These are familiar tales of the Episcopal Church —nPECUSA, as it is sometimes known to initiates. However, Inmight just as easily have chosen examples from Methodist,nLutheran, Catholic, and Presbyterian friends. These days itnis hard to find a thoughtful person who is really satisfied withnhis church, and the cause of the disgust is almost always thenclergy.n”Some of the lower orders of clergy are occasionally notntoo bad,” Browne concedes, “but the executives are thengreatest offenders against public decency around: bloatednCatholic bishops with hard eyes and fatuous voices, welltailorednAnglicans with fatuous manners and old money,nHollywood-coiffured evangelists who made their moneynwith the old-fashioned techniques of a street Arab: beggingnand stealing.”nI pointed out the obvious and honorable exceptions.nThere are Anglicans in the South — even bishops — whonrecall happier times for the Church. One of the youngest isnan ecclesiastical historian of sound principle and uprightncharacter. You can still meet an occasional two-fistednIrishman or mule-headed German among the snivelingnepicenes that are now manufactured by the nation’s Catholicnseminaries; and, to be fair, some of the best men we bothnhad known included clergymen: Southern Baptists, RomannCatholics, and at least two Anglicans. One of them was ansimple man who had worked on the railroad. Recoveringnfrom an accident, he decided to investigate the claims madenby the various Christian sects. After a period of study andndeliberation, he chose the Episcopal Church. It soundsnbizarre, but he believed it and lived in that belief as a faithfulnpriest who ministered to mission churches, working a secondnjob to support his family. Even in the most politicizednchurches, e.g., the Methodists, there are hundreds of decentnmen who go quietly about their work of baptizing, servingncommunion, preaching the gospel, and counseling all thosenwho are troubled in mind, body, or estate.nWhat a contrast with the TroUopean characters who sit innbishops’ chairs today. The Anglican clergy no longer huntnfoxes, but they are quick to adopt all the other enthusiasmsnof the American upper class. They issue forth from theirnexclusive neighborhoods to lead demonstrations againstnapartheid; freed forever from the obligation to defend theirncountry, they huff and puff over world peace and nuclearndisarmament — while at the same time calling for jihadsnagainst Chile and South Africa; living comfortably onntax-sheltered incomes, they summon the rest of us to a lifenof fasting and humility — for what? Service to the Lord?nNo, service to humanity, to social and economic justice, andnto all the other code words for the principalities and powersnthat rule this world.nMost Americans, especially the beneficiaries, take thesenprivileges of clergy for granted. We leap easily from the laternMiddle Ages, when an almost universal church rivaled thenpower and authority of emperors and kings, to the presentnsecular age as if there had been no Reformation, nonAmerican Revolution, no Constitution. Conservatives frequentlynsneer at Jefferson and Madison for their anxietiesnabout established churches, but it is from the comfortablendistance of 200 years of disestablishment. Perhaps we worry,nthose of us who are believers, too much about the encroachmentsnof the state upon the freedom of religion and too littlenabout the churches’ intrusion into politics. A few years agonthe liberals were fond of asking if we wanted Jerry Falwell innour bedroom. For most Americans the answer was no, butnthere is another, more pressing question: do we want thenCatholic bishops—bulging with tax-exempt and taxshelterednwealth — interfering in affairs of state and nationalndefense? It is not just conservative Catholics who see thenbishops as a lobbying force against the national interest.nMany Protestants and secularist liberals are fed up with thenpolitical pretentions of these armchair politicians, and thenchurch is now facing legal actions that would drastically alternits tax status.nIn fairness to Mr. Falwell, I should point out that as headnof the Moral Majority he was only claiming the rights of anprivate citizenry in a democracy. But the Catholic,nLutheran, and Anglican bishops — acting with all the courtesynand restraint of Iranian Mullahs at a NOW conventionn— do not trouble themselves about the rights and duties ofncitizenship. Because they have mumbled certain formulaen(whether they believe them or not) and chosen to wearnexotic costumes, the higher clergy lay claim to a wide varietynof political rights that transcend both law and public interest.nI sometimes wonder what things would be like if Mr.nJefferson’s proposed “wall of separation” had been built andnbuttressed by federal statutes and local tax codes. Before thendays of income taxes the issue hardly came up, but it is timenfor a second look. Why are donations to churches automaticallyntax-exempt, and why are most of their earningsnsheltered? It is true that similar exemptions are given tongroups whose stated purpose — charity, education, the artsn— correspond to some public commitment. In this light,nreligion, even viewed as a merely social phenomenon, is ofnsuch manifest public utility that it can safely be includednwith public sculpture and government schools.nStill, atheists and secularists do have a point when theynargue that religion is, in the modern world, more controversialnthan education. They wonder why nonbelievers shouldnpay higher taxes to make up for what is lost through religiousnexemptions. Carried to an extreme, this line of reasoningnwould set up a cafeteria tax structure in which citizens paidnonly for government activities of which they approved. Evennthe libertarians’ minimal state could be regarded as coercivenbecause it would compel us to support the warmongeringnactivities of the State Department. If religion goes, thensurgeon general and his sex pamphlets might be next.nReligion has always played a particularly significant role innAmerican life, ever since the Jamestown settlers conductednthe first Thanksgiving. Churches perform valuable charitablenservices, and if we are worried about tax subsidies fornreligion, we might also consider the amount of money wenwould otherwise spend on educating the children whonattend religious schools. These are good, practical reasonsnthat must be taken into consideration, but religious leadersntypically go much further and claim their privileges as anright. In recent zoning disputes, some churches havendeclared themselves exempt from any local restrictions thatnmight hinder the free exercise of religion. Today it is zonirig;ntomorrow it will be health codes; next week it could benpolygamy. Some churches are already notorious for violatingnantigambling ordinances. (In the Beatles’ first movie, Paul’snIrish grandfather goes to a casino and insists on sayingnnnSEPTEMBER 1988/7n