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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Last Rites: READ IT!

One of the wonderful things about airports and airplanes is the opportunity to read uninterrupted and in the serenity that can only be experienced all those many hundreds of miles above the ground.

One of my dear, long-time friends is Fran Trott. A bold, unrepentant feminist, Fran is one of the mothers of the Episcopal Women's Caucus and a powerful role model for me and many other women. It was Fran who was instrumental in the early days of the movement to ordain women. The first issue of Ruach, now the award-winning publication of The Episcopal Women's Caucus, was typed on on old Remington Select at her kitchen table and reproduced by her on a hand-cranked mimeograph machine in her parish church's office.

As is often her way, Fran placed a book in the middle of the table at our last Women's Commission meeting and said, "I think you may find this a good book to read."

It was Michael Hampson's LAST RITES: The end of the Church of England.

That was it. That was all she did and all she said. Well, I've known Fran long enough to know that this is a powerful endorsement from her, so before anyone else could reach for it, I scooped it up. I've read it twice - once on the way to Belize and again on the return trip.

Yes, it's that's good.

Hampton begins with a sense of the state of the whole of Christ's Anglican church, from the particular perspective of life in the vicarage as an honestly, partnered gay man who is ordained a priest in the Church of England. He is also a former charismatic evangelical and writes movingly about his experience as a young teen in that part of the church.

He provides an important historical perspective, which includes a fascinating analysis of the emergence of the three-party church, in what he calls "the unique glory of the Church of England," the rise of evangelicalism, the charismatic era, and, what he describes as , "The Descent into Chaos: 1983-2005."

Here are some excerpts from his analysis:

The "Three-party Church": "(The CofE) began as a direct two-party confrontation between catholic and protestant, and it is ending as a direct two-party confrontation between liberal and fundamentalist. It is unlikely now that royal or parliamentary patronage will take control to impose a solution, as it did in the sixteenth century, so this time the institution will destroy itself - unless it can find a solution of its own to pull itself back from the brink."

The "Rise of Evangelicalism": "In evangelicalism, everything comes down to the individual. . . .At its best this is a wonderful liberation, an egalitarian revolution . . .At the heart of it is the idea that every human being is 'corrupted by sin', which incurs, 'divine wrath and judgment', resulting in 'eternal condemnation'. Salvation is won from this wrathful and condemning God by human sacrifice, specifically the sacrifice of God's own Son who has taken human form for the purpose: this is the 'atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross', dying in our place, paying the price of sin and defeating evil, so reconciling us with God."

"The inevitable result in a culture instinctively puritan and conservative. . . . The very logic of evangelicalism drives it inevitably towards a cultic fundamentalism."

Hampson has some powerful insights about Rowan Williams as a liberal Anglo-Catholic whose naivete and commitment to unity at all costs may well hold ransom the future the the Anglican Communion. His insiders perspective on the situation with Jeffrey John is also very helpful. Hampson shines, however, in the chapter on the use and abuse of the bible. It is a very fine essay, revealing the heart of a man who loves Jesus and the words of God which are incarnate in His life.

I think this is an important book to read as we prepare for Lambeth in 2008 and General Convention in 2009.

I suspect it will be a good read at any altitude.


Jan said...

Thanks for writing about this book. I will get it and read it.

I'm late in knowing what's been going on, but am still holding you in prayer.

Maureen said...

Elizabeth, I encountered this book on a trip to England in Oct 2006 and I've read it many times since. I brought home many of the inherent differences between a state church from which you have to opt out and a country with no state church where you have to opt in. It made it clearer to me how some folks can think "This is the way TEC must do it" not realizing our structure both church and country-wise. It is also a story of someone I'd like to meet and have a good cup of coffe with!