Nov 19, 2006

From 'First Things' Episcopal Church

I have posted this long article from the 'Apostasy' mal list as I thought it amusing and relevant..

First Things ^ | 10/25/2006 | Jordan Hylden

Jordan Hylden writes:

Seeing as how I am a new Episcopalian and still learning about my
church, I attended a public address given a couple weeks back by
Bishop Gene Robinson at General Theological Seminary, in the Chelsea
district of Manhattan. There was a pleasant reception before his
remarks, supplied nicely with wine and hors d'oeuvres platters and
attended by a quietly chattering crowd of 60-year-olds outfitted by
L.L. Bean. Sad to say, I did not know a soul there, and mostly stood
off to one side, listening to people talk about things like the new
art galleries over in Williamsburg. One gentleman politely asked me
if I was there because of my "orientation," to which I responded
that I was in fact simply there out of curiosity. Later on I
reflected that my response could have been taken several ways, but,
as it happened, there was not much time for reflection, and I along
with the L.L. Bean folks soon went inside the chapel for the
evening's talk.

The chapel of course is a beautiful structure, built one hundred and
twenty years ago in the English Gothic Revival mode with donations
from the Morgans, Pierponts, and Vanderbilts, and featuring a
magnificent reredos behind the altar that tastefully reflects the
gender equality that subsists among the saints in glory. It did not
take long for the nave to fill up, although, unfortunately, it took
longer for the event to get started, which gave me ample time to
flip through the pewbooks. (The African-American hymnal looked to be
quite good; the feminist hymnal, however, seemed filled with titles
like "In Praise of Hildegard We Sing.") I had nearly gotten to the
point of thumbing through the BCP church calendar when the Very Rev.
Ward B. Ewing, dean of the seminary, rose to give the welcome, which
of course was quite warm. Following him was Christine Quinn, the
first openly gay speaker of New York's city council, who reminded us
all that "If you believe in yourself, if you define yourself, if you
love yourself, you can overcome any odds that anybody puts in front
of you." This met with loud applause, after which we all sat quietly
in our seats to consider how the glorious company of the saints had
believed in themselves.

The bishop himself was next. He began by thanking Ms. Quinn for her
wise words and reminded us that most places in America—like Iowa,
Georgia, or New Mexico—were not like the Chelsea district of
Manhattan. Indeed, I thought. But that should not deter us, he said,
from going out into the rest of the country to take back religion.
For years, he said, the Church had been the world's greatest
oppressor, until finally, in the 1960s, people began to wake up and
set things straight. People started to realize that what the Church
had taught all along about lots of things just wasn't true, and so
they started acting prophetically as a voice for change. That, he
said, is the true mission of today's Church: To find out where God
is already at work outside the Church and to join God there. Because
I did not grow up in the Chelsea district of Manhattan, this
required a bit of sorting out in my mind, but eventually it all
seemed to fit. "The Church is the world's greatest oppressor," I
reasoned, "but God is at work outside the Church, so our mission as
Christians is to work to change the Church until it becomes like,
you know, those places outside the Church." It still seemed like I
was missing something, but I figured I could think about it later.

Bishop Robinson's talk was, on its surface, all about LGBT
inclusion, but he said it actually was about much more than that. At
its most basic level, it was about the end of patriarchy, which to
him explained why he met with such opposition. The audience nodded
approvingly—civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, and the sexual
revolution were all part of a single struggle for liberation, from
the Man, or something like that. Freedom, justice, and sex were all
the same thing! I liked this idea. Being an Episcopalian, I thought,
was going to be fun.

But if that was the good news, then what came next was the bad news.
Many people, he warned, will be hurt and confused by our prophetic
struggle against patriarchy. Some of them will probably even leave
the Church. And, what's more, we won't even have the same
relationship to something called the "Anglican Communion" anymore..
This all sounded worrying. But, the bishop said, that was just the
price we would have to pay for doing the right thing. If people were
hurt and confused, or if they left the Church, then we would just
have to deal with it later. He reminded us that Jesus was the
ultimate example of someone who did the right thing and paid a price
for it. He told us how, when he was made bishop, he had to wear a
bulletproof vest and have an armed guard standing by, and how they
had made special plans if he had been shot to take him into another
room and make him a bishop before he died. He was being modest, of
course, but we all thought he had been very brave. And although I
had been worried at first, I started to feel sort of tough and
rebellious. Maybe, I thought, I could be as brave as Gene Robinson
some day. I stopped thinking about those people who would be hurt or
confused. They would just have to get with the program.

Next, it was time for the question-and-answer session, and I was
lucky enough to ask the bishop about something that had been
bothering me. "Do you think," I asked, "that conservatives from
places like South Carolina and progressives from places like New
Hampshire should stay together in the same church?" Bishop Robinson
gave a surprising answer—yes, he said, they should stay together,
because part of the genius of Anglicanism is keeping everybody
together no matter what. The audience members puzzled over this. On
the one hand, being tolerant and inclusive people, we didn't want to
tell people what to do or push anybody away. But on the other hand,
wasn't taking back religion from the conservatives the whole point
of all this? Aren't the conservatives in the Church the world's
greatest oppressors—just the people we're fighting against? This
seemed strange to me, but I supposed that maybe it would be all
right so long as the conservatives stayed in far-off places like
South Carolina, where they belonged. Although, I didn't think that
everyone in the audience liked the bishop's answer, and I wasn't
sure that I did, either.

Finally, it was time for one last question. A gentleman in the back
stood up and asked, "What do you think we need to do to save General
Theological Seminary?" This came as quite a surprise to me—how could
such a nice seminary need to be saved? But apparently it was true.
Bishop Robinson, who was on the board of the seminary, said that the
building plans would have to go forward if the seminary were to be
saved. I wasn't quite sure what that all meant, but later on I found
out that the seminary was almost bankrupt and wanted to knock down
its library and put an apartment building there instead. It seemed
to make sense, although it was very sad—it explained why there was
so much old scaffolding on the buildings (sort of like the Cathedral
of St. John the Divine up on Morningside Heights), and why there
were plastic sheets on the library books to keep them from getting
wet when the roof leaked. But that wasn't even the saddest part. It
turned out that the seminary's neighbors in Chelsea weren't letting
them put up the apartment building. They thought it would be too
noisy and ugly, and they wanted things to stay just the way they
were. The neighbors, it turned out, didn't much like the seminary at
all. They had even organized petition drives and protests to tell
the seminary so.

I didn't understand any of this. Before I had felt all tough and
cool, fired up and ready to take religion back from the
conservatives, but now it seemed like even our friends in the
Chelsea district of Manhattan didn't want us anymore. "How could
they do this?" I thought. Many of them were gay, and we were
sticking up for them! We were doing the right thing! Acting
prophetically, no matter what! It was all very sad, and I started to
wonder if anyone cared about the Episcopal Church anymore. People
had started to file out of the chapel by this point, and I started
to follow them. As I did, I overheard a young man about my age say
to his friend, "You know, I agree with his politics and everything,
but I'm not religious, so this wasn't all that interesting to me. I
bet my dad would have liked it, though."

I was pretty depressed, and I started walking glumly back to my
apartment. On my way home, I passed by an old Episcopal church that
seemed sort of different from normal churches—it didn't say anything
about services, but there was a back door open, with loud music
playing inside and a bunch of kids standing out front. I looked
closer, and realized what had happened. Why, it had been turned into
a nightclub! Loud and exciting music thrummed from inside the
sanctuary, where young people like me were dancing and drinking and
having a good time. I thought back to what I had learned earlier
that night, about how freedom and justice and sex were all the same
thing, and how being the Church meant joining the world in the
struggle against patriarchy. Finally, I started to feel good again.
It was going to be a tough fight, but there would be lots of fun
along the way. I smiled, looking up at the nightclub-church, and
thought that maybe we were starting to get it right after all.

Jordan Hylden is a junior fellow at First Things.

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