One very unpleasant trend in the Church’s life is the rise of bigotry. Bigotry can be defined as a firm conviction that one is absolutely right and that no one else’s view should be allowed.
Growing up as an Episcopalian in Scotland, I was always conscious that I belonged to a tiny Church which nevertheless contained a wide variety of interpretations of the Faith. To the left of us were the various varieties of Calvinism, from the mild version of the Church of Scotland to the ever-stricter Free Church of Scotland, United Free Church and the Free Presbyterian Church (the infamous “Wee Frees”). To the right of us was the (then) monolithic Roman Catholic Church. We Piskies sometimes felt like a little rowing boat sailing between two oil tankers, and ever in danger of being squashed.
The bigotry of Irish Christianity had spilled over into Scotland with the immigration of Irish Catholics in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the hatred of “Papes and Proddies” was never so fierce as on the football field. In Glasgow, Rangers and Celtic matches sometimes ended in free-for-all fights, fuelled all through the match by one side singing anti-British Irish Nationalist songs and the other side singing anti-Catholic songs, whose scatological (and anatomically impossible) references to the Pope would make a mobster blush.
We Episcopalians may have felt superior to all this. Certainly we did not like the Presbyterians of any brand, especially when they were responsible for closing the pubs on Sundays – “the Sabbath”, as they mistakenly called it. Nor did we like the Roman Catholics who, we were solemnly assured, only went to Mass from a fear of the priests. So we were bigoted too, but only in a mild sort of way. Within our Church we had liberals and conservatives, High Church and Low Church, fundamentalist evangelicals and Anglo-Papalists, and we all coexisted, usually being united only in our distrust of the Bishop’s five-year plan!
But now, the authoritarian outlook of the Roman Church and of the Wee Frees seems to have invaded our Episcopal Church, not to mention the Anglican Communion. We seem no longer to be able to tolerate widely different views on Scripture and Tradition in our Church. So on the one hand, some are crying out for an Anglican Covenant which will regulate our beliefs, and which will expel those who transgress its limits (This is the Roman-type solution). And on the other hand, little groups have begun leaving the Episcopal Church because they will not coexist with those who disagree with them. (This is the Presbyterian solution). And like the Scottish Presbyterians, they have already begun to break up into yet smaller groups, because the habit of thinking that only they are right is catching, and they soon see that even those who left with them are not really “sound”.
They are all very keen to be “in communion” only with those who believe exactly what they believe. But since I am sure that when we get to the royal banquet of Heaven we shall all be made to sit together at the King’s table and share his food, surely it is time for us to share that same Lord’s Table here on earth, no matter how faulty in belief or morals we may believe our neighbour to be. I’d rather be convicted of too much charity than too much faith!