Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Just don't call it a divorce!" - In what represents a growing headache it's newly-installed head, Dr. Katharine Jefforts Schori, today's NYT informs us of a ever-widening rift within the Episcopal Church.

As many as eight conservative Episcopal churches in Virginia are expected to announce today that their parishioners have voted to cut their ties with the Episcopal Church. Two are large, historic congregations that minister to the Washington elite and occupy real estate worth a combined $27 million, which could result in a legal battle over who keeps the property.

In a twist, these wealthy American congregations are essentially putting themselves up for adoption by Anglican archbishops in poorer dioceses in Africa, Asia and Latin America who share conservative theological views about homosexuality and the interpretation of Scripture with the breakaway Americans.
This is in addition to the recent defection of an entire Diocese in San Joaquin, California, as well as to the secession of three dozen Episcopal churches following the consecration of V. Gene Robinson as an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire.

As stated elsewhere, I am of the mind that religious prohibitions against committed and mutually consenting gay relationships (such as those supported by Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola) are supported neither by reason or scripture. But I do confess a certain schadenfreude when I see a bastion of the often-misguided Christian Left wallowing in what Dr. Schori herself describes as "anxiety" and "discomfort" borne out of its pursuit of faux diversity. Beyond the condescension of its current leadership, the Episcopalian Church has been hoisted on the the petard of liberalism, as has much of what remains of mainline Protestantism.

Another sign of the times within mainline Protestant denominations was the 2004 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly voting to “initiate the process of selective, phased divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.” Five corporations (Caterpillar, ITT, Citigroup, Motorola and United Technologies) were potential targets of this action, in that the church saw them as hindering the cause of peace in the Middle East.

Fortunately, the 2006 General Assembly voted to remove the 2004 divestment language and replace it with verbiage urging that “financial investments of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, be invested in only peaceful pursuits.” (The General Assembly also added language acknowledging the “hurt and misunderstanding among many members of the Jewish community and within our Presbyterian communion.”)

Although church policies would have ensured that divestment could not have been authorized before the 2008 General Assembly, if at all, the very fact that it ended up on the docket suggests an inability on the part of many within the Presbyterian Church to view the situation surrounding the Palestinian and Israeli peoples with any moral clarity. As we have seen over and over again, it has been Israel that has shown the greatest commitment to peace, and the Palestinians who have shown their desire for a permanent intifada.

The moral confusion of the Presbyterian Church is further evidenced by the behavior of many within its leadership. We gather as much from Jim Roberts, himself a Presbyterian. Writing in the June 15, 2006 Wall Street Journal, Mr. Roberts describes the behavior of some of his
Presbyterian delegates also take leadership roles in organizations that blame the U.S. and capitalism in general for most of the world’s catastrophes. The 2004 manifesto of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, for instance, went on about America’s “imperialism,” “domination” and “massive threats to life.” And the Presbyterian Church’s 2004 Stony Point Declaration was a similar self-parody, noting that “our nation…pursues global empire, backed by unprecedented military supremacy. Its un-qualified commitment to economic growth through a global, capitalist economic system has not served God’s purposes of justice, peace, community and the integrity of creation, but has enriched the corporate ruling class… [creating] monstrous inequality and massive suffering.”
As it is with much of the Christian Left, the Episcopalian and Presbyterian Churches are struggling to maintain both their membership and relevance in an increasingly secular society. In contrast, the more fundamentalist and evangelical denominations seem to be growing in popularity and prestige. As the denominations of the Christian Left abandoned the faith of their flocks by softpedaling or condoning behaviors that they previously abjured, so have their followers abandoned them. And in as much as they have transformed worship from a sacred to a politicized activity, they have contributed directly to their presently debauched state.

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