Real moral courage
More Episcopal parishes voted over the weekend to leave the U.S. church, and perhaps those responsible for the parishioners' anguish over the direction of this Christian denomination feel little remorse. Perhaps they think they stood tall for the moral good when they decided as they did in national conventions on the question of homosexuality.
But theirs was, in my view, a narrow, proud and pointlessly provocative act when they accepted an openly gay man as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire and agreed that parishes could bless same-sex unions if they chose.
They could have found other ways less offensive to many fellow Episcopalians to address wrongs done to gays and lesbians while also understanding that their shrug of the shoulders about scripture could have serious, adverse consequences for Anglican brothers and sisters struggling for their very lives in Africa.
It is not the case, after all, that prior to these decisions America's Episcopalians were denying homosexuals loving acceptance in their churches. Even those feeling that homosexual conduct was irrefutably sinful would scarcely need reminding what the Christian faith holds - that we are all sinners, everyone of us.
With little fear of contradiction, convention delegates could have said we need to pay special attention to the bigotry that so often afflicts homosexuals and think through what sorts of social and political positions might most effectively curtail it. They could also have begun a discussion of whether there were sound theological grounds to ignore Paul's injunction in the New Testament to abjure homosexual behavior.
Instead, a majority of the delegates seemed to believe that nothing less would do than to allow Gene Robinson of New Hampshire to ascend to the role of bishop, male companion in tow. The scriptural issue? Some delegates said they were guided by the Holy Spirit, which can be an excuse for almost anything unless you look to fellow believers to confirm that they, too, are so moved. In the case of the worldwide Anglican communion - some 70 million people, of which 2.3 million are Episcopalians - there was no such confirmation.
In fact, some were outraged - especially Africans - and the archbishop of Canterbury did his best within limited powers to avoid a rift in the world communion, asking that Episcopalians find a way to soften what they had done. In their most recent national meeting, they elected as the U.S. presiding bishop a woman who had favored Robinson's being named as a bishop and gave a sermon referring to "Mother Jesus," a peculiar way of healing wounds with traditionalists.
To me, as an Episcopalian, the worst of it is not what's happening to the Episcopal Church in the United States, as much I regret that. The worst of it is the issue of disrepair with the Anglican leaders in Africa, people who do take scripture seriously and therefore will not take money from any but conservative Episcopal churches anymore.
Their parishioners are largely in the embrace of disease, poverty and ignorance, but these believers are also strongly attached to religious principles that - according to testimony I have heard - sustain their spirits and put joy on their faces.
I come finally to Henry Orombi, a man so full of love that you feel it the moment he walks into a room. When he would visit Christ Church in Alexandria, Va., at a time I was a member there, we called him "Bishop Henry," but he has graduated to become the archbishop of the Anglican church in Uganda, where he fights for many causes, not the least of which is trying to assure the education of girls who had next to no chance to attend school in the past.
Because of the rift, Ugandan Anglicans are reportedly receiving hundreds of thousands fewer dollars than before. Orombi may find ways to deal with that, just as he once found ways to deal with the murderous dictator Idi Amin. I have been told and read of how he refused to play it safe as Amin's thugs killed his friends and eventually imprisoned him. That's a moral courage that goes well beyond the dubious kind that put Gene Robinson's ambitions above a denomination's future and the welfare of Africans.
Jay Ambrose writes for the Scripps Howard News Service.