What Caused Minneapolis???

by Les Fairfield

[Comment:  Les Fairfield is professor of Church history at TESM (Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA.]



What drove the Episcopal Church over the cliff at Minneapolis in 2003? What led the Church to approve homosexual practice, by approving the Rev. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire?

Was it mere cowardice? A failure of nerve? A capitulation to the culture of white upper-middle-class American suburbia? In part the decision at Minneapolis grew out of all these causes. But the most important cause was theological.

In the 1960s the leaders of the Episcopal Church revived a non-Christian religion called "Catholic Modernism." And that theological faux pas led directly to the approval of homosexual behavior.

Where did that religion come from? It's important to understand the history of Catholic Modernism, so that we can recognize its continuing power amongst the liberal leadership of the Anglican Church.

The religion of "Catholic Modernism" had its beginning two hundred years ago, in Berlin in the 1790s. A young German Reformed pastor named Friedrich Schleiermacher lost his faith. His sophisticated friends had persuaded him that "science had disproved Christianity" (as if science could do any such thing). Schleiermacher's response to this challenge was pre-emptive capitulation. All right, he said. Science has won. The universe is a closed system, Jesus was a mere human, miracles cannot happen. The Bible is all wrong when it talks about history.

But, he said, do not despair. Let us redefine Christianity. Let us make Christianity a religion of subjective experience, not a religion of historical revelation. Schleiermacher argued in fact that one generic human experience underlies all human religions, not just Christianity. He called it an experience of "absolute dependence" or "god-consciousness." This experience is available in all cultures not that everyone actually has it, but they all can have it if they try. In every culture, people who enjoy this "god-consciousness" then talk about it, write stories about it, cultivate it, and try to make it happen again. So all holy books including the Bible are purely human artifacts. They are purely human responses to the experience of "god-consciousness." The same is true of all ethical systems, all forms of worship, all systems of personal piety. They are all human constructions.

Then who was Jesus? Schleiermacher answered that Jesus was the first man in history to achieve 100% "god-consciousness." He represented a new stage in human evolution. And people who "live in his story," who choose Christianity as their religion, have the best chance of achieving this deepest of human experiences. So join the Christ-ian Church! Try it and you'll like it.

Schleiermacher's contemporary in Berlin, the philosopher Georg W. F. Hegel, clarified two points that the Reformed pastor had wisely left vague. Hegel explicitly declared that the word "god" now meant the Spirit of the Universe. This "god" was totally within the cosmos, the energy driving its upward evolutionary spiral. And likewise this "god" was totally impersonal. It was a "Force" or an "Idea" but you couldn't talk to it. And significantly, it never talked to you. As C.S. Lewis once wryly said of this non-Christian religion, "Nothing to fear better still, nothing to obey."

In the late 19th century this religion captured the minds of more and more leaders of the emergent Anglican Communion. It seemed sophisticated and inoffensive to the Darwinian worldview. But many of these "Modernists" (as they called themselves) cloaked their non-Christian religion in the trappings of Anglo-Catholicism. Gothic architecture, medieval vestments, elaborate ceremonial all combined to disguise the apostasy of these Anglican leaders. Keep all the old words, keep all the old symbols but change all the meanings. And don't tell the laity.

Catholic Modernism briefly repented during the years from World War I through the early Cold War, in the face of all the catastrophes that wracked the globe. A chastened "neo-orthodox" theology recognized human sin and our need for a divine Savior. But in the 1960s the "Boomers" left that humility behind, and the wealthy white Anglican Church in the West rushed back to embrace Catholic Modernism. J.A.T. Robinson's famous manifesto Honest to God led the way. John Macquarrie offered the same brand of Catholic Modernism in his classic theological textbook, Principles of Christian Theology. The word "god" means an impersonal Force within the universe. Jesus was just a man. The Bible is a purely human artifact. And experience is the essence of religion, and our highest authority.

Some Anglican theologians took this train of thought one step further. Sexual experience, they argued, is the place where all human beings can achieve "god-consciousness." If this "god-consciousness" is the deepest experience that a human being can have, and if sex is where you find it most readily, why then everyone has the right to sex. However and with whomever. Assuming two or more consenting adults.

So the decision at Minneapolis to approve homosexual behavior didn't come out of thin air. Nor was it merely the victory of a well-organized pressure group. In fact it was a logical consequence of the non-Christian religion that Catholic Modernists in the Anglican Church have been promoting for more than a century. That religion is neither "catholic" nor actually very "modern" any more. It's clawing its way into the 1820s. It's time the Anglican Communion gave this pagan religion the same decent burial to which history has already consigned it.

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