New Testament Rage
A Monterey minister leads his flock back to the 1920s--when God was tough, gays were sinners, and women knew their place.
Thursday, October 2, 2003
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Episcopal Church of the United States of America has enthusiastically elected its first openly homosexual Bishop. The latest decision taken by the Church''s voting members to the General Convention is the result of a chronic spiritual disease.
We at St. John''s reject and repudiate the actions taken by General Convention. We deplore the pride and arrogance of silly clerics who parade around claiming to sell spiritual wares in the shop at Vanity Fair.
From a traditional Christian standpoint, the new Church''s dependence and reliance upon the world is truly sinful. What used to be maintained as sinful behaviour is now promoted as virtuous and noble.
--Reverend William J. Martin, Rector of St. John''s Chapel in Monterey, in a draft of an August, 2003 sermon
In the past few days, 2,400 angry Episcopalians ponied up a $125 registration fee to attend a gathering of bishops, clergy and lay leaders who reject their church''s recent reforms. The event, which will take place next week, was originally to be held in Plano, Texas, but registration has swelled to the point that it was relocated to Dallas.
One of those supremely angry Episcopalians is the Reverend William J. Martin, rector of St. John''s Chapel in Monterey. Martin says he will seek the assistance of conservative leaders in the worldwide Anglican Communion--to which the American Anglican Church belongs--and then decide whether St. John''s will remain with the American Episcopal Church.
Writing to the Weekly in an email from an abbey in France, where he spent the past two weeks, Martin levels harsh judgment against his colleagues. He says American Episcopal clerics have "unilaterally decided to contradict the philosophical tradition of historical Christianity, and the stated position of the Archbishops of the Anglican Communion.
"They have left the communion of the Saints. They have cut ties with Apostolic teaching. They have ignored the Divinely-communicated Word and Wisdom of God as found in the Holy Scriptures."
The Church''s leaders, he says, "lack theological integrity, philosophical intellegence or spiritual inspiration. The leaders of the new religion are rather transparently moved and defined by their guts and their groins. Evidently they never worked through the traumas and temptations of adolescence."
Martin warns that St. John''s will not submit to "Baal," the pagan idol whose worship was most often excoriated by the ancient Hebrew prophets.
When the Episcopalian General Convention this August voted to allow blessings on same sex unions, and then consecrated Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, an openly gay man--that was the proverbial last straw for Martin and his flock.
"The Scriptures in no place condone homosexual sex," he writes. "The Scriptures exhort all men to follow the purposes for which sexuality was created.
"Marriage is a unity of a man and a woman for the purposes of procreation, the avoidance of sin, and the creation of mutual society. Redeemed sexuality finds its proper expression in no other place. Those tempted in other directions are called to offer their bodies to Jesus in celibacy."
But for Martin, who studied at Oxford and has two Master''s degrees, the Church''s heresies run much deeper. He charges American Episcopalians with abandoning God.
"Our main point of contention with the Episcopal Church is that she does not seem to need God. Since her members seek no longer to be remade in God''s image, she has decided to remake God in her image.
"Thus God becomes the affirmer and cheerleader for adolescents who refuse to grow up. God becomes one who demands no deep spiritual change, no sacrificial denial of the self. God becomes one who is ''nice'' and who wears the artificial smile of many Episcopal clergymen.
"God becomes a tool of our fancies and imaginations. And in the end, God is really non-existent. The self sees the self and there you have it--spiritual masturbation."
Long before the recent controversy, Martin had a beef with the mainstream of his religion. In 1979, the American Episcopal Church updated its Book of Common Prayer. Traditionalists like Martin decried the loss of formal language--the "thee''s and thou''s"-as well as the patriarchal hierarchy and the harsh, penitential flavor that focused on sin and redemption.
Not long before that, women had been invited into the clergy, a move that met with a mixed reception across the nation.
You can bet there''s none of that going on under Father Martin''s watch.
St. John''s Chapel is one of only a handful of Episcopal churches in the country that continues to use the unmodernized 1928 version of the Book of Common Prayer. When the 1928 version was replaced, a small group of churches nationwide fought for the right to keep using it. St. John''s temporarily left the Church in protest of the prayer book changes. Later, St. John''s was granted permission by their Bishop to keep the older prayer book.
The book is so fiercely linked to St. John''s identity that the church answering machine states, "we are a traditional Episcopalian church using the 1928 prayer book." A sign outside the church states the same. Some church members belong to the 1928 Prayer Book society.
"The 1928 Prayer Book is more penitential in tone and theology," explains Father Carl Hansen of All Saints Church in Carmel. "The ''79 Prayer Book expresses the oneness of the church and is less judgmental towards people who are not Christian. It is more affirming of other religions and peoples and more affirming of creation as something that is good as opposed to something that is evil. It doesn''t go so far as to change the theology of Original Sin by any means, but there is an emphasis on the celebration of the gift of life, whereas in the 1928 book, salvation is not possible except for those who are baptized."
There are no women members of the clergy at St. John''s. And there will be no blessings of gay or lesbian marriages.
Dan Wallis, treasurer of St. John''s, and a member of the church since 1970, hasn''t been happy with the modernization of the Episcopal Church for many years. He says that confirming a gay bishop is "the straw that broke the camel''s back.
"We don''t like the whole direction in which the Church is going with regard to what is proper," he says. "There is a de-emphasis on the notion of man''s natural sinfulness and sort of the acceptance of whatever is, is."
Wallis says that California, being more "avant garde" than other parts of the country, doesn''t have "a whole lot of interest in what we are doing." But he points to nationwide dissatisfaction with Church policy: he says people have left and joined the Catholic Church, and other religions, and that splinter groups have been forming across the country in recent years. He says that the Episcopal Church tries to downplay the extent of angry conservatives.
"They''ve been trying to say that there has been no major split in the Church, no schism, but the Church is in turmoil," he says.
Wallis says it''s not that he''s against women in the church, but that they should not serve priestly functions. He says that priests represent Christ at the altar, which a woman cannot do.
At St. John''s, women are parish secretaries, sing in the choir, are members of the vestry, the wedding committee and altar guild.
"I''m a retired army guy, and I think there''s a place for women in the army, but it''s not in a foxhole in the infantry or driving a tank. This is the same sort of thing."
Martin agrees: "The ordination of women to the priesthood challenges the mind of the Holy Scriptures, Christian philosophy and sound psychology," he writes. "We are all equal but have different parts to play in the ''drama of dogma.''"
Wallis says that he is not against homosexuals, but their lifestyle shouldn''t be promoted.
"People can do what they choose, I''m not the person to judge them," he says. "I don''t think that a person who follows that lifestyle should be in a leadership position--it''s a different way for most of us and not what we consider a normal way of life. It sets an unnatural example.
"I''m not judging whether it''s good or bad. It''s for someone else to judge, not me.
"It''s not like we have a big sign on the door that says, ''No homosexuals,''" Martin says. "When Igot here, there were a few bigoted people. Isaid, ''No, no, no, what about your own lives? What''s in your closet?'' All of us fall short. We have to pray for each other. Love the sinner, hate the sin."
Whether these theological disagreements will drive St. John''s to the point of completely severing ties with the Church is uncertain. At this point, Wallis and Martin say they are just exploring their options and talking to like-minded Episcopalians.
"Whatever plans we have are extremely tentative," Wallis says. "We are not interested in leaving, we are interested in feeling comfortable. But it has gone too far to stay with the main body of the church."Martin says he may "seek for a way to be in communion with the See of Canterbury," the head of the Anglican Church in London.
It is clear that Martin believes some kind of break is necessary.
"It''s lonely being a conservative in a very liberal church,"he says.
In 1976, I entered nursery school at Beauvoir, the National Cathedral Elementary School, a cheerful, co-ed academy sitting next to the Washington National Cathedral, the giant structure overlooking the District of Columbia
The National Cathedral is the second largest cathedral in the US. It took four decades to build. It was still being built during the 12 years that I studied in its shadow.
At Beauvior, I was taught to practice respect, responsibility, honesty and kindness. The mission statement is to accept and integrate diverse people and ideas. These are the lessons I remember.
We attended services at the Cathedral weekly. Our voices would quiet down to silence as we walked up the grey limestone steps and entered the enormous carved doors. Single file, we walked across the polished marble floors into the nave, reaching out to trace over the smooth stone as we passed through the archways. I played a sheep when we performed the Christmas story in Bethlehem''s Chapel.
We visited the stone workers in their shop, watching them carving gargoyles and angels. We rang bells in the choir, and climbed the steps of the thirty-story central tower to look out over Washington.
In fourth grade, boys went off to St. Alban''s, the National Cathedral School for boys, and I went to the National Cathedral School for girls, or NCS. Al and Tipper Gore''s daughters were in the grades above and below me at NCS. Some of the Bush boys went to St. Alban''s.
Chapel was twice a week, and Cathedral services were every Friday morning. We wore ugly, striped uniforms. At NCS, school got very professional and very serious. I believe that being a part of the Cathedral enhanced the seriousness of our studies.
Achievement was integrated into our very core. So was a broad sense of religion.
The National Cathedral had a black Bishop--Bishop Walker--and a female priest. These were just givens. Today National Cathedral has a female Bishop pro tempore, the Right Reverend Jane Holmes Dixon.
In fourth grade, my best friend and I wrote and attempted a two-part harmony called "Love" in front of the entire congregation. I still remember the words. "God is good, God is great, we love God, and all that he creates. L-O-V-E, that spells love " Well--we were nine.
I did not always listen carefully to the words of the services. I whispered with friends. But I developed a respect for those prayers resounding off the ten-story nave. I came to love the structure that housed those prayers, and the tradition it contained.
We played tag in the Bishop''s Garden, and gazed, in awe, at the moon rock embedded in the Space Window. Somehow, as morning light filtered through the Rose Window, and my eyes grazed the tombs of Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller, I developed a respect for ceremony and tradition. I respected God, as well. I wanted to do the right thing by Him, and for the most part, I did. But I do not remember feeling his anger or fearing His wrath. He was a God of love.
One hot summer Wednesday in September, Father Paul Danielson is performing communion for a few members in the intimate space of St. John''s Chapel while Father Martin is in France. In his homily, Danielson reads of wrath and adultery and witchcraft and all things ungodly.
Then Danielson asks us to look at the good even in things that seem ruinous. He speaks briefly of the "attitude of gratitude," looking for the good in each day. I''m nodding at these words, and feeling like I might fit in. But Communion is quite different than my Cathedral services.
When Danielson blesses us, I stumble over the words as Wallis and the other parishioners answer with thee''s and thou''s. The small red prayer book holds my attention.
"We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table," they say. It''s an unfamiliar tone.
I am unsure whether I am invited to Communion, but Wallis, somewhat gruffly, but with kindness, raps on the pew and beckons me to follow him. I kneel before Danielson and as I put the wafer in my mouth, I look and realize that the others are still holding theirs. I debate spitting out the cardboard-tasting circle, then decide to carry on, and swallow it dry. Danielson is dipping the others'' wafers in red wine. I take a sip from the chalice, then follow Wallis back to the pews.
Afterwards, I wait in the rose garden for Danielson. Fancy, fragrant plants are dedicated with small plaques to departed loved ones. Danielson arrives and invites me to come sit and talk.
Danielson, retired chaplain for All Saints School in Carmel Valley, tells me that he agrees with the position of St. John''s Chapel and Father Martin, with the exception of the ordination of women. He believes that there is nothing in Scripture to discourage it. But he does believe that Scripture condemns homosexuality.
"We are considered a liberal diocese," he says. "And Bishop Shimpfky is truly a liberal bishop, in a sense, that he is open to St. John''s continuing with the 1928 Prayer Book service.
"Bishop Shimpfky is a leader to try to gain support for the gay community--for full rights and privileges."
Danielson says that he tries not to discuss church doctrine with his gay friends. He believes that gays can be "healed" in the same way that alcoholics recover.
"If I acted strictly on human impulses I would stay 1,000 miles from this debate," he says. "However, I''m stuck. I take Scripture seriously and have a traditional interpretation. It sets up a tremendous conflict in me."
"Most in the church have been open to gay men and women worshipping in the Episcopal church and believe that they have equal value with any human being. Bishop Robinson couldn''t be a more model Christian and a leader. The issue is that to promote the gay cause and bless the condition of homosexuals and homosexual behavior...Father Martin has strong views on this. But he is a very compassionate and pastoral man.
"There are gay members of the congregation. We have a man with great talent who is the organist, who was brought in by the previous rector. But he is not promoting the gay lifestyle."
Danielson says splits in the Church threaten the very essence of a religion defined by its ability to "agree to disagree agreeably."
"No one wants to see more division," he says. "It runs counter to the Episcopal/Anglican ethos of inclusiveness."
Members of St. John''s don''t mince their words. Parish secretary Rondelle Cagwin was baptized at the church, and her parents were married there.
"We take the conservative position that we are not for homosexuality," she says. "As a bishop it goes against-" she pauses. "We are opposing it."
Cagwin''s not going anywhere, and as far as she''s concerned, despite the fact that times are changing in the world around her, the traditions of her church will remain within its small, tidy walls.
And I realize there''s something inordinately comforting about those church walls, and the symbolic structure it imparts.
I chose to be married in a church for the tradition it symbolized. I got married at St. John''s in 1995, because I found Father Jerome Politzer inviting and the church beautiful and intimate.
Clay Couri is Director of Music for St. John''s Chapel, and plays a traditional organ, an instrument so large it has its own chamber room crammed with pipes. On the walls of his office are sheets of music; a Widor toccata is behind him. Couri explains that the decision not to use an electronic instrument fits in with the tone of the church, but he takes umbrage at those attempting to throw an arch conservative blanket over the entire congregation.
Couri''s hometown church in Connecticut used the 1928 prayer book. Couri joined the 1928 Prayer Book Society. But he says not everyone in his church feels as riled up as Dan Wallis.
"I am here for the worship of Jesus Christ, not politics," he says. "We are a traditional church with an old liturgy and people think that we are all right-wing, but definitely I''m not. We are not all rampant conservatives to the point of separating. But I take my orders from Father Martin. Whatever the church decides to do here, I will be a part of it."
For Couri, the poetic tone of the Old English in the 1928 service brings him to his traditional church roots. The seriousness of the service also extracts respect.
"It''s a very reverent service--more penitential, and it confronts you with your own sin more closely than modern liturgy. Our music in this church is classical. I do not allow, we do not allow, happy clappy."
I chose Mozart for my own wedding at St. John''s. For me, attending church in blue jeans on a fold out chair in an auditorium is well, not church.
But I have a problem with these lines stated by the American Anglican Council that are drawing Father Martin and others to Dallas.
"The decision to approve a non-celibate homosexual man as a bishop of the Episcopal Church and to allow for the blessing of same-sex unions has sent shockwaves through our church," the website reads. "This action revealed a church that has lost its foundation in biblical truth and the historic teaching of the church." I''m not so sure.