The religious battle over the issue of homosexuality has taken a bizarre turn in the Anglican Communion.

Two of the United States most regressive retired bishops, Alex Dixon, formerly of Tennessee, and Fitzsimmons Allison, formerly of South Carolina, have now joined with some of the Anglican Communions most homophobic archbishops from Singapore and Africa to consecrate two American right-wingers to be bishops "to the dissidents in the United States".

These new bishops were chosen by no representative body. Their ordination was a power grab by an antiquated minority.

Let me say this carefully, but clearly. Anyone who elevates their prejudices to the position where they are defended as the will of God is evil.

Anybody who justifies their denigration of another person's being based upon a quotation from an ancient sacred text called the Word of God is simply out of touch with contemporary scholarship.

This action flows directly out of the strange, almost pathological, action taken at the Lambeth conference in 1998. At this once-a-decade gathering of the world's Anglican bishops, a resolution was passed rather decisively condemning homosexuality as contrary to God's clear word in scripture and suggesting that any homosexual activity must be condemned by all Christians.

The winning majority at the Conference was made up of conservative Americans (who were a defeated minority on this issue at home) and the evangelical wing of this Church in England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, together with the majority of Third World Anglican bishops.

The winning resolution revealed an attitude toward Holy Scripture that reflected total ignorance of the last 100 years of critical biblical scholarship. It also revealed an absolute void in knowledge of contemporary medical and scientific data in regard to the origins and nature of homosexual orientation.

Let me say this carefully, but clearly. Anyone who elevates their prejudices to the position where they are defended as the will of God is evil.

Anybody who justifies their denigration of another person's being based upon a quotation from an ancient sacred text called the Word of God is simply out of touch with contemporary scholarship.

Anybody who will not open themselves to the new knowledge readily available in medical and scientific circles because it calls into question their uninformed attitudes is profoundly ignorant.

There is no dialogue that is possible in those circumstances, and any attempt to engage in some form of dialogue is doomed to failure. In the process of seeking to do so, truth is not well served, integrity is compromised and one's deepest convictions are violated.

At the same time, the people who are representative of the issue being discussed--in this instance, the gay and lesbian Christians of the world-- are victimized once more by a weak and spineless leadership.

The Lambeth Conference was a bitter session. The hostility reached the point where one African Bishop sought to lay his hands on the head of the leader of the Lesbian Gay Christian Movement in order to expel the demon of his homosexuality and thus "to cure him".

The liberals who seemed to be unable to embrace the depth of the hostility that was present and who do not do well in tactics of confrontation were in total disarray.

The evangelical Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, performed in a manner that secured forever his reputation as one overmatched in his position. This Margaret Thatcher appointee has yet to impress anyone other than his evangelical constituents.

The consolation of this bit of ecclesiastical folly was that Lambeth is only an advisory gathering of bishops, with no authority whatsoever over the various national provinces of the Anglican Communion. Provincial decision-making occurs in Anglican circles only when the laity and the priesthood are equally present. Bishops speak to the Church, but only bishops, priests and laity in representative assemblies can speak for such bodies as the American Episcopal Church, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada or the Church of England.

But the right wing of Anglicanism, having won this victory at Lambeth, decided to push their advantage by threatening to expel from the Communion any national church that did not adhere to the Lambeth resolution. Provinces such as Scotland and the United States are significantly out of step with these negative and prejudiced guidelines. So is much of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States responded to the first abusive missile fired over the bow of his Church with a typical liberal attempt to enter into dialogue with his critics. He invited a representative group of these bishops to come and see how the Church in the United States worked. They came. Quite obviously they came not to learn but to condemn.

They were unable to learn since they started with the conviction that homosexuality is a sin condemned by the Bible which is the inerrant word of God.

How can a person learn unless he or she sets aside this operative belief system. Liberals never seem to understand that fact. They constantly act as if they believe that a study group will solve the problem, that dialogue will open people to what they obviously do not see at this moment. So the right wing terrorizes and the liberals temporize.

Anyone who stands against the hostile fundamentalism of these evangelical conservatives is, in their minds, guilty of approving of sin, desecrating the Scripture and, as such, is clearly no longer a true Christian. Therefore they must be expelled from the Church. The liberals, hearing this, blandly seek to accommodate and to communicate.

It will not work. The Presiding Bishop will learn this sooner or later.

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the Episcopal Church was an ineffective presence at Lambeth. Despite the fact that he has ordained a significant number of homosexual persons to the priesthood in his former Diocese of Chicago and is a signatory along with 88 American Episcopal Bishops of the Koinonia Statement--which declares that sexual orientation is morally neutral and can be used both to enhance life and to destroy life--he nonetheless abstained in the crucial Lambeth vote.

He lamely explained later that he abstained because there were some good things in the resolution like the call to dialogue about this issue. Perhaps he also would have abstained from voting to condemn the Nazi annihilation of Jewish people in World War II because the Nazis also did some good things, like run the trains on time. It was a typical weak liberal waffle.

Now he must deal with a very aggressive right wing who senses his weakness and who wants to exploit their advantage. Ordaining homophobic American conservatives to be missionary bishops to the United States is their next logical step.

If the leadership of the Christian Church in any of its parts sacrifices its gay and lesbian members and clergy in order to pacify the militant right wing and thus seek to preserve that idolatrous mantra called "the unity of the Church," they will have so deeply violated the center of the Gospel as to no longer be worthy of being called the body of Christ.

If they compromise truth to win the favor of the evangelical conservatives, they will see an exodus from the Church on the other side that will threaten that Church's continued viability. We learned earlier that a racist Church and a male-chauvinist Church will not survive. We will learn now, if we have to, that a homophobic, fundamentalist Church will not survive either.

What the leadership of the Episcopal Church in America must do to even the playing field is to put out a statement that will claim Gospel imperative for the act of building an inclusive Christian fellowship. It must claim the Bible as the revealer of the infinite love of God as its ally in the struggle against bigotry, prejudice and injustice. It must rally open voices from all over the world to stand up to these bullying tactics of the right wing.

There are potential leaders of this movement among the Anglican bishops of the world including such African heroes as Desmond Tutu, Khotso Makhulu and Njongonkulu Ndungane, who will support such an effort if someone like Presiding Bishop Griswold is willing to enlist them. There are also American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and United Kingdom bishops who are ready to stand up and be counted.

But until he or someone else plants a flag in the sand for others to salute, these potential leaders will wander in their typically disorganized religious liberal attitudes of avoiding conflict and seeking consensus.

The present chaos in this communion is a direct result of the failure of leadership at Lambeth. It is not too late to reclaim the high ground, but it requires pro-active strength, not weak-kneed resolutions to continue dialogue. Churches tend to elect relatively weak national leaders, but sometimes the job creates the person. We hope that the process which I call the "Harry Truman phenomenon" will work in this instance.

The alternative is scary.

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