Young seminarians are being steeped—in seminary—in an expressive individualism that is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ and that will, if it’s not nipped right in the bud, lead actual people into hell.
A few years ago there was a piece published somewhere that expressed a sentiment buried deep within the hearts of most people attracted to the Anglican way. The author said, in essence, that we should all just try to get along. She knew that there had been some sort of trouble on the matter of sexuality, like ten years ago, but it was time to heal the breach between the ACNA and TEC and move on from the pain of the past. That idea, if I am remembering correctly, was festering especially at Duke, where a good number of ACNA clergy still go to get their theological education. Unhappily, not only has that project not gone away, it has spread to Nashotah House. The Living Church has done due diligence to report what’s happening at these two seminaries. The article starts this way:
Two seminaries have been making conscious efforts to recruit future priests affiliated with both the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and the Episcopal Church (TEC). After arriving on campus, seminarians of differing convictions find mutual suspicions weakening while they study, worship, and dine together every day. Friendships begin. Both churches are well represented in traditional three-year, residential master of divinity (M.Div.) programs at Nashotah House in Wisconsin and at the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies (AEHS) at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina. Both seminaries also offer “hybrid” degrees — mostly online instruction, with a few intensive weeks on campus. Hybrid programs have the salutary effect of broadening the pool of potential priests, but the immersive residential model is a key element of this story. Duke, an ecumenical seminary founded by the United Methodist Church, has 46 residential M.Div. students pursing certificates in Anglican studies through AEHS. Roughly two-thirds are from TEC and one-third from the ACNA, said the Rev. Joe Ananias, interim director of AEHS. Nashotah, one of nine seminaries recognized by the Episcopal Church, has 38 residential M.Div. students. Half of them are from TEC, close to a third from the ACNA, and the remainder are from other Anglican or non-Anglican affiliations, according to Lauren Cripps, communications and marketing manager.
That’s such an interesting line—“seminarians of ‘differing convictions’ find ‘mutual suspicions’ weakening while they study ‘worship,’ and dine together every day.” That is how it goes. Seminary is by no means the most intense educational experience you can have. Exegesis and the study of Church History aren’t that hard, though many do find them excessively boring. No, it is in the meals, the small group discussions, the networking, the astonishing revelation that the best place to find an unbeliever is in a cassock and surplice leading the psalm that can really shake a person to the core. You go in all dewy-eyed, excited to serve God in the church and discover that most of the people around you are super cynical. That’s when what you think and how you feel really begins to take shape.
A lot of ordinary Episcopalians were shocked, over the decades, to discover that the nice young believers they sent off to seminary invariably came home no longer believing in things like the Resurrection or the Atonement. How could that happen, they asked. Well, two ways. First, those “theological positions” were derided in class by the professors. But then, second, over dinner and breakfast, you find it just isn’t cool to be “orthodox” about those types of things. This way of things apparently hasn’t changed:
“There’s a communal gathering space down the hall from my office where students congregate, and it’s not uncommon to hear either hearty laughter or thoughtful conversation,” Ananias told TLC by email. “It’s often students from both TEC and ACNA, across the theological spectrum, clearly enjoying each other’s company.” But the most eloquent testimony comes from seminarians and alumni who have forged friendships despite fundamental disagreements — participating in what the Episcopal Church has come to call “communion across difference.” TLC interviewed eight current or former seminarians, representing both churches at both schools. Here is some of their witness.
“Communion across difference” sounds a lot like “walking in good disagreement” which ACNA clergy are not supposed to do, as our province has signed onto the Kigali Commitment. And that’s not because we’re bigots and haters who are experiencing a lot of personal pain. It’s because back in 2003, when TEC decided to bless a gay man in a same-sex relationship as bishop, the “communion” was broken. That means that we could no longer share spiritual worship with those who had decided to walk away from the faith and disobey scripture. I should just point out, again, that what TEC did back then—and has never repented of—is what the Church of England is doing now. It has to do with the Bible. Either you read it and obey it, or you explain it away. These two ways of being are mutually exclusive. Two opposing views can’t both be true at the same time. It is spiritual malpractice to say that it’s ok just to disagree, that both people, because they mean well and are trying hard, can worship and pray together because they’re basically talking about the same thing. It’s just some details—like the nature of the Bible and who Jesus is—that they quibble over.