There remain faithful Christians in the pews of the Episcopal Church, behind the altars, even a handful in miters, but the church itself appears to have left the fold. Does ECUSA remain, in any real sense, a Christian church?
I say this not to shock, not to gloat, not to cast stones, for, in my heart, I suspect I’m as much an Anglican now as before I officially left the denomination nearly eight years ago. It pains me to watch the church morph into something … what, exactly, I’m not sure.
None of this started yesterday; nor in the last decade. And if any doubt remained as to the state of the Church’s soul, if any hope lingered for renewal and reformation within the body, General Convention 2006 should have extinguished hope and doubt alike. The convention, which ended last week in Columbus, Ohio, underscored in the brightest of reds that the Episcopal Church no longer recognizes any authority outside of these triennial conventions.
And I mean no other authority — not the Anglican Communion, not thousands of years of church tradition, not the documents of their own tradition, not even the Bible.
I refer not to the friction Katharine Jefferts Schori’s election as presiding bishop will cause. The lion’s share of the Anglican Communion will refuse to recognize the validity of her consecration. But, in America, women in priestly orders, even the episcopacy, is a ship that sailed so long ago it has since disappeared over the horizon. There’s no calling it home to port now.
Nor am I referring to the fact that same-sex marriage and the normalization of homosexuality have won the day in the American church, no matter the resolution the bishops managed to cobble together on the convention’s last day, hoping to placate the Archbishop of Canterbury and outraged Anglicans in Africa and Asia for another three years. Of course the new presiding bishop finds homosexuality unobjectionable. After her election, she said on CNN,
I believe that God creates us with different gifts. Each one of us comes into this world with a different collection of things that challenge us and things that give us joy and allow us to bless the world around us. Some people come into this world with affections ordered toward other people of the same gender and some people come into this world with affections directed at people of the other gender.
In the Episcopal Church of 2006, no one could be elected presiding bishop who believes otherwise. “But,” I can hear orthodox Christians outside of ECUSA shouting, “this contradicts Scripture!” They won’t hear any argument from me. But, for more than a decade, the exegetical spin from Episcopal pulpits has been consistent: The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah had nothing to do with sex, but rather with their lack of hospitality; St. Paul condemns temple prostitution, not loving, committed same-sex relationships; properly interpreted, then, Scripture presents no impediment to the inclusion and celebration of homosexuality.
If General Convention showed anything, it’s that no longer will there be a need for such creative hermeneutics. Scripture simply isn’t important enough.
At the convention’s closing Eucharist, the new presiding bishop preached, “Colossians calls Jesus the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn from the dead. That sweaty, bloody, tear-stained labor of the cross bears new life. Our mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation – and you and I are His children.”
Our mother Jesus?
Bishop Schori felt no need to cloak her language so as not to scandalize the average Episcopalian. Tossing aside the New Testament, she transgendered the Lord without a qualm in the world — and for all the world to hear.
General Convention in 2003 should have provided evidence enough that the revolution neared its final stage when Scripture would be left behind as an outmoded relic. Attention, however, never strayed far from the fight over homosexuality. While that battle captured headlines, a telling but little-reported vote took place in the House of Bishops.
Bishop Keith Ackerman of the Diocese of Quincy offered a resolution asking the church to affirm “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”
On the spur of the moment Ackerman hadn’t pulled this notion from his cassock; it’s directly from Anglicanism’s Articles of Religion, intended to insure the primacy of Scripture in the life of the church. In fact, to this day, every deacon, priest, and bishop must declare that he or she believes the Scriptures “contain all things necessary to salvation” in order to be ordained. And yet the resolution was voted down.
Fast forward to 2006: Before the Committee on Evangelism came a resolution asking General Convention to declare
its unchanging commitment to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the only name by which any person may be saved (Article XVIII); and be it further Resolved, That we acknowledge the solemn responsibility placed upon us to share Christ with all persons when we hear His words, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
No-one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6); and be it further Resolved, That we affirm that in Christ there is both the substitutionary essence of the Cross and the manifestation of God’s unlimited and unending love for all persons; and be it further Resolved, That we renew our dedication to be faithful witnesses to all persons of the saving love of God perfectly and uniquely revealed in Jesus and upheld by the full testimony of Holy Scripture.
Foundational stuff, one might think, especially for a committee whose work focuses on evangelism. But, no, the resolution couldn’t even make it out of committee. And an attempt to get the House of Deputies even to consider the resolution failed by a more than a 2-1 margin.
Still, General Convention’s open contempt for Scripture hadn’t come to an end. The Convention resolved to direct
the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to collect and develop materials to assist members of the Church to address anti-Jewish prejudice expressed in and stirred by portions of Christian scriptures and liturgical texts, with suggestions for preaching, congregational education, and lectionary use, and to report to the 76th General Convention.
It’s one to thing to condemn how Christians have misused the New Testament in the past. But ECUSA has gone on record that the anti-Semitism is “expressed in” the text itself. The fault, then, lies not only with sinful Christians, but also with the very Word of God, which, I guess, will require square quotes from now on.
The scariest thing of all is contemplating what the Episcopal Church has become.
– R. Andrew Newman is a freelance journalist in western Nebraska.