Saturday, November 27, 2010

Purtianism and New Puritanism--on the day after Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving dinner and the day after the Church of England’s General Synod you
might think it poor form to attack the Puritans.  And perhaps it is.  But sometimes it is appropriate to look to
our roots to see what is going on and where it came from.
the General Synod (CofE) voted by a fairly good margin to send the Anglican
Covenant off to the dioceses to debate. The Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC), Rowen Williams spoke rather harshly
about those who oppose the Covenant call us disloyal and uninformed.  (In the press lately we were admonished to
read the document by his office, as if we were bumpkins who had not even picked
the document up).  In addition the
Archbishop of York evidently did almost the same. 
I watched the ABC ‘s speech.  From the perspective
of an American, I found it incredibly condescending.  It was as paternalistic as any head of table
telling the children to calm down and eat their peas even if it was
I am told that folk in the CofE take this as the kind of instruction to do what “Father
knows Best” and return after not paying attention to it and voting it forward
without further ado.  In other words, the
Anglican Covenant is a done deal in the UK because they are being loyal to the
ABC.  And in my father’s lingo “that’s no
way to run a railroad!” or a Church for that matter.
As a nation that was founded by the Puritans who were run out of England almost 400 years
ago, this American is not in any hurry to sign onto a document just to be loyal
to someone who does not listen to the people of his Communion and is not ready
to deal with the realities of a world that is no longer modern, no longer a
product of Renaissance and the Enlightenment. 
At the same time, I am unwilling to allow the perversion of Calvinism or Neo-Puritanism
that has taken much of the world by storm to be the kind of faith my Church
promulgates.  Anglicanism came to this
country as an alternative to the close-mindedness of the Puritans and Pilgrims.  It was a faith that was left to its own devices by poor oversight of the colonial system.  It became a faith and practice that welcomed those who came to this country from whatever religious heritage and helped us develop
as a nation.
I once served a colonial-founded parish when I was in the Diocese of Washington,
DC.  It was interesting to read in the Lambeth Archives of the work of this little parish that clung to the banks of
the Potomac in the letters to the Bishop of London by the vicar.  He had been sent ostensibly to evangelize the
Piscataway Indians, but when they did not seem interested he turned his
attention to the growing Anglo/ European presence.  We have often been an Ex-Pat church carrying
our culture and our values to other lands along with a type of Christianity that
did not want a “window into the souls of men.” 
I am thankful for the rich heritage of the Episcopal Church and for its roots in an
Anglicanism that promoted a faith that met the needs of people who were
populating a New World.  Anglicanism gavea wideness of faith to the people who developed the kind of democracy that has marked the modern era.  It has always
provided an alternative to the Puritanism that has reared its head throughout our
Puritanism is a kind of Calvinism that is so rooted in individualism that everything is
based on personal relationships:  with
Jesus, with the Bible, with one’s neighbor and even state or the Church.  Ecclesiologic ally it developed into congregationalism.  During the 19thcentury, the various ecclesiologies ( episcopal,  presbyterian and congregational) fragmented and formed various denominations. In the Southern states, congregationalism formed by puritan theology provided the model for the worshipping community.  And it is this version of Christianity that
has influenced the development of much of the American ethos.   Politically
and economically it has developed into ‘state’s rights’, the protestant work
ethic, and individual rights taking precedent over the good of the common
weal.  Through the charismatic movement
it even infected the UK with its biblical literalism and its moralistic
This kind of
individualistic Neo-puritanism was not generally accepted as regular Episcopal
fodder but throughout the 20th century those seminarians and
missionaries who had been affected by it became the bulk of foreign missionary
effort in Africa and Latin America.  Many
of those nations who now oppose TEC in the Anglican Communion were those who
were evangelized by missionaries who were self-imposed exiles and could not get
positions in the US because of their intense moralistic or their literalist
views.  So in some ways, we in TEC must
take responsibility for some of the popular Christianity we have exported, just
as Great Britain exported Puritanism to the Americas. 
But in this
new age, this time of technological post-modernism, we are being forced to
consider a new way of thinking of faith. We are called to consider a wider-understanding of God by the likes of
Spong.  We are being called to consider a
wider concept of what is moral especially with regards to sexuality.  We are being called to a different kind of ethics with regards to how to deal with medicine, economics and how we support
the common weal.  With the widening globalization we must reach beyond our nationalisms to embrace without limit those whose experience is not ours.  The ABC is trying to do that but with the wrong vehicle at his disposal.  The Covenant cannot do that.  Only a willingness to walk in each other’s shoes can do that. 

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