Thursday, March 18, 2010

Religion and politics

Yesterday afternoon I sent out this tweet: The Rev. Canon* Mary Douglas Glasspool has received the necessary consents for her consecration as a suffragan bishop. This is significant because her consecration in May will make her only the second openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church and the first lesbian bishop.

Subsequently, @mkecoffee tweeted thus: I think the Episcopal church has long been little more than a thin veneer on top of a secular worldview.

There is something to that. (Thought I was going to spring to the defense of liberal ecclesiology, didn’t you?) If I will concede that there is an argument to be made here, will Mr. Coffee and those who agree with him entertain the possibility that other denominations or congregations are cloaking secular conservative cultural views in the mantle of religion?


*Because she serves as canon to the bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, her formal title is the Rev. Canon. My former newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, continues to refer to her as the Rev. Forgive them, for they know not what they do.


  1. Perhaps other denominations or congregations are cloaking secular conservative cultural views in the mantle of religion in the social sense but not necessarily in the religious sense.

    This would mean that different belief systems could live together in (secular) peace and not do battle over which is the One True Religion.

  2. I'm more than a bit confused. Is it inconsistent for practitioners of any religion to hold a secular worldview?

  3. Virginia MerchánMarch 18, 2010 at 9:35 AM

    "... only the second *openly* gay bishop..."


  4. Horrors, John! But religion is all about maintaining conservative secular views — as when Jesus chided the people who found the sale of sacrificial animals (and the associated moneychangers) offensive. "No," said he, "This is the way it has always been done. Do not change what is, for what is must needs be good."

    And when the adulteress was to be stoned, didn't he say, "Stone in peace; the trial is ended." And then didn't he tell the nattering nabobs of negativism, "Cease your complaints; there is no hypocrisy in the practices handed down by the elders"?

    How could this be the best of all possible worlds if religion were supposed to change anything?

  5. Is it correct to suggest that "secular" and "conservative" are contrasting worldviews?

    PS This is actually a language question (or such is my intention); I have no stake in how Episcopalians (or any other denomination) are viewed or view themselves.

  6. The language question is what makes this interesting. Some believers reject Darwinian evolution, for example, as a secular contradiction of Scripture; some are suspicious of science generally as promoting a secular worldview. But, as Karen Armstrong points out, St. Augustine held that theology had to accept truths discovered by science, and the Roman Catholic Church, for example, does not reject evolutionary theory.

    So when some conservative believers insist that secular and religious viewpoints are opposed, it depends on what you want to call secular and what you want to call religious.

  7. Brian ThrockmortonMarch 18, 2010 at 10:42 AM

    mkecoffee seems to think he busted the Episcopal church, but instead he complimented it. More than some others, the Episcopal church is apt to acknowledge the secular world and learn from it and grow with it, rather than seeing the secular world as an enemy that must be vanquished by saturating it with some supposedly separate, undeniable and monolithically understood dogmatic truth.

  8. Episcopalians have always struck me as worldly, or certainly well-dressed and well-heeled. A religion writer told me once that Episcopalian priests are well paid so their parishioners can associate with them. The hierarchy of denominations reminds me of the hierarchy of GM cars. If the prosperity gospel is correct, Episcopalians are closest to God, as is a Cadillac.

  9. (Nicely done, Cliff!)

  10. It's always bothered me that the word "conservative" was co-opted by the bat-shit crazy lunatics who think they are the only ones who will make it into heaven and that it's their religious duty to use our political system to do their best to force their secular views upon the rest of us to clean up our evil ways and "restore" this nation to be worthy of being called "God's" country.

    I'm a very conservative person (well, maybe except in how I write) who has always voted in ways that they would consider extremely left-wing. I think all religion is a "thin veneer on top of a secular world view." Because of that, I don't think they can (as Mr. McLane wonders) live in "secular peace" and stop arguing about which religion is The One True one. Don't they all (mis)interpret their holy texts so that they fit their secular views? They might think they are arguing about which religion is the best, but aren't they really arguing over secular things and who gets to tell who what they can or can't do in this life?

  11. "Canon to the bishops" seems an odd expression to this Englishman who is used to canons being clergymen recognised for their seniority by holding cathedral rather than diocesan appointments.

    Any road up, I take it "Canon" is an unusual title among American Episcopalians (from your feeling the need to explain it). In England it is a common enough title, and for everyday purposes we would call the lady just Canon Glasspool, the reveredness of a canon of the established church being taken for granted, of course.

  12. “...her consecration in May will make her only the second openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church and the first lesbian bishop.”

    Really? I take it that her consecration will disenfranchise her of every other pertinent characteristic she might possess. Some copy editors would clip the word "only" from the above sentence to remove that unfortunate - and illogical - possibility. See your previous posting for other examples.

  13. This discussion has forced me to consider the meaning of "secular" vs. "religious" in this context. I am also forced to consider what we mean by "liberal" vs. "conservative" culture.

    In the end- I strongly believe that tolerating and /or embracing a religious leader's sexual orientation and gender should not be tied to religiosity per se. Though I will say up front that I believe that a lack of tolerance for individual differences can be tied to a lack of intellectual curiosity.
    Is the sexual orientation of a religious leader even a factor any more? Haven't both liberal and conservative religious followers worshiped in churches with openly gay priests for a long time?

    On a separate note- some would even argue that people on both cultural sides haven't given up their "conservative" churches or called them secular even when their leaders were found to be practicing illegal sexual behavior with children - over a long period of time!

    Based on this- I might assume that this Mr. Coffee is probably most offended by "female" religious leaders. Perhaps this is what makes him call a church "secular".

    I ask everyone else- does acceptance of a female leader in a church or anywhere else make you a cultural "liberal"?

    And if being morally & spiritually led by a woman makes you "liberal" &/or "secular" (which it doesn't in my opinion) then all of us who were raised by mothers are "guilty" by association.

  14. @Anonymous 1:12 PM:
    You might enjoy Jan Freeman's discussion of the allegedly misplacement of "only."

    It begins "One favorite language fetish, even among the more level-headed usage writers, is an obsession with placement of only -- often accompanied by an insistence that putting only in the wrong place can cause tragic misunderstandings."

    It is not possible for the even marginally proficient reader of Mr. McIntyre's sentence to mistake its meaning - unless such an obsession obscures common sense.

  15. Anonymous, if you're truly unaware that for many conservative Christians in the US, "the gay" is THE single biggest sin and threat to Christianity in existence, you must not live here.

  16. Aha. A discussion about "misplaced only," and I didn't start it. What fun! "Benvolio, who began this bloody fray?"

    Let's see. I think it was Anonymous. John, your "only" is in precisely the right location for your intended meaning.

    MelissaJane, the ONLY thing worse than a misplanced "only" is using an adverb to modify a noun. Should be "alleged misplacement."

  17. Yes, Becki. You're right. I revised the sentence and that was a typo. But I'm glad I gave you something to feel superior about, anyway.