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.