I’m not sure why Doug at Below the Beltway thinks that Harold Meyerson gets it completely wrong in this op-ed. The churches that have voted to separate from the Episcopal Church, USA are opposed to equality for GLBT people in the church; they are opposed to women having leadership positions in the church; they are aligning themselves with the fundamentalist presiding Nigerian archbishop, Peter Akinola; and they do represent a distinct minority. These things are all factually accurate.
Doug asks whether Meyerson believes in “freedom of conscience” and whether the breakaway churches have the right to do what they feel is right. Isn’t this a bit of a red herring? I don’t see where Meyerson or anyone else is questioning that. Of course they have that right. All faith communities have the right to determine such issues as how they define marriage and who they accept as members and leaders. If the members of these fundamentalist congregations would rather be aligned with an Archbishop who “promotes legislation in his country that would forbid gays and lesbians to form organizations or to eat together in restaurants and that would send them to jail for indulging in same-gender sexual activity,” they are completely at liberty to do so.
Do they also have the right to be shielded from criticism and ridicule? No, they do not. Meyerson’s characterization of their new leader as “Archbishop Restaurant Monitor” may cause hurt feelings and embarrassment (the Reverend Martyn Minns of Truro felt the need to clarify that his church does not “support criminalization of gay sex”), but in no way impedes anyone’s freedom of religious belief or practice. Nowhere does he suggest that it should be otherwise.
Meanwhile, it turns out that there’s more to the story at one of the Virginia secessionist churches (hat tip to Alice Marshall). Apparently, over the course of three years, many of the original members of St. Stephens left the church because pastoral care and ministry had been abandoned in favor of what amounts to a weekly harangue about the sins of the Episcopal Church. The leadership essentially drove away many of the existing members, and brought in new ones who found their fire and brimstone message more appealing. I don’t know whether or not this is the money quote – there are so many contenders – but this is what one member who stopped attending services at St. Stephens said:
“Why would I want to sit there and have to listen to being indoctrinated into leaving something that I believe in?”
Indeed. I also don’t know whether this pattern generalizes to the other congregations like Truro and Falls Church, but I wouldn’t be surprised. The Episcopal Church is not the only mainline denomination to be targeted internally by what Meyerson terms a “revolt against modernity and equality.” The United Methodist Church is contending with something called “Good News/RENEW,” a “women’s ministry” whose leadership is 86% male. It seems to have a particular concern with undermining the social justice and anti-poverty work of United Methodist Women, labeling them “radical feminists” and “anti-American,” among other things. “Good News” also claims that “the church’s acceptance or approval of homosexual behavior is absolutely intolerable.” The leadership of this movement openly states that their goal is to split the church, and their effort is being underwritten by Richard Mellon Scaife, the “funding father of the right.”
The Episcopal secession movement is likewise being funded by scary extremist Howard Ahmanson. Ahmanson was at one point on the board of the Chalcedon Foundation, a reconstructionist outfit that advocates the death penalty for gay people, so I suppose that simply intending to jail us is an improvement.
Meyerson also calls attention to a newish development in the world of fundamentalism: The Orthodox International, an attempt to set aside the traditional us-versus-them religious deathfest in order to focus on a common enemy. (So glad we could help.)
The OI unites frequently fundamentalist believers of often opposed faiths in common fear and loathing of challenges to ancient tribal norms. It has featured such moving tableaus as the coming together in the spring of 2005 of Israel’s chief rabbis, the deputy mufti of Jerusalem, and leaders of Catholic and Armenian churches, burying ancient enmities to jointly condemn a gay pride festival.
How nice. Let’s hear it for burying the hatchet. In a joint press conference, the Vatican declared that the pride festival would be “a grave affront” to “the religious sentiments of believers.” A Muslim cleric suggested that allowing it would result in Sodom and Gomorrah, the sequel: “God destroyed those cities and everyone in them,” he said. “I’m warning everybody, God will destroy Jerusalem together with the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims.” And then, as the crowing touch:
An unknown extremist Jewish group announced it was offering a $500 reward for every gay man or woman killed during the parade…
…”We’ve chased them back into the closet,” exulted one religious extremist.
Echoes of this newfound fundamentalist interfaith cooperation can be discerned in this recent Leesburg Today op-ed. Incredibly, the three co-authors (Jewish, Muslim and Mormon) call for a federal constitutional amendment that would declare “exacting piety” as an essential characteristic of our nation (try not to laugh). At least two of these authors are known to advocate for anti-gay public policy, so what is meant by “piety” is not much of a mystery.
I’m not sure when religious liberty morphed into the entitlement to have one’s views, however foul, accepted as reasonable without criticism or question. Everyone is entitled to be wrong – but not to demand that everyone pretend that they are right. In the marketplace of ideas, there are natural consequences for endorsing ridiculous ideas.
Given all of this, I have to ask: What part, exactly, did Meyerson get wrong?