Episcopal Church troubles pain me

  • August 6, 2009
{mosimage}One of the most painful events of my summer so far has been watching the Episcopal Church in the United States stab itself in the heart.

This church was my spiritual home before I came to Canada in 1969. It was a good one to be in during my young years: biblical, yet theologically imaginative, rooted in Christian traditions far older than the English Reformation, blessed with splendid liturgy and a rich heritage of devotion. If I am not an Anglican today, it’s because I ceased to find that rootedness in Scripture and tradition in American or Canadian Anglicanism, and found it in the Catholic Church.

After making my home in Canada, I lost touch with the various developments and tendencies in American Anglicanism. Had I been paying more attention over the years to such matters, I would perhaps have not been surprised by the Episcopal Church’s decision, in June, to move toward authorizing the blessing of same-sex unions and allowing the installation of bishops and other clergy who are living openly in same-sex partnerships.

What the Episcopal Church decides to do is, of course, that church’s business, not mine. But there are some reasons why Catholics should be concerned about what the General Convention did.

One reason touches on our commitment to ecumenism. We should and do pray for Christian unity in both the Mass and in the Divine Office. But if this unity of Christians is to have a principled basis, and not amount to so much expedient grinding together of ecclesiastical gears or polite chats among experts, it must be grounded in mutual, deep respect for God’s revelation, as witnessed in Scripture and tradition. But there is no way to torture these two witnesses into agreeing with what the Episcopalians resolved — the unbroken line of biblical and church teaching on homosexuality is very clear — thus no way to minimize the injury to potential unity their resolutions have caused.

But not only the Episcopal Church’s relationships with the Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches are threatened. The Anglican Communion of churches itself is menaced. Faced with rebellions from large Anglican churches in Africa over the same-sex issue, and with imminent schism in American Anglicanism, the archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of world Anglicanism, urged the General Convention to refrain from taking any decisions that would drive more wedges into the fracturing Anglican Communion. They ignored him. As a consequence, Episcopalians could eventually find themselves outside the Communion altogether — isolated from the cosmopolitan vitality of a world-wide Christian community, much of it in the developing world, from which they have much to learn.

Another reason for Catholic concern is that both Catholics and the Episcopalians face the same enemy, and the catastrophe in the General Convention should be a sobering lesson to us all. The New Testament calls this enemy the world. A more up-to-date term for it is secular modernity. By this, I mean the whole kit and caboodle of contemporary forces, in mass media and mass culture, in the places we learn and play and work, that are marshalled against the liberation of the person from delusion and against the church’s proclamation of the liberating Good News.

An individual who goes along with these forces, allowing the popular values of the age to determine his or her actions, is in grave danger of utter ruin; so is a church that does so. The faction that carried the day at the General Convention managed to frame the discussion in the fashionable secular language of the day: There was much talk of “justice,” “equality,” “diversity” and so on. None of this, of course, spoke to the fundamental issues, which had to do with morality and right conduct in the Kingdom of God — topics that churches should be able to speak to, if they have not lost all relevance to human society and culture. This, then, is the true tragedy of the Episcopal Church: that, at least in one department, it has chosen the world’s applause over its vocation to be a stone of contradiction in the shoe of the world.

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