Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mortal Follies: Episcopalians and the Crisis of Mainline Christianity

By William Murchison, 215 pages, Encounter Books.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Murchison repeatedly succeeds at showing what happens to a church when its leaders adopt the secular, relativist, entitlement culture, even as church leaders wrap their changes in the good intentions of liberation and equality.

The Episcopal church (American Anglicans) has undergone profound changes while convincing itself that it remains Christian. The author describes the transformations well:

"take the relationship between the sexes. Is the main question, who runs the show around here? Or is the question more slippery: What is the who about? Has God a stake in the outcome? The Christian churches of the United States grow tongue-tied at the notion of actually rebuking sins that lack a political foundation."

Mortal Follies examines all the hot-button issues, showing how they are united under the same mindset, prompted by the same cabal of liberal-feminist leaders who took over control of the Episcopal church. They began their move in the 1970s by taking the beloved Book of Common Prayer away from the laity.

Murchison is at his best showing how the revised prayer book used profoundly different language, reflecting radically new theology. Religion no longer revealed the truth, but talked a lot about feelings. It was therapeutic and prophetic.

Sin was social, not committed by the individual. Sin was explained away psychologically. A thief was not a "sinner," but a victim of society, of her upbringing.

For the revised Prayer Book, marriage was no longer a life-long covenant between man and wife, with God as the deeply-involved and binding third actor in the relationship. Marriage was a blessing, a fun, sentimental journey. This focus on feelings and sentimentality, and on subjective over objective truth, led logically to no-fault divorce and fuzzy sexual ethics.

Much of the changes of the 1970s and after is rooted in ethical thinking from the 1960s called "situational ethics." This thinking is a backbone of the relativism we see today throughout much of Western society.

Such ethical thinkers, rejecting traditional views of right and wrong, see subjectivity and experience as the cornerstone of ethical "values." The best ethical choice depends on the situation, rather than on a normative set of right and wrong. These thinkers were dismantling the entire Christian tradition, both ethics and doctrine.

A revised Prayer Book, new moral standards, and then in 1976 the first test in the real world: the ordination of women. This came with new feminist language about God that, once again, emphasized the personal, subjective, and emotional over the everlasting truth. Women were oppressed by patriarchy, including the patriarchy of the church, and since the emancipated woman could be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, why not priest?

Murchison notes that the ordination of women gave the Episcopal church a taste for radical change, which has since been applied in every domain, often forced through by the elite without the approval of the laity.

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