THE IMPERIAL BISHOP IS ALMOST NO MORE
By David W. Virtue
In the last three years a vast cultural change has been underway in the boardrooms and executive suites of America. Companies as diverse as AIG, Hewlett-Packard, Disney, and Fannie Mae have ousted CEOs for not delivering promised shareholder value, committing ethical or accounting lapses, or a combination of both.
There is a timely lesson in this for bishops of the Western Episcopal branches of the Anglican Communion. For the last 40 years they have acted like imperial wizards, accumulating power, changing the church's received teaching on faith and morals, declaring who and who is not Episcopalian while attempting to erase the very orthodoxy they swore to uphold.
Until recently they have had a free hand. Their power which once went unquestioned has been challenged not only by fellow bishops, but the media, clergy and an awakening laity who have slumbered through the quiet revolution that has shaken the very roots of Western Anglicanism.
The common catalyst for this unprecedented awakening, and for the more than 120 revisionist bishops, is nothing less than hubris.
What we are seeing is not an irrational backlash by concerned laity, nor simply a cultural change in church politics, but an evangelical awakening throughout America that is impacting the Episcopal Church as thousands leave the ECUSA in droves to join new and sometimes old churches that preach an unvarnished and non deconstructed faith.
From bishops publicly asserting their views on what they think God believes from month to month, and affirming one sexuality or another, individual Episcopalians and often whole congregations are now engaged and empowered like never before.
Organizations like the Anglican Communion Network, the American Anglican Council, Forward in Faith, the Anglican Communion Institute, Anglican Mainstream, have reached out to a global audience and are willing to take on the church establishment, with the result that the media, including mainstream broad sheets, Internet news deliverers, Listservs and Blogs of one sort and another, have poured unprecedented amounts of attention into the personal behavior and theological statements of revisionist bishops.
What has pushed the hot buttons of Western liberals and pansexualists is the humiliation, embarrassment and public exposure of these bishops who are acting in ways so crazy that they have not only made themselves a laughing stock at home, they have enraged and infuriated their counterparts abroad.
The result has been that Global South leaders either want a different kind of leadership in the Global North or they will no longer play ball with them.
Frank Griswold the leader of the Global North bishops and most of his post-modern House of Bishops have conflated their positions with their personalities. Like modern-day tin gods dressed in purple, they thought the church was them; there being no distinction between the church and the bishop, with the power resting solely in themselves. They have thought of themselves as indispensable, demanding exorbitant compensation even though their performance was lacking by any ethical or objective standards. The worst example being Jack Spong the former Bishop of Newark, whose outrageous deconstruction and denial of the faith once delivered, guarantees him a special place in Hell.
But the days of the autocratic, muscular bishop whose power seemed unlimited, whose word was law, are coming to an end. Inflamed, angry laity and clergy are withholding monies, hiring the best lawyers to find ways to keep their properties and giving bishops a run for their money. Thousands are walking away from the church. There has never been a point in the 300-year history of the Episcopal Church like it. The result is that the imperial bishop is no more.
As the antics of bishops became public knowledge and flashed around the world courtesy of the Internet which he could not control, ECUSA leader Frank Griswold began to complain mightily in public about certain Internet persons (unnamed of course) spreading lies about the state of the Episcopal Church. The new world Internet order of heightened scrutiny was not to his liking.
The closed fraternal culture of the House of Bishops, their acolytes, shills, cronies and sycophants were now, for the first time, coming under extreme scrutiny by online news services and bloggers willing, and able, to expose their shabby manipulations, tactics and theology.
The result has been a growing but constructive skepticism now taking place. Laity and clergy are demanding a different kind of bishop -- a person who, above all else, respects and responds to his people, meaningfully seeks their input, and is thoughtful and sensitive to what the laity want and demand. Above all they want and demand accountability, a bishop facing such scrutiny being David C. Bane of Southern Virginia.
Laity want bishops who eschew personal acclaim in favor of diocese-building and parish success. They want bishops who don't think of themselves as the soul of their church, but who do their part to help create a church with a soul. Revisionists who have no soul but run their dioceses like small time CEO's with back room politics will, in time, demoralize their clergy and empty churches. Dressing up and playing bishop will no longer cut it. A case in point being Charles E. Bennison, Bishop of Pennsylvania who has lost the trust not only of the orthodox, but a large number of liberal travelers, who no longer see him as a honest broker to run the diocese.
The action of Fr. David Moyer in going to the civil courts for relief when Bennison denied him the church trial to which he was entitled shows another way to stand up to these Imperial Bishops.
Clergy and laity alike are looking for bishops who can manage the church for long-term growth, not simply manage the diocese to maintain the status quo. A bishop like Jo Mo Doss, (NJ) a rampant liberal, was found guilty of the highest forms of venality, and was finally tossed out by his own liberal pals.
But the laity, as a whole need to accept their share of responsibility, and wake up to the realization that the Episcopal Church is slowly being stolen from them by the revisionists and put pressure on their bishops for change. They must know what their message is and will it bring in people. They must ask will this PR program really work. Will this national AD campaign really cut it if local parishes are unwelcoming and people come in only once or twice a year (Easter and Christmas) to boost the numbers? Short-term performance serves no one's interests. The March issue of Episcopal Life highlighted such a failure in the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Wrote Mike Barwell, "Folks who came once and are turned off by a cold reception not only won't come back, they'll tell others why they, too, shouldn't bother."
The laity must ask why some dioceses are doing better than others. What is the secret of their success? What is it about the Diocese of Albany or South Carolina that has them growing while dioceses like Newark and Pennsylvania, to name but two, are falling apart, closing parishes and much more?
Business as usual won't cut it. Bishops that can make their dioceses grow should be the gold standard for all dioceses. Their story needs to be told and told again. Clearly these bishops have a larger concept and long term goal of what makes their diocese grow, and if it is about the message, then that message needs to be heard, proclaimed and shouted from the roof tops.
Hopefully this kind of bishop will once again be in demand. Why could not the Network bishops write a series of articles on what makes their dioceses grow and this becomes the norm or standard for all dioceses? And why should not compensation for the bishops be regulated based on performance rather than endowment or what the previous bishop received.
If these revisionist bishops remain unresponsive, conflicted, or inept, the clergy and laity should take action. Pressure should be brought to bear by both groups and assisted by the media to force them out of office. It happened in the Diocese of El Camino Real where everybody united to get rid of Bishop Richard L. Schimpfky.
For bishops to succeed in this new atmosphere they must send the message that they are on the side of their clergy and laity, with a clear understanding of what the gospel is. That means they must adapt and embrace a clear understanding of what the gospel is, rather than resist it. And it must start at the highest level - the Presiding Bishop and his Executive Council.
If the Episcopal Church continues down the road it is on, allowing, for example, one of its cardinal cathedrals to be used as a place for a feminist Islamic woman to hold services that inflame not just orthodox ECUSAN's but Islamic leaders itself, and ECUSA bishops continue using their political muscle to edge out orthodox clergy, it will undermine the very accountability standards set by an informed laity. Public confidence in the Episcopal Church already near the bottom will be lost forever.
If Presiding Bishop Griswold continues to lives by the corporate church model he inherited and enlarged from Ed Browning he will die by it. It cannot be sustained indefinitely by Trust Funds. If people leave, and there are barely 800,000 practicing Episcopalians now in the ECUSA, then all the money in the world won't save it.
As one reader wrote VirtueOnline, "the remaining core elements of value will be spun-off or "carved out" and will thrive even as the empty shell remains. A timely example is AT&T, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of one of its Baby Bell spin-offs. If the brand name survives, it will be because the SBC attaches sentimental value to it."
The Episcopal Church could very easily find itself in a similar scenario, as "cast away" parishes repurchase their former properties at sheriff sales, reconstituting the PECUSA from an orthodox perspective. One can only hope and pray.
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