The Catholic blogosphere certainly has not missed the headlines from this past week that the Primates of the Anglican Communion have censured the Episcopal Church in the United States for a period of three years because the Episcopal Church here has sanctioned and blessed “same-sex marriage,” even incorporating it into the marriage rites of that ecclesial community. In a very real sense, of course, the internal actions of the Anglican Communion would not normally be our concern here at Life At 25, as it is up to Anglican leaders to determine who and who not to censure, and for what reasons, within that ecclesial community. It might be worth not saying anything at all about the Anglican Primates’ action were it not for the fact that the majority of the Anglican bishops voting to censure the U.S. Episcopal Church were from third-world countries, especially Africa and South America.
As a matter of record, the U.S. Episcopal Church (I call it that in writing to distinguish it from its Scottish Anglican counterpart and “parent” ecclesial community, the Scottish Episcopal Church, so-called to distinguish it from the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian in polity and does not have bishops) says that it will not reverse its position on marriage, and so it remains to be seen whether other Anglican Primates will take any further action in three years, or if they really can even do so. The Episcopalians certainly aren’t the first Protestant denomination to redefine marriage to suit themselves, as we wrote here over a year and a half ago, the Presbyterian Church USA wasted no time in conforming to the spirit of the age.
What is most significant here is that those who are taking a stand for what we can call traditional Christian morality are largely from Africa, Latin America, and the South Pacific, what we would call the Third World or the Global South, the poorest nations in the world. We see this within the Catholic world, and we saw it during the deliberations at the Synod on the Family. We all knew, despite what the secular media were saying, that orthodoxy was going to be the order of the day. Among its most vocal public defenders were bishops from the so-called Third World. It is my humble opinion (let me be clear that this is my opinion) that there is more to this than mere ecclesiastical politics.
I have never known what it is like to be wealthy, or to have much money. Yet I enjoyed a nice breakfast this morning. I had my choice of coffee brewed in my own coffee pot or tea brewed from my kettle with water from my tap. Our home is simple, but my wife, our baby daughter, and myself enjoy a roof over our heads that we own, a place to sleep, clothes to wear, and even the leisure time to read, enjoy sports on occasion, or a movie from time to time. The internet gives us access to information and entertainment of our choosing. We both have university educations, and I was actually taught how to read at first from my own late mother. By the standards of our country, we are not at all rich, but by world standards, we are not merely rich, we are the idle rich. We have and believe our faith, if Jesus is to be believed, despite our abundance.
Yet the bishops I write of here represent many people who have none of these things. Their faith and their rearing in the Church does not come as part of an environment where they are as well-housed, well-clothed, well-educated, well-nourished, or well-heeled as many of us. They have a strong faith in Jesus Christ because that faith is all that they have, and they know that one day, he will return to set all things right and bring them justice in his Everlasting Kingdom. As a result of this strong faith in Jesus Christ, these same people understand that the moral law of God is not to be ignored in the name of love, that it is in fact unloving for us to ignore the truth. Truth can, however, be proclaimed in love and in a loving way.
The Church is growing the fastest in the part of the world that is the poorest. I think there is great truth to what scripture tells us about the rich young man who came to follow Jesus (cf. Mt. 19:16-22):
And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
The lesson here seems clear. It is not that wealth is bad but that when either our abundance or our things become the center of our lives, we tend to focus on things other than Christ. That is something that is easy to do when you have much, and when abundance is combined with the climate of moral relativism that seems to exist in our culture today, what we tend to do is to tailor the Gospel to fit the lives we want to lead, rather than changing our lives in conversion to fit the Gospel. May God forgive us and help all of us to reform our lives to the service of the Gospel, rather than trying to tailor the Gospel to suit us in the service of our own lives.
Many of our brothers and sisters in the developing world seem to understand that the Gospel message is indeed a message of glad tidings to the poor, the Bible speaks of the care of the poor more often than nearly anything else. However, they also understand that God has a moral law, and that the understanding of what sin is and of our need to repent of sin and be converted is part of a Gospel life as well. Put more simply, truth without love is uncompassionate, but love without truth is not love at all, and God and his law is the Truth. Standing for marriage, family, and traditional morality in today’s culture is not easy, but as sure as we are called to see Christ in the poor, we are called to be Christ for others, and that includes the way we live our family lives, and our ability to admit when we fall short.
Just a humble personal observation, but the developing world may continue to lead in defending Christian orthodoxy for a great many years to come.