Now we read that the Episcopal Church has taken another definitive step away from the worldwide Anglican communion by "approving" a Ritual for the blessing of same-sex unions. Although this new rite is, to a degree, optional, and its use provisional, it is currently available. (I have placed quotation marks around the verb "approving" because no Church – no community that calls upon Jesus as Lord – has the right, doctrinally speaking, to "approve" so non-Biblical a ceremony.)
In any serious, logical discussion, the attempt to bless same-sex unions, which the Bible does not condone, is, on its face, patently absurd. Indeed, any so-called "Ritual" conceptually contradicts the institution of marriage as understood in Biblical terms.
Ross Douthat had a piece recently in the New York Times Op-Ed section entitled "Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?" (15 July), in which he focuses on the dramatic demographic decline among Episcopalian churchgoers. "Decline," he adds, may be an inaccurate noun; "collapse" might be more exact. "The more progressive the Episcopal Church becomes," he writes, "the more it shrinks." What can Episcopalianism and similar churches provide that "cannot be acquired from a purely secular liberalism?" he asks, which suggests, at least, that they should "pause, amid their frantic renovations," and ponder what they decide to change about historic Christianity as well as what they would "defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world."
Any other strategy, he concludes, leads to what is all but certain: "they will change, and change, and die."
Such a prospect would not be helpful to many in the world today, of course. Historically, again, Anglicanism (not precisely the Episcopal brand today) has offered a world in confusion, error and chaos veritable planks on which to float safely, as it were, against the tides of secularism and godlessness. As Catholics, we cannot possibly forget what Anglicanism meant to extraordinary pilgrims of faith like St. Elizabeth Seton, the very first native-born United States citizen saint, or to the Oxford genius, Cardinal John Henry Newman. Both Cardinal Newman and Mrs. Seton explicitly cited their Anglican backgrounds as critically formative in their religious journey to Roman Catholicism. Nor can we of the United States today discount the importance of traditional Episcopalianism in the religious narrative of this nation, a narrative that cannot be told without reference to the Judaeo-Christian premiss.
Fundamentally, of course, the problem here is failure to acknowledge Sacred Scripture and Tradition as the ultimate norm of Christian faith – not the media or academia, not sociology or psychology, nor surveys and/or polls. The word "Church," deriving through the Germanic from the ancient Greek and Latin, necessarily designates a Christian gathering for worship, service and solidarity. A Christian is one who calls upon Jesus as Lord (to recall the definition of the Protestant scholar Oscar Cullman). To accept Jesus as Lord means to accept, as well, all that is Christ’s (as Martin Luther once put it before moving in a wayward direction).
Thus, an authentic Church has no alternative but to preach the Bible, not to "revise" it or to distort it, or to "choose or reject" its message in accordance with the fads or whims of the age. No authentic Church can possibly survive unless it understands and safeguards the aforesaid principles. Ross Douthat was right on target in predicting that self-styled "Christian" Churches surely have no future unless they remain "Churches"; i.e., true to the Sacred Scriptures (in my own words).
Doubtless Episcopalianism, Protestantism and Anglicanism itself would profit in various ways from the emergence of a new Karl Barth – the great Swiss theologian redux. Barth, Mr. Douthat reminds us in his new book Bad Religion (2012) "preached a return to the ‘strange world of the Bible,’ a return to original sin, and transcendent hope, a return to the idea of God as a mysterious Other…."
Episcopalianism and similar Christian communities could do no better than hear Professor Barth (who was seated among the Cardinals during his famed September 1966 visit to Rome and "the threshold of the Apostles") shouting out the sentiments he wrote about the Virgin Birth in his 15-volume work Church Dogmatics: "Gott; Gott allein; Gott selbst!" ("God; only God; God himself").
Christianity is not determined by votes, but by the Bible as read within the Church.
Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.