Splits & Schisms

 Me after the 8AM service on Sunday. All these pics are of my church, taken by me.

Despite being Unapologetically Episcopalian… well, liking it on Facebook, I’ve been feeling something like sorrow for the denomination to which my church belongs. It seems every other day there’s yet another story about it’s decreasing numbers and entire parishes breaking off to become Roman Catholic or join up with other theologically conservative Anglican communities.

And little by little, I’ve been feeling out of step, too. There was the little devotional that left me at a loss for words. Then there was this post based off of last Sunday’s Liturgical Gospel Readings. It was written by David Henson who is currently undergoing training to become a priest. Here’s an excerpt:

“Was Jesus a racist?

This might be an uncomfortable question for Christians to ask, but, given this week’s lectionary text, I think it’s one we must ask. And we must ask it unvarnished.

Our immediate response likely is, “Of course not! Jesus couldn’t possibly have been racist!” But Jesus’ exchange with the Syrophoenician woman seems to tell a different story. In it, Jesus calls the woman, who was desperate for a miracle for her child, a dog, a dehumanizing ethnic slur common at the time. No matter what theological tap dance we might create to avoid this uncomfortable truth, eventually, we have to face this stark truth.

Jesus uttered a racial slur.

Part of the difficulty of this passage is that as Christians, we want Jesus to be the simple, easy answer to all our problems and to all of society’s problems. When faced with the complexities of personal and institutional racism, it is much easier to think of Jesus as transcending them all and loving all peoples regardless of skin color or culture of origin.

After all, that’s what our children’s song teaches us. Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white. They are precious in his sight.
But what of the little dogs? Does Jesus love them too?

The difficulty of this passage particularly for white Christians is that we want Jesus to be colorblind. We want Jesus to be colorblind because that’s what we want to be or think we should be. But, in truth, at least in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is anything but colorblind. In fact, rather than being part of the solution to racism or ethnic prejudice, Jesus seems to be very much part of the problem, according to this story.

So what does it mean, exactly, that the Son of God, the Incarnation, the Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, utters a racial slur?

Because that is exactly what Jesus does in his exchange with the Syrophoenician woman. When confronted with the gentile pagan in this story, he explains that his message and ministry are for Israelites only, a comment of ethnic exclusion and prejudice that calls to mind a similar refrain – whites only – that reverberated throughout the South not too long ago.

It wouldn’t be fair, Jesus explains, to take the banquet prepared for his people – the children, the humans – and give it to gentiles – the dogs, the less than human.”

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In my 14 years of Christian school, and lifetime of attending various churches, I’ve never heard of such an interpretation of Mark 7:24-37. I never even thought of it in such a way. I think there is a real danger in juxataposing 21st Century Western sociological issues onto Scripture.

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I’m not the only one feeling alien. I read an unintentionally (?) funny post on HuffPo by Christina Pesoli. She feels so out of sorts with the Roman Catholic Church she wants a major schism.

“For decades I prayed that the Catholic Church would evolve, but not anymore. Now I’m holding out for a schism, instead. We’ll be the Social Justice Catholic Church and they can be the Conservative Catholic Church.

We’ll take Melinda Gates, Stephen Colbert, all of the Kennedys, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, John Kerry and, yes (because we have a sense of humor), even Joe Biden. Oh, and for edgy vibe, we’ll take Jack White. The Conservative Catholics can have Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Paul Ryan and Justice Antonin Scalia.

In the Social Justice Catholic Church, there will be no more of this nonsense over contraception. Once we’ve put that non-issue to rest, we’ll be freed up to tackle other non-issues, too — like marriage and gender equality.

In the Social Justice Catholic Church, everyone will be treated equally — men, women, gay or straight. And everyone will be allowed to marry, even priests. And speaking of priests, no one will be disqualified from being one based on gender or sexual orientation. Priest shortage? What priest shortage?

So, what makes the Social Justice Catholic Church different from any other inclusive and reasonable church, like the Unitarian Church, for example? Two thousand years’ worth of rituals and a treasure trove of accessories, that’s what. We’re keeping all of the cool incense burners, water-sprinkler thingies, holy days, saints and sacraments. Oh, and the wine. We’re definitely keeping the wine”

Geez, I’m not even Catholic and I’m shaking my head. By the way, I wrote it was perhaps unintentionally funny because what Pesoli is advocating for kind of started happening back in the 1500’s. It was called The Reformation. Martin Luther and John Calvin… Ring any bells? At any rate, she might be more at home in the Episcopal Church. No need for some major theological battle. And we’ve got “cool incense burners, water-sprinkler thingies, holy days, saints and sacraments”, too. Oh, and we’ve got wine.

See, we’ve got wine! No Welch’s here!

My thoughts about Pesoli are echoed in advice by Ellen Painter Dollar to Rachel Held Evans. Dollar, also an Episcopalian, advises Evans, an Evangelical who is feeling at odds with those like Mark Driscoll and John Piper, to simply leave for a mainline church.

“While I am sympathetic to those who wish to bring reforms, of feminist and other natures, to the evangelical movement, I also want to remind those who are fed up with how women and their voices are welcomed (or not) in evangelical churches, publications, and conversations that there are many churches (that is, movements, denominations, and congregations) where women and other marginalized groups (such as LGBT Christians) don’t have to fight for respect, equality, and a voice. I think many frustrated evangelicals would be amazed (and breathe some huge sighs of relief) to discover that issues that are hot within their circles are non-issues for many other dedicated Christians. And that Christians of an evangelical bent can find a home alongside those other dedicated Christians, even in communities that don’t define themselves overtly as “evangelical.”

 …  many American Christians are living a lively faith within vibrant faith communities, without having to argue for full inclusion and respect for all people, and without having to navigate many of the gender-related controversies that occupy evangelicals.

If you are fed up with churches in which all you have to do to be controversial is to be a woman who speaks her mind, I invite you to find a different church.

Contrary to some stereotypes, mainline American churches are not repositories of chilly, rote religion practiced by people more interested in tradition than the movement of the Spirit….

… What could be more radical within a traditional Christian community than welcoming those who are unsure of how far they want to commit to this Christianity thing?

Sometimes I miss the energetic, informal worship and easy Jesus talk of my evangelical college fellowship. But I’ve gladly traded those things for a church where the Jesus talk is a little more subdued, but no less vital, and where the gender (or sexual orientation, for that matter) of those doing the talking matters not at all.”

Sounds like Pesoli would REALLY like her church.

Maybe there will be a schism, though. Not a Eastern Orthodox vs. Roman Catholic or Roman Catholic vs. Protestant, but a Traditional vs. Liberal.

Sigh. So much for that whole “we are one in Christ” teaching.

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