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June 28, 2006
Column #1,296
The Episcopal Church is Splintering
by Mike McManus

I was an Episcopalian for 25 years, but left the church 19 years ago with a million others.  Occasionally I attend Episcopal services because I love its liturgy.

However, the national church's recent General Convention offered two new reasons why  many more orthodox Christians will leave. This week former Episcopalians who call themselves Anglicans, held a Requiem Mass at St. Paul's Cathedral in Portland, Maine, "in observance of the death of the Episcopal Church."

Why? First, the church elected as Presiding Bishop for a nine year term, Katherine Jefferts Schori, who has an earned Ph.D. in marine biology, is fluent in Spanish, but has never been a Rector (senior pastor) of a church.  In her opening sermon she declared, "Our mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation. And you and I are His children."

Delegate Rev. Greg Brewer was shocked: "Biblically, this is wrong on several counts: Jesus is not a mother who gives birth: Jesus is the Word through whom creation was spoken, not birthed, into being. Jesus does not ‘birth' us. We are reborn by the Spirit and adopted as God's children.  Jesus is not a mother who births us; Jesus is a Savior who redeems us."

Schori voted for the election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man to be bishop of New Hampshire and allows and promotes same-sex unions in her Nevada diocese. She told the New York Times "We're not here to argue about matters of sexuality. We are here to build a holy community." 

Brewer winced, "As if sexual behavior and holiness before God and one another have nothing to do with each other!"

The second reason many will flee this sinking ship is how the General Convention reacted to "The Windsor Report," issued by a special Commission appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in response to Robinson's election.  It asked the Episcopal Church to do three things: stop electing and consecrating non-celibate gay Bishops, discontinue performing same-gender marital blessings and offer a sincere expression of regret for "tearing the fabric" of the Anglican Communion.

One resolution expressing "regret" for consecrating a "bishop living openly in a same-gender union"and asked  "to refrain from...(the) consecration of bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church" – was defeated.

A weaker resolution passed that expressed no regret, and simply asked "to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church."  It made no mention of same-sex blessings now  performed routinely in hundreds of Episcopal churches.

However, the House of Bishops did approve the consecration of a man to be bishop who was twice divorced and married three times, most recently to a divorced woman. Surely his "manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church." 

Not to liberal bishops, 20 of whom denounced the vague resolution. Washington DC Bishop John Chane said he would "defy" it.

The vast majority of the world's 72 million Anglicans are not white Anglo-Saxons - but are black conservative Africans who do not ordain women, let alone gay men. They believe the issue is "primarily a moral and theological matter: sexual intimacy is intended by God to be limited to marriage," as Bishop John Howe of Central Florida put it.

"On the other side are those who believe this is a justice issue: homosexual men and women, gays and lesbians, have the same rights as heterosexual persons, and to deny those rights by refusing blessings or access to any Christian ministry, is a total violation of Christ's example and commandment to love others as he loves us."

This week the Archbishop of Canterbury recognized the split.  He proposed that a shared theological "covenant" be written that each province would be asked to abide by.  Those who did so would retain full status as "constituent churches." Those who did not would be "churches in association" without decision-making status as Anglicans.

"No member church can make significant decisions unilaterally and still expect this to make no difference to how it is regarded in the fellowship."

The Archbishop said his proposal could allow local churches in the United States to separate from the Episcopal Church and join the growing number of orthodox churches affiliating with the Anglican Communion.

Conservatives rejoiced.  They argue that the Episcopal Church, which has abandoned the historic faith, should be pushed aside.   But the future will be contentious.  Most Episcopal bishops are fighting any parish's decision to leave and will not permit them to keep their buildings, though local congregations paid for them.

The Episcopal Church is splintering.

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