Saturday, November 17, 2007

Rant or Religion?

While listening to a series of audio tapes of notable closing arguments before the Supreme Court, one case in particular stood out. The case was Cooper v. Aaron (358 U.S. 1) 1958 concerning the intention of the school board of Little Rock, Arkansas to delay the desegregation of the their schools. Their case was composed of three arguments:

· the people of Little Rock had different beliefs about race relations than other parts of the country;
· the nation should not impose its beliefs on Little Rock;
· unless the Supreme Court allowed them to retain control of their schools and to operate under their own orthodoxy there would be a massive resistance, possibly including violence.

In speaking to the people of Little Rock, Justice Thurgood Marshall made it very clear there would be no sympathy for those who failed to show proper respect for the Supreme Court on this or any other issue: we all live in the United States and our citizenship is based on respect for Congress and the Supreme Court.
The more I listened to Thurgood Marshall, the more one thing in the life of our own Episcopal Church became very clear. The stance of the dioceses of Fort Worth, San Joaquin, Pittsburgh and others is really no different than that of Orval Faubus, George Wallace, Strom Thurmond and other champions of States’ Rights after desegregaton became the law of the land! Both groups oppose what they see as Innovation, whether racial integration or inclusivity. Both share the perceptions of a True Believer, convinced that they alone possess the real truth and morality – and that conviction, they believe gives them the right and the responsibility to resist and to oppose the dictates of General Convention or Congress, whether the moral issue is desegregation of the schools or full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the church.

The central issue is remarkably the same: whether the authority of General Convention or of the Supreme Court overrides the assertions of a Bob Duncan, Jack Iker, John David Schofield or an Orval Faubus or George Wallace. The disrespect for legitimate authority in an Orval Faubus is mirrored in a like disrespect from Bishop Duncan, forbidding prayers for the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
These three dioceses, soon to be joined by one or two more, claim a truth and an orthodoxy for themselves that allows them to banish and to harass any in their midst who are seen to be “trouble-makers.” It allows them to raise, in effect, the ecclesiastical equivalent of the Confederate flag – a slap in the face to our spiritual ancestors who worked so hard to maintain the comprehensiveness that has marked our unique contribution to worldwide Christianity.

Bishop Duncan’s refusal to pray for our Presiding Bishop is clearly against both the letter and the Spirit of the New Testament. The question surely arises, “How do you fancy yourself as one of the chosen recipients of "the faith once delivered to the saints" while so brazenly scornful of the heart of the faith actually given to the saints?” This is not orthodoxy – it is a pale distortion of Biblical religion, actually more rant than religion.

How do we respond to this substitute for the faith most of us have known? The first thing we must do is to say that we don’t recognize this attitude as having anything to do with the Jesus Christ we know. It is a new religion. The second thing we can say is that, like the opposition to segregation, this new religion seems to be built around collective fears and dislikes rather than upon a faith received.

The third thing we must say or remember is that these bishops and the clergy and people who follow them are our brothers and sisters. We can and must wish them well as they move out of the Episcopal Church into some other faith and practice. We do them no favors, though, in allowing them, in leaving, to take the property which belongs to those for whom they have such little respect.

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