Snowed In With a Book
This weekend the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states got clobbered with a major snow storm. I was luckily down in Central Virginia, and got to see the Blue Ridge beautifully dusted with powdered snow. And with most chores beyond feeding apples to the horses and seed to the birds snowed out, I read a lot. On Sunday morning, unable to get across the mountains to Grace Episcopal Church, I did penance by finishing Stephen Bates' fascinating if painful study of the Anglican Communion's rendering over the ordination of gay priests and bishops, A Church At War.
Bates, a religion correspondent for The Guardian, does not pretent to be an impartial arbiter of the politico-sexual agony of Anglicans in recent years. He clearly views the whole crisis as having been engineered by conservative evangelical Anglicans, especially in England, who chose sexual issues as just another weapon with which to promote their quasi-fundamentalist drive for power in a faith community that has for centuries balanced Protestant and Catholic traditions and habits.
Indeed, Bates almost certainly goes too far in suggesting that the African and Asian bishops who insisted on a condemnation of homosexuality at the Lambeth Conference of 1998 were just instruments of an intra-British ecclesiastical fight. But he knows the Anglican landscape well, and his profiles of the two unintentional protaganists of the current war over sexuality--the unsuccessful candidate for Bishop of Reading, Jeffrey John, and the successfully confirmed Bishop of New Hamphsire, Gene Robinson--are exquisitely wrought. As an Episcopalian, I also took pride in Bates' argument that Americans handled the subject of gay and lesbian ordinations more honestly, and with greater theological depth, than their British counterparts.
At a time when both the religious and secular conventional wisdom holds that conservative movements are the only vibrant and authentic trends in all the great faith traditions, Bates makes a strong case that the conservative ascendancy in Anglicanism is temporary, opportunistic, and ultimately incompatible with the future of the Communion. From what I know of Anglican Episcopalians, even those deep in the heart of Protestant Virginia, I think he's right. --