[It] is incontestable that the American Episcopal church has been grievously inadequate for decades now, and the lack of theological and institutional gravitas that now limits our church’s ability to make the case effectively for gay rights is one of the many bitter fruits of this institutional failure. I have blogged before about the degree to which the Episcopal church leadership in the last generation has frittered away its moral and political authority and capital, and that its inability to respond creatively to the challenges the church faces is accelerating its decline. In this context, the loss of the link to Canterbury is going to have a greater impact than it otherwise might. There are significant numbers of Episcopalians who don’t feel particularly Nigerian, but who are appalled and disheartened by the gap between the challenges of the church and the capacities so many of its leaders. If Canterbury offers a way for American Episcopalians to go on being Anglican without having to give up the kind of broad church tolerance that has always been part of the American Anglican tradition, a surprising number of Episcopalians might welcome the opportunity to shift over to an ecclesiastical structure that has more of the dignity and gravitas that, historically, have been among the great virtues of the Episcopal church.
But that is speculation. What is real is how far we Episcopalians have fallen. When I contrast what Episcopalians were doing and thinking about when Reinhold Niebuhr, Dean Acheson and George Kennan were working on what became known as the Marshall Plan and what we are doing today, I am so overwhelmed by a sense of our failure and decline that it is hard to see how to go forward. Saving democracy and restoring prosperity in Europe while fighting the excesses of anti-communist hysteria at home: the Episcopalians of sixty years ago thought more clearly and acted more effectively than we are doing today. Episcopalians were disproportionately influential in the expansion of opportunity and justice in the United States and the world in the not too distant past. Theologically, intellectually, politically, we provided this country with some of its greatest leadership. We like to think we care more for social justice than those stuffy old Episcopalians of old, but what they did for the world was farther reaching, more consequential and accomplished more real good for more people than anything our poor, foolish, divided, distracted and declining church can dream of today.
The difference between then and now is not, I think, a question of liberal and conservative. It is a difference between wisdom and inconsequence, leadership and drift, excellence and mediocrity, purpose and impulse. A church whose leadership was more concerned with its institutional integrity, more prudent, more committed to preserving unity of faith on essential matters, better equipped to defend and expound its core doctrines would actually be more effective at innovation and reform than the Episcopal Church now is. Each new step forward would increase our credibility; we might not be the trendiest group in town but when we moved, it would mean more than it now does.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Re-booting the Anglican Church
Walter Russell Mead writes about the sad decline of the US Anglican (Episcopalian) Church. An excerpt: