Sometimes, life works like this: an inclination produces a thought, a thought and action, an action a habit, a habit a character. This may be a good or bad thing. For the Episcopal Church in America, it has not been good. Yesterday the news has filtered through that second “openly gay priest” has been elected to the episcopacy of the that unaugust body. It is of little import that the “priest” in question is in fact a “priestess”. Father Blake, of St. Mary Magdalen, comments on his blog that he “feels for the women forever labelled lesbian bishops“. It may sound uncharitable (it may even be uncharitable), but I am more mortified by the fact that such a phrase as “lesbian bishop” could ever have come into existence. And, they have labelled themselves: they want to be widely known as the lesbian bishop, simply to be a bishop would not suffice – for then they would not have struck a victory for lesbiankind, but only established as shepherds of Christ’s flock. All that sort of traditional nonsense is secondary, of course.
The fact is that the Anglican Communion, or at least the local “churches” which make it up, has taken no major steps. Never has a revolution taken place, never has there been open warfare, at no time have swords been drawn or gauntlets thrown down. Each change, with which that Communion has moved farther from the Christian Faith, has been undertaken quite quietly, yes with some force and facing down some resistance, but never understood as a major alteration to the essence of Anglicanism. The questions are portrayed – as Rowan Williams recently repeated on his trip to Rome – as “second order”: of course they do not effect the essential elements of Christianity. Meanwhile, it can be observed that, in practice, they are not “second order” at all. They lead to a fundamental break with Tradition, and from one small rupture a whole network of cracks appears. And from the viewpoint of the priestesses and those who deviate from the traditional teaching on sexuality they are not “second order”, if they really were, it would hardly matter so much that everyone be forced to agree with them.
I wouldn’t wish myself to be mistaken here: everyone is a sinner, everyone has some kind of “disorder” in his nature, everyone is a deviant from Christ’s Way, whether in an extreme and obvious or a subtle, esoteric manner. But, and I insist on this, there is an immense gulf between being a sinner who does not live always in accordance with the laws of grace and nature, and enshrining what is unnatural and offensive to God’s holiness as a good in itself. This is where for me the line is drawn: if we try to make our good greater than God’s good. I’m afraid I always return, in such circumstances, to the very last page of the last chapter of Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Brideshead Revisited. I had no familiarity with it or Waugh before I became a Catholic. My love of him is entirely a product of my conversion, for which I thank my dear John, and it seems to me that to really understand him it does not hurt to be an irascible convert oneself. Here, to conclude, is that famous paragraph in full. The speaker is Julia, who is letting down Charles at the end of their affair:
I’ve always been bad. Probably I shall be bad again, punished again. But the worse I am, the more I need God. I can’t shut myself out from his mercy. That is what it would mean; starting a life with you, without him. One can only hope to see one step ahead. But I saw today there was one thing unforgivable – like things in the schoolroom, so bad only mummy could deal with – the bad thing I was on the point of doing, that I’m not quite bad enough to do; to set up a rival good to God’s. Why should I be allowed to understand that and not you, Charles? It may be because of mummy, nanny, Cordelia, Sebastian – perhaps Bridey and Mrs Muspratt – keeping my name in their prayers; or it may be a private bargain between me and God, that if I give up this one thing I want so much, however bad I am, he won’t quite despair of me in the end.