Part 1 is here.
So I swam the Thames and settled down to being married.
Much happened over the next ten years. Jane and I involved ourselves with the daily life at St. Luke’s: we both served on Sundays as chalice bearers, we attended (and, upon occasion led) weekly bible studies, we went on retreats, we made our Cursillos and were subsequently active in the Cursillo community in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. Looking back, there were two trends of note during this time. First, the teaching at St. Luke’s moved from the Anglo-Catholic end of the spectrum towards the Evangelical Protestant end of the spectrum under the influence of such men of God as Frank Lyons, then our associate pastor and now Anglican Bishop of Bolivia, Praveen Bunyan, later rector for a time of St. James Church in Newport Beach, and Ron Jackson, our rector for many years, who has recently been called to a teaching position at Trinity Seminary in England. I learned a great deal from all of them, and owe them all a great debt of gratitude for their teaching, friendship, and wise counsel over the years.
As the teaching became more Evangelical so bit by bit did my own personal understanding of Christianity move away from the Catholicism of my youth, until finally I ran into Calvinism and rebounded. (I’m tempted to say “recoiled”, but I have too many friends and acquaintances who profess some form of Calvinism to put it quite that strongly, and in any event I’ve promised to keep to a positive note in this series of essays.) I say “rebounded” because when I first came seriously to with the tenets of Calvinism I discovered that I simply could not accept them. Accordingly to Calvin and his followers, each human being is either saved or damned from all eternity. The Damned can do nothing to achieve salvation, and the Elect can do nothing to lose their salvation. I found that I simply could not believe this. It’s clear to me that I cannot save myself, that salvation is the gift of Jesus through his death and resurrection…but it’s equally clear to me that I can refuse to receive that gift. A man stranded on a rooftop during a flood might be unable to swim to safety, and yet still (through fear, or underestimating the danger) refuse to be rescued. If he stays on that rooftop, he will surely die…and he can choose to do so. At the same time, it was clear that Calvinism was an intellectually clear and internally consistent statement of Christian faith, a faith that had sustained many Christian communities over the years. From an intellectual point of view, it was a great pity that I couldn’t accept it; but I couldn’t. In the end, the effect of this discovery was that I began reflecting on the intellectual basis for my faith and reconsidering my easy slide away from Anglo-Catholicism.
The second trend was the discovery, through my participation in the larger community and attendance at two or three diocesan conventions, of troubling currents in the teaching of the Episcopal Church in general and the Diocese of Los Angeles in particular. The presenting issue was homosexuality, but it became clear over time that there was more going on: John Shelby Spong, the Bishop of Newark, had, in addition to being a staunch supporter of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the church, had also written books in which he had explicitly denied the divinity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, indeed, all the major points of the Nicene Creed. And yet he was still a bishop, and (so far as I could tell) honored by his colleagues in the House of Bishops. And from what I could tell at diocesan convention, there were many in our diocese that felt the same way.
I spent considerable time wrestling with the issue of homosexuality, but none wrestling with Spong’s open rejection of the Creed. I think now, as I thought then, that if he could not in good conscience uphold the beliefs he had vowed to uphold at his ordination and consecration, then in good conscience he should resign his position and leave the church. And I simply could not understand how such open and explicit apostasy could be so easily tolerated. But I took refuge in the thought that the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Newark were aberrations, and that the true faith, so clearly taught at St. Luke’s, was also taught in the wider Episcopal Church.
Part 3 is here.