Sunday, December 17, 2006

Episcopalians Reach Point of Revolt

NYT For about 30 years, the Episcopal Church has been one big unhappy family. Under one roof there were female bishops and male bishops who would not ordain women. There were parishes that celebrated gay weddings and parishes that denounced them; theologians sure that Jesus was the only route to salvation, and theologians who disagreed.

A church in which everyone must decide for himself what his faith means, is not much of a church. It is good that they should split.
Now, after years of threats, the family is breaking up. As many as eight conservative Episcopal churches in Virginia are expected to announce today that their parishioners have voted to cut their ties with the Episcopal Church. Two are large, historic congregations that minister to the Washington elite and occupy real estate worth a combined $27 million, which could result in a legal battle over who keeps the property.
Follow the money. If the locals contributed most of the cost, title should stay with the local church. If the Church built the building, they should retain title.
OTB blogged The idea of the congregations in an Episcopal church revolting against their bishop is quite bizarre. After all, the belief apostolic succession of the bishops is a defining tenant of what it means to be Episcopal; indeed, that’s what the name means. Still, there’s no doubt that the church has become virtually nihilistic. Episcopalians openly joke about the fact that they don’t really believe in much of anything. It has become very much a priesthood of all believers, with a total rejection of a unified, hierarchical doctrine. I’m surprised, frankly, that it has taken people this long to get sick of that. A central reason people attend church to begin with is to be part of something bigger than themselves to create a sense of order. If you’re going to be left to your own conscience to determine your own private morality, you might as well just be a free agent and keep the tithe.

D.A. Ridgely blogged Like the Church of England itself, the newly created Episcopal Church saw itself as a continuation of the “church catholic” from the Apostolic age, and so it needed its bishops to have been ordained from other bishops in an unbroken apostolic succession (a theological point, by the way, about which the Anglicans and Roman Catholics still disagree). But bishops in England were comfortably well off members of the House of Lords and unlikely to leave all of that behind for the wilds of the former colonies, so the first American bishops were “renegade” Scottish bishops, the Scots always being up for anything to piss the English off. (This is why the heraldic crest of the Episcopal Church includes the St. Andrew’s Cross, St. Andrew being the patron saint of Scotland.)

The point of this little history lesson is that the Episcopal Church in the U.S. has from its very beginnings been both “conservative” and “liberal.” Ironically, it is unique among all other Protestant denominations in the U.S. in that there was no schism within the Episcopal Church resulting from the Civil War. By long standing custom, tradition and temperament, it has managed to finesse its internal differences over everything from liturgics to politics. In the last fifty years the Church has weathered a number of crises from the infamous “reparations” General Convention in the 1960s through a major revision to the Book of Common Prayer and the ordination of women in the 1970s. Many conservatives and traditionalists have argued that these upheavals were responsible for the continuing, steep decline in membership in the last half century, but they have for the most part nonetheless themselves remained within the denomination. Until now.

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