03 November 2010

From the Archives - An Old Letter to My Parish

A.M.D.G.

From the Archives...

This is a letter that I sent to my parish some time ago when I was a layman in the Episcopal Church. It was an attempt to point out the issues facing the parish and the Church as a whole. No priests discussed this matter with me or even acknowledged that it was written. It was made known to me by a member of the staff of the parish that the priests had been ordered not to discuss the letter or even acknowledge it to anyone, including me. It was after this that I ultimately made the decision to leave the Episcopal Church.

With deep regret, these issues still face the worldwide Church, and in particular the Anglican Church.

The letter has been edited for content, with names of parishes and places removed.

+RBJ

Dear Reverend Fathers,

I wish to address some concerns of recent and not-so-recent developments within the Anglican Church. As an Anglo-Catholic who feels increasingly ostracized for holding beliefs that are “not with the times,” I must make these concerns known to the parish clergy. I wish to state that I am voicing these concerns out of concern for the collective Catholic Church as a whole, of which the Anglican Church is a part, and the people of my home parish of which I am pleased to be a member.

The first concern is that of the excessive use of Rite II. While I personally prefer the older language usage of Rite I, the more modern language of Rite II is acceptable. One priest informed me that this was to expose us “traditionalists” to something new. Yet, the typically Rite II Masses did not utilize Rite I on those same days. Both of these changes defeat the stated purpose of exposing parishioners to “something new,” and I submit that something less desirable is at work here. I submit that the goal is gradually to erode the traditional liturgy of Rite I and replace it over time with Rite II. I have heard Rite I called excessively penitential. Is there anything wrong with penance, especially before receiving a Holy Sacrament? Rite II, it could be argued, is quite lazy, and smacks of the modernistic view of “anything goes,” and everything being acceptable. Anglican liturgy is known throughout the world, even in the Roman Catholic Church, for its beauty and reverence. Let us not lose that beauty and reverence in favor of modernism.

The issue is not so much the liturgy itself, but the underlying meaning of the liturgy. One priest stated that there is no such thing as traditional, as Church tradition has been constantly changing over time. He is indeed correct. However, this is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for rapid, sweeping changes (not just in liturgy). The Holy Catholic Church of Christ is that body of the Faithful which has persisted since the first Pentecost. As Anglicans, we are part of that tradition. We in this generation are not the Church ourselves. We are part of the two thousand year old continuous church. Church tradition is an integral part of the Church, and I need hardly tell you that Christ vested the Apostles with the authority to establish this Sacred Tradition. Church tradition, to retain its universality, and to remind us of our part in this collective body of Christ, must change slowly, gradually, and rationally to that the changes reflect neither the personality of any one person or group, nor the personality of any one generation. Church tradition must represent the collective body of the Faithful over the continuous history of the church. Broad, sweeping changes in liturgy made largely during the 1970’s erode this essential Catholic aspect of our Anglican Church. The feeling is fit the liturgy to the people rather than instruct them in tradition and their role as Christians in the collective history of the Church. This rapid change to “keep with the times” makes the liturgy of our time and thus very likely obsolete to persons of different cultures and temporal beliefs than our own. (Further analysis is too involved for this letter.) In addition, the recent full communion with the Lutheran Church is, in the context of Catholic doctrine, a mistake. We can look to Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, and all three tell us that, since the Lutheran Church has had an intentional break in Apostolic Succession, they are not keeping with Catholic doctrine concerning the Holy Orders and Sacraments. Therefore full communion is not only improper but impossible without changing doctrine. I therefore suggest that this state of full communion represents not a reconciliation, but an underlying change in doctrine, regardless of what the doctrine may appear to be on the surface in most parishes. These rapid changes puts the Church in “our time,” and not in the context of the Church evolution as a whole.

Liturgy itself is meaningless without underlying doctrine. In my observation the changes in liturgy reflect a disturbing change in doctrine. First, the temporal liturgy of Rite II, by its nature of being of our own time, represents a break with the Catholic doctrine and tradition which I just discussed. Without expounding on the specifics in detail, the underlying doctrines of the Mass which unite the Faithful appear also to have been eroded by modernism. One such doctrinal issue is the ordination of women. I maintain that ordination of women to the Priesthood and Episcopate should not have been done in the first place. Reasons for this lie in Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. I might suggest that the ordination of female Bishops threatens the very Apostolic Succession which has made us a part of the continuous Catholic Church. This change is often defended by saying women are equal to men. I firmly believe women are equal to men. Nevertheless, they are not the same. They are not only obviously physiologically different, but have different roles in life. The fact that these changes accompanied the feminist movement cannot possibly be coincidence. Is this the Religion of the Month Club?

Many laity and clergy apply secular societal norms (which are ever-changing) to the Church, and this is as dangerous as theology by democracy. The theology of the 70’s was handed down from above without regard to origin, and forced upon the congregation. Not surprisingly, many consider this radically changed doctrine to be quite normal. Anglo-Catholics tend to disagree because, once again, this is liturgy and doctrine of the times rather than of the collective history of the Church. It may “bring us into the future,” and Reason may agree with this, but without the past (our Scripture and Tradition) to guide us we have no compass. The belief of Immanentism seems to have replaced the dual immanent-transcendental nature of God in a justification for looking to the secular world for guidance on religious matters.

Modernist thought is replacing tradition in an increasing way not only in doctrine, but in our moral code. If people cannot get moral guidance from their church, then from whence should it come? In an increasingly secularized society that is losing its moral compass, the Church can and must stand strong. Instead it appears the Church has preferred to engage in promoting the latest fashionable socio-political cause.

I consider the sexual morals of society to be among the worst degraded. I consider, in keeping with the traditional teachings of the Church, that homosexuality, whatever the cause, is wrong and contrary to the will of God. I state without reservation that anti-homosexual violence is itself wrong, and is certainly an inappropriate way of expressing disapproval. Such acts are no different than, for example, the heinous act of bombing an abortion clinic to express a pro-life stance. Nevertheless, homosexuality is destructive to society, contrary to family values, and contrary to the teachings of the Church. I would not want my children exposed to the positive promotion of homosexuality as normal, and certainly not at my church. I state my peaceful yet adamant opposition to the local “Gay Men’s Chorus” practicing (and performing, if memory serves) in our parish (or in any other parish). Homosexuals need the Church as much, if not more, than any of the rest of us. However, open practice of homosexuality should not be promoted within the Church.

Continuing with sexual ethics, I wish to address marital issues. While I cannot say what is specifically taught to the youth in the Sunday schools of our parish, my general observation of the church as a whole is that it is very open to a variety of sexual ethics, leaving the choice up to the individual. Certainly the choice is up to the individual ultimately (we always have a choice), but sexual urges are most powerful. Wouldn’t it be nice if the church gave specific guidance to control these urges and use them in their proper context? Pre-marital sex should not be promoted. Sex is both an act of procreation and bonding between a married man and woman. It is a gift from God and represents a very powerful bond between husband and wife. Certainly people sometimes give into temptation, but idealistically abstinence is best and should be promoted to our children and unmarried adults alike. Sex with a partner in a non-marital relationship that terminates represents a broken bond between two people that wasn’t truly present to begin with, usually involving promises that were also broken. A marriage subsequent to this may cause doubts in one or both future spouses about their trustworthiness. An engaged couple who agrees to remain chaste until the solemnization is putting sex in its proper context. So doing states that both partners love each other so much that they will not engage in an act of deep bonding that represents a commitment that isn’t fully made. Only in the security of Holy Matrimony can a man and a woman fully give themselves to each other. This is the traditional teaching of the Church, and should be promoted in our own parish. I hope I will be informed that this is what is being taught in our parish.

While I applaud my church for wanting to bring as many people as possible to Jesus and the Anglican tradition of the Catholic faith, I am concerned about this trend of “embracing” the current politically correct views of the day. My study of economics shows that this is likely motivated by a desire to fill the pews, especially since we are the smallest of the catholic denominations, and smaller than many protestant denominations. Saying to the congregation the equivalent of “believe or do what you want” is not only dangerous, but it leaves many in turmoil. Take a stand according to the true faith and traditions of Catholic doctrine. That is your job.

My last concern I will voice is that there is a strong bias towards these politically correct views and against the above stated views. For example, those who believe women can be ordained are applauded for their support of women’s rights (never mind that women’s rights have nothing to do with the theology pertaining to ordination), but one who states the opposite of that view would be condemned as “anti-woman,” or “anti-progress.” Traditional viewpoints are condemned as stuffy, in the past, outdated, irrelevant, not keeping with the times, etc. How should traditional Anglo-Catholics feel about their church home when those who claim they want equality suddenly show great hypocrisy and accept only their own views? I make no attempt to hide the fact that I, as an Anglo-Catholic, do not accept these modernistic trends. We do not, however, oppose change. We oppose irrational, trendy change that seeks to remove the Church from the Sacred Tradition and history of the two thousand year old universal community of Faith.

I state these opinions out of concern for my parish and the Church as a whole. I see no reason why Anglo-Catholics should be forced out of their church simply for holding their Church’s traditional viewpoints. I wish only to improve my parish and enrich the lives of its members.

In conclusion, the Church is above all society, all societal traditions, and all of us mere mortals. Church bodies cannot alter truth. We must preserve the past of our Church and tradition in order to protect our future. Please think about and pray about what has been said in this letter. I will be more than happy to discuss it with you.