it also promoted republican political theory, that it was accessible to every sentient person, that it defined the glories of liberty, that it opposed the tyranny of inherited religious authority, that it forecast the providential destiny of the United States, and that it was best interpreted by the common sense of ordinary people. [loc 308, 1]knoll
That last sentence is the part that can be especially problematic in the context we are exploring. While scripture usually has a “plain sense,” it’s a plain sense in the culture of the time in which it is written. "Common Sense" readings of scripture are an attempt to box the Bible into the cultural framework we are comfortable with. For instance, in the context of the theological arguments around the Civil War, “Common Sense” readings of scripture heavily supported the institution of slavery. The entrenched nature of the “peculiar institution” as well as a near universal belief in white superiority (even among abolitionists) made the anti-slavery argument difficult. To quote Knoll again:
(the) nuanced biblical attacks on American slavery faced rough going precisely because they were nuanced. This position could not simply be read out of any one biblical text; it could not be lifted directly from the page. Rather, it needed patient reflection on the entirety of the Scriptures; it required expert knowledge of the historical circumstances of ancient Near Eastern and Roman slave systems as well as of the actually existing conditions in the slave states; and it demanded that sophisticated interpretative practice replace a commonsensically literal approach to the sacred text. … In the culture of the United States, as that culture had been constructed by three generations of evangelical Bible believers, the nuanced biblical argument was doomed. [loc 647, 1]knoll
Writers on this subject routinely point out that the Christian anti-slavery argument never got a lot of traction until after armed conflict broke out and people needed to make sense of the vast slaughter. The abolitionist argument made sense if you considered the sweep of the Bible towards mutuality and respect, but it could not overcome the entrenched “common sense” interpretation that supported the status quo, as such interpretations invariably do. Yet yesterday’s common sense is today’s folly. You would be hard pressed to find a modern biblical literalist who would support the idea that American slaveholding was a Biblically just institution. This is because a “common sense” interpretation has more to do with us and our context than the Scripture and its Sitz im Leben (That’s Biblical geek speak for the original cultural/historical setting of the passage).
There are two ways to read Ephesians that do this passage a grave injustice. Both of them involve this “common-sense” reading that ignores literary and historical context. One is the “literalist” interpretation that insists that this passage requires a wife to be subordinate to her husband in all things. Feminist theology has rightly criticized this reading as being a tool of repression. A more basic criticism might be that using it in such a way completely ignores the rest of the chapter (see below), as well as assuming that Paul is writing in a universal sense without examining his Sitz im Leben.
A second way to do injustice to this text by a “Common-Sense” reading is to try to judge what Paul is saying by our vantage point, which has been shaped by postmodernism, marxism and feminism. To be condescending to ancient writers because they didn’t have the same default point of view that we as postmodern Americans have is just as destructive as a literalist position and would result in the loss of much of the world’s collected wisdom were it universally applied.
To do justice to Paul, we need to ask the questions of context:
Only after answering these questions can we begin to ask interpretive questions for ourselves. If Paul was saying this to his culture, what might he say if he was writing within ours? Scriptural interpretation in this full sense is not of direct application. Let’s think of this in pseudo-algebraic terms. X would be the application of Galatians for us today. A is the cultural setting of Paul’s time. B is the scripture. C is our cultural setting. A literalist might say that there is no algebra. Scripture is universal and timeless and all you need is a direct correspondence:
B = X
Those of us who believe scripture is the Word of God, but are literary works that bear the imprints of culture and personality would say it is more complex. It’s more like solving the proportion:
A/B = C/X
So if we avoid the so-called “common sense” position (although that’s really a misnomer. It’s not common-sensical to think that Paul’s culture and ours are similar.) and use this approach that is more sensitive to context, what can we say about this passage?
Where does Paul get his position that wives should submit? The Epistles are older than the Gospels, but anything that wound up in the Gospels would be circulating as stories and proverbs of Jesus at the time of Paul. It’s hard to find anything attributed to Jesus that would support such an assertion. In fact, Jesus seems to be surrounded by “uppity” women, such as the Syro-Phonecian woman, Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany who don’t seem to know their “proper place” and routinely scandalize the disciples. Did Paul invent all this?
As he would say, “By no means!” There is a long tradition in Greco-Roman and Hellenized Jewish writing (such as Philo and Josephus) of “Household Codes.” These codes lay out how a male head of household should manage his affairs. The Roman head of household (Pater Familias) was an absolute ruler within his domain. The Household Codes instruct a young Pater Familias on how to conduct his household in order to preserve honor and avoid shame in a culture in which such things were paramount for survival. The failure of a householder to abide by these codes could mean ruin and ostracization from the culture for him and his entire family.
When Paul states that wives are to submit, he’s not stating anything new. He’s stating anything that any writer of Household codes in his culture, Roman or Jewish, would agree with. Most members of a household in Ephesus hearing the letter read aloud, be they male or female, would have been nodding at this point. But look at what comes later. This is where Paul goes way off track from a standard household code.
Eph. 5:25 As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. (CEB)
Non-Christian Household codes of the time do not speak of the duties of the Pater Familias to his “subordinates” at all. Paul goes on for six more verses exhorting husbands to show the same respect to their wives as Christ does for the church. Think about that. Paul goes to great pains in his letters to show how much Christ sacrificed for his church. It is an absolute, self-sacrificing love, completely incompatible with the self-centered idea of the householder as absolute monarch.
I think Paul is using the household code as a subversive rhetorical device. He uses some throwaway lines, such as 5:22, to lull the hearers into a receptive state, then hits them with something demanding and new (the rest of the chapter) where women are given the same value as the church. Paul is by no means an egalitarian in our terms, but it’s unfair to criticize him by those terms. To discard Ephesians because Paul does not articulate perfect egalitarianism would be like discarding the Emancipation Proclamation because Lincoln still retained ideas of white superiority. We are all products of our culture, and I have no doubt that some in the future will judge US with harshness.
However, holding up Paul’s writings as scripture does not mean we have to come to it uncritically. Paul’s instructions to wives in Ephesians does not support domineering, abusive gender relationships any more than Peter’s parallel instructions to slaves (1Peter 2:18) supports modern human trafficking. Paul’s culture and assumptions were very different than ours, and our reading of his writings need to reflect that reality. While not a modern egalitarian, Paul’s views of both slavery and the place of women was much more progressive than those of contemporary writers. He was a careful but passionate rebel, and he upset the establishment enough that he was eventually executed for it.
It is for this reason that even though some continue to use Ephesians to repress, I think that if we read it with eyes open to context, we can find an example of someone transforming his world bit by bit for Christ. God’s plan does not happen in one lifetime, or even in a hundred. This is not a failing of God, but a result of human intransigence. As Jesus said to his disciples, “I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now. However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He won’t speak on his own, but will say whatever he hears and will proclaim to you what is to come.” (John 16:12–13 CEB)
Those of us who claim to follow Jesus in the church continue to seek the guidance of the Spirit together as we read our scriptures. God can indeed be found in the Bible. There are those that claim that this should be an easy endeavor, and that the Bible reads like some sort of instruction manual. But many of us believe that the Bible is a complicated work that requires study, work, thought, prayers and discussion in community to begin to understand.
Other blogs on this topic:
Rachael Held Evans has an excellent post on this.
A great sermon by Frank Logue.
Related Posts on AskThePriest:
Noll, Mark A., 2006, The Civil War As a Theological Crisis. The University of North Carolina Press.
One of the questions everyone is asking about the approval of a provisional rite for same-sex blessings is how it changes our understanding of marriage. It's a complex question, and I'll start with defining "Marriage" and "Matrimony. " These are often used interchangeably in both the culture and the church, but I'm going to define these just for use within this post.
"Marriage" is a civil affair binding two individuals together legally. This is the ancient definition of marriage which predates Christianity.
"Matrimony" is a sacrament, or sacramental rite, or has no religious status at all, depending on your time period and which strain of Christianity you belong to. It's important to note that matrimony can be seen as kind of a "Junior Sacrament" due to its relative newness.
Jesus spoke of the of the permanence of marriage, but not the moral goods. Paul saw marriage as a poor second to celibacy, as did most early Christians. Gregory of Nyssa (d. 385 or so) was one of the first to see a possibility of divine work within marriage equal to that of celibacy, in that it trained people in impermanence.
The role of the church in marriage only began to pick up when it became the established religion of the Roman Empire. As ministers became civil officials, they took on civil roles, including solemnizing marriages. The church slowly began to develop a sacramental theology of matrimony. By the early Middle Ages, marriages begin to be celebrated in churches. By the late Middle Ages, marriage and matrimony combined as the church took over many of the civil functions of the defunct empire and became the sole purveyor of marriages.
This is the confused understanding of marriage and matrimony that we inherit - one born of a confusion of religion and civil government. Clergy in the United States that perform marriages function simultaneously as religious and civil officials. It's important to note that the center group of one of our most cherished American myths, the puritans fleeing religious persecution, believed that marriage was a purely civil affair and rejected any sacramentality around it.
In the modern situation, we face our old confusion. While Europe has separated civil marriage from religious matrimony, The United States continues to conflate the two. This gets especially difficult as the civil authorities redefine (or one could say refuse to define in specific gender terms) what marriage is. In many states, same-sex marriage is legal, while in others same-gender unions are legal, while in others constitutional amendments make such civil recognition impossible.
It is into this morass that the Episcopal Church wades. There is a cultural expectation that when you celebrate the sacramental rite of matrimony in church, you are married in the eyes of the state. Our canons state that matrimony is between one man and one woman. So what exactly is happening in a same-sex blessing? Is it matrimony or not? Is it marriage or not?
The response of the church with a proposed rite allows us to address the varied situation in the United States. It seems to me that the rites are clearly NOT matrimony. For them to be so, we would have had to alter the canons. There are those that say, "if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck." This line of reasoning points out that since there are vows and an exchange of rings, it looks too much like matrimony to be anything else. But this completely disregards a regular part of our religious life in the Episcopal Church, namely that of monastic vows. Those rites within the various religious orders of the Episcopal Church also have vows and sometimes include a ring but almost always include some token of the vows. While matrimonial language is sometimes employed metaphorically (I.e. "Bride of Christ") no one would claim that such vows are the sacramental rite of matrimony. Saying that liturgical similarity implies sacramental correspondence ignores this important part of our tradition. Saying that monastic rites are not sacramental just because they are not matrimony would be a rather startling assertion. The same could be said of same-sex blessing rites. Just because they don't fit the category of one of the sacramental rites does not mean they are not sacramental in nature.
What the rites definitely are is a recognition of a covenanted relationship between two people, of which there are many precedents in history. How they interact with marriage and matrimony will vary from place to place. In places where same-sex marriage is legal, it will mean that a clergy person will not be celebrating matrimony, but MAY be solemnizing a civil marriage. In places when same-sex marriage is not legal, a Clergy person will neither be celebrating matrimony, nor solemnizing a civil marriage, but simply blessing a covenanted relationship. In many places, the rites will not be used at all because the diocesan bishop will not authorize their use. This flexibility is necessary at this time, not only due to theological diversity, but due to legal issues with civil marriage in many states.
There may be those, both for and opposed, that will insist that this really IS matrimony. There could be truth in that, since matrimony is a sacramental rite in which the couple itself are the ministers. The priest only adds the Church's blessing to their sacramental action in the vows. Thus, it could be matrimony whether the church believes it or not. (Though technically, if the church does not recognize it, it may be sacramental, but it is not a sacramental rite.)
What the church will do in the future is unclear. We may move towards accepting same-sex rites as being matrimony by adapting the Prayer Book rite and changing the canons. Or the GLBT community may decide that what they are doing is something other than matrimony (A position I have heard articulated by several GLBT individuals.) In any case, the current rites provide something for a time in which we need to address various needs in multiple contexts.
This removal of baptism as a prerequisite to communion echoes a practice that is already (non-canonically) widespread in some parts of the Episcopal Church and is common practice in some other denominations. The theology behind it is that in the name of inclusivity, we should extend open table fellowship to all, regardless of baptismal status. Without getting too much into the theology here, I wish to raise an issue that does not seem to be addressed widely, namely the ecumenical implications of such a change.
A blog entry by Fr. David on the possible ecumenical impact of the proposed "Eucharist without Baptism" resolutions before General Convention.
This is an article FrDavid wrote about contemplation, community and social media for the Order of Julian of Norwich.
We are in a new age of connectivity. The technologies that have given us the personal computer and the internet are creating as large a sea change in our society as the Gutenberg press did. While the Protestant and Roman Catholic Reformations formed and were formed by the new technologies of the printing press, whatever the church is heading into at the end of this emergent “Rummage sale” (as Bp. Mark Dyer puts it) is being fundamentally shaped by these new communications technologies that were unthinkable just a few decades ago. One person recently pointed out that if a modern teenager were to be handed one of Captain Kirk’s communicators, they would play with it for a minute and then ask, “Is that ALL it does?” (Click link below to go to full article)
A Conversation on Mission in the 21st Century between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Presiding Bishop Katherine Jeffers-Schori.
A reader writes in:
"I am a lifelong Episcopalian and spend a lot of time with a diverse group of people from different branches of Christianity. As the lone Episcopalian in this setting, I am hoping you can answer a question causing confusion for me. My question is this: They (non-Episcopalians) are insistent that everyone must accept Jesus as their own "personal Lord and Savior". I was always taught that He is our Savior but that He belongs to everyone and is not our "personal" God. Which is correct, according to the church as Episcopalians? Thank you."
The language “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior” is indicative of certain traditions within Christianity in America. Evangelicals and revivalists often speak of conversion using these terms. By “personal” they mean you as an individual as opposed to you as a member of a group. By “accept” they mean to emphasize you choosing, you deciding (or not) to be a disciple of Jesus and verbally and publicly acknowledge Jesus as your “Lord” (the master of your life) and “Savior” (the one who rescued you from sin and death). Once you have made such a public profession of your faith, then you are a candidate for baptism (called “believer’s baptism”).
Most Episcopalians don’t use the jargon of evangelicalism (but there are a few who do). Tell your evangelical friends that you are a follower of Jesus and you are putting yourself in God’s hands, trusting in Jesus, and receiving God’s mercy, love, and grace. They are apt to be skeptical. Generally, unless your spiritual journey mimic’s that of an evangelical and you are skilled in the use of the jargon of evangelicalism--they will be skeptical of your relationship to Christianity. Don’t let it bother you. Neither the thief on the cross nor Paul on the road to Damascus had read the “Four Spiritual Laws” (an evangelical pamphlet) nor prayed its “sinner’s prayer.” Yet, it is correct to say that both were saved. Tell them you are depending on Jesus to save you. Speaking their language may calm their fears for your soul.
To answer your question more directly: the emphasis on the individual has more to do with American individualism than it does biblical faith and Episcopalians try not to fall into that way of thinking, emphasizing instead the community of faith, the people of God, and the Church. Likewise, the emphasis on the decision of the individual and the importance of making a choice, sounds to our ears like a “salvation by works.” That is to say, that you are only saved because you did something. We tend to want to place the emphasis on what God does regardless of our lack of appropriate response (we call it “grace”). Finally, at some points this way of talking and thinking can move from religious to magical. If you don’t say just the right words (the “sinner’s prayer”) and have an emotional experience, and then follow it with baptism by full immersion, then you are not a real Christian. Thoughtful evangelicals would never say such a thing. But, people who are naturally superstitious and engage in magical thinking and who are evangelicals are apt to speak that sort of nonsense.