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THE BISHOPS MEET AGAIN

Today our bishops assemble in Salt Lake City. As the modern Episcopal Church seems to believe that God has given it a new revelation, Utah seems an appropriate venue for the bishops to meet. The whole idea that God does add to the truths given in Christ Jesus, and that such additions are vouchsafed to local American assemblies of the faithful through parliamentary procedures might at least seem to have more in common with Mormonism than traditional Christianity. Granted those who believe themselves to be modern prophets of new truths prefer to anchor their vocation in John Henry Newman’s theory of the Development of Doctrine, a theory which has been described as Newman’s gift to his new Roman Catholic home. Of course Newman lived to rue his proposal when the Roman Catholic Church at the first Vatican Council decided that God had revealed that the Pope could be infallible. New revelations can be iffy things.

We had hoped that our bishops, home from the Lambeth Conference after hearing the Archbishop of Canterbury reflect on the office and vocation of a bishop, and listening to fellow bishops from across the world express their experiences and views on being an Anglican and being an Anglican bishop today, would arrive at this meeting of their House humbled and ready to respond positively to the mission of restoring the Anglican Communion to health, unity and concord. One prayed that exposure to the outside world would temper what seemed to be a determination to regard Episcopalianism as something plain different from Anglicanism, albeit ready to share in the councils of Anglicanism and to be genuinely altruistic in contributing money and talent to those parts of the Communion where MDGs are most desperately needed.

I believe in miracles but I doubted in my faithlessness that the bishops who have placed the theory of alternative lifestyles at the summit of their doctrinal top ten list would have been changed by the Lambeth experience. I hoped that those in the middle, who to this point have been mesmerized by fear of being regarded as bigots or allies of the extreme right would have gained confidence to demand that the church does its theology on the matter of sexuality before adopting regulations and policies which proclaim only one possible conclusion to the exercise of applying Scripture, the Tradition and Reason to the problem of human relationships.

Enter Pittsburgh. Like it or not, the Bishop of Pittsburgh represents to the liberal majority what the Bishop of New Hampshire does to the conservative minority. The poor bishop has been clothed with the mantle of intemperate disloyalty and archaic bigotry. He is the bogey man the left has used to scare the moderate and centrist constituency in TEC.

Now he is to be shot on his own quarter deck as an example to others. Once that has been done, a few more summary executions should pacify dissent and open the way for General Convention to institutionalize TEC’s schism and its emergence as the herald of a brave new world.

As I was thinking about all this, while learning to walk again, and in the context of the elections, I mused about the ironies of all this. In the secular world liberals, whose share with our liberal bishops a belief in the essential goodness of human beings, want to regulate capitalism because they realize that greed and corruption are endemic. On the other hand conservatives who take a dim view of human beings unless they are rich and in business, and espouse Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity, want to leave the market and its wealthy captains to their own devises. This odd dichotomy only succeeds in convincing me that neither side has its wits about it.

So it is in our church. The right wing believes in an ecclesiastical market economy in which clerical and lay entrepreneurs are free to do as they please, even if that includes schism and the creation of a multitude of rival entities which have unity only in their common loathing of TEC and their mistrust of any attempt by the Anglican Communion to regulate their activities.

On the other hand our ecclesiastical liberals devoutly believe in government intervention and the draconian application of Canon Law, inventively interpreted to tamp down anyone who departs from the party line, while espousing a theory of the glory of free will and equality which would make old Pelagius blush.

One doesn’t have to be a prophet to suggest which side will win in Salt Lake City. The tragedy is that neither side resembles the great tradition of which our church is a churlish inheritor.