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Sunday, September 6, A.D. 2009
Ubuntu Episcopalians

In his “The Episcopal Church: Still Christian?” piece, Doug Bandow posted an article on The American Spectator about the Episcopalian leader Katharine Jefferts Schori’s comments about individual salvation in Western theology. In the comments section of the Spectator article and on the linked Free Republic page, political conservatives skewered Shori for her Third World, Lefty ways that distort Christianity. The article informs us:

Describing a United States church in crisis, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told delegates to the group’s triennial meeting July 8 in Anaheim, Calif., that the overarching connection to problems facing Episcopalians has to do with “the great Western heresy—that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God.”

“It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus,” Jefferts Schori, the first woman to be elected as a primate in the worldwide Anglican Communion three years ago, said. “That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being.”

I suspect that Schori here intuits correctly.

I often find myself in an odd situation where I have to defend “progressive” folks. I am the extreme, right wing reactionary who thinks that the West started its road to perdition in the thirteenth century (not the Reformation or the French revolution or industrialization or the 1960’s). Why must I busy myself with excusing the enemy?

Well, I am not excusing anyone, but I sometimes find conservative attacks on their political foes unjustified. The American Anglicans might have lost their minds in so many ways, but with each lapse of good sense, they may still offer isolated propositions that are true.

In this example, Schori indulges in multiculti speak, offering the Bantu word, Ubuntu, as unadulterated, primitive wisdom. In this, she follows type; decadent Westerners have looked with naive longing toward their designated noble savages for centuries—a sort of modern version of the medieval fascination with Prester John. She furthermore distorts the insight that she does have by overstating the case. For we do exist as individuals, just as we exist as members of a family, clan, town, tribe, nation, language group, and so on. There is a level of reality of the individual human being that cannot be reduced or subsumed into other levels.

Yet, Schori is getting at something, and her conservative critics appear unaware of the problem that she mentions. For it seems that modern, Western society is the first one that abstracts the individual out of the larger communal context in which most human life is lived. Of course, there have been ascetics and hermits who went into the wilderness to wrestle with demons and to run the good race, but they are few—and even they had to return to the cave to minister unto the blind who constantly sought to bother them with worldly concerns.

I had a theology professor who liked to say that Christians came by the bunch, not by the piece. We are the body of Christ, not a lone soul in a sea of darkness. By nature and by grace, we belong to one another. Humans are social beings, and Christians are even more so corporate beings. As such, Shori echoes the tradition when she questions the “great Western heresy.”

Schori stated, “That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being.” I find no fault in this sentence or in the sentiments that lead to it. A certain form of egotism—of spiritual narcissism—animates the Protestant self-love evident in theologizing that, “Christ would have died just to save me alone.” Whether such is true or not, what sort of spiritual condition facilitates such thoughts?

Posted by Joseph on Sunday, September 6, A.D. 2009
Religion | ProtestantismPermalink
Comments

Joseph, I don’t think you have the whole picture here. You have taken one of Kate’s statements out of context and interpreted it alone. That is essentially proof texting, taking a single verse and interpreting it alone. Just as it is wrong to interpret a single Bible verse in isolation, I think it is also not such a great idea to take a single sentence from Kate to be interpreted alone.

In the bigger picture (I hesitate to say the complete picture), Kate is trying to drum up support for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). When she thinks of community, she is not thinking of the local parish, the Christian Church, or anything nearly so parochial. She is particularly pushing the third world material development and forget about any spiritual concerns either here or there. She just does not speak about salvation, the Cross, repentance, or any of those other difficult ideas. It is just how we should all pitch in and give our money for the MDGs. (I am not an Episcopalian, but I follow what they do fairly closely.)

Before you get into too big a hurry to help her out, I would encourage you to get a more broad understanding of what she is about.

Posted by Dr.D on Monday, September 7, A.D. 2009

Wow, Dr. D., I don’t often get chastized for giving cover to Protestants.  I suppose that being a defender of the attacked has its charms.

I certainly have no illusions about current Anglican pickles.  All I knew was what I read, as I don’t know much about the Democratic Party in Prayer.  Thanks for fleshing out the bigger picture.

[Expanded on further thought . . .]

However, I don’t accept your criticism of my taking her comments out of context. For I was only concerned with the comments—not the context. When we approach a text that we hold to have wisdom, we must consider the whole text, as you say. I certainly do not approach an Episcopalian woman in mitred drag as a disciple expecting good answers. Yet, out of babes and Leftists truth sometimes comes.

Posted by Joseph from Arimathea on Monday, September 7, A.D. 2009
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