While not an Anglican, I was quite interested in a piece of news that comes from The Christian Challenge, an online magazine that calls itself "The Only Worldwide Voice of Traditional Anglicanism." It reports that former U.S. senator John Danforth (also an Episcopal priest) gave a talk at the Episcopal General Convention in mid-June in which he made the following observations:
When Jesus prayed that we all may be one, didn't he mean it? So that to me is particularly the message of the Episcopal Church. We have always, always seen ourselves as the middle way. We have always seen ourselves as the place where all kinds of people can come together around the same altar and say the same liturgy and have all kinds of different views, all kinds of political views, theological views.
Of course, this reduces Christianity to the performance of something like empty ritual: As long as people are physically gathered around the altar, it does not matter what is in their hearts or minds--"all kinds of ... theological views" are welcome, "all" would include those of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and those of the Aryan Nation. It would also include the views of people who regard the altar and the rites performed around it as utterly without meaning or value--and if all that is involved in them is what Danforth says, then those scoffers would be quite right. The super-irenicism embraced by Danforth not only drains Christianity of all content, it is not even logically self-consistent: Did he really mean all kinds of theological views? How about the theological view that not every theological view is acceptable in God's Church? Danforth goes on from absurdity to grotesquery, making the following comments about the various "continuing Anglican" groups:
A broken church is a sad church. There are these little splinter churches, and I read the paper in St. Louis in which they have little ads for so-called Anglican churches. Maybe they are. I don't know what they are. One of them meets in a mortuary and it's not one of these bright colonial mortuaries, either. It's limestone and stained wood and then the Sunday school meets for 45 minutes. ... I don't want to make fun of people, but it's sad. A broken church is a sad church. Don't be a sad church. Don't go to the mortuary before it's absolutely necessary.
Of course, there is a long history of Christians praying at tombs. The early Church gathered at the tombs of the saints. St. Peter's is built on a tomb. Indeed, many churches contain tombs of the faithful, and most have in their altars relics of the saints.
One imagines what Danforth might have said had he been present at various critical moments in Christian history: "There are these little groups that meet for prayer at catacombs! And not beautiful ones--not magnificent like our temples, like our Pantheon, where people who worship any god can gather around the altar--but dark and dirty tunnels. It is really quite sad. Don't be a sad religion!" Or perhaps, on the Via Dolorosa he might have called out to his Lord: "Don't you see where this will end up? The tomb! Don't go to the tomb before it's absolutely necessary! Don't be a sad saviour!"
We don't care what you believe--but limestone and stained wood! Heaven forbid!
(Click here to email the author about this item. Stephen Barr is a theoretical particle physicist at the Bartol Research Institute of the University of Delaware, and a member of the editorial board of First Things.)