I don’t write about so-called matters of faith very much, preferring to leave that to people to whom those things matter more, but the recent announcement by the Vatican to disenchanted Anglicans and Episcopalians that the Roman Catholic Church would not only invite them into their flock but would even accommodate their entry by adopting some of their liturgical forms gave this religious cynic pause.
The first thought I had upon reading of the Vatican’s decision was that it made sense. The Roman Church is catering to the homophobes in the Anglican formation. Ever since the appointment of an openly gay bishop to the head of the American wing, many Episcopalians have struggled with their faith and their allegiance to their church. In the meantime, the Roman Catholic Church has actively funded campaigns against gay equality and has stepped up their campaign against homosexuality.
The second thought I had upon reading about the Vatican’s decision was that this was the religious version of a corporate takeover. Look, says the Vatican to those disaffected Anglicans and Episcopalians, your spiritual stock may be down because of the decisions of your church elders to accept all of god’s children into its flock as equals, but our church would never do such a thing. So, invest your soul with us. It’s a masterstroke of corporate raiding. Not only does the Vatican pick up some membership in North America, where its numbers have been declining for decades, but it also picks up the money those former members of the Anglican churches give to their churches. In fact, when one considers the cash, it is truly a masterstroke, since the Vatican’s most recent adherents come from the planet’s poorer continents, especially Africa. With the potential increase in relatively wealthy homophobic converts, the full coffers of the Catholic Church should increase even more.
It would be false to pretend that the entire reason for the growing disenchantment of conservative Anglicans is the election of an openly gay bishop to head the Episcopal Church in the United States. However, it is safe to say that this election was the straw that broke the camel’s back for those members. As the Anglican churches have grown increasingly liberal in their doctrine and approach to social justice, more and more traditionally conservative parishes and individual members have become extremely uncomfortable. In other words, the social gospel of Jesus makes certain Christians uneasy. If one considers the historical relationship of the Anglican Church to the British monarchist social order, it makes particular sense that the liberal interpretation of that gospel would make many church members question their allegiance. Like the Roman Catholic hierarchy, which has its struggle between liberal and conservative elements, the Anglican churches are undergoing a crisis. At this moment in history, it looks like the more conservative elements of the Vatican have won in the arenas where it actually has influence (leaving its position opposing imperial war and decrying poverty caused by global capitalism intact but essentially irrelevant), while in the Anglican churches it appears that the liberal elements have the upper hand.
Of course, neither of these powerful churches have the political power of the Christian faithful that align themselves with the fundamentalist churches across the United States. We are all familiar with these believers role in US elections the past few decades. When the fundamentalist churches ally themselves with the Catholic hierarchy—most often around their opposition to birth control and abortion—they can turn elections. When these two forces align themselves with the Mormon Church, as they did in California’s most recent election referendum against gay marriage, they proved the even greater power of that trinity.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org