Sunday, April 11, 2010

Choosing the institution over the incarnation

Maureen Dowd's brilliant op-ed "Worlds Without Women" is making the rounds today. A dozen or so Facebook friends have posted it on their pages. Another dozen or so sent it to me via email directly from the New York Times website. And it was the topic of discussion in the vesting room when I arrived for the 9:00am service at All Saints Church this morning.

If you haven't read it you'll want to. All of it. Here. But for the purposes of this blog, here's how it starts:
When I was in Saudi Arabia, I had tea and sweets with a group of educated and sophisticated young professional women.

I asked why they were not more upset about living in a country where women’s rights were strangled, an inbred and autocratic state more like an archaic men’s club than a modern nation. They told me, somewhat defensively, that the kingdom was moving at its own pace, glacial as that seemed to outsiders.

How could such spirited women, smart and successful on every other level, acquiesce in their own subordination?

I was puzzling over that one when it hit me: As a Catholic woman, I was doing the same thing.
Dowd goes on to make some important points about how "negating women is at the heart of the church’s hideous — and criminal — indifference to the welfare of boys and girls in its priests’ care" and I couldn't agree more. In fact, I was reading along thinking how grateful I am for all the hard work that has been done in my own church -- The Episcopal Church -- through clergy misconduct training and creating dramatic changes in the climate of transparency and accountablity to protect the most vulnerable.

And then I got to this part:
As the longtime Vatican enforcer, the archconservative Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — moved avidly to persecute dissenters. But with molesters, he was plodding and even merciful ... As in so many other cases, the primary concern seemed to be shielding the church. Chillingly, outrageously, the future pope told [an] Oakland bishop to consider the “good of the universal church” before granting the priest’s own request to give up the collar.
Outrageous, I thought. Shocking. IMAGINE choosing the institutional church over an incarnational member of the Body of Christ.

Like Maureen Dowd, I wondered, "How could anyone put up with that from their church?"

And then, like Maureen Dowd it hit me: There are those who would have my church -- The Episcopal Church -- do the same thing.

Exhibit A: This letter from the Diocese of Virginia -- explaining why they declined to the consent to the election of Mary Glasspool as a bishop for Los Angeles:
The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Virginia has declined to consent to the election of the Rev. Canon Mary Douglas Glasspool as bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Los Angeles because, in the view of a majority of the Committee, her election is inconsistent with the moratorium agreed to by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. That majority believes that, at this time, failure by individual dioceses to respect the Church's agreement to the moratorium would be detrimental to the good order of our Church and bring into question its reliability as an institution. The committee found no other reason to withhold its consent to the election of Canon Glasspool.
The "order of the church" trumped the qualifications of the candidate. And the beat goes on.

Is there a difference between failing to consent to the election of a bishop suffragan and failing to protect children from pedophile priests? Of course there is.

But whenever we elevate the institutional church and its order, power and privilege over the Gospel call to embrace all God's beloved we compromise the high calling we've been given as the Body of Christ on earth. Ignoring pedophilia is a shocking abdication of our vocation as Christians. So is ignoring homophobia. And misogyny. And racism.

Anytime we choose the instititution (the structure of the church) over the incarnation (the members of our human family created in the image of God) we fall short of who God is calling us to be.

And that, my brothers and sisters, isn't just a shame. It's a sin.


Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB said...

Wow! What an incredible reflection.

Paul said...

Amen! I am reposting your closing paragraphs at my blog.

Is the institutional Church to be some Moloch to whom we sacrifice our children (and others)? Much as some would sacrifice to the golden calf of the Anglican Communion? I am sickened and repelled.

Unknown said...

The comments of Bishop Johnston sound similar to the Standing Committee of his diocese. Regardless of his declared desire for the inclusion of LGBT persons into the fabric of the Church, he elevates the concept of the Anglican Communion above all else. Nothing more important than protecting that institution. Moloch indeed (thanks, Paul)!

Jim said...

Thanks! You make the point very well. What I keep calling, "institutionalism" is the sin that eventually le3ads even the most well meaning to evil. Cf. the "Windsor Bishops."


Rev. David Justin Lynch said...

We are not without spot of sin. But at least, we ordained Susan Russell, whereas as Roman would never do so (in our lifetimes).

it's margaret said...


But, then again, this post will be dismissed as the ravings of a left-wing lunatic....

Please. Keep raving. Your words are food to us.

Episcopal Bear said...

Margaret said: "But, then again, this post will be dismissed as the ravings of a left-wing lunatic....

To quote your own blog title backatcha, it's an inch at a time. Regardless of the immovably homophobic & schismatic elements in the upper echelons of power, you've given me a tool to help change attitudes locally, at St. Overalls' Episcopal Church and Feed Store*.

The neighborhood around St. O's has become incredibly diverse, yet there are some members who want to protect us from "those people."

We don't need to be protected against "them", we need to be protected (and delivered) from OURSELVES!


* While the name "St. Overalls' ..." is fictitious, it represents a real, poor, struggling Episcopal Church somewhere in the South.

Sidney said...

Dowd fails, as do all liberal Catholics, to take personal responsibility for what SHE/THEY should do in this situation. The Catholic Church gets away with this stuff because of the acquiesence of the vast majority of the laity.

I think she cannot bring herself to admit what she and a lot of other women can't admit to either themselves or others: that they like something about patriarchy. There just doesn't seem to be any other explanation for why patriarchal churches are so dominant in our day.

Unknown said...

Very well stated. I struggle daily with my need for and disgust with the institution of the church. Your words inspire me to seek some way to reconcile my personal struggle.

whiteycat said...

SUPER Post! This says it all.

uffda51 said...

At the risk of being redundant, Amen!

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

To the point as always!

Brad Evans said...

So the institution is a waste of time.
And atheists/agnostics are correct.
I'm prouder every day that I have nothing to do with religion.

Hiram said...

Here's an idea - why not have ECUSA officially leave the Anglican Communion? Then it could continue on its merry way unimpeded by the Global South, and the Global South, along with ACNA and other northern and Western conservatives, could minister according to their convictions.

In fifty years or so, the Gamaliel test could be applied. (Of course, neither you nor I will likely be here to check!) I suspect that ECUSA would have merged with the Unitarian-Universalists, probably along with the "progressive" segments of the Lutherans and Presbyterians. It would have some overseas provinces, most likely, such as Brazil and Mexico - or these may have died out. The Global South and ACNA would have grown.

Of course, the secularists and atheists may have grown to have such power and influence that conservative Christians will have gone underground, and the "progressives" will simply parrot the secularists' values and have a few ceremonies that will be the only real distinction between them.

At any rate, a split would be the most honest and helpful to us all.