Thursday, February 22, 2007

Excuse Me, But I Have To Schism

For those of you reading this who aren't Episcopalians (you know who you are), let me bring you up to date on the interesting goings on in my Community of Faith.

It all started a couple of years ago when Episcopalians in New Hampshire chose an openly gay man, Gene Robinson, to be their bishop. (As opposed to the Roman church, where things come down from above, we operate in a more democratic manner.) Which would have been cool, although instead of just voting and installing him in the normal course of business, they waited until the general convention (big church gettogether) so it was a Big Deal.

There was a lot of fallout from Big Deal about Bishop Robinson's installation. Although thirty years ago, the Episcopal Church was referred to as "Republicans at Prayer," it's become one of the most inclusive denominations in the United States. But not everyone was on board with that. Conservative parish churches and a few bishops were really pissed off by that move, not just over disagreements with the theology, but the in-your-face manner it was pulled off. And so they wanted to disassociate themselves, and the specter of schism was raised.

Now, the Episcopal Church in America is part of what is known as the worldwide Anglican Communion, churches that sprang from the Church of England. Once, the sun never set on the British Empire, so it really is a worldwide thing.

Particularly fittuzed about these developments in America were bishops in East Africa. There, christianity is very much in competition with Islam in a struggle for converts. These bishops felt, probably correctly, that having to apologize for belonging to a church that went against those biblical injunctions against sodomy put them at a severe disadvantage with the illiberal message being put out by their Moslem counterparts.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the "first among equals" in the Anglican Communion. The African (and a few East Asian) bishops appealed to him, and he offered a rebuke to the Episcopal Church, basically saying, "Cut it out, will'ya?"

Skip ahead to the Autumn of 2006 when the Episcopal Church once again held a General Convention, and part of the business at hand was to select a new Presiding Bishop, the "first among equals" here in the U.S. Rumor has it that retired bishops, who each get a vote and who represent a substantial voting block, decided to pull some political machinations of their own, still smarting over Bishop Robinson's elevation. They decided to vote as a bloc for Katherine Jefferts Schorri. Now, Bishop Schorri was technically not qualified to be Presiding Bishop. She hadn't been a bishop long enough. But she was included on the slate because it would be nice to have a woman up there with all the boys.

Why would the retired bishops do this? Simple. They knew that if Schorri became the new Presiding Bishop, then the simmering anger that many conservative Episcopalians and Anglicans felt would quickly boil over into outrage.

And that's what happened.

So there was just a meeting of all the head bishops in the Anglican Communion in Dar es Salaam in Africa. Six bishops refused to take Holy Communion with Bishop Schorri. (Note that they're as upset about the fact that she's a she as they are about her past positions on blessing of same-sex unions, so that's something of an indication of where they're coming from.)

And the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, put out another "rebuke" to us: don't elevate any more gay bishops and stop blessing same-sex unions.

Now that's interesting. As the Episcopal Bishop of New York, Bishop Sisk pointed out in the NY Times yesterday, we don't do that. There is no service in our prayer book, the Book of Common Prayer, for the blessing of same-sex unions.

"But wait! Friends of mine..." Exactly. Some priests amend the service as presented in the Book of Common Prayer, or read Grateful Dead lyrics, or make it up as they go along, or whatever, to bless the union of two men or two women, but when those priests do that, they're acting as free agents, because they're not going out of the Book of Common Prayer.

Get it?

So Archbishop Williams' rebuke doesn't seem to touch that. Because it can't. Individual parishes choose their priests, and if the parish is fine with it, then the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop and the local bishop are pretty much out of it.

But there's all this fuss.

I try to be as charitable as I can be about the whole matter. I like the fact that I can worship as an openly gay man at my church. 'Cuz I like church a lot and I'd hate to have to stop going. Back when I was in college, I had sort of an ecclesial affair with the Roman church. And there's a lot to like about Roman Catholicism. But I just got tired of all those implicit and explicit messages I was getting saying, "We don't want you here." So I went back into the ever-lovin' arms of the Episcopal Church. And I think it must be hard on those conservative Episcopalians who are unable to reconcile their personal values with the changing world around them. That must be a terrifically painful and confusing thing. And, in fact, as Christians, we're called on to resist the values of the world and be the light of Christ shining in the darkness.

But I have to admit, I'm pissed off at the African Bishops. Less and less I by the whole cultural relativism thing. "Oh okay! Your values spring from your culture, and since all cultures are okie-dokie, that's beyond criticism."

Bullshit, say I.

Female circumcision is barbaric. Islam oppresses women. There are more slaves in the world today than there have ever been in human history (and I'm talking about that non-consensual kind of slavery) and the overwhelming majority of them are in Africa. Genocide is still going down in Darfur. President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa doesn't believe that HIV has anything to do with hundreds of thousands of his countrymen dying. (I haven't heard what Bishop Desmond Tutu has to say about gay stuff, but I'd be surprised if he came down hard on the gays.)

I mean, what would Jesus do? If he was in Africa today, I don't imagine he would be railing against same sex unions and women being bishops on that other continent. In other words, you folks have a lot of work to do there at home before you go sticking your noses in our business. After you've got your own houses in order, then I'll be willing to hear what you have to say about your interpretation of Holy Scripture as it relates to human sexuality.

1 comment:

alterboy said...

great post...actually it started in the seventies when the US and Australia/NZ started ordaining women, and then elected women as bishops. but otherwise, no quibbles w/the details.