Thursday, August 13, 2009

Inclusive Language and the Doctrine of the Trinity

Bishop Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina in The Episcopal Church (TEC) recently gave an address to the clergy of his diocese. Since General Convention '09 he has been under pressure to lead his diocese out of TEC but after consultation with his leadership has decided to stay and fight. He said bluntly:

"We face a multitude of false teachings, which like an intrusive vine, is threatening The Episcopal Church as we have inherited and received it from our ancestors. I have called this the false Gospel of Indiscriminate Inclusivity because I see a common pattern in how the core doctrines of our faith are being systematically deconstructed."

Two of the specific doctrines he mentioned as under particular attack from the "false gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity" are the doctrines of the Trinity and the Uniqueness of Christ. In his discussion of the latter he had some plain talk for Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori:

"In answering questions about the Uniqueness and Universality of Christ she has repeatedly suggested that it is not up to her to decide what the mechanism is God uses to save people. But, quite to the contrary, it is her responsibility as a bishop of the Church to proclaim the saving work of Jesus Christ and to teach what it is the Scriptures and the Church teach. Anything less from us who are bishops is an abdication of our teaching office. Otherwise how will the world know to whom to come? How will the unschooled within the Church know what they should believe? I do not cite this to be controversial but to reference the pervasiveness of this inclusive gospel that would, in its attempt to include all people and all religions, fail to rightly delight in, celebrate and worship him before whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord."

This sets the context for what I wanted to draw to your attention in his speech. (The bolding is mine.)

"The Trinity. One of the doctrines under barrage in our Church is an orthodox understanding of the Trinity. At the last three General Conventions I have been concerned about the lack of Eucharists according to the rites in the Book of Common Prayer. Even this I might be able to overlook if the rites that were employed were not so devoid of references to God the Father. In more than a few of these worship services the only reference to God the Father actually in the liturgy was the Lord's Prayer. In the name of inclusion there's the perception by some (a variant of radical feminism I suppose) that the references to the Father, and the pronoun "he" is some lingering patriarchal holdover. Yet it has always intrigued me that in all of the Hebrew Scriptures there are only a handful of references to God as Father. If one wants to locate the authority of the Church to worship God as Father one need look no further than Jesus himself. It was he who called God "Abba" and taught the disciples to prayer "Our Father." Frankly, if Jesus got that one so wrong, why should we turn to him for anything?"

Elsewhere in his remarks, Bishop Lawrence makes the point that the false "gospel" of indiscriminate inclusivity is not merely a problem for TEC, but is endemic in our culture. It is coming soon, if it has not already, to a neighbourhood near you. He rightly said that being in TEC is just a matter of being on the front lines. So I think it behooves us to pay attention to what someone on the front lines is experiencing and what his perceptions are.

I raise this issue because of the intense discussion generated by my post the other day about inclusive language. I used to think it was OK to meet the feminists half way by using inclusive language of humans and for contemporary writing but not for God or historical documents (like the Bible or English literature). But now I have given up trying to compromise with an ideology that is determined to sweep all before it in the name of a false gospel.

The problem is that, once the concession is made that traditional language is exclusive of women (which is never was), then the integrity and credibility of all the texts of Western civilization are placed in question. Since everything prior to 1970 uses "non-inclusive language," everything is open to suspicion of being "patriarchial" and thus non-binding. This applies to the concept of classic texts in literature, law, philosophy and history, as well as all theological texts up to and including Holy Scripture itself.

Bishop Lawrence clarifies for us what we are up against. We face a movement of self-proclaimed feminists (which, by the way, includes in its ranks as many or more men than women) that arrogantly and without warrant claims to speak for all women. This movement is so proud and so puffed up that even the venerable doctrine of the Trinity - that which makes Christianity itself - must be tossed away like yesterday's newspaper merely because it violates the ideology that judges all other belief systems by the standard of its own presuppositons.

All of Western history is thus dismissed as oppressive, patriarchial and outdated. In order to be progressive we must start all over again like the French revolutionaries with a new social order, a new law, a new calendar and a new religion. This is the spirit of Jacobinism and it is antithetical to the Christian Faith.

Bishop Lawrence gets to the heart of the matter when he points out that the origin of the Church's doctrine of the Trinity and the source of our langauge of God as Father is not the Old Testament nor Church History, but Jesus himself. His question: "Frankly, if Jesus got that one so wrong, why should we turn to him for anything?" raises the stakes and puts the real issue on the table. I would suggest that the next logical direction for the proponents of the false gospel of inclusivity to go is "beyond Jesus." And that is exactly why the Presiding Bishop's downplaying of Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life is pointing. TEC, like the United Church of Canada, is quickly moving toward a Deist or even post-Christian position.

I fully understand and appreciate the impulse to be open and humble in the face of the feminist challenge and to try to reach some sort of accommodation that makes us appear sensitive to the very real sufferings of women at the hands of men who violate God's law. But to do so in such a way as to undermine the revelation of God's nature and will is perverse and can only add to the brokenness and misery of our world. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures that contains it are the answer to the problems caused by sin in male-female relations. Once we let ourselves get maneuvered into allowing them to be portrayed as part of the problem we have become unfaithful to our calling to preach Christ to the world. At that point we fail to be the salt that the world needs to stem the rot of sin.


Nathan said...

I've written up a few additional thoughts.

Mike Aubrey said...

All I can say is that you're good at making linguistic issues strangely serious theological issues.