Title: Not angels, but Episcopalians Credit: Craig Young Comment Sunday 23rd July 2006 - 12:00pm1153612800 Article: 1350 Rights
The Episcopalian Church of the United States has emerged as one of the frontrunners when it comes to ordaining lesbians and gay men. How did this happen? Like New Zealand Anglicanism, Episcopalianism is one of the older branches of the international Anglican Communion, and as such, displays more of a balance of traditions than the fundamentalist-infected Central and Western African Anglican Archdioceses and the benighted hardcore fundamentalist "Anglican" Diocese of Sydney across the ditch. The Episcopal Church was founded when the first thirteen British colonies emerged on the central northeastern coast of North America, and were initially established churches, as was its parent Church of England. When the United States broke away from the United Kingdom, the Episcopal Church was in a quandary, as many of its congregants and ministers had opposed the American Revolution. While some fled to Canada, others ended up reorganising the church, and succeeded in doing so, although they lost their established church status, given the new republic's claims to respect meaningful religious freedom. It became a church of the upper middle classes, and is still heavily concentrated in the northeastern United States. This might have been a blessing, as the Civil War schisms proved easier to overcome than within other denominations, and also didn't prove hospitable to fundamentalist domination, apart from a handful of Southern US dioceses. However, the dominant Episcopal strand became liberal rationalist broad church Anglicanism, and was influenced by social reformist elements within the mainline Protestant "Social Gospel" movement, as well as radical Anglo-Catholic elements from across the Atlantic. As a result, the Episcopal Church of the early twenty first century has about three million members. Early during second-wave feminism, it ordained women ministers at the same time as New Zealand did so, and Episcopalians and New Zealand Anglicans alike had little trouble recognising female bishops, who were installed at the same time within both churches. The Episcopal Church has gone one step further, and just installed a female Archbishop/Presiding Bishop, much to the outrage of the fundamentalist element within global Anglicanism. New Zealand Anglicans and Episcopalians have close ties. Before his retirement, Episcopal Bishop John Spong was a frequent visitor to the Christchurch Anglican Cathedral, much to the anger of scofulous Pentecostal elements in Cathedral Squares Speakers Corner. Spong is regarded as a living saint by many Episcopalians and liberal Anglicans across the world, and his work on liberal religious attitudes toward sexuality and gay relationships is widely read. One of the first Episcopal female ministers, Carter Heyward, is also a major influence within liberal Christian lesbian and gay circles, writing the first detailed works on lesbian and gay liberation theology in the early eighties. The Episcopal Church has been accused of being provocatively just in its ordination of women, lesbians and gay men. In reality, it has maintained its integrity and adapted the Christian faith to the findings of modern science and medicine. It probably won't suffer all that much in the Anglican Communion's forthcoming civil war- in fact, sadly, some liberal Church of England dioceses are now seeking Episcopal governance as a backlash against pandering to the more backward elements of the global communion. How will New Zealand resolve this? I suspect that a female New Zealand Anglican Archbishop is a high probability, and some might argue that if the church hasn't given way on issues of biculturalism and economic inequality, then why should social justice for lesbians and gay men be any different? While the grossly misnamed fundamentalist front group "Anglican Mainstream" may not like it, New Zealand Anglicans may ultimately choose justice, not convenience. Recommended: Carter Heyward: A Passion for Justice: Cleveland: Pilgrim Press: 1985. David Hine and Gordon Shattuck: The Episcopalians: Boston: Church Publishing: 2005. John Spong and Denise Hains: Beyond Moralism: Sydney: Harper Collins: 1987 John Spong and Denise Hains: Living in Sin? Sydney: Harper Collins: 1990 John Spong: The Sins of Scripture: Sydney: Harper Collins: 2005. Craig Young - 23rd July 2006    
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