July 27, 2006

…in the worldwide Anglican Communion, that is, following the much-publicized goings-on at last month’s Episcopal Church (TEC) General Convention. The speed in which long-established and respected order and protocols are disintegrating is something truly breathtaking to behold and truly historical in nature. For, in just a few short weeks, we have seen the following occur:

1) From both its choice of Katharine Jefferts Schori as its new Presiding Bishop and a “compromise” resolution agreed to on GC’s last day, TEC has made it clear that it was not just unwilling to back down on the 2003 consecration of non-celibate gay priest V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, but unwilling to formally commit to no further similar actions in that regard as well.

2) The leader of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, in a written reflection issued to bishops, clergy and Anglicans worldwide, laid out the idea of an “alternative arrangement” within the Communion where national churches could be divided into “associated” and “constituent” provinces in an attempt to prevent formal schism over the impasse that exists between “orthodox” and “progressive” churches over the issue of homosexuality…

[Williams] said that he favours a new system where churches in the 70 million-strong communion could opt to form a “covenant” where they made a formal commitment to each other. Those unwilling to join the covenant could choose to become “churches in association” which were still bound by historic links but did not share the same constitutional structures, he suggested.

Under the suggestions put forward by Dr Williams, the associated churches would have no direct part in the decision making of the constituent churches. The associated churches “might well” be observers whose views were sought or whose expertise was shared from time to time, and with whom “significant areas of co-operation might be possible”, he said.

3) …which was shortly thereafter strongly rejected by the Anglican Church of Nigeria who, with the support of two Australian bishops, called Dr. Williams’ proposal a “flawed solution to a complex problem”. While commending Dr. Williams for his attempt to prevent schism within the Communion, it also chided him for believing reconciliation was still possible:

“…his analysis of the situation is quite lucid, and the liberal and post-modern tilt of some interpretations is apparent. But we must commend the fact that it appears we have finally come to that point of admitting that we are truly at crossroads as a Communion and the time to decide on the way forward can no longer be wished away.

“The Archbishop says we “have tried to be a family of Churches willing to learn from each other across cultural divides, not assuming that European (or American or African) wisdom is what settles everything, opening up the lives of Christians here to the realities of Christian experience everywhere”. He then goes on to suggest that the genuine concerns expressed about orthodoxy and the need to contend for the faith once entrusted to the saints, have made the debate harder, and “reinforced the lines of division and led to enormous amounts of energy going into ‘political’ struggle (!) with and between churches in different parts of the world.” The idea that these genuine concerns have degenerated to the “politicization of a theological dispute” instead of “reasoned debate” is very sadly patronizing. One would have expected that those who had embarked on this religious misadventure would be encouraged to judge their actions against our well-established historic tradition.

“A cancerous lump in the body should be excised if it has defied every known cure. To attempt to condition the whole body to accommodate it will lead to the avoidable death of the patient.”

That, my friends, is very strong stuff.

4) In the U.S., seven Episcopal dioceses in rapid succession made formal requests to the Archbishop for alternative episcopal oversight (that is, jurisdiction under another Anglican province other than TEC). First came the Diocese of Fort Worth (TX) on 6/19, then Pittsburgh (PA), San Joaquin (CA), and South Carolina on 6/28, Central Florida on 6/29, and Springfield (IL) on 6/30. A week later, the Diosese of Albany (NY), while not formally requesting alternative oversight, nevertheless expressed its “solidarity and sympathy” with those dioceses that had made such requests.

5) On June 26, Christ Church in Plano, TX, one of the largest TEC congregations (averaging 2,200 parishioners each week), announced its decision to “disassociate itself” from TEC. A month later, the largest congregation in the Diocese of West Texas, Christ Church San Antonio, chose the same course of action. Where both parishes plan to go or associate themselves with has not yet been decided.

And this seems just the beginning, as whispers abound that there are others intending to follow. What does it mean for TEC? David Virtue wonders as well:

It would also seem that the new Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori has resigned herself to the inevitable. When she was asked by a reporter in an interview with the Oregonian about how far you can stretch (the Episcopal Church) she responded by saying: “We’re all human beings. We all have our limits. I don’t know what mine are.”

We will soon find out. For about 130,000 Episcopalians, in seven very viable dioceses, that answer has been delivered.

At a parish and personal level the most recent estimates indicate that as many as 6,000 active, dues paying Episcopalians have left The Episcopal Church since the end of General Convention, with one parish, Christ Church, Plano, in the Diocese of Dallas accounting for more than 60 percent of the total.

As has been written in this space before on any number of occasions, these developments should not come as a surprise to anyone – in fact, they have been in the works for some time; this year’s General Convention simply put into action what many had predicted since Robinson’s consecration and the issuing of the Windsor Report. What orthodox Episcopalians and their brothers and sisters in the Anglican Church of Nigeria understand is that it is not just TEC, or even the Anglican Communion, that is at risk here, but the survival of traditional Christianity itself. Charlotte Allen has a fine op-ed piece from the L.A. Times (courtesy: Virtue Online) illustrating the corrosive impact of “liberal Christianity” on the mainline Protestant churches. For those who have grown up as mainline church Protestants like myself, it is a bitter pill to swallow, indeed:

When a church doesn’t take itself seriously, neither do its members. It is hard to believe that as recently as 1960, members of mainline churches – Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and the like – accounted for 40% of all American Protestants. Today, it’s more like 12% (17 million out of 135 million). Some of the precipitous decline is due to lower birthrates among the generally blue-state mainliners, but it also is clear that millions of mainline adherents (and especially their children) have simply walked out of the pews never to return. According to the Hartford Institute for Religious Research, in 1965, there were 3.4 million Episcopalians; now, there are 2.3 million. The number of Presbyterians fell from 4.3 million in 1965 to 2.5 million today. Compare that with 16 million members reported by the Southern Baptists.

When your religion says “whatever” on doctrinal matters, regards Jesus as just another wise teacher, refuses on principle to evangelize and lets you do pretty much what you want, it’s a short step to deciding that one of the things you don’t want to do is get up on Sunday morning and go to church.

The Anglican Communion finds itself in one fine mess, and, contrary to the hopes of those like Dr. Williams, Bishop Schori and others, who still believe reconciliation between the competing philosophies within the Communion regarding the authority of Scripture and Christianity’s historical teachings is possible, things are only going to get messier.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 14:44 | Comments Off on What A Mess…
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