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Editorial writers praise, pan Episcopal Church’s decisions

By Jan Nunley
8/10/2003
[Episcopal News Service]  “Looking at the vast collection of coverage this church has been getting,” Dean George Werner told the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies in remarks on the last day of General Convention, “this Sunday may be one of the greatest if not the best missionary Sundays in the history of the church.”

Judging from Sunday editorials, stories, and online sermons, Werner wasn’t far off. If you put the words “Episcopal” and “gay” into the powerful Google News search engine on the Sunday after the convention adjourned, you could easily come up with more than 5,000 “hits” in a quarter of a second, in online editions of newspapers ranging from the New York Times to the Taipei Times.

And the reactions ranged just as widely.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, hometown newspaper of General Convention’s host city, featured half a dozen op-ed pieces both lauding and lamenting what the visitors had done.

“Indeed, the Church has been shaken this week. It was shaken when the Church acted to change its views of slavery, and it was shaken when the church acted to change its views on the role of women,” wrote Bishop James Jelinek. “I trust that a living God will once again stand to tell us we are beloved, and how much He longs for us to be one. The response is up to us.”

“…The Episcopal Church, to its credit, has courageously faced up to a question that carries considerable risk to its temporal well-being,” said the lead editorial, entitled “Episcopalians: An enriched debate on homosexuality.” “Our point is not to comment on the propriety of a religious body’s beliefs, but to express admiration for the American church’s robust discussion on a topic so concurrent with secular strains.”

Retired Episcopal priest Anthony Morley commented that “Episcopalians can take credit for keeping the focus on how people should live and love together, rather than just on sex alone. But they and everyone else need to remember that whatever the special news today, religion is about the whole of life still.”

“Episcopalians’ inability to defend core doctrine suggests that mainline American churches are losing their theological moorings, and increasingly falling prey to the prevailing winds of secular culture,” countered Katherine Kersten, senior fellow at the Center of the American Experiment in Minneapolis, in “Gospel of inclusion shortchanges scripture.” “The gospel of inclusion preaches a reconstructed, therapeutic Jesus, who accepts us exactly as we are. Traditional Christianity, however, holds that Jesus calls us to repentance of sins, and to transformation through a new life lived in accordance with God's will.”

Even an editorial on Minnesota politics cited the controversy as an example of how “spin has replaced fact.” “Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly did a segment last week on New Hampshire’s new gay Episcopal bishop and the pornographic Web site ‘that he founded.’ It was a flat-out lie, but no one seemed to care,” said the unsigned editorial.

Potshots and praises

Further afield, some editorial writers took potshots while others lofted praises.

In the Chicago Sun-Times, columnist Mark Steyn, describing himself as “an adopted New Hampshirite,” referred to Robinson as “the most celebrated symbol of Granite State manhood…the Great Gay Face.”

“If Bishop Robinson feels God working invisibly in him during gay sex, good luck to him. In older times, he and his partner would have set up their own church founded on the principle thereof,” Steyn wrote. “But back then the Episcopal Church still understood itself to be part of the Kingdom of God, not a federation of self-esteeming cantons where a sacrament is whatever turns you on.”

“…Now, the undisciplined want their own leaders who not only say they understand human frailty, but who have embraced it and use a lack of personal restraint as a platform for leadership in the church,” wrote Yolanda Henderson in the Leaf-Chronicle in Clarksville, Tennessee. “But as leaders of the flock, your path comes with expectations that cannot give way to political correctness… Perhaps a man’s greatest work is done when he remains in the congregation -- encouraging others in their trials and taking time to restrain his own.”

“The angry reaction to the Episcopal Church's recent brave decision to appoint an openly gay man as a bishop shows again how often religion follows when it should lead,” Presbyterian Bill Tammeus wrote in the Kansas City Star. “Religion, while honoring its valid traditions, should help people live fuller lives of love and service. That's what the Episcopal Church has done by making Gene Robinson a bishop. That decision reflects what is best and most healthy about religion, whether or not most of the religious world recognizes it.”

Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald lampooned the charge of “inappropriate touching” leveled against Robinson by a Vermont man. “Let’s agree on one thing right from the top: The arm is not an erogenous zone,” Pitts said, adding that he hoped the accuser “had the good taste to be embarrassed by his own silliness.”

“Once the furor dies down, the confirmation of the Reverend Robinson could attract more people to the church, gay and straight, because it will be seen as open and inclusive,” commented an unsigned editorial in the Baltimore Sun. “Looking beyond the purely religious impact of the decision, Bishop-elect Robinson suggested Tuesday that his confirmation is part of a seismic cultural shift in which the country ‘is moving into a kind of mature adulthood with the full inclusion of gay and lesbian folks . . .’ That mature adulthood is long overdue.”

Invoking the late Mike Royko’s alter ego, Chicagoan Slats Grobnik, editorial writer Mike Kelley of the Memphis Commercial Appeal painted the Episcopal Church as a broad tent — “like baseball. Who would ever think there’d be room enough here in the city of Chicago for such different groups as White Sox fans and people who like the Cubs?”

“‘So who are the White Sox people and which one of these Episcopal groups represents the Cubs?’ I asked.

“‘Oh,’ Slats said. ‘Time will sort that one out.’”

--The Rev. Jan Nunley is deputy director of Episcopal News Service.