Her EDS colleagues, however, may have found the hubbub a bit more jarring. "The church has been so focused on gay and lesbian issues that they were sort of prepared for that," says Ragsdale. "What they didn't realize, I think, is that the anti–women's rights people are much more ferocious than the anti-gay people."
While Ragsdale's relatively low-key response may stem, in part, from her years in the pro-choice trenches, there are some additional factors worth noting. One is her understanding of what motivates her detractors. As Ragsdale sees it, her critics aren't giving voice to spontaneous, genuine moral outrage. Instead, they're being manipulated by shadowy outsiders eager to wreak havoc in the Episcopal Church.
Now for some quick background. In 2003, Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, was elected Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire. His election inflamed already-simmering tensions between the increasingly liberal Episcopal Church — the US arm of the worldwide Anglican Communion — and conservative Anglicans around the globe. It also led some conservative Episcopalian communities in the US to secede from the church, often by affiliating themselves with theologically conservative Anglican bishops from Africa. Rowan Williams — the Welshman who leads the Anglican Communion as Archbishop of Canterbury (but lacks the authority the pope enjoys in the Roman Catholic Church) — currently has the unenviable task of preventing a full-blown Anglican schism; whether he'll succeed remains to be seen.
In the press, discord between Episcopalian and Anglican liberals and their conservative brethren is usually treated as the product of sincere theological disagreement. (See, for example, New Yorker writer Peter Boyer's April 2006 profile of Robinson.) But Ragsdale takes a different view. According to her, the current dissatisfaction of conservative Episcopalians and Anglicans stems less from widespread resistance to the church's stance on social issues (homosexuality, abortion, the ordination of women, the reliability or fallibility of Scripture) than from outside groups eager to keep the Episcopal Church — and other mainline Protestant denominations — from successfully pushing their progressive agenda.
"The churches were real leaders of the civil-rights movement and the anti-war movement," notes Ragsdale, "and after we got out of Vietnam, they turned their attention to the problems of capitalism, causing a panic among wealthy business folks who'd just seen the churches be successful [on those issues]. So you had these organizations that really weren't connected with the churches at all forming to foment discord in the churches, to keep them so busy fighting among themselves or within themselves that they couldn't continue to do their progressive social-action work."
Exhibit A, she claims, is the Washington, DC–based Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) — whose president, Mark Tooley, dubbed Ragsdale the "High Priestess of Abortion" in a May 8 American Spectator piece. (To support this claim, Ragsdale cites a grant proposal in which the IRD speaks of "redirecting [Protestant] churches away from their reflexive alliance with the political left.") "They want to undercut mainstream Episcopalianism, and they want to undercut this seminary as one of the [places] that supports the instincts of mainstream Episcopalianism," she says. "So I become another opportunity for them to create trouble."