Dueling Anglican pulpits

There is nothing new about Anglicans worrying about the environment.

One of the Church of England's most famous hymns, after all, offers this somber vision of industrialization from poet William Blake: "And did the countenance divine shine forth upon our clouded hills? And was Jerusalem builded here among those dark satanic mills?"

Nevertheless, a recent sermon by the U.S. Episcopal Church's outspoken leader raised eyebrows as it circulated in cyberspace. Some traditionalists were not amused by a bookish discussion of bovine flatulence on the holiest day in the Christian year.

In her Easter message, Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori stressed that all Christians should let their faith shape their actions in real life and, thus, affect the world around them.

"How can you be the sacrament, the outward and visible sign, of the grace that you know in the resurrected Christ? How can your living let others live more abundantly?" she asked, before turning to environmental concerns.

"We are beginning to be aware of the ways in which our lack of concern for the rest of creation results in death and destruction for our neighbors," added Jefferts Schori, who has a doctorate in oceanography. "We cannot love our neighbors unless we care for the creation that supports all our earthly lives. ...

"When atmospheric warming, due in part to the methane output of the millions of cows we raise each year to produce hamburger, begins to slowly drown the island homes of our neighbors in the South Pacific, are we truly sharing good news?"

This short sermon seemed to focus more on affirming the doctrines of Al Gore than on proclaiming the reality of the Resurrection, said Father Kendall Harmon, canon theologian of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and editor of The Anglican Digest. This is regrettable, since it's crucial for the modern church to do more to help protect the environment. This concern is, in fact, linked to Easter and to the ultimate hope for the renewing of God's creation, he said.

"The problem isn't so much what the presiding bishop said in this sermon, but what she all but left out of it," said Harmon. "The emphasis is totally on this one ethical dimension of our faith. ... That's important, but she didn't really connect it to what is the most important reality of all for Christians, which is that Jesus truly is risen from the dead and that really happened in time and in history and that changes everything -- literally everything."

On the other side of the Anglican aisle, the Easter message offered by the leader of a controversial missionary movement also addressed social issues, but did so after a strong affirmation of a literal resurrection.

Then, Bishop Martyn Minns linked the doctrine of the empty tomb to the church's belief that miracles continue today.

"I have seen it. I have seen men and women who were dead to the things of God come alive -- I have seen blind people be given their sight and I have seen sick people made well," said Minns, who leads the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. This is a network of conservative churches that have fled the Episcopal Church and are now linked to the Anglican Church of Nigeria.

"I have known people who were locked into patterns of abuse and addiction set free. ... I have witnessed broken marriages made whole and children who were lost brought back home."

It's crucial to note that these very different bishops begin with references to the Resurrection -- expressed in different ways -- and then build on that doctrine to talk about issues in modern life, noted Phyllis Tickle, an Episcopalian best known for writing "God Talk in America" and other books on spirituality and culture.

The bishops do have different reference points, she said.

Jefferts Schori seems to be "starting inside the church" and then saying, "Look out there. Look at the world and see what we need to go and do." Meanwhile, Minns is "starting inside the church" and then saying, "Come in here. This is what happens when the church is really alive."

The sad reality in Anglicanism today, she said, "Is that both of these leaders are talking to their people, to the people that they lead, but they are no longer part of the same body."