If you’re a progressive American who strives to keep up with the world of news and punditry, I’d wager real money you’ve never thought to yourself, “You know what sort of writer the New York Times desperately needs to add to its roster? A Protestant Ross Douthat, only a woman, and more presentable.” So naturally, somehow, the out-of-touch folks at the Times sat down and decided to do exactly that, welcoming Tish Harrison Warren, a priest in the hardline Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), aboard as the author of a Times-subscriber-exclusive newsletter. Her opinion piece introducing the newsletter is focused on the notion that “we” need to start talking about God—as if America weren’t already super-saturated with conservative Christian God talk—though it’s presented in a meandering, aw-shucks tone that suggests an openness and broadness of spirit belied by her actual history and affiliations.
In fairness, what Warren does have going for her is that, unlike Douthat, she doesn’t go around cartoonishly shouting about the “decline of Western civilization!” Instead, she prefers to wield the more genteel language of “credal orthodoxy.” And since she’s so very “civil,” does it really matter that when you peel away her rhetoric, you find the same bigoted social politics?
When you get right down to it, there’s really only one reason to be Anglican, as opposed to Episcopalian, in the United States, and that’s being well to the right of the mainline Episcopal Church, which is the main branch of the Anglican Communion in this country. Never mind that 57% of white—and the Episcopal Church is overwhelmingly white—non-evangelical Protestants voted for Trump in 2020, according to Pew. That alone doesn’t satisfy the culture warriors who insist on doctrinal opposition to the full acceptance and inclusion of members of the LGBTQ community.
The Episcopal Church elected its first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003, and has elected several since. Indeed, in 2016, the global Anglican Communion, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, sanctioned the Episcopal Church because it allows priests to celebrate same-sex weddings. As the Episcopal Church has become more inclusive of members of the LGBTQ community over the course of the twenty-first century, ordaining queer clergy and even electing gay bishops, some American parishes have broken away, putting themselves under openly homophobic Anglican bishops. But even the Anglican Communion is too “liberal” for the likes of Warren. ACNA is a breakaway denomination that is no longer a part of the Anglican Communion centered on Canterbury.
Furthermore, Warren’s own words on matters of LGBTQ acceptance and Christianityare ultimately at least as damning as her denominational affiliation.
Warren is a founding member of the Pelican Project, a non-profit subsidiary of Artists in Christian Testimony (ACT) International, an organization “that assists and sends out artistic missionaries and ministers to pursue their unique mission or ministry calling as it fits into the greater Kingdom work.” This explicitly anti-pluralist non-profit lists among its objectives “to creatively evangelize non-Christian peoples.”
As for the Pelican Project itself, its website describes it as “a guild of Christian women who are writers, speakers, teachers, and leaders in good standing in our local Protestant churches and who seek to advance a shared commitment to Christian belief and practice across cultural, denominational, and racial lines.” To be sure, the Pelican Project comes with a side of faux-feminism. Warren once put it this way to Christianity Today magazine:
“My hope is that in 30 years, we wouldn’t need anything like the Pelican Project, because local churches would be full to the brim with theologically rooted, theologically trained, institutionally credentialed, orthodox women leaders.”
But this (unrealistic) dream is couched in excessive concern over the unease of (conveniently unnamed) male Christian leaders who, supposedly, want to read more books by women and feature more women as speakers in their institutions, but have been unable to do so over their fears—fears Warren clearly finds quite valid—that Christian women who’ve gained fame as authors and speakers may not be properly grounded in theological orthodoxy. Quelle horreur! Fetch the smelling salts. But let’s be clear. What Warren is essentially saying here is that, in order to be taken seriously by male conservative Christian leaders, conservative Christian women need to act more like these authoritarian men.
Meanwhile, Warren, an ordained priest and an advocate of women’s ordination, is also a proponent of polite and “civil” debate with those who hold to the clearly misogynistic view that women should not be ordained.
So, what else is the Pelican Project about? Among other things, its members “commit to maintaining an embodied, offline Christian community and to membership in a local church that upholds the authority of Scripture, affirms a clear statement of belief, and practices formal, meaningful church discipline and member-oversight.” They also “commit to uphold the historical Christian understanding of marriage as the union of one man and one woman and believe all Christians are called to chastity.”
This fetish of church authority and discipline is a major theme of Warren’s own work, in which she tends to bring up LGBTQ issues and then quickly dismiss them, retreating to an emphasis on her uncritical commitment to “broad Christian orthodoxy,” as if that absolves her of choosing to hold objectively harmful views on sex, sexuality, and gender.
Some of her associates are less careful with their language. For example, Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile, a member of the Pelican Project’s advisory council, is the source of some of the most virulently homophobic rhetoric to appear on The Gospel Coalition’s website, falsely describing all homosexuality as “sexual promiscuity of an abominable sort,” calling for Christians who oppose same-sex marriage to play up “the yuck factor” in their arguments, and denying that same-sex love is really love.
Warren herself is a contributor to TGC, where her work is also frequently (and approvingly) cited. Readers may recall that TGC founder Tim Keller created a firestorm of deserved social media criticism back in April when he tweeted that any sex that takes place outside of a one-man, one-woman marriage is “dehumanizing.”
Warren has, perhaps unsurprisingly, had her own brushes with online controversy, specifically over her concern-trolling of Christian women who dare to blog outside any formal structures of church authority, and who are thus likely, according to Warren, to wander into heretical territory.
Naturally, the specific issue Warren was responding to in this context was gay marriage. In 2016, the popular evangelical blogger Jen Hatmaker let her readers know that her views on LGBTQ-rights had changed, and that she was now a supporter of same-sex marriage and believed that such marriages can be holy. In response, Warren went into full pearl-clutching mode in the pages of Christianity Today, where she characteristically skirted the question of direct agreement or disagreement with Hatmaker’s position on marriage—although she clearly disagrees—by making an argument in favor of authoritarian Christian leadership:
If I were to teach or write anything that wandered from Anglican orthodoxy (specifically the constitution and canons of the Anglican Church in North America), the next day or sooner I’d get a call from my bishop, to whom I’ve formally and publically pledged to submit. He has actual power to take away my title, my job, my authority, and my microphone. Teaching and writing publically ought to be a bit scary—the book of James somewhat ominously warns teachers that we’ll be ‘judged with greater strictness’—so I find this accountability comforting. I’m grateful that I cannot speak as an autonomous, unbridled voice.
Ah yes, the “comfort” of authoritarian leadership, with its attendant self-censorship under threat of harsh discipline over departure from dogma. Were the folks involved with bringing Warren’s newsletter to the Times aware that she’s motivated by such unhealthy, anti-democratic ideals when they decided to hire her?
More importantly, were they aware that she uses them as an excuse to remain uncritically devoted to intolerant views that actively harm marginalized Americans? I suspect that they did. Whether they will feel compelled to explain their decision-making, of course, depends on whether enough members of the public will care enough to vocally demand that they do so.
The Times’ go-to line on such matters, of course, is that they print many opinions the editors disagree with in the interest of fostering healthy debate. Still, it seems reasonable to ask how many anti-LGBTQ conservative Christians the “paper of record” should be lending its imprimatur to, particularly when other demographics go unrepresented. Why not hire a progressive Christian pastor who blesses same-sex marriage as a counterbalance to Ross Douthat? Or how about taking on a queer atheist who thinks the Times is too conservative?
The Times has clearly set a skewed standard for what constitutes opinions worthy of “healthy debate” in its race to include people to its right at the expense of people to its left. In the process it continues to contribute to the normalization of right-wing American extremism.