Friday, March 23, 2007

Episcopal Church Rejects Demand for a 2nd Leadership - New York Times

The Episcopal Church declines the Trojan Horse

Episcopal Church Rejects Demand for a 2nd Leadership - New York Times

Responding to an ultimatum from leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion, bishops of the Episcopal Church have rejected a key demand to create a parallel leadership structure to serve the conservative minority of Episcopalians who oppose their church’s liberal stand on homosexuality...Several bishops also said in interviews that they believed that the pastoral council arrangement was intended to strengthen the position of conservative parishes or dioceses that want to leave the Episcopal Church and take their property with them. The breakaway parishes could claim that they came under the new pastoral council guided by the primates, and that the council was the highest authority in the Episcopal Church’s hierarchy.

I can only imagine the bishops' marathon emergency meetings with their legal team to figure out the best strategy for holding onto Church real estate. Recognize the legitimacy of a "parallel leadership structure," and they don't even have a case if that "structure" awards church buildings and endowments to conservative congregations. Don't recognize the proposed "leadership structure" and they can at least duke it out in the courts, though getting kicked out of the Anglican Communion will certainly undermine the Church's case. But maybe deals can be cut behind the scenes. After all, ECUSA finances lots of these third world churches and so still has some leverage. It will certainly be entertaining to watch the bishops playing hardball--litigating, twisting arms, bribing and manipulating--while making the usual pious noises about "inclusiveness."

I have a dog in this fight, but my issue isn't sexuality. It's the more fundamental issue of authority and the Church's patronizing, manipulative treatment of its laity. The Church will not bend and will not even recognize that those who disagree about doctrine, policy or practice may be rational and informed, even if they are wrong. The assumption is that anyone who objects to the its program is ignorant, psychologically hung-up or just irrationally resistant to change, and that this can be fixed by "using psychology" or, failing that, playing power politics.

In the end, maybe it's I who was wrong--I, who wanted and expected the Church to be something it never was and was never intended to be. I was always puzzled, and irritated, by people who claimed to be "spiritual, but not religious, who bought into every sort of fashionable nonsense but rejected Christianity unworthy of serious consideration and who professed an aversion to "organized religion" and the "institutional church." It seemed to me that if you were going to be intellectually sloppy you might as well be a Christian. I could understand, and sympathize with tough-minded secular humanists like Russell, Ayer and Flew, and even the better sort of village atheists, like Dawkins, but I could never fathom why people who were soft-headed enough to buy into alternative medicine, self-help fads, astrology or what have you pooh-poohed "organized religion" and Christianity in particular. Occasionally I asked students why they had left the Church or rejected Christianity and the answer was always the same: "rules."

Now maybe I get it. When we talked about Christianity or the "institutional church" we were talking about two different things. When I talked about Christianity I meant church buildings and furnishings, liturgy, a body of art, music and literature, an historical story about councils and theological disputes, a collection of stories and myths, and a library of theology to explore and criticize; when they talked about Christianity they meant "rules" about what to believe and how to behave. When I talked about the "institutional church" I meant the organization that maintained the buildings and did the liturgy; when they talked about the "institutional church" they meant the hierarchy that made the rules about what to believe and how to behave. The romance of church history meant nothing to them, they weren't interested in theology or liturgy, and didn't think that the buildings were the essence of the Church: nice buildings were nice, and if the church had nice buildings that was a good thing in the way that it was good if libraries, schools or other public facilities had nice buildings. But that was not what the Church was all about--the Church in its essence was rules: authority, about what to believe and how to behave. And they didn't like it.

I don't like it either. Maybe now I understand. But I'm still furious at the church for dismantling that historical romance, which meant everything to me.

No comments: