COMMENTARY - The Last Straw

Tue, 26 Aug 2003 Wall Street Journal article by By Peter Mullen an English priest in London.

LONDON -- The consecration of the openly homosexual Gene Robinson to be a bishop will split the worldwide Anglican Communion of which the Episcopal Church of the U.S. is a small part. In one sense this is a pity. It is sad that the church should have gotten excited to the point of obsession with sexual morality.

The Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New, condemns homosexuality as a sin. But it is not the only sin, though the church behaves as if it were. St. Paul lists a whole repertoire of sins: pride, vain-glory, envy, gluttony, hatred, malice, conspiracy, backbiting and so on. But when did you last hear of a churchman thrown out of the choir for gluttony, or a woman dismissed from the Ladies' Circle for backbiting? Besides, the Christian faith has always taught that we should hate the sin but love the sinner.

In former days when we were all more reticent, discreet and polite, no one in the church cared much about whether the priest or the bishop was straight or gay. In fact, it would have been regarded as discourteous even to raise the issue. In other words, there was a useful distinction made between the public realm and private life. Unfortunately, this distinction no longer applies, and I am bound to say that it is the gay lobby which has done the most to abolish it. The rampant homosexual culture involving gay pride marches and lurid parades of sexuality have destroyed decency and privacy.

Few would ever condemn a faithful, loving relationship between two people of the same sex, but when promiscuous homosexuality becomes a sort of fashion statement, many people are sickened. Nowadays the love which once dared not speak its name screeches at us in the tones of high camp from every high street.

There is a broader dimension to this matter. For decades, the church has been dominated by Western liberals, and one of their chief complaints was that the black African church was patronized by the colonialist attitudes among the leaders of the white church in old Europe and the U.S. This all changed with the recent, massive decline of the Western church and the impressive revival of the church in Africa. So, when that every-ten-years gathering of all the bishops, the Lambeth Conference, met in 1998, the African bishops had the confidence to assert themselves -- and the way they did this was to repeat the biblical condemnations of homosexuality. The white liberals arrogantly dismissed this criticism and so intensified their demeaning attitude toward African Christianity, ignoring the expressed views of the African bishops and accusing them of being "primitive" and "reactionary."

In fact, the issue of homosexuality is only one prominent aspect of a failure of nerve on the part of the church in the West. We have ceased to believe our ancient God-given authority. Western theologians have "demythologized" the Bible, given up believing in the miracles of the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, and abandoned those biblical teachings felt uncongenial to the modern "liberated" lifestyle. As an authoritative institution with its traditional morality rooted in the Ten Commandments and in the teachings of Christ, the Western church no longer exists. It is as if it has resigned.

Gone utterly is its distinctive, hierarchical character. Nowadays, it simply follows secular fashion in all matters of morality, and public and private conduct. Such a church, having denied its divine role, has become useless as a teacher of social morality. What on earth, one wants to ask, is such a decadent, spineless church for?

All the prohibitions have been abandoned. Divorce, once disallowed, is now often celebrated in new rites created especially for it, as what God joined together the church puts asunder. Adultery, promiscuity and every sort of sexual orientation are now "affirmed." Hundreds of thousands of abortions each year merely as a means of contraception raise no protests -- not even from a church which is commanded: Thou Shalt Not Kill. Homosexual bishops? How long before we see paedophile bishops, necrophile Deans of Cathedrals and cannibalistic Archdeacons?

Paradoxically, out of this wholesale collapse some good might come. There are still, here and there in the U.S. and Britain, communities of traditional, conservative, believing Christians. Many of these are exceedingly devout, and they are wealthy. If they decide to split off from the Episcopal Church as now constituted, these groups have an excellent opportunity to survive and prosper. Their members share the old-fashioned morality of independence and personal sacrifice. They love the traditional church and they are prepared to give generously to its upkeep.

This might turn out to be very good news indeed -- the first bit of good news the church has brought for at least 50 years. The revival of traditional Christianity would not only provide a haven for real believers, but it would prove attractive to outsiders and to those millions who have left the secularized, liberal church in disgust and despair. There would once again be a source of authority and tradition for serious Christians and for millions of God-seekers.

The appointment of a homosexual bishop is not, I repeat, the worst thing that could happen in the church. But it will prove to be the last straw -- the issue over which traditionalists finally tire of the liberal domination and the perversion of the faith which this has brought. The air is alive with the voices of intelligent, conservative, influential Christians saying, "Enough!"

The Rev. Peter Mullen is the rector of St. Michael's, Cornhill and chaplain to the Stock Exchange in London.

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