Day 1 of the 2019 Spring meeting of the House of Bishops. As always, we began (after breakfast and the Eucharist) with a “check-in” time at our table groups (shuffled and re-dealt for this first meeting after a General Convention). This consumed the remainder of the morning, but it’s kind of a necessary exercise in a setting like this where so much of what we do gets processed in table groups.
It was in the afternoon, following lunch, that we got down to actual meeting content. The Presiding Bishop spoke at some length introducing the theme of the meeting: the Way of Love. He hit on many of the themes that I bring up as I move around the diocese: the fact that Christianity is not only no longer the dominant underlying cultural narrative, but that it is widely and profoundly misunderstood. Surveys show that many people, particularly young adults, associate it with “narrow-mindedness,” “bigotry,” and a “right-wing political agenda.” The Way of Love is a set of spiritual practices that will, he hopes, equip Episcopalians to propagate a counter-narrative–that Christianity is a “movement” shaped by nothing else than the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. He noted (and can anyone argue with this?) that the Episcopal Church isn’t particularly known for being Christocentric–focused on Jesus. He wondered aloud what we might do to change that fact, to put Jesus back at the center of our life, both communally and personally.
Bishop Curry went on to recount his own formation in the faith, citing the examples of his Baptist grandmother and his Episcopalian (and priest) father, how, while they may have prayed differently, a consistent discipline of prayer is what enabled them to traverse substantial adversity in their lives with some degree of equanimity and peace.
We then went back to our table groups, followed by a plenary discussion. The potential political implications of the Presiding Bishop’s remarks kept calling attention to themselves. While he disclaimed any notion that the “Jesus Movement” or the “Way of Love” is either “red” or “blue” in its alignment, he acknowledged that it may be difficult for some not to conclude that what he’s arguing for is not a “baptism” of the stock positions of liberal Democrats–if nothing else, as a corrective to the pervasive identity of Christianity with conservative Republican political views. One bishop pointed to the political polarization in the state where his diocese is located, and wondered how we might avoid communicating any implication that the gospel is either “red” or “blue.” When the PB asked, “Is there any wisdom on this?” I found myself at the microphone near my table to give basically a very condensed version of my sermon from last Sunday: the church is neither red nor blue, but simply the church. We have our own vocabulary and symbol system and culture; “Christian” is our identity, and this identity transcends any other which we might claim for ourselves.
We will, of course, be getting into this deeper. For now, I’m not sure I yet see a concrete connection between the wholesome spiritual practices that Bishop Curry commends, and which I endorse, and the Way of Love, which is as yet rather amorphous and ephemeral. I am hoping to encounter some substance, some meat. And what I am hoping not to encounter is just another warmed-over version of realized eschatology–the notion that “God has no hands and feet but ours,” and it’s up to us–enabled and empowered, perhaps, by our wholesome spiritual practices–to “change the world.” In other words, I don’t want to see wholesome spiritual practices cast as an instrumental means toward the achievement of anyone’s list of social or political goals. We’ll see.
After dinner, I joined my Communion Partner bishop colleagues for some discussion of the issues that face us as we move toward yet another General Convention in 2021.