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Episcopalian Demise, or Love Unknown?

Wildflowers and prairie grasses, LaPorte County, Indiana; God made a world full of wonders.

The Episcopal Café website has decided once again to tell us that Christianity is dying, denominations are going bankrupt, and once us Bay Boomers die off the end is near.

Sorry, I don’t take kindly to this, because it contravenes my own experience. Jesus is alive and well and living in Port-au-Prince.

I posted a reply to the Café’s latest prophecy of doom which I’d like to reproduce here. It generated a thoughtful and critical response from JC Fisher, someone I respect but don’t always agree with. See what you think; first mine, then JCF’s, then mine.

(If I were really swift you’d get to vote on this, but I haven’t yet figured out polls on WordPress.)

Josh said:

If we cannot clearly articulate the Gospel, then indeed we are facing death and bankruptcy. And we seem, from the Presiding Bishop on down, not very able to articulate it, though we have many gifted communicators in this Church.

There is nothing wrong with the “product” we are selling, but the sales force has got to believe in it. Brand revitalization is not an unknown science. The hottest commercials on television are for an old and much-maligned brand called Old Spice. (Not that we should employ a shirtless Black guy with special effects, you understand!) (Or maybe we should.)

Here is the central fact. We live in an age of postmodern cynicism, insecurity and doubt. If our spokespersons are unsure of God’s existence and Christ’s salvation, our market share will tumble, along with every other denomination’s tarnished brand. If we reassert (oh, that word) our certainty and our Creed, our share will rise.

Unlike the fundamentalist salespeople, whose only tools are thunder and guilt, we are able to attract the public with humor, the arts, genuine service and faith – IF we empower our best communicators. Yet we consistently promote our worst salespeople, then expect them to magically turn things around.

There’s something wrong with our polity that always gives us these bad results.

The selection of the Presiding Bishop needs reform. (Not to put all the responsibility on her, because she also attracts and sells.)

Now that the schism is over, we need to reexamine what it was about; why we were vulnerable; and where the schismatics were right about us. They do not want mealy-mouthed Christianity; they do not want labyrinths without Jesus or interfaith hybridizing. Neither, by and large, do we. What is good in one context reduces clarity in another, and clarity must be our goal. “We believe in one God…”

The Episcopal Church is potentially the world’s greatest brand of Christianity. If our sales force doesn’t believe that, they should retire.

Many of us do believe that but are blocked from exercising leadership.

Jesus is the greatest brand of all. The Bible is the world’s bestseller. And we teach them better than anyone. Or we could if we were allowed to.

Our power structures have stopped serving us. So let them die and be replaced.

The affirmative Gospel – Gay-inclusive, women-powered yet muscular and male too – is an overwhelming force with real answers to the horrible dilemmas of modern life.

TEC’s problem is that it hasn’t sold that affirmative Gospel nearly enough.

We are the Christian alternative to Rome and Jerry Falwell. We’re better than both of them and we ought to say so, loud and clear and often.

The sky isn’t falling; look, it’s still up there.

We should set out to become, in humility and with all our failures, the Church of the United States. And Haiti. And Cuba. And Brasil and Japan and South Africa.

Of course we’ll get lost in the desert. But that’s all right, as long as we have leaders who say, “Here’s The Way.”

JC Fisher answered well:

“Blessed assurance” is not expressed in the same language by everyone, Josh.

Nor is Holy Doubt the enemy of Faith.

I’m uncomfortable w/ your tone of “Believe, dammit!” or “Our Leaders don’t really B-E-L-I-E-V-E (like I do)”.

Personally, when I hear someone table-pounding their own certitude, it sounds like they’re projecting their own doubts. (Of course I could be wrong)

I don’t have any answers here, but if I want to see Real Change (growth) in TEC, I know I’ll have to begin (after prayer) w/ looking in the mirror. What am *I* doing to grow the Episcopal Church?

JC Fisher

(I hate “Blessed Assurance,” except by Alan Jackson. He sings it straight; Gospel music is country. I didn’t used to be country, but now I am.)

To which I answered:

JCF, the blessing of doubt is what got us here. And it can be a blessing indeed, but it has to be backed up by objective and demonstrable truth.

We live in an age that doesn’t believe there is such a thing.

(Personally, in the U.S., I blame Nixon. But in Europe I blame World War I, the “war to end all wars” that didn’t change a thing, and only resulted in mass slaughter. Europe has stopped believing and is now largely atheist. One cannot wonder why. People blamed God instead of their politicians.)

I’m not here to proclaim my own certitude. I’m here to call for bishops and priests and laypeople who are certain, because they’ve encountered the Christ.

No one else can lead us. This journey is difficult. It’s easy to get lost and go the wrong way. Television is designed to hone all human longings into product-buying. The false gods and graven images of old are now TV commercials. Everyone on the planet watches TV, and there’s a sucker born every minute.

Jesus is the alternative reality. And there’s plenty of interest in him as my little website has shown. I run the biggest megachurch in TEC, but I’m just some smalltown queer from Indiana; a layman, at that. All I do is present the Jesus of the Gospels and the Book of Common Prayer. Those are all we need to do, so hey.

I’m sorry for those who nurture their doubts; I don’t know what that’s like, but it must be hard. I’d be one of them myself except I met this guy; he even deigned to meet me. I’ll never know why he bothered, but I’ll always be grateful he did.

As long as the Episcopal Church elects bishops and rectors who really aren’t so sure about this Jesus guy – and as long as it gives power to the clergy, not the people – we’re on a straight path to hell, and denominational bankruptcy is only station 3 out of 15.

But I have hope for my Church, which gets more things right than any other. Yes, I know it’s impolite to say so, but times are tough and this is TV.

The argument isn’t that important; Okay, people argue, so what, it’s occasionally entertaining but who cares. What we are arguing about does matter; the future of the Episcopal Church. If it goes by-the-by that may not affect much, especially considering our current circumstances, but if we think about denominations in terms of their their truth-telling, their Gospel-spreading, this could matter quite a lot. What does God say to us, now in 2011?

(I wrote these words, so I don’t want to put them in God’s mouth, but here they are.)

The affirmative Gospel – Gay-inclusive, women-powered yet muscular and male too – is an overwhelming force with real answers to the horrible dilemmas of modern life.

TEC’s problem is that it hasn’t sold that affirmative Gospel nearly enough.

We are the Christian alternative to Rome and Jerry Falwell. We’re better than both of them and we ought to say so, loud and clear and often.

Priests molesting children. Preachers preaching prosperity. Kill-the-Gays in Uganda while the Archbishop of Canterbury sucks African cock. How else can you characterize it? Rowan Williams, the AB of C, is willing to jettison American Gay people, the entire Episcopal Church, for some lunatics in Africa. Why? Desmond Tutu, the World’s Most Famous Anglican, hits Rowan upside the head about Gay people, but Rowan keeps sucking; I guess he believes if they’re Black they’re all Straight, and (do not doubt this) Straight cock’s the best kind there is.

WTF?

I’ll never try to sell you on the Anglican Communion or that god-awful Church of England. But I do say that The Episcopal Church that grew out of it is the only one that makes sense on this whole planet—though it isn’t perfect either.

The affirmative Gospel – Gay-inclusive, women-powered yet muscular and male too – is an overwhelming force with real answers to the horrible dilemmas of modern life.

Jesus is the Way. That’s what I believe; what do you believe?

You needn’t answer if you’re watching TV. You’ll never hear about the Love Unknown, only about Toyota and Priceline and McDonald’s.++

5 Responses

  1. Jesus is the Way. That’s what I believe; what do you believe?

    Jesus is A Way, which works for me. I think the Way of Jesus can work for anyone. However, I’m not prepared to say what other Ways there are or aren’t (Taking on TV is rather like shooting fish in a barrel. Or the German Neo-Orths affirming Jesus as The Way, over Nazism. Yeah, duh.)

    Do you ever post at Joe.My.God, Josh? It would take a fair bit more courage to state that “Jesus is The Way” there, than at Episcopal Cafe (or here)!

    I do (post at JMG as a Christian), and it ain’t easy.

  2. No.

    If Jesus is only one Way among many, then who cares? Go join the Unitarians; they think all gods are the same. Bless them, they’re good people, but No. Either it’s Jesus or it’s not, and you say not. Come out, admit the truth, JCF; you think Jesus is A Way, not The Way, so why should anyone care?

    No one will, and no one follows your little watered-down god.

    I believe he’s the One, so we are left in stark contrast.

    I’ll never throw you out; I’d welcome you to the Table; but I will not let you run our Church. Jesus is the all-time best superhero; the way, the truth and the life.

    You seek to diminish him as one among many. Do not be surprised at my opposition.

    No one needs your watered-down savior. People do need the One Who Saves.

    You and I just have this big disagreement. I’m not superior to you, I try to listen and learn from you; you know a lot and are very wise. I do not disparage your faith, I honor it.

    I hope you someday meet The Guy. He’s quite a piece of work, and I hope your ideology will not prevent your encounter.

    He does make claims you’re not willing to accept, and that is why I don’t want you to speak for the Episcopal Church.

    I’m not good at it either, but I do have the Creeds to comfort me. I’m not alone here; multitudes have affirmed what I believe.

    Jesus is not A Way, he is The Way. Good luck finding anyone else who gave up his life for his friends.

  3. Unlike the fundamentalist salespeople, whose only tools are thunder and guilt, we are able to attract the public with humor, the arts, genuine service and faith – IF we empower our best communicators. Yet we consistently promote our worst salespeople, then expect them to magically turn things around…¨ Josh

    By St. George, I think you´ve got it!

    Today, over at Thinking Anglicans, I was reading the GAFCON (NING) latest pronouncements and I was thinking, once again, ¨ these dudes, and they mostly are boys of the ¨good old¨ variety, really know how to merchandise the recycled resentments and biggotry that they regurgitate in the name of promoting their Christianlike purity cult– not surprising these dominionistbacked fellars stated they are against ¨endless listening¨ as they already know the basics regarding Biblical messaging– they know right from wrong and wrong from right already/already!

    True, this contingent of sociopaths/haters do know what they ¨insist and demand¨ must be true so they need not deal with their innermost loathings, fears and grandiosity schemes by ¨defending a God who doesn´t need their defense¨ (Spongism) and assuming a blockheaded position of non-change/non-acceptance for all to see (confusing that with enlightened ¨being¨)…LISTENING TO NOTHING BUT THE SOUND OF THEIR OWN VOICE(S)!

    Alas, hark, mira…these guys have a marketing plan and they keep updating it and ignoring the REAL fact that they are basically 2nd quality feardriven irregulars and their package their fate like trying to win a bowling match while playing on ALL the lanes! These folks, not surprisingly, attack like bankers going after big fish in tiny ponds with nets AND harpoons! These grabbers and backstabbers ARE FINANCED by BANKERS (mostly)!

    These opportunists lack moral authority and basic morals but they´ve given themselves permission to be vile, hateful as they grab throats and shake fellow ignoramouses into accepting grandstanding/strutting righteous beliefs! They won´t take their hands off of your, my, or TEC, windpipes until they GET WHAT THEY THINK THEY MUST HAVE…or we are dead! These guys are murderers, abusers and thieves.

    There is a lesson here. These unrelenting bastardos, and they are amongst the most dangerous kind of extremists on the run, are adhiring to a BUSINESS PLAN! The GAFCON 2 puppets just layed it out for ALL TO SEE…a two year plan of self-imgined glory to behold (not-to-worry they are losing most/all law suits pending–igrnoring reality is what they do best)!

    Let us regroup. I truly believe that we may have marvelous leadership and laity at TEC, some more marvy than others like all places/organizations, but we opperate muchly with ¨spiritualike¨ sentimentality as opposed to GOOD BUSINESS SENSE!

    WE NEED A MARKETING PLAN, we need to keep revising it, targeting partners/followers and getting our unstoppable message out without letting it DRIFT OUT– we need STRENGTH (as you say, muscle) and we need to STOP creating a culture of ¨prudent acts of propriety¨ that stiffles the ability for the WORLD to see who we ARE! Over and over again without relenting.

    You also mentioned that we need professionals, in our case I think we need creative professionals are capable enough to illustrate who we really are (all the we´s) to the WORLD around us — no looking up, confidence need not be arrogance but WE DO have a story/testimony to tell yet we keep wandering around like chicken shits with tight perms and jocks that are way too small! No wonder we whine as we have confused coming forward and sharing of our authenticselves with ¨looking good¨…tiresome, we need to stop acting like a black and white movie with no funding and rush to embrace a world loaded with vitality and GRACE that previously has allowed that same vitality to seep through the cracks of some fools, educated or not, sense of ¨propriety¨…we need to stop being afraid of unknown! Trusting God is where it starts!

  4. I keep having the hunch that our leadership is a little more scholastically groomed rather than a really good builder of community who has marketing skills and product development abilities that DELIVER– you know, releasing the genuine passion that most of feel and would love to share to a worldwide audience that often is bordering on a life and death desperation to hear some really ¨good news¨ (rather than endlessly listening to puffed up bigots and thieves pontificate)!

  5. Hi Josh. It has been a while since I looked in on your site, and even longer since I last commented (way back in 2009, I think). When I was going through my blog I came across a link back to you, and found my comments on an entry on sexuality.

    Living in Australia, I can’t really comment on the situation in the US, but I would observe that here, I think that the major denominations are quietly dying. More and more effort is going into pumping up the institutions, and less and less into forming disciples. It is that task, I think, that will enable the church to continue to be relevant and present in a changing world. Again, I don’t know what the Episcopal Church is doing in the US (except what I read in the highly subjective media), but in Australia it seems that the Anglican Church is having hassles just understanding what it is about (the Way) and not about (running a church company).

    I have no fear for the church. I think, in 10 years time, that the majority of parishes in my own diocese will be unable to support full-time (and in some cases ANY) stipendiary ministry. This, of itself, will require us to think carefully about the way we ‘do’ and ‘are’ church, and the ways in which we form disciples. In my daydreams I see a body of followers of Jesus who are well prepared to minister to one another and the world outside the church building (which, for me, would be a tent). In my nightmares I see more and more attraction and grasping at ‘form’ and dwindling congregations in decaying buildings, trying to hold onto a past that has nothing to say to now.

    In Australia people like me (gay) live in an uncomfortable situation. We are neither rejected nor accepted, continuing to exist in a kind of ecclesiastical limbo, subject to the whims and goodwill of those in power (I use the term advisedly). There is no other group like us, there are no other individuals like us. But we actually have something to say to the church – a church which is now outside the mainstream culture. Being outside is not a disaster – it allows you to say to the ‘inside’ that there is something rotten about your society, something that does not accord with the law of love. I think that is our call, really. To help those who now find themselves ‘outside’ to understand what that means, to help them to find ways of critiquing the dominant culture, and to help them to understand that it takes a mighty choice, and a sort of bravery.

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