Another Illustration: High vs. Low Church

The topic of hunger is replete with Gospel and sacramental--particularly Eucharistic--overtones of course, and possesses a rather specific Anglo-catholic resonance; consider typical Anglo-catholic practices like reserving the sacrament, adoring the Host, fasting before and after the Eucharist, and so on. The doctrine of, and devotional practices around, the real presence of Christ in the sacraments implies the importance of the doctrine of the Incarnation for Anglo-catholics, I should think, and it goes without saying that there is a tradition of Christian socialism at home in Anglo-catholic spirituality. It is not at all as if high churchfolk have no resources from which to draw in addressing the concrete monstrosities of hunger, malnutrition, and starvation.

Having said that, I should mention Anglo-catholicism's public face in the US--which probably is constituted largely by Fort Worth and the like rather than, say, Affirming Catholicism types like Griswold--likely does not give the impression of being sympathetic to socialist intervention on any level of society.

The leftist evangelical is bound, however, to be struck forcefully by news of Haiti's government falling from food riots, food riots erupting in Yemen, development ministers urging steps be taken to address a world-wide food crisis, Walmart in the USA "rationing" rice, and--recalling Barth's mention of holding a Bible in one hand with the day's newspaper in another--to feel Christians are duty bound as Christians to do something now. They might feel the MDGs are highly relevant as a moral response to the kerygma, even concomitant to living faith. You might find them celbrating a Eucharist with an MDG banner behind the Altar instead of, say, a banner of Charles I behind an altar, a banner of choice at the rather Anglo-catholic St. Clements. Yes, one could work out the social relevance of Charles I with, for instance, the reissue of Trevor-Roper's provocative biography on Laud on hand--even so, so what? That kind of virtuosity is, and will most likely ever remain, too much of a stretch for many in the pews.

There is a difference here, I'm convinced, between high church, Anglo-catholic responses to news of global hunger and left evangelical responses--even if both embrace the virtue of almsgiving. For instance, moving afield from Anglicanism, consider some well known authors who seem to me typical of these different approaches. Onn the low-church, evangelical left:

Ron Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?

and one of my favorites: Rich Christians In An Age Of Hunger , which came out in a new version, it seems, here.

Speaking of reissues, don't miss this one, whose timing--considering the real and terrifying propect of global economic chaos--is exquisite. And the list could be extended with works from Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo, among numerous others. My point? Well,

(1) This left evangelical stuff is well done and immediately accessible. It does not require the kind of familiarity with ritual that goes with smooth celebration in Anglo-catholic parishes ("Just when do I cross myself around here?") or even, say, using the Daily Office at home--much less familiarity with the technicalities of Eucharistic or Incarnational theology (what I mean by the "metaphysical theology" embedded in the Creeds). Yet this stuff is solid enough to stand as a credible articulation of what a life lived under the Gospel really looks like; it is sufficient qua moral response to the kerygma.

That is to say, it's not just catechetical; it's the didache--from the left evangelical point of view.

Thus, (2) the left evangelical point of view has its own coherence and cogency quite apart from Anglo-catholic sensibility, even if the two are, as I think, compatible and even mutually reinforcing. Moreover, it seems important to note left evangelical moral sensibility, going light on metaphysical theology, stands a good chance of appealing to modernists--say, those schooled in and sympathetic to the scientific method--in a way high churchfolk insisting on high and not simply aesthetic views of the dominical sacraments, anthropology, the church, ordination, Incarnation, and the Trinity could not. Saying "this high stuff is a pretty part of our story, so let's keep these claims around in our liturgy and common life" is quite different from saying "this high stuff is literally true, and you had better come around to believing it, brothers and sisters, if you know what's good for you." The latter is apt, I'd contend, to offend a modernist--and the left evangelical might not ever get around to saying the latter.

So, (3) the left evangelical point of view can always become detatched and in practice within a denomination, foreign and even competitive with other points of view, like the high church, Anglo-catholic point of view. This is already happening in the Episcopal Church with mutual ministry--which could easily lead to lay celebration, communion without baptism, and preaching MDGs as necessary moral response to living the life Jesus wants you to lead.

On the basis of (1)-(3), it seems the left-evangelical movement will likely gather momentum in the mainstream and in the Episcopal Church, eventually becoming the majority voice heard in the prayerbooks. One can, I think, already see this among our Lutheran friends; their new prayerbook seems to me to lean in a left evangelical direction.

What we do not need as a response to this development, if it comes to be, is more fracturing and splitting from Anglo-catholics. That is what is most distressing about how Fort Worth is responding to the rise of left evangelicalism in the Episcopal Church. I presume deals could be made with Griswold et al, and Fort Worth-types could come to make uneasy peace with Affirming Catholics. But PB Schori is definitely not another Griswold; her tenure represents, to me, the ascendency of left evangelical spirituality in our church. Left evangelical spirituality is dangerous to Fort Worth-types in a way left Anglo-catholicism is not--dangerous enough to drive them to do very un-Anglo-catholic things, like pretend the Anglican Communion is a church. The issue of how we may yet live together will not go away anytime soon.

NB "High church" is a bit ambiguous, as is "low church." Granting one may have high church baptists, reformed folk, and so on, I'm conflating high church sensibility with Anglo-catholicism for convenience, to give the term some concrete sense, and low church sensibility with evangelicalism likewise, ready to admit other parties are kicking around.

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