9 March 2008
The situation in the Episcopal Church is very complex and not apt to be sorted out neatly and cleanly for some time. It is clear to those who are willing to look that the leadership of TEC has left the historic Christian faith in pursuit of a new religion, called Anglican, but with the contents changed. It sees Jesus as a religious figure, a way to find God, but not as Jesus himself put it, “…the Way, and the Truth and the Life…” The attack on historic Christian beliefs within TEC began with undermining confidence in Holy Scripture and challenging its authority as described, for example, in II Timothy 3:16. The second line of attack has been on Jesus—who he is and what he has done, including his sacrificial atonement itself. A third attack has been the spiritual version of the 1970’s book, I’m OK, You’re OK, by Thomas A. Harris. If we would believe the premise of the spiritual version of this, who are we to “judge” the wrongdoing of others and their breach of core doctrines of Christianity? If we are all OK then there is no sin (except continuing to reject this new progressivism). With no sin, there is no need for Atonement and no need for a Savior, for after all “I’m OK, You’re OK”. In order to arrive at this foolish and incorrect assessment it is necessary to “reinterpret” or “deconstruct” Holy Scripture, otherwise many verses in the Bible would create a problem, such as “For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
Within the “progressive” movement, which many of us usually call liberal or revisionist, the TEC leadership is intent on using every resource available to woo or coerce and to invite or threaten the remaining orthodox Episcopalians to fall into line. If you have a bishop who isn’t persecuting you at the moment, the natural tendency for many orthodox Episcopalians is to keep the head down, try and not be noticed, say your prayers and stay out of the line of fire. This is a formula for short term safety and long term annihilation. TEC is a train going somewhere you don’t want to go, and you don’t want to find out by staying on until the final stop. Spiritually, the cost of staying on to the final destination could cost you your faith, your relationship with God and everything else that is of primary importance. This earthly segment of our eternal life has eternal consequences, and I fear for and pray for those who are trapped for various reasons.
For some in TEC the immediate cost of realigning to an orthodox portion of global Anglicanism seems way too high. I visited a little church that had just enlarged their property; they had bought and paid for everything themselves. They had painted it, carpeted it, roofed it, and used it, and it was their home. The bishop of that diocese says it’s his, not theirs. If they want to leave, put the keys on the table and get out. They could do this and start over worshipping in a school perhaps, but for a very small congregation that also might break the congregation into such small pieces that nothing survives. In many of these cases the cost to defend law suits brought by the bishop and the national Episcopal Church are many times greater than the value of the property—to buy or sell it—and the small congregation simply doesn’t have the financial resources to fight. Some are walking away and starting over, some are leaving with the property and trying hard to finance the litigation brought against them, and many are caught and feel trapped.
In parishes throughout TEC, there are individuals who know that things aren’t right and can tell that the false teaching of TEC’s “progressives” are working their way into what is preached and taught, but the problem is where to go. Many small towns in America only have one Episcopal church. They can leave Anglicanism and go to a Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational or other flavor mainline church, but the same problems in TEC are generally found there also. Some leave TEC and opt for evangelical churches. Others go to Roman Catholic Churches, and some go to the Eastern Orthodox. If there are enough people who are looking for an Anglican alternative, a small home church can be formed and led by a lay person or available Anglican clergy. Many people, however, are staying in TEC because they are older, more frail, and don’t have options they can readily turn to, and some are just staying home.
The intent of TEC to use its resources is far reaching. The Executive Council of TEC has approved using $500,000 of income from trust funds for litigation and harassment of the orthodox, and especially to be used against Bishop John-David Schofield, Bishop Robert Duncan and Bishop Jack Iker. At the same time they are preparing to try several orthodox bishops, and the clear message is fear and terror. If you try and leave they will still come after you. If you try and hold onto the property that is yours, they will sue you and keep you in court until your funds for defense run out.
With other sources of funds they are working the field, “visiting” primates and bishops who have a desperate need for funding for their ministries and handing them the keys to brand new Land Rover SUVs. They appear to be working with the Anglican Communion Office staff, Lambeth Palace staff and the Archbishop of Canterbury himself to strengthen TEC’s position and divide the conservative orthodox.
Within the conservative orthodox in the USA there are those who either have separated from TEC (often at significant cost) or are in the planning stage of doing so. Others are not quite there, but are evaluating their options about leaving. There are those, however, for whom the emotional and cultural and perhaps, some would argue, spiritual tie to Canterbury is so great that even though there is the equivalent of spiritual abuse coming from the father, the children are trying to decide whether it is better to leave and stop the abuse or to stay, maintain the relationship, and continue to be abused. Some orthodox in the USA and perhaps in the UK are struggling with this decision. A simple answer is to stay and put a stop to the abuse, but alas, that is what the Communion and specifically the Global South primates have been trying to do since the 1998 Lambeth Conference, and although significant progress has been made, the tide of battle has not been turned yet.
The realignment that is afoot in the United States and Canada is based on the most basic doctrines of Christianity, and compromise with heresy and apostasy is not an acceptable alternative. In other areas of the Communion the issues and the divide may not be as crystal clear as it is in the USA. This pernicious false gospel of theological revisionism and cultural adaptation is nevertheless spreading throughout global Anglicanism; Western European and Western hemisphere churches are heavily impacted. It is true, however, that exceptions do exist: the Anglican Communion Network in the USA, groups in Canada, and missionary outreaches of Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and the Province of the Southern Cone, and in these can be found the faith once delivered to the Saints.
The question remains, however, what of the many people who are orthodox and are still in TEC and the Church of England? How can the witness and work of the orthodox provinces change the Anglican Communion in such a way that real help comes to those who presently have no viable options? If we look at the tools available, the so-called Instruments of Unity are not uniformly helpful. The leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury has been concerned with holding together a badly damaged Communion rather than fixing the Communion. The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) receives more than a fourth of its funding from TEC, and Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori, as a member of the Primates Standing Committee, also sits on the ACC Standing Committee. Needless to say, the ACC on a good day is not helpful to reforming and refining the Communion, and on a bad day it works in concert with the aims of TEC. The third Instrument of Unity is the Primates, meeting together. Some good work has come from this body, but in each case the Archbishop of Canterbury has been able to summarize the issues, shape the remit to a body charged with doing something, massage the reports coming forth, and manipulate the way the Primates do or don’t address these as they meet together.
Unless the ABC repents of his direction and style and becomes more concerned about the deep issues of “who is Jesus” and what obedient moral discipleship means, there is little likelihood that the Anglican Communion can proceed in its established form. If the future is uncertain, some questions need to be asked before the day of crisis is fully upon us, and one of those questions is “What is the essence of Anglicanism/Anglican Christianity and what does it look like if Canterbury and England are not at the center?” As I ask the question, I myself don’t have the answer, but the time to begin asking the question has arrived, even as we beseech our Lord Jesus to honor and accomplish his prayer that all might be one.
Blessings and Peace in Christ Jesus,
The Rt. Rev. David Craig Anderson, Sr.
President, The American Anglican Council