Friday, December 26, 2014

Why I'm proud of the Episcopal Church

Growing up Mormon, I was fairly dismissive of other Christian religions. I was taught that the LDS church was the only church's that logically could even be thought of as a true church. I would look at a church like the Episcopal Church and say to myself "Huh, a church based on the authority of a man wanting a divorce.  That's pretty stupid." Which is about as inaccurate and reductionist as arguing that the LDS church's authority is founded on a local wizard for hire who could never figure out how to use his magic powers to find actual gold so he instead used it to find a gold treasure that nobody, including mostly himself, looked at except in vision trances. Both summations are partially inaccurate and blatantly offensive even if they contain elements of truth. Both fail to capture the heart of how the religions perceive themselves. Since I'm pretty sure many of the LDS people I have known would probably find my choice of the Episcopal Church a little strange I thought I'd explain a little bit of why I'm proud of the Episcopal church.

When I was looking into the Episcopal Church, it was interesting to see what historical accomplishments they emphasized. I grew up accustomed to hearing LDS church lessons celebrating someone else's ancestors doing frontier settlement. Community building is great, but I was always slightly bored and frustrated with such lessons. None of these collective ancestors being celebrated were actually my ancestors. Not that those stories weren't great for my friends growing up who were descendants of pioneers. It just didn't have much to do with me except in a rather abstract sense that rarely became more concrete than a reenactment pioneer trek at a local cattle ranch. The history of the LDS church giving charitably, though interesting, is rarely brought up as being a significant part of church historical identity. The Episcopal Church historical narrative, on the other hand, is much easier to connect to. I read a story about people who won their national independence but were cut off from their spiritual community as a result, developed their own expression of faith, and went about preaching, helping the poor, and doing community outreach programs to ethnic minorities. Simply by being an American with English roots reaching before the time of the Founding Fathers, this story has a lot more to do with my actual ancestors than the LDS narrative. Looking at the present- Episcopalians are a progressive part of a national discussion of how to behave inclusively and justly to the poor and minorities. Giving to the poor and doing outreach for the people at the margins of society is something, I can potentially be part of in a very real way as part of my membership in my parish. In addition, my commitment to environmentalism, which many LDS people would view suspiciously as overly liberal, fits right into the Episcopalian identity where the mistreatment of God's creation is used as an example of the fallen nature of man.

This isn't to say that the Episcopal Church is somehow a perfect organization that never does anything wrong. However, there is a distinct flavor to how the Episcopal Church deals with problems in its culture that is admirable in its own right. For example, I've read online articles that openly complain that many clergy and church administrators often behave in appalling ways in certain contexts. In the comments section of these online articles I expected to see people jumping to their leadership's defense but instead I'd see comments like "We like all of humanity are fallen, only Christ is the answer." Also, my wife and I have read accounts of an Episcopal Bishop who participated in protests outside of the national convention meeting where he was arrested without being removed from his office. Can anyone imagine an LDS general authority participating in a protest outside of General Conference and getting arrested for it without being released? It would be altogether unthinkable. Open dissent simply isn't tolerated. Arguably, this is because the LDS church is based on the ideal or the goal of giving to the world the TRUTH to solve all the world's problems through prophetic leadership. The Episcopal Church, on the other hand, is based around the ideal of creating a beautiful unifying worship pattern to unite a community of worshipers regardless of underlying disagreements. While this model creates very little doctrinal certainty, I don't believe this is an unhealthy position given how uncertainly issues of faith may be known in this life.

Probably of everything I've enjoyed about the Episcopal Church so far, what I've enjoyed most is how Christ centered the worship services are. While LDS worship and teachings try to bring people to Christ as understood through LDS theology, the focus is less direct. The percentage of worship and teaching focusing on the words of Christ is dramatically different between LDS services and Episcopal services. This is probably true of a large majority of Christian churches since the LDS church teaches God's will through the teachings of its own current leaders and as such feels less need to spend time focusing on the teachings of Christ as delivered by Him personally.

So yes, I feel there is much to be proud of in the Episcopal tradition. It isn't a perfect church, but I believe in many ways it is a healthy one. I've enjoyed many aspects of their worship that are incredibly rich and rewarding for me. It feels like home.

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