Episcopal Son of God-edness

Joe P. points me to this article at Episcopal Cafe on the never-ending psychodrama that is our the Anglican Communion.

The Episcopal Cafe article links to this NyTimes article over the recent fallout in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.  The backstory is that the former Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh, Robert Duncan had been deposed (stripped of his title and office) by the National Church for linking up with other dioceses around in the world.  In the Anglican word, each national church is the head body.  Duncan believes the Episcopal Church has become heretical and therefore he is duty bound to secede from it (and has called on his diocese to do so).  Which they will likely do in a vote on Saturday.

In other words, his deposition was sound AND given what he believes (which I think is wrong), Duncan is right (from within the parameters of his own world) to call for secession.  [And it was bound to happen in any way in my mind, so the sooner the better imo].

So back to the Lead from Episcopal Cafe.

Andrew Gerns refers to the NyTimes article as an otherwise fair one and then quotes the following section from the NyTimes piece:

“The dispute includes complaints that the national church allows open debate on whether Jesus is the Son of God, or that the only way to God is through Jesus — tenets of faith that conservatives find indisputable.”


To our knowledge, there is no debate in our church over whether Jesus is the Son of God…The teaching of the Episcopal Church on this point is clearly stated in the Prayer Book over and over again, itself a document of General Convention.

So the NyTimes piece unfortunately is giving too much to the conservative side right?  Well….except for the following sentence in the NyTimes piece:

But an opponent of secession, the Rev. Jay Geisler of St. Stephens Church in McKeesport, Pa., pointed out that those tenets are in the Book of Common Prayer, which guides the church.

So I’d say that’s pretty fair and even handed.  The way Gerns cites the NyTimes piece gives it a one-sided impression.

Gerns then quotes from Jim Naughton (also of Episcopal Cafe):

To suggest that we do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God is to call the integrity of our faith into question for political ends. Bishop Duncan and his followers want readers to believe that the controversy in the Episcopal Church isn’t “about” homosexuality, but some greater intellectual and spiritual division.

I find myself in a weird position here because if I had to choose sides in this I’m clearly on the Gerns/Naughton side (versus Duncan & Crew), but I actually find their reasoning suspect on multiple fronts. So in terms of stylistic debating points, I actually think the Duncan crew wins but that their rhetoric/logic is penned to an ultimately incorrect (or rather less developed, so below) vision.

Contra Naughton, the fight is ultimately not about homosexuality.  It is in fact about a greater spiritual and intellectual division.  Liberals ought to embrace that fight and call the other side out. If Naughton cedes that ground (representing the liberal camp) then they have nowhere to stand against their opponents.  The argument is about the Bible.  Whether you will be someone who accepts science and rationality and its ability to critique the Bible or not.  Give up that ground and you lose the ability to argue that the liberal version is actually a more developed form of faith.**  Of course liberals always believe that but because there are also hemmed in by their dumb egalitarian anti-hierarchical pov (which is itself a hierarchial development) they can’t say and cut themselves down at the knees.  Or intellectually and spiritually castrate themselves more graphically.

Of course there is brute politics and bigotry (in Naughton’s words) but to not admit that there is more than that going on is either on Naughton’s part A)blind stupidity or B)cynical potrayal of the events when he knows better.

Naughton again:

On the second point, whether Episcopalians believe that the only way to God is through Jesus there are leaders in the Episcopal Church who believe that an intellectual assent to Christian doctrine isn’t necessary to be saved. This is more or less than position of the Roman Catholic Church; it can hardly be classified as outside the Christian mainstream.

More dissembling on Naughton’s part and frankly I expect better from him.  The point of contention in the NyTimes article (which again I think is accurate on this point) is whether Jesus is the only way to God, i.e. salvation. Naughton brings up the Roman Catholic teaching of anonymous Christians which looks smart but actually doesn’t answer the question.  Or rather answers it in a way that undercuts Naughton’s own point.  The idea that one doesn’t have to believe in Jesus to be saved is not the same as saying that there are multiple avenues to salvation. This latter point is typically called religious pluralism.

The Roman Catholic position is still that one is only saved through Jesus Christ.  It is as non-pluralist as you can get.  It’s just that one can be a Christian without self-consciously realiizing it (according to this theory).  Which not only makes it exclusivist (i.e. non-pluralist) but arrogant to boot (we know better you better than you know yourself).

As a bonus, it’s more than just Jesus Christ in a RC position–you have to be a member of the Church.  “Extra ecclesia nulla salus”:  Outside the Church there is no salvation.  This teaching still holds; it simply means that the Church can be and is broader than the actual institutional RC Church (although again in RC theology the Roman Catholic Church is obviously the surest way to get there.  It’s the safest bet as it were).

The argument is whether one can saved other than through Jesus and there are (and Naughton knows this) Episcopal leaders who believe that–they ought to have the guts to say it.  This is related to the earlier point about the Son of God.  Saying that one believes Jesus is the Son of God by itself is not a big deal really.  What does being the son of God mean (or is it Son of God?–there’s a huge difference in interpretation with just a change in one letter already)?

Naughton writes:

I don’t know whether everyone who finds his or her way into a church on Sunday believes it, but it isn’t as though the issue is open to dispute in any serious way. We proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God in our Prayer Book. This understanding infuses our hymns. We profess it every Sunday as part of our Creed. We teach it in our seminaries. There is absolutely no movement to change this bedrock element of our faith.

Again I think Naughton would be on stronger footing in the history of Anglicanism by saying that we profess it and pray it (The Rule of Belief is the Rule of Prayer) and state that our tradition is one in which the meaning of such a statement is not to be enforced.  e.g. Stating one believes that Jesus is the Son of God is sufficient and the Anglican Church would not enforce a certain understanding of that that doctrine.  Just as in theories of redemption, the Anglican Church (as opposed to say the Calvinist tradition) does not enforce one to believe how said salvation through the Cross is achieved.  It is Christus Victor model or Substitutionary Atonement?

That would be a better way to argue imo than to state that the Son of God claim is never questioned.  The traditional interpretation of that claim certainly is (and I think at points correctly).  The question being whether the traditional interpretation of the claim is identical with the claim itself?  The same basic fight is there again in just a different manner.

The dividing line is not answered by references to the Prayer Book.  The charge is that the liberals do not profess what they believe (which is quite often true, sadly imo, but there it is).  It’s an emotional, relational charge being lobbed out there and intellectual responses to the letter of the law do not suffice.

**More developed does not mean more faithful and/or holier per se.