A Challenge to the Anglican Communion

& to Christendom at Large

F. Earle Fox

I.  "Orthodox" vs. "Conservative"

I write this piece as a friendly response to the recent challenge from Fr. Sam Edwards to the "orthodox" and the "conservative" in the Episcopal Church (ECUSA), those in particular who are headed for the gathering in Dallas, Texas, to assess "Where Now?"  [See Fr. Edwards' open letter.]  I want to up the ante on his challenge. 

Being one of Fr. Edwards' "challengees" (because I have remained in ECUSA so far, which he thinks a bad idea), I want to acknowledge Fr. Edwards as one of the small handful of clear thinkers anywhere in the Anglican Communion, and indeed, all of wider Christendom today (small handful in Christendom "militant" -- contemporarily fighting {or not} the battle here on earth). 

Clear thinking is a primary gift of the Holy Spirit -- to which every Christian should aspire.   We should aspire to that gift, pray for it, train ourselves for it -- because truth-seeking is the obligation behind all other obligations.  Without a commitment to clarity of truth -- at any cost to ourselves -- we will wander in the desert of confusion over all other issues.   No exceptions.   A commitment to truth means an attitude that, "If I am wrong, I want to know."   It means a prayerful willingness to be corrected by the evidence available, on any issue whatsoever.   No exceptions. 

I have, so far, remained in ECUSA rather than exiting (for reasons I will explain), but I am not "headed for Dallas" to see what the "conservative" leadership is up to.   Since the mid 1980's, I have made serious and sustained personal attempts to confront both the "other side" (revisionist) and our own "conservative" (in Edwards' meaning) leadership with what I thought to be the truth of the sexuality matters at hand, and the reasons behind our appalling slide into arrant nonsense.  

Fr. Edwards' distinction between "orthodox" and the "conservative" helped me put words to why my attempts bore no visible fruit -- not, at least, on the floor of public debate.   The "revisionist side" was not interested for obvious reasons -- I disagreed with almost everything they were saying.   But it was perplexing that the "conservatives" were also not interested.   Not interested in a theology of human sexuality based on Genesis 1:26 ff., or in a rather large body of evidence and assessment I had gathered on the homosexual issues, or in what I saw as the strategy for winning the sexuality debate.  [See Homosexuality Library - articles under "Strategy"]

So, the last few years, instead of trying to change the course of ECUSA (revisionist or conservative) I have busied myself instead with the rebuilding of Biblical theology, a long-term project in which present "conservative" leadership also does not appear interested.  If we do not understand the reasons for our failure, why we got to our present disaster, no matter where we go from ECUSA, we will simply, sooner or later, repeat the downhill slide again.

Fr. Edwards distinguishes between the "orthodox" who see renewal "as a transformation of the defects of the previous system in light of the eternal and universal gospel".   "Conservatives", on the other hand, see renewal "more in terms of a return to a previous status quo".   

Whatever our theology has been, evangelical, catholic, or charismatic, it has failed us for two centuries at the very least.   We Christians, during the 18- and 1900's, were almost totally unable to respond to the honest questions non-Christians were throwing at us.  So we retreated into ecclesiastical fortresses, such as we had, and left the public arena to secular and now pagan forces.  Western Christians lost the battle for the 20th century -- at horrendous cost to billions of persons.  

When the sex revolution of the '60's came, we had no intelligent, practical response, other than a few do's and don't's.  We had no theology of sexuality, almost no sex education for our children -- leaving them vulnerable to the black hole of secular and pagan sexual seduction.  That was incompetence and betrayal of our children.   We Christians are currently losing our children to dis-belief at the rate of 80% by the time they reach their 20's (and no body seems very appalled).  Much of that is due to our failure in matters of sex and gender.   80% of our children do not believe that we have credible answers.  It does not appear that most clergy are either aware or care.  

It was (and still is) clear to me that the empirical evidence, available all over the map, is squarely on the Biblical side of the sexuality argument, but that did not prevent our "conservative" leadership from steadily (and then finally) losing the sexuality battle at General Convention.   That requires an explanation.   How could it have happened? 

The problem has been (in part) that our leadership has been "conservative" in the sense indicated by Edwards -- straining to bring us back to some imaginary more ideal time in past Anglican history, symbolized, one might say, by Richard Hooker, rather than looking to what God is doing here and now.  Looking at what God is doing here and now seemed (I suppose) much too, well, "liberal".  I mean no disrespect for Hooker -- he should be studied.  But reading Hooker cannot solve the problems of the 21st century.   God can.   And that means that, in Edwards' terms, orthodoxy, not conservatism, should be our goal.  

The only way to stay in touch with the "eternal and universal gospel" is to stay currently in touch with God.  God will not contradict His own earlier word to us, so we need Scripture.  Scripture, seen through the lens of the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds, defines the meaning of the world 'Christian'.   But that hardly means He has no surprises for us.

II.  Infallibility vs. the Two Crown Jewels of Western Civ.

Western Civilization is defined by its two crown jewels: (1) the rise of science and (2) the development of due process in civil law (as in English Parliamentary law and the American democratic republic under God).  

Both of these jewels are about epistemology -- how we know what we know.   These two jewels are about the truth-seeking process.  The natural sciences are about how to gain knowledge of the natural world around us, and due process is about the administration of truth and righteousness in public affairs.   Epistemology -- how we know what we know -- has been the overriding and underlying problem of Biblical faith for the last 500 years. 

Almost from the beginning, the Christian community pulled back from both of these developments, apparently not noticing that both jewels were gifts directly from God, and that, as a matter of logic, neither of them could possibly have developed in a secular or a pagan environment.  And as a matter of history, they developed only at the end of 1000 years of Biblically soaked culture in Europe.  God was telling us how we know what we know.   He was honing the two-edged Sword of the Spirit. 

But the Church was suspicious, and therefore gave both jewels away to secular forces, who have used them as clubs with which to beat the Church.   The Church had, in effect, compromised its intellectual credibility so badly that it could no longer wage serious spiritual warfare.  We trashed the new thing God was doing.  We ran from the battle -- "But there are giants in the land!!!"  So we have spent at least 400 years wandering in the wilderness. 

Beginning in the early 1800's, Western Christendom began to realize that it had no answers to the challenges of the Enlightenment, and then, in the later 1800's, to the theory of evolution as a total replacement for God as Creator and Sovereign. 

Christians began to believe that, since secularism relied mostly on "reason" for its attack on "revelation", that reason must be the problem.   We began to believe that reason and revelation were opposed to each other.  So we rejected reason as the "handmaid of the devil" (Luther's phrase), and retreated into our "revelation" fortress.   The reason folks were thus easily able to make the revelation folks in public debate look -- (surprise! surprise!) unreasonable.   No one, not even conservative Christians, want to look unreasonable in public debate.   So we retreated. 

For most of Church history, some Christians had believed that infallibility was a quality which one could ascribe to either the Bible or the Pope.  It had, however, never been a belief required for card-carrying Christian status.   But in 1870, with its back to the wall, the Roman Church declared the Pope to be infallible -- now a required belief.  And Evangelical Christians began to require belief in the infallibility of the Bible as their test of truth faith. 

Making belief in infallibility mandatory was the worst mistake the Church had made in at least 500 years.  It fatally compromised our epistemology.  It signaled our defensiveness to the world, "We are right!  You are wrong!  And we will no longer discuss the matter!"  It effectively ended honest public discussion, twisted many, if not most, attempts at evangelism, and earned Christians the reputation of "fundamentalist" in that nasty, narrow-minded sense of the word.  And much worse, it pasted that reputation right on God as well.  

God cannot be pleased.   God, and God alone, is infallible, but our infallible and inerrant God is quite willing to enter into honest discussion and dialogue with anyone who will show up.   "Come, let us reason together...."  (Isaiah 1:18)   That is a fundamental point of the Incarnation.  

But showing up means moving into the light.   And so most of us do not show up.  Or we have to be dragged.   We prefer the darkness because our deeds are evil.  (as per John 3:19) 

Science is the way of the cross for the intellect -- we give up our right to be right and let truth and the Lord of truth speak for themselves -- through the available evidence of fact and logic.   Due process is the way of the cross for politics -- we give up our right to control by manipulation or force the truth-seeking decisions of law-making and law-applying.   We let truth and the Lord of truth speak through the evidence. 

But Christians were not willing to risk that the evidence just might go against them.  We were not willing, like Elijah on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18) to risk our belief in an open and honest contest -- and let our infallible God prove His own case.   Our retreat into carnal theories of infallibility and inerrancy signaled, not the defense of faith, but the monumental collapse of our faith.  We lost track of God, but we knew where to find the Bible or the Pope.   So we tried to make the Bible or the Pope do the work that we no longer believed God could do. 

III.  God wrote two books, not just one. 

God first wrote the book of Nature, the book of Creation.   How does one read the book of Creation?   By careful observation and by careful, logical reasoning from those observations.   We read the book of Nature by the methods of science.   Science is the way God expects us to study His first book.  

God wrote the second book, the Bible, because we messed up the first one.   We rejected the idea of being "mere" creatures and decided we wanted to be "as God", autonomous, independent decision-makers.   God warned Adam that if he ate of that forbidden tree, he would die.   But the temptation was too strong. 

So God wrote the second book to assist in the rescue of Adam, Eve, and their progeny, from the hell into which we have catapulted ourselves.  He wrote the second book to help show us the way back to creaturehood again.  

If God wrote both books, then it stands to reason that the two books, accurately interpreted, will agree.  Our obvious obligation, then, is to study both books until we find that agreement.  They will elucidate each other. 

When we compromised our intellectual integrity by rejecting science and due process as gifts from God, we effectively made the second book irrelevant to the first.  We became "other worldly" in that inane sense attributed to Christians, so people no longer could see the point of salvation.   Their god was now science, which they imagined to be appropriate for modern, self-sufficient, and autonomous decision-makers.  But we Christians were not able to respond, "Come, let us reason together.....    Come, we will show you what real science is about...."   Because we did not know.  We thought they owned science. 

IV.  The Episcopal Pattern -- Reason versus Revelation.

That tragic pattern was enacted before us quite accurately in the sexuality debates at the Episcopal General Convention (and, to be fair, almost everywhere else Christians have dealt with the matter).   Our leadership wanted (rightly) to argue from Scriptural principles.   But the so-called "liberal" side was not listening to Scripture (despite what they said).   They no longer believed in the authority of Scripture.  It had no intellectual credibility for them.   Nevermind that they were members of an Episcopal General Convention. 

But our side has had no serious grasp of the power of science (except as enemy) or of examining the empirical evidence, because they felt that to appeal to empirical evidence would "let the Biblical side down".   We wanted to stand on the Bible.   Well and good.   We should.   But the Bible is all about how to return the creation, including the sexual part of creation in ourselves, back to God.  How can we help return anything to "creation" (the status of being dependent and obedient creatures) if we are not willing to look at and present the empirical evidence?  How can we return to our own creaturehood if we think appeal to the scientific evidence in the creation is treason against faith? 

We were, in a very unBiblical way, locked into the Bible.  Bibliolatry is not Biblical.   We should have beat the secularists on what they thought was their own turf -- reason and science.   Instead, we successfully made our case (and therefore the Lord's) seem irrelevant to modern society.  

The empirical evidence on sexuality is so clearly on the Biblical side that if (in Edwards' terms) the "conservatives" would shift to orthodoxy, if those defending the Biblical faith would simply force the discussion onto an honest and public examination of homosexual behavior and lifestyle, it would get very nasty for a while, but then the jig would shortly be up.  The homosexual agenda will not survive an open airing of its behavior.  It quickly becomes clear why a loving God would just say "No". 

(For a quick summary of the winning strategy, see Truth or Rabbit Trails??? and Winning the Homosexuality Debate...

Reason and revelation welded back to back is the two-edged Sword of the Spirit -- an invincible weapon.   We have allowed the enemy to pit the two sides of the Sword against each other -- a fatal mistake. 

The challenge of Scripture to us modern Christians is to reunite reason with revelation, and so learn again  how to wield the Sword of the Spirit.  Any Christian group that does not accomplish that will remain in the backwaters of contemporary culture.

V.  So...?

Although I was living in the Diocese of Virginia and attending a church in the Diocese of Washington, DC, (both dioceses heretical), I am canonically resident in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which, although it (wrongly, I believe) ordains women to the priesthood, it has strongly repudiated the recent obscene actions of General Convention, and stoutly protects the orthodox from the abuses of General Convention.  So I am, as it were, "safe" for the time being.  

But when I ask myself:  Where now?  ...now that the Episcopal Church has officially put itself in the anti-Christ camp.  The answer does not come easily.  There is no perfect Church to which to repair.  

I look for one which is willing to deal with the core issues of why we got to where we are.   Where does one find a Church which is asking, "How we know what we know?" without retreating again into the wrong fortress?   Where does one find a Church which is willing to say to the opposition, "Come, let us reason together...." and not get caught in pseudo-intellectualism?

I am not in communion with any bishop who has voted for the homosexual program, nor with the Episcopal General Convention.   Which leaves me in a curious position. 

But where in Christendom does one go where the leadership is realistically addressing the epistemological issues, where there is serious theological discussion about the Imago Dei, e.g., development of a credible theology of sexuality, where we do not have to fight the male-only priesthood battle all over again, where marital faithfulness and discipline is required, where there is the kind of faith which will trust God to win His own case if we will just prepare the ground with a little obedience, and then get out of His way? 

Only that unqualified commitment to truth, at any cost to ourselves, can give reasonable and stable content to an "eternal and universal gospel". 

So far as I can tell, the conservatives in ECUSA are not interested in the above issues, mostly not even aware that there are such issues.   I support Fr. Edwards quest for the renewal of the Anglican Way (as against Anglicanism) and orthodoxy (as against conservatism).  But that quest must address the issues raised above if it is to succeed.   My perception is that the current generation of spiritual leaders will not take on this project.  My hope is that the next generation will. 

How that will play itself out for me in terms of "Where now?" I do not yet know.   I do trust the Lord to guide me where He wants me [April 2005 - I just moved from Alexandria, VA, to Vista, CA to be in cahoots with the Christian Community of Family Ministry, a group of Christians who are of common mind on these matters -- and then to La Habra, CA, to teach at Biola U., and now, it looks like, at Azusa Pacific U. nearby].   In the meantime, I plan, because opportunities abound, and as the grace of God directs, to continue wielding the Sword of the Spirit here in ECUSA with as much love and compassion as the Lord is able to pour through me.  

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Suggestions for further reading on these issues:

(1) Fr. Edwards' open letter

(2) the Bible Library

(3) the Women's Ordination Library

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