Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Politics and Church Politics

In the coming Anglican schism, the big guns are coming out. Those on this blog know that I am an active Episcopalian (even elected to our parish vestry, thus completing my induction into the bourgeoisie), and I have more than a few opinions about what is happening. In post-colonial Africa and Asia, the offspring of the Church of England are pretty much like miniature versions of the Roman Catholic church, where the titular head has unquestioned and unchecked authority. They are also moving that direction spirtually, with anti-women, anti-gay, anti-just-about-everything theology. And they are very angry at the US Episcopal church. The issue du jour is gay people, specifically the demand that Episcopalians stop treating gay people like human beings created in the image of God. This we are unwilling to do. Ergo schism looms.

We are a different sort of polity too. Several framers of the constitution participated in the creation of the Episcopal church, and they result is a bicameral legislature. The House of Deputies consists of laity and parish clergy; the House of Bishops is self explanatory. Bishops are elected for life by their dioceses, and confirmed in their role by a vote of both houses. The details of church governance may be boring, but they are relevant. Imagine if the Roman Catholic church had a legislature. What a dramatic difference in theology and participation we might see. Well, this is our situation.

And, like every legislature, money is an issue. According to the NYTimes article linked to above, the Episcopalians comprise less than 5% of all Anglicans, but foot about a third of the bill for the worldwide Anglican communion, much of which goes to anti-poverty programs and other charitable aims. Two years ago, they demanded we not particpipate in the Anglican Consultative Council (sort of the politburo of the communion) but demanded we increase our contributions by 10% per year over the next several years. Amazingly, the Episcopal church has obliged. Repeatedly, the Episcopal church has also said it has no desire to back out of the charitable obligations it has undertaken.

As I said earlier, the NY Times article is no accident. Talk is rising that we should not be asked to pay for those who will not sit at a table with us (several primates - no monkey jokes, please - refused to take communion with our primate, because of her gender and support of ordaining gays and lesbians and solemnizing their relationships). Nobody wants to use the money as a club to curb their behavior, but we do have to make it clear that we will not continue to support them financially if they turn their backs on us. There comes a time when the affections of Christian fellowship must give way to remonstrating with one who has gone astray. Preaching hatred for gays and second-class status for women is just plain wrong. It is offensive.

To quote the Episcopal News Service
"The “low point” of the Primates’ Meeting came, Jefferts Schori said, when one primate equated homosexuality with pedophilia and another said he couldn’t see why the Anglican Communion should study homosexuality if it doesn’t need to study murder." That's who we are dealing with. This is not a Christian attitude. And it's not about North versus South. In fact, Bishop Desmond Tutu has helped lead South Africa to a very different place. The issue is one of values. Do you struggle with the gospel's tough message of love and truth, or just cave in to popular traditional prejudice? Fundamentalists always do the latter. There is a reason the African churches are growing so fast - they have sacrificed the gospel for comfortable prejudice and tradition. The easy way. The gate is wide and the way is easy, that leadeth to perdition.

They have given the Episcopal Church until September 30, 2007 to "repent" and change our views. Nuts to that. Those who say such hateful things about gay people are the ones who need to repent. When I get my chance to vote on these matters - and I will - it will be to say no. And no to paying one thin dime to anyone who refuses even to sit at the table with us as brothers and sisters. I wish it would not come to that.

I know many Citizens are atheists and cannot imagine why this all matters to any intelligent person. Well, this is what I have to say. Religion is not just a personal matter. Prayer is private, but worship is corporate. Being a Christian means more than just liking what Jesus had to say about loving your neighbor; it means actually trying to live together, with a community, in a community. It means trying to have a common life together. Personal spirituality is the easy way out, lighting a candle, quiet meditation, whatever thing you want to do. It's not messy. Other voices do not intrude. Sartre, I believe, remarked that Hell is other people. Perhaps, but that is our world. Community means politics. There is no way around it.

This is not so different from why most of us on this blog are passionate about politics in the United States. We're contending with one another over our values and identity as a nation.


Dr. Strangelove said...

The conservatives in the Anglican Communion are acting out because they can read the handwriting on the wall: change is coming. All people--including women and gays--will soon be welcome to participate fully in many churches within the Anglican communion. Time is on the side of the Episcopalians. As women have been grudgingly accepted, so will gays. This is what the conservatives fear most.

Of course, back when the conservatives were in control of the Episcopalian church, the liberals stayed with their church and worked for change. Now that the conservatives are on the defensive, they are throwing a tantrum and threatening to quit. It shows how little they care for the church as a whole.

Perhaps the Episcopalian church should place their contributions to the Anglican Communion in escrow until that body ceases its discriminatory practices. But I think the Americans are wise to remain engaged. Those who walk away from the communion will wither in the sun. As LTG said, religious worship is about community, not just private prayer.

Rolleroid said...

I read this blog often, and have commented occasionally (usually on labor issues), but I find this topic to be especially interesting for the simple reason that the outcome of the schism will directly impact my own spiritual journey.
I was baptised Catholic and went to church pretty regularly until my teens, when I became fed up with religion as a whole (as many Catholics do) and spent the next dozen years wandering from religion to religion to no religion. I eventually felt the loss of community and family unbearable, and began to go back to church with my wife, also a Catholic. We were members of a church in New York City with liberal clergy and I again felt part of a community.
Moving to Southern California to a parish that was decidedly not liberal, the elevation of Ratzinger, and the frustration of belonging to a church that, while having it's liberal members, teaches an overall message of intolerance, resulted in my desire to find a church where I could worship and feel confident that my beliefs were not in the minority. My first (and only) thought was the Episcopalian Church.
So, with my wife and daughter in tow, we started to explore the church. But I am worried - and confused - by the developments discussed by LTG. So much so, that I recently baptised my daughter as a Catholic simply because it was a known quantity (and I was dealing with her immortal soul - the last thing I wanted was to jeopardise that while I was figuring everything out).
A question for LTG: what are the odds of a complete break? What do you think the impact will be for those in America?

Anonymous said...

I'll start by saying that hate always matters regardless of the vocabulary one chooses to express it with. In the cases that LTG mentions, they are using a religious vocabulary but that's not really their point. As LTG points out they are about local traditional prejudice and hatreds and insecurity.

I'll conclude with a question. Where does the original Church of England stand in all of this? Australia? New Zealand?

The Law Talking Guy said...

The odds of a complete break? Slim to none. That's because we don't really excommunicate people in our tradition. And, of course, we're only held together by spiritual bonds anyway. There's no hierarchy, no pope, no single institution. We will at least remain in communion with one another the way we are in full communion with the Church of Sweden, even though it is not technically part of the Anglican communion. "Agree to disagree" is the Anglican tradition that will, in the end, likely win out at some level. As my professor for Wills & Trusts used to say, "there's no love like family love, and no hate like family hate." Fights happen.

However, the break of sorts that is coming will not leave the Episcopal church isolated. Far from it. The Canadians, Scots, and New Zealanderss are on record as being quite supportive of us. They have approached the Episcopal church about forming an axis within the communion, which the Episcopalians have rejected for the sake of unity. The Church of England does not know where it stands. Its head, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is feckless (a major reason for the impasse, I might add).

The good news for your family is that the Episcopal church honors all baptisms done by any church. So, you're in, if you want to be. No need to "convert." Obviously, I'm excited about the prospect of someone else finding and enjoying the institution that is so important to me, but I add my priest's familiar warning: the job of the clergy is not to grow the Episcopal church, but to grow the kingdom of God. If it's not for you, just make sure you find something that IS for you.

The other good news is that most Episcopal bishops have been very strong in saying that they will not sacrifice any baptized person, gay or straight, for the sake of unity. And in Los Angeles, Bishop Bruno has been uncharacteristically blunt about his insistence that nothing will change about welcoming gay people. Our priest reminded us the Sunday after the Tanzania communique that the primates have no authority over the American Church, the Diocese of Los Angeles, or our congregation. Quite out of character for Episcopalians, there was much spontaneous applause. Jesus said that if your left hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Well, the Anglican communion may also have to be cut off, if it does the same.

As for the impact of a break, very little, I expect. With one caveat: the dam may burst on pent-up desires to liberalize the church even further. Our primate, Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori (she uses two last names) authorized rites of blessing for same sex marriages in her own Diocese of Nevada, and vigorously supported the first openly gay bishop. I think the biggest danger of the schism is really that the expectations of liberals within the church (including the Spongites who deny the resurrection altogether) will be raised sky-high, like Icarus.

The Law Talking Guy said...

And here is the beginning of the "Nuts to that" from our Bishops at The decision has been made to reject the less controversial of the demands of the primates at Tanzania, making it quite clear that the demands about gays also will go nowhere. The demand for an urgent meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury is a good thing. He's the one who can stop the slide to schism by telling everyone that there is no need for orthodoxy in the communion, as there never has been such a need.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Here is part of the response of US Bishops issued today at their annual Spring "retreat" meeting:

"It is incumbent upon us as disciples to do our best to follow Jesus in the increasing experience of the leading of the Holy Spirit. We fully understand that others in the Communion believe the same, but we do not believe that Jesus leads us to break our relationships. We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué is distressingly silent on this subject. And, contrary to the way the Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council have represented us, we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God's truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision."

Hooray! To paraphrase Patrick Henry: if this be schism, let us make the most of it.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Here is an excerpt of the reasons given by the Episcopal church for refusing to play ball with the other primates. It proclaims, I think, the nature of our own community and why this is about much more than just "gay issues" but the meaning of a church. And I can't help snickering at the talk of popery.

"Third, it violates our founding principles as The Episcopal Church following our own liberation from colonialism and the beginning of a life independent of the Church of England.

Fourth, it is a very serious departure from our English Reformation heritage. It abandons the generous orthodoxy of our Prayer Book tradition. It sacrifices the emancipation of the laity for the exclusive leadership of high-ranking Bishops. And, for the first time since our separation from the papacy in the 16th century, it replaces the local governance of the Church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates.

Most important of all it is spiritually unsound. The pastoral scheme encourages one of the worst tendencies of our Western culture, which is to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them and be instruments of reconciliation. The real cultural phenomenon that threatens the spiritual life of our people, including marriage and family life, is the ease with which we choose to break our relationships and the vows that established them rather than seek the transformative power of the Gospel in them."