Friday, April 3, 2015

In defense of Liberal Theology, as epitomized by the late Archbishop Ted Scott

(Archbishop Ted) Scott told people he was more concerned with helping people on earth than in preparing them for heaven. Suspicious of organised religion, he worried lest the institution might become more important than what he saw as his Christian mission, saying that he wanted to show the Church's concern for people who cannot afford a club. (From The Obituary for Archbishop Ted Scott, The Telegraph, July 9, 2004)
It hardly seems possible that eleven years have passed since his untimely death in a car crash near Parry Sound, Ontario, at the age of 85. It also hardly seems possible that this man led, not only the Anglican Church of Canada as Primate, but chaired the World Council of Churches, worked on many social issues, including apartheid, human rights of gays and lesbians, female clergy, and put his body, along with Canadian First Nations people to block the rape of British Columbia forests by corporate pulp and paper companies.
It was in this latter role that Archbishop Scott first came to my attention, as a relatively young high school teacher, often dubbed "too liberal" by many colleagues, and I continued to observe from afar the life path of Archbishop Scott, as one inspired by his courage and his imagination, both of which were clearly emboldened by his Christian faith.
The son of an Anglican priest, who after retirement, attended meetings with Quakers, Archbishop Scott was the first gleaming star in a galaxy of stars (after my father!) in my imagination that began with my grade twelve English teacher, Ken Fulford, transferred to a college English professor, John Wichello Graham, and later transferred to a small-town lawyer, Willian Howell Green. (All of these men are depicted in other places in this space!)
And then, in my thirties, while serving as a free-lance journalist, midway through a teaching career, I had the memorable and rare opportunity to interview The Primate, as he was then known, for a local  television interview. I believe it was capital punishment that he was opposing, and that news story merited secular coverage. Other 'figures' from the national stage came across the camera in that local television station, but none impressed as did "The Primate"....and I was not even an Anglican!
Humble, reserved, highly present and prescient, imbued with one of the most memorable of God's gift of a mellifluous baritone larynx, and a mind that saw past the petty and the picayune into the wider world of the plight of people right here on this earth, a graduate of English and History, prior to studying theology at U.B.C., he left a mark that today calls out for his many mentees to step up to the plate.
And then, more than a decade later, while in my first year of theological studies, he visited our noon luncheon, again to inspire a class of some three dozen incipient priests in the Anglican church. Once again, he maintained his liberal theology, his social gospel, without openly irritating the "fundamentalists" among us. And that was his genius, that he could maintain his ministry as an advocate for those without a voice, without arousing the ire of the "right wing" of the Anglican church. (Perhaps it was respect for the "office" that restrained the students and faculty on the "right".)
Nevertheless, his path crossed mine a few years later, in Sault Ste. Marie, when he was surprisingly invited, and accepted the invitation, to preach the homily at the service in which I and one other candidate were ordained Deacon. And this in a diocese not reputed for its liberal theology but still cramped in a dark corner of theological conservatism!
Tragically, his death seems to have terminated not only his personal and professional faith journey, but also marked a tragic termination of the social gospel, and liberal theology in many quarters.
Where today can one find an Anglican, or a leader in any other Christian church (save Pope Francis) who openly speaks forcefully against the growing poverty divide, the hunger and the desperation of those whose numbers are growing, in every corner of the globe.
And where are the Christian leaders today who are prepared to speak publicly against the slaughter of Christians in too many quarters at the savage and bloody hands of the Islamic terrorists?
The world needs more than the voice of the Pope and the Secretary General of the United Nations, along with a few political leaders, to speak out forcefully, with clarity and with courage against this scourge, its roots in all the same issues for which Archbishop Ted Scott fought during his many years in Christian ministry, poverty, inequality, racism, human rights, the environment, corporate greed and a gaping deficit of international collaboration, especially when it comes to yielding political power to such international agencies as the UN, the International Criminal Court, the IMF and the World Bank.
The world has shifted far to the right, in political and ideological and even theological terms. Archbishop Ted Scott would have been, even in his retirement, a voice that questioned the ethics, the justice and the theology of this dramatic shift, one which, it seems hardly arguable, has helped foster the alienation and the vengeance which is currently holding much of the world hostage to its grim inhumanity, notwithstanding its false and hollow attempt to link itself to a religious zealotry.
Political correctness, as people like Ted Scott would remind us, is no substitute for a robust liberal theology that counts its victories among the release of the most crippled among us from their unique and pressing prison.
And without a resurgence of Ted Scott's liberal theology linked to a social conscience (now so out of favour as to be considered "leprotic") we all face a future in which the seeds of radical compassion for the most dispossessed among us (growing by the millions daily in refugee camps, and in migrant pilgrimages out of danger) will find a dry and arid desert in which to die, in all quarters of the planet.
Has the Anglican Church of Canada even given Archbishop Ted Scott the respect and honour that is his due, (against which he would undoubtedly argue) in a monument to commemorate both his life and his death, near the scene of the highway accident that claimed his life?
It was another theological liberal, the Reverend Romney Moseley native of Bahamas, late of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, who informed your scribe that his articulate and provocative text, "Becoming a Self Before God" was removed from the public shelves in the Anglican book store. When he was asked why, he responded, "You know precisely why, John!
Are we to assume that only a conservative Christian theology is palatable in the twenty-first century, as that is the cacophony of noise that seems to be thundering across North America!

No comments:

Post a Comment