by Christopher L. Webber
Note: This essay was submitted to The Episcopal Majority on September 26. In the intervening days, more events have occurred, about which we will comment. Meanwhile, we are pleased to offer Chris Webber's essay.
George Orwell’s famous book, 1984, is the most familiar statement of the way in which words can be made to say whatever we want them to say. Words can be bent and twisted until they say the opposite of what they once stood for. The Cold War gave us “Democratic People’s Republics” in which there was no democracy and the people had no public voice. William Safire noted recently that we can’t call our soldiers “freedom fighters” because others have preempted the phrase.
Last night on the news there was a story about the Episcopal Church and the division between what the commentator called the “traditionalists” and the “liberals. To give us pictures to go with the words, we were shown “traditionalists” holding up their hands as they sang and swayed to a rock band on a stage at the front of the church. “Traditionalist”? Who’s making up definitions?
Then we were shown “liberals” and they were kneeling quietly in their pews while a vested priest at the altar led a celebration of the Eucharist. It looked very much the way churches looked when I was growing up – which is longer ago than many of these “traditionalists” remember!
“Tradition,” as Alice in Wonderland might have said, “is what I say it is.”
The tradition of the Episcopal Church is to pray from the Book of Common Prayer and welcome all who are drawn to that pattern of worship. Queen Elizabeth I famously said, “I will not make windows into men’s souls.” In other words: "If you join with me in the standard pattern of prayer, I won’t inquire too closely into what you believe." Words can deceive us; what matters is unity in worship.
But the new "traditionalists" of the Episcopal Church have changed the definitions. Now division, not inclusion, is the agenda. Now you have to agree with their interpretation of the Bible or they will refuse to join you in worship. Once Anglicans looked to Scripture, tradition, and reason for their authority. Now we are asked to respond to code words and to let emotion overcome reason.
The tragedy is that so many are being swept along in this emotional, divisive, destructive redefining of Anglicanism into something without any recognizable tradition. Something that has never before been the Anglican way is being raised up into a new religion and called “traditional.”
About the Author: The Rev. Christopher L. Webber is a graduate of Princeton and the General Theological Seminary where he earned two degrees and was awarded an honorary doctorate. He is the author of a number of books including The Vestry Handbook, Welcome to the Episcopal Church, Beyond Beowulf (the first-ever sequel to the first English saga), and the recently re-issued Re-Inventing Marriage, as well as a new supplement to the last title, called Same Sex Marriage and the Bible (available from his website).
In a ministry of fifty years and counting, Fr. Webber has served parishes in inner city, suburban, rural, and overseas communities. He is currently serving as a supply priest on the Diocese of Connecticut. He has been married to the same wife for slightly less than fifty years and is the father of four children and grandfather of four.