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by Paul Zahl

March 26, 2006

Camille Paglia says it well in this week's New York Times (6 March 2006). She says that faculties like Harvard's want diversity in all things except diversity of thought. She could have been speaking of the Episcopal Church.

Paglia's point is apt to an editorial that has appeared in newspapers throughout the United States this past week, beginning with the Washington Post. It is an opinion piece by the Bishop of Washington, John Bryson Chane, accusing American traditionalist church people of backing figures such as Peter Akinola, the Primate of Nigeria, who is supporting a piece of repressive legislation in his homeland that criminalizes homosexual activity and is thus opposed to human rights. Bishop Chane wants the American "orthodox" to speak out against Archbishop Akinola's support of this legislation.

We certainly want to look at all things in the light of core Christianity. And if the Nigerian legislation is as bad as Bishop Chane says it is, then we are required to say something.

But I, for one, have become almost unable to "hear" anything that the power-people in the Episcopal Church have to say until they start acting with love toward those in the small minority over whom they have canonical power.

The embargo on Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry is an important symbolic symptom of a non-loving, non-space-conceding mind-set on the part of many of our bishops. The inhibitions and depositions of faithful clergy, many of whom have been ordained longer than the bishops who are inhibiting them, are completely wrong. The confusion of episcopal role and episcopal person, which creates a power-mentality unbecoming a Christian leader, is completely unsatisfactory.

I mean, when a churchman as faithful and long-serving as E ddie Gibbs - who changed my life and Mary's through a single address in Nottingham, England in 1973 (and he was a senior statesman in my book back then ) - is threatened with inhibition, one has to just say "Roll Over, Beethoven." This is beyond beyond. (Did you see the film From Beyond, based on an H.P. Lovecraft story? It may capture the nature of these clerical inhibitions.)

I cannot listen to what the majority has to say - and I would truly like to - until those who hold the cards just now, in a human sense, give a little. When they give us some real space, then I shall listen to what they have to say concerning our co-religionist Peter Akinola.

One thing needs to be understood: traditional Christians, Protestant and Catholic, Orthodox and Pentecostal, Episcopal and Free-Church, from the Pope to the PCA, can never accept active homosexual clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions in the Church. We are simply not entitled to do this, for the Bible does not entitle us to do it. It is not because we are mean. It is not because we are haters. It is not because we are prejudiced against a particular group. Not at all! That is not it. We are just not able to go beyond the Bible in this matter. Hang us upside down by our toes - it is certainly possible to destroy officially the ministry of sainted types - but we cannot deny our first principles, and, ultimately, as we see it, our Lord.

People who are under threat from power, which is traditional Christians today within the Episcopal setting, cannot hear what their governors are saying until their governors pull back, out of love. We all pray - and mean it when we say "pray" - that this will happen.


---The Rev. Dr. Paul Zahl is dean and president of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA.

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