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Bishop Skip Adams: ‘Morality is shown to be an obstacle to encounter with God’

Monday, November 17, 2008 • 8:32 pm

....from here (PDF)

If this faith of ours is going to be a living one, we have to let go of the idea of Christianity as religion, which I understand to be a system of rules and regulations to get people to behave a certain way that we have deemed acceptable. To say it another way, to make Christian faith primarily about being moral and good. By the way, I believe that this approach has direct import on the struggles we have in being and becoming an Anglican Communion. Stay tuned on that one.

There have been differing moral codes associated with Christianity throughout history. Christian faith, in itself, is not a moral code, however. It is a response in faith to the God revealed in Jesus Christ. It was the theologian Jacque Ellul who said in The Subversion of Christianity, “When I say that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is against morality, I am not trying to say that it replaces one form of morality with another…Revelation is an attack on all morality, as is wonderfully shown by the parables of the kingdom of heaven, that of the prodigal son, that of the talents, that of the eleventh hour laborers, that of the unfaithful steward, and many others (I would add Zacchaeus in the tree). In all the parables the person who serves as an example has not lived a moral life. The one who is rejected is the one who has lived a moral life. Naturally this does not mean that we are counseled to become robbers, murderers, adulterers, etc. On the contrary, the behavior to which we are summoned surpasses morality, all morality, which is shown to be an obstacle to encounter with God.”

I believe that one of our calls from God in this time is to be a people of the Beatitudes where Jesus speaks in hyperbole and metaphor, not in rules and regulations. We are called to live a life in thanksgiving for all that God has done for us in Christ and out of that primary relationship, live the life we are called to live. Until we make that shift the Church will continue to be death and not life. It will not be a transformative experience leading us to the new creation and Jesus as the new human, but merely a shell of a system of religious formula and prescription. Who needs it and it won’t change anything, including us or the people we are called to serve. After all, what good are the rules and regulations when people continue to be slaughtered in Darfur, schools are collapsing in Haiti, our kids are killing one another in the streets, and people in our neighborhoods right in this diocese are losing jobs, have no health insurance and do not have enough to eat.


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Fr. Matt,
If I click on “more” will I find that the outcome of this is that the poor fellow who wrote it finally found Christ and repented?  Or will it just go on like the part that you quoted?  Sorry, but I don’t think I could take any more of it.  Would it be too outrageous to suggest to this “bishop” that

people continue to be slaughtered in Darfur, schools are collapsing in Haiti, our kids are killing one another in the streets, and people in our neighborhoods right in this diocese are losing jobs, have no health insurance and do not have enough to eat

this is a direct result of our not, as a society, following the ethical and moral path of Christ?  Indeed, it is happening precisely because we insist on going our own way, instead of conducting ourselves as our Lord would have us do?
  Just when I think that things just couldn’t be worse, theologically, than here in Dio. of N. Michigan, along comes a TEC bishop to prove me wrong.

[1] Posted by tjmcmahon on 11-17-2008 at 09:10 PM • top

No wonder he’s called “SKIP” - explains a great deal…

[2] Posted by Eclipse on 11-17-2008 at 09:19 PM • top

This is your brain on Episcopalianism.  Any questions?

[3] Posted by Christopher Johnson on 11-17-2008 at 09:20 PM • top

So, he calls morality an “obstacle” and then decries violence in the streets and other atrocities? What does he think, that if we all think happy thoughts and do what we want, the atrocities will magically go away because we call ourselves Christians?

This is kind of like a twist on the “Prosperity Gospel.” God will stop violence, injustice and murder if we just believe He will.

[4] Posted by teatime on 11-17-2008 at 09:30 PM • top

A story from the desert tradition speaks of the kind of generosity needed in these days. As it goes there are two hermits who lived together for many years without any conflict or disagreement. One suggested they have a quarrel to see how others live. The other answered, “I don’t know how to start a quarrel.” The first said, “Look, I’ll put this brick on the ground between us and claim it is mine. Then you insist it belongs to you. That’s how quarrels begin.” They put the brick between them. One said, “That’s mine.” The other said, “No, that’s mine.” The first answered, “Yes, it belongs to you. Take it.” They were not able to argue with each other.

OK, we’ll put the church of the Good Shepherd between Skip Adams and Matt+:
Matt+ says, “It belongs to the people of the parish and to God.”
Skip says, “OK, it’s yours.”
That was easy!

[5] Posted by robroy on 11-17-2008 at 09:38 PM • top

Children and many others are being killed in Darfur, because of corruption, which is fed by the secularists, like Jefferts Schori, NuLabour in the UK, the maniacs of the EU and others filling the pockets of corrupt government leaders in Afica with the MDG’s, which are NOT going to feed, educate, and provide health care to the poor, but to buy the guns, tanks and other weapons of war, that kill, it’s paid as bribes so big pharmaceutical companies can falsely diagnose people with HIV/AIDS so they can use them as human guinea pigs for AIDS vaccine trials, for the wealthy corrupt to profit from.

Whomever “Skip” worships, it’s not God, most likely he worships himself. He deludes himself and seeks to do the same to others, he is the sort of person that Christ warned us of. God laid out our moral path, and warned us against straying from it.

One of our founding fathers, John Adams wrote: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

In George Washington’s farewell address to the nation, he stated: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”

[6] Posted by mari on 11-17-2008 at 09:40 PM • top

This is your brain on Episcopalianism.  Any questions?

Yeah, (but for those old enough to remember the ads) in this case, the parents would have to run the eggs in a blender a couple minutes before frying them.  This particular brain is beyond scrambled.

[7] Posted by tjmcmahon on 11-17-2008 at 09:47 PM • top

Well done, Robroy.  You have taken the bishop’s example and challenged him to live it   Good job!!!

[8] Posted by terrafirma on 11-17-2008 at 09:55 PM • top

It may suprise me to find that Skip Adams has read a little of Jacques Ellul but it is not surprising that he manages to misquote him and hence mis-applies what the late theologian and philosopher theorizes.  Not suprising since he has already shown a tendency to misread the Letters of Paul (and others). I would assure the readers that Ellul does not say what Adams (by careful editing and omission) implies that he said and would urge folks to read the books for themselves. The authors’ writing, although at times difficult, have always been a source of good ideas for me. On the other hand, when I quoted Ellul to one of my theology teachers, they responded that ‘men become philosophers to get girls’. C’est domage!

[9] Posted by Stefano on 11-17-2008 at 11:00 PM • top

What in the hell?

[10] Posted by Greg Griffith on 11-17-2008 at 11:10 PM • top

Actually, there are some good thoughts here by the Bishop.  Christianity is not all about rules and regulations, otherwise it would be Judaism.  It is about Christ Crucified, who paid the price for our sins and gives us eternal life.  It is not about what we do, but what God has done and continues to do.

However, this does not mean the Law is meaningless.  First off the Law curbs our behavior.  Second it is a mirror showing us our sins and our need for a Savior.  Third it is a guide.  The best reference is Romans 1-8, and especially Romans 6:1-4.  But we must alway remember that the power to live a righteous life comes from Christ, and we will always live imperfectly and thus continually need forgiveness in Christ.

[11] Posted by Harry Edmon on 11-17-2008 at 11:10 PM • top

morality, which is shown to be an obstacle to encounter with God.”

Nothing stands in Skip’s way I see….

[12] Posted by Intercessor on 11-17-2008 at 11:38 PM • top

Exactly, Greg.

[13] Posted by Nellie on 11-18-2008 at 01:09 AM • top

I believe that one of our calls from God in this time is to be a people of the Beatitudes where Jesus speaks in hyperbole and metaphor, not in rules and regulations.

Fascinating. I believe +Adams is your ex-bishop, Matt+, am I correct? And is wanting your parish building? You may wish to give this little quote to your attorney.

[14] Posted by Antique on 11-18-2008 at 01:13 AM • top

OK, Bp. Adams, so then in your book (obviously NOT Holy Writ), amorality is required to encounter God?  So, eat, drink, be merry, murder, steal, cuss like there’s no tomorrow, have other gods, disrespect everyone, hate everyone including your neighbor and your enemy, covet your neighbors’ wives, don’t keep Sabbath…  Wow.  Bp. Adams, BTW, what religion is this???????

[15] Posted by Athanasius Returns on 11-18-2008 at 04:35 AM • top

Those who live amorally will certainly encounter God.  Those who try to live morally will also encounter God.  All will encounter God on that day.

The question is - for whom will Christ intercede?  Jesus gave us that answer. Skip is attempting to provide an alternative answer. Not all choices are equal.

[16] Posted by R. Scott Purdy on 11-18-2008 at 05:53 AM • top

Poor guy.


As I was reading I had such contempt for his odeas, but as I continued, I could only feel terrible in a worse way.  How can you be a bishop and be so lost, so fully in Satan’s hand as to teach like this?  Truly, this is very very sad.  He is worthy of our deepest compassion and in need of our prayers.

[17] Posted by heart on 11-18-2008 at 07:14 AM • top

Ummm…that should be “ideas,”—-I guess I was thinking “odious ideas” and sort of made a hybrid…?

(but it’s really bec. the “I” and the “O” are right next to each other on the keyboard.)

[18] Posted by heart on 11-18-2008 at 07:16 AM • top

Yes this is my former bishop who is presently attempting to confiscate the buildings where we worship…I hope you can see why, prior to our formal departure, I asked him not to preach at Good Shepherd.

[19] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 11-18-2008 at 07:21 AM • top

In one sense, Bishop Adams has a point.  Too often people think that because they are (relatively) moral and have a good life, that they do not need God.  I see this in my corporate world and, I am ashamed to say, in my parish. 
This type of “morality” (I’m good and I live by the rules, so I don’t need God) is death itself.

I’ve seen the Prodigal Son replayed in prison more times that I can count.  I’ve talked with inmates who said that they were actually glad they came to prison because they found God there.  Just as the Prodigal Son was brought to “himself” because of the results of his immorality, so these men have been brought to the place where they know their need for God.

Phil Snyder

[20] Posted by Philip Snyder on 11-18-2008 at 07:47 AM • top

and people in our neighborhoods right in this diocese are losing jobs

Thanks in part to his own downsizing.

[21] Posted by AndrewA on 11-18-2008 at 07:52 AM • top

And his downsizing might have been avoided had he thought more about the “rules” particularly found in 1 Corinthians 6

[22] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 11-18-2008 at 07:53 AM • top

I am no Bishop but this is easy isn’t it?

In all the parables the person who serves as an example has not lived a moral life.

Because they repented…

The one who is rejected is the one who has lived a moral life.

Because they were hypocrites…
I have to ask because I don’t know him…is he evil (trying to persuade people that bad is good) or is he ignorant (not knowing of what he speaks)? Either way, I guess, it’s odd that he would be a Bishop. But then again…so is VGR.

[23] Posted by Conoscenzo on 11-18-2008 at 08:33 AM • top

Okay, the way I track this-  First, the faith of Christ is not (primarily?) about morality.  Spot on, though (1.)  only the Faith has ever produced a truly moral person and (2.) the immoral shall not inherit the kingdom of God.  Second, our role is to live in the (metaphor and hyperbole) of the Beatitudes.  Aside from the fact that they have none (or there’d be nothing there to live out), I’m sure he said it in a most noble and assuring way.  Third, to affirm your part in this wonderful new way of living, think of all the guilt and injustice in the world, and in the spirit of your own nobility stuff those offering bags!  (After all, there are people living the Beatitudes in reality, and I want lots of lawyer money to sue their pants off!)

Isn’t that what Christianity is really about?

[24] Posted by Robert Easter on 11-18-2008 at 09:18 AM • top

When i read something like this, written by an episcopalian bishop, I often wonder what the theologians in the Vatican would say about this.  I have a feeling they would just roll their eyes, possibly chuckle.  It seems to lack any sort of depth of analysis.  It also seems very wrong in its’ main idea.  I think the good bishop should stick to something else.  Religous scholarship does not seem to be his bag.

[25] Posted by Looking for Leaders on 11-18-2008 at 09:25 AM • top

It’s bishops like this that lead one to the observation that the ECUSA/TEC/GCC/EO-PAC’s whole purpose in life it to be an example to others.  Sort of a warning, ya know. 

This is warmed over situatuion ethics abysmally presented because it originates in the abyss.  I read it young when it was “new” the last time around.

[26] Posted by dwstroudmd+ on 11-18-2008 at 10:57 AM • top

“...the Church will continue to be death and not life”

If your Church is death, what are we doing there?

[27] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 11-18-2008 at 10:58 AM • top

Thanks Skip, you know I always did think that Jesus fella was getting kind of preachy and moralistic when he went in that Two Great Commandments stuff.  Gee, now that I’ve read your stuff I just realize that all of that stuff was getting in the way.  Wow it feels so good to be free of the death grip THE MAN had place on this Christian thing, you know what I mean.

You see, before reading you Skip, I thought that what Jesus was saying was in the Beatitudes was something along the lines of “there is more to being moral that following the letter of the law.” Man, what a mind trip, you opened my mind up to the real meaning.  I mean I was walking around literally asking myself WWJD, or how does this honor God, but that was all just based on some sort of BS morality like trying to live my life by those two commandments Jesus went on about was such a waste.  Thank you for freeing my mind Dude.

RS Bunker

[28] Posted by RS Bunker on 11-18-2008 at 11:44 AM • top

I would suggest it won’t be long before death is declared passe and GC takes a vote on whether to support it or declare it void.

[29] Posted by Festivus on 11-18-2008 at 12:59 PM • top

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[30] Posted by masternav on 11-18-2008 at 01:00 PM • top

we have to let go of the idea of Christianity as religion,

It sounds like he’s miles ahead of us on that one. What is he afraid would happen if people really did follow the teachings of Christ and led upright and moral, Christ-centered lives? Does he think Christ set an immoral example for us to follow? What does he even mean by “morality” - the little daily moralities of not cheating, of not lying, etc. - or the deeper morality under it all? Or does he just mean sex?

[31] Posted by oscewicee on 11-18-2008 at 01:36 PM • top

Bishop “Skip” is correct when he says that Christianity is not a religion. It is supposed to be a way of life.  I will agree with him there.  Where I part company with him is when he denies that Christianity has anything to do with morality.  Now that is just not true.

The rest of his talk was nothing more than a distortion of the Gospel, dressed up in the MDG’s. Poor, lost little bishop!  Who is going to save him?

[32] Posted by Allen Lewis on 11-18-2008 at 01:59 PM • top

I disagree with the statement that Christianity is not supposed to be a religion. Christ spoke about building a church.

What Christ spoke of, was not how “Skip” and his sort choose to define religion. Through Christ, our beliefs lead to all that has been good in the world, human rights, dignity, compassion, the fight to eradicate slavery and oppression.. all those things originated with Christianity.

[33] Posted by mari on 11-18-2008 at 02:08 PM • top

“Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, ‘Seeing they will not perceive, hearing they will not understand’.’

The bishop can see and read English:

We can once again learn from the scriptures appointed for today’s Eucharist for they call us to what a transformed people might look like. In II Kings we come upon the discovery of the book of the law in the temple while it is being repaired. This occurs during the reign of Josiah, Judah’s last significant monarch. It is about 621 BCE. The kingdom of Israel has already fallen and Judah is advancing rapidly in the same direction. But on the way, as the law is read, the king’s own heart is changed and he has the law read publicly to the people. Hearts are moved and there is a pledge of fidelity to a renewed covenant with God.

So we too should follow Scripture and submit our hearts and our lives to what God reveals to us in it, right?  Of course not!  Once sprinkled, always approved!:

For us I hear a call to be even more clearly a people of the Baptismal Covenant. It is to be a person, in a community, who thinks and breathes God. The Deuteronomist did not expect the people to merely follow the law, but to become the law. To become the Torah. To consume it so that it became a part of the very DNA of the individual and the community. To use Prayer Book words: to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.” You and I are not merely to attend worship, but to become a worshipful being. Not only to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, but to become Eucharist for the sake of the world. Or to say it another way, formed and transformed “To be the passionate presence of Christ for one another and the world we are called to serve.”

Huh?  Sounds like Skip has been consuming, drinking and smoking something other than the Torah or the Bible.  It does seem perhaps to have altered his DNA, so I guess he can’t be all wrong! wink

[34] Posted by Milton on 11-18-2008 at 02:51 PM • top

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