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INDIANAPOLIS, IN: Escape Into Mission:The PB Unveils TEC's Political Correctness

INDIANAPOLIS, IN: Escape Into Mission: The PB Unveils TEC's Latest Political Correctness

By Gary L'Hommedieu in Indianapolis
Special to Virtueonline
July 5, 2012

Yesterday was a national holiday -- Independence Day. Of course, there was no mention of that in the Presiding Bishop's opening address. Episcopalians are gearing up to "lament" the Doctrine of Discovery at the beginning of next week, so I suppose giving thanks for the blessings of independence would not have been apropos.

July 4 is just another day for today's Episcopalians.

It sounded like business as usual too for the Presiding Bishop. Her opening statement at a general orientation meeting for GC was like the unveiling of a new product at a trade show. At such unveilings there's usually an element of novelty creatively mixed with the recognized marks of a trusted product line.

What is the TEC recognized product, and what creative embellishments did it receive in the PB's obligatory PR?

In recent decades Episcopalians have traded an ancient faith for a pottage of political correctness. I don't just mean that Episcopal leaders have gotten into the habit of ingratiating themselves to the public with half-truths and bromides -- they have no monopoly on that reflex of institutional survival. Ours has become the religion of political correctness -- salvation by platitudes alone. Dr. Jefferts Schori showcased the latest in Episcopal bromides -- nice things to say about the right people and the right causes calculated (if unconsciously) to position us in right relationship with those who matter.

Yesterday the PB talked about mission. She didn't exactly define it. It seems any mission would do, as long as folks get the main message -- that we're the mission people. This is one of Jefferts Schori's trademarks: declaring herself to be on the right side of history while no one knows the meaning of the moment. She made several references to the therapeutic gospel of reconciliation, a favorite among pastors since Carl Rogers, and numerous invitations for people to chum up with old foes in the spirit of a triennial visit to Happy Hour.

"They have healed the wound of my people lightly...."

The Presiding Bishop dismissed-by-trivializing the past thirty years of infighting, including massive schism and walkouts, with cute remarks about "sparring partners" -- not substantive differences in matters of theology (which would influence mission, among other things) but a "left hook" and a "right jab" coming "from the same body."

"This big tent is the dwelling place of the holy, and we will never be who we were created to be if we only work with the fingers of the right hand or the left."

In another era of the Church's life there was a tent that was believed to enfold the Holy of Holies, but never the slightest inclination that this Holy Being was the emerging consensus of a religious committee.

I wonder if the nine bishops facing charges of misconduct for expressing opinions about church polity are aware that it's all a lighthearted jest -- a sparring contest. Why can't they just lighten up a little?

The Presiding Bishop is good at Episcopal PR. She clearly believes in the product she's selling. The question is, just what is it? In spite of bloggers singing her praises for her "clarity," I don't think it's clear at all what the PB and the upper echelons of TEC believe. What they believe, and what their religion accomplishes for them and their followers, is written between the lines. Political correctness is a form of code, which people are taught to recognize and respond to. The words themselves sound good, and we've been conditioned by long practice to preapprove them, even if they don't ring true.

Sounding good and conveying public approval in advance has become the new "ringing true." Ideas, even fake ones, are potential sources of moral capital. Saying the right thing to the right audience, or sometimes to the general public, is a form of easy money.

A religious leader can't promote mission and not sound good. The applause lights go on when a bishop says "damn the torpedoes -- time to get back to the mission of the church." Don't ask which one. Never mind that two sides within the church are at dead odds regarding the meaning of that mission. That's just the church's normal practice of talking out of both sides of its mouth.

Don't forget, we're sparring partners now.

Remember the Decade of Evangelism? In the wave of conflicts that deluged the Church after the 1976 General Convention and the growing showdown that appeared in the making between Anglicans in the First and Third Worlds, the 1988 Lambeth Conference declared the 1990s to be a Decade of Evangelism. There was no particular plan for the Episcopal Church to implement this as a real plan, no significant resources, not even any desire (apart from the Evangelicals, and nobody trusted them because they talked about Jesus too much). The Decade of Evangelism served for a while as a distraction from the recent divisions within the Church. When evangelism committees began discussing the particulars of the Church's evangel, hostilities bubbled to the surface. The Decade of Evangelism quickly outlived its usefulness as a distraction, or -- as the present PB said recently about another Lambeth initiative, The Anglican Covenant -- it was "past its shelf life."

The present Presiding Bishop's pep talk about retooling for mission is the same thing all over again. It's like the captain of the Titanic calling a meeting of his officers to talk up the formative vision of Olympic cruise liners and to get people's minds off this troublesome business of water coming in under the deck.

The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Orlando, Florida, and an occasional contributor to VOL

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