“The Episcopal Church welcomes you” is a low-key marketing slogan used by my denomination. To outsiders, especially the more doctrinally pure, it may seem like the epitome of anything goes. But I like it. And I am a conservative. I like it because I know that this message hangs on a sign outside the church of one of my colleagues, who is a staunch traditionalist on all the social and moral issues of the day, and who puts on the most splendid old-fashioned service you will find in Christendom.
My friend, like Robinson Crusoe, is making do. He knows that you either rescue the best of the shipwreck where you are, or else find another vessel with more to salvage somewhere else. There are no perfectly seaworthy boats. As long as “The Episcopal Church welcomes you,” it is a fine place to be a conservative, despite the headlines of moral and doctrinal decay.
Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court, is noteworthy as the first Protestant nominated to the court in a long time. Should he be confirmed, the new makeup will be three Jews, five Catholics, and one Episcopalian. Judge Gorsuch and his family belong to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colo., whose website describes the church as “an inclusive, Christ-centered community reaching out to all who are seeking a deeper spirituality and relationship with God and one another.”
“Inclusive?” That’s a liberal word, right? Is this really the house of worship for a man in whom pro-lifers have pinned so much hope? Of all the flavors of Protestantism, surely a great conservative mind would know better than to stick with a largely progressive denomination.
On the contrary, the Episcopal Church is still a reasonable place to be an ideological conservative. Likewise, it is a place to cultivate humility. It is the radicals and activists who, rightly or wrongly, dive out into the open sea looking to be thrown a lifeline. A conservative prepares for a long exile, no doubt accompanied by a fair number of completely incapable fellow castaways. Amazingly, the Episcopal Church continues to include people who unassumingly stand for the Gospel and against the spirit of the age. I hope I am one of them. Neil Gorsuch’s resume suggests that he is one, too.
Sir Roger Scruton, a giant of modern conservative thought, helps us understand this phenomenon. Scruton, like Gorsuch, remains an Anglican (the English version of an Episcopalian). He even wrote a book, “Our Church,” to explain why. To Scruton, the Christian faith is our ancestors’ gift to us and our gift to our progeny. Tradition witnesses to us of the superiority of the past over the present, and the duty of the present to the future. Walking away from even a severely injured part of the body of Christ runs the risk of deepening the wound to the body as a whole. It dishonors the past and jeopardizes the future. It widens rather than bridges the chasm of denominationalism.
Scruton admires the Anglican divine Richard Hooker, whose level-headed views foreshadow another Anglican, Edmund Burke, whom Neil Gorsuch has certainly studied. From them we realize that the perfect church, like the perfect society, is always just out of reach. Anglicanism, on the other hand, is about being comfortable with a perfect God in an imperfect assembly, “a place of refuge from the undisciplined world,” as Scruton puts it.
Even if the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are broken homes, they are as decently equipped with sacraments and Scripture as any other, and better than most. We are ideally both Catholic and Evangelical, but in practice we are neither one nor the other. Our canons may allow gay marriage in some places, but they insist upon the Nicene Creed in every place. Even the most liberal, establishment Episcopalians are forced into relative conservatism. No one gets everything they want, and everyone makes do with what they have. As Scruton puts it: “I rejoice that the Church to which I belong offers an antidote to every kind of utopian thinking.”
Utopianism can manifest itself on the right or the left; and few people of either side would want a Supreme Court justice known to be a dreamer. Nor would a strict constitutionalist likely be known as a church hopper. There may be perfectly respectable reasons to convert; but there is always something to conserve where you already are.
I hope the Episcopal Church will continue to welcome the likes of Neil Gorsuch. I, for one, am grateful to see him represent us at the pinnacle of American jurisprudence.
Thanks to ‘Anglican Taonga’ for this link – to the news that the new member of the U.S. Supreme court, Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court, is noteworthy as the first Protestant nominated to that body. The surprise may be that Mr. Gorsuch is actually an Anglican – an American Episcopalian (TEC) – who, despite his conservative background, is determined to remain in the ranks of TEC, because, as the article writer here affirms, he believes the Episcopal Church really does welcome all sorts of people to its worship and life.
From this perspective, one can be hopeful that he will not necessarily be a Trump advocate but will use his new position to uphold justice for all in the United States of America. Judge Gorsuch is not interested, obviously, in fermenting schism on the basis of politics – either in Church or State. This may send a message to those in the U.S. who are interested in stirring up division in either area. Unity in the best guarantee for universal peace and justice – in both Church and State.
Here is another journalists opinion:
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand