Let's get ready to rumble!

episcopal gaysLast summer I attended a worship service at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. I went so that I could witness the congregation's interfaith Eucharistic prayer. The sermon text was Mark 7 and the priest told us that it showed how Jesus was xenophobic, racist and sexist. The next day I ran into another priest from the church. I told her I had been at the previous day's service. "I'm so sorry," she immediately replied. "Why?" I asked, thinking she was going to apologize for the sermon. "Oh, our sound was all off and we had those problems with the lighting. Didn't you notice?" she said.

Oh how I wish I could go back to Grace Cathedral this weekend when it hosts a vote on who will be the new bishop of California:

The Episcopal Diocese of California's nomination of three gay clergy among seven candidates for bishop is no surprise -- priests in the diocese have been blessing same-sex unions for at least 27 years.

But the possible election of one of them Saturday threatens to split not only the 220-year-old Episcopal Church in the United States but also the centuries-old Anglican Communion, the group of churches around the world that share worship and prayer traditions rooted in the Church of England.

That lead came from the San Francisco Chronicle's religion writter, Matthai Chakko Kuruvila, who does an excellent job of highlighting the international importance of a local issue and the myriad interests concerned by the vote. Episcopalians in America are but a fraction of the world's 77 million Anglicans, he writes, only one-ninth the size of the Nigerian church.

Four California churches now proclaim affiliation with the Anglican province in Uganda and are distancing themselves from the Episcopal Church in the United States and battling it in court for ownership of church properties. An Oceanside church says it is affiliated with the Diocese of Bolivia.

This rift has a racial and colonial subtext in which power dynamics have been reversed. The Anglican faith of white colonizers is now being dictated by the once-colonized.

africananglicanMany reporters highlighted the racial aspect of the schism, but I'm not sure about the colonization angle. Not just because both the colonizers and the colonized are, well, dead, but because it ignores the fact that this is not a colonial situation in which people are being forced to change their aboriginal traditions. The Africans aren't forcing new traditions on anyone, they're merely maintaining the church's historic teachings. That the descendents of the colonizers have changed their minds doesn't make this reverse colonization.

I also wanted to highlight this from the Los Angeles Times:

"To watch your church suddenly say, 'Anything goes,' is a horrifying thing," [Cynthia Brust, a spokeswoman for the American Anglican Council, which has 300 affiliated churches in the U.S.] added.

The Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong, who was bishop of the Diocese of Newark in New Jersey before his retirement in 2000, said Brust misses the point.

"There's not a scientist in the world today who supports the idea that homosexuals are mentally ill or morally depraved," said Spong, a noted author and outspoken church leader on the subject. "So I'd rather see the church split. I have no desire to be a part of a homophobic church."

Many reporters frame this issue as a division between conservative and liberal interpretations of Scripture. But as Spong so eloquently says, for some folks Scripture is not necessarily the arbiter of how the church should consider homosexuality.

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