To the editors:
Bryan Miller’s June 9 piece on the Episcopal Church and its new Book of Common Prayer came to my attention only a week or so ago. It left me wondering how many of the seemingly balanced and informative Reader stories I’ve read over the years, on subjects I didn’t happen to know a lot about already, were in fact as distorted and tendentious as this one. Indeed, I felt moved to write you to that effect, but judged that it was probably too late.
Now, however, I’ve just come across the July 7 letter from “Longtime employee, Episcopal Diocese of Chicago.” On the one hand, I can’t help admiring Longtime employee’s chutzpah in putting on paper some feelings that lots of us have, but–being good Episcopalians–are too polite to express. On the other hand, assuming a few of your readers might be really interested in gaining accurate impressions of the Episcopal Church, they won’t be helped much more by Longtime employee than they were by Miller. So I do want to attempt a more temperate response, and hope you’ll see fit to print it, the time-lag notwithstanding.
In the first place, Miller’s credibility is considerably undermined by a number of factual errors, ranging from the trivial–General Convention meets every three years, not every four–to the decidedly non-trivial. In the latter category is her implication that the legalization of women’s ordination to the priesthood was accomplished simply by changing the wording of the Prayer Book ordination rite. In fact the revised Prayer Book and the ordination of women had to be, and were, approved quite separately–at different General Conventions, as it turned out. Nor did the recent Lambeth Conference, as Miller states, “open the door to the consecration of women” as bishops. Lambeth has no power to do so; it is a consultative, not a legislative, body. That Barbara Harris’s election followed Lambeth so closely is entirely coincidental.
Most objectionable, however, is the article’s overall implication that the Episcopal Church is tripping all over its own feet in a frantic effort to jump on every modernist liberal bandwagon it can find. This is hogwash. In fact the Church’s approach to “modern issues”–whether women’s ordination, Prayer Book revision, gay/lesbian rights, socially responsible investment policies, or whatever–has been and continues to be one of almost agonizing deliberation. And one of the main reasons for that is that the worship and service of a living God is a much chancier and more humbling business than the veneration of a book, whether that book be the Bible or the 1928 Book of Common Prayer–which in fact caused no small furor among traditionalists when it was introduced sixty years ago, in a considerably less deliberate and democratic fashion than the 1979 version.
James G. Carson
Bryan Miller replies:
If Mr. Carson is right in saying that “lots of us” feel that traditionalists no longer have any place in the Episcopal Church–and there’s ample evidence of that from diocesan employees and others–then the ancient value of Anglican tolerance is indeed dead.
There is nothing in my article that implies that the ordination rite was changed and–zap!–it was OK to ordain women. The new language simply made it easier to implement the change when it came. I also doubt that many other people find the timing of Barbara Harris’s election coincidental.
If Mr. Carson doubts that the Episcopal Church has in fact been “tripping all over its own feet in a frantic effort to jump on every modernist liberal bandwagon it can find,” he’s been asleep for the last couple of decades. The evidence is right there, from the first fumblings toward the 1979 Book of Common Prayer’s forever-dated groovy, with-it language to the recent visit of the current bishop of Chicago to Nicaragua with a cloud of his consecrated brethren.
My 95-year-old great-aunt, who was one of those who fought the coming of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, doesn’t recall that the revisionists of her day–and they really were revisionists–treated her camp with the contempt of today’s zealots. But she does fear that she will not be permitted to have her funeral service read from the 1928 Book, as she wishes.