HI 622: AMERICAN CHRISTIANITY
Gaustad and Schmidt: The Religious History of America: The Heart of the American Story from Colonial Times to Today
Luther Rice Seminary
In Partial Fulfillment of
the Requirements for the Degree
Masters of Divinity
Justin Z. DuBose
5218 Happy Hollow Court
Lula, GA 30554
I.D.# GC6831 / Phone: (678) 707-1491
April 13, 2011
Professor: Dr. Jones
Hours Completed: 0 -- Hours Remaining: 90
THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH: PROGRESSIVE OR RECESSIVE?
Presented to Dr. Marvin Jones
Luther Rice Seminary
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Course
HI 622: AMERICAN CHRISTIANITY
Justin Z. DuBose
II. THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH: 1530’S - PRESENT
III. EIGHTEENTH CENTURY EPISCOPALIANISM: THROUGH THE EYES OF GEORGE WASHINGTON
A. Exercise of Beliefs
B. Views on Homosexuality
IV. TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY EPISCOPALIANISM: THROUGH THE EYES OF MODERNISM
A. Theory One VS. Theory Two
B. Which is correct?
IV. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
The Episcopal Church dominated religious life in eighteenth century colonial America. What were their beliefs and how did they exercise them practically? The best way to examine this is through George Washington. The reason for this is because an abundance of primary source documentation exists relating to George Washington’s religious beliefs as an Episcopalian, much more than official documentation from the early colonial Episcopal clergy. Does the Episcopal Church today resemble the powerful establishment of the eighteenth century, or are they drastically different? If they are different, then what is the reasoning behind the change?
This paper will seek to demonstrate that the Episcopal Church has deviated from the scriptural mandates found in the Bible. Additionally, this paper will show that the reason for this is because of the change in the worldview of the leadership of the Church. They have relegated the power of Scripture to be subservient to cultural changes and, unless the trend is reversed and worldview changed, the Church will continue its decline in influence.
THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH: 1530’S - PRESENT
The Church of England was established by Henry VIII in the 1530’s as a break from Catholicism because of disagreements with the Pope. Thereafter, the Church of England became the official state religion of the British. It is no surprise, then, that when the British began colonizing the America’s their religion traversed the torrential seas with them. In describing the establishment of Jamestown in 1607, one author says that “the propagation of the Christian religion to those who ‘as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God’ remained a prime motivation”. 1 Virginia became the apex of British America, and thus the Church of England grew the deepest roots there. “The power of the Church of England…would be supreme in Virginia right up to the Revolution”. 2 As time passed the denomination evolved from the Church of England in the seventeenth century, to Anglicanism in the eighteenth century, and today is known as the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal church of today would be
1 Edwin Gaustad and Leigh Schmidt. The Religious History of America: The Heart of the American Story from Colonial Times to Today (New York: Harper One), 37.
2 Ibid., 31
completely unrecognizable to its early colonial adherents. In comparing perhaps the most famous early adherent of the
Episcopal Church, George Washington, to the doctrine of the church today, it will become painfully evident that the church is the same in name alone. This paper will seek to demonstrate that this change has been a departure from scriptural mandates and spiritual discipline and the Episcopal church of today has become subordinate to popular, modernist, secular culture. Essentially, the Episcopal Church has become the caboose of the metaphorical “culture train” rather than the steam engine it once was.
EIGHTEENTH CENTURY EPISCOPALIANISM: THROUGH THE EYES OF GEORGE WASHINGTON
The first presupposition one must lay down is that George Washington was himself an Episcopalian. Once this is established, then one can more adequately determine, based on the abundance of primary source evidence on Washington, what eighteenth century Episcopalians believed and how they practiced these beliefs. In an essay by Chaplain (Colonel) Edwin S. Davis on the religion of George Washington, Chaplain Davis cites that, “On 3 April 1732, when George Washington was less than two months old, he was baptized in the traditional manner of the Church of England (to become known later in America as the Episcopal Church).” This baptism, in eighteenth century Virginia, cemented one’s dedication to the church and assured one’s eternal salvation. It was a very serious occasion and one which was not to be taken lightly. 3 From the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church, in place when Washington was baptized, we read that baptism is a sign of “New-Birth” and that one receives “the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost”. 4 Additionally, Chaplain Davis notes that, “The young Washington's earliest known signature--written probably at the age of eight or nine-was inscribed on the title page of a book of sermons”. 5 It can easily be established that the Washington family was a devout Christian family in the Episcopal Church.
Exercise of Beliefs
Now that it has been established that Washington was, in fact, a devout Episcopalian Christian, it must be understood how he exercised his beliefs. The religious culture of eighteenth century Virginia was an altogether different world from the religious atmosphere of today. In modern religious circles,
self-expression is emphasized, and to be “evangelical” means
that one is to actively display one’s faith to others. This could not be farther from the Episcopal religion George
Washington, and a great many of his fellow congregants, believed and practiced. In colonial Virginia, in particular, “Faith was ultimately a private and family affair”. 6 It is because of this privatization of religion that many Americans today can readily propagate the slanderous rumor that George Washington was not a Christian at all. Jared Sparks, a Washington biographer of the nineteenth century, was curious about this very issue when he was preparing to write his book, “The Life of George Washington”. To find the answer, he went to the best available source – Washington’s grand-daughter, Nelly Custis-Lewis. Lewis spent twenty years with Washington in Mount Vernon and, in her adulthood, sought to make Washington’s character more widely known. Sparks wrote her a letter in which he inquired about the sincerity of Washington’s Christian beliefs. In her response, Mrs. Lewis recalled, “I never witnessed his private devotions. I should have thought it the greatest heresy to doubt his firm belief in Christianity. His life, his writings, prove that he was a Christian. He was not one of those who act or pray, "that they may be seen of men". He communed with his God in secret”. Let it be undisputed that George Washington was a devout,
Episcopalian Christian. 7
Views on Homosexuality
With that, it is important to understand how Washington thought about certain issues that stem from these religious beliefs. As stated earlier, with the abundance of primary source documentation on Washington, and him being a devout Episcopalian, one could gather from Washington these beliefs and values instilled in him by the Episcopal Church. To focus our attention on how the doctrine and theology of the Episcopal Church has changed dramatically since it wielded great power and influence in colonial America, one specific issue demands attention. The issue of homosexuality is a “hot-button” issue in today’s religious circles. Recent legislation has made it legal for openly homosexual individuals to serve in our armed forces. More and more states are allowing homosexual couples to be wed in “holy matrimony” in government courthouses. Historically, across the board, all Christian denominations have condemned the act of homosexuality, including the Episcopal Church. This is based on biblical condemnation of the practice and, like every other sin, the need for sanctification by Christ from our sinful inclinations. 8 What stance has the Episcopalian
7 Sparks, Jared. The Life of George Washington (Philadelphia: F. Andrews Publishers), 521-522.
8 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Church taken on this issue in recent times? The church has not only not condemned the sin of homosexuality, but they have embraced it and even ordained it! The results, understandably, have been schism in the church. As one author writes, “the Episcopal Church has been on the verge of rupture since the 2003 election of an openly homosexual bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire”. 9 Is this a new direction for the Episcopal Church, or have their views on homosexuality simply been hidden from the public?
George Washington ran into a similar issue in the Continental Army. As Commanding General of the Army, Washington was responsible for discipline of soldiers and issuing orders regarding what acts were to be disciplined and how. Washington the Episcopalian was informed of homosexual activity within the Army. An officer had committed sodomy with an enlisted soldier – what action would Washington take? The soldiers were punished with what would today be called a dishonorable discharge. It is recorded what Washington thought of the crime: “His Excellency the Commander in Chief approves the sentence and with Abhorrence
and Detestation of such Infamous Crimes…” 10 This opinion of
9 Lockhard, Anne-Marie. "Homosexuality: Legally Permissible or Spiritually Misguided?" Conspectus 05:1 (2008): 136.
10 Heimbach, Daniel R. "The Bible in the Moral War Over the Rejection of Homosexuality by the Military Services: A View from the Pentagon" Faith and Mission 11:2 (1994): 50.
homosexual conduct was no doubt instilled in Washington from his religious studies – the Episcopal Church of Virginia no doubt reinforced this position. The words of Washington, “abhorrence and detestation of such infamous crimes”, are quite harsh. How do they compare to the words of the Episcopalian church today?
TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY EPISCOPALIANISM: THROUGH THE EYES OF MODERNISM
Views on Homosexuality
In an official document released by the ECUSA (Episcopal Church in the United States of America) in 2005 titled “To Set Our Hope on Christ”, the church articulated their official position regarding homosexuality. In Part II of the document they state that, “in good faith and in loving obedience to the saving Word of God, many Christians in the Episcopal Church have come to a new mind about same-sex affection, and of how this has led us to affirm the eligibility for ordination of those in covenanted same-sex unions”. 11 They state that the church has come to a “new” mind about the issue. This “new” mind is the grounds they cite as reason to “affirm the eligibility for ordination” for those who are in “covenanted” homosexual relationships. Does this “new mind” signify that all previous
generations of Episcopalians who were of the “old mind” were
incorrect in their theology? If so, then these “new” Episcopalians are essentially ripping up the foundation of the Episcopal Church in America – a church present since Jamestown!
Once again, let us contrast the attitude of these Episcopalians with the attitude of colonial Episcopalians using the example of George Washington. The ECUSA has looked at what Scripture has to say and, when they have not agreed with what it says, they simply overruled it. Rather than subordinating their minds to the Word they have subordinated the Word to their minds. If ever any man was in a position to think highly of himself it was certainly George Washington. The crowning moment of his career – the event which all previous actions built up to – was when he was inaugurated as the first President of the United States on April 30, 1789. It was at this moment when Washington had the best opportunity to seize power and glory for himself – to elevate himself above the God he proclaimed to serve. As one author put it, “when George Washington assumed the office of president in 1789, all eyes fastened upon him in order to learn whether the untried nation had merely exchanged a foreign tyranny for a domestic one”. 12 There were no precedents as to how a president was to conduct himself or even as how he
12 Edwin Gaustad and Leigh Schmidt. The Religious History of America: The Heart of the American Story from Colonial Times to Today (New York: Harper One), 127.
was to assume his office. With limitless possibilities of how
to assume the highest office in the nation, with his action undoubtedly setting the precedent for all future presidents, how would Washington the Episcopalian choose to swear in as president? “George Washington insisted on taking his oath of office with his hand on the Bible”. 13 Perhaps, it can be argued, that this was simply a political chess move. Even if Washington were not a Christian, if he did not swear in on the Bible it would diminish his reputation. This is a fair argument, but the story does not end here. After placing his hand on the Bible in front of the entire city of New York – a very public act – Washington would immediately retreat into privacy. History records that immediately after swearing in, Washington “retired afterward to St. Paul’s Chapel for prayers and the Te Deum”. 13 The Te Deum is a hymn of praise to God and would be equivalent to modern-day worship. Even if one can argue that Washington used the Bible for political gain, his retreat to St. Paul’s Chapel for prayer and worship can only be understood to be
genuine acts of submission and thanksgiving before God.
Washington, the very embodiment of the values of eighteenth century Episcopalianism, demonstrated on multiple occasions his
13 Blamires, Harry. "Recovering the Christian Mind" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33:3 (1990): 387.
submission to the authority of Scripture. Eighteenth century Episcopalians, likely to avoid being overly demonstrative and thus drawing attention away from Christ and on themselves, were fiercely private Christians. They were unwaveringly disciplined, however, in their submission to Christ and His Word. This was the message of the Episcopalian church of the eighteenth century in colonial America.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST
Theory One VS. Theory Two
Clearly the Episcopal church of the twenty-first century is immensely different from the Episcopal church of the eighteenth century. The question, then, is what brought about this change? There are two possible explanations for this change which will now be explored. The first option is that the Episcopalian church is very progressive. This is not to say progressive in the political, liberal sense of the word, although that could certainly be interpreted as well. The use of the word progressive, in this context, is to be understood as advancement, improvement, or development. Meaning that, in an evolutionary sense, the Episcopal church of today is simply becoming more refined and changing and adapting as culture dictates. Likewise, eighteenth century colonial America was extremely uncultured and unrefined and the church then, like today, was simply a reflection of the culture. The second option is that the Episcopal Church is progressively deviating from scriptural commands. This is to say that the Episcopal Church of eighteenth century America was doctrinally and theologically a purer church - a closer resemblance to a church of scripture. This, of course, implies the opposite of progressivism in the same sense that the word was used in option one. Rather than the Episcopal Church being progressive, this option sees them as retreating, recoiling, or receding from their historical position. With that, both options ought to be explored further.
For those who subscribe to the first theory, that of the church being progressive, it is likely that their view of scripture is fundamentally different from those who subscribe to the second theory. Likewise, it is equally likely that their view of the relationship between church and culture is fundamentally different as well. If the Episcopal Church is seen as progressive – if one subscribes to the first theory – then it is highly probable that one’s view of scripture is very loose. This is to say that the same scripture, with the exact same words, can possess two entirely different meanings which are dependent on the culture and person who receives them. For example, Leviticus 18:22 says that, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination (NKJV)”. For those who subscribe to the first theory, they likely see this passage as applying to the culture to whom it was originally written – ancient, Middle-Eastern, Mosaic Jews. Similarly, they likely see this culture as unrefined and quite crude, and themselves and their culture as very refined and quite sophisticated. This is their view of scripture as it relates to culture. Equally, it is highly probable that their view of the relationship between church and culture is that the church is a reflection of the culture in which it lives. This view, naturally, limits the effects of church within the bounds and confines of culture. That is to say that if a culture is moving in one direction and the church wishes to travel the opposite direction, or even simply a different one, the culture will always win this tug-of-war. The church, under all circumstances, is a slave to the culture. If one subscribes to this view, it is only natural, and even unavoidable, that the Episcopal Church in America would begin embracing homosexuality. The culture is steadily advancing in the direction of toleration, and thus, even if the ECUSA does not wish to move in this direction, it is inevitable and predictable that they follow suit, for if they do not, they will be “out of touch” with the culture in which they live.
For those who subscribe to the second theory, that of the church being recessive, it is likely that their view of scripture is that it is unchanging, unwavering, and dictatorial. This word “dictatorial”, especially since World War II, carries a heavy negative connotation, yet it is not to be understood in this sense. Dictatorial is to be understood in the sense of providing stability to a changing and faltering culture. Those who subscribe to the second view likely see scripture as having the power to dictate the direction in which culture travels. Using the same example as above, if culture wishes to travel towards toleration and scripture demands uncompromising principles and values, then those who subscribe to the second theory believe that scripture has the power to win this tug-of-war – not necessarily that they always will, but the capability for effectual change is there. Similarly, using the example of Leviticus 18:22, this crowd likely sees that under all circumstances, in all cultures, for all people, homosexual acts are sinful without exception. Therefore, the fact the ECUSA is not only embracing homosexuality, but even ordaining it, is a clear deviation from scripture and is understandably dangerous. In the above examples of George Washington, these people view Washington’s religious beliefs as being effectual, as dictating the direction of colonial American culture. These people likely see the Founding of the American government as Christian, as uncompromising, and that modern American culture is diminishing in values from what was established by our Founding Fathers. Since only one of these views can be correct, which is it?
All of the above mentioned acts of George Washington, as being representative of the views of the Episcopal Church in the eighteenth century, can be viewed through one of the two above lenses. If you view it through the first lens, you likely see Washington as a reflection of his culture, as being limited by that culture, being unable to change it no matter how hard he tried. If you view it through the second lens, you likely see Washington as a strong Christian who refused to compromise his principles in the face of unimaginable and overwhelming odds to do so time and time again. Washington, and others, dictated through their religious principles to America the direction which they would take rather than being slaves of that culture. In deciphering which view is correct, the first thing one must do is to find some common ground between the Episcopal Church of the eighteenth century and the ECUSA of the twenty-first century. The most obvious and most effective is the use of the Holy Bible and the scriptures therein. In the literature discussed above in which the ECUSA articulates their stance on homosexuality, they use scripture, at times, to provide a basis for their change. While they use scripture, however, it must be understood that it is subject to their worldview – their “new mind”, which was discussed earlier. Since the Bible is the strongest common denominator, let us look at it to determine if the first or second view is correct. In doing so one can get a more accurate picture of George Washington, colonial America, and the direction of the Episcopal Church today.
Which is correct?
The first thing that becomes obvious is that the ECUSA subscribes to the first theory discussed above. In distinguishing between a “new mind” and an old one, they clearly hold to a loose interpretation of scripture. They see scripture as being subject to the culture and people in which it is received. Let us look at the Bible and see what we can find about the relationship between scripture and culture. The first thing that must be established is the principles laid out in John 1:1 which says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (NKJV)”. It is clearly understood that in discussing the Word one is also discussing God Himself. Another thing that becomes clear is that the Word is eternal. Upon closer examination of the verse, one finds that the phrase “the beginning”, in the original Greek means “that by which anything begins to be, the origin, the active cause”. 14 If one believes in the Bible, which the Episcopal Church has always claimed, one cannot possibly subscribe to the first theory. It becomes clear that the Word provides the
stability for culture rather than the other way around. While this evidence is sufficient, let us look at other scripture to
further cement the correct view. Hebrews 13:8 tells us that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (NKJV).” Since it has been established that Jesus Christ and the Word are one in the same, then this verse must be taken as corroborating evidence that the Bible has always, and can always, be interpreted to mean the same thing in all corners of the globe through the entire spectrum of time. Thus, when we read in Leviticus 18, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and elsewhere that homosexuality is an abomination before the Lord, and that anyone participating in such acts is in need of sanctification, then it can only be understood that this is the Lord’s view of homosexuality for all people in all cultures everywhere.
The ECUSA needs to understand that if they are going to continue to use the scripture as authority in their church, then they cannot tenably hold to the first theory we discussed above. They cannot subordinate the Word to their own minds or any other temporal object as the Word is clearly eternal and unwavering. It must also be understood that the Episcopal Church in colonial America, and Washington in particular, understood this to be true and that they did, in fact, alter the culture in which they lived. More importantly, it must not be lost on us that this can still be accomplished today. We live in a culture that is heading in a direction opposite of the Bible. Let us not subscribe to the first theory; let us not think that we are victims of circumstance or culture. The Bible in our hands is eternal and unchanging. If culture is to be altered it is through the power of God and His Word alone that will accomplish it.
Blamires, Harry. "Recovering the Christian Mind" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33:3 (1990)
Edwin Gaustad and Leigh Schmidt. The Religious History of America: The Heart of the American Story from Colonial Times to Today (New York: Harper One)
Heimbach, Daniel R. "The Bible in the Moral War Over the Rejection of Homosexuality by the Military Services: A View from the Pentagon" Faith and Mission 11:2 (1994):
Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Lockhard, Anne-Marie. "Homosexuality: Legally Permissible or Spiritually Misguided?" Conspectus 05:1 (2008)
Sparks, Jared. The Life of George Washington (Philadelphia: F. Andrews Publishers)
NG, LR, & NCU
My collection of personal papers written over the years