We Are One Together, Yo, Yo, Yo
By Michael Heidt in Salt Lake City
VOL Special Correspondent
June 28, 2015
"We are one together, yo, yo, yo," sang deputies to the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, as they greeted Presiding Bishop Elect, Michael Curry, and outgoing Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. It was a stirring display of unity that was emblematic of a wider consensus within the denomination itself.
By now, 2015, the Episcopal Church enjoys a high degree of unanimity on what it sees as key social justice issues, such as the ordination of women, abortion and gay rights.
Every one of the Episcopal Church's 100 dioceses ordains women, and there are no obstacles in the way of women becoming bishops, or even getting the church's top job, Presiding Bishop. This has been held by a woman, Katharine Jefferts Schori, for the last 9 years.
The same holds true for abortion, which the Episcopal Church supports via Resolution A054, which it passed at its 71st General Convention in 1994. The Resolution states:
"Resolved, That this 71st General Convention of the Episcopal Church express its unequivocal opposition to any legislative, executive or judicial action on the part of local, state or national governments that abridges the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision."
In the light of A054, it's perhaps unsurprising that the last Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, the Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, was able to publicly claim, with impunity, that "abortion is a blessing and our work is not done."
Gay rights are also fast becoming accepted orthodoxy in the Episcopal Church. There are currently a small minority of dioceses that do not allow same-sex blessing: North Dakota; Springfield; Albany; Central Florida; Northern Indiana and Dallas.
Three dioceses are undecided: Southwest Florida, Western Kansas, and Eau Claire. How many will remain opposed or on the fence after the Supreme Court's ruling that gay marriage is a constitutional right, has yet to be seen. That the overwhelming majority of dioceses that support and allow gay marriages, will pass legislation at this General Convention to further authorize same-sex unions seems clear.
However, this consensus has been achieved at an internal and external cost. The small but vocal minority of parishes and dioceses, of bishops, priests and people, who feel unable endorse what they see as anti-Gospel policies, have increasingly left the denomination.
Five dioceses have left the Episcopal Church to date. Four of them, Fort Worth, Quincy, San Joaquin and Pittsburgh, left the church in 2009, in protest over the church's ongoing same-sex advocacy. Of these, three Ft. Worth, Quincy and San Joaquin also refused to ordain women. A fifth traditionalist diocese, South Carolina, left the Episcopal Church in 2012, when its bishop, Mark Lawrence, was threatened with "abandonment of communion."
To put it simply, there's consensus in the Episcopal Church because there aren't enough traditionalists left within the church to voice any great degree dissent, and it's hard to fault them for leaving. How can you remain in a church that endorses teaching you fundamentally oppose, such as the new secular orthodoxy that marriage is gender neutral? The answer for many is that you can't, and growing unanimity follows necessarily in the wake of their departure.
That's the internal cost, the departure of five dioceses and an unknown number of traditional Christians who have simply decided to stop attending a church they believe to be against the Gospel. Unity, it seems, comes with a price tag, not least financially; the Episcopal Church has spent upwards of $40 million and counting on litigation against departing traditionalists. The external cost has been no less heavy.
The ordination of women, which has been pioneered and championed by the Episcopal Church, destroyed Anglicanism's sacramental communion. With it, the orders of bishop, priest and deacon, along with the sacraments they confected and administered, were no longer mutually recognized by the wider church's various Provinces. Incapable of full organic unity through sacramentally covenanted means of grace, the Anglican Church's "communion" devolved into "bonds of affection."
Even this anemic expression of unity was strained to breaking point and then broken by the Episcopal Church's gay advocacy. While outright schism has not been declared, it exists de facto, with the Primates of the Global South refusing to attend the Archbishop of Canterbury's communionwide Lambeth Conference if the Episcopal church is represented at it. To put this in perspective, the Global South makes up over two thirds of Anglicanism's total strength.
As of 2014, the Archbishop of Canterbury cancelled the Lambeth Conference, and with it, the outward sign of what had been a Communion's unity. As things stand, this shows no sign of changing.
The newly elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, has announced that he will continue the policies of his predecessor, Jefferts Schori, reflecting the consensus of the church that voted him into office by a majority of 121 out of a possible 174 votes. This is Curry, writing in 2014 about gay marriage:
"deep wrestling with the Holy Scriptures... led me, over time, to the conviction that the lives of faithful disciples of Jesus who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered bear witness to the love of God that has been revealed in Jesus, and they can be models of holiness and sanctity of life and relationships. This led me to affirm that the Church can and should bless the unions of Christian same-sex couples as well as expand the discernment processes leading to ordination to include gay and lesbian persons who may be in covenanted, lifelong unions."
In other words, the same policies of inclusion that have given the Episcopal Church unity by driving out opposition and have torn the fabric of the Anglican Communion apart, will remain in place. They will do so under the aegis of the new Presiding Bishop and with the authority of this and previous General Conventions.
To return to the song, "We are one together, yo, yo, yo," sang the deputies at this year's General Convention of the Episcopal Church. One indeed, to the exclusion of everyone else, including the majority of the Communion they have shipwrecked, and the few remaining dioceses that dare to stand out against the new orthodoxy of their co-religionists.
Michael Heidt is Editor of Forward in Christ magazine and a priest in the Diocese of Fort Worth
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