African American Anglicans

Curry

In the wake of bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the recent royal wedding, Grant Shreve offers us a brief introduction, with scholarly links, to the African American experience in the Anglican Church.  Here is a taste of his piece at JSTOR Daily:

Curry’s message was made all the more urgent and vital by the fact that the history of the Anglican Church in America—which came to be called the Protestant Episcopal Church here—is marred by centuries of complicity and neglect on matters of race. Indeed, as historian Robert A. Bennett has argued, black Episcopalians have had to struggle mightily to maintain their “ethnic-racial identity in a larger Church body which has not readily acknowledged [their] presence.”

This lamentable history began in the eighteenth century when the Anglican Church devised one of the first concerted efforts to evangelize to slaves. In 1701, it established the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), an organization whose mission was to spread the Christian gospel to non-Christian peoples across the globe—including American Indians and enslaved Africans. Although the message of its early missionaries did not fully distinguish between spiritual and political freedom, the SPG eventually caved to the demands of slaveholders and preached a theology maintaining that “conversion did not . . . imply manumission.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Fred Witzig

41WNTjQqz9L._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_Fred Witzig is Professor of History at Monmouth College. This interview is based on his new book, Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden (University of South Carolina Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: I was introduced to Alexander Garden by George Whitefield. My interest in Whitefield and the Great Awakening began when I was an undergraduate and never ended. But I quickly noticed that while the scholarship on Whitefield is lively and expansive, historians had never even begun to adequately assess the enormous efforts of clergy who worked against him. Foremost among them were New England Congregationalist Charles Chauncy and the commissary of the Church of England in the Carolinas, Alexander Garden. Chauncy largely failed in his efforts against the Awakening, and he’s famous among historians today. Garden went after Whitefield with more creativity and energy than Chauncy did, and, impressively, he succeeded in squelching the Awakening in South Carolina. More broadly, Garden arrived in South Carolina at a seminal moment in its development; in the aftermath of the Yamasee War, the white colonists shifted the economic foundations of their colony squarely onto African slave labor. Garden lent his considerable leadership skills to this endeavor, and in the process made a place for the Church of England, and Christianity in general, in the South that would last for more than a century. Yet, historians sometimes confuse him with the botanist Alexander Garden, and his only biography—until now!—is an unpublished dissertation from almost forty years ago. I think it’s time he gets his due.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: Alexander Garden marshalled the resources of the Church of England in support of the burgeoning slave plantation economy of early South Carolina and applied a veneer of spiritual respectability to carnal exploitations of slave labor. In the process, Garden smothered the fires of a more egalitarian evangelical revivalism, burdened possibilities for the amelioration of the conditions of slavery with a Christianized paternalism that prevailed until the Civil War, and made the Church of England in the colony more influential than ever before.

JF: Why do we need to read Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: Are you interested in the long and sometimes sordid history of the entanglement of Christianity and slavery in North America; the history of the Christian Church, and especially the Church of England, in the South; the development of the southern social order that prevailed at least until the Civil War; the early efforts to educate and evangelize slaves (Garden founded the continent’s first major slave school); the reasons why the Great Awakening flourished and then died out in the Carolinas and Georgia; and the way non-evangelical colonial leaders challenged and shaped George Whitefield’s evangelical ministry? If you are, this is your book. I wrote it with undergraduates in mind, as well, so that faculty teaching courses on Southern history, evangelicalism, slavery, and other such topics could assign it to their students. In the preface I call it a dual biography: the story of the tragic but productive relationship between a refugee from Scotland and his colony on the edge of the British Empire.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

FW: Two events stand out. The first was when I visited Appomattox Courthouse with my family when I was probably seven years old. Standing outside on the rutted road there in Virginia, my dad told in dramatic fashion the story of General Grant’s meeting with General Lee, and then Lee’s surrender of his troops in the next couple of days. I knew then that history was the most fascinating subject anyone could ever study. The second event was when I was twenty-six and decided to change careers and become a teacher. What else would I ever want to teach?

JF: What is your next project?

FW: I’ve had a strong interest in public history for . . . years. Recently I started two websites. One is an attempt to reach smart but non-expert adults with thoughtful histories of the United States, the church at large, and a smattering of other topics. Eventually it will host resources for homeschooling high schoolers who, in my view, are at the moment stuck with a choice between ultra-nationalist Christian histories or secular histories that ignore or denigrate religious impulses in America and the world. The second website, not yet public, will host podcasts of conversations between me and a historian friend talking about Christians of the past whose stories can challenge us to evaluate current American evangelical assumptions.

JF: Thanks, Fred!

Prayer Books and the American Revolution

Book_of_common_prayer_1662Over at the U.S. Intellectual History blog, Sara Georgini of the Massachusetts Historical Society examines the impact of the American Revolution on Boston Anglicans through a close reading of their prayer books.  Georgini describes the “humble prayer book” as “a key intellectual artifact of the revolution.”  In the process she also provides us with a nice little slice of revolutionary-era lived religion.

Here is a taste of her post:

Church records tell us half the tale of how people “lived” religion while turning their hearts and minds to full-scale war. But modern revolutions run on reading material, and all books have biographies. To get at early America’s shifting worship politics, let’s “track changes” in the Books of Common Prayer amended by Anglican and Episcopal laity in the 1770s and 1780s (shown here). As they changed ways of daily worship, Americans imprinted a new language of selfhood and statehood. They road-tested national rhetoric, long before they had any clear, constitutional vision of what that nation might look like. (For more, check out John Fea’s #ChristianAmerica? post, too). Parishioners moved around sacraments to suit new needs. The laity’s handwritten edits in prayer book margins—scraping off “King of Kings” and pasting over rote prayers for the royal family—operated as cultural cues for political change. At critical moments in the war, as colonists endured sieges and made sacrifices, they edited their prayer books to endorse turns in popular thought at the local level. During a holiday week when we think about declarations of independence big and small—and in a year marking the Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary—the humble prayer book still serves as a key intellectual artifact of revolution.

At the same time, these volumes were signs of consensus and communion in the Atlantic World. Books of Common Prayer first reached America’s shores alongside the earliest settlers. Often, the 1662 edition printed by London’s John Baskerville was formally issued to new American churches by the Royal Wardrobe. At Old North Church in Boston, vestrymen of 1733 opened a green-baize lined trunk mailed “from the Jewell Office.” Next to sterling silver communion plate, velvet pulpit cushions, and a Bible emblazoned with the royal arms, lay a second cache. Old North vestry received two prayer books, “bound in Turkey leather strung with blue garter ribbon and trimmed with gold fringe” and a dozen more for the community to share, all “bound in Calf Gilt & filleted & strung with blue Ribbon.” Prayer books were more than highly prized signals of royal favor. These worship aids consolidated five liturgical texts: daily offices, Litany, Holy Communion, pastoral offices, and the ordinal. As Rowan Williams suggests, the Book of Common Prayer outlines theological positions, but it is “less the expression of a fixed doctrinal consensus… more the creation of a doctrinal and devotional climate.” Across the Atlantic World, Anglo-American clergy used them to convey a community’s civilization, and learning. In fractured parishes, buying prayer books was often the sole purchase that everyone agreed on.

Read the entire post here.

Was George Washington a Christian?

9b93f-george-washington-picture

This comes from the archives.  I wrote it back in 2011 when I was doing a weekly column at Patheos.  Here is a taste:

On Monday we will once again celebrate George Washington’s birthday. (He was actually born on February 22, 1732.) Over the course of the last year I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about Washington for my book on Christianity and the founding of the American republic. In a chapter entitled “Did Washington Pray at Valley Forge?” I explore his religious beliefs and wonder whether or not we can truly call him a Christian. Washington’s faith is not easy to pin down.

I am not the only one who has wondered whether or not Washington was a Christian. His contemporaries also wondered. Reverend Timothy Dwight, the president of Yale College and one of the leaders of the evangelical revival known as the Second Great Awakening, felt confident that Washington was a Christian, but he was also aware that “doubt may and will exist” about the substance of his faith.

Today, Washington’s faith has become a minor battlefield in America’s ongoing culture wars. Tim LaHaye, an evangelical minister and the coauthor of the best-selling Left Behind novels, has called Washington “a devout believer in Jesus Christ” who, in good evangelical fashion, “had accepted Him as His Lord and Savior.” Peter Lillback, the current president of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has written over 1,100 pages in an attempt to prove that Washington was “an orthodox, Trinity-affirming believer in Jesus Christ . . .” In contrast, Joseph Ellis, a historian who won the Pulitzer Prize for his writing about the American founders, has described Washington as a “lukewarm Episcopalian.” Writer Brooke Allen recently concluded that “there are very real doubts as to whether Washington was a Christian or even whether he was a believer at all.”

Who is right? Or, more importantly, what is at stake in deciding who is right? In recent years Washington’s faith has become heavily politicized. It is often used to promote a particular political platform in the present. The argument goes something like this: “If George Washington was a Christian, then America must be too” or “If Washington was not a Christian, then he must have desired the United States to be a secular nation.”

Most historians agree that Washington was quiet about his faith. Unlike John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, or Benjamin Franklin, he did not leave behind definitive statements about what he believed. Neither was he particularly curious about theology or other religious matters. His religious reading was confined largely to sermons purchased by his devout wife, Martha.

We do know that Washington was a firm believer in what he called “Providence.” He used this term 270 times in his writings, usually employing it as a synonym for the Judeo-Christian God. This was an omniscient, omnipotent, and loving God who created and ordered the universe, but whose purposes remained mysterious. Washington’s God was active in the lives of human beings. He could perform miracles, answer prayer, and intervene in history to carry out his will. Yet Washington never tried to predict what God was doing in history. Instead, he acted in history—often with great valor and determination—and let God’s purpose be done.

Washington was christened into the Anglican Church. His mother, Mary Ball Washington, was known in Virginia plantation circles for her piety. George’s religious upbringing included regular reading of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. He attended Anglican (later Episcopal) churches most of his life and even served his Virginia parish in leadership roles.

Read the entire piece here.  Happy Birthday, George!

More Evangelicals Should Back John Kasich

kasich

I know he wants to reunite Pink Floyd and recently received the endorsement of The New York Times, but this should not deter conservative evangelicals from voting for him.

When pundits talk about Kasich they place him in the so-called “establishment” lane of the GOP race for the nomination.  But he could also fit just as well in the “evangelical” lane currently occupied by Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.  Kasich can compete for the Chris Christie and Jeb Bush vote in places like New Hampshire and the evangelical vote in places like South Carolina.  Rubio seems to be the only other candidate who is capable of doing this.

Kasich was raised in a Catholic, working-class home, but gave up on faith when his parents were killed by a drunken driver.  Somewhere along the way he returned to Christianity.  According to this piece from Religion News Service, he attends St. Augustine’s Church in Westerville, Ohio.  St. Augustine is part of the Anglican Church in North America, a conservative evangelical group that left the Episcopalian Church after the denomination ordained a gay bishop.  St. Augustine was formed in 2011 and currently meets in the chapel of a local Presbyterian Church.  Father Kevin Maney, the priest of the church, is a graduate of the evangelical Anglican Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.

Kasich’s pro-life record is strong, but he also applies his Christian life in a way that is very different from what we have seen so far from Cruz and Rubio.  He does not seem to be a culture warrior.  He believes that marriage is between and man and a woman, but he also respects the authority of the Supreme Court.  His faith informs his thinking about helping low-income families, children, and the mentally ill.  In many ways, he seems to be the reincarnation of George W. Bush’s pre-September 11th “compassionate conservatism.”

Many evangelical GOP voters think he is too moderate, but he just might do well in a general election against Hillary or Sanders.

 

How a Church With a History of Slavery is Dealing With Its Past

Cathedral of St. John’s–Providence, R.I.

According to this New York Times article, over half of the slavery voyages from the United States left from Rhode Island ports.  Most of those Rhode Island slave traders were Episcopalians (Anglicans). Katherine Seelye describes what today’s Rhode Island Episcopalians are doing about it.  It is a great story about an attempt to merge historical understanding with racial reconciliation.  Here is a taste:

Over the last decade, the Episcopal Church of the United States has formally acknowledged and apologized for its complicity in perpetuating slavery.Some Episcopal dioceses have been re-examining their role, holding services of repentance and starting programs of truth and reconciliation.

The Diocese of Rhode Island, like many others, has been slow to respond. But under Bishop W. Nicholas Knisely, who became the Episcopal bishop of Rhode Island in 2012, it is taking steps to publicly acknowledge its past. They include the establishment of a museum focused on the trans-Atlantic slave trade, slavery and the North’s complicity, as part of a new center for racial reconciliation and healing.

“I want to tell the story,” Bishop Knisely said, “of how the Episcopal Church and religious voices participated in supporting the institution of slavery and how they worked to abolish it. It’s a mixed bag.”

Other slavery museums — notably the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, La., and the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, S.C. — tell the story of slavery in the South. Some museums and historic sites touch on slavery in the North. But no museum is devoted to the region’s deep involvement, according to James DeWolf Perry VI, a direct descendant of the most prolific slave-trading family in the United States’ early years and a co-editor of a book called “Interpreting Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites.”

He is helping to plan the museum and reconciliation center, which are still in the organizing and fund-raising phases. They are to be housed at the 200-year-old stone Cathedral of St. John, the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island. Because of dwindling membership, the majestic but deteriorating cathedral was closed in 2012.

Commemorating St. Michael’s Marblehead, 1714

Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to work closely with several local congregations as they have explored their history.  This work has been fun, but it has also been meaningful and rewarding.  It seems that more and more historic congregations want accessible and popular histories that do not skimp on scholarly integrity.  I am glad to see that congregations, or at least the one’s I have worked with, want to move away from the hagiography that has come to define too many of these congregational histories.

I was thus very pleased to see that the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts is sponsoring a day-long conference devoted to St. Michael’s Anglican Church of Marblehead.  The church turns 300 this year.  According to J.L. Bell of Boston 1775 (HT), it is “the oldest Episcopal congregation in New England holding services in its original building.”  The Peabody Essex Museum has invited a star-studded cast of scholars to discuss the history of this church, including Donald Friary, Christopher Magra, David D. Hall, Carl Lounsbury, and Louis Nelson.

//player.vimeo.com/video/96233856

I would love to see more historic congregations do this kind of thing.

AHA Session Overview: "Fracturing a Global Empire: Religion and Place in the American Revolution"

This morning (AHA  Day 2) I had the privilege of presenting a paper on a panel devoted to religion and the American Revolution at the Winter meeting of the American Society of Church History.  The session was entitled “Fracturing a Global Empire: Religion and Place in the American Revolution.”  My fellow presenters were Katherine Carte Engel of Southern Methodist University and Christopher Jones of the College of William and Mary.  Mark Peterson of Cal-Berkeley provided the comment.

Jones led things off by giving us a taste of his dissertation research on transatlantic Methodism with a particular focus on Canada and the Caribbean.  This is a wonderful project.  Chris’s work will definitely expand what we know about Methodism in early America from the works of Dee Andrews, John Wigger, and Cynthia Lyerly. 

I tried to challenge the prevailing (although Peterson did not think it prevailing) paradigm that links the First Great Awakening to the American Revolution.  My focus was on Presbyterians. 

Engel argued that both traditional or “territorial” Anglicans and “evangelical” Anglicans in England cared little about the American Revolution.

Peterson described our panel as a “religious dog that does not bark in the night.”  He suggested that all of our papers suggested, in one form or another, that religion was not a factor in the American Revolution.  While I don’t think that such a suggestion was a completely accurate portrayal of my paper (I argued that religion was important, but evangelical Christianity was not), all of the papers questioned  whether it was appropriate to understand the American Revolution in religious terms.

Peterson said that the scholarly conversation on the relationship between religion and the Revolution is still stuck in the Cold War–a time when it was important to connect religion to American nationalism as a counter to “godless” communism.  In other words, this conversation is still embedded in a kind of consensus or “homogeneous” history that thinks about religion less as a local or regional phenomenon and more as a force that contributes to nationhood.

Peterson said that there is no intrinsic reason why religion should be an explanatory factor for explaining the American Revolution.  He called for a new synthesis–one that he thought our papers were moving toward–that focused more on the diversity of religious experience in eighteenth-century America.

As far as my paper was concerned, Peterson raised questions that I have been wrestling with for several years.  First, he chided me for making a vague reference to the Enlightenment as a more plausible reason for Presbyterian political activity.  Indeed, the reference to the Enlightenment was vague.  I wrote an entire book on what might be called the “Presbyterian” or “rural” Enlightenment and as I argued in that book, the Presbyterian embrace of the Enlightenment was essential to understanding why the members of the denomination became patriots.  Second, Peterson asked me to be more specific about the term “Presbyterian.”  Was is it really a religious category?  Or was it more of a political or ethnic category.  This is a question I continue to try to nail down and it was one that I grappled with a bit in a recent paper on the Paxton Boys massacre of 1765.

Peterson was a great commentator.  He handed back my paper with dozens of marginal comments–stuff he did not bring up during the formal response.  I could not ask for anything better from a commentator on a panel like this.  It was also a pleasure to see Chris and Kate again.  I am eager to read their forthcoming works.

This Day in History: December 26, 1746

John Pierson, the Anglican missionary to Salem, NJ, was writing one of his regular reports to London:
<!–[if !mso]>st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>

“during the Long Days in the Summer Season I Served Penn’s Neck Church in the Afternoons and Since the Days are too Short to Serve two Churches near Ten Miles distant I preach one Sunday in three weeks at the Church with Seeming Good Success and have in a General way a Larger Congregation there than at Salem though I have Opposed by a Set of Travelling Enthusiasts who are very Industrious in Raising Disturbances and divisions in the Church…
John Pierson to SPG, Salem, NJ, December 26, 1746, Letter Books of the Society of Propagation of the Gospel, Series B, 1701-1786. 

Evangelicalism and the Church of England

Here is an interesting piece in The Economist about the rise of evangelicalism in the Church of England.  A taste:

As the number of people who are actively committed to the Church of England falls, the proportion of churchgoers who are serious about their faith—and its implications for private and public life—is growing. Peter Brierley, a collector of statistics on faith in Britain, reckons that 40% of Anglicans attend evangelical parishes these days, up from 26% in 1989. That is against a background of overall decline; he thinks the number of regular worshippers in the Church of England will have fallen to 680,000 by 2020, down from about 800,000 now and just under 1m a decade ago. The lukewarm are falling away, leaving the pews to the more fervent.

A handful of big evangelically-minded parishes now exercise huge influence, far beyond their immediate patch. Saint Helen’s in Bishopsgate reaches out to workers in London’s financial district; it has “planted” a dozen new communities in other places, using an American model of religious expansion. Holy Trinity, Brompton has exported a charismatic brand of Christianity via the Alpha course. Meanwhile All Souls in Langham Place, which shares a neighbourhood with department stores, broadcasters and arty bohemians, radiates forth a more sober brand of evangelism. What all these churches have in common is a reluctance to do the Church of England’s traditional job of marrying, baptising or burying people who have no real religious commitment. That is a break with Anglicanism’s familiar role as the undemanding “default mode” of faith for a secular country.

From Jamestown to Jefferson

If you go to Google and type in “Religion in Jamestown” you will find a post I did on the subject back in July 2009.  Every September that post ends up being one of the most visited posts at The Way of Improvement Leads HomeI am guessing that teachers and professors give their students some kind of project that asks them to compare the New England colonies with Jamestown and, since students now go to straight to Google when doing history projects, they end up at my post.

What I tried to argue in that post, and briefly in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation, was that Christianity was important in the first successful British-American colony.  Though I am not convinced that religion was able to shape the cultural climate of Jamestown in the same way that it shaped Plymouth or Massachusetts Bay, it did play a role in the everyday life of early Virginia.

I am not the only one making this point.  Earlier this year Paul Rasor and Richard Bond, both of Virginia Wesleyan College, edited From Jefferson to Jamestown: The Evolution of Religious Freedom in Virginia (University of Virginia Press, 2011).  Here is the promotional blurb:

From Jamestown to Jefferson sheds new light on the contexts surrounding Thomas Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom—and on the emergence of the American understanding of religious freedom—by examining its deep roots in colonial Virginia’s remarkable religious diversity. Challenging traditional assumptions about life in early Virginia, the essays in this volume show that the colony was more religious, more diverse, and more tolerant than commonly supposed. The presence of groups as disparate as Quakers, African and African American slaves, and Presbyterians, alongside the established Anglicans, generated a dynamic tension between religious diversity and attempts at hegemonic authority that was apparent from Virginia’s earliest days. The contributors, all renowned scholars of Virginia history, treat in detail the complex interactions among Virginia’s varied religious groups, both in and out of power, as well as the seismic changes unleashed by the Statute’s adoption in 1786. From Jamestown to Jefferson suggests that the daily religious practices and struggles that took place in the town halls, backwoods settlements, plantation houses, and slave quarters that dotted the colonial Virginia landscape helped create a social and political space within which a new understanding of religious freedom, represented by Jefferson’s Statute, could emerge. 

Rasor and Bond have assembled an impressive list of contributors.  They include:

  • Brent Tartar on religion in 17th-century Virginia
  • Edward Bond on lived religion in colonial Virginia
  • Philip Morgan on religious diversity in colonial Virginia
  • Monica Najar on dissenters in colonial Virginia
  • Thomas Buckley on religious authority
  • Daniel Dreiscbach on religious liberty.

From Jamestown to Jefferson is the best general overview I have seen on the complex relationship between religion and society in colonial Virginia.  If you have one book in your library on the subject, this should be it.

Questions All Royal Wedding Fans are Dying to Have Answered

Actually, I am not sure that the people who will wake in a few hours to watch the royal wedding really care about the religious dimensions of the ceremony.  But for those who do, Patheos has provided answers to eight common questions.  I list the questions below, but you will need to go to the Patheos site for the answers.

1.  What happens in the Anglican marriage rite?

2.  Who will perform the ceremony?

3.  Where will the ceremony be held?

4.  What is the connection between the throne and the Church of England?

5.  Why can’t Catholics become monarchs?

6.  What does Kate’s confirmation mean?  Did she convert?

7.  What is the monarch’s role as head of the church?  Does he or she have the power to make theological rulings.

8.  Is the Church of England the official church of the country?  What does that mean?  How is the church-state relationship different than the U.S.?

Internet Civility

I try to keep things civil here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. (Such a task is rather easy when you don’t get many readers writing comments). I have no problem with people disagreeing with the things I write or stuff I post. In fact, some of my most regular and loyal readers disagree, at some level, with most of the things that appear on this blog. That’s fine, as long as the comments section does not turn into a “shouting” match or a forum for personal attacks. There have been times when I have had to delete posts, but they have been rare.

With this in mind, I enjoyed Alan Jacobs recent post on Internet discourse at Big Questions Online. Jacobs describes his experience reading blogs devoted to Anglicanism:

A couple of years ago, I was visiting an Anglican blog, as was then my habit, and came across an article in which a theological conservative — that is, someone on “my side” of the Anglican debate, if (God help us) we must speak in such terms — was accusing Archbishop Williams of something like complete epistemological skepticism, effective unbelief. I have heard many of my fellow conservatives speak of Williams in this way. I thought that if they were to read what he writes, or listen to what he preaches — this magnificent sermon, for instance — they would no longer speak of him so dismissively. I wrote a comment on this post, challenging the critique of Williams and linking to sermons, talks, and essays that demonstrated beyond any doubt that the charge of skepticism was false.

None of this convinced the author of the article or other commenters. The general conviction was that Williams had not acted decisively for conservative causes, especially regarding sexuality, and therefore that anything he said or wrote that savored of theological orthodoxy amounted to protective coloration at best and outright deceit at worst. In their minds, he was the enemy of orthodoxy and therefore their enemy, and could be granted the benefit of no doubt. (Never mind that on liberal Anglican blogs he was simultaneously being condemned for having sold out to the forces of right-wing reaction. And never mind what Jesus said about loving your enemies, even assuming that Williams really is an “enemy.”) They believed that Williams was wrong and had to be resisted by all available means, tarred by any brush at hand. My response to this attitude is summed up perfectly in Archbishop Sentamu’s lament about a “general disregard for the truth.”

The author and commenters bristled at my critique. I bristled right back. The argument escalated. At one point, I said to myself, “All right, you want to play hardball, we’ll play hardball” — and I would have cut loose and said exactly what I wanted to say, except that at that moment my hands were shaking too violently for me to type accurately. I looked at my trembling fingers for a moment. Then I closed that browser tab and spent a few minutes removing all Anglican-related blogs from my bookmarks and my RSS reader. I stopped reading those blogs and have never looked at them again to this day. I don’t think I’ve ever made a better decision…

It is Not the Policy of the Anglican Church to Give Communion to Animals

So wrote the Anglican bishop of Toronto when a priest at St. Peter’s Anglican Church gave holy communion to a dog.

From the Toronto Star:

St. Peter’s Anglican Church has long been known as an open and inclusive place.

So open, it seems, they won’t turn anyone away. Not even a dog.

That’s how a blessed canine ended up receiving communion from interim priest Rev. Marguerite Rea during a morning service the last Sunday in June.

According to those in attendance at the historical church at 188 Carlton St. in downtown Toronto, it was a spontaneous gesture, one intended to make both the dog and its owner – a first timer at the church — feel welcomed. But at least one parishioner saw the act as an affront to the rules and regulations of the Anglican Church. He filed a complaint with the reverend and with the Anglican Diocese of Toronto about the incident – and has since left the church.

“I wrote back to the parishioner that it is not the policy of the Anglican Church to give communion to animals,” said Bishop Patrick Yu, the area bishop of York-Scarborough responsible for St. Peter’s, who received the complaint in early July. “I can see why people would be offended. It is a strange and shocking thing, and I have never heard of it happening before.

“I think the reverend was overcome by what I consider a misguided gesture of welcoming.”

Finish the article here.

In Defense of the Cassock

Rev. Jonathan Mitchican wonders why Christian priests no longer wear cassocks. Is this recent trend in priestly fashion representative of larger cultural changes in American life? Mitchican explains:

…But what I lament isn’t so much the loss of the cassock itself as the loss of the whole cache of cultural symbols of which it was once a part. The cassock once communicated the universal reality of priesthood to the local communities in which priests served. Every town once had a doctor, a butcher, a sheriff, as well as a priest. The child who grew up in each town was able to see the doctor’s stethoscope and identify it with the healing arts not just in some abstract sense but in the way that good old Doctor Smith administered them. The symbols that denoted these universal practices were intimately connected with the people who practiced them. The cassock was a symbol not just of priesthood. It was a symbol of Father Jones who baptized my children and was at my father’s bedside as he lay dying. And seeing these different symbols, such as the cassock and the white coat and the sheriff’s gold star badge, gave the child a sense that he wasn’t just growing up in a cluster of random people but in a community, a living organism in which each person played an important and unique role in the lives of others.

Ironically, it’s the very quest for uniqueness, for freedom of expression and freedom from unnecessary constraint, that has lead to the tyranny of homogeneity that we experience today. I have no idea whether there’s a butcher or a doctor living in my town. Everyone wears the same thing. We all express ourselves the same way, in the same button down shirts and slacks bought off the rack at Sears. The fact that we happen to live in proximity to each other is simply coincidence. There’s no purpose to it.

The universal symbols are gone, replaced by the universality of brand names and box stores. In the process, that which is unique to each local expression of community has become obscured. I’ve lived in different parts of three different states. Every time I move to a new place, I’m asked by the locals, “How do you like living here?” I’m never quite sure how to answer that question, and for the longest time I didn’t know why. And then one day it dawned on me, I couldn’t answer the question because I couldn’t figure out what the difference was between one place and the next. I ate at the same chain restaurants and bought my clothing at the same strip malls everywhere I went. The fact that it was eight degrees colder in New Haven in the winter time than it had been in the suburbs of Baltimore was hardly enough to give me a real sense that there was something that separated the two.

We need symbols, not just brands. We need symbols that speak to our hearts and that communicate deep truths about who we are and how we live. We need to know that there are differences between us that go beyond whether or not we happen to prefer PCs over Macs or Cheerios over Corn Flakes. We need to learn again that there is such a thing as calling and vocation, that each of us can be called upon to serve our communities in a special way, not simply by consuming but by producing the goods that hold our communities together, whether or not those goods are tangible.

Is the Reformation Over?

A few years ago Mark Noll asked this question in light of the recent cordial relations between evangelicals and the Roman Catholic Church. Now we need to ask this question again in light of the Vatican’s recent attempt to get conservative Anglicans to cross the Tiber.

The Vatican is trying to win over Anglicans who are dissatisfied with Canterbury’s allowance of female and homosexual priests. They want to make it easier for these Anglicans to commune with Rome.

While I am sure there will be some who will take the Pope up on his offer, I am guessing that most Anglicans will not. Conservative Anglicans in places like Africa have not been threatened by the kinds of changes to the priesthood that have been predominant in the United States. They would have no reason to leave–a point made by Philip Jenkins in the New York Times article linked above.

Many conservative Anglicans in the United States have already left the Episcopal Church. They have aligned themselves with African bishops and affiliated with organizations such as the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion (CANA). Many of these conservative Anglican groups are quite evangelical in theology. In other words, they are not only conservative/traditional on moral and gender issues, but they are also Protestant conservatives who have fundamental theological disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church. For them, the Reformation is not over, although they would certainly feel more comfortable engaging in fellowship with conservative Catholics than liberal Episcopalians or other liberal Protestants.

However one spins things, this is a very interesting development.

Why the American Revolution Really Happened

OK–I admit that my title is a little provocative. But as some of you know I have been doing a lot of research and thinking of late about the religious dimensions of the American Revolution. I have been exploring the way in which many Loyalists, Anglicans, and British officials viewed the American Revolution as a “Presbyterian Rebellion.” For example, Ambrose Serle, General William Howe’s secretary, wrote in 1777 that “the War…at Bottom is very much a religious War.” He would later write that “Presbyterianism is really at the Bottom of the whole Conspiracy, has supplied it with Vigor, and will never rest, till something is decided upon it.” King George III said that the American Revolution was nothing more than a “Presbyterian Rebellion.” And I could provide dozens and dozens of similar quotations.

But why were Presbyterians so rebellious? This is a huge question–one in which I hope to address in book form. But today while reading letters from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), the Anglican missionary society to the British colonies, I came across an interesting explanation from Charles Inglis, a Church of England priest from New York City.

Inglis, writing on October 31, 1776 to the SPG in London, argues:

…yet is it now past all Doubt, that an Abolition of the Church of England was one of the principal Springs of the Dissenting Leaders’ Conduct; & hence the Unanimity of Dissenters in this Business, their universal Defection from Government—emancipating themselves from the Jurisdiction of Great Britain, & becoming Indpendent (sic) was a necessary step towards this grand object.

Inglis is saying that independence from England was the “necessary step” for “dissenters” (read Presbyterians) to achieve their ultimate design or “grand object,” namely the “Abolition of the Church of England” and not the other way around. Interesting.

If Inglis is right, perhaps there is more to be said about religion and the coming of the American Revolution. Stay tuned.