Is the US Episcopalian Church Still a Christian Church?
The American Episcopalian Church held its General Convention in Indianapolis this week, and it was apparently quite a show. Back in 1970, when the population of this country was considerably smaller, there were three million Episcopalians in our midst. Today, there are only one million. But one thousand of them gathered this year for the debates that took place in its House of Deputies and its House of Bishops.
In the evenings, Jay Akasie reports, they behaved in accord with the stereotype:
General Convention is also notable for its sheer ostentation and carnival atmosphere. For seven straight nights, lavish cocktail parties spilled into pricey steakhouses, where bishops could use their diocesan funds to order bottles of the finest wines.
During the day, he adds, the legislators in the two chambers gathered to discuss
such weighty topics as whether to develop funeral rites for dogs and cats, and whether to ratify resolutions condemning genetically modified foods. Both were approved by a vote, along with a resolution to "dismantle the effects of the doctrine of discovery," in effect an apology to Native Americans for exposing them to Christianity.
I wish that I were making this up, but I am not doing so -- and it looks as if things are going to get worse, for the Episcopalians are on the verge of formalizing what Akasie calls "the reality that many Episcopalians already know: a church in the grip of executive committees under the direct supervision of the church's secretive and authoritarian presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Shori, [which] now set the agenda and decide well in advance what kind of legislation comes before the two houses." I am not myself a republican in ecclesiastical affairs, but it looks as if what Lenin once called "democratic centralism" is going to become the order of the day.
A number of dioceses have withdrawn and are being sued so that Bishop Shori can take control of their assets. The entire delegation from the diocese of South Carolina walked out of the General Convention on Wednesday, which suggests that the South Carolinians will also soon withdraw.
What comes next? Is the Episcopalian church still a Christian church? If so, will it be one in ten years? Can it be saved from itself? Or is it too far gone to be saved?
I have long thought that the Catholic church should establish an Anglican rite. With a tweak or two, the Book of Common Prayer would work rather well. And the music, oh my God, the music? In my days at Oxford -- as a student and, much later, as a visiting fellow at All Souls -- I frequently attended evensong, and nearly always I found it moving.