LETTER FROM AMERICA

More of the Same

NOTHING UNUSUAL has happened since I wrote last month, though the Presiding Bishop did support Pres. Clinton's veto of a bill banning partial birth abortions, and did support a bill giving homosexual couples all the rights and privileges of married couples. For the first, he implied that he had the support of the Episcopal pro-life group NOEL (on whose board I serve), by saying that a resolution we had opposed had been worked out in consultation with us. This is somewhat like claiming that you agreed to be robbed because you said no when the robber demanded your money.

In my diocese, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, a priest who has started serving as the pastor of a new church formed by people who left a local parish has been allowed to remain a priest in good standing because his new parish is considered non-ecclesiastical employment, because it has not joined another Church. I find that peculiar, but it does say something for the patience of the bishop, compared with how quickly the priest would have been defrocked in most other dioceses. (In many of which he would have been promoted for teaching heresy.)

The standing committee of the diocese has also approved a measure, to be presented to the next diocesan convention, stating that most of the dioceses' giving to the national church (nicknamed 815 for its address in New York) is voluntary, and allowing each parish to give that portion of their budget to someone else. Politically, this is an easier measure to pass than redirecting the dioceses' giving as a whole. It will undoubtedly pass here, and other dioceses will soon be making the same arrangements for their parishes.

In response to measures like these, and the continuing shortfall in payments from dioceses that would give all if they could, officials at 815 have been talking a lot about the need to restructure the Church for mission and telling everyone about their role as servants to the wider Church. This sort of talk seems to me not so much an attempt to keep their jobs as a bureaucratic attempt to control and retard change, but I think this movement to de-fund them is now beyond their control.

The two sides

The autumn issue of the Journal of Women's Ministries, published by the official and officially funded Council for Women's Ministries, arrived last week. It revealed, as such things often do, how highly our establishment thinks of itself.

The editorial fretted that we in the Episcopal Church seem in jeopardy of losing our capacity for tolerance, our ability to embrace those with dissenting views. These are people who demand that we accept women's ordination but if we raise the point stop talking about tolerance and start shouting about justice. I do not blame them for being careful whom they embrace, but I do blame them for not admitting it.

The editor then offers the ideologically confined Council for Women's Ministries as a model for the next millennium, in which power and leadership are shared; differing opinions are seen as enriching the life of the whole. Given the magazine's ideological uniformity, this reminds me of a talk I had in the Soviet Union about twenty years ago, in which an Intourist guide explained that their political system was free because they had elections. But all the candidates are communists, I objected. Well, of course, he answered, Communism is true.

The rest of the issue included the usual celebrations of lesbianism and single motherhood, the usual stories of tribal matriarchs speaking like western feminists (a feminist staple, these stories), some ill-considered but impressive-sounding talk about the new paradigm of reality, a few ritual attacks on the patriarchy, the now fashionable celebration of Eve's act of disobedience... as brave and risk-taking... a somewhat unfashionable celebration of the Sandinistas, and lots of talk about spirituality, though of the only vaguely Christian sort which says things like "I freed myself to become saturated in finding me and my reason for being part of God's creation".

Same-sex marriage rites

Last month I mentioned the report being written by the Standing Liturgical Commission on rites honoring love and commitment of persons of the same sex. The bishops of Los Angeles (Borsch) and Chicago (Griswold) asked the seminaries for their help and included a list of questions to guide their thoughts, and guide them in a certain direction they will.

The questions included such instructions as "the positive effect that these relationships [homosexual unions] have on community must be included in the conversation". And "Identify ways in which prophetic witness [which means what you think it means] can be understood as the appropriate companion to pastoral care". The two bishops made such helpful declarations as "The church is struggling with tension between the need to provide justice for oppressed persons [which also means what you think it means] and need to honor traditions of sexual morality."

They did not mention the begetting and raising of children or the avoidance of fornication as reasons for marrying. I do not think they excluded them only because including them raises awkward questions for the homosexualist cause. American Christians, even very conservative ones, now see marriage mainly as a form of personal fulfillment, and speaking of children and chastity is too practical and impersonal and restricting.

I suppose they are romantics, for whom St. Paul's idea that it is better to marry than to burn is too pragmatic a reason to marry. But having separated marriage from such bodily concerns as children and the temptation to fornication, and made it essentially an expression of their feelings and choices, they have little to say against the choice of two men or two women who want to find fulfillment by marrying each other.

They have a prejudice, as most middle class Americans still dislike homosexuality, but they do not have a convincing doctrine, which is why I think many of these people will come to accept even homosexual marriages, as long as they are celebrated in other parishes.

David Mills is the editor of The Evangelical Catholic, the theological journal of the Episcopal Synod of America, and the director of publishing at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry.

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