Should an Anglican Priest get a whole column in the NYT to remind us that nobody is perfect, that everyone is a “saint and a sinner”, and that “human communities often disappoint us.” These tired old bromides are ready for the glue factory, and yet Tish Harrison Warren trots them out of her stable weekly. Not only that, but she always throws God or Jesus in—she is, after all, a priest—in a way that assumes that all of us share her belief in a Deity.
Her latest column (click on screenshot) can be summarized in one sentence, “Saints are imperfect people. . . we remember them because, like us, they were broken, selfish, and fearful [here comes God], yet God wrought beauty and light through their lives.”
There is nothing more to the piece than that deep thought, though I still don’t see myself as “broken”.
Here’s the Christian stuff at the end:
In a cultural moment where want to divide all people and institutions neatly into “good guys” and “bad guys,” those on the right side of history and those who aren’t, the righteous and the damned, this day reminds us of the checkered and complicated truth of each human heart. Martin Luther gave us the helpful phrase “simul justus et peccator” — simultaneously saint and sinner. It names how we are holy and wayward at once. It proclaims a paradox that we are redeemed yet in need of redemption.
Could she possibly mean “redemption through belief in Jesus” (i.e. “sola fide”, or salvation through faith alone—a belief of Anglicans)? What kind of redemption do I, a diehard nonbeliever, need? But she goes on asserting things for which there’s no evidence.
All Saints’ Day reminds me that God meets us, saints and sinners, despite our contradictions, and makes good out of haphazard lives. It tells me that all of us, even the best of us, are in need of unimaginable mercy and forgiveness. The church is “first and foremost, a community of forgiven sinners,” writes the theologian Gilbert Meilaender. It is not “a community that embodies the practices of perfection” but instead “a body of believers who still live ‘in the flesh,’ who are still part of the world, suffering the transformations effected by God’s grace on its pilgrim way.” Recalling the stories of saints is, in the end, a celebration not of perfection but of grace.
Look, I don’t care if Warren foists this palaver on people every week if it makes the readers feel good, even if their feelings rest on a shared delusion. What bothers me is that the NYT uses this space for her sermons rather than for something that could be more substantial and thought-provoking. Do you think they’d ever give over a column to a nonbeliever, even for just a few weeks? Don’t bet on it.