Sunday, July 13, 2008

Stick a spork in it

For Earth Day 2008, Dr. Schori gave an address in which she urged her listeners to "go green" by reusing plastic bags, installing better lightbulbs and (I'm not making this up) carrying around a SPORK.

Oddly, she said nothing about the environmental effect of transporting the entire H.O.B. to various useless meetings and conferences, or of the mountains of resources consumed by illegal or nuisance lawsuits to steal properties from the congregations which paid for them. But as the goal, as with so many things Episcopal, is just to produce a token gesture to feel good rather than to make any significant or fundamental change for the better, perhaps that's fitting.

At any rate, this got me wondering as to what the next step in the "greening" and "gaying" and "gaiaing" of PEcUSA might be...

The Green Report
April 23, 2008
New York, NY

At yesterday's Earth Day ceremonies, the Fuhrer of the Episcopal Organization made a startling announcement. Our reporter was able to catch up with her today for a phone interview on our weekly radio show about the Episcopal Organization's latest new policy. The transcript follows.

GR: Good morning, Dr. Schori, it's a pleasure to speak with you.

KJS: Good morning, Alice. And it's "bishop" Schori. But call me Kathy. I'm so pleased to be able to give an interview to an environmentally-conscious publication like your own.

GR: Thanks very much, ah, Kathy. So, you made a rather startling announcement on Earth Day yesterday; would you care to tell us about it?

KJS: I'm not sure it's really that startling, Alice. Certainly we think it makes a lot of sense. But, yes, I took the opportunity of that address to announce that the Episcopal church would be replacing Easter with Earth Day as its high holy day after General Convention 2009.

GR: Could you tell us why your organization has chosen to make this break with tradition?

KJS: We in the Episcopal church have never felt it a good idea to be shackled by "tradition". We need to be forward-looking and progressive to stay relevant to today's society, not held back by out-of-date superstitions or practices. Why, if we listened to "tradition" all the time, we wouldn't be able to ordain women, marry homosexual couples, or permit laity to administer communion. Heck, we'd have to defrock over 90% of our bishops and clergy, myself included! Obviously, that's just not reasonable or practical in the 21st century... not if we wish to stay competitive in a shrinking market.

GR: So how do you see this change in the liturgical year as being helpful to your organization?

KJS: Well, Alice, the traditional "Easter" celebration has always been inherently exclusive. In so many ways, it tells people that they aren't welcome... and that just isn't the Christian message.

First, of course, Easter is based on a silly non-scientific myth that someone actually rose from the dead. That belief right there is offensive to the modern mind. Certainly, we've been teaching our seminarians for decades now that no such thing ever really happened, and I can assure you that very few of our bishops or other leaders actually believe such nonsense, but the popular impression of Christianity -- due in large part to the kind of ignorant fundamentalism with which many people associate the religion -- remains that we still believe such patently obvious nonsense. And our continued prioritizing of Easter lends itself to that mistake. So one reason for the change was to try to correct that impression -- to make it clear that we in the Episcopal church, unlike those groups which teach a physical resurrection, welcome those who do not chose to leave their brains at the door.

Secondly, Easter has always been, at its heart, a spring solstice ceremony. It's well known, after all, that many Easter customs were just adaptions of traditional pagan practices. By shifting our high holy day to Earth Day, we are, thus, preserving the essential meaning and lessons of easter -- that is, a celebration of the earth, new life, and spring time.

Thirdly, we know that the heart of the real Christian message as a whole also isn't beliefs or doctrines or creeds; it is to care for and tend our planet Earth, and gather together around a table of organically grown produce. Why, isn't the first charge that God gives humanity -- in the well-known Garden of Eden fable -- that they should tend the earth? It's in turning away from this common charge to humanity -- in breaking away from their environmentally-conscious polytheistic Canaanite brethren -- that the Judeo-Christian tradition first set itself on the path that has caused pollution, global warming, third-world economic crises, cow flatulence, and McDonald's. That's the real symbolic meaning of the "apple" in the Eden story, after all -- eating it shows their thoughtless exploitation of the bounties of nature for their own selfish ends, and that's how they lost the Garden. By replacing Easter with Earth Day in our liturgical calendar, we are announcing to the world that we have perceived and overcome this long tradition of environmental rape and that we have returned to a more authentic, gaia-centered worship.

In fact, in our forthcoming new Prayer Book -- which will now finally be able to take these transformations into account -- we hope to introduce liturgical elements and practices from not just ancient Canaanite ceremonies, but also from Druidic, Wiccan, and other eco-conscious religious traditions. The implications for liturgical garb alone are very exciting: why, I have here in front of me even as we speak a proposed loin-cloth, torque and head-dress combination which looks quite promising!
So we very much hope that, through these changes, more and more people will come to recognize that the Episcopal church is an opening and welcoming place, not one shackled to ancient superstitions or practices, and that all are welcome to come worship with us.

GR: Including traditional Christians?

KJS: Well, obviously not them... I mean, part of our message is that all are welcome to contribute to the offering pl... er, I mean, to sit at our table, regardless of belief, sexual orientation or activities, and so forth. We are an inclusive church where everyone is welcome -- so obviously those who are exclusive or have different beliefs must be driven out of our organization. I mean, how else could we be a welcoming place?

GR: Some have suggested that by changing its emphasis in this way, your organization may actually be losing ground. I mean, hasn't the membership of your group shrunk more on the last decade than any other denomination?

KJS: Oh, that's really a false impression. Sure, we're in a period of demographic shift. But as our culture comes to recognize the true nature of the Episcopal church, we hope to get more and more homosexual couples and college-brainwash.. er, I mean, -educated liberal young people. And though it's true that our eco-conscious membership knows better than to have children -- or no more than one at most -- out of respect for the planet, the expected influx of new parishoners will certainly offset this decline in family attendance. And as more and more of our urban parishes start to offer our new "Martini Eucharists" on Saturday evenings -- which will feature low lights and comfortably padded pews as well as the martinis -- we expect to see yet another significant upsurge in attendance.

Anyway, the Episcopal church even now measures 2.2 million members, and that's nothing to sneeze at.

GR: Isn't it true that the number of people actually attending -- the "average sunday attendance" as it's called -- is more like 700 thousand?

KJS: Really, Alice, you do need to check your background information better. ASA is notoriously hard to estimate. Besides, it really doesn't matter how often people come to church every single Sunday -- I mean, we don't believe in forcing anyone to do anything they're not comfortable with -- what matters is simply their affiliation with and contribution to our church. No, our official membership rolls say 2.2 million, and so that must be the proper number.

GR: Sorry, Kathy, I'm sure you're right. But it is well-known that some people have left your organization in recent years over its abandonment of what might be called "traditional" or "historic" or "creedal" Christianity, true? Do you have any concern that this latest change -- replacing Easter with Earth Day -- might lose more members?

KJS: Oh, sure, there are a few individuals here and there who have left the church lately. But it really is a vanishingly small number -- only about 1% of the whole membership. It's just that they make a lot of noise in the press and on the internet, and that blows their actual size or significance way out of proportion. And while individuals can leave, no parish or diocese can -- so I'm happy to say that not a single parish has left the Episcopal church for nearly 30 years!

As for the effects of this new liturgical development -- well, really, Alice, all you need to do is look at the history of the church over the last 30 years to see that very few people will leave over it. I mean, in 1962 we made clear that bishops no longer needed to believe in Christianity when the House of Bishops chose not to censure bishop Pike. Very few people left. In 1976 we retroactively accepted the 11 women who had been ordained to the priesthood (contrary to our 1973 ruling) and in doing so we abandoned what might be called the "traditional" or "catholic" concept of the priesthood and the practice of the so-called "apostolic succession" -- not to mention flouting our own regulations -- for the sake of our social justice concerns. Very few people left. In 2003 we made it quite clear that, regardless of what other Anglican churches in some backwards third-world countries might do, we intended to welcome homosexual people and their relationships into full participation in the Episcopal church's sacramental and ministerial life. And still, very few people left -- as I said, less than 1%.

Sure, some of the unenlightened grumbled a bit, not being quite ready for this obvious next step in the transformation of the Episcopal church into the inclusive and welcoming place it is today, but, as you know, when "push came to shove" and the so-called "Windsor" bishops and parishes had to actually make a choice, nearly all of them remained faithful to the institution. Why, for years we've even been able to ignore the plain meaning of our own canons to drive out the undesirable priests and bishops and only the mildest of objections has been offered.

You see, by far and away the vast majority of Episcopalians really don't care what their institution teaches or practices -- as long as they get to go to a familiar building, see their friends, sing some well-known hymns, and get a nice spread at coffee hour... that's all they really care about. After all, very few people are theologians, right? The church is about fellowship and community, about breaking multi-grain organic bread together, not about doctrines or beliefs. We can have different interpretations or perspectives but still share the same table, just like any family.

So, no, I really don't expect this change to alienate our existing membership -- but I do expect it to show the world what a welcoming and environmentally-friendly organization we are and attract many new contribut... er, members.

Out of respect to our more "conservative" members, we certainly will continue to offer the old-style traditional Rite II ceremonies in our larger parishes, and we'll keep having celebrations on Easter of course. But, increasingly, our liturgical focus -- through the Stations of the Millenium Development Goals, our liturgies celebrating abortions (which, after all, reduce the surplus population), the Blessing of Love-Companion Animals, and above all our High Holy Earth Day -- will increasingly shift to match the beliefs we have been teaching in our seminaries and preaching in our pulpits for the last several decades. After all, it's an ancient axiom of the church that "as people pray, so they believe"... so it makes sense to keep changing our prayers to match the new beliefs we are presenting.

GR: I know that your organization contributes finanically to the MDGs... do you forsee an increase in donations to eco-conscious organizations like Green Peace?

KJS: Oh, well, we certainly hope that will come to be the case. To tell the truth, we're a little strapped for cash at the moment because of the legal fees forced upon us to prevent a handful of parishes from trying to steal properties and assets which rightly belong to the Episcopal church. But as soon as those are resolved, we'll be able to streamline our operation by consolidating various parishes and dioceses and by selling off some of those older properties, especially those in urban areas (where the local population tends to be both poorer and more conservative and thus less likely to help contribute to our goals). This will generate quite a nice windfall for us... and I'm hopeful that, once we've paid off legal expenses and put some away for our anticipated pension fund needs, we'll be able to start giving 0.5% to 0.7% of our net profit to environmental causes, matching our contribution to the blessed MDGs.

GR: And where do you think all this will lead your organization in coming years?

KJS: Oh, well, I really wouldn't want to try to predict. We've started to have some very promising ecumenical discussions with certain other religious denominations -- the Reformed Druids of North America or the Covenant of the Goddess for example -- but those are in their early days and I wouldn't want to speculate on the future.

No, right now my focus is on my duties as presiding bishop -- to preach on environmentalism and green living, to work for social justice and the inclusion of all people regardless of belief or sexual orientation, to continue to advertise what a welcoming place the Episcopal church is, and, of course, to spearhead the effort to remove from the church the few remaining hold-outs of "traditional" or "orthodox" belief which persist in objecting to the new thing to which the spirits are leading us. Believe me, that's more than enough for me to worry about right now!

GR: [laughs] I can certainly appreciate that, Kathy! Well, I see our time is nearly up, so I want to thank you for speaking with us... and, especially, for your continued commitment to environmentalism and the green cause.

KJS: Oh, you're quite welcome. And, don't forget, you're always invited to come break bread with us!

GR: Thanks Kathy. Chelsae and I usually sleep in on Sunday mornings since our coven meetings often run late on Saturday nights, but we'll certainly bear it in mind.

KJS: Well, you're always more than welcome... because the Eco-piscopal Church is a welcoming place! Shalom!

GR: That was Dr. K. J. Schori, presiding administrator of the Episcopal church.


First posted on the MCJ blog.