February 25, 2007

For months leading up to this past week’s gathering of Anglican church leaders in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the Internet was buzzing with all kinds of speculation and prognostications as to what kind of actions would be taken against the Episcopal Church (TEC) as a result of its perceived slowness (some would say, unwillingness) to adequately make amends to the rest of the Anglican Communion for its role in ordaining a non-celebate gay man as a bishop, and looking the other way as certain U.S. dioceses permitted the blessing of same-sex unions – actions considered contrary to both the Church’s historic teachings and traditions, and the “will of the Church” as dictated by the Eames’ Commission’s Windsor Report of 2003, and Resolution 1.10 from the Lambeth Conference of 1998.

With progressives like Integrity (a gay/lesbian/transgender activist group within TEC), those on the orthodox side of the aisle (like David Virtue), and any number of others in between speculating as to what would happen (everything from nothing, to TEC being expelled from the the Communion), the leaders of the worldwide church body gathered amidst extremely tight security to pray, exchange ideas, and try and work together towards a solution that would draw the Communion back from the one thing everyone feared – schism.

In the end, there were no hysterics, or crashes of thunder and flashes of lightning, just the simple release of a communique in which Church leaders both rebuked TEC for its past actions, yet gave it time to formulate a suitable response that would address the concerns of the Global South (i.e., Africa/Asia/South America) churches, who see TEC as a runaway train acting on its own accord in the face of the Christianity’s traditional teachings and doctrines. I’ve read the communique, and, as is typical of these kinds of things, it is not – shall we say – the most riveting piece of work one will ever read. Fortunate we are, then, that none other than the New York Times (surprise!) got the jist of the communique in this article by Sharon LaFraniere and Laurie Goodstein:

Facing a possible churchwide schism, the Anglican Communion yesterday gave its Episcopal branch in the United States less than eight months [Ed. note: by September 30] to ban blessings of same-sex unions or risk a reduced role in the world’s third-largest Christian denomination.

Anglican leaders also established a separate council and a vicar to help address the concerns of conservative American dioceses that have been alienated by the Episcopal Church’s support of gay clergy and blessings of same-sex unions. Although the presiding American bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, agreed to the arrangement, some conservatives described it as an extraordinary check on her authority.

The communiqué yesterday detailed at length what the Episcopal Church should do to heal the rift over homosexuality. It called on the House of Bishops to adopt an explicit ban against blessings of same-sex unions and to make clear that clergy in homosexual relationships cannot be confirmed as bishops.

Hey, you gotta give credit where credit is due, so hat’s off to the Times for setting aside the usual spin and for once getting the story right. For years, the Western Churches within the Communion (the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada, and TEC) have used their affluence and traditional positions of power to impose their wills and their progressive, post-modern agenda upon the churches of the Global South, even as they themselves were suffering significant declines in membership and their African and Asian counterparts were experiencing explosive growth through the teaching of traditional Christianity, oftentimes at their own peril due to the equally-explosive growth of fundamental Islam.

But with the issuance of the Dar es Salaam communique, all that has changed, for the leaders of the Global South have parlayed the growth of their churches and their power and influence within the Communion to draw a line in the sand – a line that will ultimately force TEC to choose whether its future lies as part of the Anglican Communion, or in some other arrangement. And in my view, this is both a good and necessary thing. For, regardless of one’s view as to whether homosexuality (and/or homosexual behavior) is, or is not, compatible with the teachings of Holy Scripture, there is little question that for far too long, the churches of the Anglican Communion (and every other Christian denomination, for that matter) have wasted far too much time, energy, resources, and good will struggling over the issue. And by issuing this communique, a majority of the Communion’s leaders have said enough is enough. As Virtue Online’s David Virtue observes:

What has emerged from the communiqué and in private talks VOL has had with leaders is that the communiqué is the last line in the sand for The Episcopal Church. The Primates will no longer discuss the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality. It is done. They now want solid and sincere action from The Episcopal Church, not a parsing of words and phrases and half-hearted attempts though words like “regret” or using the canons to steamroll the ABC or orthodox parishes, dioceses, clergy or anyone else.

The big question now is, how will the Episcopal Church respond? As Virtue notes, there is already a drumbeat starting within TEC to call the Anglican leaders’ bluff and dare them to take further action, or even leave that body on its own accord to start its own alternative Communion:

It is interesting to note that whenever Dr. [TEC Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts] Schori introduced herself in Tanzania, she did so by saying she was the Primate of The Episcopal Church and 15 other countries. [Former PB] Frank Griswold never said that. Why did she add this fact? As you will recall at [General Convention] 2006 the ECUSA changed its name officially to TEC to embrace these other 15 countries.

There is the likelihood then that it will be TEC, not [the Global South] bishops who will step away, with Schori and her liberal/revisionist bishops now prepared to make the move away from the Anglican Communion and to form their own communion.

Already several revisionist TEC bishops have said that the TEC should go its own way rather than compromise over same-sex unions or the unfolding sexualities in TEC. Will she? Time will tell. The House of Bishops’ spring retreat takes place March 16-21, and Dr. Jefferts Schori said that meeting will provide an opportunity to begin to “engage and discuss the possibilities.” Nothing she has said to date would indicate how she and they will respond.

A move like this would be a huge mistake on the part of the Episcopal Church, I believe, for if it were to choose such a strategy, the floodgates would be opened and TEC would lose untold numbers of parishioners and churches, perhaps even dioceses. The result would be a radical realignment of the Church forced by the loss of both numbers and dollars – a situation that would have the resulting effect of reducing the power and influence of its bishops, something I find hard to believe the boys and girls in purple would ever let happen.

In the end, however, I’m not sure any of this really matters. The Episcopal Church of today reminds me of one of those huge snowpiles created over the course of a winter in some supermarket or mall parking lot. From a distance, it stands tall, seemingly impregnable and impenetrable by the strengthening late winter sun, but as each day passes, it is slowly and almost imperceptably receding into the ground, melting away before one’s very eyes. Presiding Bishop Schori can talk all she wants about feeding the world’s poor, eliminating poverty, and working together towards her pipe-dream of a global village united as one and at peace with one another, but she’s whistling past the graveyard. Sooner or later – and that day most assuredly is coming – the church’s infrastructure will start (if it hasn’t already) feeling the financial pinch resulting from declining numbers, pledges, and parish assessments. And left unchecked, one day she’ll find herself presiding over a Church whose relevance has long been but a memory, its empty buildings the only evidence of a once-venerable institution that, confidently proclaiming the saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was proud to call itself Anglican.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:35 | Comments (0)
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