INDIANAPOLIS, IN: Drawing the Line with Communion/Confirmation?
By Gary L'Hommedieu
Special to Virtueonline
July 9, 2012
The 77th General Convention is deliberating on two separate sets of resolutions that, if passed, would presume an authority on the part of Convention that is inappropriate: the authority to change Tradition. Specifically, the GC is considering changing the meaning and practice of baptism/holy communion and confirmation.
The theological confusion of these two motions side by side reveals a deeper clarity regarding the real spirit underlying the theology of this Church.
First the confusion: On the one hand, Resolutions A041-A044, in removing confirmation as a requirement for leadership positions in the Church, profess to "bring the canons into conformity with the baptismal theology of the Book of Common Prayer, which teaches that 'Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ's Body the Church.'"
On the other hand, Resolution C040 puts that baptismal theology into proper relation to the real saving grace proclaimed in the Episcopal Church. The sacrament of the altar is first and foremost a sacrament of inclusion. Referring to the grace, not of the Eucharist but of inclusion, C040 movers explain: "Such grace is riveted on the teachings and actions of Jesus and the compassionate embrace he had for all...no matter their creed or race" (emphasis added).
This particular grace trumps Jesus' Great Commission. No wonder evangelism can't get out of the starting gate in this Church.
So, while baptism is full initiation into this Church at all levels, no such full initiation is necessary. Oddly enough, under the proposed understanding of eligibility for communion, baptism is demoted to the tenuous place occupied by confirmation in recent decades as a hurdle for leadership positions in the Episcopal Church. It shouldn't take more than a single triennium before such an affront to the grace of inclusion is struck down, and with indignation. The grace of inclusion, clearly, is the grace that saves.
And yet, alas, these two affronts to saving grace are languishing in committee awaiting final legislative action. In other words, the crusaders for inclusion are facing an unprecedented resistance.
It is out of character for GC to be reticent in such a case. Indeed, in previous trienniums going back as far as 1973 with the admission of women to the diaconate, the GC has gravitated toward iconic change for its own sake. By this I do not mean that each and every change was and is wrongheaded, but most of them are. Why? Because most of them are rooted in the obsessive need to appear inclusive, not so much to be inclusive. Ask conservatives how much they feel included these days.
TEC has rightfully gained the reputation for being an iconoclasm looking for a place to happen. Recent GC's have become solemn rituals of broken glass ceilings (call them BGC's) marking the advancement of the next upper middle class professional to the upper echelons of TEC. Think GC 2003, the elevation of Gene Robinson, as BGC-1 for the new millennium; then GC 2006, the elevation of Katharine Jefferts Schori, as BGC-2. I've lost count since then.
The message of TEC: "Look at us -- how righteously inclusive we are." Meanwhile Church attendance is spiraling into oblivion. The fact that TEC inclusion is geared to affirm those already included, and only incidentally those purportedly invited, is another reason why evangelism is dead in the proverbial baptismal water in this Church.
In the present Convention deputies and bishops seem hesitant to throw out the same old baby this time. C040 is reportedly dead in committee. The resolutions on confirmation seem to be headed in the same direction. Whatever could be the matter? Are we faltering in our commitment to the "radical hospitality" of full inclusion?
With resolutions to admit transsexuals to ordination and to approve rites for same sex unions GC knows very well it's still playing with fire, and most voting members are happy, even proud, to do so. This is our "radical" identity -- radically trendy, saying religiously the same things everybody else is saying and calling it "prophetic." But, to paraphrase an old science fiction blockbuster, there appears to be a tremor in the Force as deputies consider monkeying with these other rites.
Maybe enough is enough, at least for the present triennium. Maybe the deputies will come back with their iconoclastic guns blazing in three years and feel they can afford to wait. Perhaps there's only enough conspicuous indignation to be strategically vented at one meeting. Or maybe they're sensing, however distantly, what happens when a corporate body wages a relentless cannibalistic feeding frenzy on its own sacred history.
What happens is we excommunicate ourselves from a great story and become stars in a local B movie that will be old by next week. We take something that stands outside of time and degrade it to a mediocre object lesson for a problem that will be here today and gone tomorrow, whether we happen to solve it or not.
In other words, the story becomes too much about us and the latest pressures on our social conscience, showing us to be not prophets but narcissists -- constantly in need of "radical" affirmation. This is the glaring contradiction in our doctrine of inclusiveness. Its main function is not to include others so much as to draw attention to ourselves, the inclusive ones, for the sake of our self-justification.
It's a short leap to a religious intention underlying the doctrine of inclusiveness. Episcopalians have been trained to believe that they are justified, not by faith in Christ Jesus -- that is something Episcopalians are never comfortable insisting upon -- but by our conspicuous attitude of inclusivity. There's still another reason why evangelism remains perpetually stillborn in TEC.
Still, with all the "sexier" issues before the legislative houses at this GC -- transgender rights, same sex unions -- something as dreary and inconspicuous as sacramental theology gets less attention; and perhaps for this reason the narcissistic conscience of the well heeled Episcopal "prophet" is unguarded on this point. The old fashioned, healthy fear of sacrilege -- flouting holy tradition -- seems to have found an opening.
Maybe we're getting tired of forcing a great God to play a bit part in a B movie. Maybe we're suddenly able to sense that we might be losing something more meaningful than a tepid applause at the next glass ceiling ritual.
Maybe we're just getting a little tired of ourselves.
The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Orlando, Florida, and an occasional contributor to VOL
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