Heartbreak at a lost church

I cannot approve of what seems to be a last-minute derailment tactic by conservative Episcopalians in the nomination of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

And I also cannot pretend that the conservatives are not faithful people, and, if this vote passes, they will personally lose something.

Consider this excerpt from a presentation by a lay member of the Fort Worth diocese delegation, widely accepted as one of the most conservative places on the Episcopalian landscape, found in full here [dead link]:

I am a lifelong Episcopalian. I love this Church. But my Church is drifting away, and I am afraid that I am going to lose it forever.

I came to the Episcopal Church as a little girl. I walked down to our little neighborhood church and entered an amazing place of beauty and reverence. You could say that I have had the Episcopal Church in my blood since I can remember. . . .

But now, it’s our Church that is drifting away. If you vote to confirm Gene Robinson, I cannot go with you.

Compare that with any number of “if the UUA accepts God, I’m leaving” posts at the “Reclaiming a Vocabulary of Reverence Within Unitarian Universalism” discussion forum.

In each case, the individual needs and assumptions of the remontrant are treated as objective realities in need of a well-orchestrated defense, even though the Episcopalians, Unitarians, and Universalists each have histories and experiences broad enough to muster people who would have diametrically opposite experiences. I can repect the feelings of the Fort Worth delegate, and even those UU Humanists, but not enough to adopt the status quo.

Like it or not, in this kind of denomination-tearing fight, there usually are winners and losers, and, no, I don’t like it. Some action must be taken, even if it is only the action of recognition.

Unitarian and Universalist Christians have, until fairly recently, had to live with a continuing series of losses with the implied message that, as the “old guard,” we would have a diminishing stake within Unitarian Universalism. The assumption, both within and without the Christian cohort, is that eventually the “grandfathered” Christians would die out: terrible news from the inside, and one (apparently) blithfully ignored from the outside. I am no longer amazed that there are people who deny the existence of those who are both Christian and Universalist or Unitarian, or both. But neither will I accept this dismissive behavior, and that’s one of the reasons I write.

But not all was lost. Something happened in the Nineties — a change of leadership and generation, yes, but more accurately a change of attitude — that gave the Christian cohort a new sense of confidence and less of the defensiveness that had marked times past. We acted like God had an active plan and future for us, and, indeed, I believe God does.

Now it is the Humanist cohort that seems pained at a future of loss and (dare I say it?) dismission. But it seems to be that the Christian response is not to lord over the grief, and say “you had it coming” but be present and more than a little understanding. After all, we’ve been there, and there no guarantee we won’t know those feelings again. (If not institutionally, then certainly personally.)

Today, I hope the fighting factions of Episcopalians will experience enough grace to continue as one church, whatever the outcome of the Robinson election. After all, the world is watching and asking if there are Christians in that Convention. There are times I wonder if there are Christians anywhere: those living in knowledge of their redemption, identified by grace, and hopeful for unity with one another, the compass of creation, and with God.

Let there be peace in Minneapolis, and, I pray, next year in Long Beach.

1 comment

  1. I’ve always found myself in a strange place within UUism and Christianity. And I figured with seminary education as a UU mdiv student in a Christian seminary, I’d find my bearings and place more readily. But that has not been the case. I am a Christian in that I believe in the reality of God, a God which transforms human life and makes for the possibilities of good in the world. I am a humanist, in the modern sense of the word, in that I reject notions of the supernatural, affirm empirical methods of inquiry, and wonder whether the word God (as opposed to the reality behind the word) is an impediment or a help in the religious life. There seems to be something misplaced about the God debate in the UU and I can’t place my finger on what it is. Obviously there should be a home for Christians and humanists and pagans and a broad spectrum of folks. I don’t feel any need at this time to change the principles, though maybe the discussion itself could spur the sort of critical reflection on how one creates an open liberal religious community. If so, it’s a good thing. If it is just an opportunity to attack atheists or theists as the ones spoiling community, then it’s not a good thing in the least. I suppose time will tell. I’ve been in UU and UCC circles for the last decade or so, and never experienced the opression that some humanists and christians speak of (at least they used to when I was on the relevant UU e-mail lists).

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