Episcopal Church leaders caught in Cross Fire over Trump Inauguration
By David W. Virtue, DD
January 18, 2017
There is a delicious irony in that a bevy of liberal episcopal leaders are having to defend themselves over their church's role in the inauguration of a man they loathe and despise and wish with all their hearts he wasn't going to be the next President of the United States.
Donald Trump has stirred up a hornet's nest of disapproval from America's liberal elite, including not only Hollywood glitterati, but those in the Episcopal Church who don't believe that The Donald is not God's anointed, especially as a number of evangelical leaders laid hands on him and declared him to be born again.
Born again or not, those same born again leaders believe that had Hilary Clinton become president, issues like who would be on the Supreme Court and the content of the First and Second amendments especially on issues of free speech would have further impeded Christians, especially Evangelicals and Catholics from speaking out about the evil of abortion, the inroads of Islam and much more. For them, this is a moment of victory. For Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, not so much.
The most glaring example of liberal intolerance is the involvement of Washington National Cathedral and its choir in the upcoming inauguration. Their action has caused not a little stir in parts of the Episcopal Church. Remember that it was the cathedral that recently hosted an Islamic group for prayer. Apparently that is more acceptable than praying for the nation's next leader.
You see, what The Episcopal Church has never accepted is that tens of thousands of Episcopalians who don't live on the left and right coasts, are still conservative and many voted for Donald Trump. They have accepted gay marriage because they know it will never affect 95% of Episcopal churches, including their own, but they are conservative economically and they still pay most of the Church's bills, and God forbid that TEC's liberal glitterati should offend them.
The Rev. Gary Hall, former dean of the cathedral, is among the critics who believe the cathedral should ignore Trump's inauguration.
"I think the faith community should be a center of resistance against Donald Trump's vision in America," Hall told the Washington Post.
The Cathedral Choir confirmed three weeks ago that it would once again play out one of its traditional roles in U.S. life by offering Trump and the nation a chance to come together in prayer. The invitation-only 58th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service will take place at 10 a.m., Jan. 21, the day after Trump is sworn in as the 45th president.
After news of the choir's participation was announced, social media went ballistic and emails lashed out at Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Budde and Cathedral Dean Randolph Hollerith, forcing them to issue statements addressing those concerns.
All of them jumped on a fideistic bandwagon urging unity and prayer. (In case you were wondering what fideism is allow me to give you a definition; It is faith independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths.)
"We all know this election has been contentious and there are deep feelings being felt by Episcopalians on all sides of the issues," Curry said in his statement. "We recognize that this election has been contentious, and the Episcopal Church, like our nation, has expressed a diversity of views, some of which have been born in deep pain."
Acknowledging that there has been "much discussion, and some controversy" about the appropriateness of the cathedral hosting the traditional prayer service, and of one of its choirs singing at the inauguration, Curry said that those issues raise "some basic Christian questions about prayer."
"When I pray for our leaders, why am I doing so? Should I pray for a leader I disagree with? When I pray, what do I think I am accomplishing?" is how Curry described the questions.
The presiding bishop said the practice of prayer for leaders is "deep in our biblical and Anglican/Episcopalian traditions."
Curry said that tradition of prayer means Episcopalians are praying that "their leadership will truly serve not partisan interest, but the common good."
"We can and, indeed, I believe we must pray for all who lead in our civic order, nationally and internationally. I pray for the president in part because Jesus Christ is my Savior and Lord," he said. "If Jesus is my Lord and the model and guide for my life, his way must be my way, however difficult. And the way of prayer for others is a part of how I follow the way of Jesus."
Prayer is both "contemplative and active," Curry said, adding that people who pray should both listen to God, and serve and witness to the world in the name of Jesus.
"We participate as followers of Jesus in the life of our government and society, caring for each other and others, and working for policies and laws that reflect the values and teachings of Jesus, to 'love your neighbor,' to 'do unto others as you who have them do unto you,' to fashion a civic order that reflects the goodness, the justice, the compassion that we see in the face of Jesus, that we know to reflect the very heart and dream of God for all of God's children and God's creation," he said.
The new dean of the cathedral, Randolph Hollerith, had this to say about his choir's participation in his statement.
"Our choir is singing at the inauguration to honor the peaceful transition of power that is at the heart of our democratic government. Let me be clear: We do not pray or sing to bless a political ideology or partisan agenda, regardless of the man (or woman) taking that sacred oath of office. We sing to honor the nation."
The dean said choir members are not required to participate in what he called "part of our call to serve as a spiritual home for the nation."
"In our bruised and polarized country, we hope the gift of our music can help remind us of our highest ideals and aspirations as one nation under God," he said.
In a statement, the cathedral's chief communications officer, Kevin Eckstrom, said, "We do not pray or sing to bless a political ideology or partisan agenda. From its earliest days, the Cathedral was conceived as a 'great church for national purposes,' a place that could assist the nation in marking significant moments in our national life. For decades, the Cathedral choirs have participated in those moments, particularly when they involve the office of the President of the United States."
The theologically vacuous Bishop Budde said that "while I do not ask you to agree, I simply ask you to consider that we, too, acted on spiritual principles. Those principles, while they may seem to conflict with yours, are also essential for the work that lies ahead."
The first principle, she said, is that Episcopal churches "welcome all people into our houses of prayer."
"Welcoming does not mean condoning offensive speech or behavior; it does not mean that we agree with or seek to legitimize," she said. "We simply welcome all into this house of prayer, in full acknowledgment that every one of us stands in need of prayer."
The second principle, Budde said, is that "in times of national division, the Episcopal Church is called to be a place where those who disagree can gather for prayer and learning and to work for the good of all."
And when has the Episcopal Church allowed dissent on the pansexual agenda of the church? We all know that ANYONE who dares oppose the Church on this issue will get yelled at for being "homophobic' and "hate-filled."
Saying she is "alarmed by some of Mr. Trump's words and deeds and by those who now feel emboldened to speak and act in hateful ways," Budde said, "I believe in the power of God to work for good, and the capacity of our nation to rise to our highest ideals." High-sounding words indeed.
"At a time when emotions are raw, we hope to offer a few moments of spiritual solace and the healing gift of transcendent beauty," Budde said. "We also want the nation to know that we are still here, as people of hope. While the inauguration is a civic rather than a religious ceremony, it is also an occasion for prayer and an opportunity to offer the balm of beauty."
Of course, the cathedral does not have to host the customary prayer service. President Bill Clinton chose Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, the historic black church in downtown Washington, for both of his inaugural prayer services, even though the cathedral has also been the location of funeral and memorial services for nearly all 21 U.S. presidents who have died since the cathedral's founding.
Budde will, apparently, participate in the service, as is traditional for the Bishopric of Washington, which includes the District of Columbia and four neighboring counties in Maryland.
Curry has asked the Bishop Suffragan for the Armed Forces and Federal Ministries, James "Jay" Magness, to represent him at the prayer service because the Presiding Bishop will be leading a pilgrimage of reconciliation to Ghana, a commitment he made more than a year ago, according to an ENS report.
But it is not just these Episcopal leaders who are feeling the discomfort of conflicted loyalties. Citing "an active danger to health and safety", a California Episcopal parish has ceased to pray for the President of the United States by name.
Mike Kinman, Rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, blogged this week:
"If you come to All Saints this Sunday, you'll notice that we have removed the proper names from our prayers for those in authority. Whereas before we prayed for "Barack, our president," we are now praying for "our president, our president-elect, and all others in authority." This practice will continue for at least the near future.
"We are in a unique situation in my lifetime where we have a president elect whose name is literally a trauma trigger to some people -- particularly women and people who, because of his words and actions, he represents an active danger to health and safety," he said.
While it is not clear if any other parishes in the Episcopal Church will follow suit; it does indicate that the Church is not of one mind, or in fact has much of a mind left to adjudicate on anything, as it is so conflicted on serious issues of faith and morals.
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