The crisis in the Episcopal Church

I’ve found few things as distressing in recent years as the crisis within the Episcopal Church (ECUSA).  In 2003, the general convention of ECUSA ratified the election by the membership of the Diocese of New Hampshire of a non-celibate homosexual as bishop of the diocese.  This flew in the face of what orthodox (conservative) church leaders believe the bible tells them – that homosexuality is a sin, and that sexual relations between a non-married couple are sinful, which therefore prevent Jean Robinson from being eligible to be a bishop (and many would say even makes him ineligible to be a communicant in the church).  A small number of the bishops and priests then formed a schismatic group called the American Anglican Council  Mission and Ministry Network (the Network or AAC for short), which claims to be in a desperate fight over the very soul of the Anglican Church in America.  They claim that the threat to unity is ECUSA itself, which it says is pursuing a revisionist approach to the tenets of Christian faith, and which it also says is abandoning the foundations of "Holy Scripture".

This fight is particularly difficult for those of us who live in the Diocese of South Carolina, headquartered right here in Charleston.  Our bishop, Edward Salmon, is a founding member of the Network.  Effectively, most every Episcopal Church has had to fall in line with the Network.  One of the loudest voices in the AAC is a local theologian, who is constantly denouncing any view not lifted straight from the bible.  My family actually fled our nearest church, St. James, when they stopped referring to their membership in the Episcopal Church, substituting the name of the head of the AAC instead of ECUSA Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, and speaking in ever more fundamentalist terms against homosexuality and so-called sin as defined by "Holy Scripture".

We are now very happy members of Grace Episcopal Church, one of only two churches in the Charleston area that actually admit that they are part of the Episcopal Church.  Our rector, Donald McPhail, has along with our vestry clung to the notion of the Via Media, a core notion of Anglican faith that there is more than one interpretation of faith.

What I find particulary laughable is the continuing AAC contention that the battle is not about homosexuality.  Yet, in nearly every newsletter from them (I pick them up from the various former Episcopal churches that I sing at regularly) they mention Bishop Robinson, ECUSA’s refusal to reverse the actions of the general convention (which I think can only be done by the next convention), and various opinions about homosexuality.  A recent issue had a lengthy article about conversions from gay to straight, a practice now denounced as harmful by the American Psychiatric Association!

The net effect for me and my wife has been a serious erosion in faith.  Religion appears to be an almost purely man-made creation, with little of actual authority to back it up.  As Bill Maher constantly jokes, we put a lot into our belief in an invisible man in the sky.  This vaunted "Holy Scripture", the Bible, whichever version that is, doesn’t seem to be much more than a committee driven creation of men over a few thousand years.  We end readings from it in church with "The Word of the Lord", or something similar – really?  I will be the first to admit that I am no Bible scholar; from what I’ve heard from some of the actual Bible scholars here at the College of Charleston, I’d probably be even more confused if I was.

There have always been multiple ways of understanding and practicing Christianity.  The Christian Bible (the New Testament) is a evolving collection of writings from the first few centuries of the church following Christ’s death and resurrection.  They are supposedly inspired by God, and may even contain some of the actual words of Christ, the only documented time God has walked among us and talked to us.  (I suppose God spoke to Moses, Adam and Abraham, although I’m not sure whether some of those (Adam) aren’t just an invention of some priest.)  It’s funny that Christ has nothing to say about homosexuality, although he certainly had lots to say about being judgemental and hewing to the "law" of established religion.  "Love one another as God loves us."  Oddly enough, many people don’t seem to think that applies to people who are homosexual.

For the record, I am not a homosexual.  I am, however, convinced that it is not a "choice", any more than I "choose" to be heterosexual.  I’ve had lots of (non-sexual) contact with gay people over the years, particularly in the artistic community.  I believe it is simply a part of how God made some people, and is wholely irrelevant to their faith and ability to bring their faith to others.  From what I can see, homosexuals are just another group of people who are different from the "majority", and are therefore discriminated against.  South Carolina has a particularly rich history in the practice of discrimination!  It’s somewhat disgusting to see a whole system of churches, sometimes right next to one another, separating black and white people.  In Charleston, there are many Episcopal Churches near African Methodist Episcopal (AME) churches.  AME churches are effectively black Episcopalian churches.

Theoretically, much of the "law" of the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible, was reformed by Jesus.  Somehow, this didn’t reform the "law" against homosexuality, although it did allow shellfish.  It seems that if Jesus didn’t specifically say something, the "leaders" of the churches can pick and choose what we supposedly believe.  That, in turn, can be used to enforce "morality".

Personally, I think it’s all a load of crap.   You’ll notice I put this entry under the category "News and politics" rather than religion.  I don’t see much difference between the two.

I grew up as a Roman Catholic, although I was never won over by the church.  I always had a problem with the idea that our faith and values (the rules) were supposed to be rigidly defined by the hierarchy of the church, and yet massive numbers of people would discard those rules when it came to sexuality (birth control, abortion, sex outside of marriage, etc.).  Somehow these same people were "good" Catholics.  You could, for example, follow the law of the church and practice "natural family planning", aka use the "rythym method".  As MAD Magazine put it, Catholics are nice people, but are sometimes a bit off-beat!  In a world of exploding population and severely dimished resources, this seems like an irresponsible approach.  One day, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Clark DeLeon pointed out that people who choose their beliefs have a name: Protestant.  I found that my new wife, who had grown up Episcopalian and was arguably far more faithful that I, was excluded from communion in the Catholic Church.  Then I discovered that Episcopalians had a liberated view of the role of women, with female priests and bishops.  They even seemed to believe that the Bible was open to interpretation (imagine that!)  Then, I discovered that some of the best church musicians were Episcopalian.  I’ve been a "recovering Catholic" ever since as a member of the Episcopal Church.

I’ll probably take a lot of guff for all of the above.  You are free to believe what you wish.  I am sorry for you if that is not the same as what I believe.

2 thoughts on “The crisis in the Episcopal Church

  1. Think of this. Just as the Pharisees were misleading the people in the days of Jesus, religious leaders mislead people today. 13 “Go in through the narrow gate; because broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones going in through it; 14 whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it.Like GreenDay says, I want to be the minority.

  2. I am an "Orthodox" Episcopalian and am deeply saddend by the path the ECUSA is heading.  I do believe that the bible is the Word of the Lord and the ECUSA is straying too far from scripture.  It is good to hear that SC has some churches that still believe like I do, as in my area they are hard to find.  All three Bishops in Michigan voted for Gene Robinson’s ordination and the upcoming election in San Francisco may totally divide the church one and for all.  Most importantly, though we are all Christians first and foremost……so keep the faith and in the end only God knows.  Have a blessed Easter.

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