On pride and priests

Conroy D. Guyer is a communicant of Calvary Episcopal Church in East Liberty, Pennsylvania, Diocese of Pittsburgh and is retired from the English faculty at Fox Chapel Area High School. He says in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the upcoming vote to attempt to separate the Diocese from the Episcopal Church and says that if it succeeds, people who vote for it will probably regret it.

Here are excerpts:

It should be a cautionary tale for the laity and the clergy who will soon vote about whether the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh should remain in the Episcopal Church.

“Murder in the Cathedral” is a play about a 12th century archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, who has his own agenda. Becket’s quest for power takes the form of spiritual pride, which becomes his tragic flaw. This tragic flaw is objectified in Becket’s fantasies of martyrdom, with its concomitant desire for power. When the Tempter comes to Becket, the Tempter speaks Becket’s own thoughts to him.

.. But think, Thomas … of glory after death

… Think of pilgrims, standing in line

Before the glittering jeweled shrine …

And think of your enemies in another place

Power in the form of moral purity does not exist anywhere in this world. There are always the subtexts, the unarticulated desires, the tacit motivations.

While the hidden agenda may remain unclear, one does have an understanding about how an administrator should exercise his power in office. Should an administrator exercise his power in the best interests of his institution, or undermine it? If an administrator feels that an institution no longer reflects his values, should he not resign from it? Does an administrator in the office of a bishop have the right to take a diocese out of its parent organization and give its assets of $43 million to another diocese — maybe one of his own devising or perhaps one on another continent?

(No wonder Mr. Duncan calls ours a diocese of miraculous expectation! Where is the missionary grace? A slogan can cover a vacuum.)

When power is misused, it taints the hopes of those who are no longer with us and who have given money so that the structures and the doctrines of the Episcopal church will be here for future generations. The purpose for which these people have given money is thwarted and their trust is broken. Is this not a genuine ethical problem? Furthermore, are not the higher ethical values of religion sadly compromised in schism? Who has ever read a book about a church schism and concluded that this was the shining hour of faith?


Jesus himself never spoke about the subject of homosexuality as far as we know. Many clergy have said more about homosexuality in Jesus’ name than Jesus himself ever did.

A third point that needs remembering is that the new diocese will not be a utopia — a place of absolute moral purity. It will be administered by people who, like Archbishop Becket, “follow too much the devices and the desires of their own hearts.” Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “The tragedy of man is that he can conceive self-perfection, but he cannot achieve it.”

Sadly, many lunatic acts have been committed by religious people in history — acts that many sincere people lived to regret. Do we learn from history? How quickly the reign of Oliver Cromwell in England lost its purity, and some in New England who supported the witch trials later came to regret their participation in them.

An antidote to mad acts is clarity of thought. One might find a way toward lucid thought if one applies the formula of the English poet, William Wordsworth, to his decision-making process. Wordsworth felt that the genesis of a good poem began in an intense emotional experience, which Wordsworth described as “the spontaneous overflow of emotions.” If that intense emotional experience is to find expression in the well-ordered world of art, the poet then must engage in quiet reflection. Wordsworth called this part of the artistic process, “… the recollection in tranquility.”

The clergy and the laity of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh are going to make a momentous decision soon that will affect all of us in a good or a bad way for decades to come. Power will be exercised in the process, with its far-reaching effects. The desire for power for some is a subtext in this drama. Some players in this drama will be looking for rewards more palpable than spiritual.

The body of Christ will be torn. The promise of purity will be corrupted by time, as it casts its shadows. Decisions made in the heat of emotions devoid of reason will lead to madness, and madness leads to regret.

My hope is that the laity and the clergy of the Pittsburgh Diocese of the Episcopal Church will exercise their faculty of “reflection in tranquility” in the days to come.

Read it here.

HT to Lionel Deimel.

Check out the web site for Across the Aisle here.

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