Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How to Be Irrelevant - Just Watch

Today at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, the irrelevancy of the Episcopal Church (USA) will be demonstrated for all those willing to see. When speaking of an institution like ECUSA, it is not usually possible to pinpoint the time or the place of such an event, but ECUSA has set itself up for this one.

Ten o'clock today is the time the California Supreme Court will announce its decision on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, adopted by a large majority of California's voters last November, on the same day that Barack Obama was elected President. Whichever way the Court rules with regard to Proposition 8, ECUSA---and particularly its bishops in California---will no longer matter to either side of the debate regarding same-sex marriage.

Consider the situation if the Court upholds Proposition 8: the Bishops took such a strong stance against it before the election that they will be part and parcel of the issue's defeat at the polls. ECUSA itself has gone on record against measures such as Proposition 8, and so will share the same fate. Moreover, if the people who expect the Court to act as a seven-person legislature of last resort go rioting when they learn of the decision, ECUSA will be identified with their brand of violence, too---as an organization that in all things supports their desire for "social justice", and that will do nothing to denounce their tactics as inappropriate under the circumstances.

And consider also the situation that will exist if the Court assumes the role of a super-legislature and strikes down Proposition 8: the Court will then be the hero, and ECUSA will have nothing to add of its own, except only to say that it is content with the outcome. But that expression of solidarity will not stand out from similar expressions by Integrity USA, or any of the other full range of people supporting same-sex marriage, including individuals identified with groups that advocate same-sex relationships regardless of age. ECUSA's support will blend in with the entire panoply of interests advocating full equality in marriage, and will have nothing distinctive to say in and of itself---nothing, at least, that could carry any moral weight.

The Church has painted itself into this corner. To illustrate what I mean, compare ECUSA's position with that of the Roman Catholic Church. Regardless of what the California Supreme Court decides today, that Church will not be diminished in the slightest, or blend indistinguishably into the cultural milieu. Unlike ECUSA, the Roman Catholic Church has a clear moral stance on the issue which is fully grounded in the Holy Scriptures with which it identifies itself. 

For the leaders and activists in ECUSA, however, the only position they can take is one that either undermines those Scriptures, or at the very least trivializes them, or reduces them to anachronisms, with nothing meaningful to say to today's "in" crowd. Words written 2,500 years ago cannot possibly have any real relevance for the oh-so-sophisticated crowd of elites who know better than the Church fathers, and who burn to be "enlightened" in spite of anything the Bible says which they consider to be embarrassing

Pope Benedict XVI is not embarrassed to lead a real Church. Even if they disagree with him, people can recognize a moral leader when they see one. ECUSA's leaders, however, have made it impossible for the public to perceive them as taking any moral stance whatsoever. "If it feels good, do it" is not a Christian philosophy, but a pagan one. Unless, of course, one stands the sentiment on its head, as did C. S. Lewis in this quote from the link just given:
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and to eagerly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion . . . is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
Barring the extremely unusual, I will not put up anything about the California Supreme Court decision; I have already said all that I want to say on the subject. For Episcopalians, the news to note will not be the decision itself, but the reactions from the California bishops and other leaders of ECUSA. If they continue to play the Church of Enablers, then the irrelevancy of Episcopalianism will be a fait accompli.



  1. A brief comment: the vote on Prop 8 had no influence at all on my opposition to Prop 8, nor will any decision by the court. I do not care one bit whether ECUSA is deemed to be irrelevant. It has never been a matter of relevance but of conscience. When people with privilege seek to deny that privilege to others, I will usually side with those who are being denied. Only a very strong argument would get me to stand with the deniers, and I have seen no such argument against extending the provilege of marriage to same-sex couples.

  2. Father Weir, thank you for stating your position so clearly. Please understand that I was not arguing against any position of conscience with regard to extending the privilege of civil marriage. Anyone---clergy or otherwise---should be able to do so.

    The problem I have is when the Church, as a Church (through its bishops, whose primary task is to "guard the faith"), comes out in support of a position that contradicts its own Book of Common Prayer---without first seeing to it that the appropriate steps have been taken to change the rubrics.

    A Church that speaks (however conscientiously) with a forked tongue is entitled to no regard as a Church. It is a collection of ideologues, each one trying to shout louder than the next, which presents no coherent face to the world.

    By all means, let clergy, bishops, and other Episcopalians speak their consciences, but let them do so as citizens in our society, and not from the platform of their religious authority. Because when anyone can see that what they say from that position is directly contrary to what they profess, the Church's own moral voice is rendered nugatory.

  3. Mr. Haley,

    I do not see how the BCP's defining of Chritian marriage need silence our bishops when the matter under consideration is civil marriage. I could support the church's decision to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples while supporting the granting of the privilege of civil marriage to same-sex couples.

  4. No one is saying the bishops should be silenced, Father Weir---they have as much right to speak their conscience as does anyone else. But when they speak collectively in the name of the Church (or when General Convention does so, as it did in 2006), and say that "the Church supports same-sex civil marriage, just so long as the couple doesn't ask the Church to marry them", what kind of message does that send? I contend it is helpful neither to the bishops nor to the Church for whom they speak.

    Try this example, for instance: should the Church speak out against using the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance? After all, atheists, Hindus, Buddhists and others claim it offends them.

  5. Mr. Haley,
    I may not be following the official statements of ECUSA as closely as you are, but I am not aware of a collective statement by bishops or the General Convention about civil marriage. I would support such a statement, even in the absence of a change in our understanding of Christian marriage as it is very clear tome that the two are not the same.

    BTW, if the issue of the phrase in the pledge - added about 50 years ago in response I believe to the threat of godless communism - were to be before the Congress again, I would probably advocate for its removal. While I certainly believe that all nations are under God's judgment and could write at least some of the charges that could be made against this country, I have no desire to include in the pledge an affirmation that many citizens cannot make in conscience.

    On both issues, I think the church is not well-served by looking to the civil authorities to defend its particular theological positions. I do not need words in the pledge to validate my faith, nor do I think that those who believe that Christian marriage should be restricted to opposite-sex couples should need the civil authorities to validat that position.

  6. I am troubled with the comments that Fr. Weir makes, as I am a member at St Peter's in the D of SQ here in California. As a voter, the people of California have been heard again, why is it so hard to understand the majority over the minority on right and wrong? The same goes with the Church, why is it so hard to accept the Bible and what it said, over, trying to convince the majority that what we understand is wrong. Your days of telling us what we should know are over, the bible is on the right side of truth, and you Fr. are not. I WILL be praying for you soul.


  7. "Your days of telling us what we should know are over, the bible is on the right side of truth, and you Fr. are not. I WILL be praying for you soul."

    First, I am thankful that Joseph will be praying for me.

    Second, although I have been honest about my convictions on certain issues, I have not presumed to tell anyone what they should know. Mr. Haley and I have disagreed ofte, but I trust that neither of us has ever thought that the other was telling us what we should know.

    Third, the question of whether or not a majority of citizens can act to deny rights or privileges to ther citizens is one that will be debated for a long time as this country addresses this issue. It was, we should remember, by majority vote that the privilege of marriage was denied to citizens of color and to mixed-race couples in some states. Whether or not we come to the conclusion about same-sex marriage that we came to about these prohibited unions I can not predict. I know my convictions about this, and recognize that they are disturbing to other Christians, but I have no desire to tell anyone what they should know or think.

    Fourth, a reminder to all of us - Truth for us is not a set of propositions, but a Person, Jesus the Christ. Knowing the Truth fully is far beyond our capacity in this life.

  8. The churches, at least the mainline ones, have been increasingly irrelevant since the Johnson administration; you're only catching on now?
    You went from 45% of the population just after WW2 to a (quickly shrinking)11%, median age 57 (and rising) and you expected to be relevant how? Because you have a disproportionate share of wealth? Fine, but how does that square with your claims to be speaking for those on the margins? How long do you think people will find you acting like Lady Bountiful believable?

  9. Brad Evans, you not only fail to understand the point of the main post, but your obvious scorn for all religion blinds you to whatever there is that might be of worth to you on this site. Mizpah.