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JesusasManI was asked a question the other day, and though I answered it, it seemed there was more to say, and what better place than here.

Paraphrasing, the person said, “the Episcopal Church seems like it reflects  60’s cultural liberalism,” and “what you declare as conservative, I see as mere orthodoxy.”

Now I think the question is really broader than that. Polling suggests that most main stream Protestant denominations as well as Roman Catholicism have strong “liberal” wings, if not outright majorities, at least on some issues. Are we just hippies turned religionists?

Of course, I can only speak for myself. I am truly a child of the 60’s, and I learned about racism, sexism (gay and women), and ideas of justice and fairness during that era. I learned that what my government told me and taught me was not always true, and that American entitlement philosophy often led to “anything goes” as long as it furthers American interests both at home and abroad.

No doubt I do bring that sense of justice and fairness and equality to the table when I approach faith. No doubt others of my generation do as well. Except that some of my generation didn’t see it that way at all, and it has confounded me ever since that they don’t. But they don’t. So I figure they are as equally dispersed within the religions as us “liberals” are. I think on balance it’s a wash.

But the Episcopal church on balance is liberal, I cannot deny that, nor would I wish to. In fact, it is in the vanguard so to speak, and perhaps this explains some of it’s troubles of late with various parts of congregations splitting off in anger and dismay as the Church proper seems to be moving toward even more inclusiveness.

I’m way to new to the Church to discuss these issues with any authority, but I can speak generally I think. I give my thoughts alone.

This comes at a propitious moment in time I think, as I’m reading a book that is making my heart soar a bit, Robin Meyers, “Saving Jesus From the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus.”  And then our Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schiori gave a speech at the General Convention last week and said this:

The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy – that we can be saved as individuals, that any of use 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. 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 all being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention. Ubuntu. That word doesn’t have any “I”s in it. The I only emerges as we connect – and that is really what the word means: I am because we are, and I can only become a whole person in relationship with others. There is no “I” without “you,” and in our context, you and I are known only as we reflect the image of the one who created us. Some of you will hear a resonance with Martin Buber’s I and Thou and recognize a harmony. You will not be wrong.

All this seems to fit it seems to me into a theme. I guess the question is why are you Episcopalians and others so bent on upsetting the apple cart here? Surely we are about that business it seems to me, but for only good purposes I think.

First let me explain how I come to where I am. As many of you know, I was formerly a Roman Catholic. I came to that faith eagerly, fulfilling a life long dream. I was taught the faith by what I would define as a very orthodox nun of some 50 years experience. I was not taught the bible was “the word of God.” I was not taught it was infallible. I was taught that it was “inspired.”

I took that to mean that God graced the various writers with the ideas he wished to get across and left it to them to develop the stories, commensurate with their time and location. Thus Genesis was not “real” in the sense that God created the planet Earth in six days, but that he stood as Creator of all that is. Similarly, Eve didn’t talk to a serpent, rather humans have forgotten who their creator is, in their  grand ability to think and “create” themselves. Our sin is in thinking we do this all by ourselves.

I tried very hard to accept all the teachings of the Church, on homosexuality, divorce, abortion, and so on. I believed as a matter of pure faith in the resurrection, and salvation, and the efficacy of confession through the priest and so on. I was taught that birth control was within the personal conscience of the persons involved, determined by their best belief as to what they could personally sustain within their marriage and family.

Then I went back to college into graduate school at a Catholic college. There my teachers were theologians and biblical scholars, one priest and two nuns, all with doctorates in these fields. I learned to read critically and I learned that there was a good deal of the bible that was suspect in terms of being both original, and true. Much had been reorganized and added to, subtracted from, and so forth for the purpose of convincing others of what the writer truly personally believed, and what the early church had come to believe. Much of it back filled and made Jesus say things that justified the situation the early followers found themselves in.

Again, this wasn’t out of a desire to deceive so much as a desire to further the legitimate cause of convincing others of what they truly believed to be true.  Jesus, it seems never meant to start any church, he lived and died a committed Jew, wishing to reform his community. The church, later added those words, to combat various “heresies” and to give legitimacy to their  place as THE church, from which they could claim direct linkage to Peter and the other apostles.

That’s a sampling of what I learned. To learned to see the Bible as a document, that served many purposes, political, and economic. It helped support nationalism, tolerance, intolerance as times required. It was overlaid again and again with later additions to account for changes in circumstances. But it still retains truth, and  historical “facts” about a Galilean man who had an extraordinary impact on people that has never ceased. I think that most “liberals” within the church have also come to see a similar reality. It doesn’t at all make us non-believers in God or Jesus, but it certainly changes the approach. Tomorrow we can look at that.

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