THE NEW KEYSTONE COPS
By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus
A hundred years ago, the Keystone Cops amused moviegoers in numerous delightful silent films. These policemen, supposedly the keepers of order, were anything but orderly. Theirs was a world of zany, frantic, unending mayhem. They ran around in wacky chaos often doing more harm than good, usually to themselves. The far-right wing fringe of the "Anglican" world is now populated by the descendants of the Keystone Cops, except they are not in the least bit funny.
For years, reactionary Episcopalians (they prefer to be called "orthodox") ranted and railed against the Episcopal Church for its social policies of equal rights for minorities, women, and homosexuals. The bond that held them together was opposition to the Episcopal Church. It was a negative tie. Many of them peeled off the Church as individuals, parishes, and then majorities of dioceses. They went off in every different direction. Arguably the most important of the early advocates of secession was Chuck Murphy, the rector of All Saints, Pawleys Island. In 1997 he hosted the First Promise conference that denounced the Episcopal Church. A few years later he led the creation of a new group, the Anglican Mission in America and was ordained a bishop. All Saints declared its independence from the diocese and the two began a decade-long war over the property. Finally the state supreme court came down on the side of the parish. Along the way, Murphy aligned with Rwanda until that turned into a visible and embarrassing falling out in 2011. He also helped found the Anglican Church in North America, the designated reactionary replacement for the Episcopal Church, then had a falling out with that bunch. All Saints parish split up with the majority going along with ACNA while Murphy and the minority kept with AMiA. This is the future of the anti-Episcopal Church faction in a nutshell: ever splitting chaos. There are now seven "Anglican" jurisdictions in South Carolina, each one claiming to be the only authentic one. Actually, only one of them, the Episcopal Church, is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion and recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury as such.
The first four cases of majorities of dioceses leaving the Episcopal Church eventually formed the ACNA. This, however, is a diverse and loose confederation bonded by very little, mostly opposition to the social policies of the Episcopal Church. Its views are all over the map. Mark Lawrence stubbornly refuses to unite his diocese with ACNA, for reasons still publicly unknown. He did attend the recent consecration of the new archbishop of ACNA in Atlanta but did not serve as one of the consecrators as he is not in ACNA.
The latest episode in the chaos on the Anglican right deals with homosexuality, their favorite old stalking horse. Rather suddenly, marriage equality has become virtually the law of the land, much to their shock. Knocked off their feet in the historic tidal wave, they have fallen apart and turned on each other, much like the Keystone Cops, in frantic disarray. Ephraim Radner and Christopher Seitz, two well-known highly conservative critics of the Episcopal Church policies and frequent contributors to the website called the Anglican Communion Institute (which has nothing to do officially with the Anglican Communion) put out something called "The Marriage Pledge." ( www.firstthings.com/marriage-pledge ). In angry reaction to marriage equality, it calls on clergy to refuse to participate in the civic state regarding marriage: "We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage." It asks clergy and laity to sign the pledge online. In reality, this is only a silly and peevish rear-guard snipe at the inevitability of history. They know they have lost the war.
The new ACNA archbishop, Foley Beach, is none too pleased with the "Pledge." Quite the contrary, he posted a terse letter asking people not to sign it. ( www.anglicanchurch.net/?/main/page/926 ). The reactionary blogosphere and its predictable Greek chorus exploded with reactions all over the board on this new comedy of errors. Whatever next? Watching the anti-Episcopal Church faction tear itself apart has become a new spectator sport. One may need a score card, however. Who's on first?
True to form, the anti-Episcopal faction in South Carolina has insisted on going its own way. Stubbornly refusing to join ACNA and any illegitimate or legitimate Anglican province, it concocted a unique "oversight" scheme through its allies in the reactionary "Global South." It is meaningless. Lawrence claims his bunch is an extra-territorial diocese in the Anglican Communion. Nonsense. There is no such thing, never has been. The curious latest lurch in the Lawrence diocese is on homosexuality, the old wedge issue. Before the schism, Lawrence insisted God assigned gender and no on was really born homosexual. It was a learned lifestyle choice. Recently, the post-schism diocese promoted a talk by Prof. Wes Hill, a Trinity seminary professor who says he is a homosexual man by nature. Homosexuality is alright, he says, as long as the homosexual person remains celibate. This is a major step in the right direction for the Lawrence diocese. For that, we should be grateful. But, it does sort of negate the whole immediate cause of the schism. (Note: a couple of days ago the DSC website dropped any mention of Prof. Hill. Who knows what is going on here?)
Chaos, even anarchy, on the Anglican far right is inevitable. It is already happening. The factor that made this group was a negative, hatred of the social reforms of the Episcopal Church. A negative cannot create a positive. It remains a negative. Once the binding force of negativism was removed, the once-bound parts flew off into every different direction. The seventeenth century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote that the state must provide an authoritarian ruling power to keep society in check as people were by nature, "nasty, mean and brutish." Left alone they self-destruct. While one should disagree with this too-dismal view of human nature, one should recognize the need for some overriding order of things. Once unity is broken, chaos results. No institution is perfect. The Episcopal Church is not perfect, but it is the unity we all need for our own best interest. It is the unity of differences that binds us in a common purpose. We do not have to agree on everything, but we are all better off in our overriding unity than in the chaos of disorder outside it.