Speaking the Truth in Love

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So we are enjoined in Ephesians, and so the late Father Dan Westberg was a sterling example, whom I knew from our time together on the traditional side of the Theological Task Force on Marriage of the Episcopal House of Bishops seven or so years ago. It was the care with which he spoke, and the balance with which he thought that I especially recall, as well as the theological weight of his judgments.  He entered vigorously into the friendly and lively theological debate of that group.

Diocesan Convention nowadays means a debate over marriage in the Episcopal Church and in the diocese.  I welcome the democratic process which is part of our inheritance as Episcopalians.  The question of whether such bodies can on their own innovate in the area of doctrine is another matter, about which I plan to have more to say.  But we can air our views, and do so in Christian charity, and all that is also part of our calling as Christians.  Furthermore, as Dan would have affirmed, we should emphasize the welcome all deserve in our Church, as well as the extension of pastoral care to all, though we may disagree in matters of theology. And of course we all stand for equality in society at large, and decry bigotry of any kind in our society.

At the heart of the traditional teaching on marriage is of course the clear witness of Scripture, from Genesis 1-2 to Mark 10 and Romans 1.  In Ephesians 5 we hear that the complementarity and union of man and woman in marriage represents to us Christ and His Church.  But Professor Westberg’s particular contribution to our work was to emphasize how the Biblical witness dovetailed with an argument from natural theology, from the structure of creation itself.  How God has shaped the world and the role of marriage in the order of redemption fit together.  The debate over marriage in the Church is not simply a political one, but rather the complementarity of male and female in both creation and in the sacramental life of the Church is an important truth in our faith.

I know that this issue has been a divisive one. I share the desire to get on with the Church’s mission.  Still I hope that hearing and understanding sympathetically what the Scripture and the theological tradition have taught are still important.  I believe Dan would have been a continuing advocate of a Church able yet to hear what it has received, and to think with it.




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I have spoken before about my own surely imperfect efforts to figure out when to speak on matters political. Basically when something touches a theological nerve, or the more immediate life of one of our congregations, the imperative is present there. Such a case may be found when the President's former advisor Steve Bannon refers to protecting "the values of the Judeo - Christian West." This is all the more incumbent on me as a Christian leader, a social conservative in certain respects, and as an evangelical.  

So let's begin with some inconvenient truths.  First, any use of the word "Christian" as a veiled political weapon is ruled out of court immediately.  Second, we face the fact that the strongest advocates of such values are African and Asian, whose lands are today the sites of vitality in world Christianity. And while we are at it, have we noticed that the demographically most Christian parts of the West are immigrant, Latino, and African American?

The phrase conceals a grave irony, since much of Western thought in the last few generations is deeply secular, even nihilistic, in its approach. Both Ayn Rand and the radical left have this in common in their roots.

Christian values are Biblical values, and we all know the latter unsettle and disturb us. The hungry are to be fed and the stranger welcomed. We pray for welfare of Babylon. We share in the creaturely good of human solidarity. The one who would wield the Gospel as a threat surely will hear it as a divine reproach.




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