The mistaken application of secular/civic “Rights” language within the Church

There is probably a lot wrong with what follows, not least the spelling and grammatical mistakes, but I’m trying to flesh out some thoughts:
I’m a political and international affairs junkie. Even since Jr. High School, as a paperboy at a young age of 13, I would read through the newspaper nightly, watch the network news telecasts and then turn over to PBS to watch the McNeil/Lehrer News Hour. Okay, I was a freak. So, I focused on Political Science, Sociology, and History for my Bachelor’s degree (while spending most of my spare time in the campus ministry I was a part of). I know well the issues and demands surrounding “civil-rights” for all kinds of different groups of people that are not part of the majority. Empathetically, I know far less of the trials and tribulations of peoples who have had to and continue to suffer under the prejudices, bigotry, and discrimination of far too many people within the majority. There is nothing new under the sun. I do know from my own personal distinguishing marks what it is like to be the center of the majority’s conversations, arguments, denunciations, and social and religious decision making concerning “me” (a class of people) without my input, however.
I looked up the term “civic” just to make sure I hadn’t missed some more nuanced definitions of the word. It’s pretty straightforward: “of or related to citizen, a city, citizenship, or civil affairs,” to quote the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Law. The word has its root in the Latin “civicus” or “of a citizen” (according to the Online Etymology Dictionary) and translated more specifically, “citizen” (according to the American Heritage Dictionary). I also looked up the word, “civil.” There is much overlap in the way people use the two words, but “civil” also denotes the way in which we behave within the contexts of society and the relationships we engage in between groups and individuals.
We should all be “civil” in our “civic” lives. If I wanted to translate the secular and civic vocabulary of the previous sentence into the verbiage of the Christian Faith, I might suggest the words Jesus’ second great commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Mark 12:31; Matthew 22:39; and by extension Luke 6:31 or Leviticus 19:18)
From the U.S. Declaration of Independence from England, we find these words

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Then, there is the Equal Protection Clause in Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

As a citizen of the United States, I’m glad these words are part of the documents of governance that we uphold and strive to obey. In our civic lives, we can advocate for and even demand that these rights be upheld and applied to all people (even though, from what I remember and perhaps incorrectly, when they used the word “men” originally, that is exactly what they meant – the males of the species, and actually white, landed, men).
As citizens of the United States of America, I content that it is the right, privilege, and obligation of all citizens to be engaged in securing and protecting the equally applied and defended rights of all people. “Rights” language is properly situated within this kind of discourse and action.
I’ve heard many Church people advocate for and protest on behalf of civic rights for dispossessed people groups, which is certainly an appropriate course of action for Christian citizens for the betterment of our society. Before I became an Episcopalian, I followed the goings on in the mainline denominations and listened carefully to the arguments for equal treatment of people within the various denominations begin to more often center on the word, “Rights.” The language and understandings used to justify the demand for changing the non-equal practices within the various Church bodies, whether because of skin color, gender, or sexual-orientation, sounded increasingly like civic discourse rather than the language and understanding of the Church. Socio-political understanding and verbiage began taking precedence over theological and ecclesiastic understanding and verbiage.
Within the Christian faith tradition I grew up in, the idea that as Christians we die to self and give up all our “rights,” understood in the civic sense, was commonly discussed and emphasized. This wasn’t an attempt by leaders to subjugate congregants or to retain power, since we were congregational in governance, but put into proper perspective the differences between of civic and religious understandings of how we are to relate to one another. (Obviously, sometimes abuses occurred in religious culture and still do as in civic culture).
Christianity uses different concepts and language to deal with unjustified perceptions of other people that tend to denigrate their God-blessed humanity. To anyone that wants to deny the assertion that all humans are equally of God’s purposeful design, there is Galatians 3:27-29:

“…for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

At the heart of our consideration of how we want to and how we ought to consider and treat one another the significant difference between the intent and language of the civic minded and the faith minded is the difference between concepts of “rights” and “love.”
I believe it is a mistaken application of civic “Rights” language when we talk of our interactions and treatment of one another within the Church. For the Christian, at the point when we decide to declare our intent to follow Jesus (when we become born anew), we give up all of our “rights.” Why? Because we give ourselves freely to be transformed out of our culture-bound misunderstanding of God’s Way (a mal-formation) in order to more fully be brought into the Body of Christ, the Family of God (a re-formation).
Our cause as Christians within the context of the Church is not to fight for rights! I have no rights. Our cause is to fight for the common, consistent, and complete application of Christ’s command to “love one another as we love ourselves!” The language is a language of “love,” not “rights.” There is no “right” to baptism. There is no “right” to communion. There is no “right” to leadership. There is no “right” to ordination. Justice in the Christian sense is not that we treat everyone the same, but that we treat everyone appropriately. (Because there are those who misapply this idea, who remain in their mal-formed state, does not mean the concept is corrupt or wrong, but that we fallible humans are.)
When we descend into civic rights language for Church purposes, as in “I or this group has a right to be considered for leadership at all levels of the Church and including Holy Orders,” we open up for other people the “right” to work to deny equal consideration of all people alike. When we get into the language of “rights,” we open up the “right” to deny “rights,” else we act hypocritically.
Instead, we have a privilege and sacred obligation! If we want to be Christian, we are commanded to and must obey the call to “love” one another, as God defines such a word. (John 15:10-15) As Christians, we have a sacred obligation. We do not have the “right” to not love another person, treat them with considered respect that looks like and is received as respectful intent by our opponent. I don’t have “rights” in the Church; I have the obligation to love… therefore I do not have the “right” to not treat others as I want to be treated. Hear from the Gospel writers:
Mark 8:34-38:

“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Luke 6:27-32 –

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them.”

There are issues of social or civic concern that all citizens need to be aware of and engaged in whether Christian or not. There are issues of concern within the Church that on the surface may seem identical to the civic endeavor, but are to be understood on a fundamental level differently from concerns of the citizenry of the State. There are often overlaps between the civic and the religious, but for the Christian in the context of religious affairs the beginning point (the entire point) is to “love,” not to demand “rights.” The foundations of thought, ideology, and methodology by which we deal with issues of how we regard and treat other people are different, or at least should be. Frankly, if we incorporate the Christian difference as Christians within the civic arena, we truly will be a “peculiar people” (I Peter 2:9 KJV).
The language of civic discourse concerning the way we treat one another is, “Rights.” The language of Christian discourse concerning the way we treat one another is, “Love.” As we confuse the two, as we are rabidly apt to do these days, we open within the Church the “right” of those who wish to deny “rights.” It is forbidden of us to not “love” our neighbor as ourselves, to not treat others as we want to be treated.

Haller’s essay on ++Rowan Williams

Fr. Tobias Haller BSG on his blog “In a Godward Direction” has written an except description of Archbishop Rowan Williams and how he is dealing with the Anglican troubles.
A quote:

Still, this Paschal attitude gives Rowan the capacity to endure a great deal of difficulty, ambiguity, tension, and imperfection — things which progressives tend to find annoying and reactionaries unacceptable — and which his office as Archbishop of Canterbury in this particular age provides him an ample supply.

This is one reason why I’ve said that because Rowan is vilified by both left and right, he is probably handling this in the right way – or as best as humanly possible at this time.
Link to the entire post.

Rights, ++Rowan, and the state of the Church

My additional comments around ++Rowan Williams’ statement to the Anglican Communion after the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, with regard to much of what I am reading on Facebook and the blogs from Church folk.
I don’t think that many of us are approaching the whole problem (by “problem” I mean that our pressing issues over which we are fighting are only external manifestations of a deeper, underlying problem of how we regard and deal with one another). We are not dealing with one another from a particularly Faith-centered, Life in Christ kind of way. The Christian vision of loving God and neighbor before and beyond ourselves or our little groups or our particularly theories or ideologies has collapsed, I think. If we want a picture of how to love neighbor, then review the whole incident in Pennsylvania where a gunman shot down a bunch of Amish kids in their school. The parents of the slain where compelled by the Gospel to go to the killer’s family to offer forgiveness, support, and comfort. Well, we see ourselves casting each other into utter darkness because of differences of interpretation of Scripture or “feeling” that after 20+ years we are not moving fast enough in our overturning of thousands of years of human tradition (even though like so many other historical examples within the Church, I agree that we’ve gotten it wrong all this time).
Here is the thing: Christianity is not a right! It is a privilege. God’s acceptance of us in whatever form we may be at the moment is not a right, it is a vouchsafed privilege. Communion is not a right, it is a privilege. Holy Orders are not a right, they are a privilege. Attending Mass is not a right, it is a sacred privilege. When I turn to begin my journey down the road that leads to God, to a Life in Christ, and as God takes up my life and begins to transform me – I give up my life so that I might have life. I give up all my rights – I am a person with no appeal for the right to anything – so that I might be free. We have lost the vision of “Freedom” and “Life” as defined within the arch of Holy Scripture. When we cast the Gospel in the language of politics, we have already failed.
Much of what seems to be driving the chaos within Anglicanism are socio-political agendas of either the left or the right. The IRD pushed the conservative side for political gain in the U.S. (as they said they would, read more here, here, and here), and now too many conservatives say they can do without TEC (they have cut off their leg). The left has been co-opted by identity-politics and political-correctness, and too many liberals say that we can do without the Communion (they cut off their arm). Both means are wrong, from a Christ-centered perspective. The strengths of “conservatism” and the strengths of “liberalism” should be complementary and only strengthen the overall mission of the Church, but when understood in socio-political terms and when advocated for by secular means, they become enemies.
I’m convinced that’s why both sides of the divide are so critical of Rowan. He won’t give into the politicized agendas of either side. As I’ve said in other places, I used to think that Rowan and Anglicanism would have been better served if he had stayed in academia, but not now. The fact that criticism comes from all sides suggests to me that he is going in the right direction. He seems to be one of the few Anglican leaders that are actually acting like an Anglican – willingness to keep all sides at the table talking. Whether he succeeds or not, whether he is doing it the right way or not, I think Rowan is a least trying to confront all this stuff from out of the faith-Tradition as Anglicans have understood it.
When the mainline churches were overwhelmed by liberal politics in the 60’s and 70’s, people left because they didn’t want politics, but life-giving faith. They tended to move into more Evangelical denominations or at least those churches that eschewed a socio-political emphasis. American Evangelicalism has been overwhelmed by conservative politics since the late 80’s, and we are witnessing the beginnings of the collapse of the politicized Religious Right. People of younger generations are moving out of Evangelicalism. Some are moving into other faith communities (Emergent), but the primary difference these days is that the younger folks for the most part are leaving the church for no other faith community. This is the state of the American Church and what it is exporting overseas.
I think there are so many people who are seeking faith communities that actually focus on the Faith, centered on growing closer to God and one another, rather than on socio-political agendas of either the left or the right. This is the opportunity for evangelism, for the fields are ripe for harvest. Anglicanism is primed in its ethos and aestheticism for the younger generations at least in North America, but the Enemies-of-our-Faith are succeeding in destroying our ability to be a witness of God’s grace and restoration to these generations. We need to rediscover and reappropriate the best of the Tradition and focus on the Church’s ancient Disciples for one goal – that all may now the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ by the enabling of the Holy Spirit (otherwise know as the Cure of Souls). The result of this focus, of course, is that people’s hearts will be changed so that we cannot help but engage issues of justice, fairness, and the regarding of all people as God’s creation. I give up all my rights to help achieve this goal, as best I can and with God’s help.

Statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury

The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a statement after the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. In my humble opinion, it is well written and clear – even within the reality that so many things are still in flux with regard to the Communion and its integrity.
Here is a link to the Archbishop’s statement.
Here are a couple interesting paragraphs that deal with the idea of a two-tiered or “two-track” structure that may end up developing. The specific sentence I think couches the concerns of the Archbishop deals with “who speaks for whom.” Within the Communion and with regard to our ecumenical relationships, it must be established that in negotiations and communications that is a voice of the Anglican Communion. Here are the paragraphs:

22 It is possible that some will not choose this way of intensifying relationships [signing on to the final Covenant], though I pray that it will be persuasive. It would be a mistake to act or speak now as if those decisions had already been made – and of course approval of the final Covenant text is still awaited. For those whose vision is not shaped by the desire to intensify relationships in this particular way, or whose vision of the Communion is different, there is no threat of being cast into outer darkness – existing relationships will not be destroyed that easily. But it means that there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a ‘covenanted’ Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with ‘covenanted’ provinces.
23. This has been called a ‘two-tier’ model, or, more disparagingly, a first- and second-class structure. But perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a ‘two-track’ model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the ‘covenanted’ body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom. [emphasis mine]
24. It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal, and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are – two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion. It should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated. The ideal is that both ‘tracks’ should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency. It is right to hope for and work for the best kinds of shared networks and institutions of common interest that could be maintained as between different visions of the Anglican heritage. And if the prospect of greater structural distance is unwelcome, we must look seriously at what might yet make it less likely.

In earlier paragraphs, he dealt with the issues of same-sex relationships and the ability to be in ecclesial leadership (clergy, particularly bishops). As he said, historically and within the tradition the same rule should apply for heterosexuals and homosexuals – at this point within the universal Church sexual relationships outside the bonds of Holy Matrimony (a “lifestyle”) does not allow for ecclesial leadership. Holy Matrimony being between a man and a woman, as the Church Catholic currently and historically understands such things.
The Church Catholic has not changed its mind on this, even though several local Churches are in the process of changing. They are vanguards, and perhaps in the forefront of the coming universal change of understanding. The interesting thing is that within England, the Archbishop’s current understanding may place him in opposition with a good part of his own Church. Is he intending on enforcing such a policy for the sake of integrity, and if he is what happens if under Establishment the Parliament or the Queen dictate otherwise? Will Rowan, I wonder, go the route of Newman? I don’t know… I don’t think his personal theological opinion has changed with regard to the possibility of same-sex relationships, but in his position he has to deal with far more and has to plow a middle way that in the end satisfies no one.
So much of all this mess deals with the means by which we pursue what we want – the end goal. I am so disappointed in the attitudes of many people and the means by which my Church is pursuing what I think in the end is correct and right. The end goal is not so much the important thing, but we will be judged according to the way we acted during the process – the means. Coming from this former American-Evangelical, I can say that my primary thought is the grounding of a Catholic understanding of things, even if in the shorter term (or even the mid-term), I don’t get what I want. But, how long to continue to wait is an important and palpable question.

A “non-zero-sum dynamic” and Decoding God’s Changing Moods

A “non-zero-sum dynamic” and Decoding God’s Changing Moods, from Robert Wright.
This got me thinking… If we can find the “non-zero-sum” in our dealings with our opponents/nemeses, we will be better positioned as Christians to obey God’s command to: Love – to love God, our neighbors, our enemies. We show no wisdom when we allow anti-love (from a Christ-centered perspective) to overwhelm our thinking and feeling.
I don’t necessarily agree with everything Wright is postulating – where he ends up within the context of his theorizing – but gleaning ideas from his writing and trying to examine how we live our lives as Christians can bring us to a more Christ-centered life.
From his website:

Happily, after the exile, life got more non-zero-sum. The Babylonians who had conquered Israel were in turn conquered by the Persians, who returned the exiles to their homeland. Israel was no longer in a bad neighborhood. Nearby nations were now fellow members of the Persian Empire and so no longer threats. And, predictably, books of the Bible typically dated as postexilic, such as Ruth and Jonah, strike a warm tone toward peoples—Moabites and Assyrians—that in pre-exilic times had been vilified.
A more inclusive view is also found in a biblical author (or authors) thought by many scholars to be writing shortly after the exile—the priestly source. The priestly source, or P, uses internationally communal language and writes not just of God’s covenant with Israel but of an “everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”
A zero-sum, isolationist worldview had moved Israel from polytheism to belligerent monotheism, but now, as Israel’s environment grew less threatening, belligerence was turning out not to be an intrinsic part of monotheism. Between second Isaiah’s angry exilic exclamations and P’s more congenial voice, Israel had segued from an exclusive to an inclusive monotheism.

The New Black

I posted an observation on Facebook early in the spring and asked whether “Pink” had become the new “Black” for guys in New York City. I didn’t really get much of a response.
Well, last week my question was answered. One day last week, from the subway to my office (a block and a half), going out to eat lunch in the area (around 75 minutes), and walking back to the subway after work I counted 12 guys in pink shirts – t-shires, Polo’s, Oxfords, and dress-shirts – 4 guys in pink ties, and one guy with muted pink lipstick (it is New York, after all).
So, I will declare that “Pink” has become the new “Black” (as much as that really means anything at all) for guys in New York. After all, “real men wear pink.” That, of course, was conjured up by some die manufacturer that had an overabundance of red die, I suppose.

If marriage has friends like these . .

Interesting piece by Canon Giles Fraser (Team Rector of Putney, in south London) in the Church of England Church Times (Issue 7634 – 10 July, 2009): ‘If marriage has friends like these . . .
The concluding paragraph, quote:
Speaking of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans position and statement on marriage

So they will suck Christian mar­riage into a narrow religious ghetto, associating it with suburban 1950s curtain-twitching, thus making it even less popular than it is now. The FCA is a danger to marriage. So, for the sake of marriage itself, will it please pipe down and go home.


People can say whatever they want, and they do, but my opinion of Archbishop Rowan Williams has changed over the years – for the better. I used to think he was a week leader who should have stayed in academia, but now I see him as a prime example of Anglicanism at its best. He is one of the few international Anglican leaders that continue to act in an Anglican way – calling all to continue together in discussion and fellowship and refusing to castoff anyone into utter darkness. He refused to act unilaterally! It seems to me that those who demand that Rowan take up their narrow positions (liberal or conservative) and a hammer against their opponents are the ones that continually call him a failed leader. Too bad.
I read a response to a Facebook post after the General Convention passed DO25 reporting that Davis Mac-Iyalla, Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, said that GLBT Christians in Africa would be greatly harmed if the Communion disintegrates. I’m trying to find the reference. I’m also trying to find a reason to believe that our actions this past week of General Convention will do anything to help the Communion to not disintegrate even more. As one gay priest, and with many I know, we are not feeling all that good about what we have done. That will be quite perplexing to some straight activist types, but give ear to our voice anyway.
Do we only care about Ubuntu among our own or honestly among all? It means that I do not always get my way. In not seriously considering the well being of “the least of these,” our GLBT sisters and brothers on the ground in places where they face real violence and imprisonment every day of their existence, we do them a great disservice.