Officials of The Episcopal Church take new action to punish free speech


So I’m no theologian. What I am, however, is a former newspaper section editor and a veteran of 10 years in the newspaper business. One thing we journalists learn to value, very quickly, is freedom of speech for all, in all situations, and one thing we quickly learn to notice is censorship.

What really stunned me recently was the decision of officials in an otherwise progressive body to align themselves with the pro-censorship right-wing. As a Libertarian Party voter (let there be plagues on both the big political parties), I’ve been choking back an exasperated vomit following the flex of a new fascism in the high offices of The Episcopal Church USA, a body that my family joined more than a century ago (see the sidebar photos).

The upper levels of The Episcopal Church are upset because its own Mark Lawrence, Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, referred to his own Christian denomination as “a comatose patient” and as a “sidecar on a motorcycle.”

Despite the fact that The Episcopal Church continues to hemorrhage members (thus making Lawrence’s phrases into rather apt metaphors), these comments are one part of a 12-point claim that Lawrence has abandoned the doctrine and discipline of his denomination. He hasn’t, but considering the goofy allegations, who would blame him? He’d probably have more self-respect if he worked in the failing Obama administration, but men of character do not abandon their commitments.

Consider the gravity of phrases like a “comatose patient” and a “sidecar on a motorcycle.” These oh-so-horrible phrases have not pleased the censors in the high offices of The Episcopal Church, which is too fragile for thoughtful metaphors, never mind free speech. If anyone needed proof that The Episcopal Church is a dwindling body, they just need to think about how those phrases were taken as insults instead of helpful diagnoses.

Of course, in the United States of America, we value the right to critique and criticize our governing institutions. We have the freedom of speech and the freedom of dissent, even if the Libertarian Party is the only political body that fully supports those freedoms. But in The Episcopal Church, neither freedom exists. The new fascism insists that no one say anything but Nice Words, even if what’s happening reeks of juvenile ugliness.

If only it were about those two phrases.

Another allegation from the high offices of The Episcopal Church seems to boil down to this: They don’t like Lawrence’s webpage design. Really (see point No. 6).

The high offices think Lawrence has failed to display The Episcopal Church logo prominently enough on his webpage. Again, considering the goofy allegations, who would want to be branded with The Episcopal Church, the denomination that punishes free speech and micromanages webpages?

Lawrence probably didn’t realize how petty the top brass of his denomination could be — until he became bishop. But a man of character sticks to his commitments.

In our current cultural, political, and social environment, the allegedly progressive institution of The Episcopal Church USA had a chance to stand for freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of dissent.

Instead, the high offices have joined the simple-minded cable-news crowd in attempts to censor and intimidate anyone who has an alternative point of view. The Episcopal Church doesn’t welcome you. It doesn’t even welcome its own. It’s too intolerant.

The Burch family joined The Episcopal Church more than a century ago, and I will continue as an Episcopalian because the heritage is good. Maybe I’m foolish because I believe common sense can see through all the allegations against Lawrence, and I believe The Episcopal Church can become a pro-freedom organization again, some day.

But for now, the high offices have made evangelism, and the bolstering of our dwindling numbers, nearly impossible for me. What Libertarian would want to join the denomination that punishes free speech, the denomination of censorship?

This post is my own and represents only my point of view. — Colin Foote Burch

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