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.

Really unimpressed.

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.

9 Comments to KLOWN KOLLEGE

February 23, 2010

A “Money” quote:

In this situation, issuing statements on the importance of the Millennium Development Goals or the minimum wage which will change no minds and advance no agenda isn’t just a pointless though cheap and effortless exercise. It’s a way of lying to yourself — of saying that the church is still doing what churches should do, that its problems aren’t that bad and that you as a religious leader are doing what you should do. This isn’t prophetic ministry; it’s denial. And it isn’t good. It’s bad.

February 23, 2010

Interesting that he invokes the name of George W. Bush to make a negative comparison … because GWB is greatly respected in Africa for the huge amount of financial help that he sent there, esp. to provide medical support for people suffering from AIDS. Walter Russell Mead should know that he he has the experience that he implies.

February 23, 2010

The G.W. Bush comparison should be labeled “perceived” arrogance, etc., — perceived from Islamist and leftist Western perspectives, not necessarily from the African perspective, as Susan points out.

But he’s right in general. The bishops should shut up on foreign policy, financial policy, and so on, and go back to being the spiritual leaders of their dying dioceses. Unfortunately leftist political activism has become, for these bishops, the sum total of the faith.

Bro. AJK
February 23, 2010

Dear Chris,

I guess I will NEVER AGAIN COMPLAIN about the poor catechesis in the Catholic Church since I have read that first line from your pal, Mr. Mead. He says, “There’s nothing like Lent for reflecting on the sins of other people[.]” Uhhh, Lent is for me to reflect upon my sins, so mind your business, Mr. Mead.

Don Janousek
February 23, 2010

A cogent, well-reasoned and realistic appraisal by an Episcopo. Will wonders never cease? Clone this fellow immediately!

Ed the Roman
February 23, 2010

Brother AJK, I’m pretty sure Mr. Mead’s tongue was very firmly in his cheek when he wrote that line.

Amy P.
February 24, 2010

But he’s right in general. The bishops should shut up on foreign policy, financial policy, and so on, and go back to being the spiritual leaders of their dying dioceses. Unfortunately leftist political activism has become, for these bishops, the sum total of the faith.

I’ve long believed that there is no point in going to church if what you are going to hear is either no different from the platform of the DNC (to a lesser extent, the GOP) or if it sounds like something Stewart Smalley came up with.

The “I’m Okay/You’re Okay”/social justice mentality that pervades a lot of liberal and liberal-leaning churches will be the death of them. Why get up on a Sunday morning when you can get your sermon by watching CNN?

People want to be challenged. People want to believe there is something more, a higher purpose in life, than to reaffirm everyone in their okay-ness.

Allen Lewis
February 25, 2010

Mr. Mead is a true liberal when it comes to what religion is supposed to do(this is my money quote):

The job of a bishop isn’t to make statements about the minimum wage or the Iraq war. It’s to help the clergy in his or her diocese form communities that produce dynamic, committed and intelligent laypeople who will shape political debates on these and many other matters. A bishop isn’t here to inject Christian values into public policy debates; a bishop is here to inject mature, thoughtful and committed Christians into public life. The Diocese of Long Island shouldn’t be taking stands on the minimum wage; it should be producing people who transform the life of the region at every level of engagement.

That is pretty much what the early church was: a community which developed and supported people who could change there surrounding society. Mr. Mead gets it.

February 25, 2010

This guy hasn’t quite got the Kool-Aid out of his system:

“The liberal, questing spirit that refuses to take ancient truths for granted and that challenges historic orthodoxies in the light of lived experience has a vital and necessary place in the life of the church.”

Really? Good article otherwise, though.

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