Liberal foreign policy scholar Walter Russell Mead, whose father is an Episcopal priest, excoriates the Episcopal Church's hierarchy for dabbling in politics while failing at their basic work:
Sunday Jeremiad: Petty Prophets of the Blue Beast, at The American Interest, Feb. 21, 2010 (bold-faced emphasis edited, extra paragraphing added; hat tip: Stand Firm in Faith - I must have signed up for their email updates at some point, because I don't read their blog).
There’s nothing like Lent for reflecting on the sins of other people; I thought I’d start at the top — with the bishops of my own church.
As the Episcopal church along with the other mainline Protestant denominations diminishes, we don’t have to look far to see bishops and leaders who are largely failing in their core assignments: to tend to the health and promote the growth of the congregations in their area.
Yet even as we have fewer and fewer effective and successful leaders, we have no shortage of political, ‘prophetic’ bishops. When they can, they meet with world leaders and jet off to exotic locales to bring peace and fight for justice. When they can’t do that, they sign statements of concern, issue reports and otherwise tug on the skirts of an indifferent public seeking attention for their political views. * * *
. . . Trivial and predictable are not news, and the political stands that the mainline clergy take are almost always both.
A statement by an Episcopal bishop will not change one mind or one vote; at least in all my years in the pews I’ve never met a single Episcopalian who said that the opinion of a bishop does or should have the slightest influence on how Episcopalians vote and if the churchgoers aren’t paying attention to the bishops I can’t imagine anyone else is.
I’m not urging the bishops to change their politics. I’m urging them to shut up. More precisely, I’m urging them to base their ministry on a clearer understanding of their situation and their role.
Let me nail some cyber-theses to the virtual door.
1. Nobody cares what you think while your tiny church is falling apart. * * *
... [W]hy, exactly, would any sane person today pay attention to the political pronouncements of an Episcopal bishop? Episcopalians are a tiny minority of the population and the church long ago lost its social power and cachet. The Episcopal church today is in the worst condition it has been since the aftermath of the Revolution; its clergy has visibly failed to keep the church together or prevent its ongoing decline. I’m afraid that the penchant to make political pronouncements proceeds less from a true prophetic vocation than from a nostalgia for a time when it mattered what Episcopal bishops thought.
In any case, there is nothing more ridiculous than a proprietor of a failing concern who officiously lectures everyone else on how to manage their affairs. Please, for the sake of what remains of the dignity of your office, give it a rest. * * *
3. In the contemporary world the job of the clergy isn’t to provide political leadership. It is to help laypeople grow into better, wiser political leaders. * * *
... The job of a bishop isn’t to make statements about the minimum wage or the Iraq war. It’s to help the clergy in his or her diocese form communities that produce dynamic, committed and intelligent laypeople who will shape political debates on these and many other matters.
A bishop isn’t here to inject Christian values into public policy debates; a bishop is here to inject mature, thoughtful and committed Christians into public life.
The Diocese of Long Island shouldn’t be taking stands on the minimum wage; it should be producing people who transform the life of the region at every level of engagement.
If the bishops were already doing this pretty well I would be much more tolerant of their occasional ventures into public debate. But it’s as plain as day that en masse the American bishops are catastrophically failing at that core task — as indeed are their colleagues in the other mainline denominations.
In the parlous state of today’s Episcopal church, every dime a diocese spends and every minute of a bishop’s working day needs to be focused on local congregations. The church is melting before their eyes and many bishops seem to be passively watching it happen; at most they hope to manage decline as smoothly as possible.