Covering the creation of something called the "Anglican Church in North America," the LA Times buried the lead today. Twenty-one paragraphs down and three from the bottom in in a front-page story, reporter Duke Helfand writes:
The differences go beyond the role of gays and lesbians in church life. San Joaquin, for instance, is one of just three of the church's 110 dioceses that do not ordain women.
While an afterthought in Helfand's article, the ambiguous role of women in the Church of Christ may be the biggest problem facing Episcopalians (not to mention its Roman Catholic and evangelical wings, where the conversations are nowhere near as advanced).
For years TEC has been convulsed by its struggles to determine what constitutes a full sacramental life for for the two or three percent of the population who are gay or lesbian. Now, attempting to present themselves the true light of Anglicanism, the schismatics have made it clear that they believe that half the population are unworthy to be bishops and, in some cases, priests.
That's right: In the 21st century, in the nation that has done more than any other to make equal rights a winning proposition, some Christians are taking the view that both women and gays and lesbians are forever second-class citizens in the body of Christ. I say this with all due respect, but I'm amazed they let the blacks in.
The church must make a better effort to help the media understand that the root of the conflict over homosexuality is the stubborn insistence that the Bible, and therefore God, call for hierarchies among categories of human beings. It's possible that some with big hearts, who'd prefer to be absolutely fair, can't get around their literal interpretations of first-century Bible rules.
But others' exclusionary doctrines, no matter how magisterial-sounding their rhetoric, can't help but be rooted in existential fear of the other -- especially, I'm beginning to suspect, women.
It's fascinating that even among social progressives, just as in the LA Times article, women's issues remain secondary.When the Episcopal Church permitted the ordination of women in 1970s, in a spirit of compassion (others might say prudence, for fear of more schisms), it tolerated dioceses and churches that opposed the move. Yet it probably would not have been as indulgent of priests' and bishops' defiance if the issue had been the ordination of African-Americans. Why have women had to wait for the rules to be enforced?
The dynamic is present in national as well as church politics. When Barack Obama was elected President, much was made of the progress that had been made by those who had been second-class citizens under the U.S. Constitution until 1863-65. How long will the successors of those who only received the right to vote in 1920 have to wait?
In retrospect, once TEC completed its agonizing debate over women's ordination, it erred in tolerating misogynist practice in parishes and dioceses. I suspect that if it had stuck to its principles 30 years ago, the newest schismatics would have been long gone already.
Besides, if we still can't get to the bottom of the complicated dynamics of gender relations, how can we be expected to have a fruitful conversation about society's ancient aversion to homosexuality? Those who say all homosexual activity is a sin like to say, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." It's time to say, "Love the misogynist, hate misogyny." It may be that the best thing TEC can do for gays and lesbians right now is finally to fully live out its Spirit-driven faith that women are full members of him who lived, died, and rose again for everyone.