Geoffrey Kirk considers the options before the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church after the deliberations of the Anglican Primates at Dar es Salaam and suggests her most likely next move
No one should for a moment doubt the sincerity with which Katherine Jefferts Schori believes that she and The Episcopal Church are on the side of Jesus – or more accurately, that Jesus is on the side of The Episcopal Church and Mrs Jefferts Schori. But they are Americans; and no one should forget either, the fecundity with which that country has spawned new religions and subverted old ones.
I have, of course, no intention of comparing KJS with Joseph Smith, Ellen Harmon White or Mary Baker Eddy. She is thankfully less inventive than they were. But she is, nevertheless, the accomplished spokesperson for a New Religion.
Episcopalian revisionism is rooted in the Enlightenment. The Declaration of Independence, with its ringing phrases
– ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ – was, after all, penned by and largely signed by Episcopalians (thirty-one out of thirty-nine). Its notions of self-evident truth and inalienable rights, together with a potent sense of the God-given vocation of the American people (to come to the aid of all to whom those truths are not yet self-evident), have fused to create a new version of Anglicanism on American soil.
Both these elements – the a priori assertions and the provincial self-assertiveness – have come into recent prominence in inter-Anglican disputes.
In the first instance, reference is constantly being made to the ‘Baptismal Covenant’, a novel feature of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (later widely imitated in other parts of the Communion; see Bryan Spinks Reformation and Modern Liturgies and Theologies of Baptism, 2006).
Though the 1979 Rite does include the Apostles’ Creed, it is not the ancient baptismal symbol of the Western Church to
which attention is being draw. The focus is insistently on the last of an additional list of undertakings. It commits the candidate ‘to strive for peace and justice and respect the dignity of every human being.’
This commitment, couched in the code language of the leftist consensus of the Sixties and Seventies, has become definitive for Revisionist Episcopalianism. It is the ethical a priori premise of all that it is and seeks to do. But it needs unpacking.
In the contemporary American Church, ‘justice and peace’ have been effectively equated with the United Nations Millennium Goals, which featured prominently in Mrs Schori’s inaugural address.
‘This church has said that our larger vision will be framed and shaped in the coming years by the vision of shalom embedded in the Millennium Development Goals – a world where the hungry are fed, the ill are healed, the young educated, women and men treated equally, and where all have access to clean water and adequate sanitation, basic health care, and the promise of development that does not endanger the rest of creation. That vision of abundant life is achievable in our own day, but only with the passionate commitment of each and every one of us. It is God’s vision of homecoming for all humanity. [Applause]’
Respect for the dignity of every human being has been translated into wholehearted acceptance of the entire lesbi-gay transexual agenda. (I am what I am / and what I am needs no excuses’ – the torch song theme tune of La Cage aux Folks – has been elevated to a theological principle.)
To understand the emotional force of all this, a third factor needs to be taken into account: guilt. Not only were Episcopalians dominant in the Enlightenment programme of the American Revolution, they were also, overwhelmingly, slave owners.
THE BAPTISMAL COVENANT 1979
To the three questions, ‘Do you believe in God the Father?’ ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?’ and ‘Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?’ the response is the relevant part of the Apostles’ Creed. It then continues:
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? I will, with God’s help.
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? I will, with God’s help.
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? I will, with God’s help.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself? I will, with God’s help.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God’s help.
Legacy of slavery
It would be hard to exaggerate the enduring sensitivity about slavery which characterizes relations between black and white Episcopalians. In the present culture of public apology, and in the two hundredth anniversary of the ending of the Atlantic slave trade, guilt features largely in The Episcopal Church. On the strength of it, Episcopalians have uncritically accepted the analogy made by gay and feminist groups between the Church’s traditional refusal to ordain women and to ordain practising homosexual persons with slavery. They have been eager, in consequence, to purge their guilt about past transgressions against black Americans by unconnected and inappropriate concessions to entirely unrelated groups. All this KJS must take into account as she tiptoes along the tightrope onto which she launched herself in Dar es Salaam. And a tightrope it most certainly is. The best she can hope to cajole from the liberal majority in TEC is a brief moratorium in the expectation that the rest of the Communion will see the light. But even this will not easily be achieved. Jack Spong (who else?) has already thundered against it, and Gene Robinson, in an urbane, witty and closely reasoned letter to all his fellow bishops, has attacked her strategy as unprincipled (which it is) and ill-conceived (as it will no doubt prove). You cannot put an a priori ethical imperative on hold. The time to do justice is always now.
But Gene Robinson and the superannuated Spong are probably the least of Kate’s worries. Any reasonable person would be more afraid of Washington Bishop John Chane. Chane is as ideologically opposed to a moratorium as the others; but with more inclination and opportunity for expansive gestures than they. A glamorous socialite gay wedding, such as Chane has already presided over, between now and 30 September (this time in the National Cathedral) would put paid to any agreement of the House of Bishops (however carefully phrased) and send messages across the Communion which would be warmly received in Canada and probably in most of Australasia.
This Lenten fast
KJS’s strategy, which to adapt Winston Churchill is based on the notion that ‘jaw-jaw wins war-war’ is less than attractive to her natural constituency in The Episcopal Church. Worse; it is offensive to traditionalists within and beyond it. Adapting the practices of the Old Reli-
gion to set forward the agenda of the New, KJS has proposed a ‘fast’ from gay marriages and gay consecrations.
Traditionalists have examined the motives for this ‘Lenten fast’ and found them wanting. Kates idea is Lent without penitence: she is not waiting on the Lord, but playing for time. She confidently expects others to come to her way of thinking (so ‘fasting’ in this context is like ‘reception in the matter of the ordination of women); and she desperately wants to be at the table where the forthcoming Inter-Anglican Covenant is agreed, for fear that it enshrines the Old Religion and outlaws the New.
So what will Katie do next?
It does not seem that many avenues are open. It is unlikely that her ‘fasting’ strategy will prove appealing to the majority in TEC – and if it does, it will be on grounds unacceptable to the majority in the Communion.
I would advise Kate to cut her losses and begin to celebrate’ the new-found international status of The Episcopal Church. This was much in evidence at her own inauguration and at the recent consecration of the fifth Bishop of Hawaii, where Episcopal Bishops gathered from around the Pacific Rim. New Zealand could readily be subsumed into that pan-liberal fellowship. Canada already adheres to the New Religion. There already exists, then, the nucleus of an Alternative Communion which can then do battle for the allegiance of the rest, province by province.
All this would put Katherine on the right side of her liberal constituency once more, and pander to the American myth of a nation fulfilling its God-given destiny by spreading liberty and freedom across the entire globe. Incautious comments stateside have already been heard explaining how African Anglicanism is still affected by its recent emergence from the colonial yoke.
Of course, no one (with the possible exception of the main protagonists) can find the prospect of protracted inter-Anglican rivalry between Schori and Aki-nola (with Canterbury perforce watching from the side-lines) a beguiling prospect. But this, or something very like it, is in the offing.
Moratorium or no moratorium, a force which believes itself to be irresistible is about to collide with an object which supposes itself to be immoveable.