Sorry, Anglicans, There Is No Third Way - The American Conservative (2023)

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Sorry, Anglicans, There Is No Third Way

Hard-liners on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue are right: there is no middle ground

Sorry, Anglicans, There Is No Third Way - The American Conservative (3)

Rod Dreher

Jan 23, 2023 5:17 PM

I received not long ago an e-mail from a reader who says that her Methodist congregation is in the midst of a conversation about whether or not to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church over gay marriage. The reader shared the arguments for both sides in her moderately conservative congregation, and asked what I thought. Looking at her list of "stay" arguments, I saw a bunch of propositions that were either deceptive (self-deceptive?) or wishful thinking. The stay argument, as she presents it, amounts to this: If we leave, we will be breaking fellowship with a national organization that has been good to us, and we will side with the closed-minded who are unwelcoming to diverse points of view. We want to stay open to all. Besides, we have been told by state leaders that they will respect our congregational autonomy, and will do their best to send us pastors who are a good fit for our more conservative congregation.

I told the reader that this is all eyewash, whether the proponents of that argument realize it or not. I don't know that congregation, of course, but I can imagine that at least some of the conservatives are not at all ideological. When I was growing up in a Methodist church in the 1970s and early 1980s, you could call it conservative, but its conservatism had almost nothing to do with doctrine or politics, and everything to do with the fact that the congregation cherished stability, and wanted things to stay the same. I went through a brief period of Evangelical intensity when I was twelve and thirteen, and asked my mom to take me to worship at the local Baptist church, which I believed took doctrine more seriously. It wasn't that our family's Methodist parish was liberal, but rather that it avoided taking stands on anything, and folks seemed to like it that way. Its conservatism, at least during my childhood, was entirely temperamental. Point is, the term "conservative" can mean different things.


As a matter of fact, I'm told by family members who still attend there that the congregation is now in the discernment process over its future. I can easily imagine that there are folks in the congregation who aren't particularly in favor of holding same-sex weddings in the church, but who find the idea of leaving the national church off-putting, because they don't want to rock the boat. It's a beautiful little church, and though I haven't been a worshiper there for decades, it's not at all hard for me to imagine how protective people feel of it. I don't have any idea how the congregation is ultimately going to go, because I've lost touch with them. I find myself wondering tonight how my late sister Ruthie, who was an active member of that congregation, would vote. I'm fairly confident that Ruthie would have come down on the theologically conservative side of the argument, but not at all confident that she would have voted to leave. For her, church was more about the community, and if she had a sense that keeping the community together required her to give way on the LGBT issue, she might have done it. Or not. I honestly don't know -- but the fact that she was precisely one of the church members whose conservatism was not theological, but dispositional, tells me that I couldn't hazard a guess for how that congregation will vote.

I would say to those members who believe that their congregation can stay safely conservative within a liberal denomination what I said to my Methodist reader: that position is simply untenable today. For one thing, we have lots of evidence from the experiences of churches that have already liberalized that once the progressives gain control of the denomination, the promised tolerance for traditionalist dissenters disappears. And I understand why! If you truly believe that homosexuality is blessed by God, and that same-sex marriage is a good thing, then why should you tolerate congregations that treat gay people like second-class Christians? Is maintaining church unity more important than justice? If I were a progressive, I would say no, it's not. After all, progressives, religious and not, regard homosexuality as the moral equivalent of race. Would a national denomination tolerate congregations that declined to marry people of color, or interracial couples? I can't see it. If I were in a church that asked its members to tolerate congregations that practiced open racism, I would find that intolerable. The idea that the United Methodist Church, after most of its traditionalists have departed this year, will be tolerant and supportive of conservative congregations who stay, is unpersuasive in the extreme.

(Video) England‘s Anglican Reformation

I am a traditionalist on these matters. Scripture is so clear and strong on the question of homosexuality that I could not stay in a denomination that treated the question of same-sex marriage as a matter of local opinion. Whether you are pro-SSM or anti-SSM, it is a very big deal, for what the practice says about the authority of Scripture and the Bible's teaching about what sex is, what marriage and married love is for, and indeed what it means to be a man or a woman created in God's image. It's such a big issue that I simply cannot see Christians agreeing to disagree within the same communion, as if something so central to Christian life was ancillary to the real work of the Church. I was once at a private meeting not long after the Obergefell decision, and listened as Evangelical laity debated what their churches' stance should be going forward. One visibly frustrated woman who held a high-profile job in a liberal corporation, blurted out, "I wish we could just get past this issue and get back to proclaiming the Gospel!" For her, "proclaiming the Gospel" was about getting individuals to pray the Sinner's Prayer and to accept Jesus into their hearts. As far as I could tell, that was the gist of Christianity. The rest was details. Now, I didn't know this woman, but I bet if I had pressed her, she would have said that there's a lot more to Christian living that simply accepting Jesus into one's heart. But knowing from an earlier conversation what her job was, it was very easy to imagine the immense pressure she was under to conform to the progressive opinions of her professional milieu. She was looking for a way out that would allow her to feel that she had not betrayed Christ. I don't think that way exists.

The Church of England is still trying to find it, though. The Church's bishops recently said no to gay marriage, but yes to providing a rite of blessing for same-sex couples. It's not going to work, as Carl Trueman explains in his latest column. He leads by citing a public letter issued by Penny Mordaunt, a top Tory politician, calling on the House of Bishops to offer gay marriage. Trueman comments on the Mordaunt letter:

Second, it raises the question of what exactly conservatism is today, as Mordaunt represents the Conservative Party. The Trump phenomenon indicated a bankruptcy of ideas in political discourse, thriving for a brief time in a world where the left was detached from the reality of most people’s concerns and a right that seemed to define itself simply in terms of reaction. But Trump is fading, as is the moment that gave the British people Brexit. What do conservatives have to offer for the future? Little more, it seems, than progressive pieties glossed with a traditionalist veneer. What exactly do they wish to conserve? Not much, if Mordaunt is representative (and as Leader of the House, she is scarcely a political outlier). The conservatism represented by Penny Mordaunt seems to have adopted the basic tenets of anti-conservatism.


This is relevant to the debate here in the US, within the churches. We have seen that political conservatism is becoming far more tolerant of LGBT than it has been, with now a bare majority of Republican voters approving of same-sex marriage. These numbers are only going to increase as older GOP voters die off. Even within churches that are conservative, there will be pressure to moderate the Biblical teaching -- if not to change it, then to de-emphasize it. My information on this is entirely anecdotal, but I believe that many conservative pastors don't ever talk about the issue, or about sex at all, to avoid controversy. But they're not going to be able to avoid it forever. What happens when the gay son or daughter of a prominent family in the church wants to get married there? Over the past twenty years, so many conservatives, even Christians, have flipped on the issue when one of their children came out as gay. With the general sense in society moving steadily towards the normalization of homosexuality, even among people on the Right, it is unrealistic to think that conservative churches can avoid having to deal forthrightly with the question. Given that few GOP politicians have found the courage or the cleverness to defend traditional marriage in the public square over the past twenty years, we can expect more and more conservatives, both in politics and in leadership positions in civil society, to embrace "progressive pieties glossed with a traditionalist veneer."

Archbishop Elpidophoros, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in the US, got into trouble last year when he went to Greece and baptized the children of a gay couple, one-half of whom is the son of a rich Greek family from Chicago:

Sorry, Anglicans, There Is No Third Way - The American Conservative (4)

A number of Orthodox lay commentators, as well as Greek bishops, protested that this was out of bounds, and the first step towards accepting same-sex marriage in the very conservative church. But the Ecumenical Patriarch, who oversees the Greek church, seemed to side with the liberal Elpidophoros.

Similarly, among Catholics, the Jesuit Father James Martin continues his high-profile ministry to promote affirmation of LGBT Catholics without repentance. Though he is usually careful not to cross doctrinal lines -- he is a Jesuit, after all -- nobody is fooled about where Father Martin stands on these matters. Nobody. And Pope Francis has taken several occasions to praise Martin's work. Plus, Francis has promoted bishops, like Chicago's Cardinal Cupich and Newark's Cardinal Tobin, who go about as far as you can go to signal LGBT affirmation without openly repudiating Catholic teaching. Most of the German bishops have flatly rejected Catholic teaching, and if Francis appoints the progressive, openly pro-gay German bishop Heiner Wilmer to head the CDF, the Catholic Church's doctrinal office, as the Pope has been long rumored to be planning, then what would Catholics worldwide be left to make of Catholicism's teaching on homosexuality? Would it not be, under this pope, a case of proclaiming progressive pieties under a traditionalist veneer?

Among Evangelicals, here's Atlanta megachurch pastor Andy Stanley:

"Clobber passages"

Andy has already completed the shift into queer affirmation. He just knows the people who still pay his salary need to be eased into it

— Woke Preacher Clips (Crypto-Paganism Noticer) (@WokePreacherTV) January 23, 2023

This is the kind of thing that will mark the life of many churches in the years to come.

Trueman goes on:

Third, the Church of England is the established church and therefore has to take account of the opinions of the political class. It has an important position within English law and life, even if its parish churches and cathedrals are irrelevant to most individuals. And that status means that there is an expectation that its values and practices will reflect those of society as a whole. Hence the letter of Penny Mordaunt, while no doubt outrageous to orthodox Anglicans, still makes sense. And on other issues—most recently the ordination of women—the Church has typically obliged by conforming itself to the social mores and expectations of wider English society.

We don't have an established church in the United States, but the point Trueman makes is still relevant. In many places today, and in many more in the next decade or two, churches that do not openly affirm LGBT will be increasingly seen as pariahs in public, even if those parishes are irrelevant to most individuals. If you think it won't happen, you are whistling past the graveyard. Look at what that Russian Orthodox hockey player in Philadelphia is going through now, simply for not wearing LGBT regalia on Pride Night, because it was against his conscience. The idea that dissent would be tolerated was always nonsense. Always.

Though we don't have an established church, most American Christians, with the exception of those from the sterner sects, have been more or less in conformity with the social mores and expectations of wider American society. It is going to be a hard sell to many middle-class congregations, of nearly all denominations, that they position themselves as outside the mainstream on a major issue. The other night I gave a talk to a group of Hungarian students, one of whom asked why churches in the US haven't fought hard against gender ideology and the queering of society. "America is so Christian," she said, uncomprehendingly.

The answer, I told her, is that most American Christians care more about maintaining middle-class respectability and access to bourgeois institutions and social groups than they do about defending unpopular Biblical teachings. It has been a long, long time since middle-class American Christians have had to suffer anything meaningful for the truths of their faith. Those days are rapidly coming to an end. We will see a panoply of rationalizations for abandoning inconvenient truths and capitulating to the culture, but God is not fooled.

Trueman adds:

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And the fate of the Church of England will be a bellwether for churches everywhere in the West, established or not. Attempts to appease the culture warriors with fine distinctions, lavish rhetorical apologies, and endless blather about social justice will not save us, any more than blessing civil partnerships will save Archbishop Welby. When it comes to the laws of progressive culture, he who is guilty in one point is guilty in all.

He's right. You can never, ever appease these people. Ever. I advised my Methodist correspondent that there is no way to avoid the hard theological dispute dividing that church. People are going to have to take a stand. Those who believe that there's a third way are deceiving themselves. Those congregations that choose the path of tradition will likely have more to suffer for their stance. But they will have shown that the fear God more than men. Besides, to the best of my knowledge, every church that has taken the path of formal affirmation has continued its decline. True, conservative churches are also declining. Still, in twenty years, in may places the only people still going to church will be those who are drawn to countercultural congregations who are faithful to the Bible and to tradition.

Besides, at the heart of these disputes is this question: What is church for? There are people -- both liberals and conservatives -- who think it's the community at prayer, and who prize unity over truth. There are liberals and conservatives who believe that some issues are so essential that one must stand for truth even at the cost of breaking the community's unity. I believe that the question of same-sex marriage, and more broadly of sexual morality and identity, is one of those questions. And I know that there are liberals on the opposite side of the issue who share my view. Those churchgoers who believe that compromise is possible to save the unity of their denominations or even local congregations are simply deceiving themselves. After decades of disputation, there is simply no tenable middle ground.


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(Video) The Difference Between Catholics and Protestants | Derry Girls | Channel 4

Sorry, Anglicans, There Is No Third Way - The American Conservative (5)


Re: Whether you are pro-SSM or anti-SSM, it is a very big deal,

There can be no sacramental same sex marriage in a Christian church-- but that is an entirely separate argument from the argument over civil marriage, just as an argument over women clergy has no bearing on an argument over women legislators.

schedule 17 hrs ago

    Sorry, Anglicans, There Is No Third Way - The American Conservative (6)

    Fran Macadam

    So what's your take? Should they bless the same sex partnerships and civil homosexual marriages?

    schedule 16 hrs ago

      Sorry, Anglicans, There Is No Third Way - The American Conservative (7)


      They can certainly say "I bless you", but God does not and cannot bless objective evil, which is how these relationships are defined in Christian theology. So they are meaningless words.

      The situation is akin to your respected, educated math teacher suddenly announcing that 2+2=5. He may be respected and educated and know an awful lot about math, but what he proposes is simply not true.

      schedule 12 hrs ago

      Sorry, Anglicans, There Is No Third Way - The American Conservative (8)


      Fran, your reading comprehension seems to grow less by the day. I just said there can be no sacramental SSM in a Christian church.

      schedule 4 hrs ago

    Sorry, Anglicans, There Is No Third Way - The American Conservative (9)

    Bogdán Emil

    The faithful are the last line of defense in this debate.

    schedule 15 hrs ago

    (Video) Anglican Unscripted 783 - Oxymoronic

Sorry, Anglicans, There Is No Third Way - The American Conservative (10)

Fran Macadam

"Discernment" goes on and on, for years and years, and only ever ends as soon as they exhaust the congregation and impose their Woke diktat.

The long drawn out process reveals there is no actual discernment. BTW, the Jesus prayer, notions of sin and salvation are jettisoned too.

schedule 16 hrs ago

Sorry, Anglicans, There Is No Third Way - The American Conservative (11)

Fran Macadam

So what's your take? Should they bless the same sex partnerships and civil homosexual marriages?

schedule 16 hrs ago

Sorry, Anglicans, There Is No Third Way - The American Conservative (12)

Lee Podles

I do not know what Francis is up to, and I suspect he doesn’t know either: his modus operandi is to create chaos and see what happens (very Argentine). There will be no formal approval by the Vatican of same sex marriage, but he will not act against bishops who approve it and priests who conduct it. What will the outcome be? Another schism? Chaos? It will take a generation or several generations to play out.

schedule 15 hrs ago

Sorry, Anglicans, There Is No Third Way - The American Conservative (13)

Bogdán Emil

Good post, Rod. Just to let you know, I've purchased The Final Pagan Generation by Edward J. Watts, and it's every bit as engrossing as I expected. Your effusive praise wasn't over the top. Excellent recommendation.

Also, finally, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has arrived at my door, and yes, I always recommend primary source material from the Dark Ages for non-stop violence and pagan-to-Christian conversion amidst ominous celestial events, whether you're writing a book about enchantment or not.

I also recommend The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, by Alan Watts, for understanding your enemy, embodied by Self = All, it's quite topical.

Furthermore, if anyone can procure a copy of De Administrando Imperio by the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Prophyrogenitos, for a reasonable price (less than $200), let me know. I've only read excerpts, and need to own it. Anyone who likes the late Eastern Romans should enjoy that reputedly timeless work as a cultural high point, and it also has some important info about 10th century Magyars that hold a personal interest for me.

Meanwhile, the book I'm working on is called Hungarian Myths, Legends, Histories, Folk Tales and Fairy Stories. Therefore, I've been reading my competition, other English translations of Hungarian fairy tales. One excellent book in that genre is available on Amazon and is called Dancing on Blades, by Csenge Virág Zalka, a young Hungarian storyteller who came over to complete her studies in the American folkways, offering her readers "rare and exquisite folk tales from the Carpathian Mountains."

The "dancing on blades" imagery is a reference to a famous Hungarian folk story told in many versions, which I myself translated as The Slipper-Shredding Princesses. It's about princesses who love to dance and party, but in Ms. Zalka's version, they dance on a floor made of straightened scythe blades.

That's correct, those funky princesses functionally dance on the edge of razor blades. So they shred their shoes to bits, every single night, causing scandal and misery. If you want to understand how to be conservative yet plenty funloving and liberal as hell when it comes to a party, without having to stress yourself about how on Earth to counter the spinelessness and stupidity of a proposal like gay marriage, read Hungarian fairy tales and legends. Some translations are already out, and more are on the way.

(Video) Why I am an Anglican Christian (And Why You Should Be One Too)

schedule 15 hrs ago

Sorry, Anglicans, There Is No Third Way - The American Conservative (14)

Michael Campbell

Most of Western Christianity, for some time, has been obsessing over weird stuff. Conservatives used to be more guilty of this - purity culture and other 90s-00s obsessions (the starting point for a large number of today's progressives IMO, and if I had to guess particularly that sort of person who can't stop hate-reading your blog) - now it's progressives with their woke cult. Who knows what the wokies are the starting point of, but thanks to their set of obsessions probably some mix of Christianity, weapons, and political power, not necessarily in that order. I don't think the "discontents of wokeness" will be very nice people.

Western Christianity, like Western civilization generally, has some major issues which if history is a guide, it won't recover from, not without a significant collapse/fall first which will take many generations to unwind. You're a refugee in a branch of Christianity on the fringes of the West yourself. In a rotten structure like the modern West, fracture is probably the most healthy option and eventually our ticket out of the asylum. Otherwise the fights will just keep getting more intense and the stakes higher and the knives sharper.

schedule 14 hrs ago

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