A Modest Proposal… (1997)

To Save America and the Church (Yes, A Satire)

By Terry Mattingly

Please consider this modest proposal.

On a nationally publicized Sunday morning – progressive scholars might choose the feast of St. John, the Beloved Disciple – every gay, lesbian or bisexual person in America who has the slightest interest in declaring themselves to be a “person of faith” should flock to the nearest Episcopal parish and sign up. If they did so, I believe this would have a tremendous, positive effect on the Episcopal Church, on all other Christian churches in North America and on this deeply divided nation.

How, you ask, did I reach this conclusion?

It was in March that Time magazine published a news piece that got me to thinking. The article focused on the recent votes within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to pass a constitutional amendment declaring that clergy should “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage of a man and a woman, or in chastity in singleness.” In other words, the Presbyterians had taken the radical step of defending the traditional Christian teaching that sex outside of marriage is sin.

Time saw this as a stunning development. Why, it even threatened efforts to promote Christian unity. How? For decades, the PCUSA had been active in merger talks with other mainline Protestant bodies. However, the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), allow sexually active gays, lesbians and bisexuals to serve as clergy. Also, another party in the merger talks – the Episcopal Church – has a “de facto toleration policy.” Now the Presbyterians had mucked up the whole thing.

“Thus, in the fierce debate over sexual orientation, Protestant Christians in America may have lost a chance to forge a historic unity,” said Time.

Note that Time assumed that Christian unity was being threatened by the actions of the Presbyterians who were defending (a) centuries of Church teaching, (b) the views of the vast majority of Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians alive today and (c) even Presbyterianism’s own teachings. In other words, those who wanted to change centuries of unbroken Christian tradition were not threatening the unity of the Church.

That’s one way to look at it.

Let’s assume that the folks at Time were on to something. Maybe it is time to take some kind of bold step that would promote Christian unity. Maybe it is time for America’s churches – even America as a nation – to stop fighting over sexuality. Is there a way to call for a cease fire in this culture war?

Therefore, I make this modest proposal. I believe that it is time for homosexuals and bisexuals across the nation to leave the churches they are currently attending and flock to Episcopal altars.

Why the Episcopal Church? Why not the United Church of Christ or the Disciples? Simply stated: If theological progressives are going to join one church, they should choose the one with the best buildings, the most culturally sophisticated rites, the highest political profile and the richest heritage of being able to justify intellectual, doctrinal and moral innovations. They should take over a church that looks, smells and sounds like a church, yet rarely dares to act like one.

Also note that this would, overnight, redeem the Episcopal Church’s Decade of Evangelism, which so far has been a bust. Membership is down almost 10 percent in the far West, nearly 15 percent in the upper Midwest and between 15 and 10 percents in parts of the East – all progressive regions that would see a surge in numbers under my plan. Even the Bible Belt has college towns and urban neighborhoods.

Now, I assume that this plan would inspire large numbers of biblical literalists to flee Episcopal pews and even pulpits. Truth is, this is happening already in many parts of the church and the trend could speed up as progressives wrap up their reforms in the years after 2000. So someone should strike a final blow. I believe that it is in the interest of Episcopalians on both sides of this divide to have a clear victory by one side or the other — saving time, money and spiritual energy.

The Episcopal Church would gain members and resources. Conservative Episcopalians could go elsewhere and help build vital churches in orthodox communions that still defend Christian teachings on marriage, sacraments, the creeds and other such subjects.

Also, note that if gays, lesbians and bisexuals left other churches, this would stop the sexuality wars in other American flocks as well. Thus, they would lose homosexual members to the Episcopal Church, but would be able to enthusiastically return to more positive efforts in missions, evangelism and social action. This would save everyone time, dollars and tears. This would even have a tremendous impact in the American Catholic Church, making life much easier for the current pope.

This could even have a positive impact on America’s legal climate. Right now, the Supreme Court is wrestling with the issue of whether or not to include sexual orientation among the list of conditions that lead to special protected status under civil rights laws. However, religion already has protected status. Thus, if all of America’s gays, lesbians and bisexuals join the Episcopal Church, they could claim that people are discriminating against them, not because of their sexual orientation, but because they are Episcopalians. Bingo! The high court would be off the hook.

Perhaps the only people who would lose under this plan would be the Unitarians and the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church. However, I am sure that they too will, eventually, welcome the chance to embrace the via media.