Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kevin Thew Forrester and the question of "open communion"

Stand Firm is running a thread in which they are asking:
(1) Do you accept or oppose The Episcopal Church offering communion to all who wish it, including the unbaptized?

(2) If no, because such communion is in violation of the canons of the Church, do you then accept or oppose the revision of the canons such that parishes may offer communion to all who wish it, including the unbaptized, legally and canonically?

It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that I am opposed on both counts. But what I want to point out is the connection between this question of "open communion" (which in current Episcopal Church usage means the giving of Communion to the unbaptized) and the theology of Kevin Thew Forrester which has been discussed in numerous blogs and articles.

The connection has to do with the concern noted by Bishop Breidenthal when he explained his "no" vote to his diocese:
According to Thew Forrester, Jesus revealed in his own person the way that any of us can be at one with God, if only we can overcome the blindness that prevents us from recognizing our essential unity with God. The problem here is that the death of Jesus as an atonement for our sins is completely absent, and purposely so. As I read Thew Forrester, nothing stands between us and God but our own ignorance of our closeness to God. When our eyes are opened, atonement (not for our sins, but understood as a realization of our essential unity with God) is achieved.

Or, to quote Thew Forrester directly:
Zen offers a method, you might say, to see what Jesus saw in his own baptism: that we are indeed beloved by God. There is no need to cling to anything in the desperate hope that it is what will make us acceptable before God. All of creation is always already accepted by God as it is.

This notion also underlies the idea of "open communion:" All people are already accepted by God. There is no being "outside" or "inside" of the people of God. There are only the barriers of exclusion that we put there--either through our exclusion of others or through our own self-exclusion by not realizing our essential unity with God. Therefore the purpose of open communion is to be radically inclusive and, by inviting all people to God's table, to help them realize their acceptance and unity with God.

It is, of course, true that we are beloved by God (John 3:16). But Scripture also reminds us that, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

Our condition before and after we came to Christ is described this way:
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—-if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. (Colossians 1:21-23)

What is absent from Thew Forrester's theology is an understanding of the lostness and sinfulness of humanity as a result of the Fall, and the necessity of the Atonement and conversion. When reception of the Holy Eucharist is offered to those who have not repented of their sins and put on Christ in Baptism, the very supper that represents what God has done for us in Christ to bring us to Himself is instead presented in a way that denies our separation from God apart from Christ. In such a way, the Communion is made to deny the necessity of the very Atonement it is supposed to represent.

I know that there are some who offer the Holy Eucharist to everyone in attendance because they have been taught that inclusion is always good, or because they simply feel it is bad manners not to invite guests to the table. But they need to realize that there are far more serious issues at stake. The universalism that is all too common in the Episcopal Church and that is explicit in the theology of Kevin Thew Forrester is implicit in the practice of open communion.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"To the Shores of Tripoli"

The world continues to watch the unfolding story of Captain Phillips from the Maersk Alabama, held hostage by pirates in a lifeboat off the coast of Somalia. Pirates operating from Somalia now hold about a dozen ships with more than 200 crew members, according to the International Maritime Bureau, a piracy watchdog group based in Malaysia. The bureau lists 66 attacks since January, not including this most recent attack on the Alabama.

For those who are so inclined, the Wikipedia articles on the First and Second Barbary Wars and this piece by Christopher Hitchens from Time make for interesting reading. Actions by US Marines in the Barbary Wars are memorialized in the familiar line from the Marine Anthem, "to the shores of Tripoli."

Of note in both of the above articles is this quote:
"...it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners."

It seems that as with the Barbary Pirates of two hundred years ago, or countries such as Somalia and Sudan today, Islam, piracy, and slavery go hand in hand. It is also noteworthy that two hundred years ago, the nascent United States of America had to use its newly established Navy and Marines to subdue the Barbary Pirates, while the nations of Europe were content to pay them tribute. Nothing much has changed in that regard either.

But, also in that regard, the Somali coastline is no longer than the one from which the Barbary Pirates operated. I wonder how long it would take today's American air and sea power to destroy every ocean-capable vessel on the Somali coast. The real question is whether we have a European-style wimp as President, or one like Thomas Jefferson who was determined that this injustice should not prevail.

Semper Fi!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Meacham: The End of Christian America

Jon Meacham, writing in Newsweek notes that the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 points in the past two decades and tells how that statistic explains who Americans are now—and what, as a nation, we are about to become.

Read it all.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Larry King: "But Somebody's Gotta Think for the Masses.

Penn Jillette, of the comedy duo Penn & Teller, was on Larry King Live last night, along with MSNBC's Stephanie Miller, when Larry King asked Penn Jillette, "Penn, do you want Obama to succeed?" (You have to know that this was an allusion to the much-quoted line from Rush Limbaugh who said he hopes Obama fails.)
Jillette answers: "...If what succeeding means is taking away -- giving too much of a safety net so that we can't live like Vegas, there's no reason to gamble if you can't lose, and I think it's really important that people have a chance to win and to fail, and I think too much of a safety net, it's just less fun to live."

So Larry King asks Stephanie Miller, "Stephanie, do you want him to succeed no matter what the success brings?"

Miller, alluding to Rush Limbaugh's remark, says: "Rush Limbaugh said if Obama fails, America wins. How does that make sense to any rational person? You know--"

Jillette interjects: "Depends on what you want."

Whereupon Larry King continues: "If his programs brought about health insurance that pleased all, taxes that pleased most, a better way of life for a lot of people, then that's the kind of success you would think you'd like."

And Jillette replies: "If you please everybody on anything you're do something wrong. But luckily there's no chance of that. I just think that individuals are more important than a whole kind of groupthink and that individuals can do more than a top down kind of thinking. I don't think the government can solve all our problems or should try."

King answers: "We do have 300 million people. You can be individuals as much as you like..."

Miller adds: "We do."

And then Larry King gives the whole game away: "but somebody's gotta think for the masses."

SOMEBODY'S GOTTA THINK FOR THE MASSES!!! (Yup, that's what Larry said! He seems really glad we now have a "Messiah" who can do just that.)

"ATTENTION: George Orwell--please call your office."