Steven Smith | Condemnation doesn’t belong in today’s Christianity

December 10, 2013 

Two recent clergy columns — by the Rev. Kenneth Codner, of Spring Mills, on Saturday and by Bishop Council Nedd II, of Pine Grove Mills, on Nov. 16 — call for comment.

It has surprised me that three weeks have passed without apparent notice of Nedd’s piece. Surely I am not the only one reading these things.

Codner attacks the acceptance of gay people and gay marriage today, and quotes substantially from the New Testament as well as the old.

This is no surprise. Bible fundamentalists are always able to find words of condemnation for much of modern life, as well as support for interesting ideas of male preeminence, the justification of slavery, the execution of witches, ethnic cleansing of nonbelieving others and so on.

The canonical Scriptures, written down by fallible people so many centuries ago, contain much wisdom and comfort for all Christians, but also a few embarrassments.

As an Episcopal, Anglo-catholic Christian, I have always felt that “rational” and “Christian” were not inherently contradictory terms.

For that reason, Nedd’s remarks are more problematic to me.

He asserts a “leadership role in the Christian community” as one of the Anglicans who reject the Episcopal Church (my church since 1978) for its acceptance of, first, women as clergy and, later, gays.

These good people are considered mainstream in much of the world Anglican Communion, but many hold views that should be at least controversial among Nedd’s parishioners at St. Alban’s.

He complains about “an overly feminized form of Christianity in which men cannot act as men and women assert a theology that gives them dominion over men.”

He also attacks my church and its clergy for liking “pretty buildings and beautiful vestments” and for preferring “to place women in masculine roles.” He further commends Islam because “nothing in Islam requires men to deny their manhood,” instead “encouraging separate manhood and womanhood.”

He rails against the image of Christ as “a sort of pansy with well-manicured nails and a perfectly trimmed beard.”

I am interested: what would Nedd have Christians emulate?

It did not occur to the earliest Christians that women might be equipped to lead the church, but even Scripture does not say they should be permanently silent.

Was it proper in medieval Christianity that even the most brilliantly educated prioress would be subject to the authority of the most ignorant male village priest? But wait, isn’t that a legitimate complaint of the Roman church today?

What other “separate” ideas of African mainstream or radical Islam should we employ? Plural marriage for (only) men, perhaps? Radical Islam may hold some attraction for men in some parts of the world, even here; but it also promotes honor killings, the refusal to teach girls and women and the belief that no woman can legitimately acquire — whether through goodness, knowledge, ability or the gift of charisma — authority over men.

This is something no Christian should believe, much less a bishop.

Today, yes, we Episcopal Christians love to worship in beautiful buildings of stone and wood and listen to beautiful classical church music.

Yes, we welcome gays and, yes, we have a female presiding bishop in the Episcopal Church.

One day there may yet be a female pope, not in my lifetime but surely as the centuries roll on. This is a possibility Christians should welcome, with thanksgiving.

Steven Smith lives in State College.

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