Sunday, April 06, 2014

Adventures with archbishops

Fundamentalists and evangelicals provide much grist for the mill in Christianity's sometimes surreal world --- but representatives of the higher church have their moments, too. By higher church, I'm meaning the ornate end of Christendom, the Bergdorf Goodmans of faith --- Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican and more.

While the week largely belonged to the lower church, where followers "unsponsored" some 10,000 hungry World Vision children whilst in a snit over a policy change involving same-sex couples, a Roman Catholic and an Anglican archbishop grabbed considerable ink, too.


Down south on Saturday, lay commissioners and parishioners called a come-to-Jesus meeting with Archbishop Wilton Gregory, head of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Afterwards, he announced plans to put his new $2.2 million manse in an exclusive neighborhood on the market and move to more modest quarters.

Gregory had commissioned the new home, which he moved into three months ago, with part of a $15 million bequest to the archdiocese from Joseph Mitchell, nephew of "Gone With the Wind" author Margaret, who asked that it be used for "general religious and charitable purposes."

The archibishop's flock suggest that a McMansion might not have been exactly what Mitchell had in mind, especially considering the emphasis on austerity introduced recently at the Vatican, where Pope Francis lives in a guest room rather than the papal palace and drives an economy car.

Now facing the awful, real possibility of apartment life, the archbishop drove home in his Lexus. Jesus, reportedly, hitch-hiked.


Across the pond, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby --- titular (although not actual) head of the Anglican Communion --- angered many by alleging during a radio interview that large numbers of African Christians would be murdered by their neighbors if the Church of England changed its canon law to acknowledge same-sex marriage.

The Anglican Communion is a relic of British colonialism, consisting of independent national churches established by British missionaries to convert indigenous peoples after British soldiers had subdued them. Many of these churches are quite conservative and, especially in Africa, extremely homophobic. 

The U.S. Episcopal church is the bad boy of the communion, although independent since 1776, having named a dreaded woman (Katharine Jefferts Schori) presiding bishop, ordained an honest gay priest (Gene Robinson) bishop of New Hampshire and allowed those diocese where bishop, priests and parishioners agree and it's legal (as in Iowa), to marry same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage now is allowed in England and Wales and authorizing legislation will go into effect this summer in Scotland (which so far as Anglicans are concerned falls under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Episcopal Church). But not in Anglican churches.

Anyhow, during his radio interview, Welby claimed to have stood somewhere in Africa by a mass grave containing the remains of some 300 native Christians who had been massacred by neighbors who had justified the atrocity by saying: 'If we leave a Christian community here we will all be made to become homosexual and so we will kill all the Christians.'

"I have stood by gravesides in Africa of a group of Christians who had been attacked because of something that had happened in America," Welby said. "We have to listen to that. We have to be aware of the fact. If the Church of England celebrated gay marriages, the impact of that on Christians far from here, in South Sudan, Pakistan, Nigeria and other places would be absolutely catastrophic. Everything we say here goes round the world."

Welby was short on specifics, nor could anyone else recall a verifiable report of such an incident.

So some suggested that the archbishop was taking a potshot at the Episcopal church as well as engaging in a form of moral blackmail --- and also that his statement reflected a residual colonial mindset --- that indiginous people are in fact savages who would slaughter their neighbors at the drop of a hat.

So it's been an interesting week for archbishops, too; and perhaps Southern Baptists can take some comfort in that.

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