The Crucible of Conscience

The Episcopal Church of America was suspended this week from full participation in the Anglican Communion.  The move comes amid long-simmering tensions over the American church’s acceptance of same-sex marriage and the consecration of openly gay bishops.

During its three-year suspension the Episcopal Church will be stripped of voting rights and barred from the decision-making process “on issues of doctrine or polity.” The Anglican Church of Canada narrowly avoided a similar fate by buying time – it seems the Canadian’s “discussions” on the issues are on-going, and the church’s position has yet to be settled as a matter of doctrine.  Interesting tactic – but prolonging the inevitable is what it amounts to.

During the discussion conservative factions in the Anglican Communion, such as the Primate of the Anglican Church of Uganda, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, reaffirmed their entrenched belief that the Episcopal Church’s views are contrary to the teachings of Scripture and established policy.

In a statement to the Primates before walking out of the meeting, Archbishop Ntagali called for sanctions against the Americans “until they have repented of their decisions that have torn the fabric of the Anglican Communion at its deepest level.”

I was baptized, raised, and educated in the Episcopal Church.  While I have fallen out of practice, I consider myself an Episcopalian and always will. The church I know taught acceptance and inclusion for all the faithful – gay, straight, whatever.

Through the years I have watched the Episcopal Church’s increasingly liberal sway (especially on deeply divisive issues common to both Episcopal doctrine and Roman Catholicism) ultimately culminating in the 1988 consecration of our first female bishop, Barbara Harris, an African-American divorcee; and later, Bishop Gene Robinson, the first Episcopal bishop to live openly with a same-sex partner.

Generally speaking I am rather conservative in most aspects of my life – but I have long held a deep belief that the church should be open and welcoming of all people who believe, demonstrate their faith, and live in peace.

If not now, when?  If not the church, where?

Have we not reached a point in the human experience where we can accept the basic humanity of permitting people to love openly, live peacefully, and worship their god with a shared sense of basic fairness?  A shared sense of basic dignity and mutual understanding?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand how difficult it must be for the Anglican leadership in places like Uganda and Nigeria – where incurable disease, abject poverty, political corruption and anti-Christian factions are perpetual threats and homosexuality is punishable by death.  Places where the last bastions of the strength of the old British Empire is projected by the Church of England, and the sense of protection and stability that must provide in some very difficult and dark places of the African continent.

I also understand Archbishop Ntagali’s need to hold firmly to the church’s policies that provide him a chip in the game.  The political clout that comes from controlling a large portion of the population and helps reinforce strict obedience to the archaic laws of the State.

As I sorted through my feelings I was drawn to re-read an essay by the renowned Welsh artist Ralph Steadman on the enduring relevance of the 1948 United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights:

“We are all guilty of gross negligence or convenient choice.  We have chosen to turn a blind eye to the constant injustice of our own species against our own kind.  We no longer deserve to belong to the animal kingdom.  We have betrayed an innate sense of survival, the one instinctive law which protects all creatures from extinction.  Compassion has been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.”

As much as I despise the United Nations and the open corruption and legitimization of tinpot dictators, murderers and thieves that it has bestowed through the years – I think they may have been on to something in 1948.  Interestingly, several Arab nations abstained from the ratification vote on the Declaration, claiming that it was incompatible with Sharia Law – but that’s for another day. . .

In my view, we find ourselves in a world rife with religious bigotry and extremism, ideologies bent on global domination through the murder of innocents in the name of God – a place where open greed is worshiped and the ruthless and cruel admired for their accumulations of wealth.  We have simply come to accept this.

What I, perhaps, am not ready to accept is the fact that the very church which formed my basic understanding of what it means to live and act as a morally conscious being is mired in such an immoral and ugly argument.

As an Episcopalian, if suspension from the Anglican Communion is my punishment for standing firm to the fundamental principal that denying basic human rights to the LGBT community – or any community –  is patently and forever wrong – then I will accept it.  Willingly, and with all the grace and faith I can muster.

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