LETTER FROM AMERICA
IS THIS WHERE IT'S AT?
AS I PREDICTED, the judges in the Righter trial (with one honorable exception, who reportedly held out against constant and considerable pressure) ruled in such a way as to let the moral innovators do what they want but on so small a legal point that conservatives could pretend the decision did not matter.
One diocesan newspaper even ran “Opinion narrowly focused” across the top of the front page. Not, I would have thought, the snappiest headline, but the editor presumably knew the line he was supposed to take.
As I also predicted, many conservatives are indeed claiming that the decision is not a problem because it ruled “only on a narrow point of canon law.” Unfortunately for their argument, this point was whether the Church had a binding teaching on a question on which the Scriptures and the Christian tradition are quite clear. Their call for patience, which they truly believe wise, is somewhat like telling the passengers of a train hurtling toward a crash that the track the train is on is a narrow one; one doesn’t care how narrow the track is, one cares about where it is taking the train!
“Moderate” bishops’ diversions
“Moderate” bishops especially are taking refuge in the decision and trying to divert their peoples’ attention with talk of “getting on with the mission of the Church” - though someone like me would just want to note that a Church that does not know what it believes has no way of knowing what its mission is.
One representative bishop urged his people to get on with the mission by “being Christ for others.” Ignoring the worrisome implications of “being Christ” in an age tending to believe "men shall be as gods" (surely urging them to be “in Christ” would have been more biblical and pastorally wiser), I have to respond that Christ left a group of men to continue His ministry, and they left us with binding teaching, and that anyone truly wanting to “be Christ” would also want to “be Paul,” in the sense of doing what Paul said. You cannot be “in Christ” and say “we have no teaching on homosexuality.”
Many if not most of these bishops have no real objection to homosexuality, at least if it is (officially) monogamous. Some are just confused; but many I am afraid are simply careful not to let their belief in the goodness of homosexuality be known till it is safe to do so.
In the meantime, they quietly ordain homosexual men and women and vote against any measure that would make the Church’s teaching more definitive, always with a plausible excuse for not speaking more definitely. This sort of bishop did not vote to prosecute Bishop Righter, he would say, because the court “is not the right place to resolve our disagreements”. This despite the fact that judging whether a bishop had violated the Church’s teaching was precisely was the court was created to do.
This sort of bishop has an Episcopal Church mind but not a Christian mind, a problem you will all recognize. You can spot him by the fact that he always invokes “the teaching of the Church” and never the biblical teaching or the Christian tradition. When he does nod to the Bible, it is always to general and malleable themes, or to passages conformable with Episcopalianism, such as “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” which can be used as a defense of social action. He (not she - all of our women bishops are clear as to their conclusions, if not always as to their reasoning) plays, in other words, on the ambiguity of the words “teaching” and “Church,” assuming rightly that the average layman believes the teaching eternal and “the Church” to mean the Church of the ages.
As I have remarked before, this makes the orthodox weary. You feel as if you were stuck for days in a small room with chain smokers. At some point, you long to dash outside, even if the weather outside is hot and humid and the street filled with poisonous snakes and biting insects and terrorists are setting off bombs. You will give up comfort and safety just to breath freely. It’s this weariness, I think, even more than the court’s overt rejection of Christian moral teaching, that is causing and will cause more people to leave the Episcopal Church.
There being alternatives, even for those not convinced of the claims of Rome or Orthodoxy, I represented Trinity at the first “international convocation” of the Charismatic Episcopal Church (CEC), held in late June in Jacksonville, Florida (which is not, by the way, a city where you want to be in June). About a thousand people registered for the five day meeting, some from their Churches in Latvia, Uganda, and the Philippines, and over a thousand more came in for part of it.
The Eucharist every night lasted between three and four hours and was more culturally pentecostal than I expected. Yet outside my own seminary chapel, these services were the only services I can remember knowing that everyone in the room was saying the words of the Creed without reservation or qualification and with complete commitment. An Episcopalian (used to General Convention services in which Arians, Marcionites, atheists, devotees of various goddesses, and people who would worship Ba’al if they knew who he was) all say the Creed together yet each giving it his own meaning, finds this unity in the Faith quite moving.
I have been surprised in private conversations how many Episcopalians are thinking of joining the CEC, and not just the more Charismatic; but Prayer Book traditionalists and Anglo-Catholics. In the CEC, they see a Church not always to their taste, and with a teenager’s insecurities and clumsiness, but also one serious about being faithful to the Christian tradition and bringing it to the modern world.
For many, there is no reason to remain an Episcopalian, when in the CEC they can do everything they feel called to do, and without the stress and the real impediments caused by remaining in the Episcopal Church. And even the leaders of the “orthodox resistance” have not yet given a good reason why they should.
David Mills is the director of publishing at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry and the editor of The Evangelical Catholic, the journal of the Episcopal Synod.
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