About two thousand years ago, a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth told his friends, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
I’m certain there are more spiritually edifying interpretations of that line, but many contemporary Christian leaders are apparently under the impression Jesus was talking about building the perfect veranda.
The house looks like it may collapse on itself in Rhode Island.
The Rhode Island General Assembly passed a measure Jan. 22 to present a same-sex marriage bill to the full legislature.
Should the bill be adopted, Rhode Island would become the last state in New England to legalize gay marriage.
Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin has declared that isn’t going to happen — at least not on his watch.
But like a steely-eyed gunslinger, a challenger has appeared: Episcopalian Bishop Nicholas Knisely has drawn his six-shooter and fired a warmly worded appeal for mutual love, respect and marital equality.
While the rumble in the Ocean State (who knew?) is just getting under way, these dueling bishops exemplify a larger crisis coming to a head in modern Christianity.
I’ve written over the past year about the ongoing conflict within the international Anglican Communion, called the Episcopal Church in the United States, and about how the issue of homosexuality is threatening to tear that church seam from seam.
Since its decision to ordain homosexual priests and bishops and its endorsement of gay marriage, the Episcopal Church has faced massive internal strife and defections, pitting the conservatives against the progressives and splitting the church parish by parish.
I’ve also noted the growth of the Catholic Church and its sudden appearance as a major player on the American political stage — the more conservative the American branch of the Catholic Church has become, the more parishioners they gain and retain as progressive denominations hemorrhage adherents.
And this has dramatically increased the Catholic influence that can be projected into the public discourse.
One only needs to look to Rick Santorum, Paul Ryan, Newt Gingrich and six of the nine justices currently serving on the Supreme Court to see that, politically speaking, Catholicism is in the ascendant.
But this isn’t a political issue, and it’s not a LGBTQ issue, either. This is an issue of shifting ideologies and church survival.
I spoke with Father Drew Rollins, of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, and Father Bob Stine of Christ the King Catholic Church, both on the University’s campus.
Father Drew wasn’t intimidated by the crisis his communion is facing.
“The pursuit of truth is the heart of Christianity,” he said. “Truth, come whence it may, cost what it will.”
And according to an internal census of Episcopalian membership, the cost has been quite high — the Church lost a large portion of its adherents since 1965.
Politically and doctrinally, conservative Christianity has come to take up more and more of the Christian demographic pie.
Truth has become a contentious word — and if the church’s official line on what constitutes the truth irks the lay masses, the Episcopalian Church in this case, stands to lose out big.
Father Bob acknowledged the gains Catholicism has made, despite America’s growing secularism.
“Religious millenials are more conservative. They are seeking identity. They may be alienated from popular culture, but they are devoted to their faith,” he said.
Father Drew was unconcerned with the controversy.
“Christianity is bigger than the issues of the day, and our doors will always be open as a refuge to the students of this campus regardless of sexual orientation or anything else,” he said.
How individual communities learn to deal with the rising tide of public opinion has become a make-or-break issue.
And while the Episcopalian Church may seem to be suffering now — history may yet vindicate its position.
And Father Bob had no trouble conceding the Catholic Church may be on the wrong side of history.
“The Church is sympathetic towards homosexuals as people,” Father Bob said. “We want to minister to them as we would minister to anyone else, but on this particular issue of redefining marriage, we have to take a stand. That being said, I think this is a fight we’re going to lose.”
What toll will this have on American Christianity as a large and vibrant faith community?
For the time being, Catholicism will continue to make gains, and Anglicanism will continue its slow struggle.
But ultimately, only time, and the number of folks in the pews, will tell.
Nicholas Pierce is a 23-year-old history senior from Baton Rouge.
Editor's note: This column has been corrected. The Daily Reveille originally reported that four of the nine Supreme Court justices are Catholic.