Monday, November 03, 2003

Yesterday was the consecration of the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson. I won't pretend it was the death knoll for my Episcopalianism. I'm approximately as Episcopalian as Ted Kennedy is Catholic. But it does sort of mark a change in my attitude toward the Church I was baptised into.

I never spent a lot of time at church as a kid. I do remember being amazed by how beautiful it was though. I knew it was a place of awe, where you didn't play and you weren't supposed to fidget. I didn't understand what went on really. But I knew, implicitly, that it was something very important.

My childhood was a good metaphor for a lot of Episcopalianism. Most Episcopalians, even the adult kind, really don't know what the church is about. They're there because it seems old, and it's beautiful, and because something very great is supposed to be going on there. Church is the sort of place where you don't fidget, and even adult type people crave that place.

I've stated before that the Anglican Church is a ridiculous church to belong to. A cursory look at the history is enough to make it appear that way. We're a church founded not on the separation of ideas from the Catholic Church, but on the intended separation of King Henry from his wives. But, of course, it's more complicated than that. Anglicanism suffered early on from encroaching Calvinism. And so one of the first real questions in Anglican history of very great importance after the schism was about the eucharist. Is it really the blood and body of Christ?

The theologians, favored under the new Calvinist rulers, Elizabeth I and young James, declared that it was not. But the heart of the people was still with the old ideas. So rather than state the new religion with a spine, they simply made the liturgy ambivalent. The people took an illicit eucharist, unknowingly. And the Church let them do it because it was easier than fighting.

Today, the Church moves continually further and further away from the Christian tradition. There are obvious shifts: consecrating a gay bishop, ordaining women, etc. But it's all part and parcel of that first original split. And the symptoms are surprisingly unchanged. The Church espouses formally a theology of intolerance for homosexuality, but it allows the people to practice something entirely different.