When controversy speaks for itself (updated)

jesuskrishnaLos Angeles Times reporter K. Connie Kang had another interesting story on the Godbeat or, in this case, the gods beat. Yes, the Episcopalians are involved.

It seems that the Diocese of Los Angeles hosted an interfaith service with Hindus at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral there on Saturday. Kang simply reported it without any analysis, which I think is good for an initial story on what turned out to be a rather controversial event. She described how a Hindu nun blew into a conch shell to begin the Indian Rite Mass. A band from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (aka Hare Krishna) chanted during the service.

The article is full of fascinating quotes from participants and observers:

During the service, the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, issued a statement of apology to the Hindu religious community for centuries-old acts of religious discrimination by Christians, including attempts to convert them.

“I believe that the world cannot afford for us to repeat the errors of our past, in which we sought to dominate rather than to serve,” Bruno said in a statement read by the Rt. Rev. Chester Talton. “In this spirit, and in order to take another step in building trust between our two great religious traditions, I offer a sincere apology to the Hindu religious community.”

The bishop also said he was committed to renouncing “proselytizing” of Hindus.

The comment went over well with the Hindu leaders who were honored during the service. I’m not sure how it went over with the Christians in Orissa and other Indian states. Kang also did a good job with play-by-play coverage during another part of the service:

All were invited to Holy Communion, after the Episcopal celebrant elevated a tray of consecrated Indian bread, and deacons raised wine-filled chalices.

In respect to Hindu tradition, a tray of flowers was also presented. Christians and Hindus lined up for communion, but since Orthodox Hindus shun alcohol, they consumed only the bread.

The sermon emphasized commonalities between Christianity and Hinduism, according to Kang.

Last week I noted that stories fail to explain why the Episcopal Church is so aggressive about property issues but not doctrinal issues. And with this story we have yet another example of why this needs to be explained by reporters.

For instance, Canon I.17.7 of the Episcopal Church (.pdf link here — see page 55) explicitly prohibits administering Holy Communion to unbaptized persons:

Sec. 7. No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.

And yet this service, hosted by none other than the Los Angeles Diocese, clearly offered communion to unbaptized people. Now let’s go to property disputes. The Episcopal Church’s argument for why it should retain the property in the disputes with the departed parishes is on the basis of another canon (Canon I.7.4 — page 40 of the previous link):

All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregation is held in trust for this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located. The existence of this trust, however, shall in no way limit the power and authority of the Parish, Mission or Congregation otherwise existing over such property so long as the particular Parish, Mission or Congregation remains a part of, and subject to, this Church and its Constitution and Canons.

Wouldn’t a story examining the disparity between which canons are enforced and which canons are not enforced be interesting? Put another way, why are some bishops free to violate some canons while other bishops are threatened with punishment if they permit their dioceses to even vote about whether to realign? I’m sure the Episcopal authorities have their reasons, but we need to hear what those are. Why aren’t reporters asking them to explain how this works?

UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times made a major, major, major correction to this story. So major, in fact, that we may have to look at this in an another post:

FOR THE RECORD:

Hindu-Episcopal service: An article in Sunday’s California section about a joint religious service involving Hindus and Episcopalians said that all those attending the service at St. John’s Cathedral in Los Angeles were invited to Holy Communion. Although attendees walked toward the Communion table, only Christians were encouraged to partake of Communion. Out of respect for Hindu beliefs, the Hindus were invited to take a flower. Also, the article described Hindus consuming bread during Communion, but some of those worshipers were Christians wearing traditional Indian dress.

I’ve personally seen communion offered to non-Christians at Episcopal services in Washington and San Francisco. Others have publicly attested to the same — in the Los Angeles diocese and other locations. And, therefore, the questions I posed at the end of this post remain.

But, oh man, is this a major error. I’d love some more context for how this correction came about and where things fell apart. Please let us know if you know anything.

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  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com Mattk

    “Orthodox Hindus”

    What? The capitalization makes me think it is a specific Hindu organization. Is it? If not throwing those two words together makes no sense. There is nearly unbelievable varity in Hinduism so it is silly to speak of orthodox Hinduism. Unless, the reporter was quoting someone I think using “orthodox” in the context of Hinduism is an error.

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    Based on a quote in the article, the Hindu swami seems to have understood that the bishop was “declaring that there will be no more proselytizing” of Hindus by Christians. Was the bishop apologizing to all Hindus everywhere for all Christians everywhere, or just to Hindus in the Los Angeles area on behalf of L.A. Episcopalians? I’m not familiar with how Episcopal churches fund foreign missions – would the bishop’s statement have any real impact on the diocese’s budget? This story raises so many questions for me. Did the Hindu representatives at this service offer any similar apologies for the deaths of Christian missionaries at the hands of Hindu nationalists?

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  • Sarah Webber

    If you’re interested, T19 had an interesting discussion of this : http://www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/article/9352/

  • Karen B.

    Great blog entry Mollie!
    You asked:
    Put another way, why are some bishops free to violate some canons while other bishops are threatened with punishment if they permit their dioceses to even vote about whether to realign?

    The answer: Animal Farm 101. Some bishops are more equal than others.

    Sigh.

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    Did the Hindu representatives at this service offer any similar apologies for the deaths of Christian missionaries at the hands of Hindu nationalists?

    Since the Episcopal Church in question only apologized for conversions, and not for the Church of England’s willing role (the Episcopal Church is still “in communion” with the CoE, who’s head recently described the British Raj as “caring”) in the colonization and death of thousands (more like millions, but who’s counting) of Hindus in India, I’m not sure why American Hindus should in turn have to apologize for the death of Christians at the hands of extremists. Surely someone should apologize for the Christians killed in India, but I don’t think it would have to be American Hindus who most likely had no ties whatsoever (political or religious) with the Hindu nationalists.

    “Put another way, why are some bishops free to violate some canons while other bishops are threatened with punishment if they permit their dioceses to even vote about whether to realign?”

    If the Catholic Church has taught us anything, it is that not all rules and priorities are seen equally in the eyes of leadership. A Catholic pro-choice politician can be turned away from communion, but one who supports the death penalty will not be. Why? Because, as the Church officials have told us, one is a more urgent and important matter. They are not equal. I would assume then that holding an “open table” in which anyone may partake of the Lord’s Supper (a growing trend in mainline Protestant denominations), while breaking Canon law, is not seen in the same light as openly attempting to wrest Church property (and congregations) away from the Episcopal Church without dispensation from the leadership. Now we may disagree, and say that one is more important than the other, but we don’t get to make that call.

  • James

    One would think that allowing the eucharist to be administered to Hindu adherents, without explaining what it means, would be even more abhorrent to Hindu leaders than explicit attempts at proselytizing.

  • laura

    Had any of you attended this service you would have been as moved as we were.
    It is long overdue that we participate in co-services with our fellow believers no matter their faith.
    It shows how we can all get along by respecting the faiths of others and having them actively participate in the worship of our version of God.
    It was one of the most meaningful and beautiful services we have attended in many years.
    Much thanks go to Bishop Jon Bruno for his blessing this service and allowing it to take place.
    May it be repeated many times and in many places.

  • http://blidiot.blogspot.com/ Raider51

    The always insightful Mollie writes:

    Wouldn’t a story examining the disparity between which canons are enforced and which canons are not enforced be interesting?

    Yes, that should be addressed. I believe Karl Marx, of all people, knew the answer:

    The English Established Church, e.g., will more readily pardon an attack on 38 of its 39 articles than on 1/39 of its income.

    Preface to the First German Edition of Das Kapital (1867).

  • bob

    Laura, by what rule do you identify yourself, or Katherine Schori for that matter, as an Episcopalian (assuming you are an Anglican) and *not* a Hindu? What doctrines does your church actually defend that support your answer? Any?

  • http://www.billyockham.blogspot.com Matthew

    #10,

    Episcopalians know that you use the utensils from the outside in when eating your meals. Episcopalians also know the importance of paying other people to do the actual work. Of the actual canons and constitution of the Episcopal Church, only canon I.7.4 is and ought to be immutable, eternal and the true foundation of our church.

    I hope that clarifies things for you.
    :)

  • Carl

    Bob’s question is a little incendiary, but he makes a good point actually. There’s really no such capital-R Religion as “Hinduism.” Rather, Hinduism is the label we give to a collection of a large number of different little-r religions that all see themselves as more or less comparable paths to God/enlightenment. You worship Ganesh; I worship Krishna; in the end, we all become one with Brahma. Episcopalianism, on the other hand, tends to see all salvation as done accomplished through the work of Jesus Christ (though an individual may become saved without being aware of the means by which it was accomplished). Thus, to say that worshiping Jesus Christ is just one of many paths to oneness with God, does seem to be changing the nature of the Episcopal faith from being an independent Religion into being one of the many sub-religions of Hinduism.

    Of course, this is kind of OT.

  • http://mcj.bloghorn.com/ Christopher Johnson

    Mollie, Mollie, Mollie. You should know that the Episcopal Church greatly values its canons except when it doesn’t want to and that the canons must always be obeyed except when they need to be ignored. See women’s ordination, 1974.

  • Brian Walden

    If the Catholic Church has taught us anything, it is that not all rules and priorities are seen equally in the eyes of leadership. A Catholic pro-choice politician can be turned away from communion, but one who supports the death penalty will not be. Why? Because, as the Church officials have told us, one is a more urgent and important matter. They are not equal.

    Why would a Catholic politician who supports the death penalty be denied communion? There’s no canon that says a Catholic should be denied communion for such a reason.

    The doctrine Catholics are required to believe concerning capital punishment is that just authorities have the right to use it. John Paul II was vocal in his belief that societal conditions in the West are currently such that those governments should not need to exercise that right, but Catholics can in good conscience disagree with him if they have good reason to do so. There never has been and never will be a Catholic doctrine declaring capital punishment intrinsically immoral.

    But I do realize the point you’re trying to make and I think the reason why canon law isn’t applied uniformly is that the canons don’t enforce themselves. They require a bishop to enforce them and bishops are human. Sometimes bishops do what they think is best rather than what the canons require.

  • Julia

    Sometimes bishops do what they think is best rather than what the canons require.

    That’s what is meant by “being pastoral.” It’s another one of those things I didn’t learn in 16 years of Catholic education pre- and concurrent-with Vatican II.

  • http://piousfabrications.blogspot.com David

    Laura: What’s wrong with all of this is that you have compromised your faith in Christ. Christ told us to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Also, as St. Paul wrote, “There is no other name…whereby we must be saved.” That’s Christianity… That’s the message of Christ. Jesus Christ is the unique One and Only Begotten Son of God. To celebrate a service side by side with Hindus, and even to offer them Communion of the Body and Blood of our Lord, is atrocious. We are called to witness Christ to them that they may come to Him. If you don’t believe that, maybe you would make a better Hindu than a Christian.

  • bob

    To focus things a little, I wonder if Laura’s version of the Episcopal Church insists on marital fidelity? Infidelity in things of God seems to present no difficulty. Anything wrong with communing with folks in another “marriage”, or is that some kind of sacrosanct thing? Is open mindedness in the one inconsistent with close mindedness in the other? The reason I ask is that for about 2000 years it is precisely the language of marriage and fidelity that have been the way communion in the Church has been characterized. To violate that communion is an act of adultery. If you have no idea of adulteration of something, communing *anyone* presents no difficulty. Is there a possibility, *any* possibility of being “unfaithful” as an Anglican? How? How would one know they had gone “too far” and fallen off the edge of the Anglican Communion? Can one?

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  • str1977

    Since the Episcopal Church in question only apologized for conversions, and not for the Church of England’s willing role … in the colonization and death of thousands

    They actually apologized for the exact for the wrong thing. Any real guilt deriving from the Raj would be a fitting thing to apologize for (though actually not the ECUSA’s job since it wasn’t part of the Empire at the time – just as American Hindus should not have to apologize for action of some of their Indian correlgionists) – apologizing for conversions is apologizing for one’s own existence, is intellectual suicide.

    If the Catholic Church has taught us anything, it is that not all rules and priorities are seen equally in the eyes of leadership. A Catholic pro-choice politician can be turned away from communion, but one who supports the death penalty will not be. Why?

    Because abortion is always a grave evil according to Catholic teaching while the death penalty is not always a grave evil. Please get the Catholic position right and you will find out that there is not double standards here. Quite in contrast to the Episcopal church that cares more about parishes and dioceses taking away property than about their leadership committing apostasy and (just as OPENLY) violating their own law.

    You see, “holding an “open table” in which anyone may partake of the Lord’s Supper” (is it still the Lord’s supper then) is a) not the teaching the Episcopal or the Anglican Church and should not be “a growing trend”.

    I don’t know whether it is but my take is that most main Protestant denominations still consider baptism, i.e. actual membership in the church to be a prerequisit.

    It is not absurd to ask, whether the current leadership stole the entire Episcopal church.

  • str1977

    It is long overdue that we participate in co-services with our fellow believers no matter their faith.
    It shows how we can all get along by respecting the faiths of others and having them actively participate in the worship of our version of God.

    But those Christians involved in that service didn’t even respect their own faith. How can anyone claim that they would respect that of others. Already the term “fellow believers” is a great expression of disrespect and “no matter their faith” makes it explicit: irrespective of their faith, i.e. you do not respect, you do not care for others’ faith. You simply lump different things together. And actually I doubt that would really would invite anyone regardless of what he believes.

  • Katherine

    A Catholic pro-choice politician can be turned away from communion, but one who supports the death penalty will not be.

    Actaully while

  • Katherine

    …less than five bishops have mouthed off about this (two of them backtracking afterwards), no politican has yet been so barred and the Pope himself has given communion to pro-choice politicans.

  • David

    It is high time that christian missionaries apologize for their “number game”. In India and China, 2 of the most ancient civilizations, missionaries are equated with jehadis.

    the only difference is that the jehadi is uneducated and decisively brutal.

    No wonder christians and muslims fight each other today and will continue doing so for another 500 years…

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    David, et. al.,

    Please keep comments focused on journalism rather than personal religious views.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    One comment, from my old Liturgical Dances With Wolves essay:

    http://tmatt.gospelcom.net/tmatt/freelance/wolves.htm

    OBA ye Oba yo Yemanja

    Oba ye Oba yo O Yemanja

    Oby ye Oba yo O O Ausar

    Oba ye Oba yo O Ra Ausar

    Praises to Obatala, ruler of the Heavens

    Praises to Obatala, ruler of the Heavens

    Praises to Yemenja, ruler of the waters of life

    Praises to Yemenja, ruler of the waters of life

    Praises to Ausar, ruler of Amenta, the realm of the ancestors

    Praises to Ra and Ausar, rulers of the light and the resurrected soul.

    – From the printed worship booklet for “Liturgy and Sermon, Earth Mass — Missa Gaia,” distributed on Oct. 3, 1993, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

  • Chip Chillington

    Mollie,

    Terry has been on a crusade to get various newspapers to acknowledge errors and post corrections. In the same spirit, I am sure you will wish to know that the LA Times has posted a correction to its Sunday story which eviscerates your criticism of the Diocese of Los Angeles, its Bishop and the application of the Canons of the Episcopal Church:

    Hindu-Episcopal service: An article in Sunday’s California section about a joint religious service involving Hindus and Episcopalians said that all those attending the service at St. John’s Cathedral in Los Angeles were invited to Holy Communion. Although attendees walked toward the Communion table, only Christians were encouraged to partake of Communion. Out of respect for Hindu beliefs, the Hindus were invited to take a flower. Also, the article described Hindus consuming bread during Communion, but some of those worshipers were Christians wearing traditional Indian dress.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-a2-correx24jan24,1,5347805.story?ctrack=2&cset=true

    Terry made the case again only yesterday re the importance of reporters covering religious stories to actually understand religion.

    Chip

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Chip –

    That’s *SOME* correction, eh?

    I was the one who made the point yesterday about the importance of religion reporters to newspapers.

    Kang is a religion reporter and I think we have found her work to be very good before — I know I have.

    I was made aware of this correction earlier today and I think I’ll do an entire post on it this weekend just to see if I can get more information about how it came about, etc.

    Mollie

  • Karen B.

    Maybe it’s just because I’m biased (I’m a strong “reasserter” to use The Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon’s terms — i.e. conservative / traditionalist Anglican), but this apology seems suspect to me. It sounds like Episcopal spin.

    Mollie, I and I’m sure thousands of other interested Anglicans will be very interested if you do find and publish background on the correction. (As I’m sure you know, this LA Times article has been a major story and source of comment over at TitusOneNine and Stand Firm in the past week).

    Keep us posted!

  • Steven in Falls Church

    Chip–Two observations.

    First, the “correction” does not eviscerate Mollie’s point; it actually confirms it. If only “some” of the worshipers consuming the bread were Christians in traditional Indian dress, then it follows that some of them were not. (Indeed, how would the reporter–or even the celebrant–know who is Christian and who is not? Are they marked like the Sneetches?)

    Second, I note you do not make the more general claim that open communion is not happening in The Episcopal Church, because it is happening with frequency, including very prominently in the diocese where the interfaith service occurred. Here and here are sermons by the Rector of All Saints Pasadena, one of the largest Episcopal churches in the country and the largest in the Diocese of Los Angeles, in which he acknowledges that his parish practices open communion. This confirms Mollie’s observation of the church’s and the bishop’s hypocritical stance. As further confirmation of this, here is an article in which the spokesperson of the Diocese of Utah admits that the rule against giving Holy Communion to the unbaptized is increasingly ignored throughout the church. It therefore is beyond dispute that open communion is occurring and that the canonical prohibition of such practice is serially ignored.

  • Steven in Falls Church

    Chip–I did not see before I clicked “submit” that Mollie had updated the posting to include the correction, so consider my comment general and not directed to you specifically. SiFC

  • http://www.kendallharmon.net elfgirl

    Hey Mollie,
    If you’re still planning any follow-up story, you might want to take a look at this thread on TitusOneNine and particularly comment #32 by Katharine

    http://www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/article/9531/
    http://www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/article/9531/#175637

    I think that comment raises some excellent questions and issues about the correction process.


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