A few blog posts ago, I wrote about the push in the Episcopal Church to feminize the name of God. I made a statement towards the end: “If that is not already idolatry, we can be confident that idolatry will be the final fruit.” But, of course, things do not always happen in a linear fashion. They may not have yet succeeded at changing the prayer book, but two years ago they displayed a crucifix with a female “Christa” in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York.
As the New Yok Times relates, the deteriorating Episcopal Church (the article said “Evolving,” but I fixed it for them) has decided that while the fundamentalist 1980s may have been too soon to display a female version of Jesus in the cathedral, the enlightened 2010s are a different story.
The cathedral’s dean back in 1984 was willing to display the sculpture, but “A controversy erupted, complete with hate mail attacking it as blasphemous;” now, it might have been “hate mail” indeed, but if the only thing supposedly hateful about it was that it labeled this sculpture blasphemous, it would be more accurately referred to as ‘truth mail.’ In the end, New York had a bishop sensible enough back then to override the dean’s authority and sent the abomination packing.
Not so in 2016. “It was startling then [in 1984],” said the sculptor, “Now? Well, we have women bishops now.” Indeed, that might be a connection worth exploring; minimally, it suggests that once you surrender the hermeneutical battlefield, it’s only a matter of time before you lose the doctrinal war.
The blasphemous sculpture is quite welcome by the NY Episcopal hierarchy of today. Grief and righteous anger are both appropriate responses to the current Episcopal bishop of New York’s statement that “In an evolving, growing, learning church we may be ready to see ‘Christa’ not only as a work of art but as an object of devotion, over our altar, with all of the challenges that may come with that for many visitors to the cathedral, or indeed, perhaps for all of us.”
The first ‘challenge’ that comes to mind is the combined blasphemy and idolatry. A specific ‘challenge’ that having the sculpture as an object of devotion in the cathedral might pose for the dean, bishop, etc., would be something along the lines of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:6, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (NIV)
But the deepest challenge is the theological message. True, the statue was sculpted on a whim, and it is hard to tell how much forethought went into considering whether or not to display it. But there is a necessary background of theological distortion needed for people to undertake something so obviously blasphemous. It requires a sense that God’s revelation is arbitrary and ours to distort at will, a sense that we may freely mold the Son of God into a shape of our own choosing.
The similarity to the attack upon masculine names and titles for God is obvious, but Christa is an even more explicit instance of revolt against revelation. For Jesus Christ is God’s ultimate self-revelation to mankind. “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe” (Heb. 1:1-2). “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14).
We cannot improve on God’s perfect revelation. We cannot change Jesus for the better. But we can distort the Word of God, as in the case of Christa—to the spiritual harm of those who are influenced by it, and the shame of those who promote it.
Yet for the faithful there remains a comfort in the midst of chaos. People can only distort a presentation of Christ; they cannot distort Christ Himself. He remains the promised Savior, the one the prophet foretold, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6), and who will yet return, as envisioned by John the evangelist, and be seen by all as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev. 19:16).