Giles Fraser: I believe the new puritans will fail

21 November 2007

by Giles Fraser

This week’s stop (my final one) on my American adventure is Pittsburgh, the belly of the beast. The good people of Calvary Church have been looking after me and sharing their fears.

These are not radicals or revolutionaries, just puzzled suit-and-tie churchgoers doing their best to follow God’s call. What are they to do when their Bishop, the Rt Revd Robert Duncan, wants to lead their whole diocese out of the Episcopal Church because he does not like its theology?

How did Pittsburgh diocese get so bad? The answer has something to do with the establishment of the reactionary Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in the diocese back in 1976. This school saw itself as a bridgehead for ridding the Church of progressive theology. It has been feeding clergy into churches all over south-west Pennsylvania, dramatically changing the complexion of the diocese.

In the world of business, it would be called a hostile takeover. For those who worry about the intentions of Wycliffe Hall, now that it has been claimed in an anti-liberal putsch, there is a lesson here for all those who have ears.

Will Bishop Duncan really lead his diocese out of the Church, taking its property into the bargain? I doubt it. I reckon he might not be around as an Episcopalian bishop too much longer. The Presiding Bishop, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori — whom Bishop Duncan has ordered his clergy not to pray for — has warned him of impending disciplinary action.

“Abandonment of communion” is an offence against the canons of the Episcopal Church. And if a disciplinary process gets him up before the House of Bishops on a charge, they will surely kick him out. They are sick and tired of his behaviour.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu preached about inclusion here at Calvary Church recently. Bishop Duncan squirmed through the sermon with a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp.

All the world’s religions have dangerous and arrogant people who think they are the only ones with the truth. Anglicanism has generally had a more modest and generous view, allowing various viewpoints to co-exist. But these new puritans have taken advantage of Anglican theological hospitality to mount a raid on the soul of the Church. They want to close down the very openness that allowed them space to flourish in the beginning.

They will fail. The only thing that keeps this conspiracy of conservatives together is what they are against. And it will be people from churches such as Calvary that will have to pick up the pieces and put things back together again.

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