Sunday, May 20, 2012

Article 33: Excommunication

Today's article is something that I think the modern Church might well consider re-applying to today's world.

XXXIII. Of excommunicate Persons, how they are to be avoided
That person which by open denunciation of the Church is rightly cut off from the unity of the Church, and excommunicated, ought to be taken of the whole multitude of the faithful, as an Heathen and Publican, until he be openly reconciled by penance and received into the Church by a Judge that hath authority thereunto.

The Episcopal Church's current mantra is "radical inclusiveness." I do not claim to support, or even fully understand, what exactly this terms means. Frankly, I recoil from buzzwords like this because I find them simplistic sloganisms that are self-congratulatory to the point of being patently self-righteous. My other pet peeve is the one about 'Episcopalians don't check their brains at the door,' the logical inference being that other Christians are just ignorant bumpkins. At least "Radical inclusivity" has a bit more substance.

As far as I can tell, Radical Inclusiveness means being a church that is accepting of anyone manifesting any behavior whatsoever, no questions asked. I find the concept hypocritical because churches that practice this are in fact some of the most exclusive churches I have ever attended. Case in point, is a church that is practicing radical inclusiveness going to go out of its way to welcome a biblical literalist or, worse yet, a Republican? I think not. Radical inclusivity is the churchy spawn of politically correct tolerance in the secular realm.

 Radical inclusiveness seems to be premised on the notion that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, and therefore, the Church should go about including people of all types in the same manner. I agree with that, in part. If you ever find a church body somewhere that is without sinners, you or I should not attend because we will mess it up for them because we are sinners.

However, I disagree in part on the Radical Inclusiveness bit about Jesus' eating with tax collectors and sinners because the doctrine assumes that Jesus accepted them as they were and never expected them to be uncomfortable or to ever change their sinful ways. That is simply not the case. Jesus did eat and cohort with people of all stripes, but his mission was to always bring them up into the Kingdom of God and not to drag the Kingdom of God down into the gutter of the lowest common denominator. Jesus loved the sinner, but wanted the sinner to become a child of the Most High. Jesus would say to the sinner, "Go your way, and sin no more," and "Repent, for the Kingdom of God (or heaven) is at hand."

Jesus never said, "Come hang out with me and then go back and wallow in whatever sinful life you were living before."

Case in point, the story of the young rich man in the Gospel of Mark:

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

I love the version of this from Mark because unlike the versions in Luke or Matthew, Jesus looks at the young man and loves him before telling him to go and sell all he has. Jesus is clearly not being a punk or being harsh or nonchalant. Jesus loves the young man, and as such, wants the best for him. This is not being radically inclusive because the rich young man goes away sad after having been told he needs to change his life.

The open ended beauty of this passage I think illustrates what this Article of Religion is trying to get at, as harsh as the wording of it sounds to our modern ears. We simply do not know what happens to the rich young man. We know he goes away sad, but he is still young. Maybe, later in life, he ultimately does what Jesus asks, repents, and becomes a follower of Jesus. It is only at this specific point in time that he goes away from Jesus sadly.

That's the whole point of excommunication. It is not intended to be some permanent state whereby the Church damns the sinner for all eternity. The idea is that the person, like the Prodigal Son, is temporarily cut off from the Church for their own good so they can think about things and repent and return and everyone can be reconciled.

This is where I think the doctrine of Radical Inclusivity and Communion of the Unbaptized radically fails. It does not invite reflection or return or repentance. It just creates a social club where everybody shows up and does their thing, whatever that thing might be, regardless of whether there is any common union.

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