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THE LEGACY OF BARBARA HARRIS: "If A**holes had wings ..." - Lambeth 1998

THE LEGACY OF BARBARA HARRIS: "If A**holes had wings ..." - Lambeth 1998


By David W. Virtue

In 1989, The Rev. Barbara Harris, 58, a divorced black and soundly left-wing cleric with no earned undergraduate or seminary degree and little parish experience, was consecrated a bishop in The Episcopal Church. She was then appointed suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Massachusetts.

Her consecration resulted in 50 bishops in the Anglican Communion telling the Archbishop of Canterbury that they were not in communion with her.

As an African-American bishop, Harris has spent most of her career whipping up hatred against orthodox Episcopalians for their faithfulness to Scripture and tradition and engendering guilt amongst whites for not being black enough. For liberals, she has been a pioneer of sorts as an African-American woman who was divorced, had not graduated from seminary and had been a priest for just under 10 years - all great qualifications to becoming a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

If she had announced she was a lesbian, it might have killed her consecration. The church had to wait till the time was ripe for a Gene Robinson to emerge on the Episcopal stage of pansexuality. Today it would be a different story for Ms. Harris.

Among her achievements are being a signatory to the infamous Koinonia Statement by Bishop John Shelby Spong in support of the ordination of lesbigays and blessing their relationships.

Her most memorable thought, and one that she will be remembered for, is one she delivered at the 1998 Lambeth Conference where she was so miserable about the presence of so many orthodox bishops. She said, "If a**holes had wings, this place would be an airport." It was also at Lambeth that she announced that the African bishops had been bought off with "chicken dinners." Had anyone else used such a racial stereotype, Ms. Harris would have howled with outrage. But Black on Black stereotyping is apparently acceptable.

In one well-publicized incident, a Nigerian bishop engaged in a shouting match with a white, gay English deacon, condemning the "lifestyle choice" of gays and lesbians. Barbara Harris, attending her first Lambeth Conference since becoming a bishop in 1989, announced to the press that she was relieved she'd never have to go to another one and that "the vitriolic, fundamentalist rhetoric of some African, Asian and other bishops of color, who were in the majority, was in my opinion reflective of the European and North American missionary influence propounded in the Southern Hemisphere nations during the 18th, l9th and early 20th centuries." Coming from a prophetic black activist, this was harsh and unusual public criticism of fellow people of color, but Harris minced no words about her sense that many bishops from developing nations were suffering from a form of internalized oppression. Their theological arguments, she said, were based on a sense of truth "that not only had been handed to their forebears, but had been used to suppress them."

The following are some less than memorable quotes from Harris reported at the 1991 General Convention in Phoenix, Arizona:

A dubious declaration...First Prize goes to bishop (sic) Barbara Harris, who declared at the first day's meeting of the House of Bishops that she had not used the Norplant contraceptive. Another quote by Harris: "Conscionable acceptance breeds accommodating complacency. We cannot be complacent in the face of what is happening to our people today."

A Harris quote while speaking to Integrity, ECUSA's homosexual rights group: "You will still be 'queers' to many if not most, just as I am still 'nigger' to many if not most... The Church is willing to use your time, talent and tithe, but not your humanity... They don't want you to leave, or they'll have no one else to beat up on... We must choose our battleground, and it isn't in a confused church."

Recently, she spilled her thoughts about the current state of the controversies in the Anglican Communion. She told the Episcopal Church News Service that she thought the whole Windsor process was an "overreaction".

She then went on to opine about the Covenant, "which I don't believe we need. I think our baptismal covenant is sufficient. We certainly do not need a juridical covenant; but rather, if we must have one, then it ought to be more relational in nature than designed to punish."

She also ripped the Pastoral Council announced by the Primates and Archbishop of Canterbury in Alexandria, Egypt, recently as "an added layer of ecclesiastical bureaucracy that we do not need."

"We need to simply trust each other that we are acting in the best interests of our respective provinces. Interventions and crossing provincial boundaries need to stop. That is not a solution to controversies within a province. I think that schism is real, because we have competing claims of orthodoxy and other claims that are cause for hostility and division. A covenant or a Windsor Report [is] not going to quell controversy."

When asked how the controversy around Gene Robinson in the episcopate is different from the controversy she went through as the first woman and how similar was it, Harris replied, "Gene is not our first gay bishop. We've had several before him. I was distinctly the first woman. In terms of what is similar, it is the fact that people have been resistant to the idea of someone different filling a particular office." She then said it was a "trap" to lump issues of race, issues of gender, and issues of sexual orientation. "[It] may have some similarities, but to lump them together as the same is a mistake."

But Harris has also been outspoken over a number of other issues, foremost among them being the Palestinian/Jewish situation in the Middle East. She has joined Bishops M. Thomas Shaw and Roy F. Cederholm, Jr., in demonstrating outside the Israeli consulate in Boston, holding candles and signs with such slogans as "Christian-Muslim solidarity in the face of Israeli invasion" and "Destruction." An Israeli diplomat called them on their stance and said that the Christian community fell into the trap of Palestinian manipulation.' The bishops, including Harris had no response to that charge.

In 2001, clearly fed up with the dwindling orthodox bishops in TEC, Harris stood up in the House of Bishops just before she retired as suffragan bishop of Massachusetts and said traditionalists should just leave The Episcopal Church. Well, they have and many are fighting for their properties.

When the infamous Canon (A045) on the ordination of women erupted at General Convention, then PB Frank Griswold said it should be implemented with "courtesy, tolerance, mutual respect and prayer for one another." Not Harris. She, along with NY Bishop Catherine Roskam railed against the dwindling Anglo-Catholic bishops and said their refusal to ordain women was "injustice towards women". Newark deputy Michael Rehill joined in the chorus and said, "The will of General Convention must be enforced." It was. Now all three bishops have left TEC taking their dioceses with them.

Harris herself said in a sermon delivered in Philadelphia just after her election, there would seem to be fresh winds blowing in the church, refreshing to some, frightening to others. The truth is, it has been damning.

Harris has carved out a legacy of political correctness with bitterness, anger and loathing of people of faith. She, along with her fellow revisionist bishops, is emptying the church for her pains. Her legacy, like that of most revisionist bishops, is the legacy of liberalism itself. At the end of the day, liberals like her victimize everyone else, by pretending to be victims themselves. The truth is that the real victims are orthodox Episcopalians.

Harris's real wickedness has been her relentless campaign to destroy historic Christianity with the Episcopal Church as her tool of choice, turning it into a vehicle for radical and harmful leftist political causes, funded, tragically, by the contributions of godly Christians who have gone before.


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