The Episcopal Confusion: A Review of the 2006 Blue Book
By Hans Zeiger
The Episcopal Church is confused. "Christianity is a radically historical religion," says the report of the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music in The Report to the 75th General Convention, also known as "The Blue Book." Yet this very committee secured the rewriting of the Book of Common Prayer in 1979. And looking at most committee and commission reports in the Blue Book, it is clear that the church long ago gave up its "historical" aspect in favor of the "radical" aspect.
The Blue Book is a compendium of Left-wing church agendas. In 459 pages, it reads at times like the handbook of Students for a Democratic Society. It bears the dated marks of Port Huron, Haight-Ashbury, and Woodstock. Like a relic from the Sixties, the Blue Book is a demonstration that Baby Boomer radicals run the Episcopal Church, and that they are growing old.
The Episcopal Church General Convention will gather June 13-21 in Columbus, Ohio to deliberate the Blue Book. Among the noteworthy agenda items, Episcopalians will elect a new Presiding Bishop, discuss potentials for the reversal of abysmal church attendance, and reconcile the sexual policies of the 2003 convention with the demands of the international Anglican Communion.
The main controversy is whether the Episcopal Church will be the homosexual church or the dialoging church, or both at once.
In 2003, the General Convention approved the election of the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. Robinson is openly homosexual. Though homosexual priests have been active in the Episcopal Church for years, the Convention's support for a homosexual bishop opened a fundamental rift with the larger Anglican Communion around the world.
In various corners of the Episcopal Church, pro-homosexual activists itch to expand the church's tolerant attitude even more.
At the 1994 General Convention, the Episcopal Church called on government to grant equal legal protections to homosexual couples as to married couples. Given the recent push toward homosexual marriage, many in the Episcopal Church want to reaffirm their prior statement. Resolution A095 from the Standing Commission on National Concerns reads:
"Resolved, the House of _____concurring, That the 75th General Convention reaffirm the Episcopal Church's historical support of gay and lesbian persons as children of God and entitled to full civil rights; and be it further Resolved, That the 75th General Convention reaffirm the 71st General Convention's action calling upon "municipal council, state legislatures and the United States Congress to approve measures giving gay and lesbian couples protection[s] such as: bereavement and family leave policies; health benefits; pension benefits; real-estate transfer tax benefits; and commitments to mutual support enjoyed by non-gay married couples"; and be it further Resolved, That the 75th General Convention oppose any state or federal constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex civil marriage or civil unions."
A Canadian Anglican diocese recently took its approval of gay marriage a step further by agreeing to bless homosexual unions. In response to this and the ordination of Bishop Robinson, a special international Anglican commission was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury to prepare an investigative report. Released in 2004 as the Windsor Report, it called on the Episcopal Church to back off from its hasty actions at the 2003 General Convention. The Windsor Report made clear that restoration to full fellowship in the global communion was contingent on the Episcopal Church's repentance.
Indeed, the Episcopal Church is beholden to the decisions of the Lambeth Conference, an international Anglican conference held every decade at Lambeth Palace in London. At the last Lambeth Conference in 1998, representatives agreed to Resolution 1.10, which declares homosexuality incompatible with the Word of God and does not "advise the legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions."
The Archbishop wrote to Anglican leaders in March of his aversion to opening the 2008 Lambeth Conference to homosexual banter. "Despite the levels of bitter controversy over sexuality in the communion, I do not hear much enthusiasm for revisiting in 2008 the last Lambeth Conference's resolution on this matter," he wrote. "In my judgment, we cannot properly or usefully re-open the discussion as if Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998 did not continue to represent the general mind of the communion."
So far, there are no signs of repentance from the Leftist elite of the Episcopal Church.
In its Blue Book report, the Executive Council Committee on Anti-Racism makes a direct assault on international Anglicanism and the Windsor Report. "Members [of the Committee on Anti-Racism] are concerned about the overall lack of participation in the drafting process of both lay persons and those persons who have directly benefited from the ministry of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson. The added impact of this report is that it pits two marginalized groups against each other namely, the former subjects of the British Empire and the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities. This report does nothing to transform a historically white, European-American male, and clerically dominated structure into one capable of affecting the reconciliation of all people." The assumption is that reconciliation rests solely on the efforts of human beings in this world. As for reconciliation in Jesus Christ, why, that's rather old fashioned.
If the Episcopal Church makes any sort of apology or enunciates any sort of regrets for its actions at the 2003 Convention, don't look for the expressions to be heartfelt. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and his Executive Council have consistently defended the work of the 2003 convention, promoting "dialogue about human sexuality" in the church. The executive council summarizes its approach to reconciliation with the global Anglican community as urging "parishes and dioceses to initiate encounters with Anglicans around the world to listen and build relationships." Yet repentance seems out of the question.
Racism, Sexism, Homophobia
The Episcopal Church will likely make official repentance of one sin: slavery. A resolution proposed by the Executive Council resolves "That the Episcopal Church apologize for its complicity in and the injury done by the institution of slavery and its aftermath and ask the Presiding Bishop to call for a 'Day of Repentance and Reconciliation'." The council notes that some dioceses are now examining the idea of slavery reparations, and it proposes that the church undertake a comprehensive study of the Episcopal Church's role in slavery to determine whether and how to make reparations.
According to the Executive Committee, the slavery apologies and reparations inquiries complement the church's anti-racism training initiatives. Committees and commissions note with pride in their Blue Book reports that they have undergone the rigorous mandatory training. By September 2005, 63 dioceses and 16 CCABs had been trained or scheduled to be trained in anti-racism. The church boasts 46 certified anti-racism trainers with another 40 in the certification process. Some dioceses were saturated with anti-racism sessions and celebrations, such as the diocese of Atlanta that hosted 20 anti-racism training events. After all of that, the conclusion of the Executive Council Committee on Anti-Racism is that "racism remains profoundly entrenched in the Episcopal Church."
The solution? The Committee on Anti-Racism calls for a "'Truth, Reconciliation, and Restorative Justice Initiative' that will enable the Church to engage first in a process of 'Truth-telling' that is based on these principles [of truth, reconciliation, and restorative justice] and is designed to be implemented by each diocese with appropriate resources," as well as creating "mechanisms" to ruminate about the past and engage in "story-telling and assessment of the roots and branches of racial and ethnic inequity, marginalization and disharmony in the church and in society." That, of course, is very simple and easy, and surely it will do the trick.
Seemingly everyplace in the church, Leftist Episcopalians work dutifully like ants to make diversity a reality. The word "diversity" appears forty times in the Blue Book. It is the saving grace of our time. For the next triennium, it will be the first priority of the Institutional Wellness and the Prevention of Sexual Misconduct Task Force to "increase multi-cultural participation" in training material development.
The church has even taken its gospel of diversity into the corporate world. The Committee on Social Responsibility in Investments engages in shareholder activism, pushing one company in which the church had investments to make its Board more "diverse."
Still, a major concern of the Standing Commission on Ministry Development is the diversity of Episcopal ministers. As if skin color mattered, a recent survey was commissioned by the commission to assess "access to the [ordination] process for persons of color." Some of the Episcopal Church's eleven seminaries are doing their part. The Episcopal Divinity School offers "opportunities for urban fellows to organize communities of color around issues related to environmental racism." The Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, founded by the ultra-leftist Sixties era Presiding Bishop John Hines, claims to be "addressing cultural diversity" through its course of study. The School of Theology of the University of the South: Sewanee is "planning for greater racial and ethnic comprehensiveness."
In the proposed updated Title III of the Baptismal Covenant, candidates for ordination to the Episcopal priesthood must undergo anti-racism training and sexual misconduct training as well as an evaluation by a Bishop-approved psychologist. A candidate must begin the process by submitting six documents to the Bishop. These documents include evidence of Baptism and Confirmation. However, there is no requirement that a candidate for the priesthood actually affirm his faith in Jesus Christ, the truth of Scripture, or the historic creeds of the church.
When it comes time for ordination, the priest does affirm his commitment to the Bible as follows: "I do solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church." Of course, there is a contradiction at the heart of the present debates in the Episcopal Church, because Title III, Canon 9 instructs that "sexual orientation...shall not be a factor in the determination of the Ecclesiastical Authority as to whether such person is a duly qualified Priest." Never mind that the Bible is explicit in its condemnation of homosexuality-17 times. Of course, Episcopal bishops cannot exclude females from the priesthood either, which is also highly disputable on directly Biblical grounds.
It was at the General Convention thirty years ago that the Episcopal Church decided to ordain women to the ministry. Today there are about 1,700 female Episcopal priests. But there remains a great need to advocate for women in the church, according to the Executive Council Committee on the Status of Women. The committee surveyed young Episcopalians to gauge their interest in female leadership, inclusive language, and gender stereotypes. Considering inclusive language alterations and innovations incomplete, the committee proposes funding for all people "to see themselves in the languages and images that the church employs."
Careless of the Biblical standard of male leadership, the Episcopal Church moves toward an imposed "equality" devoid of any leadership at all. The Committee on the Status of Women admits that women are not exactly made for leadership in the historic Anglican order. There is "awareness among women who have been ordained for many years that serving as a priest in a patriarchal institution can take a substantial emotional and physical toll on women." The "patriarchal institution" at issue is the church of the male Jesus, followed by the twelve male disciples. Men have led the historic Anglican church since its formation. Feminized though the Episcopal Church today has become, it is not enough, according to the Committee on the Status of Women. Women's liberation must overtake the church and transform it entirely into an institution that, no longer patriarchal, must become matriarchal.
Orthodox Christianity, which views men and women as different sorts of human beings, is abominable to the Committee on the Status of Women. Despite the fact that conservative evangelicalism tends to be at once more demanding and more attractive, to women as well as to men, the Committee on the Status of Women condemns "fundamentalism" for its perceived inequality and repression of the fairer sex.
"We are alarmed at the rise of fundamentalism as an easy solution to complex problems, and we deplore the attempts of outside groups of influence to move the Episcopal Church to a more socially conservative position. Here we quote Karen Armstrong in an article published in 2005. 'To fundamentalists, tolerance of the "other" is a sin.....Fundamentalism is a revolt against modernity, and one of the characteristics of modernity has been the emancipation of women....They talk in frank ways of feminism's castrating effect. This goes to the absolute hysteria about the gay syndrome. This goes to abortion, which has become a symbol of everything that is wrong about modernity.'"
Referring to recent pro-life progresses, the Committee on the Status of Women declares, "The status of women's reproductive rights is precarious, at best, creating a situation that is unjust and unacceptable. We believe in a culture of faith that safeguards the lives of women. We commend the Episcopal Church for its history of supporting women's reproductive health. We urge the church to continue its advocacy for policies that uphold women's unconditional access to comprehensive and culturally appropriate reproductive health services, in this country, and in the developing world."
Unquestionably, the Committee on the Status of Women is a militant feminist group. So when the committee not only proposes "dialoging" within the church, but also trainers and facilitators to conduct the dialoging, wariness is in order. Budgeting $28,000 for training, materials, and meetings, the committee resolves
"That the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church commit itself to foster moral deliberation on social and theological questions, seeking to be a community where open, passionate, and respectful deliberation of challenging, contemporary issues is expected and encouraged; engage those of diverse classes, genders, ages, races, cultures and perspectives in the deliberation process so that our limited horizons might be expanded and our witness in the world enhanced; address the issues faced by the people of God, in order to equip them for their discipleship and citizenship in the world; and be it further Resolved, That the 75th General Convention direct the Peace and Justice Ministries Office, Ethnic Congregation Development Office, and Women's Ministries Office to collaborate in developing models and trainers, lay and ordained, across the Church to guide conversations on difficult issues facing our country and church today."
It is ironic that the Episcopal Feminist Left should complain about repression in the church when its very work as a committee appears to be the essence of manipulation and repression of dissent, all in the guise of "dialogue."
Salvation by Dialogue
The entire Episcopal Blue Book reveals an intensive preoccupation among the church's elite for dialogue (the word "dialogue" occurs 82 times), which mostly means an incessancy of meetings. The meetings come with enormous price tags, and they exist for the discussion of trivialities and fundamentals, neither of which the elites can resolve. So they schedule more meetings for more dialoging, and the church's identity continues to hang in the balance.
The Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns spent the past triennium dialoging with people around the world. The Commission records the sentiment among some Cubans with whom they met that "while Cubans may lack certain civil rights, such as the right to unfettered assembly, free speech, or a free press, they possess certain essential human rights that U.S. citizens lack, such as the right to universal health care and free education at all levels." The Standing Commission recommends the end of the U.S embargo against Cuba, as well as peace in the Middle East, and the eight Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations. The goals are "1) Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; 2) Achieve universal primary education; 3) Promote gender equality and empower women; 4) Reduce child mortality; 5) Improve maternal health; 6) Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; 7) Ensure environmental sustainability; and 8) Develop a global partnership for development."
It is worth noting that these are called the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Not one of them refers to spiritual or eternal goods, though one might happen to engage in some of the activities with spiritual or eternal motives. Yet it is clear that the Goals aim at something like heaven on earth, something very remote from the Great Commission. The Great Commission transcends material welfare for a Kingdom that is not of this earth. It looks toward a Millennium in which Christ shall return to reign what is rightfully His. All humanitarian aid by do-gooders will count for nothing in the end. Only a new millennialism, lacking concern for eternity, would aim at the achievement of Millennium Development Goals like those of the United Nations/Episcopal Church.
Recently at the Episcopal Divinity School, students and faculty have undertaken "Peace Pins" and a lecture series on the Millennium Development Goals. If EDS happens to be a drinking school, perhaps they could re-title the MDG to Millennial Goals for Development (MGD) and invite Miller Genuine Draft as their official sponsor.
When it comes to life in America, the Standing Commission on National Concerns invests its national concerns in marriage, racism, post-9/11 civil rights, and "a widening gap between those people who are rich and those who are poor." Voting rights for criminals is on the Commission's agenda. The Commission also calls for a new National Reconciliation Task Force to work with the existing Anti-Racism Committee to "solicit personal stories of oppression and repentance, as well as liturgical expressions of reconciliation encouraged, and that these stories and liturgical expressions of past and contemporary situations be shared in an open, passionate, respectful process so that our limited horizons might be expanded and our witness in the world enhanced." The Task Force is essentially the choice for a future of "full inclusion." The price tag on this order will be $33,000. The Episcopal Church seems to believe that the world's problems may be solved by committee.
In fact, there is a commission devoted to the study and discussion of committees, commissions, agencies, and boards (CCABs), known as the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church. This body-among whom is The Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, homosexual bishop of New Hampshire-concludes in the 2006 Blue Book, "We found that over the years the CCABs have evolved into a Hydra with overlapping parts, inconsistent names, and unclear mandates." With that, the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church goes on to propose creation or funding for additional commissions. It even proposes to "review, study, and recommend" to the next General Convention in 2009 whether the Episcopal Church should change its official name from The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America to some more geographically inclusive name to cover the dioceses outside of the states.
If the Episcopal Church is having trouble with its name, it is having more trouble with its purpose and identity. Seeing few distinctives that would demarcate from the liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church entered full communion with the ELCA in 2000, and is moving toward full communion with the United Methodist Church. The ELCA and UMC are equally perplexed about identity issues, if not quite as troubled by immediate controversy.
The Episcopal Church plagued by its identity crisis and unable to rest confident in the traditional hymns and orders of the liturgical service, formed a special Committee on Multi-Sensory Worship. The Committee reports on a three day meeting in California: "Participants in the consultation spent significant time discussing what to call this emerging type of worship experience. While many suggestions were made (emergent worship, incarnational worship, multimedia worship, experiential worship, etc.), we agreed that no single term adequately describes the breadth of what this concept represents." Multi-sensory literally means smells and bells, a suggestion for the Committee. Smells and Bells requests a budget of $60,000 to develop its particular scents and sounds in the next few years.
Episcopal liturgy becomes increasingly arbitrary these days. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer is now one of ten liturgical and musical resources offered by the church, with a multiplicity of supplements available and more resources and supplements on the way. It creates a situation in which the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has had to conclude, "the meanings of prayer book phrases like forms set for by authority with this Church and subject to the direction of the bishop (BCP p. 13) and hymns...authorized by this Church (BCP p. 14)" are "difficult to interpret." The Book of Common Prayer was rewritten in the late 70s, and in 2004 the Committee on Rites of Passage held a four-day retreat in Los Angeles to invent "a collection of rites for the pastoral transitions in people's lives." The method of creation is described in the Blue Book: "We prayed a lot. We sang a lot. We studied scripture. We told our stories. Towards the end of the second day, we shared with each other what we had heard and what we believed God was calling us offer to the church. We broke into smaller groups and began drafting liturgical rites. The Holy Spirit was active working among us."
Rites of Passage: Liturgies for Transformations in the Lives of God's People features prayers for "Moving from a Crib to a Bed," "Learning to Ride a Bike," and "Reaching Puberty." Not that prayer isn't important in the midst of the mundane as well as the momentous, but that un-Biblical prayers are meaningless. It is not from Scripture that the prayers in the book are derived; they are pulled out of the hats of a few self-proclaimed holy persons with a liberal agenda.
Rites of Passage includes a prayer "For Godly Expression of One's Sexuality:" "O God, you have made us in your image and called us to the joys of human love. That love, the sign and seal of your own love for each of us, is shown through companionship and caring, and, powerfully and mysteriously, through the mystery of godly sexual expression shared with each other. This young person, N., is opening his heart to learn the wideness of love. As he strives to discover who he is, whose he is, and the person he is given to love, may he be guided, protected, and encouraged by you, O Love Incarnate. Give him wisdom in choosing, courage in loving, and patience in waiting for the marvelous truth of his life to unfold in your grace, most holy and undivided Trinity, alive through all the ages. Amen."
Once marriage has collapsed from the permissiveness of the foregoing, the post-divorce prayer is the touchy-feely chant of a Church in which one quarter of priests are divorced. What's appalling, though, is a liturgical supplement entitled "Burial of a Child," which features prayers for abortion, including a prayer "Following the Termination of Pregnancy." The "Burial of a Child" liturgy was begun at a four-day retreat in Minnesota last year, and collaborators are now completing their morbid project. Another prayer is entitled, "When the Decision Has Been Made Not to Bear Children." The Episcopal Church wonders why it is dying. Perhaps its blatant sanctification of abortion and other discouragements of child-bearing have consequences on the continuity of the church. Not that most people who decide to abort their children do so prayerfully. Whatever the case, Episcopalians are adept at removing themselves from the evolutionary gene pool.
The Flesh vs. the Spirit
Evolution, too, is heartily endorsed by the Executive Council Committee on Science, Technology and Faith. The committee resolves that "the theory of evolution provides a fruitful and unifying scientific explanation for the emergence of life on earth, and that an acceptance of evolution in no way diminishes the centrality of Scripture in telling the stories of the love of God for the Creation and is entirely compatible with an authentic and living Christian faith."
Evolution is not so simple. One need not subscribe to a literal six-day creation to see quite clearly the philosophical, political, and ethical, not to mention theological, ramifications raised by evolution. Darwin's legacy is far more than biological, and the Episcopal Church is well aware of this. The resolution is set for the floor of the Convention, not because science points inescapably to evolution as the order of nature. In fact, intelligent design theory is growing in credibility and evidence. But the resolution awaits the approval of the General Convention because it means that after all the Apostle Paul was wrong. We may live after the flesh and not after the spirit. We are but animals.
And if we are but animals, we need not go to church. Particularly, we need not join the confused tedium that is the Episcopal Church. If the matriarchal Episcopal Church is a church of trainers and dialoguers, aborting their children, disregarding their church history, moving ever closer to the licentiousness of false liberation, that church will die very soon. It will have become something that is not merely boring for men, but that is unnatural, un-Scriptural, and unappealing to women. Even that craved constituency, homosexuals, will stay home from the meaningless and purposeless Episcopal Church.
We've already mentioned that the word "dialogue" appears 82 times in the Blue Book and the word "diversity" appears 40 times. Combined, that's 122 occurrences. By contrast, the words "Bible" and "Scripture" appear just 68 times in the entire 459 page document! No wonder the Episcopal Church has lost its identity.
Left-wing Christianity is a hopeless mix. It is a faith in weakness that sees no reality beyond this life. It is a preoccupation with social things that leaves no room for eternal things. It is the negation of the Great Commission.
The Standing Commission on Domestic Mission and Evangelism may not be an orthodox outfit, but they certainly see the need to refocus the Episcopal vision. The Commission addresses the Bishops directly on this: "Bishops, please turn your attention to mission, and turn away from distractions like ongoing disputes and looming international meetings."
For, as long as the Episcopal Church has been an agency of the far Left, it has been shrinking in numbers and diminishing in effectiveness. The Standing Commission on Domestic Mission and Evangelism cites an "alarming decline in attendance," even as it aspires to double church attendance by 2020. Between 2002 and 2003, average Sunday attendance fell by 23,000. Between 2003 and 2004, average Sunday attendance fell by 27,000, to just 795,765. That's only about a third of the Episcopal Church's reported membership of 2.2 million. A new Gallup survey shows similar findings, concluding that Episcopalians are the least likely church attenders in the Christian faith. Only Jews and the non-religious go to a place of worship less frequently than Episcopalians.
What's more, Episcopalians who do attend church regularly are not always readily identifiable as Christians outside of church. Many Episcopalians are Sunday Christians only. According to the Standing Commission on Stewardship and Development, "For many in our church, Sunday worship is the only venue for Christian formation."
If two thirds of Episcopalians skip church on Sunday, and say, one sixth of Episcopalians skip Christianity during the remainder of the week that leaves a sixth of the church that is active in one way or other. The actives are either radical leftists determined to mold the church after their agenda, or mild-mannered orthodox Episcopalians who tire easily of the fight to preserve the church. It is this last group, small though it may be, on whom the future of the Episcopal Church depends.
Small numbers can make a big difference. The Disciples proved as much for good, and the Left-wing elite of the Episcopal Church proves it for ill. The Left has controlled the leadership of the Episcopal Church for decades. As the orthodox Episcopal David Mills has pointed out, "liberals inevitably fight longer and harder and yell louder than orthodox believers, who have better things to do, like care for their families and evangelize the lost." But ultimately, politics and diversity chatter and dialoging cannot match the impact of men and women devoted to the Great Commission of the church.
If the orthodox laymen and clergy of the Episcopal Church take leadership and initiative for Christ and the truth of Scripture, the spirit of Reformation that made Anglicanism a force in the world can be rekindled. Sadly, that spirit may not revive within the Episcopal Church as it is constituted today, but the remnant of men and women who live by Word and Spirit have a powerful advantage over their Left-wing co-denominationalists who live by Tolerance and Flesh. They are, as the Apostle Paul contended in Romans 8, the liberated ones.
Blue Book, 269
Irish News, March 9, 2006
Blue Book, 330
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Blue Boo, 290
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Blue Book, 51, 103
George Conger, "US Episcopalians Fail on Attendance," Church of England Newspaper, http://www.churchnewspaper.com/news, April 28, 2006
Blue Book, 283 Thomas C. Reeves, The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity. (New York: The Free Press, 1996), 210
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