June 27, 2006
Looking outside at the steady downpour -- we've had four days and four nights (well, just three nights, actually) of torrential rain, off and on -- puts one in a biblical state of mind. That leads us to reflect upon the just-concluded 75th general convention of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. in Columbus, Ohio. Early last week, it appeared that the liberal majority of delegates was determined to have its way, naming a woman as the church's presiding bishop (Bishop Katharine Jefforts of Nevada) and paving the way for blessing of same-sex unions. Bishop Gene Robinson of Vermont pleaded for a more "inclusive" (i.e., lax) policy on the ordination of bishops, insisting that he is "not an abomination in the eyes of God." At the last minute, however, they "pulled back from the brink," urging caution in the choice of bishops whose lifestyle may offend some, in an effort to stave off an outright schism in the Anglican Communion. Rev. Kendall Harmon's Titus One Nine has had thorough coverage of this meeting. He quotes one gay church member who bewailed the compromise as "Shamefully caving in to Neanderthals threatening to tear apart the Anglican church community," which seems doubly ironic to me.
In the May 19 issue of Commonweal magazine, Barry Jay Seltser wrote of the "Episcopal Crisis" that this issue has wrought. He is a converted Jew who is sympathetic to gay rights and other "progressive" issues, but is deeply concerned that the church's integrity will suffer if one faction seeks to dominate the other. He thoughtfully explores the three main sources of authority in the Anglican Communion: scripture, tradition, and reason. I had been unaware that this triad was originally enunciated by Richard Hooker's 16th Century book, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, which defended the Church of England against the twin threats of Catholic domination and Puritan narrow-mindedness. Seltser says that he became Episcopalian in part because of the Anglican Church's dynamic interpretation of religious law, a practice shared by Judaism. He emphasizes that the Anglican tradition embodies ambiguity and tension, along with a certain distrust of central authority. It is no coincidence that this mirrors the pluralistic conception of law and authority embodied in the U.S. Constitution. I pray that Episcopalians who share his inclinations reflect on his wise words of caution before it is too late.
Though I tend somewhat toward the conservative side on social issues, I am certainly not dogmatic about it. My main objection to Bishop Robinson is that he abandoned his family to live with another person who happened to be male; see April 8, 2005. He failed the higher standards of personal propriety for bishops set by the Book of Common Prayer. More generally, I detest anything that smacks of politicizing moral issues. Thus, I strongly oppose on principle making flag burning against the law, and I am skeptical about the proposed "defense of the family" amendment, even though I regard gay "marriage" as self-evidently absurd. Hence my flat-out rejection of the obnoxiously self-righteous left-liberals in the church who presume that they are morally superior, deriding traditionalists as "bigots" or "homophobes." Such attitudes are corrosive to church unity, and I simply cannot understand how so many liberals seem so willing to risk a major rupture just to get their way on this issue. It may be the case that a large majority of Anglicans around the world will come around to a more "liberal" view of homosexuality some day, and I myself may do so. Until then, however, anyone who really cares about the Church will refrain from name-calling or the pursuit of political hegemony, and will instead engage in honest, open dialogue with members who hold opposing views. "Can we all get along?"