The American Gazette

Commonsense political and social commentary from "Flyover Country"

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Location: Rural Michigan, United States

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Episcopal Church, I Weep for Thee

I have not posted much since the election, though delighted that President Bush has won, I immediately had other issues of the personal type on my mind. Personal, yet it also has a mirror in the current conflicts in America.

I am an Episcopal, and the current conflicts happening within my church is causing me great spiritiual pain. My first complete dissonence with the church came about because of the Iraq war. Prior to the war a statement was read in my church from the Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. For those who do not understand how the Episcopal church works suffice it to say that Bishop Griswold is the top of the hierarchy for Episcopal church, the American branch of Anglicans.

The anti-war tone of the pastoral letter was very keen, and while I do not recall the exact wording of the letter, I recall the Bishop noting that the US should act only in step with the United Nations. I found the tone of the letter offense. The whole thing nearly caused me to get up and walk out of church. I would have found it much more appropriate for a pastoral letter to note the difficulty of Christians in going to war, to note the issues that great theologians have wrestled with regarding war from St. Augustine to Thomas Aquinas to Martin Luther. I would have not been offended had the Bishop requested we pray for the President to find guidence, as Episcopals we pray for our leaders every week as a matter of course, but during times of National stress those prayers take on ever more importance. At least to me. Later Bishop Griswold made other public pronouncements that only served to anger me even more. In an interview with a religious magazine he not only denounced the war, but also found it necessary to apologize for being an American as this country was so "hated and loathed" around the globe. Later, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury he described the war as immoral and illegal. Bishop Griswold complained about those who invoke God's name and assume bleesings on our acts, and noted he was deeply disturbed that some Christians are animated by notions of a God of vengence and retribution, and adopt simplistic views of good and evil.

While I was upset about the pastoral letter and Bishop Griswolds later and ongoing pronouncements, I separated what the National Church was saying or doing from what was going on in my particular parish. Unlike the Catholic church pronouncements from the Bishops can be taken or not in each individual parish and I felt fairly comfortable with my own St. Thomas. So we continued in our own particular parish and took a wait and see attiutude. It had been rare for us to miss a Sunday at church, but as time went on and we were more upset about what was coming out of Bishop Griswold's mouth we missed more and more Sundays.

The next note of discord appeared for me when Gene Robinson was chosen as Bishop to the Diocese of New Hampshire. For anyone not following what has been happening in the Episcopal church, Mr. Robinson is gay. But not simply a gay man. This is a Priest who left his wife to go live openly in a homosexual relationship while still a Priest of the Episcopal church. The relationship Mr. Robinson has with his gay lover continues. His ordination took place in August of 2003. To say I was uncomfortable with this is an understatement. Discussing it has been difficult because to say I was opposed to this automatically meant for some people that I was obviously a homophobic demon.

If the man were not a church leader the issue is one of privacy and not one of my concern. Moral issues have to be between each individual and God, I do not want them legislated and at the same time I do not expect church leaders to blantantly contradict the teachings of the church that rely not just on the bible but on some two thousand years of theology. It is not an issue that has to do with gay rights, ordaining and then consecrating a man who is living in a gay relationship is a church matter and not a privacy or rights issue. Yet, his consecration in November was not simply a church matter, it has become not only an issue of deep contention in the church, it has national implications for the country. The Canadian Anglican church has their liberal end which are blessing same sex unions as do areas of the American Episcopal church.

There are now liberal leaders of the Anglican church of which America is only a very small part of, that believe by ordaining and consecrating a gay man in an ongoing gay relationship and the blessing of same sex relationships as the next step in fighting for various rights for various people. They intend not only to make all this an issue within their church, they intend to make it an issue for all of the societies in which they are active. An active liberal part of the Episcopal church are determined to make gay marriage legal despite the majority of America not considering that as appropriate. How do I know this? How am I so sure of this? Because when a ballot proposel was on my state's election schedule Nov. 2 that would make marriage between one man and one woman, at least 4 Bishops in my state very publically requested Episcopals to vote against it. They were on NPR doing so. I heard that on my way home from work one day.

That was in October. The following Sunday ended up being the last time my family would go to church at St. Thomas. I was disturbed by the Bishops appeal, not only because I consider it wrong, but because I do not want my church to be actively involved in the legislative process like this on what so many believe is a moral issue, not one of rights. We had not been in church for probably 2 months when we attended that Sunday, and part of my intent on attending that day was because I wanted to specifically speak to my priest about this. I needed to hear from that priest exactly what the thought process of St. Thomas was on this issue.

I had worked the night before so I was quite tired but determined that I was going to get some answers from my priest. Instead I heard a sermon that prompted me to lean over and whisper to my husband, "Jesus was NOT a socialist!" and during announcements I found out that the League of Women Voters were going to be in the Parish hall to register people to vote. What? My church has very few young people of an age that they would not have registered to vote for one, next again I simply do not believe that type of activity belongs in church. Yet, determined to have a private word with my priest I headed to the Parish hall after services anyway. At the doorway a young man thrust a paper into my hand, even though it seemed clear to me that I was attempting to walk by him and ignore his offering. I glanced at the paper and thrust it right back at him and said "I do not need a young man who is the age of my son telling me how important it is to vote, I have not missed voting since I registered at age 18, but thanks anyway." I was so irritated by this that I simply turned around and told my husband and children I preferred to leave.

I chewed on this for about a week, trying to decide what exactly I wanted to do and how. Then came the long awaited Windsor report. This is a report from the Lambeth commission that was to make a pronoucement on how the church would proceed concerning the consecration of Gene Robinson and the issue of some churches blessing same sex relationships. The vast majority of the Anglican Communion is against this activity, and it also contradicts the previous General Convention pronouncements. It happened that I was up late that night, not an uncommon occurance because I work nights and have trouble sleeping on a normal schedule. So I started reading the news announcements which basicly stated the American Bishops who had participated in the consecration needed to "apologize" as did those participating in same sex blessings, but it stopped far short of stating it was wrong and would not be tolerated. As I read the news on it I sat in front of my computer and cried. I cried because the report also notes that if those involved in activities that were against the teachings of the church' against the majority of orthodox Anglicans than the choice would likely be "to walk apart". There it was, in black and white, that the church that had survived 500 years was likely to break apart. It also was in black and white that all American Episcopals would also have to choose whether to continue to walk with the direction the church was going, or choose to walk apart as well. Because about half of the leadership of the American Episcopal church is on the liberal side of this divide it meant in effect that various parishes will either stay with the ECUSA or leave for the newly formed American Anglican Council that is orthodox, and by extension each member of the Episcopal parishes would have to choose to stay with their church or not depending on which group their parish would decide to go with. And it would be wrong to believe a parish may simply opt to take their church and leave the ECUSA. I won't get into all the legal specifics of it, suffice it to say that it is not a simple matter.

For me this meant that it was imperative that I speak personally with a Priest from my parish. I sat up that night writing a long, difficult letter to one of my Priests and requested he either call me or email back so we could set up a time to meet and talk things over. A couple days later I heard from him and we set up a time. In the intervening days I came down with a nasty upper respirtory infection and called the church to let him know I could not make the meeting and to get ahold of me to reschedule.

That was a Thursday. My intent had been to get back with him on Monday if I did not hear from him before that. Instead something occured that made me understand in a very visible manner that it would be impossible for me and my family to continue to go to St. Thomas.

That Monday morning my dad (stepdad) stopped by the house. He handed me a brochure and asked "Isn't this your church?" I took a glance at it and noticed it said "The Belles of St. Mary" and told him no, we go to St. Thomas. My dad requested that I really look at what was in my hand, so I looked at it again, and when I actually really looked I could have been knocked over by a feather.

On the front of the brochure was the Belles of St. Mary, in nearly all their glory. When I had simply glanced at the brochure it did not really come into my head that the Belles of St. Mary was the womens' group at St. Thomas, but on closer inspection of the brochure one could not miss it. 14 naked women sat in the back lit pews of St. Thomas, all women I know. Each is situated in the pews of the Sanctuary just so that while they have no shirt on, the nipples of their breasts are behind the pew. It was so shocking and inappropriate that I could not even form words. When I recovered the ability to speak the first thing out of my mouth was "Holy mother of Jesus" to which my dad said "I don't think Holy has anything to do with it."

The brochure is an advertisement for a calendar. I knew that the womens group was putting together a calender to raise money for the steeple that had been hit by lightening in July of this year and had caught on fire and I had even read announcements in the weekly church brochures for the "calendar girls" but chalk it up to lack of attendence that I did not realize they meant real calender girls. The money is also supposed to go to research for breast cancer. The reason to put out a calendar that had naked women from my church, taken in my church, mattered not to me. I can find no good reason for this to occur. When I opened up the brochure there was Ms. September. A woman I know not only from church, but as a medical assistant to one of the physicians I had known and worked with for years. Susan is completely naked, with a couple items in her hands held stategically to cover her nipples and herself turned just so that her "business" is not on full view. However tastefully done, it could have been a picture in Playboy except for the fact that is was a 60 something year old grandmother. While I spit and sputtered and murmered incoherant sentences it occured to me that perhaps the steeple had been hit by lightening for a reason. And it surely wasn't so that grandmothers and greatgrandmothers would take off their cloths and have their pictures taken.

I cannot even put into words how offensive and inappropriate I found this all to be. I then sat down and fired off an email to both Priests of St. Thomas and told them that my family would no longer be attending St. Thomas and exactly why.

Since then, I have alternately raged and wept. I am an orphan now. The church that my children were baptised in, that my oldest confirmed in and in which I expected my other two children to confirm in had rotted to it's core. The church I expected to see my children married in, to see grandchildren baptised in and the church I expected to have my and my husbands funeral in was no longer available to me. Not because of anything I or my family had done, but because of the lack of moral compass that I expect a church to have. I had been let down and pushed out of my church.

The American Anglican Council, the new orthodox branch, is fairly new, and there are only three churches in my state that have affliated with it at this time. None of which are anywhere near me. I do not want to go "church shopping" I know I will never feel comfortable in a "bible" church. My husband was raised a Baptist and for him that is a tradition he could return to easily. Not so myself. I am about as uncomfortable as can be in a church that does not have a traditional altar, that has bands playing on what I consider should be an altar. I don't want comtempary Christian music though I like to listen to it, just not in service. I am not comfortable in a tradition that people swing their arms and yell out Amen! I do not believe churches like that are wrong, but for me they do not give to me the spirituality that I long for. I grew up mainline Protestant and wish to remain mainline Protestant.

The problem though, is that for the most part mainline Protestant churches have become the abode of those who are just like the ones who are leading the Episcopal church. I have a dear friend who recently left the Methodist church for the same reasons as I left my church. Though at least her church didn't have naked women in the pews. One of her issues was that what would be termed preChristian pagan rites seem to have crept into the Methodist church as well as openly gay pastors of both sexes. By that I mean gay people who are openly living in a gay relationship while ministering to a flock. To my chagrin there are two PA Episcopal Priests that were recently caught as Priests in a Druidic cult as well, a married couple. The women also wrote a "eurcharist" for women that is straight out of the Druidic cult they were involved in, which ended up on the official Epicsopal womens site. But that is another post, call it chapter two to this one. I found this out after I had officially left St. Thomas, yet because I still consider myself an Episcopal it pains me deeply.

It seems to not matter which mainline Protestant church one looks it, it seems the insane have taken over. In their wish to makeover society to their own liking they have taken secular social issues into the church and twisted Christian teachings for their own aims. When it is objected to, then those who are steering their churches this way become indignant and accuse me and others like me as hate filled and clearly not a "true" Christian. Because I want my church to remain orthodox and true to the "faith delivered" by the clear tenats of the bible I am somehow awful, hate filled, homophopic, simplisitic and idiotic. Taking that one step further I am also a bad American. Since I will not go along with an agenda that it's proponents believe will lead to the "full rights" of gays and lesbians, as if this issue is also not laden with moralistic overtones that the church has traditionally upheld, I am un-American because I am denying "rights" to a minority.

It is as if by simply wishing the church to stand by 2000 years of bibically based teaching, I am now advocating the rounding up and placing into concentration camps all those who term themselves gay, lesbian and transgendered. Or maybe I am just advocating standing them up against a wall and shooting them. Why can't it simply be an issue that I believe people should be free to live their lives the way they want, between them and God if they believe in God, without the imposition of secular values into my church life? If I cannot seek solace and grace away from secular society in my own church where in God's name can I? Why can I not have just that one corner of a Christian life? Just one little corner where I do not have to turn the channel, turn off the radio and am allowed to practice the Christian religion as it has been practiced for 2000 years.

I have been forced back and forced back on issues that I believe deeply in. I have done all that has been asked of me. I have turned the TV channel. I have turned off offensive programing, I have banned certain movies and music in my home, I have diligently taught my children to respect ALL people regardless of color, religion and sexual orientation. I have taught my children the values of my morality while teaching them to respect others because I don't think there is a perfect path to God. I have taught them that people have a right to believe in no God if that is right for them. I have taught my children the value of education, of hard work, of personal responsiblity. I have taught my children charity and humility. I have taught my children the value of learning about other cultures, as well as the culture of their own family roots. And yet, now I find that I cannot even have what I consider the last fort against the sometimes overwhelming pressure on children to leave the morals taught to them for the fleeting and sometimes dangerous behaviors of the secular world.

I have been forced to the pinnacle and now I say not one more damn step am I willing to go. I am not an idiot as so many on the left side of the political divide call me. I am none of the names they call like kindergartners in a sandbox. I am no longer willing to have my values and morals denigrated. And that is what the left does not understand. It is not simply that I do not want a gay Bishop, it is not simply that I don't believe in gay marriage, though the other side seems to think the gay issue is what put Bush over the top in terms of getting out the vote from his base. The truth is that is not the issue. The issue is that while I have spent nearly 21 years teaching my own children to have respect for others views and beliefs, and to simply turn away from those things that are not the values and morals of ourselves, I find the other side is not willing to do the same for me and mine.

Just one little corner was all I asked for, and I couldn't even have that.

Red

UPDATE: This article has been linked in many places, and I have received a great outpouring of support. To all who wrote to me thank you ever so much.
Many write to tell me what solutions there may be for the dilemma of a church, I would like to let all know that we were able to find a traditional Anglican church not far from our home. A small church of those who have chosen to leave the path the ECUSA is on. I found it by doing an internet search for Episcopal/Anglican churches in my area. The church is an Independent Anglican Church under the United Episcopal Church of North America. The only like church in my state. It was a blessing to be able to find it, and to also find that the Rector is an elementary teacher and floor hockey ref that both of my older children had in school, as well as knowing him through playing floor hockey. We were able to celebrate Christmas Eve there when previously I had dispared of having that important part of our family Christian life this year.
Many members at the church have come from St. Thomas, the Rector and his wife were married at St. Thomas many years ago. Again it is a blessing to be with others who understand. Thank you again all who have offered so much support and prayers.
I also wished to address a couple things that have come up from other blogs through comments sections.
The calendar, marketed as raising funds for breast cancer research, in reality also went to repair the steeple of the church which was hit by lightening in May 2004. 10% of the profits go to breast cancer research. The calendar costs $15 so one dollar and fifty cents from each sale goes to research. The vast majority of the money stays within the church.
Next, when we choose to leave the church I wrote a letter through email to both the Rector and the Assistant Rector, both had basicly the same things that are in this article. Mother Joy the Rector, never bothered to write back or attempt to contact this family at all. Father Chris, the assistant Rector wrote a brief note telling me there were two sides to everything and if I wished to I could contact him.
A couple people who thought I was a bit too unitarian in bringing up my children to be tolerant of other faiths and beliefs suggested that I do a bit of bible study with the Baptists. I had to chuckle at that one because first of all my husband was brought up in the Baptist faith, his grandfather was a Baptist minister, as are a couple uncles. My own great grandfather was a minister and assisted starting the Freewill Baptist church in Hannon Missouri oh so many years ago. As a Registered Nurse I work with and treat a great many people of various faiths. It is imperative in my work that I have a decent working knowledge of other faiths in order to appropriately treat my patients. One of the questions on any admission is to ask a patient if they have any religious or cultural values that we need to be aware of that would affect their treatment, such as faiths that do not accept blood. Understanding and being aware of others faith is simply endemic to the healthcare field. A dear friend of mine who is a physician who happens to be a Hindu from India nonetheless took his family to see "The Passion of the Christ". He believes it to be important for his children to see all sides of religion. We have had many conversations on religion, and while there are points that we do not agree on, we can still care about and respect one another. The ability to do this in America is one of the things that make us so unique, it is a strength of this country, not a weakness.
Thank you all for taking the time to read though this.

2 Comments:

Blogger Mark said...

Dear Red,

I came across your post today that had been republished on the Yahoo Group - Apostasy. I very much appreciated your story, and it was not too different from my own.

A few of us formed a worship group – one coined it a “Holy Club.” We resurrected some old 1928 Prayer Books, and returned to the Anglican worship we loved. Although we sought to align with several continuing Anglican churches, we did not receive any positive response. Through another Christian fellowship, I met the Archbishop of a small orthodox-catholic church that was sympathetic to our quest for Anglican orthodoxy and smallness.

That church now offers a solution to any group who seeks to begin a small orthodox liturgical home church. On the 1st of January it opened the doors to Ecclesiae.org , The Home Church Network. It is one possible answer for those who have become disenfranchised from the church they loved with no suitable alternatives. The good news is that people do not have to forsake their traditions. They may follow the example of the New Testament Church and worship in their homes in small groups within the Apostolic tradition.

Thank you for sharing your story with us. I pray that all those who share experiences like ours will find a place where they may worship in the fullness of their orthodox Anglican or Anglo Catholic heritage.

Pax Christi,

Mark Carroll+
Chancellor, Christ Catholic Church International
www.Ecclesiae.org

1:36 AM  
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5:06 PM  

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