Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beware of the Trojan Horse

An excerpt from an essay I wrote shortly after General Convention 2003 entitled "Beware of the Trojan Horse" first appeared in Episcopal Life under the heading "Beware of congregationalism." It was later published in full in the September 19, 2004 issue of The Living Church.

Since that time when I wrote in the heat of 'original passion,' I continue to be fascinated by the comments on my essay over at Kendall Harmon's TitusOneNine, and I remain particuarly grateful for Dale Ryle's comment on that website ("Has reading become a lost art in America? It might be nice to react to what somebody actually says ..."). Talk about a foretaste of what it's like to be a blogger!

Almost five years later, I'll be the first to admit that parts of this essay are (rhetorically speaking) "in your face" in a way that I've very consciously moved away from since I started blogging back in 2007. If I were writing about this today, I would not assume that kind of rhetorical posture.

On the other hand, given all that's happened in the meantime - the fudging by the Left and the Right on "Windsor compliance;" the growing power of that "Instrument of Communion" called the Primates Meeting; lawsuits, depositions, and defrockings; the meeting of GAFCON before Lambeth (which some see as an attempt to erect an alternative "Instrument of Communion" that collapses into a performative contradiction); and now, the meeting of the Lambeth Conference (which some say was designed to avoid the elephants in the living room) - I think that the core of my piece has been at least partially vindicated.

And so it seems appropriate to offer this piece again to the readers of this blog. I'm genuinely curious as to your thoughts in the light not only of what I first wrote almost 5 years ago, but also of what you think is unfolding now.

As we live more deeply into our post-74th General Convention era, it’s crucial that we clarify what’s really at stake in our ecclesial culture war over homosexuality. We need to make a distinction between the moral and pastoral dimensions of homosexuality on the one hand, and the political dimension on the other.

As a moral and pastoral matter, homosexuality warrants clarification, debate, and pastoral care.

There is a legitimate role for moral inquiry and discourse on these matters. For many, the moral and theological standing of homosexual practice is not a black-and-white matter. Persons of good faith and Christian integrity draw different conclusions from the same evidence. We must acknowledge and address the hurt and rejection that many faithful gay and lesbian Christians feel in the Episcopal Church. And we must also acknowledge and address the very real pastoral crisis that Bishop V. Gene Robinson’s consecration has created for many of our brothers and sisters.

But as a political matter, the “homosexual issue” is a Trojan horse. It functions politically as a wedge issue that stirs up passions, circumvents reason, blinds us to what really matters, and divides us from each other. The effect is to open back doors for political opportunists to seize power and consolidate control in the Church.

The real issue is polity — and the power, authority, and accountability that go along with it. It’s no accident that extremist groups are advocating non-compliance or even rebellion against the authority structures of the Episcopal Church. Some even openly exhort their followers to violate national and diocesan constitutions and canons. And they support undermining the authority of bishops.

So you don’t like the teachings of scripture or tradition? Then go with something you like better. Let’s call it morality du jour. Witness General Convention’s arrogant disregard for nearly 2,000 years of moral theology.

You don’t like the liturgies in The Book of Common Prayer? Then use something from another prayer book. Or write something yourself. Let’s call it liturgy du jour. Witness the unauthorized use of liturgies from sources like the New Zealand prayer book.

You don’t like your bishop? Then find one you like better. Let’s call it the bishop du jour. Witness laity and clergy lobbying for realignment with bishops they like and with whom they agree. And witness canonically illegal confirmations in places like Ohio.

You don’t like everything about the Episcopal Church? Then find or create a church you like better (while, of course, proclaiming yourself “Anglican” and “orthodox”). Let’s call it the body of Christ du jour. Witness the American Anglican Council (AAC) and the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (NACDP). Witness the phenomenon of withholding pledges to threaten and punish in the attempt to buy the policies and doctrines we like. And witness bishops whose consent to the blessing of same-sex unions in their dioceses signals a blatant disregard of the Anglican primates’ plea “not to act precipitately on these wider questions” (letter dated Oct. 16, 2003).

With extremists on both the conservative and liberal sides of the Church, we’re witnessing the rise of factional groups who elevate subjective, personal preferences over the mandates of biblical morality, the precedents of tradition, church unity, and the authority of bishops, constitutions and canons.

And to whom are the leaders of these factional groups accountable?

To no one but themselves.

Let’s not be naïve. The ultimate goal of most extremists is to destroy and replace the Episcopal Church. If we allow activist groups to continue trampling on our polity, they’ll turn it upside down, leaving us with the empty shell of a three-fold order of ordained ministry without the substance. Bishops will exercise as much authority as the British monarchy. The real locus of power will be with congregations and the individual leaders whose views they happen to agree with. If we keep going down this road, we may even see the day when diocesan conventions can fire their bishop(s) and when congregations can fire their clergy. We’ll be Baptists who dress in drag. Either the Puritans will finally win the day, or we will be completely assimilated to the warm and fuzzy “helpful hints for happy living” of American cultural Christianity. By remaining fixated on the wedge issue of homosexuality, we will have aided and abetted the cause by committing Episcopalian-assisted suicide.

Perhaps no more telling metaphor for this is the fact that many “conservatives” in our Church blacked out the qualifier “Episcopal” on church signs, letterheads, etc., after General Convention. This is a perfect illustration of what’s really going on — blacking out or eliminating the authority of bishops, constitutions, and canons in favor of like-minded constituents.

Our times call for vigilance against the enemy of creeping congregationalism. Extremists on the left and the right are launching (when they must) a surreptitious and (when they can) a frontal assault on episcopal polity. Our very identity as Episcopalians versus congregationalist Christians is what’s really at stake in our ecclesial culture war. And the “homosexual issue” is a strategy – a smokescreen – for competing wills to power.

My plea to faithful conservatives and liberals in our Church is simply this: It’s all about polity. And for that reason, it’s about power — who has it and who exercises it. The Trojan horse of the “homosexual issue” or the “Gene Robinson issue” (whatever you wish to call it) is really about destroying the identity and meaning of “Episcopal” as a substantive qualifier for “Church” from the inside out.

Many liberals and conservatives are actively cooperating with strategies they know will destroy our Church. Others, acting out of principle and/or anger, are serving as pawns in a political game of which they sadly remain unaware. If they do realize how their good intentions are being used against them and against the Episcopal Church, we have real hope of drawing back from the brink of schism.

So be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. Beware of congregationalists in Anglican clothing. And don’t be fooled by the smokescreen of “homosexuality.”

Beware of the Trojan horse.

1 comment:

Charlie B. said...

Well, you warned us. The very subterfuge you forecasted for your denomination has infiltrated your Lutheran brothers. You called them Congregationalists in 2008. Today they have taken the name of Emergent Church; “emergent” is the code word in their writings. Although they do not have a definitive doctrine, what they advocate is a subjective (i.e., logic-less emotionalism) outlook on our relationship with God. Their rhetorical objective is to minimize or negate our personal accountability for who we are and what we do before God; solely focused on the love of God. For those readers who wish to see a systematic theological analysis, Google “Written by Charles Bissett - The 800 Pound Gorilla in The Room.”