Does my personal theology allow me to be an active member of the Episcopal church?
April 22, 2010 11:57 AM   Subscribe

I have recently started going to an Episcopal church and I want to know if my personal theology really jives with that of the church. What resources are there for this? Are there Episcopalians out there who can give me some feedback on this?

The short bit: I know that I love this particular congregation, but I'd like to learn more about the standard theology of Episcopalianism before I dive too far in. I know there's a lot of differentiation between churches right now, but I'd like to be as knowledgeable about what makes Episcopal churches different from other Christian denominations as possible.

A little background on me: raised without any real religion. Have identified as agnostic Jew for the past decade or so. Went to this (formal service, liberal politics) church with a friend and fell in love with the service and the community. I also went to UU services last weekend and wasn't impressed at all. Found it lacking focus and too "everything is okay! we love love!" to be worth attending again.

I will not denounce my ethnic Jewish heritage. Would this prevent me from ever being baptized? I have no problem accepting Jesus as an entity who is a part of God (I really believe that we're all a part of God...Jesus was just holier than most. Kind of a Buddha / enlightened figure) and who died as a sacrifice so that we can live holy lives without having to follow all of the rules in orthodox Judaism. (Please don't tell me that I should just go to Jewish services. I don't believe in all of the rules of Orthodoxy and find that Reform and similar congregations lack the same focus that I found lacking with UU.) I also believe that Jesus was a holy rabbi-like figure and that his teachings (among teachings of other religions) are worth studying and following. I don't believe in a judgmental God. The extent of my rulebook is "Don't suck." I believe in God the creator and really, everything else is human free will. Does this directly contradict Christian / Episcopal teachings? I can't yet tell.

I apologize for the length and if there are other aspects of the religion / my beliefs that would be integral to my becoming an active member of the Church, please ask.
posted by youcancallmeal to Religion & Philosophy (42 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
FWIW, I've read this thread, but I'm also looking for guidance re: my special snowflake background.
posted by youcancallmeal at 11:59 AM on April 22, 2010

The Episcopal Church has a Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer. The Catechism is a kind of theological FAQ.
posted by jedicus at 12:02 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Regarding baptism: Here's basically the full rundown of the sacrament of baptism, at least the part that involves the candidate:

Celebrant Do you desire to be baptized?
Candidate I do.

Question Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces
of wickedness that rebel against God?
Answer I renounce them.

Question Do you renounce the evil powers of this world
which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Answer I renounce them.

Question Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you
from the love of God?
Answer I renounce them.

Question Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your
Answer I do.

Question Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
Answer I do.

Question Do you promise to follow and obey him as your
Answer I do.

I don't really see anything in there that could be construed as a rejection or denouncement of your Jewish heritage. Of course, really, an Episcopal priest should be happy to answer any and all of these questions.
posted by jedicus at 12:10 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think what worries me the most is this part of the Nicene Creed:

"And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
Begotten of his Father before all worlds"

It's the "only-begotten" part that bothers me. Am I reading this right in that it's a direct contradiction of my more "we're all part of God" viewpoint?
posted by youcancallmeal at 12:13 PM on April 22, 2010

It's the "only-begotten" part that bothers me. Am I reading this right in that it's a direct contradiction of my more "we're all part of God" viewpoint?

The "only begotten" part means that Jesus is literally the Son of God, just like you're the son of your dad. I don't know whether that contradicts anything for you, or how you might choose to interpret that idea.
posted by moxiedoll at 12:18 PM on April 22, 2010

The God the Son part of the Catechism linked by jedicus seems to allow some wiggle room on that
We mean that Jesus is the only perfect image of the Father, and shows us the nature of God.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:20 PM on April 22, 2010

I had interpreted it as "the only one". As in "there can be no other." If this isn't accurate, it'd take a LOT off of my mind. :)
posted by youcancallmeal at 12:20 PM on April 22, 2010

The Episcopal church believes that Jesus is their personal savior. And far and above "all a part of God".

They worship Jesus. You don't seem to want to. Not a problem. Not a fit.
posted by lakerk at 12:21 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

It really comes down to: Do you believe that Jesus was a divine person in a separate, special, and unique way? Different/more than the Buddha, than Mohammed, than anyone else ever?

If the answer is "yes," then I think you can hew to the Nicene Creed without too much discomfort. "Only begotten Son of God," after all, is much easier to interpret metaphorically than literally, with what we currently know about embryology.

If you don't -- and I will say that I don't, despite calling myself a Christian -- then you have to either introduce some rationalization or find somewhere else to go. That rationalization is available, and I don't think it's a bad thing; I'm happy to share my thoughts if you're interested, but I don't want to derail too badly.

But I do want to say that you can go to that church forever and participate deeply without ever getting baptized or "joining." They're not going to give you a time limit by which you have to either fish or cut bait; you're (hopefully) welcome under any terms for as long as you like.
posted by KathrynT at 12:22 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I guess where I need clarification is what "Jesus as personal savior" means in the context of the Episcopal church.
posted by youcancallmeal at 12:23 PM on April 22, 2010

I had interpreted it as "the only one". As in "there can be no other."

It does mean "the only one" - the only one who literally has God for a dad instead of a human dad. The Episcopal Church doesn't believe that Jesus was just like everybody else except extra awesome, but lots of individuals who identify as Christians do believe that, so it's really your call.
posted by moxiedoll at 12:24 PM on April 22, 2010

I'm going to suggest speaking to one of the clergy at this church. If it is politically and theologically liberal, but liturgically orthodox (which is what it sounds like), I would imagine the clergy are familiar and comfortable with the kinds of questions you are posing here, and are best placed to help you see how your personal theology fits in with the congregation and with the larger ECUSA.

As others have said, belief in the divinity of Christ and in his being sent by God to become save mankind from sin is pretty important for anyone who calls him- or herself a Christian and is a member of a liturgical denomination like the Episcopal Church. That being said, there is a wide range of thought on what it means to believe that Jesus was the Son of God and sent to save mankind from sin. And an ordained Episcopal priest will be familiar with that wide range and be able to discuss that with you far better than anyone here will.

I admit that I don't fully understand what you mean by wanting to wait to "dive in." If you've found a community of faith that speaks to you spiritually, just keep going. If at some point you find that what you need or believe diverges from what they have to offer or are offering, your time there won't have been wasted or anything. People move on from churches all the time and for all kinds of reasons. The important thing is to go where you are spiritually fed, for as long as you are spiritually fed there.

Seriously. Go talk to one of the clergy.
posted by devinemissk at 12:26 PM on April 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

The Episcopal church believes that Jesus is their personal savior.

Citation please. I can't find any evidence that the Episcopal Church uses the term 'personal savior,' which is a phrase that comes from an evangelical understanding of the nature of salvation.
posted by jedicus at 12:26 PM on April 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I can't find any evidence that the Episcopal Church uses the term 'personal savior,'

Yeah, the Catechism just refers to Jesus as "the Savior" but not as a "personal Savior."

That being said, I've known lots of Episcopalians who think in those terms. And I've met Episcopalians who don't. I myself am one who doesn't think in those terms, though I have more orthodox theological views than a lot of the people in my particular (theologically liberal but liturgically orthodox) parish.
posted by devinemissk at 12:31 PM on April 22, 2010

I am not a theologian, but as I understand this, a Christian can accept that all people are a part of God, and certainly that God in a part of all people, which can be seen as the same thing. However that is not the same thing as Jesus's divinity. He is not just a part of God, or a holy man, are a human within whom God exist. He is God. The whole thing, and so are the other two parts of the trinity (Yeah, well weirdness happens in all religions.)

As for the 'only-begotten' part, that is a reference to his conception only -- 100% human, 100% God, and conceived without the contribution of a human male. Presence of Mary's genes hasn't been decided yet as far as I know, some think it very important that he did have that heratage.)

The Nicene Creed does lay out all of the fundamental tenants of Christianity. But the only one you have to accept to be a Christian is that Christ (God and man) died for humanities sins. Believe that and you are a Christian, don't and your not. (I've converted several times in a single day before, and on many more than one day.)
posted by Some1 at 12:32 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm Episcopalian; born that way. A feature of infant baptism (not a bug imho) is that I didn't have to do anything (though I apparently peed on the priest. I do not suggest adult baptizees do this.)
It's technically true about the creeds & catechism. They do officially tell us, as Episcopalians, what our faith is. However, in practice, I know a lot of people who don't believe a lot of what is in the catechism and I know several "non-theist" Episcopalians. Some of us are kind of agnostic. Whether a priest would baptize or confirm you if you said "I don't buy it" (it = church dogma) is iffy. I tend to think a number of priests would. Of course, you can still attend & not be baptized. That is fine too.
What might be irksome though is listening to services & sermons which work on the assumption you do believe the catechism. Whether this is a deal breaker depends on you & the type of parish you are in.
Another thing I like about the Episcopal church is that there are a lot of debates and conversations about what things like "only begotten" mean. And in my home parish, questioning & debating is A-OK. For non-traditional theology, you may want to check out:
Anyway, sorry if I have rambled. Memail if you like :)
posted by pointystick at 12:34 PM on April 22, 2010

Raised Christian, convert to Episcopalianism (basically as a way to pretend I'm catholic without all that Pope jazz)

Joke answer: Believe whatever you want about God, no one cares about that, just don't skip coffee hour.

Real Answer: First off, I can't imagine considering yourself ethnically Jewish would lead any Episcopal priest to have qualms about baptizing you.

Second, this is a really tricky question for the Episcopal church specifically, because it's a ideologically diverse group. In a liberal church you'll probably find people who believe as you do. You might even be hard pressed to find someone who believes in a judgmental God. Hell, there might well be some athiests who are just there for the music or the social teaching. That said, I understand wanting to make sure you can accept the basics of the religion before jumping in.

If you're looking for the basics of the Christian(and therefore of the Episcopal) faith, the Nicene creed is a good place to start. You say you're having trouble with the only "only begotten" part, which is understandable. It's important to remember that in classical Christian thought, Jesus's relationship to God is completely unique; he is God, and you are not God. Figuring how you feel about Jesus is probably the first step, but it's not outcome determinative; if you decide that you see Jesus in a non-traditional way, that's no barrier to attending and receiving spiritual fulfillment from an Episcopal service.

Honestly, the best way to figure this out is to talk to a priest, and to talk to your friends who are Episcopalian and see how well you fit in. Figure out if you want to join that community, and if you do, do it.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:40 PM on April 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

As someone who was raised in the Episcopal church, was baptized and confirmed there, I can tell you that there is a Huge range of beliefs within the church. No one is likely to grill you on your personal beliefs, or even care if you want to skip part of the Nicene Creed. Really, if you feel comfortable and like the congregation, you could just keep attending without getting baptized. But others are right - feel free to talk to the minister about your questions. From your opinion of that congregation, it sounds like the minister is likely to be compassionate and happy to engage you in discussion.
posted by ldthomps at 12:41 PM on April 22, 2010

Hi, I grew up the son of an Episcopal priest and married a UU (and was probably behind you in church last week). I've spent a lot of time spiritually counseling Episcopalian youth. From my experience the answer is, sure. Whatever your christian-esque belief system is, you can probably justify attending an Episcopal church. The Episcopal Church has a dogma and catechism but it's not like anyone is giving pop quizzes.

I consider myself a universalist, non-theist, and agnostic (in the questioning sense), but I'd still consider myself an Episcopalian. For me, though I probably would fit very closely with the UUF belief system (and your "don't suck" dogma as well), I find there IS something missing from the UU church, and that is not dogma, but structure and set ritual.

My father, a priest, doesn't disagree. If I told him the true depth of my doubt and disbelief, he wouldn't bat an eye. My brother on the other hand is more spiritually conservative. He tows the catechistic line. That too is acceptable in the Episcopal Church. I have encountered some people that fit rigidly to lakerk's image, but few and they are usually quite old and many of those have left over the gay bishop bullshit anyway.

It's the "only-begotten" part that bothers me.

Incidentally, the only-begotten deal, that's a virgin-birth throwback. In other words Jesus was the only one begotten (not conceived) by god. Conceived would be created through sex, while begotten means created by "BING - you're pregnant!"
posted by Pollomacho at 12:44 PM on April 22, 2010

Oh, I may add, my dad did his undergrad in Buddhist philosophy and is going to teach at an Islamic seminary in Damascus next year. He's also been pulled out of retirement more times than George Foreman by bishops running the spectrum of beliefs and sat on the board of Sewanee (an occasionally conservative Episcopal university) for a while, so I'd say he's regarded as fairly mainstream and acceptable for Episcopal priests.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:50 PM on April 22, 2010

I find there IS something missing from the UU church, and that is not dogma, but structure and set ritual.

This, for me, is what I love about the Episcopal church. I used the phrase a couple of times above, but I want to use it again: theologically liberal, liturgically orthodox. There aren't a lot of denominations where you will find those two things in one parish, but the Episcopal church is one of them, and probably does it the best. There is a lot to be said for a liturgical tradition that is hundreds of years old and that provides spiritual fulfillment in and of itself.

I think of it like yoga--there are these poses you do that are designed to arouse certain mental and spiritual experiences, whether you personally believe in chakras and chi or are just there for the exercise. Similarly at church, there are these rituals we do that are designed to create a spiritual experience that is, if not entirely separate from the underlying theology, at least is not dependent on it.

(And Pollomacho, Sewanee is where I learned to love liturgical orthodoxy in an environment where theological questioning--and liberalism--was totally OK.)
posted by devinemissk at 12:52 PM on April 22, 2010 [9 favorites]

Adding "personal savior" is not a term I have ever heard even in conservative Episcopal churches.
Also "The Episcopal Church" believes is kind of an odd statement considering we're known, especially lately for not being able to agree on pretty much anything as a corporate body.
posted by pointystick at 12:54 PM on April 22, 2010

It seems like you're going into this with somewhat well established beliefs of your own. Are you hoping to find a church/community that shares these beliefs, or are you searching a community that will accept them?

It sounds like you're not interested in having your ideology further developed or guided by a priest or group. If this is the case, are you willing to accept a community that doesn't exactly fit your beliefs? If you are open to some new ideas, will you be satisfied by finding wiggle-room, exceptions-the-rules-technicality, ways to accept them like you are asking about in this thread?
posted by fontophilic at 12:57 PM on April 22, 2010

Incidentally, the only-begotten deal, that's a virgin-birth throwback. In other words Jesus was the only one begotten (not conceived) by god. Conceived would be created through sex, while begotten means created by "BING - you're pregnant!"

I'm pretty sure this is not true. The word in Greek that's being translated as "only begotten" is monogenes, which is used in other places to describe a number of people who were conceived through normal means.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:57 PM on April 22, 2010

While I'm sure you'll do just fine in an Episcopal church (there really is a wide range of beliefs, not just in the congregations, but among the hierarchy as well), I'll just note that where you are seems to be more in line with the United Churches of Christ (Congregational) side of things.
posted by General Malaise at 1:00 PM on April 22, 2010

Your personal theology doesn't line up with any mainstream christian denominations. Many American church-going christians believe the same thing you do, but it is not the doctrine of any denominations. As others have said, you'll probably do fine in any christian church, because no one reads the bible or believes their church's doctrines anyway.

If you embrace relativism and pantheism, which is what your statements boil down to, you might find yourself more comfortable with new age groups. But if you believe in the creator deity described in the torah and messianic scriptures, you have to decide whether you believe what that book says, or if you're just assigning your own made-up deity and instruction to the position of YHWH, and looking for a group that won't run you off for doing it.

Mainstream christianity, including the Episcopalian denomination, teaches that we do not do "the law". They have a lot of words piled up around it, but they also essentially teach "don't suck", with no real requirements. It is not a leap to call that lawlessness. Matthew 7:21-23 has something to say about lawlessness.
posted by Katravax at 1:25 PM on April 22, 2010

The word in Greek that's being translated as "only begotten" is monogenes, which is used in other places to describe a number of people who were conceived through normal means.

Let me clarify (or make it worse by attempting to do so); Jesus was not created or made. He IS God and as God does not have a beginning nor an end, Jesus was begotten not made. In other words, God the Father caused Jesus to be in Mary's womb, He did this not by creating Him, He begat Him to be there.

Jesus is the only one the God begat, everyone else was begotten of his or her earthly father (ie - Jehosephat begat Jedediah. Jedediah begat Malachiah, etc. etc. from the Old Testament). In this case though God was doing the begetting. God is the Creator, He creates things and/or people (see Adam - Book of Genesis). We puny mortals cannot create, we only beget our offspring. In that sense I begat two kids myself. I did not make them, God made them, I only did the begetting.

Now, I begetting home to my wife and two kids. Please feel free to memail me, youcancallmeal or others, for more lively discussion.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:26 PM on April 22, 2010

Let me clarify (or make it worse by attempting to do so); Jesus was not created or made. He IS God and as God does not have a beginning nor an end, Jesus was begotten not made. In other words, God the Father caused Jesus to be in Mary's womb, He did this not by creating Him, He begat Him to be there.

I think this is right, but I think your timing is off; the begatting isn't about what's happening in Mary's womb, it's about what happened at the beginning of the time. You're right to think that it's about the difference between being begat and being created, but Jesus isn't begat when Mary conceives him, he's begat from the very beginning. This is clear in the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381, which says "begotten of the Father before all worlds." The begatting line is mostly about counter Arianism, which held that Jesus was a created being, rather than challenging any ideas about how Mary came to conceive.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:49 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you embrace relativism and pantheism, which is what your statements boil down to...

Maybe, maybe not. The OP's description that "We are all part of God" could be panENtheism, which is very different from pantheism, theologically.

Simply being a pluralist about God's interaction with human religions does not make one a moral or epistemic relativist.

The views espoused by the OP CAN be found in a variety of Protestant Christian denominations: most commonly United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, Unitarian Universalist (arguably not Protestant), Disciples of Christ, and even United Methodism. There are others as well. None of these denominations will exclusively promote these views, as they are a bit unorthodox, but there are sizeable communities of like-minded folks to be found.

This type of question is difficult to answer because there is no secret "true and definitive" meaning behind the ambiguities of creedal language. These creeds and doctrines mean what individual believers interpret them to mean. If you can reconcile the language of the required creeds with your own personal convictions, e.g. low christology and pluralism, then go for it. I'm always amazed at the interpretive jiujitsu performed by my fellow congregants to square their own take on things and the formal language used in services. Sometimes I just mouth the words rather than saying them out loud if I don't feel like agree that Sunday morning.

Above all, congratulations on finding a congregation that meets your needs!!!
posted by reverend cuttle at 1:59 PM on April 22, 2010

I know that I love this particular congregation, but I'd like to learn more about the standard theology of Episcopalianism before I dive too far in.

When the right one comes along....

Talk to the vicar. There are variants, big time variants, from congregation to congregation, ranging from near atheist Might-As-Well-Be-Unitarian to What-Do-Mean-Women-As-Priests-It's-Back-To-Mother-Rome-For-Us and everything in between.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:02 PM on April 22, 2010

Put more simply - there are congregations who would accept you and your concerns as you are and others that would not.

I like to think that this one would. Ask the vicar. That's his, and increasingly her, job. Best of luck regardless.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:08 PM on April 22, 2010

You may find yourself more comfortable referring to yourself as a mystical Christian. As has been suggested upthread, there's nothing stopping you from going to church without being baptized or joining formally, and you may likely find yourself informally included in the community even without the membership card. More importantly, it's not like your relationship with that church can't change over time.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 4:27 PM on April 22, 2010

I agree with a lot of the other Episcopalians posting in this thread...but I just want to point out that the Episcopal Church uses a different version of the Nicene Creed than the one the OP quoted.

The history of the Creed itself is an interesting example of the mutability of Christian theology, especially since the Episcopal Church is poised to drop the filioque in the next printing of the prayer book

Anyway, OP, I think you'll fit in just fine!
posted by Biblio at 5:16 PM on April 22, 2010

I'm a born and baptized Episcopalian and my sentiments jive pretty well with yours. I think that the "formal service, liberal politics" is par for the course in Episcopalian congregations.

That said, if it's making you happy to attend services, why stop? I wouldn't get too caught up with labels. And you don't need to be baptized to get fulfillment from these services. I really believe that if Jesus and God are still up there and have a say at the end of the day, they won't give two toots if you are baptized.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:53 PM on April 22, 2010

United Methodist pastor here (United Methodists used to be Anglicans). A couple of thoughts:

For some historical background on the "begotten" thing, read about the Arian Controversy. Also, note that Arianism is named after Arius. It has nothing to do with white supremacy, Aryan Nation, or any of that nonsense. It just sounds like it does.

Second, in my experience, anyone who joins a church, whether or not they are professing their faith as new converts, seems to me to be putting first and foremost their connection with the community of faith first, and the finer points of theology or ecclesiology second. Basically, when most people join a church, when it comes to the specific doctrines of faith, they are giving all they know of themselves to all that they know of God, which is all any of us can do.

In more moderate, centrist (or left-of-center) churches like the Episcopal, or for that matter, the United Methodist Church, there is always much, much more political and theological diversity than most people realize, so it isn't like everyone else in that congregation completely believes, agrees with, or even understands each and every bit of the doctrine of the church.

People (hopefully) evolve, change, and grow over time, so I suggest that if you join the church, be open to the fact that you may eventually interpret your answers to the membership questions differently than you did the day you joined, but that is OK, because there is room for abundant grace and diversity within the Body of Christ.

Frankly, I am very impressed with the integrity with which you are approaching this, and I wish more people were as reflective on church membership as you are. I suppose the priest will be as well, and I'm nthing the advice to have a chat with him/her.

All the best to you.
posted by 4ster at 7:10 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Episcopalian-raised atheist here. Although I don't see myself ever being a believer again, I do miss the Episcopal church - the rituals, the music, the liberal outlook, etc. I think it's a church that is pretty willing to let you interpret things how you will. Although in my opinion you really need to accept the Nicene Creed, I have know people who claim to be Episcopalian and don't even hold to those (pretty basic) tenets. I second the suggestion to talk with a clergy member about whether your beliefs mesh ok - I don't feel like enough of a theological expert to say for sure, but my general read is that you have to accept that Jesus is the only being to have ever been both fully man and fully God. As far as the Jewish thing those, my stepmother is a Jewish convert to Episcopalianism, and she and my dad have made some effort to raise my half-sister with at least the occasional nod to her Jewish heritage (holidays, mostly). I don't think most Episcopal churches would have a problem with that.

Side note to Pollomacho - I come from a Sewanee-heavy family (both parents, one steparent, a grandfather, some aunts and uncles, and a sister), and my dad also served as a board member - how neat is that if they know each other? Without being too specific, my impression is that the board has experienced some tension because of the varying liberal/conservative slant of certain of its members.
posted by naoko at 7:34 PM on April 22, 2010

Without being too specific, my impression is that the board has experienced some tension because of the varying liberal/conservative slant of certain of its members.

Some of the bishops of the governing diocese are quite conservative and thus are represented there by people of like mind. Likewise other bishops are lefties or at least not conservatives. My father's bishop at the time was obviously not one of the conservatives, he told me once, and this is a man who never swore, that another bishop was a "fucking asshole" after I had a frustrating run in with him over a summer camp. There are some diocese whose conservative bishops, despite being able to place members on the board, will not send seminarians to Sewanee for school.

I know this sounds like a derail, but really, this just demonstrates the breadth of belief in the Church.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:13 PM on April 22, 2010

Sort of circling back from that point: youcancallmeal, one thing that you may or may not be aware of is that the Episcopal Church has been going through some pretty rough times (I might even say a schism) over certain social issues, most prominently gay marriage. Sounds like your church is on what I think is the right side of all this, and it may not really affect your experience as a churchgoer, but I think it doesn't hurt to be aware of the context, as there will be other people in your congregation who feel pretty deeply about these things. Not really related to your question, but I think still a useful fyi for people new to the church.
posted by naoko at 8:30 PM on April 22, 2010

Pollomacho, I was just about to make the same point! There is board tension at Sewanee, but that tension is really just illustrative of the tension in the larger church -- a tension that's been there for as long as the "middle way" moniker has been used to describe the Episcopal church. I personally think the "middle way" is a huge strength of the Episcopal church and I know (*ahem* am related to) conservative clergy and laity who believe that too. And they tend to be more concerned about reconciliation and communion (in the community/unity sense) than about excluding people whose beliefs don't line up precisely with theirs. I hold out hope that the middle way will win out over schism in the end.
posted by devinemissk at 8:30 PM on April 22, 2010

You sound more non-denominational than Episcopalian. Your views as you describe them sounds more like the Theism of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin than mainline Christianity. You might like some of the post-modern Emerging Churches that blossomed starting in the 1990's. Like Mars Hill, or Ekklesia, or Ginghamsburg. They focus more on praxis and, while they have an orthodoxy, they are generous with it.

Not Episcopalian myself, but as I understand it the Anglicans and Episcopalians split from the Catholics over political matters, not theological differences. The cores of these faiths remain very similar. So the Holy Trinity, the Divine and Human natures of Christ, etc. are still very firmly in place. They may be indispute about social issues and dilemmas, but none of them question the divinity of Jesus and the idea that God and His creation are not the same thing.

So if Jesus, to you, is a very enlightened Human and we are all a part of God. Then you probably have little compatibility with core Episcopalian theology.

This doesn't mean that the Church would not be a good place for you to be in community and worship. But if a theological match is your criteria -- Fail.
posted by cross_impact at 8:20 AM on April 23, 2010

Your views as you describe them sounds more like the Theism of Thomas Jefferson

They sure do. Incidentally, Jefferson was also on the vestry of his local Episcopal church.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:25 AM on April 23, 2010

Nth-ing the "talk to your clergyperson" sentiment.

I'm a heavily-involved layperson in an Episcopal congregation; although I've not yet been formally received into the Church, I'm a choir member, I help with various social service / outreach ministries and I'm on the Bishop's Committee (the committee that's formally in charge of the congregation).

One of the things I love about the Anglican/Episcopalian tradition is that unlike many other traditions, it's not centred so much around an ever-more-nitpicky body of beliefs as it is around actions: rather than saying "We believe this... and we believe that this means specifically that and that and that... and we believe that you have to understand that and that and that in these and these and these and these and these ways", the Anglican tradition says, "We do these things: we take Eucharist together, we serve one another and the world, we sing these songs; and we invite and welcome you to do these things alongside us."

A side-effect of this focus on action rather than belief is that Episcopal and Anglican congregations have very different theological stances from parish to parish. Some, like mine, are basically indistinguishable from Catholic parishes (with the small but important exception that most Episcopal churches nowadays fully include women and gays); some are more-or-less Evangelical; some (like, I gather, yours) are pretty liberal, almost deist or secular-humanist in their theology.

For the purposes of this question, it's not as important what theological conclusions you come to on the divinity of Christ, the presence of God in the Eucharist, or other theological issues, as it is that you put in the work to make that journey, to come to an understanding of what you believe about God and how God is at work around you.

That doesn't mean that your personal beliefs aren't important. If you believe [as I do] that Jesus is the divine son of God in a unique way (that's what the phrase "only-begotten" in the Creed means, as far as I can tell); and if you believe that Jesus died and was raised from the dead by God: that's important and you need to work out what that means for your life. If you don't believe that, well I may happen to disagree with you, but I'd be happy to worship alongside you nonetheless. Why? Because you are a human, like me; and because you, like me, are seeking God.

Again, your priest, or other members of your parish whom you trust are important resources for sussing this stuff out. One of the reasons that organised religion continues to be such a big deal is that exploration of faith happens best in community, in conversation. PM me if you're interested in talking further. I'd love to be a part of your journey.
posted by tivalasvegas at 9:43 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

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