Giving the Devil His Due
It has been instructive to watch the reaction of some segments of the conservative Episcopalian press to the Ellen Cooke scandal. Mrs. Cooke, formerly the Treasurer of the Episcopal Church and a protégée of its presiding bishop, has been accused of diverting more than $2 million of church funds to her own use. Bishop Browning is clearly chagrined and embarrassed, while many of his conservative detractors can barely hide their delight in the whole affair and are giving him a good journalistic thrashing for it.
Even if Bishop Browning is one of Satan’s champions, when he is struck from behind by one of his own it is not right for those who regard him as an enemy to seize the advantage. Some orthodox Episcopalians have forgotten that we must follow the Rules, which include allowing the adversary to play from his position of greatest strength. This includes, among other things, not kicking him when he is down. There are important reasons for this. To do less is not of faith. The Gospels make it clear that the Lord gave the devil his due, which included a full and fair opportunity to beat him. His followers must bear up under a real risk of defeat until the foreordained victory is actually secured. But just as important is the notion that our attack must be focused upon the well-defended center at which are found the greater and more subtle lies that drive the whole campaign, and from which auxiliary evils ramify like the leaves of a weed.
Why should Episcopalians be so painfully genteel in so many areas of dispute and indulge in such vulgar whooping here? I wonder whether all this barely disguised joy at Bishop Browning’s discomfiture is not a sign of deeper recognition that those who are still willing to eat at his table really can do no better than hoot when he stumbles, since they, in the name of every Episcopalian virtue, have avoided direct and persistent attacks on the roots of the denominational deformity (this would have involved too much unpleasantness) at least since the days of Bishop Pike. A bit of leaf-lopping is the best they have been able to collectively manage, and so the weed, pruned to robust health by its detractors and nourished by their fallen bodies, has grown tall and immensely strong, filling the whole Anglican earth.
The radical problem with Bishop Browning and his people like him is that they have persistently discouraged orthodoxy and encouraged heresy in the Episcopal Church. This matter of what may have been a bit of negligence in not supervising Mrs. Cooke more closely pales in comparison. Drawing excessive attention to the Cooke affair is something like making heavy weather of Stalin’s bad breath or dirty socks while ignoring his unfortunate taste for genocide.
Brethren, cleave to the root. If we would follow Christ we must decline the temptation to arrive at the goal by playing the devil’s game, which includes things like bellowing triumphs over a (very slightly) wounded enemy. This would seem especially true when we consider that our Lord picked his organization’s treasurer himself and—it might be argued—should have been keeping a closer eye on him.
—S. M. Hutchens
S. M. Hutchens works as a reference librarian in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He holds a doctorate in theology. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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“Giving the Devil His Due” first appeared in the Fall 1995 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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