All have seen

All the ends of the earth
have seen the salvation of our God:
sing joyfully to God, all the earth. – Psalm 98:3

Sunday, June 12, 2011

New Zealand Anglicans: a call to consistently ethical behavior

Anglicans marginalize groups engaging in hate-speech about Muslims; they need to be more consistent about speech targeting other groups, as well.
What does the lack of critical engagement regarding the initial St. Matthew's 2009 media campaign have to say about the sensibilities of so-called "orthodox" Anglicans?

I'm surprised and saddened that New Zealand Anglicans feel they need to respond to a call made by St. Matthew's-in-the-City. It seems to me that St. Matthew's is best ignored (until such a time as it has shown that it has significantly changed). I don't wish to address the cause itself, but simply point out: if the cause is worth responding to, it should be carried forward by a different mouthpiece.  And as long as it's strongly associated with St. Matthew's, it is best ignored.

On the one occasion in which Glynn Cardy was able to manufacture a media storm guaranteeing that millions of the world's eyes would turned upon himself and St. Matthew's - Mr. Cardy chose to engage in hate speech.

From the sermon (note how he begins - "To make the news at Christmas ..." - Cardy clearly knew what he was doing):
"Christian fundamentalism believes a supernatural male God who lived above sent his sperm into the womb of the virgin Mary. Although there were a series of miraculous events surrounding Jesus’ birth – like wandering stars and angelic choirs – the real miracle was his death and literal resurrection 33 years later."

Cardy is encouraging us to classify a group of Christians as "fundamentalists" - as epistemologist Alvin Plantinga has noted, "fundamentalism" is a cognitively relatively empty word; but yet highly pejorative. "Fundamentalism" is always defined differently; one must look at context to see who the speaker is referring to. Amongst the things he associates with such fundamentalism are:
  • something having to do with the Virgin Mary
  • a literal resurrection
These "fundamentalists" are contrasted to "Progressive Christianity," which according to Cardy believes that the Christmas narrative is fictitious. It's common enough for groups of Christians to be perjorized and marginalized by referring to them as "Fundamentalists," but what's unique here is that Cardy actually goes so far as to teach his congregation and the world what those people believe. And he's teaching them that these people believe in divine sperm.

There are, as far as I know, no groups of Christians teach such a doctrine concerning divine sperm. Presumably, the group which is most targeted by this statement is Roman Catholics, who in the West are highly associated with the Virgin Mary - as Protestants themselves don't tend to emphasize the virgin birth (nor do they always believe in it), and tend to find Catholic beliefs and practices about Mary either rather curious or quite suspicious.

One of the characteristics of practice of religion in the West aimed at keeping peace amongst religions is: we generally don't tend to teach our adherents what people of other religions believe, except very occasionally, when we're quite sure about the teachings concerned. And we most certainly don't impute to them beliefs which many would find disgusting, ridiculous, or outright shameful - when they do not actually believe such.

For this would be an incitement to strong feelings of aversion against such persons, i.e., hate speech.

It seems the only way we can maintain freedom of religion, yet keep hatred at bay, is by ignoring the antics of groups of adherents and religious leaders who engage in this type of behavior, like Mr. Cardy or the Koran-burning Terry Jones. Loving them doesn't necessarily mean handing them a bullhorn.

Since it's Christians here who are "targeted" - and not other religions - we are likely to laugh at this, or brush it off as simply silly. I'd argue, however, that if we do, we are setting a dangerous precedent - in allowing our clerics to teach falsehoods about what persons of other religions believe (since, in this case, "Progressive Christianity" as Cardy describes it does not consider e.g. the [bodily] resurrection to be amongst its beliefs, is a different religion from Trinitarian Christianity - so we are really speaking of different religions).

Anglicans find themselves engaging in hate speech with greater frequency these days. Cardy is not alone, though this example is admittedly extreme. We also need to be especially attentive at our hate speech directed toward Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics because of the disagreements of some of us with their views on gender and ordination. Protestants in general tend to have enough animus and misinformation amongst themselves about Catholics, without the addition of our own animus. We may certainly engage Catholics rationally; but with their own well-reasoned and authentically held beliefs on ordination, calling them "bigots" and "woman-haters" is itself a rather extreme and terrible form of bigotry. For when we call them bigots, we are engaging in vituperation in ignorance of their own extensive reasoning and soul-searching regarding the interrelation between Scripture and tradition, however much we may disagree with it. And we must be consistent - e.g., willing to decry all practicing Muslims as bigots and woman-haters.

As an additional note - this incident has, as far as I know, brought world attention more than any other to the rather recent phenomenon of "Progressive Christianity," with St. Matthews-in-the-City probably being the congregation most associated with this movement.  The sermon here was practically a manifesto for Progressive Christianity - given the media attention, Progressive Christianity's most historic manifesto to date.  I know of no significant criticism or denouncing of this manufactured media event from any known proponent of Progressive Christianity.  One might reasonably conclude that Progressive Christianity as a movement has few qualms with teaching calumnous falsities about other religions and generally "ok" with hate speech, as long as it's hatred of those who disagree with them.

To this day, we are still left in a situation where thousands of media outlets published the divine sperm story, with hundreds of millions having been exposed to it; but with no significant apology having been heard from the Anglican Communion or the lesser bodies associated with this event. When Terry Jones announced his plans to burn Korans, hundreds of Christian clergy responded; here, primarily Roman Catholics are targeted by hate speech in a billboard and public media campaign, and not only are we silent - we continue to lend our ear to a call for "justice" by this group. If the cause is important - we need to find another group to be its mouthpiece.

Perhaps the best response to this St. Matthew's initiative is to accept it as an invitation to call St. Matthew's to revisit its own vision of accountability and ethics.

Shortcomings in sensibilities of so-called "orthodox Anglicans"

Finally, the fact that New Zealand Anglicans are allowing an initiative to go forward strongly associated with St. Matthew's, after such a global hate-speech incident without apology - what does this say of so-called "orthodox Anglicans"?  Have they so divested themselves from the "liberal" groups that they have given up basic calls for honesty and respectful behavior?  Or do they simply believe that "hate speech" is "a liberal thing"?  I can say with certainty: most self-describing "liberal" Anglicans do not approve of the use of falsity for promoting one's cause - especially if the falsity in question is inflammatory.  "Conservative" Anglicans, on this occasion, needed to do more to lovingly convince their "liberal" counterparts that here, St. Matthew's was engaged in something simultaneously wrong and stupid while so foolishly exhibiting itself upon the world stage.  There is ample reason for understanding how many did not "see" the problem here, given the tabloid-like media attention given to the billboard and the issues of taste and offense.  It is understandable that many liberal Anglican readers did not take notice.  I would suggest here, that "orthodox Anlgicans" failed their "liberal" brothers and sisters in failing to engage them with a message which both parties could understand, and act upon - which could have found a beneficial outcome for both parties, in calling upon Cardy and St. Matthew's to reconsider their action (and much more importantly: this would also have been an opportunity to invite them back into the fold of Trinitarian Christianity).  So-called "orthodox Anglicans" should conclude, I believe: that they have much to learn about appreciation of the church as the body of Christ; and the importance of loving, church-aware action within that body - the difficult, and usually thankless task of finding ways of bringing healing and peace.

additional thoughts:

There are a number of things deserving commentary in Cardy's elocution, and it's also telling of "orthodox Anglicans" that this sermon was never seriously "fisked."  First off, it's probably the most "historic" presentation of the phenomenon of "Progressive Chrsitianity" - given the great attention Cardy was able to garner with the billboard and his media campaign.  I am disappointed that more in 2009 - especially those identifying as "Progressive Christians" - did not highlight some of the interesting tidbits here - since this has been, to date, Progressive Christianity's most historic "manifesto."

A note on "Progressive Christianity": It is essential for Trinitarian Christians who consider themselves to be "progressive" on various issues, understand that "Progressive Christianity" has emerged as something very much different from what they believe as Trinitarian Christians.  I would like to point out in as strong language as possible - this is a phenomenon of a fringe group which self-identifies with "Progressive Christianity" as a kind of label - strongly identified with the Institute for Progressive Christianity and such figures as Marcus Borg.  This is largely a form of non-Trinitarian Jesus following; i.e., incompatible with Trinitarian Christianity.

My remarks here are meant to apply to this community in particular - i.e., those who identify specifically with the label "Progressive Christianity" and are aware of its tenets - as we can assume Cardy is - e.g., relegating the gospel accounts of the birth of Christ to the category of "fiction," and rejecting the importance of the bodily resurrection of Christ.  If you are a Trinitarian Christian, and you see yourself as "progressive" - this is most certainly not about you

"Progressive Christianity however emphasizes behaviour above belief. How one treats ones neighbours, enemies, and planet is the essence of faith."

Does this behavior re. neighbours and enemies include lies and hate speech?  What does the silence of the Progressive Christianity community about this event say about its sensitivity with regards to ethical issues and engagement?

"Yet the culture of the Church is such that differences are downplayed and commonality extolled. Variety is synthesized into a supposed unity creating a mushy middle way. Most church leaders follow this middle mush approach, trying to say something pertinent without offending anybody."

Cardy proves his point by engaging in hate speech with no one calling him out for it out of fear of "offending" someone.  Anglicanism is indeed highly characterized by "middle mush." He portrays himself as someone on an "extreme end" who is not afraid to offend, and disavows the notion of unity espoused by "most church leaders."  Still - with so much material here worthy of criticism - what does it say about so-called "orthodox" Anglicans

"Progressive Christianity is distinctive in that not only does it articulate a clear view it is also interested in engaging with those who differ. Its vision is one of robust engagement."

 I would suggest that this "type" of engagement - that does not stop short at purporting that opponents believe things they don't - is a form of engagement which is best avoided.

A note to advocates of LGBT issues in the Communion: do you really want this man and his congregation functioning as your mouthpiece?  Has the situation in the Communion really devolved to such depths? 

[Thanks to commenter Peter, below, for pointing out that Glynn Cardy is not a Canon; article updated to correct this error]


David V said...

Good commentary, James--bigotry is bigotry regardless of what side of an issue someone is on.

Regarding "Fundamentalism" I have always had a much clearer view of both its origins and meaning and believe that Wikipedia is correct in its history on this one, focusing on the Stewart brothers, particularly Lyman, as the founders of the movement.

It seems absurd to focus on the virgin birth as a unique idea to fundamentalism--it a key component of the early church creeds (Old Roman, Apostolic and Nicene) and would seem to be a cornerstone of the claim of Christ to be the son of God. It's unclear to me why that would be harder to believe than that Christ rose from the dead.

David V said...

FYI, this is the wiki link:

James said...

Thanks for your comment, Mr. Vanderveen. You're right about "Fundamentalism" - it is sort of odd that we still cling to this word that's more than a century old ... a conflict which, interestingly enough, began when two men who didn't believe in the virgin birth were ordained to serve as clergy in a Presbyterian church. One can't help but think ... if that church had simply waited, and allowed the debate to percolate without actually taking on the clergy ... we might have ended up avoiding the horrible polarization we now have between "liberal" and "conservative" congregations, with more congregations being a healthy mix of both.

Alas, that didn't happen, and we have a lot of rather fruitless bickering instead.

Peter said...

Peace to you comrade,

I am not sure whether you appreciate St. Matthew's for what it is. To be mildly generous, you seem to have made errors your friends. I do not believe that Glynn is a Canon of the Cathedral. He has been an Archdeacon and Vicar, so styled the Venerable or the Reverend; but, he is not a Canon. Even if he were, he would then be styled the Reverend/Venerable Canon.

From this simple error you seem to leap to many others. Unless hate speech is reduced to the trivial understanding of speech we disagree with I fail to appreciate how pointing out that "to make the news" as you cite, "it seems a priest just needs to question the literalness of a virgin giving birth," qualifies as hate speech. That Glynn proceeds to note how Progressive Christianity differs from Fundamentalism also does not qualify as hate speech. Even had he set about stating that Church X believes Y, which he didn't, it was hardly hate speech. At least it was no more hate speech than MLK's comments in his "I have a dream" speech were hate speech when he notes Alabama's tendency for vicious racists.
Labels are problematic, I accept that - progressive is just as problematic as fundamentalist.

Loving others as God loves us, and calling the Church to do the same is hardly hateful either. That is unless I am the one who has indulged in the erroneous.

May we all play lovingly.

James said...


Thanks especially for your remark concerning Mr. Cardy's title. I am wondering now why I would have supposed he were a canon.

Peter, you are right that the things that you mention do not themselves constitute hate speech; except for the last one.

Yes, it is hate speech when Mr. Cardy falsely accuses some group of Christians of believing in divine sperm. The world reacted to the notion of "divine sperm" with disgust; and those who did not know better, would very much tend to view the group he so villifies as irrational, disgusting, or insane.

Hate speech does not require that one explicitly admonish one's listener to hate a group of people.

It is enough to falsely portray that group of people as disgustingly irrational, and in doing so, inspire strong feelings of aversion toward the target group.

James said...

I've had a private exchange about this issue with a friend in New Zealand, who notes:

In New Zealand, one wouldn't typically associate this kind of language with "hate speech."

There's much to be said regarding this remark. I personally find the word hate speech quite ugly. I believe it grew out of darker moments of American rhetorical clashes - it is certainly a rather "shrill" type of word. Its lack of preciseness has populist overtones.

However, it's become something of a staple term for progressives. I don't want to go into too much detail nor dig up other controversies - but let's consider for example the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Center considers the American Family Association to be a "hate group" and in its defense of this appellation, cited the fact that the AFA warned its readership that the repeal of DADT would lead to straight people sharing showers with gay people; which, in fact, was the truth.

I would rather that the term "hate speech" is avoided entirely, with more nuanced language applied to cases of rhetorical misconduct - not that we must "grow lax" - but the term "hate speech" is frequently used to demonize groups.

My point here is that what's good for the goose, is good for the gander. If we are saying that a particular group of Christians needs to be labeled with the pejorative term "Fundamentalist" and alleging that such persons believe in divine sperm - if we accept the term "hate speech" (Cardy himself has used it, though in a more nuanced context than this one), then it most certainly applies here.

It could be argued that "everyone knows this isn't true." I think this is far from true - Cardy's words about "divine sperm" rang out to the very corners of the earth, with hundreds of news sources and many more blogs picking up on them. The world audience isn't theologically well-educated. And from the general content of what I've read at St. Matt's website, assessing its level of discourse and engagement of thought ... I'd be inclined to think that the general educational level in theology at St. Matt's is also quite low (though there are almost certainly individuals in the congregation who wouldn't fit in this generalization).

David V said...

James, et al, I think the simple math on "hate speech" is that it is pejorative and creates a bigoted impression of the opposing person, race or point-of-view. In this case, a group of people who believe in a Christian doctrine as old as the creeds of the church are dubbed, as a group, into a negative stereotype. That's bigotry and that's pretty much exactly what "hate speech" (as much as I hate that term for it's cliched uselessness) is about.

James said...

Thanks, David - I'm entirely in agreement with you. In the Anglican Communion, we've been "pushing the envelope" with the pejorative term "Fundamentalism" - so with figures like John Shelby Spong or Mr. Cardy, it basically means: "Trinitarian Christian" - i.e., any Christian who won't deny the Living and Risen Christ.

In the Communion, shouting "Fundamentalist!" these days is a lot like shouting "Witch!" It means ... someone is just utterly horrid, dangerous, and to be avoided ... but for what reason exactly that's kinda hard to say you see because "Fundamentalism" is a complex phenomenon that doesn't specifically point to any one characteristic etc. etc. ... (and we're off to the races, anyone I don't like possibly being a candidate for being a "fundamentalist").

Peter - I know the other commenters on this thread, but I don't think I know you. Might you be so kind as to identify yourself - a blog, a last name, a location, something like that?