The New York Diocese of the Episcopal Church is meeting this week, and among other business is considering ways to shut down the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s criticism of the Episcopal Church. That criticism, you see, is a threat to religious freedom. Really–Stand Firm has the resolution:

RESOLVED, That the Diocese of New York affirms the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion, which includes the right of churches to choose their own clerical and leaders according to their own rules and criteria without interference from governments, private citizens, or other religious groups, and

“Without interference” is a phrase normally defined in terms of specific procedural roadblocks, statutory prohibitions, that sort of thing. It usually isn’t defined to mean, “nobody can’t say nothin’ ’bout the way we do things hereabouts.”

RESOLVED, That the Diocese of New York condemns those activities of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) and related groups that have sought to punish the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and United Methodist denominations for leadership choices with which they disagree through seizure of church property and other assets entrusted to the community for mission and ministry; and

Let us savor this mind-numbing piece of illiteracy for a moment.

•The “related groups” aren’t named. You can assume they are orthodox Anglican groups such as Forward in Faith or blogs such as Stand Firm. They aren’t allowed to criticize the Episcopal Church, either.

•”Punishment” usually involves the infliction of some kind of pain or loss. The Episcopal Church is apparently so thin-skinned that criticism or disagreement becomes “punishment.”

•What business does the Episcopal Diocese of New York have poking its nose into the affairs of the PCUSA or United Methodist Church? They object to the “interference” in Episcopal affairs by members of the Episcopal Church who work for IRD, and here object to the Presbyterians and Methodists who work for IRD being active in the affairs of their own denominaton.

•IRD doesn’t object to particular people being chosen for leadership (with the exception of Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool, to whom it objected for the same reason that any orthodox Christian would object to them–they were elected bishops despite [or maybe even because] engaging in behavior that Scripture calls sinful, and doing so all the while claiming that what they do is not wrong but right). It objects to the actions and teaching of those leaders.

•Finally and most absurdly, the writer(s) of this resolution managed to word this paragraph in such a way as to seem to say that the IRD is trying to seize Episcopal Church property, which is deep into tinfoil hat territory.

RESOLVED, That the Diocese calls upon the General Convention of the Episcopal Church to authorize creation of a joint task force of the affected denominations to:

1) Assess the threat to religious freedom posed by the activities of the IRD and related groups

The only threat to religious freedom is the one implied in this resolution, wherein the Episcopal Church undertakes to silence critics of its actions.

2) Develop recommendations to mitigate such threats, and

Given recent Episcopal history, that can only mean one thing: raise money to sue the culprits back to the Stone Age.

3) Ascertain the cost to the three denominations to date of litigation to prevent the alienation of church property and other assets.

Now this is something that I don’t really think they want to get into. Not only will it demonstrate that the IRD had nothing to do with any of the dozens of suits the Episcopal Church has been involved in, but it will serve to highlight for all the world to see just how costly, not to mention in many instances bone-chillingly stupid, the efforts to take property away from the congregations that paid for it has been. One blogger alone, the Anglican Curmudgeon, has done enough research into this very question to have Episcopalians questioning the sanity of their leadership for years to come.

Explanation: For nearly 30 years, IRD has publicly stated its goal of “reforming” the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and United Methodist churches along “orthodox” lines, even though it is not accountable to any of those churches. Each denomination has produced films, documentaries, and exposés about IRD’s damaging activities, but each continues to treat the problem as internal discontent rather than a coordinated assault on religious freedom. This approach has resulted in costly litigation in all three denominations. A joint task force is needed to share information and develop common strategies to safeguard the freedom and financial health of the three target denominations.

What this is really about is this: for nearly fifty years, the mainline denominations have been in free fall. Their membership losses have been staggering, their cultural influence has shrunk to next to nothing, and many of those who remain have lost all patience with hierarchies and bureaucracies that are unresponsive to members and seemingly interested in nothing but secular politics. The Diocese of New York, like much of the mainline leadership, wants a scapegoat, and the IRD– all 14 employees and million dollar budget, an amount that Katharine Jefforts-Schori throws away on lawyers every couple of months–fits the bill. Needless to say, the diocese would be far better off looking in the mirror if it wants people to blame. As for religious freedom, we’d all be better off if left-wing religious organizations would stop trying to squash criticism of their actions and positions, and start listening to it instead.

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