How deep? Consider one of its latest appointments. The Episcopal Divinity School (EDS), where church leaders are educated, has just appointed a new dean, The Rev. Dr. Katherine Ragsdale.
This is how her appointment was announced:
From among the many gifted candidates we interviewed, Katherine Ragsdale overwhelmingly stands out as the one best equipped and called to lead EDS into this next exciting and promising chapter of our life and mission.
Ragsdale, a 1997 graduate of EDS, comes to the School from Political Research Associates, a progressive think tank, where she has served as president and executive director since 2005.
So her main qualification is her leadership of a progressive think tank. And what kinds of things has she endorsed as leader of this organisation?
She appears to have endorsed anti-family and anti-father social policy research, a curious position for a leader of a mainstream Christian church to adopt.
For instance, the director of Political Research Associates, Jean Hardisty, recently wrote two anti-family tracts titled "Pushed to the Altar: the Right Wing Roots of Marriage Promotion" and "Marriage as a Cure for Poverty?". Katherine Ragsdale wrote a glowing preface for Hardisty's work:
Political Research Associates owes ... Jean Hardisty a great debt ... for the work she continues to do for us ... This report and its companion piece ... continue that tradition.
These two reports demonstrate the Right's use of federal funds to exert social control and their use of agenda driven treatises, masquerading as science ... As always, liberty is at stake. We, at PRA, thank Jean for her vigilance.
So how exactly was the vigilant Jean upholding liberty? If you look at the blurb for the Pushed to the Altar report you find this:
This report is the result of a two-year investigation by political scientist Jean Hardisty into the George W. Bush Administration's marriage promotion and fatherhood initiatives. Dr. Hardisty locates these initiatives within the context of the Right's family values ideology ...
Ragsdale, it seems, is endorsing a report which criticises the promotion of marriage, fatherhood and family values.
The report takes aim at the Bush Administration for spending money promoting a stable family life as an alternative to welfare dependency. We are supposed to think it scandalous that money was used to promote marriage and responsible fatherhood:
Government-funded marriage promotion and fatherhood programs are varied and numerous.
Marriage promotion programs developed by the Bush Administration, with the assistance of The Heritage Foundation and other rightist think tanks, are now being implemented across the country, including:
* Public advertising campaigns and high school programs on the value of marriage;
* Marriage education for nonmarried pregnant women and nonmarried expectant fathers;
* Premarital education and marriage skills training for engaged couples and for couples or individuals interested in marriage;
* Marriage enhancement and marriage skills training programs for married couples;
* Divorce reduction programs that teach relationship skills;
* Marriage mentoring programs which use married couples as role models and mentors in at-risk communities; and
* Programs to reduce the disincentives to marriage in means-tested aid programs, if offered in conjunction with any activity described above.
It all seems fine to me, but to the women liberationists of the Political Research Associates it's evidence of an evil right-wing influence on society.
The report also damns the promotion of the heterosexual nuclear family as a social norm:
Central to the Right's identity is its crusade to restore the heterosexual nuclear family as the only approved social unit worthy of the name "family."
We would expect this from radical secular leftists. But would we really expect complaints about the heterosexual nuclear family to be endorsed by a church leader?
If we are not supposed to promote the traditional family, then what can we do? According to the report, it's admirable to support "profeminist" fatherhood organisations:
A small movement of profeminist fatherhood organizations works on issues such as: the problems that male supremacy causes within the family; how the politics of masculinity often appears to condone violence in U.S. culture; and their own privilege as men.
It is permissible, in other words, to associate fatherhood negatively with male supremacy, violence and privilege.
There is also the second PRA report, Marriage as a Cure for Poverty?, to consider. This report strongly criticises the idea that families need fathers:
The rightist fatherhood movement relies on biased scholarship to support its assertion that a family is not complete without the presence of a father.
The report wants low-income women to remain single and autonomous:
Rather than advocating for higher and more equitable wages and access to education for low-income women, these scholars argue for low-income women to marry and become dependent on a man.
Divorce isn't such a problem:
Those who promote marriage as a cure for poverty rely on questionable findings regarding the affects of divorce on children.
The report dismisses the family as a social construct which has only been around for a couple of hundred years:
... the love-based heterosexual nuclear family is not a long-standing model, but rather an invention of the late 18th century. (p.12)
It's only conservative white Americans who think a father is a natural part of the family:
In conservative, White American culture, it is the presence of a father as well as a mother that makes a family. This argument has gained visibility in recent years as a result of the increased political influence of Christian right voters and organisations that use the "natural family" as a counter-argument to the increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage and single motherhood. (pp.12-13)
Marriage counseling is reactionary:
Offering marriage counseling that encourages marriage and discourages divorce to low-income women reasserts a traditional, patriarchal definition of what makes a family. (p.30)
Then there's the issue of abortion. Katherine Ragsdale, the new Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, believes that abortion is always and everywhere a blessing:
And when a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her; decides she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to a safe, affordable abortion - there is not a tragedy in sight -- only blessing. The ability to enjoy God's good gift of sexuality without compromising one's education, life's work, or ability to put to use God's gifts and call is simply blessing ...
I want to thank all of you who protect this blessing - who do this work every day: the health care providers, doctors, nurses, technicians, receptionists, who put your lives on the line to care for others (you are heroes -- in my eyes, you are saints) ... You're engaged in holy work.
Abortion as holy work; abortionists as saints. Who would have known?
She even believes that doctors have no right to opt out of performing abortions as a matter of conscience:
When doctors and pharmacists try to opt out of providing medical care, claiming it's an act of conscience, our work is not done.
... there's a world of difference between those who engage in such civil disobedience, and pay the price, and doctors and pharmacists who insist that the rest of the world reorder itself to protect their consciences - that others pay the price for their principles.
... if you're not prepared to provide the full range of reproductive health care (or prescriptions) to any woman who needs it then don't go into obstetrics and gynecology, or internal or emergency medicine, or pharmacology. Choose another field! We'll respect your consciences when you begin to take responsibility for them.
How are we to respond to the appointment of someone like Katherine Ragsdale to a leadership position in the Episcopal Church?
To me it shows how much a civilisation has to be fought for. Lawrence Auster recently described the basic contest in politics as follows:
Since the aim of the liberal project is to dismantle the natural, social, and spiritual order of being and construct in its place a society in which the only recognized basis of order is an equality of all human desires managed and pacified by a bureaucratic state, it follows that the only true opposite of liberal society is a traditional society, in which the order of being is recognized, nourished, and expressed, rather than disparaged, despised, and banished as it is by liberalism.
There are now individuals being appointed to leadership positions in the Episcopal Church who clearly identify with the liberal project. Hence they often work within secular political rather than church organisations and they identify evil not with sin but with conservative politics. Their orientation is toward disparaging and banishing the natural, social and spiritual order of being.
There is no reason why other churches won't arrive at a similar fate - if they are unwilling to recognise what is at stake, to clearly set out what they stand for, and to keep from positions of responsibility those who clearly transgress these standards.