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ECUSA: Griswold's Sermon Is Revival Of Gnosticism - by Dr. Robert J. Sanders


By Robert J. Sanders

What do the Presiding Bishop, those slain in the spirit in the Kentucky Cane Ridge Revival of 1801, the hippies of Woodstock, the revisionists of ECUSA, and Carl Jung, have in common? Let me tell you what I think.

To begin with, I just finished reading several interesting texts -- a recent sermon by the Presiding Bishop given in Austin to the members of the Executive Council, an essay on the operant theology of the Episcopal Church by Dr. Philip Turner, an essay by Doug LeBlanc on the Via Media answer to Alpha, and a book by Harold Bloom entitled The American Religion. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992)

Turner's point was straightforward and one that I have always affirmed, the problem with ECUSA is not simply moral, but at the deepest level, theological. Turner describes this theology as a theology of radical inclusion, and so it is. But this raises a question, What is the vision of God, historically speaking, that animates this ECUSA gospel of radical inclusion? By "historically," I refer to the fact that there are really no new ideas, especially in religion. Whatever the operant theology of ECUSA may be, it has historical antecedents and these are worth considering.

Here to fore I have considered ECUSA's theology to be a form of what I called the "ecstatic" heresy. I have shown how the ecstatic perspective differs from orthodoxy in virtually every critical category and published the results on this listserv, on my web site (www.rsanders.org), as well as other venues such as Christianity Today. The book by Herald Bloom, however, pushed my thinking a bit further.

Bloom believes that the real American religion is gnostic. The essence of the gnostic perspective is gnosis, a special knowledge. "Gnostic Christians" have a special knowledge of Scripture, seeing things in it the Church has never seen. They also have a special knowledge of a deep holy self that validates behaviors the Church has never affirmed. For Gnosticism in general, this deep self or divine spark transcends all polarities -- male and female, light and darkness, good and evil, and yet, receives all these elements into a mystic wholeness. Carl Jung was one of the most influential gnostics of the last century. He considered himself a gnostic, and in his book Aion, he shows the continuity of his thought with ancient Gnosticism.

The essence of Jung's analytic psychology was the notion that the self unified all polarities into a psychic whole. The self in empirical psychological language is equivalent to God in religious language. The self is not the ego, but rather, the total complex of unconscious archetypes whose conscious integration brings wholeness. For wholeness to occur, good must be integrated with evil, male balanced with female, darkness with light. Of particular significance was what Jung called the "shadow," the rejected or negative aspects of the self. If these are ignored, if they are not integrated into wholeness, they erupt in distortions, projections, and violence. In this theology, "sin" is a lack of awareness, a failure to perceive rejected parts of oneself and thereby integrate them into psychic wholeness. This integration is not simply the integration of the good, but also the integration of evil since both must contribute equally to a balanced personality. For that reason Jung rejects the image of Christ as pure goodness, believing that the attempt to live as Christ lived creates a psychic disequilibrium which leads to social and individual destruction. In Aion he presented an analysis of western history which views the brutal devastations of the 20th century as the inevitable result of Western Civilization's attempt to build a Christian society which neglects its shadow.

Gnostic theology is the logical result of ECUSA's "gospel" of radical inclusion. If all are acceptable to God, if none can be rejected, then it follows that good and evil, male and female, straight and gay, Christian and non-Christian, must ultimately come together in a completed wholeness. Open communion is the logical result and is now being implemented in ECUSA. Further, this wholeness must transcend language. Given that differing creeds and exclusive moral stances are expressed in opposing language, and given that truth must include them all, it follows that truth must transcend all differences as expressed in language. As a result, doctrines and creeds are secondary. Ultimate reality is experienced mystically beyond the confines of our opposing points of view. Jung calls this the "coincidence of opposites," the integration given in the psychic whole.

How widespread is this gnostic heresy? In The American Religion, Harold Bloom investigates this creedless faith. He shows that the gnostic approach is endemic to American religion, from the Cane Creek revival of 1801, which blended all creeds and denominations together into an Orphic delirium, to Woodstock and the sixties which produced a religion of ecstasy linked to drugs and sex. He finds it among the Mormons, Christian Scientists, the moderate Baptists, Pentecostals, in charismatic outbreaks and in new age religion. It is in the air, a mood that affects all the denominations in varying degrees.

A few years ago I published on this listserv an essay analyzing the Presiding Bishop's public statements. At that time I described the Presiding Bishop's theology as a form of mystical paganism. The mystical part emerged from his apparent belief that truth transcends language, the paganism from the fact that he blends creation with redemption so that the truths of creation (sexual orientation, for example) have the same status as that of revealed Truth (Scripture). After reading Bloom, however, I was able to put his perspective, and ECUSA in general, into a somewhat different historical context. ECUSA's religion contains Gnostic elements. Among other places, this can be seen in the Presiding Bishop's sermon to the Executive Council.

The sermon focuses on Jesus' temptations in the desert. What does the Presiding Bishop think happened there? First of all, Jesus became aware of what the Presiding Bishop, quoting William Law, calls "the shadow side of our human nature." Prior to the desert, Jesus was not aware of the full depths of himself. The desert enabled him to see his shadow side. In other words, the fundamental issue for Jesus was not obedience to the Word of God (as the text clearly proclaims), rather, it was lack of awareness (ignorance of his shadow). In this context, the Presiding Bishop quotes a fourth century follower of Jesus to the effect that "Unawareness is the root of all evil." For gnostics, ignorance not disobedience is the fundamental human failing. Once Jesus became aware of his shadow, what was he to do? He must integrate his shadow into the wholeness of a perfect self. "He [Jesus] comes to realize that even though he is the Beloved Son of God he is capable of collusion with the wild beasts of his human nature. He was not simply to reject these beasts, but to welcome, befriend, integrate and own them as parts of himself." This is pure Jung.

These ideas of the Presiding Bishop are mixed in with orthodox language and belief in ways that can give the appearance of faithfulness to biblical truth. For example, after presenting the temptation in essentially Jungian categories, he then describes Jesse's spiritual struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane. There he uses traditional language, the struggle is between Christ's will and the will of the Father, rather than the struggle to integrate the shadow. Even so, the Presiding Bishop holds that Jesus was able to obey the Father since he had already owned his shadow side. Once he has touched upon the moment of Gethsemane, however, the Presiding Bishop returns to his dominant perspective as he addresses the present conflict in the Church. He sees the conflict in terms of a failure to recognize "that we are animated by the unacknowledged dark guest within us. Left to our own devices, we have little sense that our perspective is distorted, false, or partial." The result is an "isolation and defensiveness" that "tears us apart rather than brings us together." At this point the intrapsychic reality of failing to integrate the shadow is projected outward as defensiveness, the unwillingness to befriend the other in ways that make us whole. Nevertheless, as we come to accept our selves and others we become free, "free in the knowledge of our belovedness in the eyes of God, a belovedness which enfolds and contains all aspects of our humanity, and makes it possible for us to befriend the dark guest who is always present within us, as he was within Jesus." This is the Jungian understanding of integrating the shadow into psychic wholeness, both socially and individually.

The sermon comes to a close with a reference to the Eucharist. In the Eucharist "Week by week that same self giving love draws us out of ourselves by becoming one with us." Then "illusion gives way to truth and awareness replaces unknowing." Again, this is the gnostic understanding of sin as a lack of awareness rather than rebellion against God's revealed will. In the end, and assuming the revisionist vision that all are welcome, male and female, straight and gay, Christian and non-Christian, "we find ourselves drawn forward into Christ's own urgent desire to reconcile, to restore, to heal and to make all things whole."

As one reads the final section on the Eucharist it becomes evident that the Eucharist is of supreme importance to "gnostic Christians." It is the feast of radical inclusion. One may note, for example, that the Presiding Bishop makes no reference to theological orthodoxy or moral rectitude as prerequisites for sharing Eucharist. No one should be excluded on that basis. That would violate the gnostic vision of an ultimate "coincidence of opposites" visibly actualized in the Eucharistic feast. Given this gnostic perspective, it is no accident that the revisionists are moving toward sharing Eucharist will all persons, Christians and non-Christians alike.

Where is ECUSA headed with these gnostic tendencies? The review by Doug LeBlanc on the Via Media response to Alpha can give us a clue. Rather than using single speaker as in the Alpha videos, Via Media has a round table discussion setting forth a variety of voices. Their version of truth is multiple, not limited to a single perspective. Among other things, these voices affirm both gay and straight sexual practice, language other than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in speaking the Trinity, other ways to God besides Jesus, and eucharistic inclusion of non-Christians. All of this is very logical. It is the "coincidence of opposites" taken to its logical conclusion.

The gnostic heresy emerged full-blown in the second century. Among other things, the Church responded by excluding gnostic texts from the emerging canon of the New Testament, by setting out the apostolic interpretation of Scripture against gnostic corruptions, by further defining early creedal forms, and by excluding from Holy Eucharist those heretics, gnostic and otherwise, who corrupted the Christian faith. We have inherited the Scriptures and their ancient interpretation. We have the Creeds. Only one matter remains: the Eucharist.

It was, I suppose, a courteous gesture for the Windsor Report to invite the revisionists in ECUSA to withdraw from communion if they were unwilling to call a moratorium on and express regret for certain actions. But frankly, to expect revisionists to withdraw from Eucharist is to expect them to deny the very foundation of their faith. For gnostic Christians, the Eucharist is the preeminent symbol of the gnostic religion. It is the "coincidence of opposites" made visible. Accusing them of heresy has little effect. They believe doctrines are secondary. The only option left to the orthodox, given that calls to orthodox theology and practice have consistently failed, is to not share Holy Eucharist with the revisionists. That is the only action that will make sense to the revisionists, but not only them, all of us. Both Scripture and tradition require this. Anything less is to fail at the critical point. It fails because sharing Eucharist with gnostics affirms the gnostic heresy.

Withdrawal is serious, and it needs to be a corporate decision by the orthodox at the highest possible level. I hope and pray in that regard that the primates with hold to the orthodox faith. Authorities, however, can fail, but I think of Cranmer. He was burned at the stake for refusing to submit to Rome's theology as demanded by Mary the Queen. She was the highest authority, head of both church and state. In the end, however, Cranmer chose Scripture, tradition, and death over Mary and the authority of the Church. We can do no better.

Finally, what do the Presiding Bishop, those slain in the spirit in the Cane Ridge Revival of 1801, the hippies of Woodstock, the revisionists of ECUSA, and Carl Jung, have in common? They all believe that ultimate reality is beyond doctrine or creed, mystically perceived, and felt in the soul.

--The Rev. Robert J. Sanders, Ph.D is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Florida. He is VirtueOnline's cyber theologian.

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