Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Possible Church Split That Matters in the Real World

For us atheists, there is not much to choose among superstitions, whether they involve a belief in the power of salt thrown over a shoulder, or of sending “up” prayers to a mystical being who died for our sins. These subtle and irrelevant distinctions are dwarfed by the enormous gap between their magical beliefs and the real world.

But, as recently reported in the New York Times (June 30, International Report, page A6), the Anglican Communion (which includes the American Episocopal church) has 77 million members, and is the third largest grouping of churches in the world. This organization, headed by the archbishop of Canterbury, can thus exert a significant influence here on Earth. In 2003, the Episcopal Church consecrated a gay man, Rev. Gene Robinson, as bishop of the New Hampshire Diocese. This bold action has led to extensive discord among the Episcopalian churches in the U.S. And now, as reported in the above NY Times article, a large splinter group, led by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, has threatened to form a new Anglican province that will reject the “false gospel” of the present Anglican church. It seems quite clear that the central issue here is homophobia, with the reactionary splinter group rejecting the concept that gays should be permitted to lead Anglican churches.

God knows (just kidding!) that organized religion has held back acceptance in this country both of scientific concepts like evolution, and of constitutional issues such as separation of church and state. But when it comes to acceptance of gays by the Anglican Communion, one religious group (the present Anglican church and liberal Episcopal churches in the U.S.) is on the right side, while the splinter group led by Peter Akinola and colleagues are attempting to roll back hard-won progress on tolerance of diversity in sexual orientation. This issue has significant real-world implications, and the religious liberals should be applauded for their efforts to further the full acceptance of gays in our world society.