Crossing Denominational Lines to Reprimand “Freaky Fraus”

It’s a standard argument of the right-wing “profamily” movement that the orthodox and conservative members of all Christian faiths, and, to some extent conservative Jews and Muslims as well, share more common ground among themselves in their approach to sexual and reproductive politics and gender issues than any of their rank have towards the more liberal members of their own denominations and churches.

In profamily organizing at the United Nations, members have described their cross-denominational and interfaith appeal as uniting “all of the children of Abraham” against a common enemy. Historically, the coalition-building has roots in Christian right theologian Francis Schaeffer’s notion of cobelligerency, the temporary cooperation of Catholics and evangelicals on conservative social issues like abortion. But lately, as more mainline denominations come into threat of schism over those social issues, and gay marriage, and women’s ordination, the rhetoric of rightwing ecumenism has taken on a more theological bent as well.

This much was on display in the reaction of Rev. David Runnion-Bareford, Executive Director of the Confessing Movement in the United Church of Christ, in rebuking one of his fellow churches in the UCC for hosting the ordination of several Catholic Womenpriests, an international initiative to ordain women priests that is unrecognized by the Catholic hierarchy, on July 20 at the Church of the Covenant in Boston, a church associated with the UCC and the Presbyterian church. The womenpriests did not pledge obedience or chastity, and also generally take liberal positions on gay and reproductive rights, with one newly ordained woman describing her allegiance to the GLBT community. The Boston Archdiocese declared that the women had excommunicated themselves with the act, as “Catholics who attempt to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the women who attempt to receive a sacred order, are by their own actions separating themselves from the Church.”

In response, Runnion-Bareford responded with an apology on behalf of his liberal brethren:

“Please accept our deepest and sincere apology for the behavior of Rev. Nancy Taylor of Old South Church, UCC and the UCC related Church of the Covenant. They do not reflect the heart and mind of our United Church of Christ whose premise is ‘that all may be one.’ Those of us who truly value the unity of all Christians and treasure our ecumenical relationships with you as Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ are grieved.”

The Confessing Movement UCC pastor also said that his movement is also [sic] “fully aware that this event was not motivated by a sincere desire to honor the call of God and the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the ministry of committed Christian women.”

Rev. Runnion-Bradford further criticized the women for refusing to take a vow of chastity and for promoting a self-centered gospel, citing the “Body, Sex and Gender” section of the group’s web page.

“We know that ‘Womenpriests’ openly include candidates who are engaged in the practice of sexual license. It is significant that the participants would not take the vow of obedience or chastity. We are aware of the statements on their website proclaiming a false gospel of self and mutual affirmation, denying the fall of humanity and our need for repentance from sin and personal transformation through the atoning crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“We note that it is not incidental that this event was hosted in Boston by a church that is prideful about its aggressive religious sanction of homosexual, bi-sexual and transgender relationships and same gender ‘marriage.’ We also note that the pansexual activist group Integrity participated and assisted with hospitality,” Runnion-Bradford observed in his letter.

The Confessing movement that Runnion-Bareford represents is among a number of dissident orthodox groups, sometimes calling themselves “renewal” groups, within mainline Protestant denominations that hope to turn their churches to conservative positions on social and theological issues, rather than leave the denomination for more conservative evangelical or orthodox churches. Though the confessing movements generally declare themselves organic grassroots movement of conservative laity, longtime religious right watchers like Frederick Clarkson have tied many to the Institute of Religion and Democracy, a “a well-funded and influential hub for a national network of conservative factions called the Association for Church Renewal. The member organizations… variously seek to neutralize church tendencies of which they don’t approve; drive out staff they don’t like; and seek to take over the churches, but failing that—taking as many churches and assets out as possible.”

But outside of such formal coalitions of conservative change, the sentiment of shared hostility towards liberal churches and feminist doctrines ties conservatives together across denominational lines. Patrick Archbold of Creative Minority Report, a conservative Catholic blog voted the best new Catholic blog of 2008, applauded Runnion-Bareford’s testosterone-driven challenge to the womenpriests, calling it a display of “John Wayne style ecumenism” that the author (not short of hostility himself, with a flair for alliteration in naming the “womynpriests,” “batty babes in Beantown” and “freaky fraus”) could get behind. Archbold writes:

Now this is my kind of ecumenism. Our sincerest thanks to Rev. David Runnion-Bareford for this wonderful response to the divisive and ridiculous actions of the womynpriests, Rev. Taylor, and the Church of the Covenant.

I have sometimes thought that all good ecumenism is best served by not pulling punches. More of a John Wayne style ecumenism. Apparently the Rev. Runnion-Bareford agrees, as Rev. Taylor and the Church of the Covenant just got punched in the nose for acting like idiots. John Wayne and Rev. Runnion-Bareford do not suffer fools lightly.

The glee of a shared task in reprimanding dissenting Christian women across denominational lines is particularly obvious in this case, but a similar note can be found in many ecumenical profamily discussions which frequently center around issues of sexuality and the necessity of supporting the traditional family structure.

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