I very much appreciated reading Philip Turner’s ruminations about “The Episcopalian Preference” (November 2003). I have thought about similar issues regarding the state of the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA), most especially since the Presiding Bishop defended the General Convention’s confirmation of Gene Robinson to the episcopate at Lambeth this past October. Unfortunately, arguments that suggest that this is just how the democratic process in ECUSA works do not square with Scripture, tradition, or reason—the very tools, articulated by Thomas Hooker, by which Anglicans discern truth.
However, American democracy as expressed through the Episcopal Church is not the only problem. It is not just a question of how ECUSA does its business but, more importantly, of how Anglicans of any variety and in any nation (even orthodox ones like myself) go about their business. What is our authority? To whom do we appeal for definitive and binding answers? The simple answer is stated above in what Anglicans refer to as “Hooker’s stool.” Anglicans assume that if we devoutly apply Hooker’s methods to any crucial theological question we will arrive at a very sound answer. Mr. Turner’s numerous examples clearly demonstrate that this is not the case. Our repeated failure to reprove and adequately rebuke heresy calls into serious question our theological system.
Although I love our Anglican ethos and believe that there is a great deal to commend within it, the question of binding authority is a serious one that requires our utmost attention. American democracy (within the Church) and Anglican polity and practice both need to be addressed.
Donald P. Richmond
Dean of Christian Spirituality
St. Andrew’s Theological College and Seminary
Apple Valley, California
I may be the thousandth person to point this out, but if so, it only underscores the necessity of repeating it: Isn’t Philip Turner drinking from the same stream he identifies as the source of the problems in his beloved ECUSA?
Mr. Turner aptly clarifies for us how ECUSA has lost its mind—that is, lost its knowledge of how to make a decision. He rightly ties this ecclesial insanity to drinking from the stream of the Enlightenment rather than the stream of a “preestablished moral order.” Thus he says, “For moral agents who think of themselves as individuals, selves, and persons, sexuality becomes . . . both a marker of identity and a primary way of expressing the preferences that define identity.” Bravo. He correctly follows this stream of thought to the bitter water that is poisoning his communion, the implication that “we therefore ought to be co-actors and co-creators with God to make the world over in accordance with inclusivity.” This, he says, is how his church can miss the grave error of ordaining a homosexual bishop and taking the wrong side in the culture wars that “rage over abortion, euthanasia, and sexuality.”
But doesn’t this argument also apply to the ordination of women? Mr. Turner states, “I am a staunch, even fierce, supporter of the ordination of women.” Does his position come from the “preestablished moral order” he seeks? Is it not another example of the individual, the self, the person using sexuality as a “marker of identity”? Does it not come from an attempt to “make the world over in accordance with inclusivity”? The ordination of women is part of the same moral stream Mr. Turner decries. It is an issue that must be referred to the “preestablished moral order” in which God created, by two discrete acts, male and then female moral agents for differing, though complementary, roles. The work of a priest on the altar or in the confessional clearly requires the male role. In fact, such work simply cannot be performed by women because of the fundamental moral nature of the female.
I thank Mr. Turner for a thoughtful analysis of what must make him heartsick. He helped me to understand my journey to the Catholic Church from evangelical Christianity, which often doesn’t even acknowledge that there is a culture war going on. I was drawn by the moral authority of the only Church which, despite her flaws and imperfections, has not yet lost her mind. Come on home, Mr. Turner.
Palm Harbor, Florida
Philip Turner replies:
The letters by Thomas Hickey and Donald P. Richmond raise important issues. Mr. Hickey asks if my analysis of ECUSA’s actions at its last General Convention (actions that gave tacit approval to homosexual relations) does not apply as well to the practice within that same church of ordaining women. Mr. Richmond asks an even more basic question, namely, does Anglicanism have within it any “binding authority”?
One of the most effective ways of besting an opponent in an argument is to show that the very argument he makes leads to a conclusion he is anxious to deny. And so Mr. Hickey asks if the case I make against the recent actions of ECUSA’s General Convention does not also undermine its previous action that gave approval to the ordination of women. Is it not the case, he asks, that both the ordination of women and the approval of homosexual relations spring from the same view of moral agency to which I object? That view removes agents from a moral order to which they are obligated to conform, and locates them as individuals, selves, and persons in a social economy in which they are free to pursue their own particular preferences (as long as they do no harm to others).
In asking this question, Mr. Hickey in fact wishes to make two points. One is that the ordination of women “is part of the same moral stream Mr. Turner decries,” and the other is that my support for the ordination of women does not come from the “preestablished moral order” I seek to defend. The first of these objections strikes me as the more powerful of the two. In response, I should like to argue that in many, if not most, ways the pressure to ordain women did indeed spring from the feminist movement within Western Europe and America. This movement has its roots in the view of moral agency I identified as now regnant within Western culture. It is important to note, however, that this view, despite its weaknesses, has brought with it genuine moral gains. It has called attention to the moral significance of individual persons and their well-being. It has also provided an engine (though not the only one) for a host of positive social changes, the integration of the races being the most notable. The problem, therefore, is not that people think of themselves as persons with rights, selves with a particular history, and individuals with a unique nature and value. The problem is rather that as persons, selves, and individuals they locate themselves within a moral order whose foundations go no deeper than the value attached to the free pursuit of individual preference.
The issue, then, is not that the same view of moral agency lies in part behind both actions by ECUSA’s General Convention. The issue in the case of women’s ordination is whether or not the self-conception and preferences that have led women to seek ordination have a basis at a deeper level than personal preference. In short, do the aspirations of women to be ordained cohere with God’s will for the order of the Church and with a divine call to ordination? At this point, Mr. Hickey might well wish to bring his second point into play. According to him, the preestablished moral order I defend assigns to women a different “moral nature” from that of men. That differing moral nature suits them for different roles. The moral role assigned to women, he asserts, disqualifies them for ordination.
In response, I can only say that I find this objection rather strange. What, for example, might it be about the “moral nature” of St. Catherine of Siena or Mother Teresa that disqualifies them? They hardly lacked the moral qualities that qualify one for the exercise of authority. The usual arguments against the ordination of women focus either on the novelty of the practice, its justification (or lack thereof) in Holy Scripture, or the iconic character of the priest who represents the (male) Christ. My own view is that none of these arguments are convincing, though they are not lacking in seriousness. However, to say that women’s “moral nature” disqualifies them I find both idiosyncratic and troubling.
Mr. Richmond’s question about authority within the Church touches upon the most pressing question now facing the Anglican Communion—a question so central that an inadequate answer will most certainly spell the end of Anglicanism as a communion of churches. As long ago as 1948 a committee of the Lambeth Conference of Bishops chaired by Archbishop Carrington of Quebec asked the question, “Is Anglicanism based on a sufficiently coherent form of authority to form the nucleus of a worldwide fellowship of churches, or does its comprehensiveness conceal internal division which may cause its disruption?” Since that time, if not before, the Anglican Communion has been in search of an answer. Mr. Richmond is correct to imply that the Robinson consecration makes further delay potentially fatal to the Communion.
He is incorrect, however, to say that the only resource Anglicans have when disputed issues arise is “Hooker’s stool” of Scripture, tradition, and reason. Indeed, Anglicans understand these to be authoritative resources to which reference must be made when disputed issues arise, but they do not constitute the sum of authority within the Anglican Communion. Among Anglicans, responsibility for the good order of the Church is placed in the hands of bishops by custom, rites of ordination, and canon law. In the exercise of this authority, Anglicans have held that bishops are not to act in a manner independent of other bishops unless the issues at hand are “indifferent” or “adiaphorous.” As with Orthodox Christians, Anglicans have no central or overriding authority as do Roman Catholics. The order of the Anglican Communion depends upon episcopal collegiality. It is precisely this collegiality that the independent and novel actions of ECUSA bishops have broken. It remains to be seen how the bishops of the Anglican Communion, and particularly the Archbishop of Canterbury, will react to the break in episcopal collegiality that the consecration of Gene Robinson represents. Upon their reaction depends the credibility of the claim that the Anglican churches scattered throughout the earth in fact constitute a communion rather than an agglomeration of ecclesiastical bodies.
In his article “A Bible for Everyone” (December 2003), Alan Jacobs laments the absence of a widely shared English Bible. I second his lament. In this world of biblical Babel I too long for a Pentecostal remedy. Professor Jacobs then makes a case for using the English Standard Version (ESV) as this widely shared Bible. No matter what its merit, I doubt this translation will ever be widely used for a reason that became obvious to me only last summer.
At my Baptist seminary I attended a meeting where representatives from Holman Bible Publishers were distributing free copies of the New Testament that is included in the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) translation. After an in-depth conversation with the Holman people, I finally grasped the root motive for yet another translation. The publishers explained that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) produces billions of pages of Sunday school and mission material every year. In past years the SBC had used the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible in its publications. As they explained, this usage was just becoming too expensive. The SBC was paying Zondervan Publications millions of dollars every year to quote copyrighted words from the NIV. That is no longer a problem. SBC is now using its own in-house translation, the HCSB.
Prof. Jacobs also credits the editors of the ESV with a “humble recognition” that the King James Version (KJV) translators wrote with elegant force. He notes that ESV editors left three verses of the KJV “virtually unchanged.” There is a reason that they could do this beyond humble recognition. The KJV is in the public domain. If ESV editors had used any recent translation as a base document and then made superficial changes, the editors would have landed in jail. “Deferring to existing excellence” is good in theory, but these days it is not possible to select an elegant translation of Scripture (except for one in the public domain) and then selectively update and improve it. Sure, that is what the KJV translators did, but back then people did not fuss about copyright. As for the present, there is only one way that the ESV could become the universal English translation of the Bible: HarperCollins UK would have to relinquish the copyright and place this version immediately into the public domain. The ESV could then become an “open source” Bible. Maybe then I would invest in an ESV Bible and recommend it to others.
Mill Valley, California
As someone who is addicted to First Things, I would like to register, let’s say, a raised eyebrow at Peter Candler’s “Johnny of the Cross” (December 2003). I sympathize with the sufferings of Johnny Cash and am sorry that he is gone. I also understand that, though I am not a big fan of his music, there are many people who are and feel his loss all the more keenly. However, I must say that I did not expect a publication of the caliber of FT to run a piece elevating the barroom travails of a country-western singer to the level of the sufferings of the great saints of the Church, nor the author of such ballads as “A Boy Named Sue” to the level of the greatest poetic mystics in world religious history. Come now, gentlemen. We are all sorry to lose Mr. Cash, but really. . . . Have I simply missed a subtle satire? Just wondering.
Sam Houston State University
Meeting at the Altar
I read with rare dismay Richard John Neuhaus’ imprimatur on the Roman Catholic practice of closed communion (“Getting Along at the Altar,” Public Square, October 2003). As a former Catholic and a Presbyterian minister who attended the papal mass during the Pope’s visit to St. Louis a few years ago, I was reminded of how painful it was to be told that we are “brothers in Christ” but not welcome at the altar. My reasons for questioning the practice are not merely emotional, however (there is enough emotion driving theology today to make one’s head ache), but biblical and theological.
Father Neuhaus argues that the core issue is ecclesiology. I respectfully disagree. The core issue is eschatology. The question, simply put, is: When “people come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29), who will be there? Will that table be only for Roman Catholics? If it is not the case that the eschatological banquet is a Roman banquet (or a Lutheran one), then should not our table fellowship here reflect that reality? Biblical eschatology should drive our ecclesiology.
It remains a stain upon the Church that while Jesus was renowned for eating with tax gatherers and sinners, certain denominations cannot manage to share the table with others who trust and believe in him. The truth is that it is not a Roman table or a Lutheran table, but Christ’s table, and he has always welcomed those who put their trust in him, much to the chagrin of the religious authorities.
(The Rev.) Thomas C. Pfizenmaier
Bonhomme Presbyterian Church
Since Richard John Neuhaus makes reference to the Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod (LCMS) in “Getting Along at the Altar,” some clarifications about the LCMS understanding of ecclesiology are in order. The central figure in the founding of the LCMS, C. F. W. Walther (1811-1887), did not think “that God established the true visible Church on earth in St. Louis, Missouri in 1847.” Already in 1861 he had rejected this idea when it was put forth by a pastor in Brooklyn. “If you want to make the visible, orthodox, . . . holy, Christian Church . . . [into] the visible Lutheran Church then . . . there was no visible orthodox Church before Luther . . . which is impossible.”
Father Neuhaus posits the “sharpest contrast” between LCMS and Roman Catholic ecclesial understanding of the true Church. He may be correct in his evaluation. But it is not because the LCMS teaches that the “true Church is constituted, in effect, by a school of theology and those who adhere to it.” The LCMS teaches that all those whom God has called through faith belong to the Church irrespective of their level of theological understanding.
Charles E. Ford
Department of Mathematics and Mathematical Computer Science
Saint Louis University
Saint Louis, Missouri
The 1847 reference was intended as hyperbole, although it is worth noting that Walther had to correct others who thought that was what the LCMS taught. I think I’ll stay with the “school of theology” statement, however, since in LCMS thinking publica doctrina—meaning Christian theology construed according to the way the LCMS construed the sixteenth-century Lutheran confessional documents—is the chief constituting mark of the true visible Church. I did say in my comment that “some in the LCMS held a more nuanced version of the teaching,” and Professor Ford is obviously in that number.
Libertarians and Cannibals
In Richard John Neuhaus’ discussion of the ongoing debate about the end of democracy (“The End of Democracy Again,” Public Square, December 2003), he quotes James Q. Wilson’s accurate definition of the libertarian view as “no state has the authority to restrict conduct affecting only one’s self and one’s consenting partner.” This view, according to Wilson, prohibits state laws “against prostitution, bestiality, heroin consumption, physician-assisted suicide, or gay marriage.” But this libertarian list of activities theoretically exempt from legal restriction is hardly exhaustive. What about cannibalism? By now, most people have heard about the German cannibal who advertised over the Internet for humans who would consent to be slaughtered by him. Half-a-dozen prospects met with the cannibal but chickened out at the last minute. Finally, he found an adult who would consent to be slaughtered—and so, by mutual agreement, one slaughtered and ate most of the other. From a libertarian perspective, what’s wrong with that? If mutual consent is the only blessing they need to engage in cannibalism, how can they be stopped? And won’t the problem get even worse when hungry libertarian cannibals run out of consensual meals?
T. Dan Tolleson
Regarding an item about John Derbyshire (While We’re At It, December 2003), I have what I hope is a helpful suggestion: If Mr. Derbyshire doesn’t want the commemoration of his Savior’s birth “mucked about with”—as it was at his son’s Christmas program—he should take his son out of that godless, anti-Christian public school and enroll him in a Christian school that truly honors our Savior. I’ll never understand Christian parents who place their children in heathen schools and then complain that these schools are insufficiently Christian. Weird.
Catholicism and Capital Punishment
In your review of E. Christian Brugger’s Capital Punishment and Roman Catholic Moral Tradition (December 2003), you state that Professor Brugger “argues against the moral legitimacy of the death penalty, in agreement with statements of John Paul II that have been incorporated into the Catechism of the Catholic Church. His argument is the more credible because he recognizes the gap, if not contradiction, between what appears to be current teaching and centuries of Christian tradition on this question.”
Not just Christian tradition, but the Scriptures as well. (See Exodus 21:14, Luke 23:39-43, and Romans 13:4.) Pope John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae that “the commandment ‘You shall not kill’ has absolute value [only] when it refers to the innocent person.” The Catechism states that because “legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others . . . the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” (See § 2265-2267.)
What’s new is the argument that “as a consequence of the possibility which the state has for rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.’” (§ 2267, quoting Evangelium Vitae)
The question becomes, then, what is “rare”? Pederast priest Father Geoghan was killed by a convicted murderer who obviously wasn’t rendered “incapable of doing harm.” Then there’s the duty of the government to defend public order (see § 2266).
In any event, the Church has not condemned all executions. Those who seek to use the authority of the Church to further their own political agendas should heed the Code of Canon Law, which states that since the laity have “freedom in secular affairs . . . [they] must be on guard, in questions of opinion, against proposing their own view as the teaching of the Church.”
Past Its Prime?
It should not be necessary to have to bring to the attention of Richard John Neuhaus that Union Theological Seminary (UTS) is not, as stated in your December 2003 issue, “now almost defunct” (While We’re At It). As an active alumnus, member of the Alumni/ae Council, and frequent participant in many of the seminary’s offerings, I find such a comment not only flippant and erroneous, but an insult to the Seminary’s administration, faculty, students, and board. I believe an apology is in order. Believe me, Union Theological Seminary will still be a vibrant presence long after First Things has ceased publication.
(The Rev.) Thomas J. Philipp
UTS Class of 1962
Defunct means to have finished a course of life. The life of UTS I had in mind was when—many, many years ago—the seminary was a leading influence in Christian thought and a major cultural presence. In that respect, I believe UTS is defunct, although one should not rule out the possibility of resuscitation. The “almost” in “almost defunct” is an acknowledgement that UTS continues to exist. Although its financial and other problems are a matter of public knowledge, it is quite possible that UTS, as an institution, will outlive this journal. If and when FT no longer serves the purpose for which it was established, it should cease publication.
When we were born, our awestruck mother smiled.
Robert Greer Cohn