Monday, July 14, 2008

Response to Fort Worth Canon Theologian’s Attack

Following my talks to the Via Media and Remain Episcopal groups in the Diocese of Fort Worth, the Canon Theologian wrote what I believe is a scurrilous and intentionally misleading attack on me and on the essays I wrote for The Episcopal Majority entitled "The Undermining of the Episcopal Church" (found elsewhere on this blog). This response is meant, initially, for members of the HoBD list serve as I promised one member of that group a copy of this response. I am not of a mind to republish Fr. Heidt's attack - you can find that on-line.

Dear Canon Heidt,
I welcome fair criticism of my work, but I must object to your mischaracterizations, misunderstandings and distortions of what I wrote in "The Undermining of the Episcopal Church."

That pamphlet was written for The Episcopal Majority, an organization formed not to declare "open warfare," as you state, but to counter the misrepresentations of traditional Anglicans perpetrated by those who claim to be "orthodox." I certainly have no wish to fight my "enemies to the death." All I want is for there to be honest dialogue with respect for the truth. If you knew anything at all about me you would know that I have a long and distinguished career built on building bridges within the church and between the Episcopal Church and those outside it.

Again, had you read Undermining with any care you would recognize me as fully Trinitarian, with no tolerance for what you charge me with – confusing or identifying the church's Trinitarian God with "the nature of all life."

No place do I or my cohorts assume "the world is in some sense divine," as you charge (reflective of your irresponsible and wrong comments about pagan origins). Likewise, I do not know where you find license to drag the red herring of "the spirit of the times" or the church as "subservient to the culture in which it finds itself," unless you are referring to your own theological underpinnings – they certainly are not mine and are not reflected in my work.

Again, nowhere do I state or assume that "all life is sacramental," in anything like the simplistic way you characterize that notion. Here, as elsewhere, you make broad generalities take the place of responsible citations or quotes of a work you are attacking. While your belief that the sacramental action and presence of God seems to be limited to the church's official sacraments, you must be aware that your limitations are not reflected in traditional Anglicanism or classical Christianity which holds that there are at least these seven sacraments. I do not understand your statement that "God alone makes the sacrament of unction along with the other sacraments."

Your notion that God comes into the world from outside and beyond this world is wildly heretical on several counts, among which is your making God an object as well as separating God from the Creation. Better not to use that notion in countering me or anyone else – just as with your earlier criticism of me for holding the Johannine doctrine of the love of God.

In (2) you note correctly that I report that the church has been constantly changing its beliefs and practices through history. That is not rocket science. We did not start out believing in a Trinitarian God. Our understanding of marriage has changed radically over the centuries. The same is true of our moral codes regarding procreation, slavery, the dignity and equality of women, and on and on and on. However, I never said we must not look to the past – why would you impute that to me? Why the misleading information?

You have not given any indication of my objections to the reintroduction of the 1662 Prayer Book as normative for our theology – or the context for those remarks. They are pretty important. Instead, you wave another generalization that has no relationship to what I argued. Do you, in fact, disagree with my analysis of the dangers of using 1662 as normative? That would be a discussion worth having.

Again, you have grossly mischaracterized my remarks about the current use of John 14:6 as a litmus test. I believe you will find that most Biblical scholars of the 20th and 21st century mirror my analysis. Even Roman Catholic doctrine contradicts the stand of those who now claim to be the "orthodox."

I do poke fun at those who parade around the notion of "the faith once delivered to the saints." The term, when first used, refers, of course, to the Hebrew Scriptures, not to authors of the New Testament. I stand by my clear exposition that those who use the phrase use it not to proclaim early doctrine, but their own peculiar (often very peculiar) notion of a Christianity as they would like it to be. Quite contrary to your statement that I fail to realize the diversity of faith within the whole, I quoted with great approval the work of David Rhodes to that effect.

When you charge me with being fast and loose with the facts, you do not quote me. You do charge me with saying that St. Paul is not part of our Bible – that is completely untrue. It is a scurrilous misrepresentation or lie. I nowhere say that St. John is irrelevant. That is another lie. When I say that "so-called conservatives" are throwing away centuries of biblical scholarship, I give specifics. You choose not to address those specifics: that is sloppy and irresponsible scholarship. I wrote you an email about the facts of the matter regarding property. That was made clear in Undermining – and the courts have consistently held that to be true – and that is very clear in the State of Texas, which is a deference State.

In (4) you throw around a lot of words and phrases that are not linked to anything I wrote or believe. You completely misrepresent my Prayer Book understanding of the ordained orders of the church and of Baptism. Why do you do that? What I wrote about the authority of the laity in the Episcopal Church is straight Prayer Book and Constitution and Canons. If you want to attack them, do so – but don't attack and misrepresent me for following them.

Do check out the ordination and consecration vows in the Prayer Book. It does specify obedience within the Episcopal Church. Period. Why would you think differently? I do chastise foreign bishops for invading our own church in the United States. That practice was first outlawed at the Council of Nicea – and has never been changed or altered. Check it out. The history and practice of the Episcopal Church in Europe is very clear. That is all above board and in compliance with Nicea and the rules and regulations of other groups where we are located.

I have no interest in casting out anyone, as I note clearly in Undermining. I have a great interest in combating misinformation and the practice of demonizing, which I find present in your article. I am happy, though, to kneel at the altar next to you.

Contrary to your claim, St. Paul clearly speaks his mind that people who have sex with members of their own gender shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Do you know something about Michelangelo and Sir John Gielgud that others don't? Under Paul's teaching, they and the millions upon millions of gay and lesbian people who have loved Jesus Christ and have served Him sacrificially have no place in heaven – no matter what Jesus said.

I pray that you will apologize publicly for your misunderstandings and misrepresentations – as well as for your libelous characterization of me as Unitarian and "new religionist." Throughout (5) you again throw out a bunch of accusations with nothing to support them – because there is nothing to support them. They are wrong. I believe your own descriptions of God are wrong – and wrong by all standards of traditional and classical Christian theology and philosophy.

I am grateful that you have, finally, in (6), actually referred to something that I did write. I have not lumped scripture, tradition and reason all together. Check it out. They exist in a dynamic relationship, as Hooker noted and established for Anglicanism. Your characterizations of my understanding of the Bible and the authority of the Bible all come from your own mind and musings. They are deliberate distortions of what I wrote in Undermining and what I clearly believe.

I was very clear about Christian morality. You have chosen to ignore that for another scurrilous attack built against a figment of your imagination.

In conclusion, I am very disappointed in what you have written. I am angry about your lies and misrepresentations. I am offended that such sloppy work has been disseminated in the church, especially under the title of "Canon Theologian." I believe what you have done is a poor job of Swift Boating me. I would be happy to engage with you in honest discussion or dialogue about any of the issues raised in Undermining. As for now, I remain convinced that it is those who claim the loudest to be "orthodox" who are undermining classical and traditional Christianity.

Tom Woodward


A. S. Haley said...

Fr. Woodward, you say:

"I do poke fun at those who parade around the notion of 'the faith once delivered to the saints.' The term, when first used, refers, of course, to the Hebrew Scriptures, not to authors of the New Testament. I stand by my clear exposition that those who use the phrase use it not to proclaim early doctrine, but their own peculiar (often very peculiar) notion of a Christianity as they would like it to be."

I fail to understand your reading of Jude 1:3 (and I cannot find on the site, as you say, the original text of your remarks). Surely the author of that text did not use the term "pistis" to refer to the legacy of the Hebrew scriptures; nor, as you say, does it refer to any of the texts of the New Testament as such. Instead, the Greek term (Strongs #4102) refers almost always in the New Testament to the faith of (or of the disciples in) our Lord and Savior. When the author speaks of it as "entrusted to the saints," he is talking about the teachings of Christ as they had first been given to the disciples, and then passed down to him toward the end of the first century A.D. To read the text (as many do) to refer to some unknowable and idealized form of early Christianity is admittedly anachronistic; but the author of Jude definitely had some specific legacy in mind with the word as he used it. Since it was so recent when he wrote about it, we are bound to respect his referent as having substance with regard to the doctrine he was aware of at the time, and it is our task today to uncover that referent as best we can, with the tools that we have at hand. To fob his reference off onto the Old Testament seems, with all due respect, to be an equally anachronistic projection on your part, and to send seekers after "the faith once delivered" off on entirely the wrong path.

Christopher Cantrell+ said...

Fr. Tom,
Thanks for posting these. To read your responses is helpful.

Christopher Cantrell+

Thomas B. Woodward said...

a.s. haley,
Thanks for your comments. I do want to respond to your take on Titus 1:3.
My analysis is based on reading and study I've done over the years. Unfortunately, when I retired I gave away almost all of my commentaries and other resource materials. I do think you will find more than adequate support for my position in standard brand commentaries. I will do my best at our public library here in Santa Fe (which is much stronger in The Course on Miracles than it is with Christian Biblical Commentaries).
I have done my best with Arndt and Gingrich's "A Greed-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature" and have come to the conclusion that the Greek in Titus does not support either of us -- it seems that it does not prove either of us right. The word used in the Greek text is episteuthen -- which most likely means "understanding" and not the Pauline "faith" or "faith in Jesus."
I don't think a case can be made for any content (teaching about divorce, resisting evil in this and not that way, the obligations of the Law or of Love) referenced in Titus 3.1 -- especially when you look at literal translations of the text, as in the American Standard Bible.
I am certain no case can be made for the kinds of content projected onto Titus 3.1 by bishops Iker, Schofield and others who reference this text. I do not question their intentions, but anacronism is a kind word to describe their effort here.
All the best,
Tom Woodward

Thomas B. Woodward said...

I neglected to provide the url for the section in The Undermining of the Episcopal Church which deals with the use of the phrase "the faith once delivered to the saints." It is:

PseudoPiskie said...

The section talking about that is here - the url is cut off in your comment.

A. S. Haley said...

Fr. Woodward, we are speaking about different passages. You have reference to Titus 1:3, while I was speaking of the phrase "the faith once delivered to the saints" as that occurs in Jude 1:3. In Titus, the Greek is "episteuthen" (a verb form); in Jude the word is "pistis" (a noun). Both come from the same root, however.

I would be interested in your understanding of the passage in Jude, because I think that is the one more frequently cited by those who refer to "the faith once delivered to the saints." Not as a boast or a plug, but so that you will be aware of my views, I have written on this topic here.

Thomas B. Woodward said...

A. S. Haley has made as good a case as possible, I think, for the use of Jude 1.3 as referring to an early set of beliefs passed on by Jesus. I'm grateful that he has provided a link to his argument in the previous Comment.

I disagree with his statement: "The conclusion these writers intend one to reach is that the "faith" we have today is a much-compromised, man-made composite of competing and contradictory versions that flourished in different places at different times, and that it consequently can bear little, if any, relation to the so-called "original," which no longer exists in any form and which no one can describe today with any accuracy."

I believe the data presented by David Rhoads in "The Challenge of Diversity" that there were, certainly around the time of Jude, a dizzying array of theologies about God, depictions of Jesus, views of the work of Christ, experiences of the Spirit, ethical styles, worship patterns, community structures, and understandings of salvation. The New Testament collection reflects only a sampling of this diversity, a sampling that survived through writing." (p. 16)

What we have done as church has been to test and winnow that vast array. Some of that was done by appeal to apostolic witness (so and so knew x, who knew y, who was very close to Peter), some by the test of consistency and some through Biblical scholarship.

I firmly believe that when Bishop Duncan asserts that his own views about the Christian faith are identical to a set of beliefs referenced by Jude he is either a Gnostic (pretending to have a special knowledge no one else has) or is woefully ignorant of the life of the early church. He, apparently, is asking us to believe that Jude was referring to a set of beliefs about modern marriage, sexual identity, Johannine theology, and the filioque clause. He and others have misused Jude as a rallying cry for their own beliefs, but in doing so have misrepresented the enormous diversity in the New Testament and in the early church.