Druids and goddesses and Episcopalians, oh my

midsummerdruids.jpgEvery now and then, a religion story breaks out online that truly defies a quick and easy blog report. This is certainly the case with the slap-fest that is taking place between our friends at the Christianity Today blog and the trailblazing liturgists at the Episcopal Church's Office of Women's Ministries. To get up to speed on the amazing story of the little neo-pagan Eucharist that could, start with Ted Olsen's initial reporting at the CT blog. Read it all. There is no way for me to crunch this story down into a few paragraphs, but I can at least let you see the most explosive summary statement. And note that Ted Olsen absolutely nails the larger global story here, the larger story that we will have to look for in the mainstream media. That is, we can look for it once the mainstream media finishes with John Kerry and George Bush and realizes that the front lines in the bitter Anglican sex war may have moved. Here is how the story begins:

Imagine for one moment that you're a leader in the Episcopal Church USA. You know that within the next few days, a global commission is going to release a report on how the global Anglican Communion should respond to your church, and is likely to be critical of the ordination of an actively homosexual man as bishop. You know, and have said yourself, that the debate isn't just about sexuality: It's about how one views the Bible. And you know that all eyes will be on your denomination over the next few weeks. What do you do?

What the real leaders of the Episcopal Church did was to take an action that makes ordaining a homosexual man as a bishop almost a non-issue. They started promoting the worship of pagan deities. This is not a joke nor an overstatement. In all truth and seriousness, leaders of the Episcopal Church USA are promoting pagan rites to pagan deities.

These sentences were written an eternity ago, in blogosphere terms. So much has happened since then, including the church's establishment lashing out at Christianity Today, a magazine with a staff that is more than a few people who fluently speak the lingo of Episcopalians and even neo-feminists. It also should be noted that the main links to the controversial liturgy have -- surprise -- suddenly gone dead. But the printable version is still over here on another page. That's where you will find all kinds of interesting images, such as:

"Blessed are you, Mother God, for the fertility of this world. We thank you for the sight and scent of flowers, for the way their shape evokes in us the unfolding of our own sexuality, and for their power to remind us of the glory and the impermanence of physical beauty. May our days of blossoming and of fading be days spent in your presence."

Dipping her fingers into the bowl of salt water, one of the women says, "Sisters, this is the water of life. From the womb of the sea, Mother Earth brought forth life. From the womb waters of our own bodies our children are born. In the womb shaped fonts of our churches, we are baptized into community. This is the water of life." Touching the water again, she continues. "This, too, is the water of our tears. Our power to weep is an expression of God's love in and through us. We weep in sorrow for that which we have lost. We weep in anger for the pain of others. We weep in hope of healing and wholeness, and we weep in joy when our hearts are too full to contain our feelings."

Dipping her fingers in the water, each traces a tear on the cheek of the woman beside her saying, "Remember, sister, tears are the water of life."

That's really old by now. Journalists should print out a copy quick for the files before that vanishes as well.

The Anglican blogosphere is all over this, especially the conservative heavy hitters here and here, the digital turf of Dr. Kendall Harmon and the amazing Canadian Anglican Web Elves (don't ask). And CT continues to fight on, especially with this long and very detailed report.

There is so much to report, from the work of the Episcopal priest named Bill Melnyk, who is the same person as the Druid leader Oakwyse, and his neo-pagan partner Glispa, who is also the Rev. Glyn Ruppe-Melnyk -- the woman who helped steer the feminist Eucharistic rite onto the Episcopal website in the first place. And the roots of some of these rites run back to their work with the modern druid clan called Tuatha de Brighid and perhaps, via some raisin cakes (it's a long story) to the ancient goddess Asherah, the female counterpart to Baal.

Rites that connect to Baal worship are generally frowned on in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Like I said, we will have to see how the mainstream press handles this story, if it does. Watch the unusual interfaith evangelism forums, such as Beliefnet.com and the award-winning religion pages of the Dallas Morning News.

This story is moving rapidly, but keep clicking and hang on.

Let me close with two observations.

The first is that this story is old, old, old in several ways. After all, it has been more than a decade since I witnessed an Episcopal diocesan bishop lead a Eucharist that included this chant:

OBA ye Oba yo Yemanja Oba ye Oba yo O Yemanja Oby ye Oba yo O O Ausar Oba ye Oba yo O Ra Ausar

Praises to Obatala, ruler of the Heavens Praises to Obatala, ruler of the Heavens Praises to Yemenja, ruler of the waters of life Praises to Yemenja, ruler of the waters of life Praises to Ausar, ruler of Amenta, the realm of the ancestors Praises to Ra and Ausar, rulers of the light and the resurrected soul.

-- From the printed worship booklet for "Liturgy and Sermon, Earth Mass -- Missa Gaia," distributed on Oct. 3, 1993, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

And second, it was just a few days ago that the bookish Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright said that the key to the splintering of the Anglican Communion is that there are issues even more important than the redefinition of the Sacrament of Marriage and the blessing of same-sex unions. What happens if Anglican Christians start worshipping other gods? Will they still be Christians? Remember, Wright said:

The critical thing is there are some differences which would divide the church. For instance, if somebody decided to propose that instead of reading the Bible in church, we should read the Bhagavad-Gita or the Qur'an, most Christians would say this is no longer a church and that's a difference that we simply cannot live with.

I also believe that the Decalogue in the modernized Book of Common Prayer continues to contain these words:

God spake these words, and said: I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have none other gods but me. Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.

You can bet the farm on the fact that the worship of other gods, by name, is frowned upon in the growing Anglican churches of Africa and Asia, tense regions in which doctrinal clashes between Christianity and pagan religions are not taken lightly. It may be trendy for hip American clerics to experiment with the worship of ancient gods and goddesses from Africa. But African Christians will not be amused.

If the Episcopalians have decided to drop, edit or re-refine the Decalogue, those of us who cover the Godbeat/godsbeat will really have a story on our hands.

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