The Fat Lady, The Episcopal Church, And The Anglican Communion

Daniel Oliver Contributor
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She sang.

So it’s over. The Anglican Communion has finally had it with the Episcopal Church.

At a meeting in Canterbury, England, the Anglican primates, the senior bishops of the 38 Anglican provinces, decided that “for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.” That’s ecclesiastispeak for “You’re suspended.”

However, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Right Reverend Justin Welby, who is the titular leader of Anglicans worldwide, made a clarification: This was not, in fact, a “suspension,” he said by which he seems to have meant that it was not something imposed by the primates. Rather, it was that the Episcopalians had done to themselves, by their formal approval of homosexual marriage at their triennial General Convention last summer. In three years, the Episcopalians will have an opportunity at their next General Convention to undo their action, which is why their suspension-that-was-not-a-suspension was for only three years. But the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, has already stated that there would be no going back: “I was clear with the primates that that’s not going to happen.”

There may be no going back, but it’s not clear yet how far back “back” is. The Episcopal Church’s Prayer Book hasn’t been changed to endorse homosexual marriage, and the Prayer Book has a place of constitutional authority in the Episcopal Church. When it says holy matrimony is a union of a man and a woman, then the Episcopal Church, in some confused way, still says that. In that sense, it is a bridge that has not yet been burned.

One objection to the Episcopal Church’s approval of homosexual marriage seems to have been the manner in which it was accomplished: “they went ahead of the rest of the Church without consultation,” said Archbishop Welby. Perhaps. But the wider Anglican Communion is not likely ever to approve homosexual marriage (which is contrary to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Communion — indeed, to the whole history of Anglicanism, which is closer than many may realize to Roman Catholicism see this article) in which case the Episcopalians would have to wait for … ever. That seems unlikely too.

There are some Episcopalians who see the action of the primates as holding the Episcopal Church accountable, and who also think, or hope, that the rift can, somehow, be … healed. Again, that seems unlikely.

The Anglican Communion consists of approximately 80 million people, only 1.8 million of whom are Episcopalians (down from 3.6 million in the sixties). There are many Anglicans in the Anglophone countries, of course, but most Anglicans live in far-off lands. There are, obviously, homosexual communicants in those lands: homosexuals may constitute about 2 percent of any population. But those lands don’t do homosexual marriage. And they aren’t going to change their ways any time soon. We’ll have peace in the Middle East first.  

The Archbishop of Canterbury said about homosexuals, more or less, that he felt their pain: “For me it’s a constant source of deep sadness, the number of people who are persecuted for their sexuality,” he said after encountering gay and lesbian protesters at the meeting of the primates. “I wanted to take this opportunity to say how sorry I am for the hurt and pain, in the past and present, the church has caused.”

Maybe. But as they say on the debating circuit, “Name three” name three people in the United States who have been persecuted for their sexuality. Perhaps Jack Phillips, who was fined $135,000 because he refused to bake a wedding cake for a queer couple. No. Wait a minute. He was persecuted because he was normal and wouldn’t kowtow to the zeitgeist, which said he had to serve homosexuals.

And we can only hope the presiding bishop wasn’t feeling any pain for Susan Russell, ’scuse me, “The Rev.” Susan Russell, a senior associate rector at All Saints Church in Pasadena. She said sanctions would not change her position: “As a lifelong Episcopalian and a married lesbian priest, I think [the Episcopal Church’s suspension is] not only an acceptable cost, it’s a badge of honor in some ways.” It wasn’t reported whether she told the Anglican bishops where they could stuff their mitres.

This moment, these moments, have been long in coming. In 1960, James Pike, the Episcopal bishop of California, said the doctrine of the Trinity was “outdated, incomprehensible and nonessential.” In 1961 he said the Virgin Birth of Christ was a “primitive myth.” The Episcopal Church decided, unwisely, not to try Pike for heresy and defrock him. That was the beginning of the end. It meant that, doctrinally, anything goes. And since that time, a lot has.

The Archbishop of Canterbury may see homosexuals as persecuted individuals. But it is more accurate to see them as marauding vandals, come to destroy the icons and the tablets. The doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion have been well established for centuries. People who want homosexual marriage to be considered normal (or don’t believe in the Virgin Birth or the Trinity) should join should have joined a different church. The James Pikes of the ’60s and the homosexuals of today set out to destroy the Episcopal Church. They are part of the left’s long march through the institutions. There is no reason whatsoever to feel sorry for them. And every reason to resist them.

It is not reasonable, probably, to expect much improvement in the fortunes of the Episcopal Church in the next three years, or probably the next thirty years. But after the vandals have done their work, what then? When they’ve won all the lawsuits and taken all the property, there are no monuments left to topple, and their preaching doesn’t draw the people? And Social Security beckons. Perhaps they’ll get bored and move on.

There are, apparently, young people who keep the faith, and the tablets. In years to come, they may discover, in a trunk in a dusty attic, the well-worn Prayer Book of their great-grandparents. And also in that dusty attic the rustle of God moving in a mysterious way.

So what did the Fat Lady sing? Perhaps hymn number 42: “Now the day is over.” But more likely hymn 379: “God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year.”

Daniel Oliver is Chairman of the Board of Education and Research Institute and Senior Director of White House Writers Group in Washington, DC.  In addition to serving as Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Ronald Reagan, he was Executive Editor and subsequently Chairman of the Board of National Review.
Email Daniel Oliver at Daniel.Oliver@TheCandidAmerican.com