Skip to comments.The Virginia Exodus
Posted on 01/22/2007 9:44:18 PM PST by sionnsar
The exodus from The Episcopal Church (TEC) of several churches across the river in Virginia was front-page news in mid-December, and references to it in the press have continued. An account of it is called for, partly because of its implications for All Saints' but partly also because of the slant being given to it in the press. The following describes the background of the exodus, what it was not based on as well as what it was, and where All Saints' stands with regard to it. In brief, we stand with these Virginia churches even if we have not taken the same path as they.
The run-up to the exodus.
It did not of course come about in isolation but instead in the context of the current crisis of TEC and of the Anglican Communion. We may need to remind ourselves of how this crisis came about. It is rooted in the infiltration into TEC and other western churches over many decades of such cultural values as self-expression and of personal experience, which are to be relied on more than biblical authority or the traditions of the Church. But it came to a head with TEC's 2003 General Convention, which ratified the election of an openly homosexual bishop of New Hampshire (Gene Robinson) and sanctioned same-sex blessings.
No less importantly, it rejected a resolution affirming biblical authority. In this it broke with the millennial tradition of the Church and the position taken today by the larger part of the Anglican Communion, most of whose members are now to be found in Africa and Asia, the so-called Global South.
Moreover, by proceeding with Robinson's consecration, TEC went against the express counsels of all four of the Anglican Communion's instruments of unity: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Lambeth Conference, and the Primates of the 38 Anglican provinces. In particular, at their emergency meeting just prior to the consecration, the Primates urged that proceeding with it would "tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level."
In the wake of the consecration, 22 of the 38 Anglican provinces have declared themselves in broken or impaired communion with TEC. It led also to the formation in the United States of the Anglican Communion Network, consisting of dioceses and congregations committed to biblical orthodoxy.
The Archbishop of Canterbury's response was to appoint the Lambeth Commission, broadly representative of the Communion, to find "a way forward" in the crisis. In October 2004 the Commission came up with the Windsor Report, a wide-ranging and crucial document dealing notably with the limits of the autonomy of any one province. In brief, it reflected the ancient maxim that "what concerns all should be decided by all."
And in consequence of TEC's violations thereof, the Report laid two specific requirements on it: expression of regret for its 2003 actions and a moratorium on consecration of homosexual bishops and blessing of same-sex unions.
The 2006 General Convention, held last June, was TEC's opportunity to respond. However, its expression of regret was only for the pain its actions might have caused, not for the actions themselves. And it called merely for the exercise of restraint in the consecration of homosexual bishops, without dealing with same-sex blessings at all. Finally, it refused even to consider a resolution affirming Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life.
Eight churches were involved in the exodus from TEC taking place on December 17, with others having left previously and still others likely to do so. Located mainly in northern Virginia, the most prominent among them are The Falls Church and Truro in Fairfax, both of which in their foundation antedate TEC.
These two alone have a combined membership of more than 5,000. They, along with the others, had long been dismayed by TEC's secular drift. But it was the actions of the 2003 General Convention that they found that they could not in conscience accept, while remaining committed to biblical obedience and fellowship with the provinces of the Global South.
This put them at odds with their bishop, Peter Lee, who not only had voted to ratify Robinson's consecration but also had been a proponent of the sanctioning of same-sex blessings. In their extensive discussions with him it seemed to them that he failed to grasp that there were real theological issues involved.
This, together with the failure of the 2006 General Convention to step back from the actions of 2003, led their leaders to believe that they could no longer remain in either TEC or the Diocese of Virginia. The congregational vote on separation, which followed a 40-day period of discernment and which finished on December 17, overwhelmingly endorsed this conclusion.
But a church cannot just leave TEC. In order to remain in the Anglican Communion it then has to come under some other Anglican jurisdiction. Accordingly the Virginia churches, or most of them, are attaching themselves to the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). This was established a couple of years go by the Anglican Church of Nigeria and its Primate, Archbishop Peter Akinola, to look after Nigerian Anglicans in this country who no longer felt they have a home in TEC. (His province has some 18 million members and continues to grow rapidly, whereas a shrinking TEC has little over two million.) Last August Martyn Minns, the rector of Truro Church, who had earned Archbishop Akinola's trust over a long period of working with him, was consecrated a bishop in the Nigerian Church with the assignment of overseeing CANA.
Reaction against the exodus
The foregoing, in brief, is the story of the Virginia exodus. It should make apparent that this did not come about solely or primarily because of the sexuality issue. That issue was involved, to be sure, but it was secondary to biblical obedience and respect for Anglican cohesion and tradition.
Nevertheless there appears to be a concerted effort to portray it as inspired by mere homophobia. The effort aims, further, to paint the Archbishop Akinola as an advocate of proposed Nigerian legislation allegedly criminalizing homoerotic activity, thereby implicating the Virginia churches in this advocacy. Further, this effort has been joined in by the press, not just the Washington Post but also the New York Times.
And it continues, as evidenced by a virulent but also internally contradictory attack on Archbishop Akinola which the Times posted on Christmas Day. An Op-Ed piece by Harold Meyerson in the Post for December 20, "Episcopalians Against Equality," may however be a more fruitful example to examine.
Meyerson begins by likening the Virginia churches' exodus to the Civil War secession of that state He then speaks of Robinson's election as Bishop of New Hampshire as having been ratified by "the overwhelming majority of the nation's Episcopal bishops." But a more apt comparison might have been with the secession of West Virginia from Virginia itself at that time, in order to remain in the Union. And in fact Robinson's margin of ratification was only 8 votes out of 107.
No less questionably, Meyerson states, "The presiding [sic] Nigerian archbishop, Peter Akinola, promotes legislation in his country that would forbid gays and lesbians to form organizations or to eat together in restaurants and that would send them to jail for indulging in same-gender sexual activity." In the first place, he appears to be misrepresenting the Nigerian legislation, which so far as can be determined does not penalize private homosexual expression and which seems not yet to have been adopted anyway. Secondly and more egregiously, evidence that Archbishop Akinola ever publicly supported such legislation is lacking.
I make these assertions on the basis of the following. An Op-Ed piece by Bishop Chane, "A Gospel of Intolerance," appearing in the Post for last February 28 said much the same things about the proposed Nigerian legislation and Akinola's support of it. But according to a commentary on Bishop Chane's piece posted by The Living Church Foundation on February 28, the legislation bore only on public manifestations, not on private activities. Moreover, The Living Church had been unable to find any public pronouncement by Akinola on it. In view of this and of our connection, albeit indirect, with Akinola through the Anglican Communion Network, of which he has been supportive, the All Saints' clergy wrote to Bishop Chane on March 8, asking him for his sources. (Our letter was made available to the congregation at the time.)
Despite a follow-up letter two weeks later, we never heard back from him. And on reading Meyerson's piece, I e-mailed him that same day. Identifying myself as the All Saints' Resident Theologian, I asked if he had any sources for his statements that did not depend, directly or indirectly, on Bishop Chane's piece (which was picked up by papers around the country at the time). There has been no reply from him either.
It would therefore be not unreasonable to conclude that there are no such sources. This of course would raise serious questions of integrity, journalistic and otherwise.
As for the position of the departing Virginia churches on the sexuality issue, this is reflected in the statement, a moving one, made by Bishop Martyn Minns on December 17, the day of the vote to join CANA. Among the central issues faced by them as by all churches he listed, "How do we best love and care for homosexual persons?" Note that the question is not whether to love and care for them but how best to do so. And it has dimensions far deeper than those recognized in any of the current polemics.
Where All Saints' stands
Theologically we stand with the Virginia churches in their exodus. There is no question about this. For we too are committed to placing biblical obedience and the traditions of the church over the values of the culture, as also to maintaining fellowship with the large majority of the world-wide Anglican Communion. Not to be so committed would deprive the gospel we proclaim of saving power for a confused and needy world. Nevertheless we have taken a different course from theirs ecclesiastically. We are not departing from our diocese and thus not from TEC either.
Instead we have elected to come under the supplemental episcopal oversight, as it is termed, which was made available to us by Bishop Chane last October and which is being provided by Ed Salmon, the retiring Bishop of South Carolina-still under Chane's auspices.
This arrangement affords us the supervision of an orthodox bishop while remaining within the diocese and TEC. The hope is that it will permit us not only to maintain our commitment to Scripture and the Anglican Communion but also to hold both ourselves and others accountable to the truth, without entirely breaking our institutional unity.
If this proves to be possible, our venture will have been worthwhile. As for whether it will so prove, it is probably too early to say, and in any event the Lord's role in it may be greater than ours. Our part at this juncture is to discern his will as clearly as we can, and to follow it.
May he enable us to do so.
---Fr. Ted Lewis is resident Theologian, All Saints' Church in Chevy Chase, Maryland
The matter is reduced to the homosexual issue only because neither the Times nor the Post can understand how any "reasonable" persons can take the Bible nor tradition seriously.
Very likely. Another possibility is the promotion of certain agendas -- make it the one issue and you can pound the drums for it all day long.
Yes, but I will add that these parties are also impervious to reason also. No one can even raise the argument that homosexuality involves odd sexual practices, which might cause some puzzlement to a child who is "naturally"
But you raise a point that suddenly concerns me. When I grew up, American culture was generally considered (I think) to be one of reason (coupled with faith, etc.). Now we might not all reason our way to the same point and we certainly didn't (we didn't always have the same starting points) but reason was a significant part of the culture.
But in recent years I am seeing more and more Americans who act as if they lack a certain rational faculty. And the unhinged Hate Bush Syndrome is only the tip of the iceberg. I am beginning to suspect that reason is something in which we must be trained, and schools today are (generally? sometimes?) failing in this regard.
My concern is amplified by a dinner this evening with a friend who is a missionary elsewhere in the world (when he leaves in a few days he's likely never returning; he is old enough that I might never see him again) -- where he is, he says, many know and can quote the Bible scripture and verse, but they frequently cannot reach from there to application, and the horror stories abound. (So do the success stories, but that's another matter.)
Is this where the U.S. is headed?
Yes, unionized government schools are failing in this regard. If Jay Leno did a "Man on the Street" segment at high schools, you'd be livid. I keep trying to expose folks here to The Frankfurt School of the mid-1900's and its (successful) plan to use public education to achieve its social goals.
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