Much of the time, you will find that I refer to “our Worthy Opponents” rather than the traditional terms of “liberal”, “reappraiser”, “progressive”, and—on a more hostile note from some—“heretic”, “apostate”, and “pagan”. Each of those names may or may not be useful terms of integrity—that is, they may describe a part of *reality*—but I really prefer “Worthy Opponent” when I am able to use it.
I think it is a good idea to explain why those people who embody the false ideas which we are resisting within the Episcopal church are “Worthy Opponents”.
The first—and most important reason—that I use the term “Worthy Opponents” is that they are worthy because they are made in the image of God. That seems somewhat basic. But it’s a good reminder.
We are all human beings, made as an image of God Himself. As the pagans of old did in their substitute religions, so God did in reality. He created a living, beautiful temple environment, the Garden—a perfect, unbroken world—and He formed a perfect image of Himself. That image of Himself He set within His temple—the Garden—to represent Him, to rule in honor and dignity, and to have relationship with Him.
It is true that—in our free and responsible will—we shattered ourselves and the “temple”, our perfect world—and the rest, as they say, is history. The unfolding centuries reveal the extent of that awful shattering: how we have “ruled” with a cruelty and savagery that is far worse than the animal kingdom, how by a thousand nicks and cuts every day we harm ourselves and other image bearers, how we have corrupted and mired the world and ourselves so that often, we cannot even discern that “image” of God that we in fact are.
Each of us is a part of that Great Corruption. And each of us bear the image of God. We do not even lose the image of God when we perform the worst crimes, torture, and rape, and cold, calculated murder of innocents. That is why, even if we must treat such people as dangerous “wild animals” who have cunning and coldness—and thus restrain them as best as we are able—we also treat them [again as we are able to with the safety of others and ourselves in mind] with dignity and respect.
If we had not been so very good, so very perfect, we could not be so very bad. That is the greatest tragedy, as we observe the Mao’s, and the Stalins, and the Khan’s, and the Nero’s of history—and as we observe even ourselves, somewhat less far-reaching and successful in our sin, but still petty, shallow, corrupt, tawdry, pathetic sinners. I suspect that the main difference between me and Nero is that I’m not as *successful* in my ego and efforts to inflict *my will* on others. Were I to have a little more energy, interest, and will power, I could probably inflict my sins on a more far-reaching . . . shall we say historic, level. But each sinner desires that “my will be done”; each sinner sets *himself* on the throne of the universe, though some of our universes are more constricted than the more “successful” sinners are.
It is as if we are excavating what was once a glorious, beautiful castle. We marvel at the outlines, the traceries of walls and spires and turrets. We still see what is beatiful—the fallen grey stone of the ruins, a beautiful spreading oak tree above the walls, a rookery or tower, still standing, and the sun setting behind it, the grandeur of what once was. We are amazed at what we are seeing—a “glorious ruin”.
While our history is marked by the horror of what we have done and become—one has only to take a glance at the newspaper to see what we do to one another every day, or simply honestly review our own previous yesterday where we personally assisted in the blurring of ours and other’s images through “a thousand slights, insults, degradations, and neglects”—our history is also marked with God’s majestic work of *recovery*. That is easily as interesting as our own history—His work of recovery down through the ages.
He is very interested in each person that He has “conceived” in His heart. He has “imagined” each one of us and is eager for the methodical recovery of what He had once imagined and we corrupted. Every creature—even birds and cats and bears—is of deep interest to Him and fulfills a unique and special purpose. And every creature is *subject* to His love, whether he or she knows it or not.
Jesus—the image and the direct replica of God Himself because He is God—shows us both who God is, and shows us what it is to be truly and perfectly human. We can only do a part of one of those things, and not very well—reveal and display a flawed humanness. But Jesus can display perfect humanness and perfect deity in one person. He is thus the only one who could work on our behalf and represent us, to satisfy the universe’s created laws of Justice and order and offer Himself in substitute for our own broken, sinful selves.
And that is what He did, so that the process of restoration and recovery might continue in each person who is called by God and given the great gifts of repentance and faith. The image of God is undergoing, by the Spirit of God in each Christian, a painstaking and detailed process of restoration.
Jesus offered Himself for every person who has ever lived and who ever will live. And so, each of us is not only of inestimable value because of our original condition as the image-bearer of God, but because Jesus valued us enough to offer Himself for our recovery.
It has been said that before every human being entering the room, there should be choirs and flights of angels, trumpet bearers, entering before that person, saying “make way, make way for the image-bearer of God.” By a hundred acts of courtesy that have been woven into our varying cultures, we display that reality, whether we articulate it or believe it, or not. We stand up when older image-bearers enter the room. We use titles when we address others. We bow and nod and smile and utter canned formalities, that change with each generation but nevertheless serve the same purpose—formal acknowledgement of human beings. We indulge in the great ceremonies: marriages, and graduations, and confirmations, and baptisms, and birthdays, and trivial thank-you gifts—“small tokens of our esteem” as they were once called. And when our mortal lives are ended, our friends and family don’t simply toss our bodies out on some public garbage heap, or quietly put us in a large trash bag and dig up some far-away ground to deposit the body in; even though *we are no longer there* and our essence has departed, our bodies are treated with dignity and care and ritual and ceremony.
In one of my favorite books, by a favorite author, C S Lewis, the main character sees a loved one, named Psyche, whom she had thought lost for ever and who had indeed suffered greatly. The loved one had been “given” to the gods [or God, as is referred to by “the gods” in this book]. And it is speculated by some that this loved one, Psyche, is actually a “Goddess”, because she is now changed, and “glorified” in her humanity. This is what the main character says about her:
“And yet (this is hard to say) with all this, even because of all this, she was the old Psyche still, a thousand times more her very self than she had been before the Offering. For all that had then but flashed out in a glance or a gesture, all that one meant most when one spoke her name, was now wholly present, not to be gathered up from hints nor in shreds, not some of it in one moment and some in another. Goddess? I had never seen a real woman before.”
Someday, when we meet our fellow Christian loved-ones in heaven, we will see them as they were meant to be, as they had been conceived of by God, without the marring effects of the world, the flesh, and the devil on them. We will see “real men” and “real women”, whom we have never seen before. Each one of us—every human being—is either working with God in this process of restoration or working avidly against it by bowing the knee to the “god of self”. We are either traveling in one direction or the other.
But we are all of us more alike than we are different. We are made in the image of God, we are corrupted, we are “glorious ruins”, God desires an intimate relationship with us, and He came down from heaven to die for us and be raised for us and to work with us through His spirit.
Furthermore, each one of our Worthy Opponents—just like each one of us—has a personal history. It is a personal history that involves some golden, summer days of warmth and security and freedom and personal success. And it is a personal history marked by great suffering and pain. Each one of our Worthy Opponents was a small child, with parents and siblings usually, and middle school, and strange family histories, and periods of awkwardness and rejection by peers, and terrible, shocking, horrific times of pain and trauma.
How do I know all of this? Because I know me, first of all. And because I have been privileged to know other people’s stories as well. God gives, thankfully, common grace to each one of us to survive what the world, the flesh, and the devil throw at us. But He does not give us the common grace to survive *other people’s stories*, only our own.
I suspect that if we could peel back a curtain and sample just a few days of childhood from another’s life, we would be filled with sadness for what both our friends and enemies have suffered.
People are who they are for a reason. As we consider our Worthy Opponents, it becomes clear that some of them actually *hate* us. They hate our ideas, and since we represent those ideas “in the flesh”, they also hate us. As the faces of those who are the most bitter and hateful file before our mind’s eyes [and you know who they are, because you read their writings and see them at General Convention and hear their words in interviews]—we need to recognize that they didn’t simply spring out fully formed from the ground, but that they arrived with years, decades, scores of years, and generations of experiences and ideas and teaching and examples backing up who they have become right now, at this instant.
I am still on my *first* reason for using the term “Worthy Opponents”. ; > ) But it is the most important and the longest. The other two reasons will go quickly, I promise, in a second essay. But it is important that we recognize the “players” in this game, who our allies are, and who our opponents are.
And our opponents are Worthy Opponents.
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”
—CS Lewis, from the Weight of Glory