Friday, October 12, 2007

The Agony of the Episcopal Church

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.

7 comments:

MWN said...

I saw the communication sent in the diocese of upper michigan that went out this week. It has been posted all over the net. It had to be one of the most shocking things I have ever read coming out of what some might think is still a Christian church. And, there is so much stuff like this out there that those without internet access have no idea what is REALLY going on in their church, and how bad it has become.

MWN said...

PS. Love the Pheasant pic up top....plan to shoot a gob of them this fall. Surely one of God's blessings for those living in this beautiful state.

Laocoon said...

Have you seen +Creighton's letter today on the SD diocesan website? He has some pretty strongly worded criticisms of Good Shepherd. It looks like he's calling at least some people at Good Shepherd dishonest, duplicitous, small-minded and power-hungry.

I guess it's good to see a bishop actually standing for something, and so acting -- to some degree -- like a shepherd.

On the other hand: Does he ever visit Good Shepherd? He says he's writing a letter that will address these concerns and that "can be made available" but may not be read from the pulpit. Why is that?

cp said...

Maybe he'd rather see the Gospel and our parishes' own concerns considered from our pulpits instead? Because, just maybe, many of us are sick of hearing about this stuff and want to get to our call?

Sounds like a good plan to me.

Laocoon said...

CP, I'd be in favor of that as well. Near as I can tell, that's all that ever happens at GS in SF. So why take so much time to criticize our parish when you never visit it? If we're doing something wrong, I'm sure we'd like our bishop to tell us about it. But preferably, we'd hear about it firsthand, rather than hearing about it in a public announcement about a few folks' letter in a way that tars us all with the same brush. Preaching the gospel sounds great. Taking care of our parishes' own concerns also sounds good, provided it doesn't mean ignoring one another. If it means ignoring one another, one begins to wonder why we have an episcopacy at all, and what happened to the grand legacy of the Elizabethan Settlement and its big-tent notion of orthodoxy. Are conservatives and traditionalists no longer welcome in that tent? The bishop's letter seems to suggest that this is so.

As for being sick of hearing this stuff, I assure you that folks at GS in SF are sick of it, too, and have been for a long time. But ignoring it won't make it go away. There's too much at stake, including the legitimacy of those things that have tied us together as Episcopalians, as Anglicans, and as Christians; and anthropology. I'm tired of constant theological squabbles about sex and sexuality, but I do not want to abandon our discussions of what it means to be human, and the two are intimately tied together.

The peace of the Lord be with you - and with the concerns of your parish.

Anonymous said...

RE "Because, just maybe, many of us are sick of hearing about this stuff and want to get to our call?"

Really? Well that's cool -- so . . . um . . . why hang out over at this blog if you are just "sick of hearing about this stuff" . . . ; > )

Of course, gay activists aren't "sick of hearing about this stuff" when they're trying to push forward their agenda. In fact, their "call" is actually pushing forward their own beliefs and stances using the official channels of the church. What they're "sick of hearing of" is the *opposition* to their agenda and their goals.

That opposition is what's really got to stop in their opinion . . . so that they can continue moving forward with their "call."

Opposition is what they're really sick of hearing.

Sarah

Scott said...

CP - We'll forget about it as soon as 100% of the House of Bishops and the Episcopal Church through its General Convention complies with the requests of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, as soon as the Presiding Bishop renounces her prior statements about Christ NOT being the only path to God, as soon as Gene Robinson renounces his Episcopate, as soon as....

The extreme "left" of this church isn't relenting one bit. Case in point: Read Gene Robinsons latest letter to the "GLBT" community. Read Creighton's post-HOB communication. Read Creightons' latest rant against members of the AAC.

I'm sure there are many out there who would like us to forget about it and get on with the mission of the church....so they can go on remaking God and His Church in their own image.

You would think that by their actions, the entire mission of the church is GLBT rights, MDG's, a denial of the virgin birth, denial of the ascention, denial of the cross, etc.

No...I'm not going to forget about it anytime soon. Force Fields are UP until the barrage against the faith discontinues.