The Athanasian Creed

Question: What is the Athanasian Creed, and why does it matter?

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Today is Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. Across the western branch of Christ’s Church, preachers went through the annual tradition of scratching their heads and trying to figure out what to say about that most sacred mystery of God’s existence. Every analogy falls into heresy, and even the our best words fall short. It’s a daunting Sunday to climb into the pulpit. (And I should apologize to my supply preacher for putting him in that position.)

Scripture itself provides relatively little information on the nature of the Trinity. We are sent to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We see all three persons at work in the cosmos from Creation and through to the consummation of all things. And Saint John tells us that the Logos is God and with God from the beginning. But how does that whole three-in-one one-in-three thing work?

Blessedly, the Spirit has led the Church to craft statements of faith we now call the ecumenical creeds. Among them is the oft-neglected Athanasian Creed, a lengthy discourse on the nature of the Trinity and Christ’s ministry.

So what does this creed say, why does it matter, and why do we so often ignore it?

Short Answer: The Athanasian Creed is a bit like the Holy Roman Empire: neither Athanasian nor a creed. Discuss.

Continue reading “The Athanasian Creed”

Saint Lydia, Prevail Upon Us

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Text: Acts 16:9-15


 

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has sent us faithful witnesses to proclaim the Gospel. Amen.

Question: How many of you attended a church with a woman serving as pastor before you were 18? Show of hands.

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If you grew up in the old LCA or ALC, you wouldn’t have seen a female pastors until after 1970. Even in the theologically diverse realm of “General Protestant” military chapels during the 1990s and early 2000s, while I met the occasional female chaplain, they were far and few between. It wasn’t until I got to college that I joined a ministry with women serving as fully ordained pastors. In fact, when I started seminary in 2010, even though some predecessors of the United Methodist Church began ordaining women in the late 19th century, my class was the first at Candler to be majority-women.

And if we look around the world, we see that women in ministry are the exception, not the rule. Given that half of the world’s Christians are Catholics and that a wide variety of Protestant denominations actively bar women from ordained ministry, the reality is that the majority of Christians have never heard a woman preach in the pulpit.

In other circles of the Church, women are not only kept out of the pulpit but kept off of congregational councils and committees, prohibited from teaching men in Sunday school, confined to “women’s ministries” like wedding planning, and relegated to a “second-class” status. Continue reading “Saint Lydia, Prevail Upon Us”

Come to the Wedding Feast

A Homily for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Text: St. John 2:1-11


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the bridegroom of the Church. Amen.

As I leave my late twenties and enter my early thirties, I seem to be in that age where most of my peers are getting married. In the past three years, weddings have become the most regular feature of my social life. My sister and both my brothers-in-law have gotten married, as have some of my closest friends. As a pastor, I’ve only had the honor of officiating at one, but what a great wedding it was when nearly a year ago, we gathered here in this space to celebrate with Charlie and Judith as they joined together in holy matrimony.

And yes, weddings are great because they are a celebration of romance, a worship service in which the Church proclaims the value of romantic love and human families – even when that family is as simple as two people giving themselves to each other.

But of course, there’s more to them than that: part of what makes weddings so much fun is the after-party, the reception. There’s often music and dancing – I have no rhythm, but I will dance wildly, even until I have blisters on my heels. It’s a chance to dress up to the nines: suit and tie, or even a tuxedo, a nice dress or a full-length formal gown.

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Your humble author, new bride, friends, and family dancing the night away in July 2013

Continue reading “Come to the Wedding Feast”

Shared Belief: Ethics and Sexuality

Part of Shared Belief, a series responding to Alisa Childers’ article on progressive Christianity and atheism.


In the previous post, we examined Alisa Childers’ claim that progressive Christians ignore Scripture and instead focus on their own preferences to create an ethical framework. We examined the role of Scripture, reason, experience, and Church Tradition in shaping a distinctly Christian ethic. We further considered the distinction between a holistic approach to Christian behavior — that is, a concern for the impoverished, the oppressed, and the marginalized — over and against a narrow focus on what my colleague termed “pelvic issues,” or matters pertaining to human sexuality.

Let us turn now to the elephant in the room. Continue reading “Shared Belief: Ethics and Sexuality”

Come So Far, So Far To Go

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The Risen Christ Appears to Saint Mary Magdalene

It’s remarkable to sit back and think about this past summer and the historic wave of women elected to the episcopacy within the ELCA. In less than fifty years (forty-eight this month), the mainline Lutheran tradition went from not ordaining women to going six-for-six on new bishops.

Let that sink in: fifty years ago, women were not ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Now, they make up just over a quarter of  our Conference of Bishops.

As the Religion News Service reports, the percentage of women in ministry is on the rise across mainline Protestantism. Continue reading “Come So Far, So Far To Go”

You Are Not God’s Only Hands

A Homily for the Feast of Saint Teresa of Avila

Texts: Romans 8:22-27; St. John 14:1-7


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus, our Great Love. Amen.

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The Transverberation of Saint Teresa, 17th c.

There’s no avoiding this topic, so let’s address it head on, shall we? We all probably know Saint Teresa best for the very intimate description of her ecstatic visions. These charismatic experiences are often understood as having at least some erotic subtext as Teresa wrote about the penetrating love of God. In her own words, Teresa discussed the connection between soul and body, the physical sensation of religious experience, the moan-inducing rapture of divine visions. Her writing is put on stunning and beautiful display in Bernini’s famous statue, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, a sculpture that more closely resembles two lovers than an angel and a prophet. This perspective is so vital to the Church, to a body with such a long, painful, and complicated history with human sexuality and so often confused about the relationship between spirit and flesh. Teresa and Saint John of the Cross, her colleague who incorporated much of her imagery, offer profound sources for feminist and queer prophets to proclaim a Gospel that is at peace with human sexuality. But there are better and more capable voices than mine to expound on the value of both men and women claiming such intimacy with God. Continue reading “You Are Not God’s Only Hands”

Marriage, Divorce, and Jesus

This past Sunday, Jesus covered quite a bit of ground. Too much ground for one sermon, really. He hit on points of marriage, divorce, gender, and children. Any one of those topics could have been a book, let alone a fifteen-minute homily.

And because this week’s texts have been used as a cudgel to bludgeon rather than as a balm to soothe the afflicted, it’s important that we spend more time with the text.

Luckily, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Here are some highlights from other preachers. Continue reading “Marriage, Divorce, and Jesus”

Cutting Off the Hand, Plucking Out the Eye

I’ve long wondered how fundamentalists justify certain stances. I can only conclude that it’s because they take Scripture literally but not seriously.

Consider this past week’s Gospel reading from Saint Mark:

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

Fundamentalists often use this as a text to support their evidence for the Dante-esque vision of hell as eternal conscious torment in a burning lake. And indeed, that description is in the text as plain as day: a place of unquenchable fire and gnawing worms. In his essay on the matter in Four Views on Hell, SBTS professor Denny Burk points to precisely this passage in Mark 9 as proof of his argument that hell “is an experience of judgment that has no end.” Continue reading “Cutting Off the Hand, Plucking Out the Eye”

Immoral Majority

Our modern political era can easily be traced back to a single heinous decision: when the newly-resurgent fundamentalist movement within Christianity decided to seek political power through an alliance with the Republican Party.  The Rev. Dr. Randall Balmer, a historian and Episcopal priest, gave a concise and well-researched presentation on the history of this movement that is well worth viewing.

The Moral Majority has been defined by its rigid defense of one particular sexual ethic. For over forty years now, pastors have taken to the pulpit and warn their flocks about the dangers of  the Gay Agenda™ and women’s rights. In the 1990s, these same leaders decried one Bill Clinton for repeated allegations of sexual harassment and an affair with a White House intern. Bill Clinton’s actions, these pastors said, disqualified him from holding elected office.

In 2016, these very same pastors were presented with a presidential candidate who bragged about committing sexual assault. Donald Trump has reveled in his numerous affairs and he faces at least one law suit for sexual harassment. The Moral Majority has embraced Donald Trump like it has no other president — not George W. Bush, not Ronald Reagan, and certainly not the famously devout Jimmy Carter. Continue reading “Immoral Majority”

Abuse, Gay Priests, and the Real Problem

As #ChurchToo continues to unfold in what Whispers in the Loggia has dubbed “Crisis 2.0” (a reference to the major abuse cover-ups unveiled in 2002, most notably in Boston), most of the focus has been on the horrifying details of child sexual abuse.

A quieter narrative has focused sexual harassment and abuse of seminarians and younger clerics. Indeed, the key theme of Abp. Vigano’s “nuclear” letter is former-Cardinal McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians, which the former nuncio blames on a conspiracy of “homosexual networks.”

Cardinal Raymond Burke has furthered this line of thinking:

Now it seems clear in light of these recent terrible scandals that indeed there is a homosexual culture, not only among the clergy but even within the hierarchy, which needs to be purified at the root.

Such claims ignore the evidence in favor of arguing for ecclesial partisan ideology.

First, they ignore the presence of celibate gay priests and deacons who have neither violated their vows nor abused their parishioners. Instead, hacks like Vigano and Burke would have us believe that all gay men are abusers. There is no evidence to suggest this is the case, nor is there evidence to suggest that gay men abuse children at higher rates than heterosexuals.

Second, these claims also ignore the rampant sexual abuse of women within the Church. While much has been said about abusive Protestant pastors, the scandal in the Catholic Church has quietly ignored the rampant abuse of women.

The heartrending report from Pennsylvania focuses primarily on child abuse but points out that the investigation also uncovered rampant clerical abuse against women. The Daily Beast has reported on several women who were assaulted, abused, and harassed by Catholic church leaders, including the horrifying allegation that one woman was assaulted during a private Mass. Just as in the case of abuse against minors, the hierarchy conspired to cover up these crimes.

What we see unfolding in the Catholic Church, as in so many other religious communities, is not some sinister cabal of gay priests. Rather, it’s an abusive power structure more dedicated to the institution than to the protection of its members.

Until bishops like Burke and Vigano can identify the real problem and stop blaming ideological bogeymen, the abuse will continue.