Helen De Cruz, Asst Professor in philosophy at VU University Amsterdam, interviewed H.E. Baber, Professor in philosophy at the University of San Diego, for a series on how the religious practices of philosophers influences their academic work.
Baber, an Episcopalian who doesn’t attend a church, speaks about the difficulties outsiders face in joining the Church, and the many ways it can feel unwelcoming or inaccessible., and the frustrations she experienced as a lay-person trying to engage actively with the Church.
From the interview:
Insiders don’t appreciate how remote churches are to outsiders or how difficult it is to get in. Churches don’t signal that they’re semi-public places, like supermarkets or movie theaters, where anyone can go no questions asked. As an outsider, I was too shy to visit any church—afraid that it would be going into a private space where I didn’t belong, afraid I’d be noticed as an intruder, or asked embarrassing questions. There was no easy way of applying to join a church. When I joined the Episcopal Church as an undergraduate I didn’t know any churchgoers: religion simply wasn’t done among people I knew. It took me months after deciding to join to get up the nerve to call the local church and ask to see a priest. I wondered why churches couldn’t make things easier—why, e.g. they didn’t put ads in the college newspaper or leave flyers with forms one could fill out to request information or apply for membership.
Baber was frustrated by confessional asides from Episcopal Priests who assumed that, as a philosopher, she shared their skepticism or outright denial of the existence of God; she was seeking moving, transcendental spiritual existences, not personal denials of faith by the spiritual leaders of the congregations she joined.
She sought ordination for years before finally being rejected affirmatively, and was frustrated when they told her that they had decided against her seven years prior. She had wanted to be involved in important aspects of the Church, but found no structure in which she could influence matters or affect change as a lay person; she sees this as a critical failing of the Church, and believes that the Church is in active decline as a result. This leads to her most scathing criticism of the Church.
Again from the interview:
I am disheartened by the decline of the Church and frustrated because, as a layperson, I can’t do anything about it. In spite of the officially democratic structure of the Episcopal Church, and rhetoric about lay ‘ministry’, laypeople have no voice in matters of importance. The agenda is set from the top, laypeople are heard only when they echo the party line, and priests as well as laypeople are marginalized, beaten down or squeezed out if they don’t go with the program. This has driven some to join break-away groups. That isn’t an option for me because I have no sympathy with the conservative moral positions these groups take and, most especially, because the view that gender is in any way theologically significant is a deal-breaker for me.
Can you relate to her experiences? Do you think the Church isn’t democratic enough? Do you see value in the hierarchical structure the Church operates from? Do you think her experience of being strung-along is common in the Church, or was she an outlier?
Posted by David Streever