Saturday, May 03, 2008

Jesus Loves Me But He's Not So Sure About You

Gregory Venables, presiding bishop of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, spoke to a convocation of our diocesan convention today.

I had a previous commitment and could not be there. But I've interviewed several people who were there, and a couple have given me their notes and gone over them with me. Here's their take on what happened.

Bishop Jack Iker opened by emphasizing that Archbishop [That's what they call him, although their canons call him "presiding bishop." Some priests here also call him "Your Grace.”] Venables was here at Bp. Iker's invitation and that he was not going to try to convince the diocese to join the Southern Cone.

Iker also said that he, John David Schofield, Robert Duncan and Keith Ackerman initiated the action by going to Buenos Aires last year to visit Venables at his home.

When Venables got up to speak, he said he just wanted to give the meeting information about the Anglican Communion to help the diocese in making its decisions.

Both were making the case that this was not an incursion into this province by the primate of another province. [Well, you can put your boots in the oven but that don't make 'em biscuits. I grew up in West Texas. I know a poacher when I see one.]

Everyone agreed that Venables is an urbane charming man who can be hard -- not unlike Jack Iker. Don't kid yourself. There is a steel fist in that velvet glove.

Venables is quick thinking and uses humor -- he spent a bit of time ridiculing ambiguity, for instance. As in -- if a sign says, "No Smoking," what is there about "no" that you don't understand? Should we have a discussion of what "no" means?

His little jokes were met with gales of laughter from the friendly audience. Only elected delegates and clergy were allowed to speak. Visitors and observers were allowed to watch but not ask questions. Those delegates/clergy who disagreed with him were either silent or very polite when they spoke.

Turns out that our Gregory is an old hippie. Played in a band, loved the '60s, but one day while walking on the beach he found a piece of paper asking what was his relationship to Jesus. He hasn't looked back since.

Venables said that the Southern Cone "believes in freedom," that people should have the freedom to have the church like they want it. He painted a picture of an idyllic province where they have a little bit of everything, from high masses to morning prayer parishes. According to him, the Southern Cone isn't all about rules. The only rules are God's rules, and we all know what they are, so there's no problem.

He frequently waved a bible in the air as he spoke. He said he hoped the audience had bibles with them -- turns out maybe one delegate did. He referenced Acts 2 -- [When the day of Pentecost had come,] they were all together in one place.

It all comes down, he said, to experience of Jesus. When you're following Jesus, you get to be able to recognize other people who are following Jesus. The subtext of this was quite clear -- because they look just like you.

He downplayed the issues of women and homosexuality, focusing instead on measuring orthodoxy by adherence to a biblical literalism that leaves no room for interpretation. [Or for the work of the Holy Spirit.]

He went to some pains to make it clear that the issue is NOT schism. He went back to the Reformation, which he says was over essential issues, and so was not schism. All splits since then have been over non-essential items and so were schism, and thus sinful.

What's he's talking about is NOT SCHISM. It's separation. This is separation, and "they are separating. They've walked away from us."

He made the case for the existence of Absolute Truth. Some people think differently, but there is A Truth. Jesus made this clear because he made intolerant statements, such as "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Venables said that you can no longer be free to do what you want to do once you accept Jesus. If you doubt, you are with Satan. Just look at the Garden of Eden -- Satan sows doubt. Got in a dig at Eve: “My husband may believe all that, but I’m modern!”

Venables is a biblical literalist. Sola Scriptorum. According to Venables, biblical scholarship is all just word games. The message is clear -- every time Jesus answered the question of who he is, he responds with statements that begin "I am."

Venables said that after the Reformation the West [to which he referred often, speaking as if he, a British-born and educated prelate, is not part of the West] turned to Science, to a belief in an "open universe," to "rationalism," in a drive to find a unified vision of the universe. The West made the mistake of separating what you feel in your heart with what you know with your mind. Theologians in the West followed the same false path, which led them to only two choices -- nihilism and relativism.

He said that people talk about Jesus without meaning what HE means when he says Jesus. “You sit beside another primate, and you know he’s not thinking the same things you are when he speaks of Jesus.” He talked about Christianity versus culture, about how the church has given in to the culture. He made the point that doctrinal impurity leads to moral impurity.

Why do we talk so much about sexuality? It's not "essential," but it is very important, he said.

God made male and female. Marriage is Holy Matrimony. It's all about God and what God ordained. [He made no reference to the Old Testament norm of marriage -- which was polygamy.]

He referenced Hebrews -- What we have heard. We have to be careful that we are listening to God's voice or we will drift. He made it clear that to disagree with him is moving away from what God says.

He talked about how he is treated by the "other side" [poorly] and said that while "we" have been totally aboveboard, "they" lie and are deceitful. When he asks "them" to explain what they believe, they can't do it.

[Not sure how he missed the Episcopal Church's presentation to the Anglican Consultative Council or "To Set Our Hope in Christ," written by seven theologians for the Episcopal Church in response to the Windsor Report. And he obviously hasn't talked to Susan Russell, Michael Hopkins, Elizabeth Kaeton, or Gene Robinson, who all can very eloquently talk about what they believe.]

He lamented that the Anglican Communion has no authority over us so we can resolve things. He clearly wants some power to enforce. [He did state that The Episcopal Church has no authority over Jack Iker. Hmmm. I think the House of Bishops might have something to say about that. ]

He said, "Democracy is not good when it contradicts the word of God." Jesus is the ONLY WAY.

Remember earlier he had stated that the Southern Cone believes in the freedom to have church the way you want it? Well, not if you want ordained women.

In response to a question, he said that the ordination of women is not an "essential thing." He thinks the ordination of women "happened too fast" [several hundred years is too fast?] and that the Southern Cone has not resolved that issue yet.

He believes in a physical resurrection and those who do not are not orthodox. Also made it clear that those differing from "orthodox Anglicans" don't believe in the divinity of Christ.

He doesn't think a Covenant will do what he wants -- set up an authority that can demand accountability and mete out punishments -- because it's like the Creed. People don't all believe the same things. People can say the Creeds, but you don't know if they really believe in it the same way you do. A Covenant would be open to "interpretation."

He dismissed property issues as unimportant, saying "We'll do all we can to work it out."

He said we all are not really part of the same Body. The West cannot agree with "us." The West just believes too differently from the way people like him believe.

He talked about how "they" vilify "us" and how the media always gets it wrong.

But not to worry, he said. God has not lost control. God is in control.

Control was the subtext of everything he said -- control by the proper authorities is what Venables wants, and those proper authorities clearly include him.

As a friend pointed out, "the bishop's arguments are not new. They're a rehash of the old argument between Jerusalem and Athens, between revelation and reason, a tension both St. Paul and St. John saw at once as a wonderful motor to spread the new--and mostly undefined--gospel through the Europe of their day, indeed a powerful tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

"Bishop Venables, loth to deal with ambiguity and awash in certainty, chooses to lop off half that engine and fall back on revelation--as he understands it. That has happened regularly throughout the history of the West, every timesome hitherto unchallenged 'truth'--like the divine approval of slavery--has been challenged."

NOTE: The inspiration for the title of this blog came from a song by the Austin Lounge Lizards, entitled Jesus Loves Me, But He Can't Stand You. You can read the lyrics here. As one bishop noted, "It preaches."


Beryl Simkins said...

Where are the reasonable people who are able to see through all this??

Why are Episcopalians in the Diocese of San Joaquin, and in your area following someone who would make statments like this?

I am completely unable to understand the reasoning.

Leaders like this are able to get control when there are people who are uneducated and not particularly thoughtful, but I never saw Episcopalians in those categories.

I pray for our Church.

Texanglican (R.W. Foster+) said...

Dear Ms. Simkins,
While you are certainly free to accuse folks who admire Archbishop Venables of not being "reasonable" or "particularly thoughtful," I would take exception to you tarring us with the label "uneducated." Among the FW clergy I know who admire ++Venables are priests with doctorates in theology from Oxford and St. Andrew's (Scotland). I am myself still working on my dissertation at the Univ. of Chicago in the department of New Testament and Early Christian Literature (it is a rhetorical analysis of the anti-Arian correspondence of St. Athanasius of Alexandria), but I already hold a J.D. in addition to my theology degree. I agreed with every word ++Venables said, and was honored to concelebrate with him this morning.

Disagree with us if you feel you must, but please do not assume that those who do not share your opinions of the good archbishop are "uneducated" victims who would think differently if only we could be properly instructed in the Faith. It is my nine years of graduate theological education that lead me to agree with ++Venables!

Fr. R.W. Foster
St. Vincent's Cathedral
Bedford, Texas

PseudoPiskie said...

How many people ever examine their relationship with God or what they actually believe? How many just go to church and rely on the clergy to do everything, especially think for them? I wish more clergy weren't so confident in their knowledge of God and what God "wants". Perhaps a little more humility on the part of certain clergy would be good for everyone. I don't see much of that virtue in the schismatics/exclusionists/reasserters. I do see lots of propaganda designed to withhold information and create fear in order to maintain control.

Beryl Simkins said...

Well, Texanglican, it is obvious that you are a learned man.

I have also spent a lifetime learning and questioning, but do not have degrees in the New Testament or Early Christian literature, so you have me there.

I suspect we have entirely different ways of viewing Holy Scripture, and that we would never agree.

People in the Diocese of San Joaquin have been deeply hurt by Schism/walking apart, or whatever you wish to call it. So, I may be a little emotional over these issues. I always knew we had differences among us, as Episcopalians, but always felt we could come together at the table of the Lord. Now our losses are very big.

Please do not bother to reply. I have nothing more to say to you.

Texanglican (R.W. Foster+) said...

As there is nothing more to say to Ms. Simkins, I address only Pseudopiskie below.

I completely agree with you on the need for humility in these matters, friend. But from those on the "traditionalist" side of these disputes it is the leadership of the national Episcopal church which has demonstrated an astonishing lack of humility over the last forty years. It is the forces of "progress" who have felt empowered to change the way Scripture is interpreted on a host of issues since the Sixties. When a simple majority vote of a TEC GenCon purports to change the uniform practice of Catholic Christendom over 1900 years, that doesn't shout "humility" to me!

I feel humility makes it encumbant upon me to respect the wisdom of the cloud of witnesses who has come before us. I stand with the Fathers of the Church--and its other leading thinkers from St. Paul down to the dawn of radical skepticism in the modern period--as fully as possible on matters of Scriptural interpretation because I do not feel that I and a relative handful of my contemporaries in one tiny North American branch of the Anglican Communion (even the AC is what, 7% of Christendom?) have the right to decide that "God is doing a new thing" and cast aside beliefs and practices that have stood since the Apostolic age.

For where I sit, humility demands that we respect the wisdom of the ages, rather than assuming that a mere two million Episcopalians (a wildly inflated figure, I suspect) can change the traditional interpretation of Holy Scripture on matters of human sexuality (or other matters).

Ms. Simkins is likely correct. She and I probably do read Scripture in very different ways.
For me, if the Fathers of the ancient Chruch, the great thinkers of the Middle Ages, and the leading Reformers (as well as every Doctor of the Roman Church of which I am aware, for that matter) agree on an interpretation related to faith and morals, humility binds me to follow in their footsteps, no matter how out of step with the general moral tenor of "educated opinion" in early 21st century America that traditional interpretation might be. At the very least, we should proceed with extreme caution before we go reorganizing Christian morality to suit our times and culture, should we not?

The question for traditionalists like me is what to do when the national TEC has behaved in such a unhumble way for two generations. They have left me behind, to be sure. Should I, and the people whom I shepherd, continue to watch them vanish into the distance as they persue the "new thing" while we stand firm on the traditional interpretations of Scriptures? Eventually we all have to recognize that we are in two very different places, don't we? (As I gather Ms. Simkins has recognized, since she no longer sees need to dialogue with me. Fair enough.)

Fr. R.W. Foster
St. Vincent's Cathedral
Bedford, Texas

Father Lee Nelson, SSC said...

I must say that it is a rather odd assertion to say that traditionalists/reasserters/schismatics/exclusionists are "witholding information."

Christianity is the only religion in the world in which no teaching is hidden. One does not need to advance to the top of the hierarchy in order to know the fullness of Christian teaching. One needs only to open a book. I cannot see how anyone could accuse us of being anything but completely forthright. Sorry to tell you all this, but there is no conspiracy in the Diocese of Fort Worth. There has been absolutely no hidden agenda.

If one looks at TEC on the other hand, there is a great deal of "hierarchical enlightenment," grand agendas, and politicking. What is so refreshing about Archbishop Venables and the things he is saying is that he cuts through all of this and calls it what it is. This is why you revisionists cannot stand the man.

Anonymous said...

Jesus Loves Me But He's Not So Sure About You? Is that what you think the Archbishop is saying? I think you know that is not what he is saying. To call that which is sinful, a sin is to do one of the calls of the Church. To call that which is sinful a holy state is to fail the person who is engaging in the sin. God loves everyone, but he does not love sin.

The fact of the matter is that the Episcopal Church in the USA in many parts is calling that which Holy Scripture has taught as sin, as holy. It is not that we do not all sin, we do. The problem is calling sin holy. That Holy Scripture calls homosexual act sin is so clear I really cannot see how anyone can disagree. You can disagree that it is sinful, but to say that Scripture does not call it sin is to willfully dishonest.

[He made no reference to the Old Testament norm of marriage -- which was polygamy.] You said this but it is wrong. In a warrior tribe like the Old Testament times there were likely more females than males who were of the age to marry. The men were killed in battle. Yes there was polygamy, but to say it was the norm is to be intellectually dishonest. My understanding is that by the time of Christ polygamy was no longer practiced.

It can be said that Holy Scripture did not record Christ teaching on polygamy or homosexual acts. However, polygamy was not common at the time, and it was well established that homosexual acts were sins. We do not know if Christ taught on these topics, but if he did it is not recorded. But that does not mean they were acceptable.


Anonymous said...

Father Foster et al, if you wish to show humility, then please don't get on someone else's blog telling everyone how many degrees you have and what dissertations you are working on. We all figure you have a lot of higher education since you pretty much aren't considered for ordination without college and degrees. Leave it at that, please.

If Bp. Iker and those who support him wish to persuade others to their views, you don't start by telling everyone how important you guys are. Being "educated" doesn't automatically make you a better Christian, and it will alienate a lot of people really fast.

airedale said...

Katie, sure looks like you touched a "nerve" with this post. For a minute I thought I was over at Stand Firm from the comments posted here.

Marshall Scott said...

You know, Fr. Foster, you surprise me. You write, "I stand with the Fathers of the Church--and its other leading thinkers from St. Paul..." It seems to me, though, that you seem to accept what you see as their content without participating in their process. You are aware, as it will have been central to your studies, that in the early Church - indeed, virtually up until "the dawn of radical skepticism in the modern period" - that the literal was hardly the only, and was arguably the least meaningful approach to Scripture. Paul and John and the Early Church Fathers were quite prepared to discover the Spirit leading them in new directions in interpreting Scripture and applying it to their contemporary lives. How else would the Church, over nearly seven centuries, come to recognize that icons, whether in the Orthodox "written" form or in Latin statuary, were not idols nor idolatrous. Indeed, "we should proceed with extreme caution before we go reorganizing Christian morality to suit our times and culture;" but Paul seems to have managed such reorganization (for example, eating or not eating; or marrying or not marrying) quite handily.

I appreciate that we would need to sit down and talk to know in more detail; but in that, at least, you surprise me.

Texanglican (R.W. Foster+) said...

I assure you, Doni M, I would have never mentioned it had not Ms. Simkins strongly implied that traditionalist supporters of the good archbishop were "uneducated." Please do not make that mistake. I have no interest in impressing any readers of this blog presonally. But I do loathe it when people on the Left say things that imply all conservatives are ignorant rubes. It is simply not true. I was correcting a blantant falsehood (i.e., that traditionalists are merely duped by nefarious leaders because we are ignorant) by pointing to the education of the clergy of our diocese, friend. Should I have ignored such a mistatement in silence? I am not welcome to post my correction here? Apparently Ms. Sherrod doesn't feel so, as she posted my comment. (Thank you, btw, ma'am. Your comment policy is an honorable one and I commend you for it. The temptation to censor those we disagree with is strong [Doni M seems to have given in to it in my case, et al], and you deserve credit for standing for the principle of free discourse.)

Texanglican (R.W. Foster+) said...

Good day, Fr. Marshall,

First, let me say that I am very appreciative of the tone of your comment. You make your point with respect for the person on the other side. For that I am grateful. I shall attempt to follow your example.

Now, to the substance of your remarks. I do indeed highly value the Fathers' ability to work with the Scriptural text. In fact, my middle school students are well-versed in the "four-fold sense" of Scripture and are skilled at reading the Old Testament text typologically. (What may be my proudest moment as a teacher occured when a sixth grader raised her hand and asked me if the five smooth stones David picked up as he moved toward combat with Goliath were a type of the five wounds of Christ on the cross! An interpretation worthy of St. John Chrysostom!)

We have the ancient Fathers' tradition of interpreting Holy Writ upon which to stand, and I happily recognize Patristic authority over my own efforts at Scriptural interpretation. They were masters at whose feet I am happy to sit, and I strive to emulate their techniques so long as my interpretations do not contradict the collective wisdom of the early Church. I steer clear of interpretations that contradict Patristic readings on matters of faith and morals (which limits the utility of a sizeable portion of the 20th century's exegesis for me). "The Faith once delivered to the saints" hasn't changed since the Fathers' day, so why should the way I read my Bible supercede that of early Church?. As an interpreter I want to walk alongside these giants of the Faith, not blaze a new trail of my own in another direction.

I am, of course, willing to believe that SS. John and Paul may have felt the Spirit leading them in a "new direction" as they composed the texts that would later be recognized as canonical Scripture, as they were inspired apostles of our Lord (though, of course, the Holy Spirit would never have caused them contradicted the witness they had received from Christ our Savior, either personally or in "what was handed over to them from the first").

But I do not find the Fathers saying anything like that. They would all have balked at the suggestion the Spirit was doing a "new thing" in their interpretations that was different from the deposit of the Faith handed down to them from the apostles. Patristic interpretation was not meant to say anything "new," but rather to explicate the unchanging Truth that Christ had bequeathed to them through the writers of the apostolic age and in the regula fidei. "New movements of the Spirit" after the apostolic age were condemned as heresy (witness the Montanists, for example).

So as I see it, Father, apostoles, prophets, and evangelists called by our Lord in the first generations after Pentecost could be lead to speak "new things" not previously understood from the OT Scriptures (and these 'new things' may be found in the NT canon). But following St. John's passing into glory their practice of inspired utterance is over. The rest of us--including the Fathers of the Church--are simply trying to understand the deposit of the Faith that the apostolic age passed on to us more deeply, not strike out in new directions while being "led by the Sprit".

St. John of Damascus, for example, never dreamed that his argument for the use of holy images in worship was something new arising out of his own time, prompted within him personally by the Holy Spirit. Instead, John Damascene was simply making clear the apostolic teaching that had been consistently adhered to by the orthodox through the previous six centuries. It was the Iconoclasts who were doing the "new thing!"

Thanks again for the irenic tone of your comments, Father. God bless.

Fr. R.W. Foster
St. Vincent's, Bedford

cheekbass said...

A friend of mine contributes this.
"thought Aberystwyth to be a good tune (Jesus, Lover of My Soul) and altered the text to fit."

Added a closer, too

Jesus Loves me but he Can't Stand You

I know you smoke and drink that brew
I can't abide a sinner like you
God can't either, so it is true
Jesus loves me--but he can't stand you

I'm going to heaven when I die
I crossed every "t" and dotted each "i'
Straight priests affirm that I'm God's kind of guy:
Jesus loves me--but you're gonna fry

God loves his children, HIS, by gum
Still HE means to incinerate some.
Can't you feel flames licking you You should’ve jumped when we told you to.

I raise my kids in a righteous way
Don't send your kids over here to play
No doubt they’re stoned, left-leaning, and gay;
So Jesus told me on the phone today

Jesus loves me, this I know
He told me where you're going to go
There's lots of room for your kind down there, Your soul well -done or medium rare

Jesus loves me but can't stand you ,

You and your kind are cursed as a pox,

Jesus is good even though a Jew.

He’s one of us – he’s orthodox

Hiram said...

The person who wrote "Jesus Loves me but he Can't Stand You" understands neither the Christian faith nor the concerns of conservative Christians.

No one can earn their reconciliation to the Father. Even the best of us falls far short of the righteousness required by a holy God. "We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings." (Art. XI of the XXXIX Articles, p. 870 of the BCP).

We conservatives do not consider ourselves to be better than others. We are sinners, saved by grace and grace alone.

Yet as our Baptismal service says, we are to follow Jesus as Lord. This only makes sense; if we are reconciled to the Father through the Son in the power of the Spirit, we will trust that he who created us and redeemed us knows what is best for us, and that his instructions are for our good and the good of all.

With regard to sexuality and sexual sins, God has said that the only appropriate context for sexual intimacy is a marriage between a man and a woman. The teachings of Jesus on marriage and divorce make this clear.

We conservatives reject no one because of their particular area of temptation -- we are struggling on our own areas of temptation ourselves. Yet we call all to obedience. We are not perfect in doing so, and there are indeed some "Pharisees" around, which I regret - but God has told us what he desires in sexual intimacy, and since that is an area of debate in the larger culture, we do speak about it.

I struggle with my weight, and so I have to ask myself all the time, "Who do I trust for comfort, God, or pasta and ice cream?" Every one who seeks to follow God will have a struggle of this sort, over all manner of things. God alone is trustworthy, and he alone is ultimately the source of joy and fulfillment. If God has told us the area in which we are to use sexual intimacy, then it is crucial to trust him and follow his direction.