Friday, January 4, 2013

Blogging the GOEs, Question 3: The Most Delicious Question Yet

[Hello all:  beginning with a disclaimer.  Crusty seems to have touched a nerve with my first post on GOEs (one of my most-read postings).  Apart from being perpetually stunned anyone cares what he has to say about anything (he mainly does this to spare CODW his rantings and provide an outlet), Crusty does want to say one thing.  He's not opposed to GOEs, and sharply criticized the decision to defund them in the original draft budget proposed last summer.  He would, however, like to have a discussion about a thorough overhaul, and you can read some of his previous thoughts here.]

No...resources...till Brooklyn!

It's a no resources day!  To refresh your memories, GOE questions can come in limited resource and no resource versions (back in the day when Crusty took them, they also had unlimited resource questions where you could use anything, so long as you cited it, but that was in the pre-Wikipedia days).  Students tend to stress about the no resource questions, but Crusty loves them:  they tend to be fairer, on the whole, because the questions need to broader and place an emphasis on integration since they can't ask you to differentiate between too many specific facts or concepts, like comparing initial and forensic justification, since these are questions designed to demonstrate basic competency, not doctoral comprehensive examinations.

Speaking of back in the day when Crusty took GOEs (we had not yet transitioned from "i" to "j,", still pronounced "v" as "w", and Peter O'Toole from "Masada" was my dean), the Ethics & Moral Theology question on my GOE (a canonical area so nice they had to name it twice) was very special.  Crusty had not yet taken a single course in Ethics or Moral Theology by the time GOEs rolled around, so the only preparation he had was what he could cram in the library (remember: no Wikipedia back then).  Gobsmacked by the question, and forgetting what he had crammed, and not knowing what sources to use, Crusty crafted an answer based entirely on the Narnia books.  Crusty wrote his whole answer shaped around the difference between "Deep Magic" and "Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time" from Book 1 and Lucy reading the Spell Book in the invisible Wizard's House in Book 3.  It was the only "outstanding" (back when they graded it on four categories from "outstanding" to "sucky") Crusty got out of all seven canonical areas, despite having never taken a course in the field.  BTW, Crusty, who teaches Church History, failed the history section of the GOE.  But he digresses, but, if you're one of the people who inexplicably read this blog, COD assumes you know this by now.

On to the question:

Set 3: Christian Ethics and Moral Theology

Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others." (Matthew 23:23)

In this passage from Matthew, Jesus is quoted as criticizing the scribes and Pharisees for neglecting to practice justice (as well as mercy and faith).

1. In an essay of 1000 words, present and expand on a Christian understanding of justice, drawing on your knowledge of sources in Scripture and the tradition of Christian thought. Identify and differentiate at least three forms of justice commonly discussed in Christian ethics and moral theology.

2. In an essay of 500 words, explain in detail what it means for individual Christians and the Church as a body to practice these forms of justice.

Some initial thoughts here...

First of all, having just written out some end-of-year giving checks:  Crusty forgot you could tithe cumin, dill, and mint!  Crusty's alma maters will now be receiving the fruits of his spice cabinet -- yeah right Crusty grew up Irish in Boston, he doesn't know from spices, just ask CODW (Crusty Old Dean's wife).

Second of all, Crusty would have to fight inevitable distraction, as this would get me hankering for lunch.  Of all the Scriptural passages where Jesus speaks of social justice, why did they have to choose the one where he lays out the ingredients for a delicious cucumber salad?  Is this an Ethics question or an episode of Chopped? [Aside:  Crusty loves the aside in the question: where the student is reminded, having just read a bible verse where Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for neglecting to practice "justice and mercy and faith", that in the passage Jesus is criticizing the Pharisees for neglecting to practice justice, and the parenthetical "(as well as mercy and faith)" is added.  So not only are they reminded about the passage they JUST READ they also have to be reminded that Jesus didn't just criticize the Pharisees for neglecting to practice not only justice.  A comment on our shrinking attention spans in a Twitbook age?  Or, yet again, the distracting power of mint, cumin, and dill?]

As for the question itself...

1)  In general, Crusty approves.  OK, justice is important, and Ethics as a discipline is all about how we translate belief into principles, decisions, and actions.  Good, if delicious, Scriptural quote, nice to see the church realizing there are passages other than Micah upon which to base an ethics of justice.  Given the cottage industry which has cropped up around Micah 6:8, Crusty is surprised Church Publishing hasn't issued Hymn #605 as a ringtone.

However, Crusty is again puzzled by the language of the question:  "present and expand"?  How in any way is that different from "present a Christian understanding of justice, drawing on..."  Are they looking for something else, or just again using more words when fewer words, and the accompanying clarity fewer words can (emphasis on "can", fewer words can be just as perplexing if not worded properly) bring?

2)  COD is fine with giving an open-ended "Scripture and tradition of Christian thought" basis.  This would allow students to incorporate and shape a holistic vision of justice, bringing in examples from the Hebrew Scriptures (Crusty would like to play "Micah 6:8!" bingo when the readers gather to consider this question), other sayings of Jesus, and, really, any number of examples from Christian tradition.

A life of F D Maurice directed by David that's scary.
But Crusty is puzzled, perhaps, in part, because he is currently reading F. D. Maurice's Kingdom of Christ right now (this is how COD spends January term).  Normally one might think Crusty is puzzled as a resulted of reading Maurice, who is nearly unintelligible since his prose is so dense, kind of like David Lynch crossed with Dr Seuss crossed with the sentence length of Richard Hooker.  No, that's not it:  Crusty is puzzled because THERE'S NOTHING SPECIFICALLY ANGLICAN  in the question.  This is, after all, an exam which is measuring competency in areas for people seeking to be ordained to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church.  The central theme of COD's Anglican Theology course overview for next semester (spoiler alert!) is on Anglicanism as a religion of the Incarnation -- something which is oft glibly tossed about, but something which we need to take seriously if we are to claim, and seriously engage how Anglicanism has looked at the Incarnation as a prism by which we understand ethics and theology (and pastoral care, and so on).  There is a deep, rich Anglican tradition of ethics.  The seminary where COD teaches offers a course on Anglican Ethics.  F. D. Maurice spend hundreds of pages articulating the way in which the Incarnation calls us to rethink the whole nature and purpose of the Christian endeavor, placing an emphasis on ethics and actions.

Crusty's not asking the examiners to ask the poor no-resources students to recapitulate Temple's Christianity and the Social Order or Maurice's Kingdom of Christ. But couldn't they be asked to include an Anglican reflection of some sort on ethics?  Is not the entire debate convulsing the Anglican Communion regarding human sexuality, and which Crusty gathers most GOE takers are away of, based on moral theology and ethics (along with Scriptural interpretation, ecclesiology, and other theological issues, to be sure)?  Episcopalians make dozens of decisions every day on a whole range of issues from where to shop to where to live to which church to go to; could not the question have incorporated one aspect of what it means to be an Anglican Christian and Ethics?

Hint: If using Tarantino as example, don't use quotes with the N-word.
3)  Crusty is puzzled by "forms" of justice.  Once again, vagaries abound in question phrasing.  Do Tarantino revenge films count as a form of justice?  If there's something they're telegraphing that they are looking for here, be more specific, otherwise err on the side of allowing students to shape a theology of justice based on the sources outlined. Is the question - which, again, is a no resources question -- really improved by adding this second sentence to Part 1?  You've got to give students more of a lifeline if there are boxes to be checked here in reading an answer.  Provide additional quotes for them to incorporate into an answer, provide an excerpt from a theological text with potential examples for them to identify/incorporate -- both of which have been common practice in other years for "no resource" questions.  Given the way Ethics has been cannibalized in some theological faculties (but thankfully not Crusty's!) it would be unfair to expect a certain specificity in a no-resources question without more context.  Even Wait Wait Don't Tell Me often has either multiple choice questions or generous hints provided to panelists.

4)  Why separate theological and praxis?  After being asked to "expand" their understanding, students are then asked to write a separate essay on "what it means" to "practice" these forms.  Isn't an important component of Ethics about integrating theology and praxis?

Crusty gives this question a mixed review.  Love the idea of centering an Ethics question around justice.  But disappointed there is no Anglican component to this question, and disappointed with the separation of theology and practice.  Maybe instead of reminding students about the quote, the examiners should have focused a little more on the quote themselves.


  1. My initial reaction is how much this passage is used in supersessionist veins of Christian theology to stress how Jesus was superior to all contemporaneous forms of Jewish life. Ironically, that supersessionist theology led to some profoundly unjust treatment of Jews and Judaism. I do hoep answers draw on both the OT and NT.

  2. Cant wait to hear what you think of the Contemporary Society question COD. Cant wait. BRING IT ON.

  3. In addition to Micah 6:8 bingo, I think Matthew 25:31-46 will get more than a few mentions. Proof-texting from a handful of verses is not something only conservative Christians are guilty of.

    Seems like everyone is saying GOEs need to be made-over but is anyone aware of any formal effort to do so? Convention did not approve panel to look at theological education and I'm not sure this falls into the remit of the structure committee. So will we all go around saying "this needs to change" right up until 2015 when we realize nothing has changed?

  4. Jesse, Crusty offered some concrete suggestions here The General Board is a creature of and accountable to Convention, so Convention itself could take initiative; Standing Commission on Ministry Development also an option; doubt Structure Task Force will get to it.

  5. @Jesse, Micah 6:8 didn't make it into the essay (scratch-sheet for sure) because I thought I might go for the Scattergories point with Matt 25, oh well, busted as a proof-texter, which from my science background takes on a whole new meaning with #socialmedia. If a = b...text away.

  6. I realized today what the GOEs remind me of: It's the Kobayashi Maru test used by Starfleet! I can use Wikipedia because I'm not taking the GOEs

    For me the most puzzling/laughable thing about this question is that they ask the victi--um, test takers to "explain in detail what it practice these forms of justice" in 500 words. 500 words! Your "back in the days" digression was 227. Because, yes, I did count.

  7. The canon does not ask candidates to demonstrate proficiency in Anglican Ethics and Moral Theology. More students failed to demonstrate proficiency in the area of Ethics and Moral Theology than in any other area. This is partly because the seminaries have different approaches to the area and partly - as noted above - because some curricula postpone this subject to spring of the 3rd year.

  8. The canonical area includes Christian Ethics; Anglicans are Christians; Anglicans have a rich and storied legacy in ethics and moral theology.

    One of the other canonical areas is "Church History, including the Ecumenical Movement." It does not mention Anglican Church History. Does that mean candidates are not being asked to show proficiency in Anglican History, and we can't ask any questions about the history of the Anglican Communion?

    I reserve the right to be disappointed they asked a question about social justice and did not ask for any reflection from an Anglican perspective.

    BTW, Tom, I happen to be a big supporter of the GOEs, that's why I put my little disclaimer at the top of every blog post. Like Prayer Books, I also think they need a good overhaul every once in a while.


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