Posted by Christopher Johnson | Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010 | Uncategorized | 9 Comments
Walter Russell Mead is a liberal Episcopalian who is, shall we say, unimpressed by the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops:
There’s nothing like Lent for reflecting on the sins of other people; I thought I’d start at the top — with the bishops of my own church. As the Episcopal church along with the other mainline Protestant denominations diminishes, we don’t have to look far to see bishops and leaders who are largely failing in their core assignments: to tend to the health and promote the growth of the congregations in their area. Yet even as we have fewer and fewer effective and successful leaders, we have no shortage of political, ‘prophetic’ bishops. When they can, they meet with world leaders and jet off to exotic locales to bring peace and fight for justice. When they can’t do that, they sign statements of concern, issue reports and otherwise tug on the skirts of an indifferent public seeking attention for their political views.
But these days an Episcopal bishop would have to go to a lot of trouble to get into the news for backing a liberal political cause. The headline says it all: Liberal Official of Small, Declining Liberal Denomination Endorses Liberal Idea. This isn’t news for two reasons: it is utterly predictable and it doesn’t matter. Trivial and predictable are not news, and the political stands that the mainline clergy take are almost always both. A statement by an Episcopal bishop will not change one mind or one vote; at least in all my years in the pews I’ve never met a single Episcopalian who said that the opinion of a bishop does or should have the slightest influence on how Episcopalians vote and if the churchgoers aren’t paying attention to the bishops I can’t imagine anyone else is.
Okay, Mead basically believes that Episcopal bishops are, as a body, wastes of perfectly good croziers.
I’m not urging the bishops to change their politics. I’m urging them to shut up.
In a diocese not a thousand miles from my home in glamorous Queens, there once was a bishop whose long and public battle with alcoholism rendered him unable to carry out his duties. For years and years this diocese suffered under grievous mismanagement and its rotten condition was an open scandal widely discussed and lamented throughout the national church. Yet in the general shipwreck of his episcopacy, this bishop (or what remained of the diocesan machinery) somehow managed to get ‘prophetic’ statements out on political causes of various kinds. So far as I know, none of these statements ever had any impact on anyone’s thinking anywhere on Planet Earth.
This poor bishop, now thankfully retired, was an extreme case, but why, exactly, would any sane person today pay attention to the political pronouncements of an Episcopal bishop? Episcopalians are a tiny minority of the population and the church long ago lost its social power and cachet. The Episcopal church today is in the worst condition it has been since the aftermath of the Revolution; its clergy has visibly failed to keep the church together or prevent its ongoing decline. I’m afraid that the penchant to make political pronouncements proceeds less from a true prophetic vocation than from a nostalgia for a time when it mattered what Episcopal bishops thought. In any case, there is nothing more ridiculous than a proprietor of a failing concern who officiously lectures everyone else on how to manage their affairs. Please, for the sake of what remains of the dignity of your office, give it a rest.
Mead agrees with TEO on the role of homosexuals in the church but states that the Episcopalians have so badly botched their relations with Africa that it might be generations before the Episcopal view becomes the prevailing Anglican one if it ever does.
When members of the foundation left lecture the rest of the world, the need for better relations with the oppressed peoples of the developing world is one of their favorite themes.I would be the last person to say they don’t have a point; I’ve spent enough time in the slums of three continents to have some small sense of the need for some basic changes in our world. But the bishops of the American Episcopal church have no lessons to teach. The American Episcopalians are currently engaged in a bitter struggle with their equivalents in African countries like Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda over a variety of theological issues, of which the question of the ordination of openly gay bishops is the most prominent. Now it’s my view that in the long run as the church reflects on the issue of homosexuality, it should and will come to a place closer to that of the American Episcopal mainstream than to that of the Nigerians. But this process of reflection and debate will take more time than the Americans want to give it, and it will take some theological procedures very different from those that are currently fashionable in the American Episcopal church.
Be that as it may, it’s clear that if there is a secret to managing respectful North-South relations in the 21st century, the American Episcopal bishops don’t have it. African church leaders compare their American counterparts to George W. Bush: arrogantly unilateral, deaf to other points of view, seeking to impose a uniquely American agenda on those who do not agree. That’s not entirely fair, but there’s enough truth in it that when it comes to America’s place in the world, the Episcopal church should listen as others speak. Who knows — maybe we’ll learn something.
That, as they say, is going to leave a mark. Read the whole thing.