07/06/2006 03:38 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Canterbury Tale: U.S. Episcopalians in Manufactured Schism

Whose side is the Archbishop of Canterbury on? That's what some moderate and liberal Episcopalians would like to know in the wake of Rowan Williams' rather chilly response to goings-on at the recently concluded Episcopalian convention in Ohio. Those goings-on included the election of a new Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori.

The worldwide Anglican Communion, headed by Williams, certainly appears to be giving American liberals the back-of-the-hand treatment while extending a generous right hand of fellowship to dissident U.S. conservatives. There is some possibility that Williams will not even allow the new Presiding Bishop to participate in the 2008 Lambeth Conference -- a global gathering of all Anglican leaders that takes place once each decade. That would be a humiliating rebuke to the U.S. church.

On its face the fight is all about gender and sexuality. According to the Washington Post, Jefferts Schori once dared to use the expression "Mother Jesus" in a sermon; far worse in the eyes of conservatives, she allowed same-sex blessings to take place in the Diocese of Nevada, which she headed prior to her election, and she voted in the House of Bishops to endorse the consecration of openly gay V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire.

Alleged deviations like these have caused American conservatives to declare a state of schism within the U.S. church. Six of the denomination's 111 dioceses already say they do not recognize the new Presiding Bishop's authority. More are expected to do so before Jeffords Schori is consecrated at Washington's National Cathedral in November. So who will shepherd these departing American dioceses? The heroic defender of true faith among conservative Episcopalians is Bishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria. The wily and ambitious Akinola has been busily extending his reach in the U.S., even appointing some American clerics (mainly those with big and wealthy parishes) to be his junior bishops in setting up what amounts to an alternative denomination. So here is a rich historical oddity: while conservative Roman Catholic hierarchs recently declined the idea of an African pope, conservative Anglican hierarchs actually seem to have selected one.

How very Evelyn Waugh to see some pink-white American church leaders, many of them xenophobes in their secular politics, eagerly putting themselves under the jurisdiction of an African prelate! But the irony isn't much discussed among progressive Episcopalians, committed as they are to a multicultural vision. After all, they must be thinking, we once "missionized" most of the conservative Africans, Asians, and Latins who now hold the balance of power within worldwide Anglicanism; we gave them the Bibles they now quote against us; we need to hunker down and try to make some kind of peace over this.

It's the old liberals' dilemma, ecclesiastical version. They fight dirty; we don't. They organize; we temporize. They seize the pendulum and give it a rightward shove; we wait meekly for the pendulum to swing back.

The liberals could at least point out -- and I hope that Bishop Jefferts Schori will be the first to do so -- how shamelessly the rift within the U.S. denomination has been manipulated and exacerbated for many years by a little-known but well-financed and quite deadly operation called the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD).

Created by cunning Schactmanites and by ex-CIA operatives during the time of Reagan's dirty wars in Central America, the IRD's core work plan has always called for dividing and disabling the larger Mainline Protestant denominations -- the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, United Methodists, and Evangelical Lutherans -- using any means necessary. The means that has worked best by far is relentlessly flogging the issue of homosexuality and accusing religious progressives of departing from the true faith by preaching that God really does love everybody.

Thanks to the IRD's skillful fingering of this hot button through the different front groups it operates within each body, all four national denominations have been pretty much AWOL from the more urgent moral debates this moment: e.g., imperial wars of choice, torture, civil liberties, Katrina, climate change, and economic terrorism from above. The denoms just don't have the energy. Nearly all their attention and focus have been consumed by internal debates on matters Levitical.

I was reliably informed that the IRD operated right out in the open at the Episcopal convention back there in Columbus. And why shouldn't they crawl out of the woodwork and get kinda jiggy at this point? In Ohio they scored their biggest coup in a quarter-century of patient stalinoid boring from within.

One final irony: several of the guiding spirits in forming the IRD went on to create the intellectual foundations of the Bush-Cheney "dominance doctrine." So it's not that these folks doubt for one minute that Americans should rule the world; they are in fact quite passionately committed to taking up the White Man's Burden. It's just that in order for American dominance to be secured against all possible sources of domestic opposition, the liberal churches needed to be silenced. And for this purpose, what better CIA-like cover could possibly be contrived than multicultural deference to the spiritual interests and biblical views of the very same ex-colonials -- Africans, Asians, and Latins -- whose material interests and worldly aspirations our peerless American Empire will continue to shunt aside with total and utter contempt.