Monday, January 08, 2007

Schismatics Defend Their Brave Stand Against Heresy

In today's WaPo, the rector and a parishioner from Falls Church, one of the schismatic parishes in Virginia, offer their justification for leaving the Episcopal church. Here's what they say:
The core issue in why we left is not women's leadership. It is not "Episcopalians against equality," as the headline on a recent Post op-ed by Harold Meyerson put it. It is not a "leftward" drift in the church. It is not even primarily ethical -- though the ordination of a practicing homosexual as bishop was the flash point that showed how far the repudiation of Christian orthodoxy had gone.

The core issue for us is theological: the intellectual integrity of faith in the modern world. It is thus a matter of faithfulness to the lordship of Jesus, whom we worship and follow. The American Episcopal Church no longer believes the historic, orthodox Christian faith common to all believers. Some leaders expressly deny the central articles of the faith -- saying that traditional theism is "dead," the incarnation is "nonsense," the resurrection of Jesus is a fiction, the understanding of the cross is "a barbarous idea," the Bible is "pure propaganda" and so on. Others simply say the creed as poetry or with their fingers crossed.


These are the outrages we protest. These are the infidelities that drive us to separate. These are the real issues to be debated. We remain Anglicans but leave the Episcopal Church because the Episcopal Church first left the historic faith. Like our spiritual forebears in the Reformation, "Here we stand. So help us God. We can do no other."
Well, as I've noted, I've been a very involved Episcopalian for the past thirty years. During that time, I've been a member and a leader in four different parishes (one in Manhattan, one in Queens, one in the Bronx, and one in Westchester County), and have participated in services and other activities in many other churches, from small chapels in Cape Cod to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York. I've worked and prayed with dozens of Episcopal clergy--young and old, male and female, gay and straight, liberal and conservative, white and black, of various ethnic and social backgrounds. Never once have I heard statements like those quoted by the Falls Church schismatics.

Oh, I have no doubt that they can back up their quotes with citations. I suspect that at least some of them will prove to be out-of-context distortions. For example, there are certainly passages in the Bible that could be fairly described as "pure propaganda" (recalling, of course, the basic meaning of the word "propaganda"--a statement designed to persuade an audience of the truth of a particular political, social, or religious belief). But have many Episcopal leaders described the entire Bible as "pure propaganda"? I'm dubious.

But, again, I don't doubt that the schismatics have some evidence for the phrases they cite. I'm sure that, if you devote time to scouring theological journals, sermons, websites, and other documents, you can probably find evidence that some priests in the Episcopal church have said things that most Christians would strongly disagree with. So what? Is that a reason to condemn the church as a whole?

Put the shoe on the other foot. As a political and social liberal, I'm sure I could find a number of theological statements with which I strongly disagree in the writings or speeches of particular Anglican leaders. In fact, I could probably do this with ease just by consulting the utterances of Nigerian Bishop Peter Akinola. For example, Akinola has made veiled threats against Muslims ("May we at this stage remind our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation") and has offered public support for a proposed law that would, among other restrictions, make it a crime punishable by up to five years in prison for two gay people to have dinner together.

Somehow the fact that some of my fellow Anglicans have beliefs that I consider profoundly contrary to the spirit of Christ doesn't make me feel driven to agitate for a split in our denomination--or to try to seize legal and financial control of the assets of my local parish.

But then, I don't consider myself a latter-day Martin Luther--just an individual Christian trying to worship God and love my neighbor, rather than diligently searching for reasons to take offense at him.

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