Chaplain to the Status Quo

by Michael Sean Winters

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It should not surprise that my reaction to Bishop Gene Robinson’s op-ed in the Washington Post is different from the glowing account rendered by my colleague Maureen Fiedler below. To correct the record, this was not a letter to Pope Benedict, although it pretended to be; Letters are sent by post, not in The Post.

It was a bit comic that Bishop Robinson said he would not presume to offer unsought advice to the Pontiff, and then proceeded to do precisely that. Almost as comic as the way he pats himself and his confreres on the back for their courage in changing the culture of his church and then goes on to list the actions they took to root out sexual abuse, all of which seemed remarkably similar to what the USCCB did at Dallas, a fact the bishop fails to mention..

With Robinson and Fiedler, I agree that changing the culture of the hierarchy is essential to prevent the kind of cover-ups of clerical abuse we have witnessed, but I am suspicious of seconding such advice when it comes from Bishop Robinson. His church has been hemorrhaging members for the better part of a century, going from 3.1 percent of America’s church-going population in 1940, to 2.8 percent in 1960 and to 1.9 percent in 1985. Now, we all know the Church is not a democracy, but still. But, me thinks a large part of the decline has to do with the fact that the Episcopal Church has long been more focused on being politically correct than being theologically correct. Certainly, Bishop Robinson’s unwillingness to see the way his own election damaged the ecclesial bonds of the Anglican Communion shows his priorities, and he is entitled to them. But, I am more than glad to belong to a Church that does not share those priorities.

But, what jumped out at me in Robinson’s anodyne article were not his words, but the author ID at the end. The Post’s editors write: “V. Gene Robinson was elected bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003 as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. He is also a part-time senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.” In his wonderful book, The Difference God Makes, Cardinal Francis George wrote that the problem with liberal Christians is that they are too willing to become “chaplains to the status quo.” I assumed the cardinal was speaking metaphorically, but “senior fellow at the Center for American Progress” sure sounds like being – literally – the chaplain to the status quo. I hope Bishop Robinson enjoys that post for which he seems ideally suited.

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