Letter from America

Michael Heidt on mujeristas, marginalization and the missing millions

As everyone knows, the unfortunate Bonaparte sneered at Great Britain, calling the English a nation of shopkeepers. Well, they may have been and something in the nature of running small businesses was doubtless helpful in beating down the Corsican upstart. In a similar vein, there is a long history of accusing America of being a ‘nation of hucksters’. In other words, a country that’s engaged in a gigantic confidence scam at the expense of its own citizens and the world at large. This may or may not be true, but the charge certainly seems to stick with ECUSA, which has been playing hoax with itself and the Anglican Communion for ages. Examples are manifold and ridiculous, Bishop Griswold stating that he wasn’t aware of any unorthodox bishops on the active list, Bishop Haines (rtd, Washington DC) declaring himself to be a ‘credal Christian’, or Affirming Catholics claiming to uphold the Apostolic Faith. Then of course, there’s the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate. This ranks high in the annals of ecclesiastical hustle; we were told, and still are, that this was of such obvious benefit to the Church that it had to be done. What is this benefit?

There are evidently several; women priests add to the fullness of ordained ministry, making the Church not only relevant in the eyes of a modern world which has increasingly outgrown sexism, but also, thanks to its radical inclusivity, poised to convert it. In this new fullness the Church is at last able to live up to its baptismal relationship with Christ, in whom there is neither male nor female. It follows that the ordination of women is far more than a matter of equal rights for women, but rather a movement of the Spirit, bringing the Church and ultimately the world to a true understanding of fundamental human equity, of ‘justice for all’ in the Body of Christ. It is, so its supporters claim, a vital hinge on which the door of liberty and freedom either opens or shuts. This puts those in opposition to the ordination of women in an uncomfortable place, in neo-fascist realms of opposition to justice and ultimately God herself, who, as the Bible reminds us, is a God of righteousness.

Of course the wimmin put it all far more eloquently. They have a vision, according to the Episcopal Women’s Caucus, of:

A church that honors and rejoices in the ministries of all women. We know that such a church will honor and rejoice in the ministries of all people. We work to realize this vision by:

1. empowering women and men to challenge oppressive structures in the global community, nation and church;

2. modeling non-hierarchical ways – shared leadership and decision-making, womanist/feminist/mujerista theology and spirituality;

3. giving visibility and respect to women's perspectives and actions in the work and struggle for justice, peace and the integrity of creation;

4. enabling the church to free itself from racism, sexism, clericalism, heterosexism, ableism, and from teachings and practices that sustain and reinforce power inequities.

It’s quite an agenda. Moving ineluctably from the ordination of women, to the integrity of the created order, to the final overthrow of power inequality, the priestess movement holds out the promise of an end to injustice and oppression. In a country which totemizes the rights of the individual, this is powerful juju indeed, and a spell that ECUSA has been unable to resist. Sadly, for all its good intentions, ECUSA has bought into being something that doesn’t work; it’s been conned.

Far from converting the modern world, the Episcopal Church has shrunk from 3.6 million baptized members in 1965 to 2.3 million in 2002, of which something like 850,000 attend church on any given Sunday in 2004. Of 7,305 parishes, 60% have an average Sunday attendance of 100 persons or less, the average overall being 79 persons. As congregations have declined, so too have ordinands, with 355 in 1970 and 215 in 2000. Still, ECUSA has a lot of priests, more than 17,000 in 2002, of whom over a quarter were female, but these were on average 53 years old, with only 9% being under 40. These are unpleasant figures, demonstrating, if proof were needed, that something has gone terribly wrong with ECUSA. Thanks to its experiment in radical feminism the Episcopal Church should be growing, but more and more people every year obstinately exclude themselves from the Church of Inclusion. It seems that they don’t care if ordaining women to the priesthood will change the world, but neither for that matter does the world.

The ‘global community’ has been notoriously quiet about the feminist revolution in the Episcopal Church, which has oddly failed to lure the masses away from patriarchal oppression into the episcopal matriarchy. Perversely, despite the presence of two women bishops in Washington DC (Barbara Harris and Jane Dixon), President Bush not only wages a war in the Middle East but continues to damage the integrity of creation by allowing toxic emissions from our factories. Again, even after thirty years of ordaining women, Big Business and the Military Industrial Complex seem unaware of the dagger held to their throat by our courageous band of 53-year old priestesses. Bizarre as it may seem, America doesn’t much care if a wealthy sliver of the national religious pie ordains middle-aged women to the priesthood. Except of course that they should, and herein lies the real tragedy of the con that has been perpetrated on North American Anglicanism.

Americans should care that a part of God’s Church, that was once vibrant, growing and catholic, has been marginalized into increasing irrelevancy by the risible dogmas of a discredited secularist agenda. More than this, we should care that disunity and discord have been enthroned in the heart of the Church’s unity, in holy order itself and the sacraments it dispenses. For if we should care about anything, as a nation, we should care that the means of salvation are being denied to the people, all in the name of justice. There is no justice in this: either in terms of obedience to what God has given us or the equity which flows from it. This is the tragedy, that a movement, which set out to fulfill the law of a loving God, has done so in a spirit of lawlessness and pride. No small wonder, then, that the people of America have stayed away from the experiment. We may thank God that he has created men and women with the sense to discern right from wrong, we must pray that he gives this dwindling section of his Church the vision to do the same.

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