The Gospel, Anyone?

Bill Murchison
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Posted: Jul 22, 2009 12:01 AM
The Gospel, Anyone?

Not that the secular world walks the floor at night worrying over the Episcopal Church and its waning influence over the minds of all decent and honorable Americans. The secular world lost this decent and honorable habit years ago and likely won't get it back, especially with Episcopalians themselves acting more and more like members of a secular pressure group.

The Episcopal Church, at the legislative/executive level anyway, is into "social justice," and there isn't much anyone can do about it. Save, of course, pray -- a pastime at which the church used to excel (the Book of Common Prayer, you know) before it came to believe the real action lies in resolutions and programs aimed at … well, consider how things went at the recent Episcopal General Convention.

GC, a triennial occasion, met in mid-July in Anaheim, Calif. Just around the corner lay Fantasyland. Good choice of locations. The deputies and bishops engaged almost daily in the fantasy of editing Christian theology to suit their newfound aspirations. These center on accommodating demands from the gay lobby to 1) allow the blessing in churches of same-sex relationships and 2) renew the commitment, earlier put on hold at the request of overseas Anglicans, to remove homosexuality and lesbianism as barriers to church leadership.

No contemporary American is likely to confuse the Episcopal Church with the churches of the so-called religious right. This seems to suit the majority of top-level (as opposed to the majority of lower-down) Episcopalians just fine. In fact, the more intently the "tops" concentrate on questions of "justice" and "inclusion" of supposedly persecuted groups, the happier with themselves, and their achievements, they appear to feel.

The church's presiding bishop, Mrs. Katharine Jefferts Schori, must be one happy camper indeed. The General Convention's deputies and bishops routed the conservatives; routed them so rousingly that orthodox Episcopalians this week were examining their consciences. Could they remain in a church dedicated more to "justice" and "inclusion" than to the Christian distinctives -- salvation, redemption, justification, confession and so on? Time will tell, as it always does.

Secular America may not care. On the other hand, the spectacle of a great Christian body that has contributed to the country a third of its presidents, starting to put things of the earth above things of heaven -- a spectacle of that character should trouble many.

Odd, very odd, such a condition should seem, and does. If ours is, in fact, the world's most church-going nation, you'd kind of expect long-established churches to work hard at weaving the religious fabric tighter, not plucking large threads from it. In fact, the churches of the Protestant mainline -- including the Episcopal Church, which can swing Protestant or Catholic depending on local outlook -- started, during the 1960s, modeling the garments of the rebellious, anti-establishment secular culture. Feminism first, then gay rights, became established articles of faith in big churches -- Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, and so on -- that became smaller and smaller and smaller churches as conservatives seceded, then regrouped in new bodies. These new bodies professed to see propagation of the Christian faith as the Christian duty that made all the others essential, not to say possible. Mormons today outnumber the Episcopalians and Presbyterians put together.

Church "progressives," as they like to style themselves, seem untroubled by the exodus of the conservatives. For one thing, the flight of one's opponents means you get things the way you want them. For a while at least -- until, looking about, you wonder what's the difference between a social justice church and the Peace Corps, which operates on federal funds and doesn't require Sunday morning attendance or suggest the reading of old books about dead people in the Middle East.

The Episcopal Church looks less and less like a church, more and more like a convocation of nice, well-meaning folks, who, having helped elect Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress, await the descent of Peace and Goodness from -- well, somewhere. Washington, D.C., maybe, with a little assist from churches that, back when they spoke of themselves as such, truly meant it.