Humanity’s Utter Depravity

Despite the protestations of my Anglo-Catholic sisters and brothers, I am very comfortable calling Anglicanism a Protestant denomination.  It may not have been true in 1549, but by the time Thomas Cranmer published the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, he had spent entirely too much time with Martin Bucer, and the Protestant Reformation of Continental Europe had made its way across the English Channel.  Thankfully, however, Cranmer’s affinity for Eastern Orthodoxy, his coming of age under the rule of Henry VIII’s strongly Roman Catholic thumb, and the tumultuous nature of the monarchy in 1550s England from Protestant Edward to Roman Catholic Mary to Settlement-minded Elizabeth, kept the worst of the Continental influences, like Calvin and Zwingli, from taking Anglicanism beyond being Protestant and becoming fully Reformed.

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My language in the previous paragraph betrays the fact that I am grateful for our avoidance of some of the excesses of Continental Protestantism, I do realize that there are times that Anglicans find their theology lacking some fullness because of it.  One such example came to mind to me this morning as I considered the second half of Peter’s Confession which we will hear read on Sunday.  Last week, Peter declared Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  This week, just seconds after that declaration, Peter’s mind has already been drawn away from things heavenly and become focused on human things.  There might not be a better example of humanity’s utter depravity, a topic Episcopalians avoid like the plague, than Peter’s immediate about face in this moment.

As faithful Christians, we strive to follow the will of God.  We engage in prayer, we read the Bible, we interact with other disciples, all in the hopes of discerning God’s will for ourselves and for the world God has created.  Like Peter, we have moments when we nestle into the bosom of God, and there we find revelation.  The mind of God is slowing revealed to us, again and again, as we return to the Father.  Again, like Peter, it seems we almost immediately slip away again.  We get prideful about how our own work brought us to deeper understanding.  We get nervous that God might call us to do something we don’t want to do.  We get envious of those who seem to hear God more clearly.  No matter how it happens, it seems that the utter depravity of humankind is distinctly highlighted the closer we get to the heart of God.

It seems to me that we should name this condition.  It is in ignoring it or being afraid of it, that we give our proclivity toward sin its power.  Instead of avoiding the reality of our sinfulness, what Calvin called our “total depravity,” we should see it, name it, and welcome God’s help in moving beyond it.  While Episcopalians ever get comfortable with our total depravity?  I doubt it.  Reformed Christians, we are not.  However, the more we do come to terms with our sinfulness, the more we are able to lean into God’s grace by taking up our cross, laying down our depraved lives, and following Jesus.

Shrewdness at 815, The Missionary Society, and Unrighteous Mammon

As an Episcopalian, the past 24 hours have been interesting for me.  Now, to be clear, when I say “as and Episcopalian,” I don’t mean the faith that is between me and my Lord.  I don’t mean the community bonds that exist between me and my Episcopal congregation.  I don’t even mean the ties I have to my Bishop and the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, where, as a member of the clergy, my membership rests.  No, when I claim to be an Episcopalian, I do so with the fullness of its meaning in mind.  I am part of something bigger than me and my congregation.  I engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them.  I take my part in the councils of the Church.  I care about what happens at 815 2nd Avenue.

Over the last 24 hours, I’ve been reminded about how all of that solidifies just how strange I am.  As a colleague of mine quoted on Facebook yesterday, “scratch any American Christian and you’ll find Congregational blood.”  I’m trying to bleed Episcopal red, but the truth of the matter is that most of our members don’t give a rip about what happens beyond their parish bounds.  Hell, I’d say most clergy don’t care about it either.  They show up to Diocesan functions when Canon requires (and when they can’t find a viable excuse to violate Canon), but very few give much thought to what goes on outside of their congregations, let alone their diocese.

It was with all that floating around my brain that I stumbled across a post on Episcopal Cafe about a name change at the top of our Church, that apparently nobody noticed.  On July 25, 2013, Episcopal News Service published a story entitled, “COO Bishop Sauls announced innovative missionary program to connect Episcopal Church dioceses, staff.”  Mired deep in the article was what some are calling a re-branding, others a name change, and still others “a terrible idea” that the staff members of The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (the official corporate name of The Episcopal Church, despite the fact that it only gets used on checks and nobody, aside from me perhaps, really likes it) would refer to her henceforth as “The Missionary Society.”  I suppose in the same way that Ohio State alums call it “The Ohio State Univeristy,” or University of Miami alums call it “The U.”

What this renaming effort effectively amounts to is one more attempt, among several (see the sale of 815 and staff restructuring, for example), by Chief Operating Officer, The Right Reverend Stacy Sauls, at restructuring the Church on his own, with a strong nod, I believe to the House of Bishops, and by means of shrewdness and the mammon of unrighteousness.  This may seem to be too stark a commentary on the matter, but it seems to me that while the majority of the Church is acting like congregationalists, The Powers-That-Be are taking the money that we call “a gift to God” for use “in the ministry of the Church” and frittering it away on outdated systems of governance, management, and, in the case of the sale of 815 saga, the ridiculous idea that The Episcopal Church having a presence in mid-town Manhattan means anything to anyone outside of some staffers who make nice salaries because of cost of living and some Bishops who covet the Presiding Bishop’s apartment.  The 77th General Convention, along with several others, resoundingly voted in favor of a resolution stating that it was “the mind of the convention” that the headquarters of the DFMS or 815 or The Episcopal Church, or, God forgive me, The Missionary Society, should be relocated from 815 2nd Avenue in as financially prudent and expediently a way as possible.  Instead, Bishop Sauls has attempted to circumvent that system in a reported dated February 13, and The Executive Council sub-committee tasked with looking into it, will no doubt be over run by the UTO debacle, Church naming questions, and whatever the TREC folks have up their sleeves half-way into the triennium.  By the time the 78th General Convention rolls around, it’ll be another suggestion swept into the circular filing cabinet underneath the Presiding Bishop’s desk.  The Church will continue to waste money that our people have given to the glory of God for the ministry of the Church, and, unfortunately, nobody will care.

The time has come for us to wake up and either decide to disband the Church in the name of congregationalism or to BE The Episcopal Church and live into what it means to be an international Church of Jesus Christ.  If we really don’t care about being a part of the Church catholic, then let’s quit pretending, quit funneling money up the pyramid scheme of the Church, and go about local ministry.  But if we are serious about being The Episcopal Church, then let’s call our leaders to task when they attempt to ignore or worse, actively circumvent the mind of the Church.  Let’s hold them accountable for the proper use of our resources.  Let’s make sure that we are poised to serve the Kingdom as true missionaries of the Gospel for the 21st Century.  I am an Episcopalian, and I’m proud of that fact.  I hope some of you are too.  Let’s use our own shrewdness and the mammon of unrighteousness entrusted to our care to change the Church to meet the road ahead.