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The Cleric & the Ringtone: A Lesson for U.S. Episcopalians

The Grand Mufti of Egypt.

Here’s a bit of strange news from Cairo, reported by the Associated Press:

January 21, 2010 (CAIRO) — Egypt’s top cleric wants Muslims to answer the call to prayer, but not when its ringing on their cellphones.

Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa issued a fatwa, or a religious edict, on Wednesday urging Muslims to do away with a popular fad — Quranic verses or the five daily calls to prayer as cellphone ringtones. The government-appointed cleric says such ringtones are inappropriate, misleading and demeaning to God’s words.

“God’s words are sacred. … He ordered us to respect them and glorify them,” Gomaa said.

Muslims are required to pray five times a day, and the time for this is announced solely with calls to prayers from mosques, Gomaa said. “The calls to prayer are to announce it is time … using it as a ringtone is confusing and misleading.”

I don’t entirely get this, or understand why the Grand Mufti thinks ringtones are wrong. As the Minister of Keyboarding for two Christian prayer websites (here and here) geared to the time of day, I’d be thrilled if people signed up for reminders to pray at 8, 12, 5 and 9 or any other time they could click. Every bishop and priest I know would be thrilled.

But the more I thought about this, the more I realized I’d skipped over the really interesting part:

The government-appointed cleric says…

What single fact more starkly illustrates the difference between the U.S. and Egypt, the West and the East, Christianity and Islam?

Suppose Barack Obama tried appointing a grand mufti, or archbishop or whatever you want to call him? The outcry would be instantaneous. Such an appointment would be blatantly unconstitutional.

Katharine Jefferts Schori as the Minister of Ministry—or Rick Warren, take your pick; Benny Hinn, Joyce Myers, the archbishop of Boston, the head of the American Jewish Congress? It wouldn’t matter who Obama appointed, 90% of Americans wouldn’t take it lying down.

But in Egypt a grand mufti, appointed by the government to settle such earthshaking controversies as the ubiquity of ringtones, shows he’s a Really Important Guy with Big Things on His Mind.

Would it be better for Egyptians to receive a prayer call five times a day chirping, “We’re Off to See the Wizard”? I bet I could sell that one to Gay people.

Finally, though, I realized the point in the Episcopal Church’s Current Unpleasantness: the Archbishop of Canterbury, whom we’re all sposed’ta be “in communion” with, is himself a government-appointed cleric.

Has there ever been an idea more offensive to American democracy? It’s right up there with wiretapping your phone.

I would hope that President Obama, if he ever did take a notion to appoint a National Cleric, would at least find a guy with a decent barber. Man, those eyebrows have got to go.

Rowan Williams, aka The Grand Tufti

Why should Americans take dictation from an English Minister of Morality? It makes no sense. We’ve got a right to own any damn ringtone we want. We fought for that right against English redcoats and we won it.

The past few months I’ve found myself arguing that Episcopalians should consider dissolving our ties with the Church of England—and in particular, stop funding the Anglican Communion and its every-ten-years Lambeth Conference, which costs U.S. parishioners over a million dollars to have tea parties on the lawn of a decrepit London palace while H.M. The Queen’s perfume is piped in overhead.

Mind you, I don’t really want such a break—Americans created the Anglican Communion in the aftermath of 1776—but it seems increasingly necessary and ought at least to be a topic of discussion. I’d never want us to turn our backs on our old friends (in truth we’ll always maintain ties), but the Church of England is fast becoming an embarassment to the English people and to us. Everywhere you look the CofE is defending itself against charges of racism, sexism and homophobia. Tell me again why we need cousins like these.

In the past several years the American Church has been split (95 to 5) by loud and bitter arguments over whether Gay people can be Christians and women can be priests. We’ve long since said yes to both. Meanwhile the English have theoretically approved women bishops, but can’t manage to actually get one, and an English bishop has lost a court case after blatantly discriminating against a lay Christian educator who’s Gay, on the theory that while he’s officially celibate now, he might get a boyfriend at some future date, and then all hell would break out.

England, the home of whoring kings, has staked its whole identity on sexual hypocrisy; do what we say, not what we do. And the Church of England is the principal defender of this nonsense. Anti-Gay discrimination is illegal, but that didn’t stop the Bishop of Hereford. He didn’t pay the court fine, his parishioners did.

The English, like we are, are struggling to build and maintain a modern society in the midst of financial meltdown; they don’t have time for these bizarre controversies, which are as meaningful as ringtones. Yet they’re stuck with these bishops, part of the National Church which everyone theoretically owns and belongs to.

Does this really help England, the nation and the Church in 2010? No.

Christians ought to elect bishops, not have them appointed by the Prime Minister. But as long as the English Church is “established,” Gordon Brown’s in charge of its spirituality. So every minor personnel decision, every internal controversy, becomes political, a contest between Tories and Labour and Liberal Democrats.

Ordinary people find this kind of Christianity unpalatable, and so do I.

The latest development is that a delegate to the Church’s ostensibly independent governing body, called General Synod, has introduced a monkeywrench resolution that seeks to import the American schism over Gay people and women clergy to England, so they can have a great big fight about it.

I doubt her resolution succeeds this year, but it appears the English Church is headed for a schism much worse than we Episcopalians have gone through.

The Church of England looks divided into three competing parties: neo-Calvinists, called “Evangelicals,” who hate Gay people but are okay with women priests; “Anglo-Catholics,” who are often Gay closet cases, but hate women priests; and a “Broad Church” that’s trying to hold everyone together by never mentioning who’s Gay or female.

All this was supposed to have been solved 400 years ago by something called the “Elizabethan Settlement,” in which everyone agreed to get along or else Good Queen Bess would chop off their heads.

Now it is all unraveling, thanks to aggressive “Evangelicals” from America and Africa, looking to export their homophobia while promoting a “Restorationist” theocratic agenda to control everyone and tap your phone.

Her Britannic Majesty has apparently told Rowan Williams, her government’s Archbishop of Canterbury, that if the Anglican Communion breaks up, she will have his head. So he’s steered hard to the right, even though he’s an Anglo-Catholic theologian who supports LGBT Christians in the Church.

However, the breakup of the Worldwide Communion ought to be the least of the Queen’s worries; her own Church seems headed for a crackup. And if that happens, the country will face a constitutional crisis.

I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point the Church is disestablished. And if that happens, you can kiss thousands of ancient churches goodbye; there simply won’t be money to maintain them. They’re barely surviving today. Clergy salaries and pensions have been slashed, the roofs are caving in, and Sunday service consists of ten old women, two old men and any stray cats they can coax inside.

Contrast all this with the current state of the American Church. A few months ago we held a convention in Anaheim, presided over by a female archbishop (called “presiding” in American lingo; her powers are limited) and a female president of the regular clergy and laypeople. The anti-Gay, anti-female schism is behind us; it wasn’t fun and we’re no doubt poorer for it, but the rebels only peeled off four dioceses and 75,000 believers (if that) among 2,000,000, despite the secessionists’ loudest PR efforts. The meeting in Anaheim was as peaceful as we’ve ever been, thanks to no longer having the bigots. LGBT Christians got everything they wanted from the convention, including approval to start compiling Gay and Lesbian wedding services. Since Gay weddings are legal in New England and Iowa, what are LGBT Christians supposed to do in those places, go to the justice of the peace? That’s not how Episcopalians usually marry; we do it up big in church, because we believe a lifelong commitment by two people under Christ is a holy thing.

So here we are, swimming free, while the CofE is headed for fireworks and the African churches are doing their best to export anti-Gay genocide. Can you wonder why I say Episcopalians don’t need the Anglican Communion? With the devastation in Haiti (our largest diocese), it is wrong to spend a million bucks on a Lambeth tea party from which Old Eyebrows excluded the Gay bishop of New Hampshire, while inviting (and being accepted by!) every other American bishop.

I hope, if a break does occur, that in future centuries we’ll get back together, once the English and the Africans come to their senses. But for now, it all stinks of politics, over issues of justice which history will surely decide, just as it did when the division point was race and human slavery. How many hundreds of animal species in which homosexual behavior occurs does it take before the bewigged House of Lords faces reality? Until then, who cares?

In Anaheim the Episcopal Church faced the consequences of its decisions and pushed full steam ahead. Lesbian and Gay couples can now get married in many Episcopal churches as if they were regular people.

I’m proud of that. I believe it’s God’s will. But staying with the Church of England, much less Uganda (with its U.S.-inspired “kill the Gays” bill), Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda? Let the Queen sell a painting if she’s dead set on preserving the illusion of a 19th century Anglican empire in the 21st. American parishioners have better things to do than waste money on tea parties or take orders from government-appointed muftis obsessed with ringtones, gender or sexual orientation. These things are minor, while “God is love” is not.++

7 Responses

  1. One minor point. Although the appointment of bishops and archbishops in England is undemocratic, it is a quango of church big wigs who choose the bishops and archbishops not the prime minister or the monarch. Although technically they could veto the decision they actually rubber stamp the big wigs’ choices. It’s the same with the laws passed by parliament. They have to be signed by the monarch but she never says no.

    Although it would be an anathema to Americans I think we would actually have better bishops if the state did choose them. At the moment it is a case of cowardly, “safe” bishops and their lackies employing their friends who will also be cowardly and “safe.”

    The only real problem I have with the US system is that the appointment of your bishops becomes a competition, no different to a political election, and it’s difficult to see how a humble person could ever get the job. How you get round this problem whilst remaining democratic, I have no idea.

  2. MadPriest visited my site; how lovely! A real celeb in the Anglican blogging world!

    However, I’ve got translation troubles with this word “quango.” Sounds like a noun, but I’ve never heard of it. Wikipedia says it’s an acronym meaning “quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization.” Oh.

    I suppose bigwigs provided the context, and I can’t dispute MP’s correction. Indeed, a good bit of my analysis is based on his reporting, so I acknowledge the source. He’s the one who dubbed Rowan Williams the Grand Tufti; I thought about including a credit in my eyebrow caption above but somehow didn’t do it.

    But note, MadPriest did not dispute my prediction that the CofE is headed for a smackdown, or my contention that Episcopalians really don’t need the Anglican Communion sucking us dry while trying to dictate what our beliefs and practices ought to be.

    As for how we Yanks elect our bishops, let me enlighten you. It isn’t a competition. Humble people can and do get elected; the Bishop of Los Angeles is a former street cop who once had to shoot and kill a man. I doubt an English quango would much go for that — but when I’m around Jon Bruno, I know I’m safe.

    Bruno’s diocese has just elected two assistant (“suffragan”) bishops to help him cover the territory; they’re both women. Diane Bruce is a recent cancer patient with no hair, thanks to radiation; Mary Glasspool’s an out Lesbian who has toiled for years as a diocesan administrator behind the scenes. They both have their strengths but they’re not high-status individuals; women bishop candidates are still somewhat stigmatized in our Church, so we elected a female Presiding Bishop to break that pattern.

    A search committee of local clergy and laypeople assesses the diocese’s needs and publishes criteria for nominees; anyone can nominate a candidate. (I nominated Tracey Lind, dean of the Episcopal cathedral in Cleveland, because she’s a capable leader who would bring some glamour to the Land of the Pretty People. But she didn’t make the cut.) The committee interviews the candidates and votes on several finalists. They answer questionnaires which are posted online for anyone to see; lately they also make videos, again posted online. The committee then arranges for several walkabouts, where the voters (diocesan convention delegates) can eyeball the candidates in a meet-n-greet. From there some buzz results; “Gee, he or she impressed me” or “Very nice, but I’m not sure s/he’s quite right for us.” Then at the big convention, people vote. It usually takes several ballots; to win a candidate needs a majority of clergy delegates and lay delegates, all of whom were elected by parishioners at each church’s annual meeting.

    Some jockeying always occurs between ballots as the delegates discuss – but the finalists themselves aren’t present, so the buttonholing occurs by a nominee’s champions on the floor. (“Wouldn’t it be great to have a woman bishop?” Or “We need a Catholic, an Evangelical, a male, a pastor, a local or someone outside this diocese…”) Voters who supported an also-ran switch to their second favorite on subsequent votes, while the also-rans withdraw to avoid further embarassment and help the convention get on with it. Eventually someone wins a majority in both the clergy and lay orders; this requirement assures that the clergy don’t dictate to the laypeople and we do get peer review.

    It’s not the old boys’ club it used to be; women have crashed the party because our Church is a democracy. It ain’t always pretty, but it’s made The Episcopal Church the most progressive Christian voice in the United States, and the most progressive Anglican province in the world. The Holy Spirit guides us and the delegates pray constantly to do the right thing.

    Who’s more humble than Gene Robinson or Katharine Jefferts Schori? Bishops don’t live in palaces here; we don’t got any.

  3. Ah, another translation problem – it’s like a different language 😉

    When I used the word “humble” I meant as in humility. The American system of choosing bishops requires the candidates to prove that they are better than the others. They have to say publicly why they should be chosen at hustings and at the election.

    Perhaps the old Celtic way is better. The bishop is chosen by the people in synod but there are no candidates. The people just choose anybody they want and then go and tell the elected person that they are to be the bishop.

  4. Oh, and Gene and Katharine are so not humble. I’ve had a run in with your P.B. and she’s a right snob and gene adores the limelight. Nothing wrong with that, and he’s a great bishop. In fact if he was humble he would be a crap bishop and no good for the cause whatsoever. But the American system will throw up extroverts like Gene more often than not.

  5. Oh, but remember that many of the Bishops of The Church of England sit in the HOUSE OF LORDS! Now, there is a bit of a snarl if there ever was one with Democracylike thinking (and humility in the case of several)…I too think that Katharine is a ¨snob¨ (with horrible personal taste and common sense/worse business savvy). I think Mad Priest ought be nominated (from the floor no doubt) for the next Bishop of Los Angeles (Hollywood ofcourse is part of Los Angeles) or at least Northern Indiana (now there is a diocese that could use some sensible upgrading and all the electronic divices available).

  6. It’s true, Leonardo, that KJS needs a Gay fashion adviser in the worst way. I’m not personally fond of her either – I’ve found her cold and distant – but she’s my PB. And I think her humility has grown with all the lumps she’s taken from right-wingers.

    I find Gene very down to earth, nothing grand about him; he’s a sharecropping farmer’s son from Kentucky, born a Disciple of Christ, and those people don’t do anything Big Time.

    I would welcome Jonathan to Northern Indiana (Rensselaer and Monticello, maybe?), but Ed Little’s going to keep that bishopric in his hot little hand till it ain’t hot no more. The Diocese of Indianapolis is far more suitable, two major universities, a history of social services, a woman bishop (Our Gal Cate) AND the first regularly-ordained woman priest, Jackie Means, the day it became legal, 1/1/77. I think he’d like Bloomington and it might like him.

    He’s wrong however about Episcopal elections; telling people why you should be chosen bishop is the fastest way to bomb out. He wouldn’t have to worry, anti-campaigning is the way to win, though a little charm doesn’t hurt either. I’m taking bets on how long it takes Matthew Moretz to get a mitre (though that bit about the candy bar really was unfortunate). Anyone who can get young adults through the door is on a fast track to whatever job he wants.

  7. nice info…thanks………..

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