24 July 2008

Today's radicalism, tomorrow's orthodoxy

If I ever have the opportunity to meet the Rt. Rev’d. Gene Robinson, I know exactly what I will do; I will take off my shoes. (Ex 3.5) This man is one of the best examples of a Christian that the world has seen in at least fifty years.

I urge you to read the 23 July post on Bishop Robinson’s blog, Canterbury Tales from the Fringe. Here is a wee excerpt:

The day is littered with chance meetings with brother and sister bishops from the Episcopal Church -- always helpful and comforting to me. There are the chance meetings with others from around the Communion -- some warm and friendly and supportive, some averting their eyes when they see me coming, choosing to withhold returning even a smile in passing.

Almost invariably, though, I am stopped by each of the conference stewards -- mostly college-aged young people from England and around the Communion, who want to shake my hand and tell me of their support. These young people are so interested in the Church, so committed to being here and helping in any way, yet mystified by some of the words and behaviors they witness, all in the name of the Church. They want me to know how much they are praying for me. The fellow behind the cafe counter in the Marketplace insists that I accept a [cappuccino] he has made for me, a free gift he insists. Many want their pictures taken with the Bishop of New Hampshire, as if it will be a reminder of something important and hopeful for them. I am awed and honored by their interest and their kindness, and am reminded that "my congregation" right now is anyone who will listen and engage. Being "on the Fringe" is a blessing indeed.

Brothers and sisters, all is well with the church. Our youth recognize hypocrisy when they see it -- and they hate it. Their generation is probably the most honest-straight-forward group in history, and certainly since the 1960s. They usually do not keep silent about justice issues That is a radical change from times past when parents' values were accepted with out question.

The 'radical change' of today is the orthodoxy of tomorrow. This has been true since the founding of the church. We see this in the younger generation of our Anglican Communion. They do not blindly accept what has "always been."

When I was young, another bishop was the whipping boy of the Anglican Communion. His name was James Pike. He happened to be ‘my’ bishop – the Bishop of the Diocese of California. He was a radical, an apostate who was ‘out to rewrite Christianity and the bible.’ For those of you who are not old enough to remember him, or were not in TEC ‘in the days,’ let me give you a couple examples.

  • The virgin birth (didn’t believe it)
  • The incarnation (didn’t think it happened the way the bible said it did)
  • Original sin (didn’t believe it)
  • The Trinity (didn’t believe in the 'historic' interpretation)
  • Said that Christianity was not the only path to God (even the Roman church agrees today)
  • Said that the bible was neither infallible nor inerrant
  • Said it was quite possible that Jesus was married

Forty years ago, he was a heretic. There were parents who would not let him confirm their children. As I recall, there was even a presentment before the House of Bishops. Today, Bishop Pike would be considered absolutely in the middle of the conservative/liberal spectrum. It only took forty years.

This next radical change into orthodoxy will not take that long. In five to ten years, this nonsense will be largely over and the ‘issue’ will be well on the way to being orthodoxy. "Why?" because Anglicans under forty years of age are already over 'it' now. This demographic will be moving into leadership positions all over the Communion. In fact, they already are.

Yes, there will be pockets of resistance, but even there, we will recognize the shift from “radical revision” to orthodox. It will take much longer in such pockets, but it is going to happen. It has to. I read somewhere that Tradition is the faith of a living church; traditionalism is the epitaph of a dead church.

Perhaps James R. Lowell’s great poem Once to Every Man and Nation puts it best:

New occasions teach new duties,
time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward,
who would keep abreast of truth.

That could be the motto of the 'under forty' demographic.

And in this time of change, we hear the words of Jesus, "Go tell the disciples – and Peter – that I go before them …" We have only to say, Thanks be to God, Alleluia, Alleluia!

What are some other examples of radical change that became orthodoxy?