The New Episcopal Church

Speaking as an Episcopalian of many years’ standing, I have just the inkling that the Methodists, the Moravian Brethren, the secular humanists, and the far more numerous members of the Sunday Morning Snoring and Starbucks Society are less interested than we are in our present, well-reported travails as a church.

I allude here to those travails for a pair of related reasons — their immediacy (to me) and their relevance to the condition of 21st century Christianity. Here I sit, in Columbus, Ohio, at the Episcopal General Convention, watching a worthy and dignified Christian body tear itself asunder — not over theology, as many here would think, but over politics and cultural attitudes.

And you know what? We’re a lot more typical than the Methodists, etc., etc., often suppose.

Twenty-first century Christianity in America bears the earmarks of American culture, the culture of the Boomer-60s years — grayer, fatter in the face, fuller (a whole lot) at the waistline, but more insistent than ever on personal autonomy and, especially, on the Gospel of Me First.

Rules? Norms and knowledge bearing the imprint of dead people? Don’t give us all that stuff. Don’t give us hierarchy or the wisdom of the past. Don’t give us revelation. We’ll do all the revelation necessary for people with Blackberries and Colorado condos.

Down to cases. We Episcopalians, here in Columbus, just elected a new presiding bishop named Katharine Jefferts Schori. I guess she’s nice enough; she went to Stanford, holds a Ph.D. and speaks well. Her experience as a bishop in Nevada? Minimal. Her previous experience as a priest? Less than minimal. What got her where she is? Two things: her sex and her commitment to those issues that most fascinate today’s Episcopal Church — peace and justice.

A word about the first qualification, namely, sex. Amid the jubilation that attended Jefferts Schori’s election, one deputy bid fellow deputies listen to "the sound of another glass ceiling being broken." See, the Elizabeth Cady Stanton-Betty Friedan liberation of women thing. A male stronghold has been breached. Wheee! Yippee! Never mind that Jefferts Schori strongly supported, and still does, the church’s consecration as bishop of a man who tossed over his wife and daughters in order to live with a male lover. That bishop, V. Gene Robinson, precipitated a crisis in world Anglicanism — traditionalists around the globe demanding the Episcopal Church repent of the consecration and reform itself; the Episcopal Church clawing and scratching here in Columbus to defend its new gay-friendly status.

A word now about the new presiding bishop’s second qualification — commitment to the peace and justice agenda. This agenda came from where? I hadn’t previously heard of it, imagining as I did that salvation through Jesus Christ was Christianity’s priority. Well, big surprise. The determination of the Jefferts Schori faction to see that gays, lesbians, transsexuals, etc. enjoy the same moral status as heterosexuals now trumps, in some, not all, Episcopal circles, the Christian call to repentance and amendment of life. To these Episcopal Boomers, gay rights is merely the latest step toward the achievement of social and cultural approval for … for … well, gosh, I guess, everything. Except tobacco, eating furry animals, drilling for oil in Alaska and striking back effectively at America’s overseas enemies. Other than that, have fun, guys and girls. Peace and Justice, you know. Heaven can wait. The church has to clean up antiquated male and heterosexist attitudes first.

Such is the new, reconditioned Episcopal Church. But no smirks, please, from non-Episcopalians. We’re as we are because society seems to command it — society as imagined by those Boomers who can’t seem to get past the good old days when it seemed all we had to do was whatever felt good. And, boy, does it feel good — I guess — to shatter glass ceilings, along with the moral consensus of the ages regarding the meaning and purposes of life.

One has a feeling that Bishop Jefferts Schori is going to feel right at home, if she doesn’t already.