GC2009: Clarity Attained at 76th Episcopal General Convention
By David W. Virtue in Anaheim
The passage of resolution D025, that pansexual practitioners will now be acceptable to all orders of ministry in The Episcopal Church, is a clarifying moment.
It is the same kind of clarity the Anglican Primates, 38 leaders of the church, attained in Alexandria, Egypt, earlier this year when they finally admitted that two understandings of the faith, two religions totally at odds with each other now inhabit the Anglican Communion.
There is now no more doubt, no more fudging, no more hesitation and no more ambiguity. We have complete clarity.
The Episcopal Church USA has stepped outside the bounds of biblical morality and the main sweep and teaching of church history on human sexuality.
The question now is: Is The Episcopal Church any longer a Christian denomination in any moral or theological sense?
The Roman Catholic Church, the great Eastern and Western Orthodox churches, major Protestant denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church have not started down this rocky moral road, nor do they seem ready to embrace pan-sexuality, now or ever. To do so would see their own denominations begin to collapse, more slowly than TEC, which has recently lost more than 100,000 members, most of whom have joined together to form an orthodox Anglican province on US soil.
The slippery slope is being travelled with greater velocity.
The Archbishop of Canterbury watched with dismay and expressed his "regret" at the passage of the actions taken by TEC. While he is powerless to act in any judicial or ecclesiastical manner, the language he used was so restrained as to appear weak and ineffectual.
The truth is that Williams' Affirming Catholicism is more in sync with the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops than it is with orthodox Anglicans. The question that is now being asked with greater frequency is, Where is the Anglican Communion going?
Two weeks ago, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, (FCA) was launched in London, the brainchild of GAFCON, the majority voice in the Anglican Communion. At FCA, voices were raised that restated the truth of the gospel and the nature of true mission, the open proclamation of the historic gospel reaffirming The Great Commission.
That is not the understanding of mission The Episcopal Church holds.
There is a two-fold blindness in TEC. The first blindness is to biblical revelation. The Episcopal Church has formally abandoned the historical-grammatical method of biblical interpretation - a process that strives to discover the Biblical author's original intended meaning in the text. It is the primary method of interpretation for Biblical scholars in the major branches of Christianity: Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox to use the critical method of scriptural interpretation. TEC is reinterpreting texts on human sexuality to make them more confluent with contemporary mores.
The second blindness is that they have isolated themselves from the vast bulk of the Anglican Communion. Durham Bishop N. T. Wright put it succinctly when he wrote of TEC's decision describing it as the slow-moving train crash of international Anglicanism. "The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States has voted decisively to allow in principle the appointment, to all orders of ministry, of persons in active same-sex relationships. This marks a clear break with the rest of the Anglican Communion."
The real question is why is Wright so surprised? The Episcopal Church has been heading down this road for 40 years, defiantly dismissing the wishes of the Anglican Communion at one Primates' meeting after another, snubbing its nose at the Windsor Report, and the WCG. Now they hope to find refuge in a Covenant that it has absolutely no intention of committing itself to.
Wrote Wright, "They (TEC) were formalizing the schism they initiated six years ago when they consecrated as bishop a divorced man in an active same-sex relationship, against the Primates' unanimous statement that this would 'tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level'. In Windsor's language, they have chosen to 'walk apart'."
The truth is TEC has been walking apart for a very long time. Church of England leaders like Wright who said that TEC's ecclesiastical disease would never infect the CofE now find that it has. The CofE has scores of gay clergy waiting to declare their own liberation. New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson once observed that if you took all the gay clergy out of the CofE, it would collapse. An exaggeration for sure, but dangerously close to the truth. The advent of women bishops in the CofE will not see the church statistically rise in numbers any more than it has done in TEC. Neither gender issues nor the proclamation and adoption of homosexuality in TEC has seen the church grow in the six years since Robinson was consecrated. In fact, the exact opposite has happened. Tens of thousands of Episcopalians have left the church with 100,000 plus forming the basis of the new North American Anglican Province.
Bishops repeatedly voiced two views, both in press conferences and in open discussions on the floor of the HOB. The first is that TEC must do what it must do in accordance with its own self-understanding and, secondly, that it wants to remain in the Anglican Communion.
But unless TEC leaders have found a way to lift the Law of Non-Contradiction, such action is impossible.
What will happen now is a scenario waiting to be written.
To date, four orthodox dioceses have left TEC. Hundreds of orthodox parishes from revisionist dioceses have also left The Episcopal Church.
What could conceivably happen now is that orthodox parishes in orthodox dioceses like South Carolina, Albany, Dallas, Western Louisiana and Western Kansas will weigh their options as they reflect on D025 and possibly C056, rites for same-sex marriage, which has yet to pass, but seems inevitably that it will.
Is it any wonder that bishops like Bill Love, Mark Lawrence and Jim Stanton look worried? They will face an avalanche of criticism from their orthodox parishes when they return home. Many believe this will be the final straw for them and will declare they want out. We shall see.
The talk now is of schism. Tom Wright mentioned the possibility, but this is difficult to define. What exactly would schism look like? True, we have a de facto schism now, but not a de jure schism. Does the Archbishop of Canterbury go to the Queen and declare the Communion broken? Does he resign, saying that he has failed to hold it together? The Anglican Communion has no common set of Canons or Constitution to appeal to. An attempt to make that happen failed when TEC said it would not give up its canonical sovereignty.
A more likely scenario is that with the advent of GAFCON, ACNA and FCA a new superstructure of faith is being built alongside the dying provinces of Western pan-Anglican liberalism. As one structure slowly dies, the other is being built, conference by conference, on the declarations of Scripture and the shoulders of the fathers and the creeds.
It is irrelevant if ACNA is recognized by the ABC or the Anglican Consultative Council. The deal has been done and the die cast and the GAFCON primates recognize it.
Anglican institutionalism is dying. A new church is being born and nothing can stop it. New wine is being poured into new wineskins. Reformation and renewal is underway, it will not be stopped.
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