Monday, July 07, 2008

A Christian Dichotomy

Garrett Keizer, writing in Harper's Magazine, discusses the schism in the Episcopal Church over the ordination of Gene Robinson, the church's first openly gay bishop. The article is interesting to those who are curious about the rift in the historically progressive church, though you may want to keep Wikipedia up as well as the article is written for those who already have some understanding of the American Anglican church. As with other hot-button social issues, the confirmation of a gay bishop has arouses passions all out of proportion to the significance of the issues itself. Keizer, quoting Robinson, reflects upon this:

My tendency—perhaps my temptation—is to see the church crisis, at least in America, as I see most other political disputes between bourgeois conservatives and bourgeois liberals: as cosmetically differentiated versions of the same earnest quest for moral rectitude in the face of one’s collusion in an economic system of gross inequality. It goes without saying that by touting this stark binary, I, too, am seeking to establish my rectitude. Still the question remains: How does a Christian population implicated in militarism, usury, sweatshop labor, and environmental rape find a way to sleep at night? Apparently, by making a very big deal out of not sleeping with Gene Robinson. Or, on the flip side, by making approval of Gene Robinson the litmus test of progressive integrity, a stance that I have good reason to believe would impress no one so little as Gene Robinson himself. Says he:

“I don’t believe there is any topic addressed more often and more deeply in Scripture than our treatment of the poor, the distribution of wealth, of resources, and the danger of wealth to our souls. One third of all the parables and one sixth of all the words Jesus is recorded to have uttered have to do with this topic, and yet we don’t hear the biblical literalists making arguments about that.” If this is sodomy, sign me up.

To me, one of the tests of an effective and worthy religion is it's ability to unite those who would prefer to be divided by their differences, and moderate the excesses of nationalism and tribalism that dominate the mindsets of even a relatively sophisticated people such as ourselves. And yet there remain those who look to religion to confirm their culturally inherited prejudices, and who consider themselves superior in their belief to those whose opinions are more nuanced simply because they are more passionate in their denunciations. Conservative Christianity is dominated by people who cannot stomach the thought of two men together, but abide (or I should say, advocate) the torture and killing of innocents in war. Thus Christianity succeeds at opening the minds of those types of people about as well as any other religion has, though to be fair I must admit this is a failing of humanity and not religion itself.

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