It may come as a surprise to some of my Anglican friends, but I actually made one attempt to formally return to the Episcopal Church. That took place about thirty-five years ago. I attended and moved my membership to a small Episcopal church. One Sunday the selection from the Psalter was Psalm 69, which includes the following:
Those who sit at the gate gossip about me, and drunkards make up songs about me. (Psalms 69:12 GW)
In the homily, the rector thought the idea of drunkards making songs about someone was silly. Having come from a family where alcoholism was frequent and dislike of my spiritual inclinations equally frequent, I knew otherwise, although putting their sentiments to music was beyond their talent set. (They preferred letters and sharp-tongued speech). This and other strange unrealities about the rector and his church led me to seek pastures elsewhere.
“I sometimes worry that as Anglicans we are drifting back in that direction,” he said. “Not consciously, of course, but in an unconscious way that is more dangerous. Like a drunk man walking near the edge of a cliff, we trip and totter and slip and wander, ever nearer to the edge of the precipice.
“It is a dangerous place, a narrow path we walk as Anglicans at present.
“On one side is the steep fall into an absence of any core beliefs, a chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message. On the other side there is a vast fall into a ravine of intolerance and cruel exclusion. It is for those who claim all truth, and exclude any who question.”
Jokes aside about Anglicans and drinking going together, like my last rector Welby needs a reality check on several levels.
Let’s start with his dichotomy. As a businessperson Welby is well familiar with people who self-reliance is a religion to them. But that’s not what generally goes on at the “reappraiser” side these days; what the church is really competing with is reliance on the State as opposed to God. That reliance is expressed in several ways, from the vastness of the dole to the proliferation of thought control expressed as anti-discrimination legislation. It’s the latter that’s got the CoE in such a pickle these days about same-sex civil marriage.
On the other side are those “many small churches” which supposedly embody the narrow-minded thinking Welby decries. That may have some traction in the CoE itself (and then again maybe not; conservative churches have always done better on both sides of the Atlantic, which is why TEC is so zealous in fighting for the property) but looking at the Anglican Communion as a whole it’s ridiculous. Both the numbers and the poverty of the membership–and if you can’t endure the idea of being in a church with the poor, you can’t really make a fuss about helping them–are with the very conservative churches.
Welby’s response to date has been what any good businessman would do: he’s trying to induce the two sides to cut a deal, not only with each other but with the state which is breathing down his neck. Rowan Williams tried to gum the two sides into doing the same thing, although to his credit Williams didn’t seem to have as much zeal to please his masters in Whitehall as Welby does. But that too won’t work.
What you’ve got here are two sides whose differences are irreconcilable. On the one hand the Christian sexual ethic is a part of the package, whether anyone likes it or not. Trying to edge it with “beauty pageant Christianity” the way Evangelicals have tried to do will only make the situation worse. Also trying to paper over things by extolling the virtues of committed relationships won’t help either, as Deborah Pitt attempted to explain to Welby’s predecessor. Both of these have helped as much as anything to deepen the mess that Western Christianity is in these days.
On the other hand you have the LGBT people, whose well-financed take-no-prisoners strategy has made a successful end run around human rights enshrined in the Anglophone world at least for centuries, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. They’re the ones with the least incentive to cut a deal, and they know it.
Welby’s strategy (such as it is) is a loser. If anyone needs to “sober up” here, it’s Welby. He needs to either do it God’s way or become the pliant servant of a secularly minded state bought and paid for by well-moneyed and powerful interests. If he chooses the latter, though, he may need some asbestos underwear on the other side.
If not, he can continue in Psalm 69:
May my prayer come to you at an acceptable time, O LORD. O God, out of the greatness of your mercy, answer me with the truth of your salvation. (Psalms 69:13 GW)