Sunday, November 05, 2006

Brokeback Christianity

Is the Episcopal Church Still Christian?
Report; Posted on: 2006-11-05 03:31:58

Instead of converting souls to Christianity, the Episcopal Church is allowing itself to be converted

by Steve Carlson

Katharine Jefferts-Schori is soon to take over as leader of the Episcopal Church USA, one of America's largest and oldest Christian denominations, and major newsmedia have reported her election as presiding bishop more or less uncritically. For Christians, however, just what this new leader of the Anglican Communion's American branch believes and doesn't believe merits some careful scrutiny. By the most essential historic measures of what constitutes Christian faith, it is not clear from Jefferts-Shori's expressed beliefs that she is even a Christian.

Christianity --from its primitive, pre-Pauline beginnings to its evolution into Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant branches-- has historically placed personal faith in Jesus of Nazareth at the center of its teachings. Such faith has always been asserted to be the only path to what Christians call eternal life. Even the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches that the church itself is a divinely-ordained institution and is the medium through which individuals avail themselves of divine favor, rejects any suggestion that a human soul can attain heaven without faith in Jesus as the "only begotten son of God." So essential has the place of this one individual been in Christian theology that to remove his persona from its central place in the faith has always been regarded by Christians as heresy, i.e., the rejection of the Christian gospel in favor of a different religion altogether.

According to the biblical Gospel of St. John, Jesus declared that he himself was the path to God. When his student Thomas asked him how one could meet Adonai -- the deity whom ancient Judeans thought of as their divine father -- he answered, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

The Episcopal Church's first female presiding bishop, however, disagrees with Jesus. In an interview this week with the Associated Press Katharine Jefferts-Schori declared, "If we insist we know the one way to God, we've put God in a very small box."

Jefferts-Schori's view of the significance of faith in Jesus isn't the only element of her belief system that is at odds with historic Christian belief. Embracing the now-fashionable approval of sodomy, she has rejected the Church's historic condemnation of homosexual behavior. In a statement that seems odd for one who undoubtedly is well acquainted with biblical texts, she told AP that she does not believe the Bible condemns "committed" homosexual relationships. God, she says, made some people "gay."

The Bible, having been written over a period of centuries with multiple authors contributing to it, contains a number of inconsistencies. On the issue of homosexuality, however, its message is uniform. The Bible's authors, to a man, excoriated such behavior. In the Old and New Testaments alike, the message of condemnation is the same. What does Bishop Jefferts-Schori have to say about these passages of Scripture?

"They're not about what today we see as mature human beings entering into committed relationships with each other on a full and equal basis. The religious community's job, really, is to help all human beings find healthy and whole and holy ways of living in relationship."

According to the bishop, therefore, the biblical writers weren't really condemning unnatural sex acts, they were attacking either immaturity in relationships and/or the absence of "a full and equal basis" for them.

Let's take a closer look at that idea. In Chapter 18 of the Old Testament book of Leviticus, the Israelites are given instructions about how they are to conduct themselves in relationships with one another. Verse 22 states, "Do not lie with a male as you would with a woman, since this is a disgusting perversion." Hmm…nothing there about immaturity or inequality, just about one male bedding down with another. It doesn't sound like the writer was referring to two males just sleeping in the same bed either, since the reference is to lying with another male as one "would with a woman."

The New Testament book of Romans also touches on this subject; perhaps Jefferts-Schori's perspective will become clearer as we take a look at it. "The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness," the writer begins.

"For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.

Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity."

Wow. Whoever wrote that passage certainly thought people do some awful things. Suppression of truth, irreverence, ingratitude, idolatry, and -- heavens! -- homosexual behavior are all among them. Interestingly, though, the writer does not condemn either immature relationships or the absence of "a full and equal basis" for them.

Well, now that we have some idea of what Katharine Jefferts-Schori does not believe, let's take a look at what she does believe.

The Christian church has historically concerned itself primarily with the task of human salvation. What does the ECUSA's new leader believe about this subject? "I understand salvation as being about the healing of the whole creation," she told the Associated Press. To those relatively unfamiliar with church teachings, this statement sounds innocuous enough. But this, too, is hardly the historic Christian understanding of salvation, which has primarily to do with the fate of individual souls following death.

According to the Christian gospel, human beings need rescue from the power of evil, both in this life and in the next, and mission of the church is to tell them that Jesus, as the eternally-living son of God, can rescue them from it. Yet the words of Katharine Jefferts-Schori give us no indication that she sees salvation in such terms.

The bishop's views on salvation, therefore, are similar to her views on homosexuality and on the importance of faith in Jesus in that they don't appear to be exactly Christian, in the historical sense of the term. But they do seem to be something else that many readers may be unaware they are. They are Jewish.

Jefferts-Schori's view of salvation "as being about the healing of the whole creation," is essentially the same as Jewish doctrine of Tikkun olam (תיקון עולם), a Hebrew phrase meaning "repair of the world." This is a teaching based on a discourse in kabbalah, one of Judaism's several authoritative texts, that holds that the very creation of the universe by God was unstable. The early universe, represented by a pottery vessel, could not hold the holy light of God, and its original form shattered into shards. The universe that we encounter today is thus literally broken, and in need of repair. According to this belief, the practice of following halakha (Jewish religious law) is in order that one can repair the tattered shards of creation through his or her deeds. Therefore, through each fulfillment of a commanded deed (mitzvah), a Jew performs an act of tikkun olam, gradually returning the universe to its form as God originally intended, and making mankind a partner in God's creation.

Katharine Jefferts-Schori says salvation is "about the healing of the whole creation." "Your part and my part in that is about holy living," she asserts. Not quite the historic Christian understanding of salvation, I would say -- but remarkably similar to what Jews believe about it.

The similarity of the bishop's views to Jewish thinking doesn't end there. Contemporary Judaism is represented principally by its two largest branches, Reformed Judaism and Conservative Judaism. Although Reformed and Conservative Jews share a reverence for traditional Jewish texts, neither is doctrinaire about them in the way that evangelical Christians are about the Old and New Testaments. For them, Jewish law and the ancient rabbinical commentaries on it, including kabbalah, are open to interpretation -- and so, consequently, is a Jew's understanding of what constitutes "the repair of the world."

Because of this remarkable flexibility, almost anything can be a part of tikkun olam. Jews are free to view Karl Marx's views on economic relationships, Gloria Steinem's feminism, and Sigmund Freud's psychosexual theories of personality as "repairs." Even homosexuality can be part of tikkun olam, and social acceptance of such behavior is certainly a part of it in the thinking of reformed Jews -- and increasingly of conservative Jews as well.

Reformed Jewish rabbis thus perform homosexual weddings and ordain homosexual clergy, and Conservative Jews are considering adoption of these same practices. Another advocate of them is the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts-Schori, who in 2003 voted for the ordination of an admitted, unrepentant sodomite, Eugene Robinson, as a bishop of the Episcopal Church. And Jefferts-Schori now says the Church should offer what she calls "a sacramental container" to help homosexuals find "holy ways of living in relationship" without having to repent of that "disgusting perversion" identified by the writer of Leviticus.

So, let's review briefly some of the religious beliefs held by the new head of the Episcopal Church USA. Faith in Jesus is not the only way to God. Salvation is about healing creation. Homosexuality is perfectly acceptable, provided it meets some unspecified standards of "maturity" and "equality." Well, we've already noted the similarity of her views on salvation and homosexuality to Jewish views, both historic and contemporary. And Jews have never believed that faith in Jesus was necessary for anything spiritually advantageous, least of all to attain divine favor.

The incompatibility of the bishop's views with historic Christianity, therefore, and their remarkable affinity with Judaism, particularly its contemporary expression, leads us to a logical, if somewhat strange-sounding, conclusion. Katharine Jefferts-Schori is not actually a Christian; she is, rather, a Reformed Jew. No, she doesn't attend a synagogue. She doesn't come from a Jewish family or celebrate Jewish festivals, and she doesn't identify herself as a Jew. Yet, if we look at her faith from a purely spiritual point of view, ignoring the outer trappings of religion, she clearly is one. She may not have come by her beliefs by studying Judaism per se, but she wouldn't have had to in order to arrive at the positions that now mark her as a spiritual Jew. It was from feminist and New Age circles that teachings such as those she embraces spread to Episcopal seminaries -- and Jews have figured prominently in the development of both movements. In them Jewish teachers have for decades performed their work of tikkun olam, an essential part of which has been the conversion of people like Katharine Jefferts-Schori from historic Christian beliefs to the beliefs that she now holds.

Many American Episcopalians, however, don't share Jefferts-Schori's views and some are unhappy about her election as president of their denomination. The increasing prominence in Episcopal leadership of persons like her has led some of them -- both individual parishioners and whole congregations -- to consider leaving the denomination. A few have taken steps in that direction already, but the denomination has as yet experienced no major split. But the elevation to the presidency of a woman whose views on major elements of Christian faith and lifestyle meet the Church's historic definitions of heresy makes this much more likely now.

The issue at hand is really a very simple one, although people like Jefferts-Schori seem to relish presenting it as "difficult." It's really as simple as the distinction that Christians have always made between believers and non-believers. The question is if they will continue to allow themselves to be led, as Christians, by people who themselves are not Christians. I'm betting they won't -- at least not much longer. The Episcopal Church, well-financed by its many homosexual members with no children to provide for, will undoubtedly continue to exist despite the departure of its Christian members. It will even continue to use the name of Christ and to selectively draw on the words of Jesus to promote its tikkun olam-style agenda. But that agenda is not the historic mission of the Church, and what Episcopal congregations across America will preach will not really be Christianity.

Reformed Judaism in Christian clothing is the new Episcopal gospel, and nothing heralds this change more clearly than the election of one of that "gospel's" most outspoken advocates as president of the church. By embracing beliefs that are not part of historic Christianity and by rejecting others that are, Katharine Jefferts-Schori and her kind haven't changed Christianity--the Christian faith, after all, is comprised of specific beliefs that cannot be changed--but they have certainly succeeded in changing Episcopalianism. To be an Episcopalian once necessarily meant that one was a Christian. In the Jefferts-Schori era, if an Episcopalian is a Christian it is in spite of his denominational membership, rather than by virtue of it.

Source: Author • Printed from National Vanguard
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