Saturday, February 2, 2008

My Sweet Lord?!?

As long-time readers know, I often refer to blog posts by John at True Discernment and Clifford at Red Stick Rant. While I don't necessarily agree 100% with John, I do understand his desire to highlight apostasy in various churches that call themselves Christian. Similarly, Clifford often decries things that occur in that organization that he calls The Episcopal Church(tm).

Well, I ran across an Episcopal story from John, rather than Clifford, a few minutes ago. While my reaction was slightly different, I am in complete agreement with John that the service described by the Los Angeles Times has nothing to do with Christianity.

Perhaps my reaction to the article will be better explained when you understand what I was doing before I read the article. Earlier this morning, I was at church with my wife. My wife is in the Altar Guild, and she was preparing the elements for tomorrow's Holy Communion. Coincidentally, I will be serving Holy Communion tomorrow. So this will help you understand my point (though I thoroughly agree with John's point in his blog post).

We have both read this Los Angeles Times article, which begins as follows:

Hindu nun Pravrajika Saradeshaprana, dressed in a saffron robe, blew into a conch shell three times, calling to worship Hindu and Episcopal religious leaders who joined Saturday to celebrate an Indian Rite Mass at St. John's Cathedral near downtown.

The rare joint service included chants from the Temple Bhajan Band of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and a moving rendition of "Bless the Lord, O My Soul" sung by the St. John's choir.

Here's what bent John out of shape:

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....

The bishop...said he was committed to renouncing "proselytizing" of Hindus. Bruno had been scheduled to read the statement himself, but a death of a close family friend prevented him from attending the service.

Swami Sarvadevananda, of Vedanta Society of Southern California, was among about a dozen Hindu leaders honored during the service. He called Bruno's stance "a great and courageous step" that binds the two communities.

"By declaring that there will be no more proselytizing, the bishop has opened a new door of understanding," Sarvadevananda said. "The modern religious man must expand his understanding and love of religions and their practices."

John rightly pointed out that Bruno pretty much removed Mark 16:15 out of his Bible with that statement. (This is Mark's version of the Great Commission, which is of course also found in Matthew.)

But, possibly due to what I was doing earlier today, I was more struck with what followed the apology. First, I will quote the article as originally written:

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.

Now, let me note the subsequent clarification that the Los Angeles Times offered:

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.

Note the statement "some," which implies that some Hindus did consume bread during Communion.

Now it's my turn to quote from Scripture. First, consider the lilies - whoops, I mean whatever flowers the Hindus had - in light of I Corinthians 10:14-21:

1 Corinthians 10:14-21 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

14Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

18Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons.

So I ask, what place do flowers dedicated to pagan gods have in a supposedly Christian service of Holy Communion?

And regarding the Hindus that partook of the bread, just move on to the next chapter of I Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 11:27-30 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

27Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.

This, incidentally, is why my denomination (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) practices "close communion" (a/k/a "closed communion"), and does not encourage everyone willy-nilly to come up to the altar.

And I'm "proud" to say that this story has a local angle also, as the Los Angeles Times points out:

During the service, the two faiths also blended practices during the handling of an icon of Jesus.

The Rev. Karen MacQueen, an associate priest at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Pomona, who was the celebrant, carried the icon, a large painted image, during the procession. She placed it before the altar.

Then, as she and the others knelt before the icon, a second Hindu band, Adoration Chant Band, sang a hymn while the icon was anointed with sandalwood paste by the Episcopal celebrant. A flowered garland was placed on it and a lamp was lighted, a sign of Christ, the light in the darkness

Both Hindu and Christian texts were read.

In her homily, "A Vision for Inter-Religious Dialogue," MacQueen said in both Hinduism and Christianity devotees believe that "the Divine Presence" illuminates the whole world.

MacQueen, who spent two years studying Hinduism in India, said both faiths revere "great figures who embody the divine light, who teach the divine truth."

For Christians, Jesus preeminently embodies the divine light, she said. For Hindus, she said a number of figures embody the divine light and teach the divine truth.

I'm not quite sure how MacQueen's participation in this service jibes with what St. Paul's Pomona claims to believe:

Jesus is the focus of our journey. We regard him as the embodiment of the lovingkindness of God, and of God’s passion for mercy, justice, and peace. We strive to live out Jesus’ teaching, and to enter into the relationship that Jesus has with God as “Abba”, as loving Father.

MacQueen has also stated the following in regard to the service:

Ms MacQueen said on Tuesday, “The Christians were invited to receive holy communion. The Hindus were invited to receive a flower from a tray of flowers that had been placed on the altar.

“The Times reporter became confused by the large number of Indian Christians present who were dressed in traditional Indian garb, and who received communion.

“As one of the two priests giving out communion, I noticed that those I recognised as Hindus understood the invitation and received a flower.

“One has to understand how important this is for both Christians and Hindus. For Christians, we understand that holy communion is for the baptised. Hindus, especially religious leaders, do not want to be co-opted into a situation where they are expected to act as if they are Christians.”

Ms MacQueen said that she had worked very hard to get the trust of the many Hindu leaders who were guests at the service. “The trust would have been destroyed if these leaders had thought that I would invite or expect them to receive communion at a Christian mass,” she said.

Of course, this doesn't answer the question of why a joint Christian-Hindu service was even held in the first place. And I wonder how MacQueen feels about this:

Hindu extremists launched a spate of violent but meticulously planned attacks on Christians in Kanhdamal District, Orissa State, on 24 and 25 December 2007. A total of 95 churches were burnt to the ground, as well as 730 homes of Christians. In cases where a Christian ministry operated from rented premises owned by a Hindu, the attackers were careful not to damage the building, but took all the contents outside and set them on fire. The death toll is unknown at the time of writing, but taking into account all known cases of “arson, murder and assault” the violence was, in the words of the All India Christian Council, “the largest attack on the Christian community in the history of democratic India”.

Ah, she'd probably justify it because the evil Indian Christians were, heaven forbid, proselytizing. And why would Christians do that?

P.S. It should be fair to note that my own denomination has had its share of controversy over church services with non-Christians. See my previous blog post on this topic.

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