Friday, 7 March 2008

Stations of the Cross — Without the Cross?

The following article appears in CT Online:

Stations of the Cross — Without the Cross
Episcopalian liturgy for Stations of the Millennium Development Goals truncates the gospel, critics say.
Susan Wunderink posted 3/06/2008 10:00AM

In this season of Lent, many Christians in liturgical traditions have been meditating on the Stations of the Cross, a series of events — biblical and traditional — depicting the story of Jesus' death.

This year, however, the Episcopal Church is promoting new devotional material for Lent: the Stations of the Millennium Development Goals. The church's Episcopal Relief and Development office created a liturgy based on the United Nations plan to eliminate extreme poverty and other global ills, and sent e-mail to church leaders encouraging its use "in lieu of the traditional Stations of the Cross service."

Mike Angell of the denomination's Office of Young Adult and Higher Education Ministries designed the stations for a September 2007 young adult conference. While the traditional Stations of the Cross meditation has 14 stations (though this has varied through church history), the Episcopalian Stations of the Millennium Development Goals liturgy has only eight stations, one for each goal.

Station four, on reducing child mortality, reads:

Every three seconds a child under the age of five dies. A disproportionate number of these children live in developing countries, without access to clean water or basic medical care.
For personal reflection and prayer: Lord, help us to love and care for little children—the least of these who are of your family. Protect and heal them with your divine power.

Each station includes "activities and worship experiences for the liturgy." For station four, the church's document suggests, "Provide black and white drawings or outlines of children's faces. Have pilgrims color the faces. While the group is coloring, ring a bell every fifteen seconds to recognize that another child died from a preventable water-borne illness."

At the end of each station, the group is to pray a modified version of the Eastern Orthodox prayer known as Trisagion in which "Have mercy on us" is changed to "Transform us / That we might transform the world."

"There has been a little controversy about the Stations of the MDGs," said Luke Fodor, network coordinator for the church's relief arm. "At Episcopal Relief and Development, we're here to just take care of problems. We're not interested in theological discussions or politics in the church. We're to take care of the least of these, and that's our mandate. We [at ERD] didn't create this; we produced it for churches to use as they see fit."

But critics say the liturgy and the church's promotion of it during Lent is idolatrous. The Anglican blog StandFirm posted excerpts from the liturgy under the introduction, "Gitcher fresh hell here."

Kendall Harmon, canon theologian of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and editor of The Anglican Digest, said the liturgy is based on a "terribly truncated version of the baptismal covenant" and reveals a theological mindset that is un-Trinitarian.

"It runs the risk of replacing Christ with the church and the activity of Christ with the activity of the church," Harmon said.

Edith Humphrey, William F. Orr professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, criticized the document's theology for similar reasons.

"Like the song, "God Has No Hands But Our Hands," it forgets the sovereignty of God," she said. "God does use us, but he's the initiator. It's so sad to see the gospel diluted to simply being kind to others. I don't think that a gospel like that really communicates the grandeur of God and what he's done for us in Christ."

Continue reading the rest of the article here.

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