Religious Differences Within My Marriage and Other Matters

Rev. Jonathan Daniels, Episcopal martyr
I might compare my relationship to the Episcopal Church to that of people who practice Yoga but deny Hinduism. I might also liken it to a Japanese tea ceremony that offers tranquility and belonging in the absence of dogma. Admittedly, Christians--including Episcopalians--are less accepting of my nonbelief than are communities that revolve around Yoga or tea, although non-belief is on the rise. According to a British government survey, 2% of priests in the Church of England (the Episcopal Church's British counterpart) are atheists, and in America, the percentage of people who claim church affiliation has dropped 1% a year for 20-years, making the number of people who are un-churched greater than the number of Protestants or Catholics.

Peggy and I grew up in fundamentalist households--Southern Baptist in her case, Church of Christ in mine. My parents attended church sporadically and never pressured me into going, but I so loved church that when my family moved into town when I was ten, and I could walk to church, I went four times a week. Peggy's parents took her (took being the operative word) to church thrice weekly, but she spent the time daydreaming. With age came disillusionment, so that when I left for college, I left my boyhood church for the Episcopal Church. When Peggy left for college, she left church so completely that she flunked her school's mandatory chapel by failing to show-up. I became an atheist before she only because she was too bored by religion to think about it. Even today, religion is never far from my thoughts.

Peggy's Southern Baptist upbringing combined with her lack of interest in comparative religion, causes her to view the Christian world through a Baptist lens, and this leads her to say surprising things. For instance, she was shocked when I came home from a church men's group and told her that beer was served; even more shocked to discover that my evening prayer service includes hymns of adoration to Jesus' mother; and speculated that my parish priest assumes that if I attend church long enough, I'll be saved. For those who share her ignorance, the fact that Episcopalians sometimes serve liquor at church social events has inspired the church's detractors to refer to them as Whiskeypalians; some Episcopalians are devoted to Mary; and Episcopalians don't think in terms of being saved, lost, or born again. But what does distinguish the Episcopal Church, which I love, from the usual beliefs and practices of Christianity, which I loathe? 

(1) The Episcopal Church doesn't seek to rationalize the barbarism of the Biblical deity; it embraces the parts of the Bible that are honorable and rejects the rest as primitive tribalism. America's religious masses call this "cafeteria Christianity," and insist that the Bible is theologically and historically perfect.

2) Although the Bible endorses the oppression of women, America's Episcopal Church elected a woman to its highest office and has installed other women as bishops. Some of the church's women leaders are openly lesbian. 

3) Although the Biblical God demands that gay people be executed, America's Episcopal Church views them as equals, although doing so has cost it tens of thousands of members. Its acceptance of LGBT people has even inspired the wrath of the Anglican Communion, with some member denominations demanding that the American church be expelled. When the American diocese of New Hampshire sent its gay bishop to represent it at the worldwide Anglican convention in London, he was blocked from participating and even excluded from social events.

3) Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Episcopal Church's first female presiding bishop (national leader), condemned the concept of personal salvation as heretical and idolatrous. Although the concept of heresy is meaningless to me, I have observed that people who emphasize personal salvation minimize the importance of virtue because they don't believe that virtue will get them into heaven--or wickedness into hell. What will get them into heaven in their view is begging God's forgiveness according to the infinite merit of Christ's redeeming blood, which means that had Hitler, in his final moments, professed faith in Jesus and asked forgiveness in His name, Hitler is even now basking in God's glory; but if fifteen-year-old Ann Frank died without begging forgiveness in the name of Christ, she is writhing in eternal agony alongside Buddhists, Hindus, humanists, and such Christians as had the misfortune to die before asking forgiveness for their latest sin. In the words of Acts 4:12: "Only Jesus has the power to save! His name is the only one in all the world that can save anyone."

4) I first became aware of the Episcopal Church during the Civil Rights era when I watched Northerners in priestly attire participate in demonstrations. When one of those men was murdered* in front of numerous witnesses while saving the life another person in broad daylight, and the good Christians of Alabama refused to hold his murderer accountable, the killing became but one of hundreds of incidents that hardened me against the integrity of the Christian masses even as I had already become hardened against the depravity of the Biblical deity. Although in earlier centuries, the Episcopal Church had courted slave owners and robber barons, by my day, it was alone among white-dominated Southern Protestant churches in its concern for social justice. Never once did I hear a Church of Christ preacher speak-out for human rights, although they posted guards at church doors to keep black people from entering, and it was common knowledge that the same Klansmen who bombed churches and burned crosses on Saturday night, worshiped inside churches and before crosses on Sunday morning. 

By the time I left the Church of Christ, I was in search of a refuge of safety and healing away from Christianity, but there were none. However, there was the Episcopal Church, and because it was liberal, and because its liturgies and its sanctuaries were beautiful, the Episcopal Church came to represent an abandonment of all that religion had ever meant to me, and I embraced it. Church of Christ preachers devote a portion of every sermon to the torments of hell, and their sanctuary walls are bare. Episcopal priests seek to inspire, and their walls are richly decorated. Even today, the Episcopal Church doesn't seem like church to me, and I believe there were better men than Christ. Even so, he and the Bible do uplift at times, and I'm too old to go elsewhere. The world contains little that feels like home to me, and the Episcopal Church is among the things that do.