The Proud Duck
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
I try to keep up a little on events in Utah, where I went to school. Probably because of the state's dominant, conservative Mormon culture, many other churches tend to the liberal end of the religious spectrum, if only to keep them from getting lost in the background noise.
Utah's Episcopal bishop, the Rev. Carolyn Tanner Irish, is of the liberal Episcopal persuasion, which is almost a redundancy (at least as far as that church's clergy and leadership are concerned), but isn't so everywhere.
The Episcopal Church -- the American branch of the Anglican Communion -- is a little off the Anglican reservation these days over the issue of homosexuality. The Anglican Communion recently called (politely) on the American church to apologize for appointing an openly homosexual bishop, which the larger Anglican organization still considers to be inconsistent with binding scripture and church teaching. (The Anglican Communion is full of Anglicans from Third World countries, whose conservative religious philosophy Western liberals tend to find primitive and unsophisticated.) The Episcopal Church responded politely by saying, in effect, sorry for the trouble, but we're not going to change. The Episcopal statement justified its stance on homosexuality by saying the subject is "openly discussed and increasingly acknowledged." I'm still not quite sure what that's supposed to mean, unless the Episcopal Church sees its mission as reflecting the general culture instead of helping guide it.
In any event, the Rev. Irish of Utah defended the Episcopal declaration of not-budging with a statement that included a reference to her being unwilling to "turn back the clock" on this issue.
That's what got my goat. The Episcopal Church can do as it pleases. Even if the Bible is pretty emphatic on the kind of sexual relationships that are recognized as morally admirable (a really short list that doesn't include gay sex), it's not as if anyone, even the most conservative Christians, accept everything in the Bible as binding. It's always possible to interpret some things as having gone out of the gospel at the time of the New Testament, or to interpret others metaphorically. Some of the interpretations require strain-inducing mental gymnastics to justify, but in more skeptical moments I have to ask, what in religion doesn't?
No, what bugs me is the reference to a "clock." Clocks tick inexorably from one hour to another (unless my little daughter knocks my alarm clock off my nightstand and I discover this after my alarm doesn't go off, causing me to oversleep and be late for a morning court hearing and get scowled at by a judge). People have no effect on the march of time; morning goes to noon which goes to dusk no matter what we do.
The Rev. Irish, and the (inevitably) liberals who use the phrase "turn back the clock," seem to view history the same way -- that time and human events roll on regardless of human inputs, with the fulfillment of liberal philosophy the inevitable and uncontestable result. That view is lazy, arrogant, and complacent, and for such a well-educated bunch as your standard-issue NPR/PBS pride-in-critical-thinking liberal, it's inexcusable.
There is no clock. History is shaped by the people who live it. Sometimes they shape things right, and sometimes they make mistakes. A better analogy would be that people are navigating a tangle of highways. If they drive a few miles in what they later determine to be a wrong direction, it's perfectly acceptable -- even necessary -- to go back to the fork in the road and take the other -- or, more often, cut across some surface streets and try to pick up the road not taken further along.
"Progress" isn't inevitable. I dispute whether the "progressive" liberal agenda is even progress, since I believe it rests on unsustainable, fantastic illusions. It's up to us to keep civilization alive and improve it, and if that means acknowledging mistakes and making them right, it's no shame to change our minds about a decision made in the past, the liberal "clock" notwithstanding.