In the early '70s, comedian Flip Wilson created a character for his NBC television program called "Reverend Leroy" of "The Church of What's Happenin' Now." Like some contemporary "reverends," Reverend Leroy was a con artist who, among other things, once took up an offering to go to Las Vegas, explaining he had to study sin in order to effectively preach against it.
Reverend Leroy would feel right at home in the modern Episcopal Church, which recently voted at its denominational meeting in Anaheim, Calif., to end the ban on the ordination of gay bishops and permit marriage "blessings" for same-sex couples.
Denominational leaders explained they are attempting to stem the exodus from their church by embracing a new doctrine they call "inclusivity," which they hope will attract young people.
Apparently church leaders think that if they can reach people before they have fully matured in their faith, they can sidetrack them into beliefs that have nothing to do with the God that Episcopalians once claimed to worship and that they can be shaped into practical secularists who are willing to seek the approval of men, rather than God.
Inclusivity has nothing to do with the foundational truths set forth in Scripture. The church, which belongs to no denomination, but to its Founding Father and His Son, is about exclusivity for those who deny the faith. The church is inclusive only for those who are adopted by faith into God's family. There are more biblical references to this than there is room to cite here, but for the Episcopal leadership, biblical references no longer have the power to persuade, much less compel them to conform. That's because Episcopal leadership has denied the teachings of Scripture in favor of, well, inclusivity, a word that appears nowhere in Scripture. Even if it did, Episcopal heretics -- for that is what they are -- would choose another word to make them feel more comfortable, since accommodation with the world seems to be a more important objective than the favor of God.
Not to single out Episcopalians for special sanction. Other denominations have been putting themselves through theological makeovers in recent years, as have some of their more prominent members.
Take former President Jimmy Carter (and someone should). Carter, who once attended and occasionally taught a Sunday school class in Washington, which I visited, then claimed to believe much of what Scripture teaches. In practice, though, he was pro-choice on abortion and recently announced his support for same-sex "civil unions." He says he sees nothing prohibitive in Scripture to such arrangements. Carter must have gotten hold of a Reader's Digest condensed version.
Carter has announced he is leaving the Southern Baptist Convention -- the nation's largest Protestant body -- because he claims it treats women as inferior to men. In a statement he said, "At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities."
Carter must have missed the passage about mutual submission between married couples and the requirement that a man love his wife "as Christ loved the church," a very high standard that implies such love be equal to the self-sacrifice demonstrated by Christ on the cross. Such sacrifice can hardly justify any of the sins against women that Carter unfairly ascribes to the Southern Baptist Convention.
If the church -- Episcopal, Baptist, or whatever -- is to be a beacon to an increasingly dark world, it must know not only what it believes but in Whom it has placed its faith. For these Episcopalians and the kinds of Baptists admired by Jimmy Carter, it is a church that has made its bed in the world, and it has as much power to illuminate as a burned-out bulb.