Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Little Lower Than The Laity

The best ordination I ever went to was the one when the ordinand started breastfeeding her baby during the sermon. Gene Robinson was preaching, and he was a little taken aback. He stopped in the middle of his sermon and jestingly invited the congregation to discuss to the finer point of the Trinity until little Alice was full.

Even without that incident (and I adore unexpected eventualities in church: little mishaps that disrupt the high-church events of Episcopalianism with a congregational giggle are extremely theologically important to me), it was still a kick-ass sermon. Bishop Robinson's description of the role of the clergy has stayed with me and has become incorporated into my ecclesiology. Clergy, he said, are not closer to God or holier or better than any other Christian; if anything, they are beneath the laity, because they are servants of both God and the Church.

(This is why I think of Church hierarchy as lowerarchy.)

The ordination I attended today has given my ecclesiology another dimension of theological thought, which I think is a necessary supplement to the piece Bish Robinson gave me.

Because I now live in a wealthy 'burb town in the tri-state area, and because Anglo-Catholicism is really gay, today's preacher used an analogy from Broadway. Just as, when the famous actor you came to see is taking a break, your Broadway playbill has a slip of paper in it stating that "The part of Scarlett Johanssen will be played by [unheard-of actress]" (yes, that is actually the example he used), so -- metaphorically, theologically -- ordination is a slip of paper stating that "The part of Jesus will be played by [ordinand]."

My hackles shot up. This sounded suspiciously like elevating clergy over the laity. If this means that clergy are -- inherently, ontologically, by virtue of being clergy -- more Christ-like than the laity, then my most Reformation instincts respond with incoherent yelling about the priesthood of all believers.

When I think about it a little more, though, it's much more interesting than that.

Clergy are the religious establishment par excellence. The Pharisees, if you like. Jesus was frequently at loggerheads with the religious establishment; so how are clergy to be both the religious establishment and playing the part of Jesus? How do you "play Jesus" within the Church?

I believe the logical answer is that clergy (and, modestycough, theologians) have a duty of dissent and challenge toward the institution they (we) are a part of. By definition. Our inherently contradictory position has built into it the necessity of protesting the very institution that gives us the power to speak our protest.

That is how we are to act as good citizens of the Kingdom. It's not about submitting unilaterally to monarchical power. It never was.

No comments:

Post a Comment