I suspect I posted something on this last summer in the run-up to General Convention. There is a major revision in the works for Lesser Feasts and Fasts, which is the liturgical book dealing with commemorations of the saints and other notable figures in the history of Christianity and the history of the Episcopal Church. There has been some debate about the inclusion of this or that figure (John Muir, who wasn’t a conventional Christian by any stretch of the imagination), people who left Anglicanism for the Roman Catholic Church, like John Henry Newman, and many more.
My sense when I first looked through Holy Women, Holy Men was that it was something of a politically-correct attempt to acknowledge everyone who has made an important, or not so important, contribution to contemporary religion and culture. There are two aspects of it that deeply bother me. First, the expansion of commemorations. One of the things the Protestant Reformation did was simplify the religious calendar, removing the commemorations of many saints from the annual ritual year. Now we are back where we were in the Middle Ages. Perhaps that’s not so bad, but on the other hand a proliferation of commemorations might lead to the lessening importance of the whole enterprise.
Secondly, I am deeply concerned about what I suppose I should call religious imperialism. One of my most memorable moments from the time I spent teaching History of Christianity in an Episcopal Seminary was when a student commented after our discussion of Erasmus, “He was an Anglican.”
Well, no. He wasn’t an Anglican, he remained a Catholic and died one. As I was reading on Episcopal Cafe the entry on Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson yesterday, I sensed the same thing. To adopt or assimilate members of other denominations or Christian traditions, or even from other religious traditions, seems to me rather arrogant. Williams challenged not only the Puritan orthodoxy of colonial New England, he would have been equally vocal against the Church of England. To learn from and respect those who would have had deep disagreements with Anglicanism is one thing, to place them in our ritual calendar is quite another.
I presume the goal is to honor their contribution and their faith; but how can we do that authentically by eliding the deep differences between themselves and us?