Tuesday, July 31, 2012

ECUSA Walks Apart, Where the Faithful Cannot Follow

Image Credit: "Walking Apart", © Richard Gylgayton. (Used with permission.)

In 2003, the Episcopal Church (USA) said to the majority of the Anglican Communion: "Goodbye -- it's been nice knowing you." The bishop whom ECUSA chose to confirm and consecrate, over the uniform objection of all the Anglican primates at the time, could not be admitted to the 2008 Lambeth Conference, or be licensed to preside at the eucharist in ECUSA's parent church, the Church of England. Likewise, he still cannot be welcomed as a bishop in twenty-two of the thirty-four provinces in the Anglican Communion (not counting the extra-provincial and united churches).

In 2006, the Episcopal Church (USA) said to the rest of the Anglican Communion: "We will urge our bishops and standing committees to 'exercise restraint' in confirming bishops who might upset you, but we cannot do any more than that. Nor can we be sorry if you were offended by our actions -- that is your problem." Some of the dioceses in ECUSA still were very piqued, and announced they would not elect or confirm any more bishops, straight or gay, until the voluntary "moratorium" requested of them by the Lambeth Commission was declared to be at an end.

By 2009, the Episcopal Church (USA) abandoned any vestiges of its so-called "moratorium." Despite a personal plea from the Archbishop of Canterbury, General Convention refused to extend even its resolve of "urging restraint. By the end of the year, the Diocese of Los Angeles had elected a woman in a same-sex partnership as a bishop, who then received the requisite consents from the other dioceses. Other clergy in same-sex relationships were nominated for the episcopacy, as well, and there is no longer any kind of limitation observed on episcopal candidates in a great majority of the dioceses. But Bishop Mary Glasspool, too, may not officiate in the Church of England, or in any of twenty-one other provinces of the Anglican Communion; neither will any others of her ilk, if ECUSA sees fit to consecrate them.

At the same time, ECUSA in 2009 decided (without advertising the fact in the least) to change the rules, and to make, starting in 2011, its diocesan bishops subject to the pastoral supervision and authority of the Presiding Bishop.  When they learned what the new disciplinary canons purported to do, a number of dioceses, starting with the Diocese of South Carolina, refused to recognize General Convention's authority to change the rules without going through a formal amendment to the Church's Constitution.

In 2012, the Episcopal Church said to the Diocese of South Carolina: "Goodbye -- it's been nice knowing you." They adopted more changes to the rules, which they already knew that the Diocese of South Carolina could not, and would not, accept. Most of that Diocese's deputation to General Convention walked out of the gathering in Indianapolis, and its bishop, the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, informed the House of Bishops that he could not, in good conscience, remain in their company any longer.

The problem with ECUSA's actions over the past nine years is that it refuses to regard what it has done as in any way disruptive to the one, true, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Christ. It has asserted its power to annul and set aside the holy orders of bishops, priests and deacons who were each ordained, not into ECUSA particularly, but into that one catholic and apostolic church.

And as if in retaliation for the fact that its gay and lesbian partnered bishops cannot be recognized by most of the other churches in the Communion, or invited to the Lambeth Conference, ECUSA has refused to allow clergy from other provinces to serve in its dioceses (whether under letters dimissory or not) without their first renouncing their allegiance to the churches which licensed them, and then swearing a new oath of obedience solely to the "doctrine, discipline and worship" of the Episcopal Church (USA). Until recently, this was a one-way street, because in order to be released from that vow and be able to return to one's original jurisdiction, one was forced to "renounce" one's holy orders, and surrender "the gifts and spiritual authority . . . conferred in ordination." This anomaly was fixed only at the last General Convention, with the enactment of Resolution A030 amending the appropriate canons.

In sum, ECUSA has acted as though it was not in any shared relationships with the other provinces of the Anglican Communion. And recently, as pointed out above, it has begun to act as though it is no longer in any kind of shared relationship with its own member dioceses (except for those who agree with what it is doing internationally and domestically).

But to listen to those in ECUSA, it is the ones who reject its actions as unscriptural who have "departed from tradition," and certainly not ECUSA itself. Here is a dissident within Bishop Lawrence's Diocese of South Carolina who publicly puts the blame on him for the separation that has happened (my emphasis):
There are some who feel that the Episcopal Church has “left” the traditional church doctrines and polity. I am of the opinion that the leadership of this diocese over the past few decades has moved away from mainstream, traditional Episcopal doctrine and discipline. 
For an Episcopalian to maintain such utter nonsense is to show plainly how far removed from reality are those who are in charge of the Church, as well as all those who support the leadership's non-scriptural agenda. Oh, to be sure, they go through the motions of claiming that they are the only ones who are properly interpreting scripture, according to today's understanding of God's holy words, and they deck out their contentions with pseudo-scholarship and citations to pseudo-authority. But in the final analysis, all of what they are pleased to call "theology" comes down to this: "We know better than the rest of the church catholic. We understand the Holy Scriptures far better than those antiquated and hidebound church fathers ever did, or could have -- and the Holy Spirit is guiding us, not you."

Whatever could motivate a churchgoing and God-fearing Christian to jettison two thousand five hundred years of theology and orthodoxy in such an obstinate way baffles me. Their attitude leaves the rest of us with no choice: if we play along with them, we compromise our faith irretrievably; therefore, we must refuse to recognize what they do. They are fully engaged in writing their own judgment-book, and the rest of us can have nothing to do with it.

This is the dilemma currently facing Bishop Lawrence, and no doubt a good many (but alas, not all) of the clergy who serve under him, as well. As the chosen leader of his flock, Bishop Lawrence has the heaviest responsibility -- but the responsibilities of priests for their parishes are, though not as all-encompassing as the bishop's, nevertheless still every bit as solemn, and severe. As a lay person, I do not envy them the burdens imposed upon them by ECUSA's perverse and poisonous obtuseness.

Man is a fallen creature, and ECUSA -- just like any other branch of the church catholic -- is a fallen church. One cannot find perfection on this earth, no matter which church one joins, but perfection, as such, is not the standard. Rather, faithfulness to Scripture and tradition is. And by that measure, ECUSA falls far short of the mark. It is led by the false teachers of whom first Jesus Christ, and later his apostles, warned their first disciples, who then handed down those warnings to us.

Where can Bishop Lawrence go from here? Where can the Diocese of South Carolina go from here?

ECUSA has purposefully and heedlessly left them both with very limited choices. ECUSA simply does not care what it is doing to them. (It has far more important things to concern itself about -- things such as these.)

First, Bishop Lawrence could simply resign (but not without first obtaining, paradoxically, the consent of the apostate bishops who are driving him out of their fellowship). I do not believe he will do this.

Why not? Because it would leave his Diocese -- his flock, whom he has sworn to guide and protect -- at the mercy of ECUSA, who will seize any such opportunity to install someone much more to their liking. (Perhaps, just to rub it in, they would push forward one or more of their transgendered clergy from other dioceses, who so rejoiced at the remarkable contradiction which they maneuvered General Convention into making: "Every creature of God is good; hence partnered gays and lesbians make good bishops; but when it comes to transgendered persons, God somehow erred, and they know better than He does what they should have been.")

Well, what will Bishop Lawrence do, then? Although the responsibility for the spiritual welfare of his diocese lies heavily on his shoulders, the one thing Bishop Lawrence cannot do is to reach a decision on his own about the next steps for it to take.

He has to involve his clergy and his faithful parishioners in that process. (Those who are his adversaries, like Melinda Lucka quoted above, will refuse to view things from his perspective. Instead, they will continue, ad nauseam, to play the victim to the willing ears of the national Church.) Any decision for the Diocese as a whole can be taken only by the whole Diocese, and that will require time for reflection, deliberation, and careful listening.

The decision has to be the Diocese's as a body, but Bishop Lawrence has the responsibility to guide it into the right decision. They elected him as their bishop, and he must consequently advise and lead them. No doubt that is why he has first taken some time off to ponder the options in prayer and solitude.  He must be firm and steadfast in his own resolve before he can inspire others.

There are of course many faithful leaders in his Diocese who will make themselves available when he is ready to hear and meet with them. And my hope is that some of his fellow bishops who voted against the unscriptural measures approved by General Convention will extend their hands to him, as well. Indeed, it would be far better if some other dioceses expressed their solidarity with South Carolina, and if they together faced down ECUSA's apostasy as a determined group, rather than just one of them by itself.

The days ahead will be momentous for the Diocese of South Carolina -- and for any other dioceses that undertake to find their way along the same path. All of us who can perceive the dilemma into which the activism of General Convention has put them must be ready and willing to help in any way we can, as well.

For my part, I pledge to use my legal abilities, and understanding of Church law and history, to assist anyone caught in this dilemma to gain a better understanding of its parameters, and of the options available for consideration. In the weeks and months to come, I will devote more and more of this blog to that endeavor (while not omitting, of course, to blog about and comment on the equally momentous choice facing the entire Nation this November).

There is much work to do. Let not your hearts be troubled -- for we know, if we work together in the abiding faith of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, that God's will shall be done.


  1. For many it seems that every three years, the line in the sand gets redrawn, or the cage gets rattled a bit, but for the faithful the challenges have been and will be daily ones. This Sunday I was in conversation with a fellow parishioner who said his personal line in the sand was the day a same-sex blessing was performed in our parish church. I half jokingly proposed we perform a purification ritual afterwards and post it on YouTube, but does it matter if the ssb is done here or in another person's Episcopal church?
    Every day is a day for prayer and the hard work of discernment.
    Our prayers are with our fellow South Carolinians right now, but you are right, there is a lot of work still to do.

  2. A Good Piece, ASH!

    I have some related thoughts that I will try to weave together with yours. Here goes:

    I've taken a break from Episcopal matters for awhile to take the kids to horse-riding camp, finish teaching an online class...and I've been clearing the decks before leaving for a retreat coming up: this is the beginning of a new spiritual journey for me, and it will be a time of searching and discernment for me as I try to learn God's will for me and my family.

    Last week, while my eldest daughter was learning how to ride and take care of horses, I started doing a little light research on Bishop Pike, found an old In Search Of (with Leonard Nimoy) episode about him on YouTube, then decided to watch the next one about Jim Jones. I thought I knew who Jones was (sort of a Pentecostal or 'holiness' type of preacher who lost his mind and took his weak-minded followers with him, right?), so I thought I would half-watch it while I fed my younger daughter (two-years-old) lunch.

    I WAS STUNNED! I realized I didn't know anything about Jones and the People's Temple, so I watched all the documentaries I could find and did a little internet reading. (Anyone have a good book to recommend?)

    Jones was an atheist and a communist party member who (by his own admission) went into religion in order to spread the Marxist faith and create a socialist community (all under a sort of 'holiness' guise).

    In his services, Jones preached a progressive ideology, and Jones would throw the bible on the ground, said it should be used for toilet paper, call 'that black book' the cause for slavery and subjugation of peoples, etc.

    Many of his followers would work 20 hours a day for the Temple involved in progressive causes, organizing demonstrations, canvassing for liberal candidates in local and state elections (I'm sure many of today's ruling elite in California would like their connections to Jones forgotten).

    In Jones's sermons, Jesus was reduced to a Marxist figurehead, and Jones ridiculed any notion of Christ's divinity as a useless 'sky-god' notion that was unhelpful for the Utopian society that he was going to build (and we all know how Jones' 'heaven on earth' turned out).

    Also, when I listened to the former Temple members talk about why they joined, it was all about Jones' celebrity...a real cult of personality that Jones encouraged and preached.

    Finally, sexual perversion ran rampant within the Temple...and Jones was the head goat of them all, having sexual relations with almost all of the women in leadership positions...often pressuring them, using spiritualism as seduction, etc. There are also reports that Jones had sex with men and molested children as well.

    The more I learned about Jim Jones, the more I saw parallels with liberal theology in mainline denominations.

    The connection is hard to make because of (1) the dramatic way Jones' ministry ended compared to the slow decay of mainline churches (more of a 'bang' than a 'whimper'), (2) we tend to think of mainline church bodies and 'holiness' movements as different phenomenas, and (3) it is hard to draw a comparison between the aging dinosaurs from the 1960s at General Convention with the energy and vibrancy at a place like the Peoples' Temple.

    Nevertheless, it seems to me that the road to Jonestown is the same highway that is leading the remains of ECUSA to ruin.

  3. No, I'm not suggesting that some sort of mass suicide will happen at the next House of Bishops meeting, etc. What I am suggesting is that the inevitable consequence of deifying sinful humanity (i.e. ideas of 'human progress', etc.) over the salvation bought, paid, and offered to us through Jesus Christ is the same in both cases.

    So what if someone like a Spong or a Jefferts-Schori die, not in a jungle surrounded by guns and poisoned kool-aid, but in a nice nursing home surrounded by a few remaining toadies who think they are the greatest thing to happen to them since their delectable discovery of cream cheese at their first bagel shop? At the end of all things, without Christ as our advocate before His Father, what difference does it make? An old rusted Cadillac going off into the Grand Canyon at 15mph won't create as spectacular a wreckage as a sports car going 150mph...it might not even be noticeable...but the result is the same for the people in both cars.

    Finally, sometimes I think all of us--you, me, Bishop Lawrence, etc.-- have awoken to find ourselves inside some sort of metaphorical Peoples' Temple. We joined a church because we liked what we thought we found there: truth and a community of people who shared our belief in that truth and put that truth into action. After awhile, the church changed and has become more about the personalities and beliefs of the leaders rather than what we thought it was.

    What do we do?

    On the one hand, we know that leaving will have real consequences: friends we have made, a pattern for living and worship that has blessed us so much in the past, etc. And if we try to leave in a more organized way (departing as a congregation for ACNA, etc.), we know the old cult will try to follow us and cause us harm.

    On the other hand, we see where the leaders are going. We see them clearing some bit of wilderness in Guyanna that they say is the new 'promised land' and 'heaven on earth.' But we know differently.

    All of us have to determine the next course of action. We all face what J.R.R. Tolkien called 'the doom of choice' because either way, the path we take will be a hard one. So we should all take time and pray, like Bishop Lawrence is doing now. May we surrender our will to His will so that He leads us rightly.

    God bless you, ASH, for your work. Christ be with you.

  4. Curmudgeon,

    As usual your articles are timely, informative, and to the point. They are a pleasure to read. At the same time I must draw attention to one discrepancy. One of my interests is the study of the constitutions and canons (or ordinances) of Anglican provinces, those that are recognized by the Anglican Communion and those which are extramural like the Anglican Church in North America. Most of the canons of these ecclesial bodies, if not at all of them, have provisions requiring clergy transferring from other jurisdictions to make declarations of subscription to the doctrines of their new province and to take oaths of obedience to their new bishops. This is not an unusual practice and not particular to the Episcopal Church. Generally they do not require re-ordination if they recognize the orders of the member of the clergy transferring from another jurisdiction.

  5. RBJ, thank you for that comment, and the additional information. I had not made my point clear, which was that ECUSA's requirement of subscribing to the vow of obedience to its doctrine, discipline and worship meant (until the recent General Convention changed the canons) that one could only be released from that vow by "renouncing" one's holy orders and surrendering "the gifts and spiritual authority . . . conferred in ordination." So ECUSA was, in effect a one-way street (and will continue to be so until January 1 of next year).

    I have added some language to the post in order to make this point clearer. I appreciate your assistance in making my point more understandable.

  6. Bishop Lawrence and the people of his Diocese will be in my prayers, as will you. Unfortunately, the word which repeatedly popped into my head with respect to ECUSA as I read your fine article was the German Götterdämmerung.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  7. Allan, I'm glad that you have written this piece and are willing to help Bishop Lawrence. I'm praying for the deliverance of God's faithful people from the snare of TEc.

  8. Isn't it possible to do something--hopefully not long after the installation of the successor to Archbishop Williams-- to get the Anglican Communion definitively in a clearer position with regard to the actual mission of the Communion's several Provinces? This issue may clearly be raised by future developments involving ECUSA's diocese of South Carolina, a diocese in existence before ECUSA and PECUSA. The proposal I offer is one that recognizes that sometimes recognizing "duality" can be utilized as the best means of resolving a particular situation. Clearly, the policies of ECUSA are unrepresentative of a reasonably large majority of Anglican provinces. However, it's also very clear that any effort to remove ECUSA from the Communion would be impractical and thus unwise at this time. Therefore, I suggest that the majority of Anglican provinces undertake actions to petition the Communion for emergency and imminent recognition of another body (probably most likely, the Anglican Church of North America) as a province of the Communion, with the clear understanding that such recognition would not alter the status of any other body (i.e., ECUSA) with regard to the Communion. Obviously, this would be a change from the status quo, however, the status quo should recognize the emergency that eixsts, and a change is indeed warranted. Interestingly, there are a number of Baptist churhes in the U.S. that are members of more than one Baptist Convention and, thus, what appears a radical solution isn't always actually something that radical. Thus, if an additional U.S. province was recognized by the Communion and the Diocese of South Carolina were to have some future relationship with that province, that diocese would be under no theoretical "pressure" based on the singular fact of its relationship with a second province, to sever a relationship with ECUSA, especially given the diocese's pre-existence relative to ECUSA/PECUSA. The ball would clearly remain in ECUSA's court as to the status of the Diocese of South Carolina in ECUSA.

  9. What authority does "the Communion" have to respond to your proposed petition?
    GAFCON can, and basically has recognized ACNA. Obviously, the Anglican Consultative Counsel would not.

  10. #9. Regardless of the special authority of a particular organization such as GAFCON or the ACC (which I see as largely irrelevant to the present state of affairs relating to ECUSA and the Communion), I think canon lawyers would agree with the proposition that should a majority of provinces in the Anglican Communion take action that formally recognizes a particular body as a equal member of the Anglican Communion, such action would suffice to effect inclusion of that body as a member of the Communion. The idea behind a petition relating to the current situation in the Communion relating to ECUSA is simply one of recognition that the time has clearly arrived for a joint approach that is "initiative" in nature and that an essentially consultative and less-focused approach is clearly no longer in the Communion's best interest.

  11. Yes, yes! Reformed Reinhardt. The deranged "preacher" Jones was in Guyana on a pilgrimage to his Canterbury...which was the Soviet Union, with his "flock" of the exploited...chiefly urban blacks and poor whites.
    He was the Jeramiah Wright of his period. But Guyana was a temporary stop in the wilderness as the group was to journey finally to the "promised land" and "workers' utopia" of the USSR.
    They almost made it. Like all pyschotic utopians. It just that like Yogi said, "Everything would have turned out okay if everything hadn't gone wrong".
    As I recall, a liberal Democrat Congressman from the district where Jones's "church" had been had flown down to check on the situation there. Concern by family members of many of the congregation prompted his visit. As he was leaving the compound, some of Jones's thugs ambushed him and others at the plane and killed the congressman and several others. The whole thing was filmed by a news crew from Los Angeles as well as some of the thugs.
    In all, I think there were 800 to almost 1,000 people who were forced to commit suicide, by literally drinking the cyanide laced Kool-aid. That is where Rush and O'Reilly and political people use the term, "drink the Kool-aid" about people they feel to be under the irrational influence of deranged politicians or other thinkers.

    Amazing episode. Far worse than Mount Carmel even.

    It good to be back. Was out for about a month at our B & B in Mexico. Interesting times, very pleasant. But reading the familiar and astute words of our confessor and host and of the steady contributors is always rewarding and edifying.

    Thanks for your time.
    El Gringo Viejo