"It's amazing the progressive things the Church can do now that the conservatives are out of the way."
This comment disturbs me for several reasons.
First of all, it rightly or wrongly gives credence to the perception that the liberal wing of the Episcopal Church is engaging in realpolitik. We'll be nice about it at first. We'll even say that we want to be in relationship with you. But if you stand in our way, we'll make things increasingly difficult for you. We'll defeat every resolution you propose or amend at Diocesan and General Convention. And if need be, we'll force you out to get what we want. For truth be told, we really don't want you around anyway.
Let me be clear and fair here: the conservative wing of the Episcopal Church is no stranger to this strategic mindset. But they're no longer in power. They're no longer around in sufficient numbers to offer a credible counterbalance to an increasingly liberal legislative majority.
Secondly, this clergyperson's comment suggests a staggering disregard for the very idea of catholicity. Looking at the meaning of the word "catholic," Justo L. Gonzalez in The Apostles' Creed for Today writes:
It is often said that this word [catholic] means "universal," and that therefore it is a way of referring to the presence of the church throughout the world. This is partly true. Indeed, most early Christian writers tend to refer to the "catholic church" as the one that is present throughout the world, in contrast to the various sects, which are small and local. But the word "catholic" actually means "according to the whole," so that what makes the church catholic is not its presence everywhere, but rather the fact that people from everywhere are part of it and contribute to it. Therefore, a variety of experiences and perspectives is not contrary to the catholicity of the church; quite the contrary, it is a necessary sign of it.
Getting conservatives out of the way (much less losing communion with Canterbury and a place in the Anglican Communion) means rejecting a "variety of experiences and perspectives," and thus a narrowing of the scope of our Church's catholicity. It means claiming authority to sift the wheat from the tares, deciding who really belongs in the Church and who does not. Those are odd things to do for folks who allegedly profess to embrace inclusion.
This oddness gets reinforced by Luke Timothy Johnson, who notes in The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters that "the ideal of catholicity also implies inclusiveness." He writes:
A sect may include only males or females, or white or blacks, or rich or poor, or Democrats or Republicans. We know, in fact, that many Christian denominations in American can be defined in just such terms of exclusivity; they are more notable for whom they exclude than for whom they include. But the ideal church should be one that embraces differences within a larger unity.
If the progressives claim they want to be inclusive, yet in the process of making good on that claim they get conservatives out of the way, then their actions give the lie to their professed allegiance to the ideal of inclusion. Getting conservatives out of the way means rejecting a Church that "embraces differences within a larger unity." It means embracing a Church defined in terms of who gets excluded. If that is really what's happening under the cover of "inclusion," then this means we are becoming an increasingly homogeneous, sectarian and monolithic Church, an increasingly like-minded, left-of-center, "progressive" Church. To my mind, that's no better than belonging to an increasingly like-minded, right-of-center, "traditionalist" Church. Either way, we lose catholicity and comprehensiveness.
And finally, there's a third point (or, perhaps more accurately, a concern) related to the disregard for the Episcopal Church's catholicity suggested by this clergyperson's statement. Perhaps we are entering a time in which we who embrace a generous orthodoxy and who have until now inhabited the diverse center of the Episcopal Church may be finding ourselves the new conservatives. Or at least we will be perceived that way by the progressives who have the power. And the perception of reality is often more important - more consequential politically - than the truth.
If progressives feel like they can accomplish amazing things once conservatives are out of the way, how much more can they accomplish if they get rid of centrists, too?