Thursday, September 02, 2004

Anglicans ready to ostracise US church



By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
THE LONDON TIMES

via the Beliefnet Anglican Debate board

THE Episcopal Church in the United States faces exclusion from the worldwide Anglican communion as punishment for ordaining a gay bishop, The Times has learnt... The suspension of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America, known as ECUSA, from the 75-million strong Anglican Church is expected to be recommended at the final meeting of the Lambeth Commission in Windsor next week.

Don't say I didn't say I told you so. Members of the Beliefnet board where the whole article is reprinted are dismayed and, surprisingly, surprised. As one notes, "who among us really thought that it would even get this far?" I did. See The Limits of Management

Others express fear that if the Episcopal Church knuckles under and abandons its policy of ordaining openly active homosexuals and blessing same sex unions they will be excluded from the church. Leaving aside the obvious fact that Episcopal churches are semi-public facilities that anyone can use, no questions asked, they don't seem to have gotten the idea the question of whether homosexual activity is morally permissible is separate from the question of whether the Church as an institution should ordain openly active homosexuals or bless same-sex unions. They should have read my article "Is Homosexuality Sexuality?" in the May/June issue of Theology.

Some suggest looking on the bright side--the "ostracism" of the American church is not intended to be permanent. Eventually the rest of the world will come around. In the meantime however I'd bet the ostracism could have interesting legal repercussions. A number of conservative congregations in the US have announced their intention to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the US Episcopal Church and affiliate with more congenial Anglican churches in Africa and elsewhere. There was some question of whether they would be able to keep their property which is, as I understand it, held in trust for them by the diocese in which they are located.

The idea behind this arrangement, I heard, was to protect individuals who contributed to the construction and maintenance of church buildings, and their furnishings, on the understanding that they would be used for Anglican religious purposes. A congregation couldn't, legally, auction the church plate on eBay, turn the building into condos and pocket the proceeds or use the property in other creative ways that the donors could not have forseen or intended. It's unlikely however that Episcopalians who contributed to the building, maintenance and furnishing of most Episcopal churches in the US anticipated the exclusion of the American church from the Anglican Communion. They surely intended to contribute to their local Anglican church or, in the case of churches built before the Revolution, to their local Church of England parish. Even a temporary "ostracism" would create a splendid window of opportunity for conservative congregations to get favorable decisions in the inevitable litigation over church property.

Now at this point you many wonder why I, an unrepentant Liberal, am cheering on the Conservatives, with whose views I disagree. Far be it from me to defend conservatives of any kind in the interests of fairness--I am pissed at the arrogant, thoroughly illiberal policies of the Episcopal church represented in the persons of clergy who imagined that they could, and should, make the Church over in their own image.

They imagined that they were the gentlemen of their parishes and dioceses, like the holy Mr. Herbert at Bemerton, providing intellectual leadership and moral guidance to the clueless yokels in their charge. They never doubted that their half-baked sophomoric notions, culled from undergraduate sociology courses, self-help literature, soap operas and Psychology Today were the received wisdom of the intelligencia. It never occurred to them that anyone who disagreed with them could have the intelligence to resist their therapeutic manipulation or the power to withstand their bullying. At the same time they assumed that the world was watching them, that their "teachings" on human sexuality would promote healthy attitudes, that their statements on public affairs would influence policy and that their liturgical practices would form the character of participants and shape their behavior.

It was the last item that got under my skin. In the later part of the past century, liberal clergy, many of who had ceased to believe in God and so did not see any point to worship as traditionally understood, concluded that the primary function of liturgy was didactic and pushed through a revised liturgy to suit their purpose. Members of the congregation were to mouth formulae about "justice, freedom and peace" and "stewardship" of the environment to encourage political activism and ecological concern. They were to shake hands with their neighbors to send the message that Christianity was not a narrowly individualistic relationship with a transcendent being but that love of God cashed out as love of ones fellow man. Kneeling was discouraged because, clergy said, it was "penitential": guilt-ridden, puritanical Episcopalians had to learn life-affirming attitudes that were more conducive to good mental health.

When the dust had cleared, a few parishes that did high liturgy remained as specialty items, featuring commissioned works of art and precious boy choristers in ruffs, while in the majority of churches every scrap of the numinous was stripped away and all emotion flattened into bland suburban cheer.

The arrogant fools who stripped the altars, scrapped the liturgy and destroyed my religious life, are now pulling down the church. In the end it will scarcely matter to the Culture Warriors on either side. The conservatives will have their evangelical tabernacles, affiliated with dioceses in Botswana and Timbuktu, with Bible studies, Promise Keepers and the Alpha course, where family values and male headship are preached. Liberals will maintain their community centers for elderly ladies financed by schools catering for families that want class-segregated education at an affordable price. But anyone who imagined that the Episcopal church was the venue for unrepentant liberals who were, in the ordinary sense of the word, religious will seriously disappointed.

Maybe it was inevitable--an epiphenomenon of the larger culture war in which religion is understood primarily as a tool for the promotion of a socially conservative agenda and Liberals are, by the very nature of the religious landscape, virtually defined into being secular.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, you were right.

You underestimate, though, the psychic effect, on gay people, of the Christian Church's loathing of homosexuality and of homosexuals. But that's for another time.

As a matter of fact, I think this whole thing will create yet another backlash against gay people. This is partly why I think it's time for ECUSA to throw in the towel and agree to the Anglican Communion's demands. It's over. Even I don't think the price is worth it.

H. E. said...

You're right on backlash judging from the way women's ordination played out 30 years ago. Amongst the laity there was virtually no serious objection to women priests initially--female priests would be like female doctors or insurance salesmen: would look funny, take some getting used to but what the heck, why not?

Supporters of women's ordination though played it as a revolutionary issue. When it looked almost certain that women's ordination would go through at the next General Convention or the one after, supporters staged the illegal ordination of eleven women in Philadelphia as a symbolic gesture comparable to the consecration of Bishop Robinson in New Hampshire. The Philadelphia Eleven, as they were dubbed to suggest the Chicago Seven and the Catonsville Eleven, then went around celebrating highly publicized "protest masses" invoking all the rhetoric of the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement in an attempt to make what the world viewed as a tempest in a teapot (the Episcopal Church then being the most genteel of teapots) part of a grand protest movement for social change. They played into the hands of conservative clergy who preached that women's ordination was "just the tip of the iceberg" and alienated legions.

The Philadelphia Eleven and their supporters attacked anyone who suggested that their tactics were silly, unmotivated or counterproductive, including bishops who supported women's ordination like the impeccably liberal Bishop Moore of New York, as crypto-sexists. They compared them to "gradualists" in the South during the early days of the civil rights movement. When women's ordination, inevitably, went through they proclaimed that it would not have happened without the brave, revolutionary actions of the protesters who, like the Freedom Riders and anti-war demonstrators, had engaged in dangerous illegal actions for the cause of justice, freedom and peace and had forced the hand of the "gradualists" who otherwise would have stalled women's ordination indefinitely. People don't like having their hands forced, especially when they're allies, and the backlash is still with us.

Deja vu on the consecration of Bishop Robinson. The brave, revolutionary protest created havoc this time because there was much more popular sentiment against the formal ecclesiastical recognition of actively homosexual clergy and same sex unions than there had ever been to women's ordination, exascerbated by 30 years of arrogance and arm twisting by liberal clergy who imagined that they were fighting the Revolution.

Dan Crawford said...

As an Episcopal priest, I applaud your description of the nonsense to which so much of the church has been subjected. Several years ago, the bishop of the western US diocese where I then served, initiated "dialogues" on human sexuality. Strict rules came from the diocesan office: you could not cite scripture on anything related to sexual behavior (though Scripture citations supporting niceness, tolerance, inclusivity, and charity were permitted); one could not speak of the "morality" of sexual behavior because that might imply notions of "good" and "evil". The unspoken purpose of the "dialogues" (though obvious from the beginning) was the affirmation of homosexual relationships and behavior as good, the recognition of "heterosexism" and "homophobia" as evils for which repentance was required, and the sanctification of experience as an end in itself.

The bishop of this diocese also fancies himself as a liturgist, once explaining to my parish that making the sign of the cross was a form of "superstition" and later decreeing for the diocese the omission of the confession at any liturgy over which he presided. These are by their very nature "celebratory" occasions at which the confession of sin was "inappropriate". He makes it known he has to suppress his gag reflex at 1928 Prayer Book services. He views himself as a very "tolerant" person - though persons holding views opposed to his soon discover his capacity for wrath and vindictiveness.

Of course, ECUSA's present Presiding Bishop and his minions regard themselves as morally superior and vastly more intelligent than their colleagues in the Anglican Communion, especially those whose skin color differs from theirs.

Thank you for expressing so well the moral, spiritual and intellectual bankruptcy of the Episcopal Church. I assure you that all Canterbury's Archbishops and Commissions, and the other Anglican Provinces can do nothing to put ECUSA together again. But ECUSA's leaders really don't give a damn anyway.

Dan Crawford
Gibsonia PA




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H. E. said...

I was trained as a "facilitator" for the Sexuality Dialogue. My duties included bringing in a real live homosexual for show and tell. I brought the chairman of our theology department--a close friend and a remarkably good sport.

The dialogue package included a list of non-negotiable "ground rules" mandating "dialogue, not debate." Among the rules I recall were "use 'I-statements'" and "talk about feelings. We were instructed that if a participant made remarks that were offensive or "unloving" we were to make eye contact and say, "I accept your feelings as valid for you." I reflected that these ground rules were exactly what I tell students NOT to do. The patronizing attitudes and manipulative practices that figured in this program, were over the top.

I agree with your last paragraph--they don't give a damn. It won't matter in the end though because the laity, who self-select for membership in the church, won't give a damn either. Clergy will provide busy work for people who are lonely and bored and make noises that people want to hear; retirees with time on their hands, bored housewives and people who like the noises clergy make will support the church financially. The institution will achieve a new equilibrium, with religion more or less out of the picture and keep limping on.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Harriet. I have commented on your article over at my blog Pontifications.

step314 said...

A church needs to be against sodomy, because sodomy is likely an insidious addiction (IMO to chemicals in semen, especially prostaglandins).

The main usefulness of a church is to be a place of traditional values that people who feel screwed-up can fall back on to reform themselves. People who feel screwed up understandably often don't feel up to making moral decisions by means of their own (screwed-up) sensibilities. Neither do they feel up to judging which of the many untried modern beliefs are bogus. Thus, if a church is not fundamentalist when it comes to viewing depraved addictions as harmful, it is abandoning its main useful purpose. To a screwed-up person such a wishy-washy church makes depravity seem respectable, while to a non-screwed-up person it still leads him (or her) away from moral philosophy by encouraging excessive superstition and traditionalism.

There is an equivocation as regards the word "fundamentalist". What makes for a good church is a church that is fundamentalist in its views concerning addiction, while it is the opposite of fundamentalist as regards telling/forcing clean unaddicted people that they should be beholden to their dated beliefs. Christ said that he came to save sinners. If he had come to improve the wisdom of basically clean unaddicted people, he would have wanted to be seen as a moral philosopher as opposed to a religious figure.

Another thing that must be understood about the church is its association with holiness and marriage. I am inclined to think that the fundamental purpose of the holiness emotion is that it reduces crossover in spermatogenesis, which reduction benefits female sex partners. Since men tend to love wives better than sex partners they don't provide for, it is easy to see how marriage and holiness are related. But what is not clear exactly is whether marriage is about the man promising commitment/caring/holiness, or whether it is about demonstrating (e.g., to the bride's parents) that the relationship is respectable, i.e., not screwed-up. This conflation is harmful, and it is instructive to see how it comes about.

Quite generally, when something stupid resembles something unselfish, some selfish people will be arguing that the stupid behavior is unselfish, because they want to encourage the stupid behavior, while on the other hand, some selfish people will be arguing that the unselfish behavior is stupid because they are selfishly unwilling to be unselfish. Accordingly, in a situation like this, there will be vast disagreement among bad people whether the set of behaviors are good or bad, but both sets of bad people will agree it is basically a question of whether both behaviors be bad or whether both behaviors be good. Bad people will be united in failing to discriminate the stupid behavior from the unselfish behavior. So it is with marriage. It is unselfish to be a single mother, and sometimes females become single mothers from love pure and simple, and scarcely anything could be more praiseworthy. Both your typically female pro-marriage zealot and the sodomites whose lifestyles they claim to hate may disagree about whether unselfish sex and sodomy are good (one believing they are both bad, the other believing they are both good), but they are united in believing that they are the same. The religious will go after gay marriages like they never went after people being legally allowed to sodomize, because the sincere of the religious types will see the danger of sanctifying depravity, and because those of the religious types who are self-serving need to exploit the conflation of commitment-free sex and depravity, which won't be so easy if depravity is seen as something marriage should at times glorify. The sodomite position opposing them seems muddled, inasmuch as many sodomites (especially those who mainly sodomize females) want to encourage an acceptance in their partners of their own lack of commitment, which they often may do by claiming marriage and commitment are not desired by unselfish women. In my opinion sodomy is mainly not a homosexual issue anyway, since doubtless more females get sodomized than males (by sodomy I mean behavior that puts semen in the digestive system, viz., oral sodomy and rectal sodomy).

I don't think wide-spread gay marriages are presently a political possibility here in the US. And churches with pro-gay bishops will seem kind of pointless and likely will lose membership. Why where priest robes to make sodomy seem respectable when you can just turn the TV to Jerry Springer or some screwed-up HBO show?--a much more effective way of persuading your would-be initiate that your depravity is not especially abnormal or unacceptable after all.

Anonymous said...

Um, pardon my french H.E., but just who pee'd in your cornflakes? There are plenty of Christ-centered, mysteriously spiritual . . . and gay-affirming Episcopal Churches, in cities and towns across the U.S.

Yeah, if we're "disciplined" by the AC, it'll hurt---but it won't break us. Meeting to worship God, eat the Body&Blood of Christ will continue on, Sunday by Sunday. Maybe we'll grow, maybe we'll shrink, maybe we'll stay the same: that's in God's hands. But I happen to believe that having a holy consistency---that when we say "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" we mean it (as long as you're willing to follow the Episcopal canons, not Fundamentalist sexual obsessions)---will, over time, make as a more integrated (and thereby persuasive and appealing) body.

But win or lose, we must follow the Gospel: it's the *Gospel* causes us to proclaim that gay and straight are one in Christ (just like Jew and Greek). We follow the Gospel, not the "church-growth strategies" which are purely a *worldly* invention. When we follow the Gospel, we can never lose our way.

J. Collins Fisher

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