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This week, what is surely one of the most bizarre
religion stories of the year came across my email. No, it wasn’t the story about lightning hitting the giant Jesus
statue in Ohio. Instead, it is the “Mitregate” scandal, part of the continuing saga of Anglican
When Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts
Schori preached and presided at a Eucharist June 13 at Southwark Cathedral in
London, she carried her mitre, or bishop’s hat, rather than wear it.
She did so in order to comply with a
“statement” from Lambeth Palace, the London home of Archbishop of
Canterbury Rowan Williams, that said “that I was not to wear a mitre at Southwark
Cathedral,” Jefferts Schori told the Executive Council June 16 on the
first day of its three-day meeting.
A mitre is the pointy hat that bishops wear as a symbol of
their office and authority. Rowan
Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, forbade his ecclesiastical equal, Katharine
Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (“Presiding Bishop” is the American and
democratic term for “Archbishop”) to wear her mitre while preaching in an
English cathedral. In addition,
Lambeth Palace ran the ecclesiastical equivalent to a background check on
Presiding Bishop Schori–just to make sure she was rightly and duly
American Episcopalians are up at arms. After all, their church was founded
during the Revolutionary period as a response to English interference with
their new style, New World democratic Anglicanism. During the War, the Church of England tried to force their
colonial offspring to pray for the King.
Many American parishes closed rather than obey the directive; others
cut those prayers out of their prayer books and replaced them with
supplications for George Washington and the Continental Congress.
After the War, the Church of England–still in a snit–refused
to consecrate a bishop to the new independent church because the former
colonists would not swear allegiance to the Crown. American Episcopalians turned to Scotland for help. There, Scottish Episcopal bishops gladly
consecrated Samuel Seabury to be the first bishop of an American Episcopal Church,
a move that also served to further aggravate the English (thus
pleasing both the Americans and the Scots!).
The Episcopal Church in the United States has always had a
difficult relationship with its Mother Church–from arguments over the separation
of church and state to missionary competition in Africa and Asia to concerns
over “foreign interference” of bishops.
So, it is particularly galling to American Episcopalians to
have the Archbishop of Canterbury direct their Presiding Bishop not to display
any signs of her spiritual authority–sort of treating our “archbishop” as if
she is a visiting ecclesiastical serf from some colonial outback. That she is a she mightily compounds the insult, as most American Episcopalians
are pointedly proud to have consecrated the first woman archbishop in Christian
Over on Facebook, three new pages, “The Anglican Resistance,” “Rowan Williams Needs to
Apologize to the Episcopal Church,” and “The Archbishop of Canterbury Hath No
Jurisdiction in this Realm” are drawing fans–as is the Twitter #mitregate
conversation. But this is more
than a petty church quarrel. In
the larger picture, Rowan Williams’ actions demonstrate something much more
Christianity in the west is in a persistent state of decline
(this includes England and the United States), losing spiritual market share in
favor of other religions and atheism.
Why? Some of the loss is
due to the fact that most western people find Christianity boring and
hypocritical–sentiments that the spiritual head of the Church of England
underlined by Mitregate.
The world is facing global warming, an economic meltdown,
massive immigration crises, continued international terrorism, interreligious
tensions and warfare, nuclear escalation in the Middle East, poverty, the abuse
of women and children, human trafficking, genocide, oppression of LGBT persons,
and a massive environmental cataclysm in the Gulf of Mexico–and the Archbishop
of Canterbury is worried about a woman’s hat?
In case the Church of England hasn’t noticed, this is why
people are rejecting Christianity.
It isn’t because some Christians chose women to lead their churches, ask
questions about traditional renderings of theology and the Bible, doubt God’s
existence, or want their gay and lesbian friends and relatives to be part of
their church communities.
Canterbury, please know that western people are rejecting Christianity
because–as noted in a recent survey of young Americans–Christians are “out of
touch with reality.”
Worldwide, Anglicans do care about any number of profound
social justice issues and are working to make the world a better place in God’s
name. But if the Archbishop of
Canterbury’s staff can issue a directive about Katharine Jefferts Schori’s
mitre, then they have too much time on their hands. Being worried about ecclesiastical millinery while Rome
burns certainly counts as being out of touch with reality.
And Rowan–a humble suggestion from here in the colonies–if you see lightening, best take off your mitre.