That Old Serpent Rides Again

“Your adversary the devil,” says the psalm,” as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Lately he (or she) hasn’t had far to seek. The combination of the “Me Generation” and religion provides unparalleled opportunity.

I’ve been reading The Cloud of Unknowing, an anonymous 14th century document that commends humility above all else. In God’s presence, says the author, “all nature trembles, all scholars are fools, all saints and angels blind.” And yet, members of a generation accustomed to putting “me” first, seeking “self-fulfillment,” have persuaded themselves that they have definitive answers to life’s mysteries, nor will they abide for a moment life together with those who differ with them. After all, there are bishops in Africa who agree with them, so why should they endure being part of a larger church in which they are a very small minority?

And here’s the fun part: some of them have signed up with the Archbishop of Kenya, some of Uganda, some of Nigeria, some of Rwanda, so that now we have in the United States, African colonies planted, in large part, in the former slave states and divided by national identities created by English colonizers in the 19th century! Perhaps, with time, they will unite to form an African Episcopal Church. Or perhaps we will have separate American-African churches in some of which women can be ordained and others in which they cannot, some in which the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is used, some that use the 1928 version, and still others that use the English Prayer Book of 1662. And give the devil his due, once started they will undoubtedly find new things about which to disagree and over which to divide.

Queen Elizabeth I said she would not “make windows into men’s souls.” So long as they came together in worship, she would not examine them as to the issues that might divide. For centuries that provided Anglicans with a unity not imposed by Rome or drummed up by emotional appeals, but that is no longer good enough for those who have the right answers. But what is there to unite them except a common abhorrence of homosexuality? How do you build a Creed out of that?

So the church, which for centuries has spoken of a love that unites across all human divisions, once again provides the world with the sorry spectacle of division and the devil roars with laughter.

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