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JERUSALEM: Angst Bubbles in the Diocese of Washington

JERUSALEM: Angst Bubbles in the Diocese of Washington

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue in Jerusalem

The ultra-liberal Episcopal Bishop of Washington John Chane told national radio talk show host, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, that the meeting of some 300 orthodox Anglican bishops in Jerusalem was "a death rattle".

Speaking on National Public Radio, Chane said he is not worried about the Jerusalem (GAFCON) meeting.

"I don't think it's a rival conference to Lambeth or a rival movement to challenge the Anglican Communion," he said. "To me, it's almost as if it was a death rattle. I think the Anglican Communion, even with the disagreements it has right now, really wants to move on, not to ignore the differences," he says, but to move forward with the question: "what does it mean to be a missional church in the 21st century?"

Chane said the "African boycotters" represent only a fraction of African leaders. He also said the African bishops he knows may not agree with the West's stand, but they care much more about, for example, working with the West to fight poverty and war. And they don't want to kick apart the communion.

The only thing that faces a "death rattle" in Chane's life is his own diocese.

Recently, it was announced that the Church's Washington National Cathedral, the headquarters of the diocese, is in financial free fall and that theyare cutting back on staff and programs. The 100-year-old institution recently laid off 33 people, including clergy -- its first layoff in decades -- as it struggled to balance its budget. It suspended programs, asked remaining staffers to double up on duties and closed its popular greenhouse, a move that has stirred community anger.

Most of the diocese's parishes have less than 50 practicing Episcopalians on any given Sunday. The one sustaining financial fact is from a dead woman's endowment - The Soper Trust Fund - otherwise the "death rattle" you would hear would be from his own diocese.

Let me disabuse you of some other facts.

The Global African Future Conference is not a rival communion. It is not even an Alternative communion. It is, for better or worse, the loyal opposition inside the Anglican Communion with most of the bishops here still recognizing the place of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the church's titular head.

Will it always be this way? Who knows? In the book "The Way, The Truth and the Life" released here in Jerusalem, Nigerian Primate Peter Akinola observes the "scorned opportunities" the American Episcopal Church (TEC) has had to repent of its follies, change course and proceed in a more biblical and historical manner towards the light shone by Holy Scripture. Instead, the Episcopal Church has repeatedly defied the warnings of the Primates and has acted deliberately and defiantly in going their own way. That is not repentance. That is stubbornness born of arrogance and racism.

It is THEY who have proven schismatic, not the orthodox bishops and archbishops gathered here in Jerusalem. TEC's actions before, during and after the consecration of V. Gene Robinson, as the openly homoerotic Bishop of New Hampshire, are proving fatal to the Anglican Communion.

Chane asks, "What does it mean to be a missional church?" For Chane and the overwhelmingly liberal House of Bishops, it means paying homage to the United Nation's secular Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) now absorbed as the "missional" goals of the Episcopal Church. This is being done at the expense of the Great Commission.

While MDGs are noble goals - the alleviation of suffering and poverty are writ large for all Christians to observe and obey - they are not primarily missional. Mrs. Katharine Jefferts Schori, TEC's Presiding Bishop, has dumped the gospel of God's redeeming grace for a rehash of the Social Gospel of the Sixties wrapped up in the mantle of self-righteous notions that we (human beings, especially rich Episcopalians) can save the world for God, as though the Lord of the Universe needs a repeat of Calvary, courtesy of Mrs. Schori.

Jesus never said that giving a cup of cold water "in my name" and playing the role of the Good Samaritan should be at the expense of announcing the Good News of the Kingdom to all who will hear and repent.

Chane goes on to say that "the African boycotters represent only a fraction of African leaders." That is nonsense.

I am watching out my hotel bedroom window as bus after bus disgorges African bishops from across the Global South. The Africans coming here represent more than 70 percent of the entire Anglican Communion. The 300 or so bishops are from the provinces of Nigeria (25 million), Uganda (10 million) Kenya (4.5 million) and Rwanda (1.2 million). The Episcopal Church has a laughable and pitiful 800,000 practicing Episcopalians most of whom are aging (and dying) geriatric gray heads who will not be around ten years from now. Worse, there is no one to replace them. The same is true of the Anglican Church of Canada. It is also structurally dying. What the Episcopal Church has is money, mostly dead men's money (estimated to be $3 billion) to sue orthodox dioceses that no longer wish to stay in their grip, to buy and manipulate loyalty from those Global South bishops who are willing to take it - The Diocese of Jerusalem being a case in point.

Colorado Bishop Rob O'Neill, - the liberal Bishop of Colorado, is in town to hold Jerusalem Bishop Suheil Dawani's hand and to whisper in his ear that, if he makes too friendly with the GAFCON bishops, the TEC money font might just dry up.

Chane says he knows African bishops who may not agree with the West's stand, but they care much more about, for example, working with the West to fight poverty and war. And they don't want to kick apart the communion.

A pity he didn't tell us who they are. The truth is African bishops ARE fighting poverty. No archbishop has railed against his government's corruption more than Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola. He has gone head to head with his country's President and demanded that he be accountable for his country's corruption. At no time, however, has Akinola confused the Works of Charity with the Word of God and its call on all people to change their lives to repent and believe in the gospel. Chane won't do that because he can't. He doesn't believe in THAT gospel and so his diocese is slowly withering and dying.

The truth is, the "death rattle" you are hearing is in the back of Chane's throat, not in the vibrant group of men and women gathering here in Jerusalem to proclaim God's true mission.

Archbishop Akinola notes in the booklet "The Way, the Truth and the Life" that "all journeys must end some day". He writes, "It now appears, however, that the journey is coming to an end, and the moment of decision is almost upon us." We want unity, but not at the cost of relegating Christ to the position of another "wise teacher" who can be obeyed or disobeyed.

To date, there is no hint that a rival communion is about to come into being. As they gather, they will look again to God's call for future action in faithful leadership of their Anglican churches. How that will shake out is yet to be determined.

The coming week will be a momentous time in the history of the Anglican Communion. Archbishop Rowan Williams should be watching and praying. He will need whatever authority he has left, whatever he understands leadership to be, to take cognizance of the fact that the very HIV/AIDS that he is calling the Church to combat in the world might just be theological in nature and be found hidden deep in the Church.


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