Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Those Crazy Episcopalians

Bishop Michael Curry preached on "crazy Christians" July 7.
Photo from another occasion.
(reflections on responses to the national Episcopal Church's convention last week, with extensive reference to a post by Diana Butler Bass at "the Blog" at

Via internet, I heard a sermon on "crazy Christians" by Bishop Curry of North Carolina.  He spoke last week at the national convention of the Episcopal Church, where a large majority of delegates in both houses (lay and ordained) approved the blessing of same-sex relationships (though, pointedly, not "marriage").  While Bishop Curry said that we need more Christians who are "crazy" in standing up to accepted opinion (he mentioned Harriet Beecher Stowe and Jesus Christ), bloggers and pundits mocked the Episcopal church for sliding at last off its long slippery slope into the cold waters of crazy liberalism. 

Against the outrage and snickers, Diana Butler Bass suggests that the Episcopal Church is on the path to greater strength, while the conservative churches atrophy.   She repeats the commonly-held idea that liberal churches have declined while so-called conservative ones have bloomed during the past fifty years.   But, she writes, in the past decade, all denominations in the USA have been in decline.   Now, she says, Episcopalians may have an advantage: 
Liberal Christians experienced this decline sooner than their conservative kin, thus giving them a longer, more sustained opportunity to explore what faith might mean to twenty-first century people. Introspective liberal churchgoers returned to the core of the Christian vision: Jesus' command to "Love God and love your neighbor as yourself." As a result, a sort of neo-liberal Christianity has quietly taken root across the old Protestant denominations--a form of faith that cares for one's neighbor, the common good, and fosters equality, but is, at the same time, a transformative personal faith that is warm, experiential, generous, and thoughtful. This new expression of Christianity maintains the historic liberal passion for serving others but embraces Jesus' injunction that a vibrant love for God is the basis for a meaningful life. These Christians link spirituality with social justice as a path of peace and biblical faith.
Pastor Laurene Bowers wrote a book about bringing "post-modern" young adults into our churches a few years ago.  About her idea of "church," I wrote...
Church [according to Bowers] should be more than a school where the pastor teaches, more than a country club where the pastor is a sort of activity director, and more than a service organization such as the Kiwanis club. She writes:  "We embrace a relational theology through which being a disciple of Jesus means that we have signed up for service to be an instrument of God’s blessing through each other: We believe that God’s intervention can only happen through a human agent."  (from my blog post, Growth in Mainline Churches: Thinking Outside the Big Box)
This all makes perfect sense to me, but I know what friends of mine think, though they are too polite to say it:  The Episcopal Church is crazy, self-destructive, not even Christian anymore.  When we elected a woman to be our presiding bishop, a lot of that same sentiment was expressed, as by the exasperated blogger who wrote, "Are you kidding???" 

For my part, I'm too polite to say too directly what I think is crazy: to think that Christ, who served and befriended those whom his society despised, who read between the lines of written laws, and whose God was not limited to ancient texts, would ever recognize a church that defined itself in terms of what it stands against.

I am heartened to recognize my own church home, St. James' Marietta, in Bass's description of renewal within the church:
Unexpectedly, liberal Christianity is--in some congregations at least--undergoing renewal. ... Some local congregations are growing, having seriously re-engaged practices of theological reflection, hospitality, prayer, worship, doing justice, and Christian formation. A recent study from Hartford Institute for Religion Research discovered that liberal congregations actually display higher levels of spiritual vitality than do conservative ones, noting that these findings were "counter-intuitive" to the usual narrative of American church life.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Crazy Episcopalians. The message of the gospels. Well said. Amen.