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The Dark Aims of Schism; or Capitalist War


Robert Duncan, Archbishop of Something or Other, needs his eyebrows trimmed.

There are a lot of fine bloggers in the Episcopal Church, so let me begin by naming some of them. Then I’m going to accuse them all mildly of screwing up.

Fr. Jake Stops the World is the most important progressive blog in TEC, though it’s been through some ups and downs lately, primarily because “Fr. Jake,” who’s really a priest named Terry Martin, shut it down a year ago when he became the church’s Evangelism Officer, only to be laid off a couple of months ago when General Convention cut the budget drastically, thanks to the cost of schismatic lawsuits. “Jake” has earned a very wide following due to intellectual rigor, unmistakable faith and a compassionate heart. He’s done more to educate Episcopalians about the schismatic coup attempt we’re facing than anyone else. He knows where the bodies are buried and does a better job of summarizing the ongoing drama than any other writer. (You can see why he’d be offered the evangelism job, only to be treated so shabbily.)

Jim Naughton at Episcopal Café has assembled a very fine team of writers (Ann Fontaine, Nick Knisley and half a dozen more) who keep us informed several times a day on developments in the church. Naughton, lay canon for communication in the Diocese of Washington, contributed the single most important piece of investigative journalism in this whole sorry mess, a series called “Following the Money.” Jim’s a professional journalist who previously wrote for several metropolitan newspapers, and his reporting was the first to connect the dots between the schismatic bishops, the right-wing neocon Institute for Religion and Democracy, its California moneybags Howard Ahmanson and the extremist theocrat R.J. Rushdoony, a certified lunatic if ever there was one.

He thinks you should stone your children to death if they mouth off to you, ’cause the Old Testament said so.

Lionel Deimel does a great job of chronicling events in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, not to be confused with the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and its new/old bishop/archbishop, a guy named Duncan. Deimel is a moderate and a loyalist, an active fighter of schism in western Pennsylvania, and his detailed posts from the belly of the beast show what ecclesiastical war is like “on the ground,” in the trenches. I admire the man, who has taken on his former bishop in a historic battle.

And yet, it’s Deimel’s shortcoming as a writer and thinker that he never quite describes the big picture. He’s so involved in Pittsburgh, fighting so courageously, that he can’t portray the larger conflict.

I hope to do so here, or at least to make a helpful stab at it. My thesis is below.

Mark Harris is widely respected; my rector turned me on to his analyses, but he’s way too involved in minutiae. He can’t help it, he’s a member of Executive Council.

Women Episcopalians have been heroic throughout all this; Deimel’s been ably joined by the historian Dr. Joan Gundersen, president of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, the main opposition force to Bishop/Archbishop Duncan. (Schismatics really love titles, and as the new head of the “Anglican Church in North America,” Duncan now styles himself equivalent to the Archbishop of Canterbury.)

They don’t blog, but I ought to mention two other women who are central here: the President of the House of Deputies, Dr. Bonnie Anderson, and the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Ms. Anderson, a laywoman from Michigan, is the more effective leader, in my opinion, but Bishop Katharine, the first female “primate” in the history of Anglicanism, continues to embody (that is, em-body) American resistance to Anglo-African sexism and homophobia.


Dr. Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies


The Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is not known as Her Holiness anywhere on the planet. She's glad about that.

As Episcopalians we are proud to be formally led by a woman in cope and mitre. But as Dr. Anderson is wont to remind us, General Convention consists of two houses, a lower one and an upper one; and the Deputies of laypeople and priests are the Upper House.

We elect bishops (and priests, for that matter). The pope does not appoint them. We are Americans and we govern ourselves.

But the democracy practiced in the church, like that in the country at large, is messy, unwieldy and prone to gaps in coverage. (Why else would health care reform be hotly debated in Washington, when 65% of Americans want it?)

We spend our time putting out fires—the Diocese of San Joaquin is seceding here, the Diocese of Quincy there—rather than understanding the arsonists’ motives.

They want to replace the Episcopal Church as the official American member of the Anglican Communion; that’s why Duncan’s now the “archbishop” of the “Anglican Church in North America.” (He hopes to lure Canadian dissidents too.)

The fundamentalist theo-cons, a numerical minority in The Episcopal Church, have realized they can’t win at General Convention, so they’re trying to replace it.

Some people left us over race in the ’60s; then it was the ordination of women. In 1979 we revised the Book of Common Prayer and made Holy Communion the centerpiece of Christian worship—just as it should be, but an incredible achievement for a Protestant (protesting) church. We chucked the “thee’s and thou’s” and updated the language in a good conservative way. In 2003 we consented to a new Bishop of New Hampshire who’s a Gay guy.

Oh, the turmoil unleashed! But the schismatics were after us long before, and only used the election of Gene Robinson as an excuse for schism. Homophobia still makes money among certain people, as a few vicious websites can attest.

For most Episcopalians these manufactured controversies are non-issues. We’re much more interested in keeping a roof overhead, paying the heat bill, serving the public and growing in faith (the biggest challenge of all) than the so-called culture wars. Okay, we’ve got some Gay people; so what? How does that affect the fact that my parish has seven inefficient furnaces to cover 10,000 square feet of space?

Here’s the bottom line that ties all the controversies together: Oliver North got really pissed off that the Episcopal Church dared to criticize his nasty, subversive little war in Nicaragua under Ronald Reagan.

That’s it in a nutshell. Of course there are many elaborations, but that’s the bottom line. The people who gave you every nasty little war (4000 Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan) do not brook dissent.

The United States has a foreign policy; it’s backed up by the military. The basic thrust of the policy, whether a Republican or Democratic president, is to open foreign markets to capitalism, so Wall Street, Bill Kristol and Howard Ahmanson can make money.

But American churches, both the mainlines and the Catholics, have criticized these war policies, called them immoral.

I don’t want to demonize Oliver North, a sometime Episcopalian; he’s not important anymore, so I simply use him as a figurehead to represent the demons at work destroying my church.

This is all about rich people hating with pure white fury the audacity of mainline progressives to criticize their dirty little wars on behalf of the Prince of Peace.

Women priests? Only fanatics really care, but the switchboard lights up with hot buttons. A Gay bishop? The servers crash.

“Oliver North” doesn’t really care if there are women in chasubles. He cares about market share, profit, his piece of the GDP.

The Episcopal Church—the most progressive of the mainlines, by far the most influential—stands in Col. North’s way.

Here we’ve been thinking ourselves massively ineffectual, with less than a tithe of the influence we once had—but in fact we matter hugely to the people in power.

(This must come as a shock to our D.C. lobbyists, but don’t ever underestimate the power of Jesus’s moral critiques. He wasn’t kidding, y’all. A hundred thousand Iraqis are dead thanks to George W. Bush and his nasty little war.)

It’s time we faced a few facts that have eluded us. We knew exactly what we were doing when we elected Bishop Katharine.

So too with Bishop Gene. We were striking blows to religion-based discrimination against women and Gay people.

That’s why we picked them, so let’s own up to it—in order to understand who our opponents are and what motivates them.

The schism may be new, but this crap’s been going on for 30 years. And in that time the millionaires, their think-tank operatives and ordained lackeys have learned a few things, they’ve organized, they’ve set strategy.

Destroy the Episcopal Church. Replace it as a “province” of the Anglican Communion. Try to impose a “covenant” to punish Canadians and Americans. Enlist African priests and bishops, nearly all from the “evangelical” tradition, by their natural resentment of colonialism and the present-day Brits and Americans, to raid our churches for Calvinism, or glossalalia, or the Virgin Mary, or whatever else works.

Push those hot buttons and the money rolls in. Women priests are bad enough, but queers? Abomination!

Meanwhile in Kenya and Uganda and Nigeria, indigenous bishops are doing all they can to criminalize homosexuals—and anyone who associates with us.

“Oliver North’s” corporate handlers can’t wait to exploit Africa. It’s a whole new market, and even though most people are dirt poor, even starving, the local oligarchs—Anglicans all—are very, very rich, and they control a continent’s worth of natural resources: oil, diamonds, Halliburton, De Beers.

Rushdoony’s fantasies, where Christianity takes over the world, men control governments and their wives, and children get stoned to death for mouthing off to their parents, are too extreme for most people; he’s just a whackjob. So what is his appeal to Howard Ahmanson, the Anglican fundamentalists’ moneybags?

(Ahmanson too is just a figurehead here; he doesn’t have enough money to fund all this, or he’s not willing to part with it. He’s just a type for the people behind him.)

Get yourself an Ollie North, an Ahmanson, a Clarence Thomas, and soon the gates open up to Pat Robertson, Focus on the Family and various NFL quarterbacks. It starts to look like a vast right-wing conspiracy, but they’re simply entrepreneurs.

Mr. Robertson is a billionaire if you haven’t noticed; no wonder every megachurch star wants to be like him.

Back to those bloggers: I suspect there’s a reason no one has put the entire puzzle together. Episcopalians cannot fathom evil. To our great shame, we haven’t spent enough time meditating on the Holy Cross.

Just 50-odd years past the Holocaust, we retreat to denial on the war against our church. Thus Dr. Deimel examines the trivia of Pittsburgh, Fr. Jake gets laid off, and Canon Naughton gets caught up in the Gay Stuff—though he’s absolutely right that homosexuality is the slavery issue of our day.

God bless him for what he does understand, not for what he doesn’t.

The schismatics were thrilled at the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori. They were ecstatic when New Hampshire elected Gene Robinson. The coffers filled up as the Dittoheads contributed.

But this isn’t about queers, it’s about Nicaragua, Iraq and Afghanistan, the “public option,” insurance companies, Goldman Sachs. It’s about what kind of country we will be, and whether Jesus is still “sovereign” if you can’t make money off him.

It’s an unfortunate fact of the mystery of God that clergy and laypeople want to argue theology. They busy themselves over covenants, resolutions, Bible verses, patristics, hermaneutics, translations, polity, politics. They can’t see the forest for the trees.

We all just want to muddle along; and of course our personal concerns outweigh everything else. I have a new dog, or I’m unemployed, or I lost my retirement money when Wall Street ripped us off. These concerns indeed are God’s, and who has time for Anglican Wars?

But I tell you this: the purpose of schism is to destroy the Episcopal Church’s very mission: our civil rights work, our feeding the hungry not named Ahmanson, our pressing the last Developed Country to adopt universal health care, our malaria nets, our tsunami relief, the houses we build in New Orleans, our small feeble outreach to sexual pariahs and most of all our desire to end these nasty little wars.

Our opponents pay us a compliment actually, ascribing power to us we no longer possess, at least in the secular sense.

Our moral power has grown stronger and stronger. That’s what they most fear.

That’s why they’re trying to destroy our church. But they will not succeed. The Episcopal Church I got to meet two years ago in my national tour is vibrant, strong, faithful, orthodox, catholic and evangelical in the best way.

This is not a fight about women submitting to their husbands, or Gay abominations, or the authority of Scripture, or resolutions, covenants or debates. The issue is much simpler: slavery or no?

Peace or war? Capitalized health care (if you’ve got the capital, you get the health care) or “socialized medicine”? Dead soldiers or living ones?

For pity’s sake, the Rushdoony/Ahmanson/Robertson axis says evolution isn’t Biblical; so the Lower House elected a marine biologist, the Upper House concurred, and now we’re led by a Katharine.

My parish is going to replace those seven furnaces. It’s time to spring for some solar panels. It was God who made the sun to warm us, and warm we shall be in his grace.++

3 Responses

  1. Good Lord you´ve got the beat…I love it when you´re swaying back and forth and typing at the same time…I think Luke gotcha going and you´re on a roll, a rock of ages roll…you bet, there are lots of solids operating around the Episcopal Church but the key, as usual is that we´re NOT going anywhere…it doesn´t matter about all the bull, all the entitled jerks who have forgotten it´s NOT about them, it´s not about anything except keeping ones eye on the ball…we´re not going anywhere…but, you know that alaready.

    Oliver North and Baby Blue, my ass!

  2. Sick cookies looking for dough.

  3. It’s often said that Islam in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere faces a fight between modernity and antiquity. But Christianity faces the same thing.

    The pope waited 400 years before rehabilitating Galileo, whose excommunicable sin was observing that the earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around. The Catholic Church banned him from heaven, because the Bible clearly states that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it.

    400 years later, after everyone had ceased to care, the pope told Galileo, “Never mind,” just like Emily Litella.

    400 years from now the Roman Church will tell Gay people, “Uh, we didn’t mean it, sexual orientation is a biological fact of life, Never Mind.”

    I believe the Bible is 99.99999% percent right—and I don’t mind the occasional mistake from people who lacked a telescope and an internet connection. We are immeasurably enriched by the witness the writers made. Even the most difficult passages (and there are several) contain immense spiritual truths.

    But now we’ve got telescopes and intertubes, and LGBT people have gone from invisible pariahs to cultural icons.

    The Church’s unholy focus on sex serves to obscure the fact that the military exists to enforce the demands of capitalism; so we really don’t care about those hundred thousand dead Iraqis. We only purport to care about the 4000 dead Americans; and a year after he was elected, Obama hasn’t withdrawn a brigade.

    Your tax dollars wage nasty little wars, but greed is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

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