Friday, October 08, 2004

We've Got Trouble, Right Here...

(NOTE: The following post was originally published on October 8, 2003. You can find it as the second entry here. Apparently, Blogger only archives individual posts that go back to 2004. So, to get this one in a place where I can link to it, I've added a year.)

October 8, 2003


I'm a bit anxious today. And no, it's not about Governor Arnold. Being a 5th generation Californian, I'm not that surprised. A social moderate, fiscal conservative with the Kennedy clan as in-laws and the Republican establishment backing him? Of course he got in. Never mind that I think the whole recall thing was simply a power ploy by the Republicans. The Governor-elect claims it will no longer be "politics as usual." That's not what I see from my perspective.

Interestingly, Howard Ahmanson, the millionaire extreme right-wing owner of the company that makes the electronic polling booths, got in on this election. He threw his wealth toward Mclintock, the original Republican front runner. Ahmanson funds a number of right wing causes. For 23 years, he was on the board of the Chalcedon Institute, whose leader, Rushddoney, advocated the establishment of a theocracy, with biblical law becoming the law of the land. Such a law would make "crimes" like homosexuality a capital offense.

This gets me to the real reason I am upset. A group of conservative Episcopalians are meeting in Texas right now, planning how to take over the Episcopal Church. It seems they are very upset that this Summer, our General Convention (our governing body, which meets every 3 years), approved the election of gene Robinson as the bishop-elect of New Hampshire. Canon Robinson has served well in that diocese for many years. The people know him, and selected him out of a number of qualified candidates, to be their next bishop. Since it was so close to General Convention, the "consents" of the other bishop and dioceses was done at the convention itself. These consents are intended to be an affirmation that the election was done properly. They were never intended to be another search committee, made up of the entire Episcopal Church.

So where is the problem? Gene Robinson happens to be a gay man, who is living in a committed, long term relationship.

Now, there are a number of "issues" that might need to be discussed concerning this; the authority of scripture, tradition and reason, for instance, regarding this situation. But, once Gene was approved, the conservative minority, who voted against the approval (46 bishops out of 300) immediately began organizing to leave the Episcopal Church.

So, in a nutshell, there is the situation. It gets much more complicated. But, to tie it to my initial comments, let me add that the group that has risen as the umbrella organization for all the conservative groups is the American Anglican Council. The President and CEO of the AAC is David Andersen, who was previously rector (priest in charge) of a parish in Newport Beach, California. Howard Ahmanson was also a member of this parish.

Howard Ahmanson turns out to be the primary contributor of the AAC. He has pledged $200,000 annually to the organization. There was discussion to add his name to the letterhead of the AAC, but cooler heads prevailed. It would not be wise to allow such a blatant connection between the AAC and an extremist. Instead, Roberta Ahmanson, Howard's wife, was appointed to the board of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. The IRD happens to share an suite of office in Washington DC with the AAC. The IRD is notorious among most of the mainline denominations as advocates for conservative movements, with their clear agenda being to be a subversive element, until they can get their own right wing candidates in positions of authority within the Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal and Lutheran churches.

In the meantime, a meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion (no, not the great apes; the archbishops) is scheduled later this month. It appears the shouting of the conservative minority in the USA has been joined by shouts from a few Anglican Archbishops in Africa. This is rather curious, as in 1998, the Anglican Communion, meeting at Lambeth Palace, agreed to allow African converts who were in polygamous marriages to keep all their wives. This was done for pastoral reasons. No one shouted about it. But now, 5 years later, these same bishops sound like a broken record, wailing about how awful it is that one small diocese in the USA will have a homosexual bishop. It doesn't add up. I suggest someone follow the money.

The homosexuality issue is a complicated one. Its not as simple as pointing to a handful of bible verses and saying its wrong, although that's what many seem to be doing. On other issues, such as circumcision, kosher laws, Gentile converts, slavery, women's ordination, birth control, divorce and polygamy, we have been able to listen to the scriptures, and recognize the context in which they were written, and then explore the possibility that God was teaching us a new thing in light of contemporary culture. The same process was used in regards to tradition; how the Church has responded to these issues in the past. These considerations were balanced with reason, and some changes were made. Not so this time. The conservatives have drawn a line in the sand.

Why? I can only conclude it is the "ick factor" at work. Here's how that factor operates:

I hate cooked cauliflower. My grandmother used to pinch my nose and make me eat it. I can't even stand the smell of cooked cauliflower. It makes me nauseous. I know for a fact that it is a sin to cook cauliflower, and I think it should be against the law!

Some heterosexuals get nauseous just imagining what gay sex might be like. They know it must be sinful, because it is so "icky." Armed with these feelings, they find a handful of various scriptural passages, and teachings in the Church (written, no doubt, by others under the sway of the "ick factor"), and claim they know God's mind on this issue.

Personally, I find no passages in scripture that refer to the situation we have today; same sex relationships within the confines of long term, committed, monogamous unions. Most of the passages seem to be referring to heterosexuals engaging in homosexual sex. This is not surprising, since the authors understood everyone to be born heterosexual.

The reality is, there have always been gay and lesbian Christians in the Church. Some of them have been clergy. I've known more than a few over the years. I was trained as an Anglo-Catholic (smells and bells), ands so I have known quite a few gay clergy. For some reason, the High Church tradition is especially attractive to gay men. I don't know why, but it is a statement that is true to my experience. The tradition of the Church has been, "Don't ask, don't tell." As long as you stayed in the closet, your sexual orientation was not a problem.

About 20 years ago, the Episcopal Church decided this was dishonest. They decided we needed to announce that there were gay and lesbians among our members, and to encourage folks to talk about it. So we have been talking and talking this issue to death. In some places now in the Episcopal Church, same sex blessings are offered for couples requesting the blessing of the Church over their union. In my mind, this is an issue of honesty and integrity.

We can't have it both ways. Either gays and lesbians are full members of this household of God, or they remain second class citizens.

Anyway, I am troubled. We have a small but vocal group meeting in Texas plotting how to get the Primates to recognize them as the official Anglican presence in the USA, and kick the Episcopal Church out of the Anglican Communion. We are supposed to be kind and loving towards these extremists (whose smear tactics and death threats made it necessary for Canon Robinson to wear a bullet proof vest and hire body guards at Convention), but I am feeling neither kind nor loving to toward these schismatics. But, I am keeping my mouth shut, except on this blog. No one reads these things anyway, right?

Whatever happens, right now, the way I feel, no clergy member of the AAC had better set foot in a parish in which I have the ecclesiastical authority. They will be ordered to leave, and if they refuse, I will have the police remove them, with charges of trespassing to follow.

I suppose I shouldn't be so worked up about this. But it breaks my heart to see these self-righteous right wing extremists willing to attempt to tear the Church apart, just so they can "win." As if "right thinking" has anything to do with our relationship with the living God? No thinking maybe; but right thinking?

Maybe next time I adminster communion, I had better first administer an exam, to make sure only those who are "orthodox' receive the sacrament.

May God have mercy on us all.

J.

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