For nearly the last five years, I have been a fairly frequent poster on the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv (HoBD--sometimes pronounced "hobdee"). I suspect that my involvement there is pretty much behind me now; times have changed. But I continue on my quest for what some have termed the "alpha issue"--that is, the single criterion that can reliably sort those who are (at least) generally happy about the direction the Episcopal Church has been moving ("liberals") from those who are (at least) generally unhappy about it ("conservatives"). For instance, a little over a year ago, there was a long thread about the various sorts of disabilities people can be born with or later acquire, and whether they should be considered tragic, or unfortunate, or in any way signs of the presence of evil in the world. To my fascination, that question, which would not seem to be tied in any way to the controversey over sexuality, was a dead-on accurate reflection of the liberal-conservative divide. Liberals saw disabilities, whether congenital or the result of illness or accident, as God-given, and therefore considered it poor form to assume that a blind person would rather be sighted or a deaf person would rather hear. On the other hand, conservatives saw disabilities as signs of the Fall, conditions that can be presumed to be within the heart of God to heal.
All the attention recently being paid to the investiture of the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and the interviews she has given and the statements she has made, have reminded me of my quest for the alpha issue. I don't think I've found it yet, but I have another candidate, a clash of paradigms that enfleshes the chasm that first world Anglicans stare at each other across.
An autobiographical tidbit would be in order here. I am not a cradle Episcopalian. I was raised in an affirmatively Christian home, but it was of an evangelical Protestant variety. While I am hugely grateful for my early Christian formation, it did tend to inculcate a hyper-individualistic perception. We were concerned with how "I" get saved and you "you" can get saved, but there was very little "we" in the mix. Moreover, salvation had an exclusively other-wordly connotation. This present world was pretty much something to be endured on the way to Heaven. By the time I was in high school (mid-to-late 1960s), the evil of racism began to appear on our church radar screen, as did the moral imperative of benevolent engagement with the victims of urban poverty. For the most part, though, passion for social issues (whether liberal or conservative--remember, my evangelical days pre-date the "Christian right") is not in my genes. I have to work at it.
Consequently, my life as an Episcopalian--working on three-and-half decades--has alway been marked by constant chagrin over the public policy resolutions passed by General Convention. It's not only that I disagree with the vast majority of them on the basis of their actual content, which I do. It's that I am opposed to any public policy resolutions as a matter of principle.
There are two reasons they bother me. First, it seems to me that there are precious few concrete political issues about which Christians of good will and an informed conscience cannot legitimately disagree. For church conventions to pass resolutions about such issues creates winners and losers. It fosters resentment, embarrassment, and cynicism on the part of those whose consicentiously held and not inherently unchristian political views are officially trashed by the church they are attempting to joyfully serve.
Second, and more profoundly, such resolutions bespeak a fundamental attitude that I believe is flawed at the core, and this is where the new Presiding Bishop's public comments both make my blood run cold and clarify things for all of us. She speaks of trying to create "God's realm" and helping bring about "God's dream," and then proceeds to describe "God's realm" (formerly known as God's Kingdom) as a world where everybody has adequate food, clothing, education, and freedom from violence. One is tempted to add, "with liberty and justice for all." It's the old nineteenth century Social Gospel dusted off and propped up--you know, the gleaming vision that died a slow death in the trenches of World War I, the one where it's up to us to "usher in the kingdom," to "build Jerusalem" amid the "dark satanic mills" (per William Blake) of industrial and now post-industrial society.
This is, in my ever so humble opinion, a dangerous attitude, at least if one is purporting to speak for any branch or brand-name of Christianity. The scriptures make it clear that the vocation of the Church is to announce the kingdom ("Aslan is on the move") and to model the kingdom ("look at us for a sneak preview of coming attractions"), but that making the kingdom happen is God's work, subject to God's timing and God's methods. There are parables all over the gospels about how the kingdom of God is like something that just happens, with little or no human initiative or involvement.
In this dangerous way of thinking, there is little attention paid to the paschal mystery, the kerygma, because there's no need for it. This is why the classic notions of redemption and discipleship were so lacking from the Presiding Bishop's investiture sermon. The onus is on us, the Church, to "produce" the "realm of God," and to the extent that we fail to do so, our worship, teaching, evangelistic efforts, and the like, are of no avail. They are means to an end, and the end has not been produced.
Ultimately--and this may be my evangelical roots showing--the vision articulated by Bishop Katharine is not only misleading, but terminally boring. There is nothing in it that raises my pulse or makes me want to sing. A yawn is about all I can muster.