cjbanning: (Palm Sunday)
[personal profile] cjbanning
"I ask not only on behalf of these [whom I have sent into the world, as you have sent me into the world], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Divine Parent, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
So prays Jesus in the Gospel According to St. John (17:20-23). For Anglicans, the unity of the Church--our prayer "that we all may be one"--does not in any way negate the beauty of the diversity to be found within Chrisitianity; rather "this Church does not seek to absorb other Communions, but rather, co-operating with them on the basis of a common Faith and Order, to discountenance schism, to heal the wounds of the Body of Christ, and to promote the charity which is the chief of Christian graces and the visibile manifestation of Christ to the world" (resolution of the House of Bishops, meeting in Chicago in 1886). And yet it is so easy to, often without realizing it, re-draw the lines which fracture the Church's essential unity. I was reminded of this recently when reading The Death of America's God by Stanley Hauerwas. He writes:
The great irony is that the almost pathological fervency with which the religious right in America tries to sustain faith as a necessary condition for democracy is the surest formula for insuring that the faith that is sustained is not the Christian faith.
The thing is, there is no such thing as "the Christian faith," solitary and unified. This is, I think, somewhat related to the Protestant heresy of the "perspicuity of the Scriptures," which implies that the Bible has one true meaning and that any seeming deviations from it (whatever it might be) are in fact distortions, and of course all those "nondenominational" Christians who claim that theirs is just plain Christianity and all the denominations distortions. But in truth there is no undistorted Christian message, because there are no undistorted Christians: we are all limited in our understanding. What there are is Christian faiths, plural, as diverse communities try to discern the will of God, the sense of the Scriptures, and the movement of the Spirit, and come to different conclusions. Some of these conclusions are better than others, and I think Anglicanism's (and post/liberal Anglo-Catholicism's in particular) conclusions are the best of the set; I'm no relativist. But what none of us gets to say is that any of these faiths, from Christadelphian to Calvinist, Unitarian to Episcopalian, Latter-Day Saint to Roman Catholic, Jehovah's Witness to Christian Scientist, falls short of being authentically Christian even in their error, that we're not all (or at least most of us, and who is and who isn't isn't up for us to decide) following Jesus as Lord in our own way and as best as we are able.
It is impossible to avoid the fact that American Christianity is far less than it should have been just to the extent that the church has failed to make clear that America's god is not the God that Christians worship.
Now, the only way I can see of reading that sentence is as saying that American Christians aren't "real" Christians (or else they'd worship the God that "real" Christians worship and not America's god), and I feel it's deeply problematic to try to throw ANY of our siblings-in-Christ out of the Body like that, no matter who they are or what they believe.

Now, of course Hauerwas isn't advocating violence or even intolerance towards those he has considered "really" non-Christian. But still, I know the pain of being told one isn't really Christian because of what one does or doesn't believe, and I can't accept that as an appropriate or loving response to anyone. It's absolutely possible to respond with loving correction to those whom one believes to have fallen into theological or practical error without having to deny such a deep and integral part of a person's self-identity.
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My Prayer

"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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