Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Meyerson nails Episcopal Church realities

Seen at antiwar demonstration, March 18, 2006

Reading Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post is often like breathing fresh air. The columnist brings a whiff of his Los Angeles reality -- multi-cultural, multi-racial, trade union-friendly -- to confines that too often stuffy with convention and pomposity.

Still, it was strange to find him opining today on "Episcopalians Against Equality." The defection of a few old and rich Virginia parishes from the national church seems not his usual sort of topic. Nor mine. Though I participate in Christian worship though the Episcopal Church, I leave discussion of its conflicts to folks far more immersed in church matters than I, for example the community at Fr. Jake Stops the World.

Meyerson's take on Episcopalian squabbles is a delightful secular view of our tempestuous mini-world.

Whether it was the thought of a woman presiding over God's own country club or of gays snuggling under its eaves, it was all too much for a distinct minority of Episcopalians. The dissident parishes in the Virginia diocese contain only about 5 percent of the state's parishioners. But it's the church the defectors have latched on to that makes this schism news.

In slamming the door on their American co-religionists, the two largest parishes, which are in Fairfax City and Falls Church, also announced their affiliation with the Episcopal Church of Nigeria. The presiding Nigerian archbishop, Peter Akinola, promotes legislation in his country that would forbid gays and lesbians to form organizations or to eat together in restaurants and that would send them to jail for indulging in same-gender sexual activity. Akinola's agenda so touched the hearts of the Northern Virginia faithful that they anointed him... as their bishop.

Peer pressure played a role, too. Explaining the decision to leave the American church, Vicki Robb, a Fairfax parishioner and Alexandria public relations exec, told The Post's Bill Turque and Michelle Boorstein that the church's leftward drift has made it "kind of embarrassing when you tell people that you're Episcopal." It must be a relief to finally have an archbishop who doesn't pussyfoot around when gays threaten to dine in public.

The alliance of the Fairfax Phobics with Archbishop Restaurant Monitor is just the latest chapter in the global revolt against modernity and equality and, more specifically, in the formation of the Orthodox International. The OI unites frequently fundamentalist believers of often opposed faiths in common fear and loathing of challenges to ancient tribal norms. It has featured such moving tableaus as the coming together in the spring of 2005 of Israel's chief rabbis, the deputy mufti of Jerusalem, and leaders of Catholic and Armenian churches, burying ancient enmities to jointly condemn a gay pride festival....

The American [Episcopal] church ... has largely paralleled the transformation of Rockefeller Republicans into liberal, Democratic secularists. The old joke of New York politicos was that Jews had the incomes of Episcopalians but voted like Puerto Ricans. Now it's the Episcopal prelates who are voting like Puerto Ricans, or, more precisely, like liberal Jews.

Meyerson nails us; it's all too true.

The contemporary Episcopal Church is nothing like the parish of my childhood. Then, at least in the little corner from which I escaped around age 14, membership in the right Protestant denomination and congregation was a marker of upper class status, something that (white) social climbers adopted on their way up. This had little to do with beliefs or values and everything to do with being seen on Sunday with the "right people." No wonder whatever remnants of that have survived are now embarrassed to be led by a Presiding Bishop with the wrong (female) plumbing, not to mention a church that harbors queers who are visible and accepted.

So some folks are off to graze in improbable African pastures. I can't imagine they'll really be very comfortable there, but that's their lookout. I, for one, won't miss them. I didn't like them in my youth and I sure don't like them now as a mature leftist lesbian and feminist.

Somewhere along the line, the Episcopal majority became a community and polity that affirms, in the words of former Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning, "there will be no outcasts in the Church." For women and gays, this vision seems more and more true.

The Episcopal Church can't truthfully claim to be as fully welcoming to poor people and people of color as much of it has become to outcasts defined by gender, but many parishes try. Our failures mirror those of our society at large.

The new Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori -- the one the departing dissenters so despise -- calls on the Church to continue

"to focus on its mission of reconciling the world, particularly as it cares for the least, the lost, and the left out. We participate in God's mission to heal the world as we feed the hungry, house the homeless, educate children, heal the sick, and seek to change the systems that perpetuate injustice."

I can live in an institution affirming that understanding of mission. It looks like the uptight upright can't.


Anonymous said...

The irony is extraordinary, is it not? "Gay" is, of course, the new code-word for "Black" (or more broadly, "not-White"). But use of the "N-word" and such is most un-cool and polarizing, even in Dixie. Hence, the beauty of the "gay" code (even as actual gay men-- always men-- could comfortably cloister themselves in The Party-- too comfortably as we learned)... it allows one's racism to be "a moral values thing." As if.

So naturally, these parishes in Virginia, with the help of a great deal of billionaire-ideologue astroturf money, have decided to take their hatred of the separation of church and state right to the church.

The reason for the irony, of course, is that right after exurban women voters' cognitive dissonance over the fact that the gay-bashing party harbored a gay child-predator (note that it was NORTHERN exurban women voters; the Code still held in Dixie) killed the GOP in the mid-terms, now Dixie parishes themselves want to bolt in favor of a NIGERIAN bishop...

At least his politics wouldn't offend J.C. Watts or Condi Rice... Still, the irony...

--the talking dog

Pisco Sours said...

Very true words, Jan, both praising the Church for its reconciling efforts and reminding us that we have much, much more to do!

Interesting comment, talking dog, equating "gay" with "black". A former professor of mine, Andrew Koppelman, once wrote an law review article arguing that racism and homophobia both had their ultimate grounds in a fear (by the dominant white, straight men, of course) of loss of masculinity. If anyone's interested, I'll see if I can track it down.

janinsanfran said...

Yes, talking dog -- I don't think these Virginians will much like their new Nigerian bishop. They have not historically had much affinity for or sympathy with Black leadership. Although I suppose some of them may be Black people, just as many are certainly women and a few are probably gay.

Sometimes all I know is that we are very confused critters and we could be a lot kinder to one another.

Anonymous said...

A good friend, a Southerner who will remain anonymous, sent me the following e-mail rant on this topic that, while decidedly over-the-top, isn't too far off from my own sentitments:

"I just wonder how the good folks of Falls Church and Truro will react when their new bishop shows up and, gulp! he's black!!!! He'll be the only black person in either church, I guaran - damn - tee you. Perhaps he'll come over and begin to institute some of his ways in their very own churches. Ye Gad!

The idea that these churches, who stood (perhaps not actively but passively) so long ago in favor of discrimination of one group of folks, only to have that bit of superiority taken away from them by the civil rights movement, now so long to lord over another group (the queers), that they'll agree to have an African bishop lord over them is the funniest thing I've ever heard. And really, it's so bloody Christian, right? Shame on you, parishes of Northern Virginia - and in the South, the word "shame" still means something so they'll know what I mean.

Again, good former Episcopal brothers and sisters of Northern Virginia, don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. And don't come crawling and crying back to us when a black man shows up at your church and announces he's your bishop.

Oh, and if the diocese or national church owns your property, those two grand historic churches, I say we raze them and sow salt so that they can never return. They can rent space in the local strip mall like every other off-shoot church in the South.

Robert E. Lee abhorred secession, and warned of what it would bring, begging Virginia not to secede. But Virginia did secede, and we all know what happened. A week or two after his surrender at Appomattox, Lee, an Episcopalian, went to church at St. James on Franklin Street in Richmond. When communion began, a black man walked forward and knelt at the atlar to receive communion. Of course, this was unheard of and a hush descended over the church. General Robert E. Lee then rose, walked forward and knelt beside the black man to take communion. The entire congregation then followed his example. "Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only" are the words that encircle the chancel at St. James. Lee tried to live that out, and realizing that a new day had dawned, led by example. If only the churches in Northern Virginia had even one Robert E. Lee amongst them...."

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