sixes and sevens

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jun 24, 2006

The NYT's Laurie Goodstein sums up the last two weeks' Metaphor Wars:

For the Episcopal Church U.S.A. and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as with other mainline Protestant churches, the summertime convention season has become a painful ritual. In each church, the conservatives and the liberals are bound together like brawling conjoined twins.

The liberals dominate the power centers of the denominations -- the national offices and the legislative arms. The conservatives have threatened to walk away, but most have not because they say the church is rightfully, theologically, theirs.

Goodstein gets the liberal dominance bit right, but seems uncertain how to portray the contrast with conservatives. It's tough. You've got those for whom religion is a hobby versus those for whom God is a judge. Worse, the hobbyists control the ecclesiastical machinery while the God-fearers are the ones who actually show up on Sunday to do that worship thing. The realms of interest of the two parties are so different that it's hard to call them factions, whence the conflicts occur not where principle clashes with principle (as in the 16th century Reformation), but where principle clashes with fashion statement. For Akinola, gay ordinations are important because his faith is at stake; for Griswold, because this season it's "not done" to match violet with electric blue, and this season it's "not done" to discountenance sodomy. Griswold views Akinola with tetchy exasperation; Akinola views Griswold with despair. Back to Goodstein:

Members of both churches had looked to this year's conventions to clarify their positions on ordaining gay clergy members and blessing same-sex couples.

But instead, each convention produced the kind of parliamentary doublespeak that some Episcopalians call "Anglican fudge," a concoction often used to smooth over differences at meetings of the global Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the American branch.

The hobbyists, it must be admitted, have proven extraordinarily adept at this doublespeak -- so much so that it's impossible to take them seriously when they profess to be concerned about Windsor-compliance, &c. No one knits his brows better than Rowan Williams, but those brows, like the smile on the Cheshire cat, remain aloft while the man beneath them fades away into nothingness. The threat of schism, like a particularly nasty Times crossword, might elicit a frown or two while he juggles the possibilities, but at bottom it's an occasion of amusement. A timely and serviceable metaphor ("impaired communion" is my own favorite) will soothe fractious tempers and awaken enough latent sportsmanship to carry the crew through to the next couple Lambeth Conferences. And by then, who knows where the battleground will have moved, what new words will fill what new blanks?

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  • Posted by: - Jan. 21, 2011 2:01 PM ET USA

    So it should have read: "A Catholic bishop forbid two Catholic hospitals from performing sterilizations on women who want to enjoy sex without restraint but who don't want any kids to ensue from it." Hum. Can't think why the Post didn't go with that...

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Jan. 21, 2011 1:22 PM ET USA

    All the same, Hoorah for the bishop. May his tribe increase.