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THE GREAT DIVIDE: Schism Is A Reality Says Liberal Leader

Orthodox Leader forms "Seventh Convocation"

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

It is slowly dawning among the rank and file inside the Episcopal Church that schism might be, and probably is, inevitable. What they also might to have admit, is that the church's innovators and revisionists are the primary cause of that rupture because they are the ones who have left the one holy, catholic and apostolic church.

The announcement was made this past week by Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan that the Anglican Communion Network will offer a new structure for parishes forced out of the Episcopal Church and that representatives of more than seventy of the Anglican Communion Network's 1000 plus congregations will meet together in Kansas next month to form a new "seventh convocation".

What Duncan is talking about are congregations that have left and are no longer under ECUSA and are now all currently and temporarily under foreign jurisdictions such as Uganda, Kenya, Central Africa and Southern Cone. These parishes want to stay on the same page over here and the Network is the vehicle to do it. This is part of the Network's mission to keep the ties between all orthodox Anglicans in this country, regardless of their jurisdictional arrangements. This is a shrewd move by Duncan to keep everyone who is orthodox and formerly in the ECUSA together. It is a move that will undoubtedly infuriate Frank Griswold and his fellow revisionist bishops

From Duncan's perspective it doesn't make sense to include them in convocations that are geographically within the United States, so a new "international" convocation is being created. This is not to overlook "Common Cause" with the APA, the REC, and hopefully, other break-away Anglican flavored entities, and he clearly hopes that it will one day include the AMiA and perhaps even the Charismatic Episcopal Church (CEC).

A source told VirtueOnline that there is talk of finding a way to provide Episcopal pastoral care for the congregations and clergy in this new convocation, from American sources who will act on behalf of the various foreign jurisdictions until the dust settles. The various Primates involved have agreed to this action, VirtueOnline was told.

By his action Bishop Duncan just tightened the screws around the neck of Frank Griswold and the liberal led House of Bishops last week, telling the Anglican world and Dr. Rowan Williams that "given their new circumstances and the challenges of oversight and partnership at such distances, it seemed appropriate to reorganize them to function together."

At the "Hope and Future" Conference in Pittsburgh recently, Duncan said that Dr. Williams had publicly acknowledged the Network as being in communion with Canterbury at the South to South Encounter in Egypt, and there can be little doubt that Duncan interpreted this to mean that those clergy and congregations that have disaffiliated with ECUSA, but remain in the Network, have now been recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury as fully and genuinely Anglican.

The formation of this "international convocation" is an attempt to push that interpretation to its logical conclusion, wrote an orthodox bishop to VirtueOnline.

It would be very helpful to hear Dr. Williams' own take on the subject, because it clearly places the Archbishop on the hot seat at a time when the throne of Canterbury is in flames over civil partnerships, women bishops, angry African primates and a numerically sinking Church of England.

But it is not just orthodox American Episcopal leaders who are seeing the light (is there a three strikes and you're out policy for V. Gene Robinson?), liberals and revisionists must also face the specter of schism.

Maury Johnston, author of Gays Under Grace: A Gay Christian's Response to the Moral Majority and a member of the Church of the Holy Comforter (Episcopal) in Richmond, Virginia wrote an insightful piece titled: FACING THE SPECTRE OF SCHISM, and says point blank that the "moment of truth" is fast approaching for the ECUSA, and this summer Columbus, Ohio, will have an opportunity to become as theologically significant as Nicaea or Chalcedon for American Anglicanism.

He's absolutely right. Here is what he says: "Some centrists in the hierarchy of the ECUSA seem to believe that liberal theological apologists in our church should tone things down. To aggressively engage in heated controversy over doctrinal and moral issues is somehow seen by some as negatively divisive, and something to be avoided at all costs. Instead, they prefer to "kiss and make nice" and indefinitely prolong this dance of disagreement by endlessly proposing further studies and waiting periods before finally tackling the inevitable. This seems to be the essence of the most recent resolution passed by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in late January, 2006, where we are being implored to "continue listening to one another" in our contentious controversy regarding full GLBT acceptance (including same-sex blessings and the continuing ordination of gay and lesbian candidates) in the ECUSA. Such efforts are like trying to smooth out the ripples in a pond after a stone has been thrown into its center."

Then he said this: "We are simply expending too much energy trying to keep factions in a feigned appearance of unity when in reality we have what divorce courts so often hear as the underlying cause of most relational demises--irreconcilable differences."

Bingo. He further writes that the "pressing desire to placate Canterbury's Windsor Report will temporarily apply a cosmetic veneer of congenial cooperation but can only weaken the internal integrity of the message and mission of this church."

Johnston admits that what he is promulgating "may be perceived by many in our ranks as a scandalous and divisive proposition." But he argues that the time for conversation and compromise is over.

"We have had over thirty years of discussions, dialogue, debate, conflicting biblical exegesis (as well as eisegesis), and ecclesiastical haggling over whether those within the GLBT community warrant total acceptance and inclusion as full-fledged members of the Episcopal Church with all concomitant privileges of membership in the Community of Christ, including the right to fully participate in all its sacramental rites of passage, including marriage and/or same-sex blessings. There is nothing more to be said that has not already been said or studied. It is time for "Yea" or "Nay." We are being confronted with the command which echoes down the centuries from the legendary challenge of Elijah: "Choose you this day!" The Episcopal Church has a choice set before it: To fully incorporate gays and lesbians at every level of its common life with full sacramental and liturgical equality of access to its rites and ceremonies, or to grant only a limited toleration of their presence, carefully circumscribed by a curtailment of access to matrimonial rites and privileges in order to satisfy the demands of the self-proclaimed defenders of 'orthodoxy.'"

Johnston is clearly no lover of orthodoxy and he is quick to drop words like "homophobia" for those who oppose sodomy, and he calls Archbishop Peter Akinola that Nigerian heretic, and he twists St. Paul's statements to suit his own homoerotic ends, but his point still stands. The time for talking is over.

Johnston says conservative Episcopalians in the USA are now threatening schism as a result of "our strides towards full acceptance in the denomination."

He is wrong about this. Conservative bishops are angry and they are swearing allegiance to the Archbishop of Canterbury if the ECUSA does not repent of its actions at GC2006, but they are not going to leave the Episcopal Church and no orthodox diocesan bishop has said, at least publicly, that he will pull his diocese out of the ECUSA after General Convention. The revisionists have already caused schism and have been told to "walk apart" by the Anglican Consultative Council.

In his message to the Diocese of Central Florida recently, Bishop John C. Howe came closest to a possible parting of the ways when he said; "[We are] in "full communion" with ALL the rest of the Anglican Communion, and I pray that it will ever remain so."

Still and all, the Dennis Canon makes it virtually impossible for a diocese to leave the national church without a major legal battle, and Bishop Jack Iker of Ft. Worth speaks for many when he says that he would fight against leaving because it would make the ECUSA look like a small vanishing sect.

The latest proposal by Duncan virtually formalizes a "church within a church" scenario, with recognition by Williams, thus formally bringing all the orthodox together under one umbrella, namely, Common Cause.

And liberals like Johnston are now reacting in kind. He writes: "So what should be our reaction? More conversations? Not! More dialogue? Not! More tabling of resolutions at the General Convention aimed at bringing gays and lesbians full inclusion at every level in the common life of the People of God? Not! Do I seem harsh? Do I seem uncharitable? Do I seem assertively intolerant? I am, absolutely!"

Johnston cites the Apostle Paul as his justification for schism. "The epistles of Paul reveal that he didn't think much of the Episcopal approach of compromise and endless conversing when it came to what he considered the essentials of his gospel of inclusiveness and grace. He went so far as to say that if even an angel were to appear contradicting his message, it was to be considered accursed (Galatians 1:8-9). Nor did he hesitate to call his opponents the most uncivil of names: dogs, mutilators, enemies of the Cross, false apostles, and sons of Satan, to name a few (Philippians 3:2; 2 Corinthians 11:12-15). Keep in mind that these objects of Paul's vitriol were not Jesus-rejecting Jews or God-ignorant pagans; they were fellow Christians. They were Hebrew Christians, to be sure, who held to very Judaic forms of "traditional family/social values." Yet he did not hesitate to strike out viciously against those who would insist he compromise his gospel of full acceptance for the Gentiles and his liberation theology of freedom from the Law."

Now Johnston has St. Paul's understanding of law and grace confused but his point is essentially correct. Compromise is not possible if one group is promoting "another gospel" which this writer believes the liberals are doing. Johnston does not agree with that.

He writes: "The GLBT community in the Episcopal Church can no longer afford the luxury of cowering in timidity waiting for yet another General Convention after 2006 to validate them. It is time to stand up and speak. It is time to accept no compromise with the forces that oppose us. This is a "do or die" situation coming up in the summer of 2006."

Now it should be noted that at no time has the GLBT community been "cowering in timidity", this is a fiction. Louie Crew, Jack Spong, Walter Righter et al have been on a tear for 30 years promoting sodomy and they have won all but a dozen bishops over to their side. They have pushed and passed one resolution after another at successive general conventions for their pansexual cause.

Johnston sees that what the GLBT wants from General Convention this summer is not something peripheral, but a "prophetic imperative to gather up the sexually marginalized in the welcoming embrace of the Church."

He writes: "Schism--whether within the Episcopal Church itself, or between the ECUSA and the wider Anglican Communion--is a word that makes most Episcopalians shudder, as if it is a visible sign of the failure of God's people to solve their problems, or worse yet, from an Episcopalian perspective, an unsightly "airing of dirty laundry." To which I readily respond: There has never been a time when the Church Universal--despite its talk of unity and one Lord--was not in some kind of schism. From the circumcision controversy of the first century to the Arian Christologies of the third and fourth centuries, and the Great Schism between Rome and Constantinople, (not to mention the splintering effect of the Protestant Reformation), the Church has always been a waiting Bride with blemishes, a virtual sanctified "Sybil" with split personalities, and so it will be till the fullness of time erases the ugliness of its internal dissonance. What we need to realize is that there are times when schism should not be avoided, for as Paul himself said, "There must be schisms among you in order that those who are approved among you [by God] may be made obvious" (1 Corinthians 11:19). Only in contrast with error is the truth allowed to shine for all to see."

Johnston thinks the orthodox are in "error" and his pansexual camp is right. He is wrong about that but he rightly understands that division is not always a dirty word. "In times past, it was often encouraged by the frenzied bellowing of a prophet whose words seared a crowd's complacency, demanding, "Come out from among them and be ye separate!" It was Jesus who frankly declared, "Think not that I am come to send peace upon the earth. I am not come to send peace, but a sword [of division]." He went on to say that his message would cause the break up of family relations and close friendships (Matthew 10:34-36). He further instructed his disciples to "shake off the dust from their feet" as they separated from those who rejected his words."

Johnston points to the Early Church which had its squabbles. "Paul and Barnabas found it necessary to part ways because of their strong disagreement over John Mark and whether or not he met the ecclesiastical qualifications to go with them on their missionary journey. Their only solution was division: Paul taking another companion while Barnabas took John Mark, creating two separate missionary ventures instead of the initial one envisioned (Acts 15:36-41), all because of an inability to achieve agreement on issues important to the propagation of the Gospel. What makes us believe that we will necessarily be able to avoid the sticky quagmire of what amounts to a religious divorce between the contemporary combatants in our current controversy about the relationship between sexuality and the Spirit-led life? In cases like this, schism is sometimes the only sensible alternative."

Clearly Johnston and the orthodox are on different tracks, and view the 'faith once delivered to the saints' differently. Orthodox parishes and their priests are leaving the SS. ECUSA in life boats from one end of the ship (country) to the other. The orthodox are looking at the religious landscape and saying they want out from under ECUSA's liberal leadership, but want to stay in communion with Canterbury and Rowan Williams while still remaining in the ECUSA!

At the end of the day it might have to be the orthodox in ECUSA who will have to decide what they want to do and where they will go after General Convention.

Mr. Johnston is very clear what he wants the GLBT community and the church's revisionists to do; the orthodox will need to have the same clarity if they want to move forward with any credibility after June 2006.


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