The heavy spin cycle

Thursday's religion news provided a few troubling examples of church leaders who have a less than firm grasp of reality. First comes a report from the Salt Lake Tribune headlined "Religious leaders back Moon but Utah politicians back out" about the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's coronation ceremony in Washington.

Their support is nothing new: George Augustus Stallings not only attended the event but helped organize it. Rabbi Mordechai Waldmann of Detroit attended blew a ram's horn during the ceremony. This was not exactly a gathering of ecumenists, but a reunion of the same leaders who gathered to honor Moon in the first place.

Even the press release from the Moon-backed Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace acknowledged that most of these religious leaders either attended the event or are long-standing Moon admirers.

The press release was entertaining, however, in the vast powers it grants to blogger John Gorenfeld:

Gorenfeld, author of reports criticizing the event that were published in, The Gadflyer, and elsewhere, mobilized a host of blogwriters and web-based advocacy groups, who confronted each lawmaker who attended, or their staffs, portraying the event in a sinister light and questioning the participation of the congressman.

The press release includes this remark from the Rev. Carl Rawls, who's identified only as a resident of Alabama: "Rev. Moon is not Jesus, nor does he claim to be. But he is anointed by Jesus, and is calling us all to be 'messiahs.'" (Actually, Moon has taught that Jesus failed in his earthly mission because he, unlike Moon, never married or had children.)

At the other end of the political-theological spectrum is a report in The Daily Texan about the departure of another Episcopal congregation, St. Barnabas the Encourager, in response to General Convention's decisions to approve an openly gay bishop and to adopt the most laisez-faire policy it has ever taken toward churches blessing gay couples.

Reporter Susan Shepherd writes that the congregation is leaving the Episcopal Church because it "does not condone certain practices or believe in the Bible as the sole instrument of salvation."

Here is a key exchange in Shepherd's story:

"For the past number of years, the Episcopal Church U.S.A. has been redefining itself," Mallory said. "The specific thing that really defined what happened was that the House of Bishops, by a 4-3 ratio, refused to affirm a resolution that the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation."

Carol Barnwell, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Texas, said she doesn't think such a vote ever took place at the convention, held in the summer of 2003.

"This is not a church that votes [on whether] to believe in the Bible or not at General Convention," she said.

Ah, but it does vote on whether to continue affirming the Articles of Religion, which are contained in a "historical documents" section in the back of its Book of Common Prayer,. In 2003, the House of Bishops did indeed reject a resolution from Bishop Keith Ackerman of the Diocese of Quincy (Illinois).

Later in the same story, church spokesman Dan England tell Shepherd:

"[Ordination and same-sex blessings have] not been approved by the general convention," England said. "It's handled now on a diocese-by-diocese basis, depending on what the diocese and bishop allow or do not allow."

On same-sex blessings, actually, the authority now rests with congregations (a.k.a. "local faith communities"), as authorized in this portion of Resolution C051:

Resolved, That the 74th General Convention affirm the following:

. . . That we recognize that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.

Some bishops, of course, pledge their intention not to authorize gay blessings. Many priests will respect their bishop's wishes. Others will not, and -- unlike any time in the Episcopal Church's history -- they can now cite chapter and verse from General Convention to justify their defiance.

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