Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Female Bishop!?!

Oh, my God, a female Bishop!

This is one of those moments in our religious history that is both expected and feared. Given the direction the Episcopal Church has been taking in these past few decades, the election of a woman as chief bishop is to be entirely expected. Alas, any political or religious grouping has its conservative membership---it is the natural order of things--- and so this moment is to be feared as well.

For far too long the liberal wing of the Episcopal Church has tended to dismiss the somewhat smaller conservative element within the American church as something to be quietly ignored. In almost any political setting this is almost certainly guaranteed to lead the bad blood at best and schism at worst. At some point the conservatives' frustration with the church’s more liberal members was bound to boil over ... and that time is now heralded through the calling of this particular Bishop.

By the same token, the conservatives' within the church have stuck their collective heads in the sand, choosing to rally their congregations around them by pointing to the evil Satan driven liberals about them. More than anything else this reminds me of the fairy tale or parable of the Two Sillies. Both sides are ignoring each other and all else around them while they are being robbed blind by those who would take advantage of the situation. In this case what we are losing is our Christianity in the form of our good will towards one another. And we are losing membership to other churches who choose to meet the challenge and make a clear choice. Love thy neighbor as thyself is the second great commandment and that requires listening to one's neighbor as well and understanding their concerns. It is sad to note that many Christians fall far short of attaining oneness with that commandment.

Sigh ...

For the individual member of any individual congregation there will be little change. Unfortunately, for the hierarchy that is the Episcopal Church in America it is a body blow.

About 40 years ago the canons of the church were changed to transfer ownership and control of the property of the individual churches and parishes to the diocese. This was seen as a means of exerting control over recalcitrant members. For the most part, it is a power seldom exercised, although there have been a handful of cases working their way through the courts to assert the church’s dominion. It is my understanding that the Episcopal Church has not entirely faired well in these matters. With more than a few parishes and possibly a diocese or two preparing to bolt from our particular communion, these sections of canon law are going to be sorely tested in the courts. The outcome of these test cases is not assured by any means, and so, given the plodding nature of American courts, this battle will continue there for at least the next decade.

Is there any point of reconciliation between the two sides? Probably not. One side sees no problem with women priests or bishops. The other side sees this as an anathema to Christ's teachings. For my part, I cannot understand how the intent of Christ's good word can be interpreted as to exclude any person called to ministry ... to do so seems so unchristian.

And so, like good Christians we march onward into battle, but this time with each other. Both sides will honor their warriors and fallen dead, both sides will battle fiercely. Who wins this battle and how it will be won will speak to who we are as humans and Christians. I fear it will say very little about our understanding of God
or our relationship with God.


Blessed are the peacemakers... and so I pray: Who will step forward and be ours?


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