As Episcopalians this week broached the unprecedented topic of a gay priest's fitness to be a bishop, a vital clue emerged as to what was going on.
A priest from Portland, Ore., the Rev. Sherman Hesselgrave, observed that "God changes God's mind."
Ah. Hmmm. Shall we ponder?
First, the linguistics -- the deliberate avoidance of the possessive "His," so as not to identify God with male patriarchal ideas. Then, the central suggestion -- God as just another head-scratching, chin-cupping water-cooler buddy, with changing viewpoints for changing times.
"God changes God's mind." Is there a nicer precis of the modern mood, in which practitioners of a sexual style once foreclosed to Christians find themselves celebrated as authoritative Christian teachers?
Congratulations, Bishop Gene Robinson. Come talk to us about all the other junk we need to discard to get right with this changeable God.
You could certainly call Hesselgravian theology a piece of arrogance. (Who exactly finds out about God's mind changes and then reports?) But I'd go further. It amounts, as well, to cultural Darwinism: evolution, in other words, as the key to everything. We seem to be constantly "evolving" -- and not just in terms of prehensile tails and opposable thumbs, rather in wisdom, in understanding!
Whereas we once thought and taught particular things, enlightened souls step forward to remind us that was then, this is now. God changes God's mind. We move on. Get with the program!
Human life, evolved or otherwise, has never been tidy. But modern thought and practice, were they to get any grungier, would lie beyond the corrective powers of Procter & Gamble. To speak a thing these days (e.g., "God changes God's mind") is to render it True. You render it enforceable by mobilizing as many "progressive reformers" as possible into voting blocs and pressure groups.
So it happened in the Episcopal Church's upper reaches -- the seminaries, the House of Bishops, the bureaucracy, the church media. Louder and more persistent grew the clamor, inside and outside this venerable Christian body, to deal with homosexuality as if it were a civil rights issue, rather than a moral question rooted in scriptural and theological understanding.
A favorite gambit of the "progressive reformers" involves comparisons of homosexuality to slavery. Start with the fact, according to the question-begging contention, that the Bible endorses slavery (a highly non-factual "fact," as it happens). That means -- on goes the peerless logic -- that other things in the Bible may be false for enlightened modern folk. One of those things, naturally, would be the tradition of heterosexual monogamy as the Christian norm.
Gene Robinson's church-splitting promotion to bishop undermines Episcopal claims to teach the Christian tradition with care and faithfulness. It is necessary nonetheless to be realistic: This is how we do business today. A truth is precisely as true as a show of hands affirms it to be.
The reverberations from cultural evolution shake institutions other than religious ones. One such is the law. The simplistic view of the U.S. Constitution as a "living" document (not unlike the Bible, it would seem!) constantly invites Supreme Court progressives to attempt new spins on old jurisprudence. The latest response: this summer's decision invalidating the Texas sodomy law.
"(G)ay life," reported the New York Times Magazine just the other day, "seems to be heading steadily in the direction of greater visibility and acceptance." There is no doubting it. Not doubting it is, of course, different from viewing that particular evolution as entailing the substitution of a fresh truth for one worn-out and worthless.
What Charles Darwin and the biological evolutionists somehow failed to implant in the mind of the cultural evolutionists is that life can evolve downward no less than upward. The dear, dignified, stately old Episcopal Church seems to have gambled and come up snake eyes on its bet that God is other than who He always said He was.