By any honest judgment, this denomination is a mess. Its own staff people speak of “precipitous” membership losses fueled in large part by fights in the church, of an aging membership that is not inviting new people to meet Christ or passing faith on to a new generation, and of “incoherent” denominational leadership that can’t create unity and positive momentum.
Why is this church suffering? Some would say that we are under God’s judgment. Too many years of too many compromises – from the old country club captivity of “The Republican Party at Prayer”; to a complete cave-in on acceptance of divorce and remarriage; to the coddling of addicts, egomaniacs and anti-Christians as bishops; to the current coastal urban elitists and their obsession with church entitlements for homosexuals. All of us bring our sins, “known and unknown, things done and left undone” to this sorry state of affairs. We’ve tried and tried to define the Episcopal Church by something – anything – other than the Gospel of Christ crucified. Maybe God is fed up with the denomination. Maybe we are like a fruitless tree, just taking up space, with our only hope an undeserved season of merciful tending by Christ himself (Luke13:6-9).
And there are other forces working against us. The Episcopal Church was once part of a Christian “mainstream” that contributed to an American moral consensus. That consensus no longer exists. Americans are polarized. There is no one culture to which we can be a chaplain, and this makes us more “sideline” than mainline.
Because some of us have set up shop as chaplains to this or that faction in the polarized nation, we have no internal unity as a church. There is no common teaching and, despite much noise about “baptismal covenant” and “unity in the eucharist”, there is no agreement about what these sacraments mean and how the church should live them out. In fact, there are ferocious disagreements about the sacraments and a multitude of liturgies, authorized and not, by which we claim to celebrate them.
Our leadership bodies are a disaster. The House of Bishops has no real unity. Meetings degenerate into shunning, name-calling and profanity. The Bishops, who are ordained to “be one with the apostles in proclaiming Christ’s resurrection and interpreting the Gospel, and to testify to Christ’s sovereignty as Lord of lords and King of kings” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 517), speak little of Christ and much of church rules and procedures. They are enthralled with lesser “lords and kings” and treat Christ as little more than a symbolic figure.
Increasingly, secular journalists are catching Bishops in statements that are at best word tricks and at worst lies. Bishops appear more interested in scoring victories for their own egos, wallets or some small faction they serve, rather than looking to the good of all God’s people as called for in the ordination vows.
The General Convention, long a source of pride as a Christian leadership body with the voice of elected clergy and laity together, is an unwieldy joke. Ten days long, with hundreds of dense pages of material for delegates to consider and hundreds of resolutions covering every topic in the cosmos, this expensive boondoggle cannot possibly give quality attention to any issues and is as gridlocked and disreputable as any political game played in DC or a state capitol. And the long, expensive event is impossible for many working lay people, giving a decidedly elitist advantage to clergy and subsidized lay activists for narrow interests.
With ordained and elected leadership in such sad repair, unaccountable bureaucrats wield considerable power. Something called “The Executive Council” has decided the Episcopal Church’s affiliation on one of the most divisive issues of our time – abortion. And nobody seems able to say how the denomination changed its name from The Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA) to its current “TEC.” The supposedly “democratic” church had no broad based discussion of the sectarian change.
Meanwhile, the sad fact is that many of the most energetic and creative leaders are leaving the denomination, while parasitic church-shrinkers and bureaucrats without a leadership clue claim all kinds of titles, positions and perks.
The problems are not new to Christianity. The Apostle Paul agonized when a confused church suffered under corrupt leaders:
“For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough… For you gladly put up with fools, being wise yourselves! For you put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face… And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?” (II Corinthians 11:4,19-20,28-29).
Where is that Christ-centered, Spirit-filled, Gospel-preaching, empathetic and passionate leadership for God’s people in the Episcopal Church? With maybe a few anomalous examples, it is not in the House of Bishops or the General Convention. And it is not in the sorry bureaucracy that manipulates things in their stead. And that lack of apostolic leadership is the agony of the Episcopal Church.