Friday, December 22, 2006

Good Riddance

Editor's note: The articles just keep coming and coming, lambasting the Virginia parishes that have decided to secede from the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Anglican Church of Nigeria. Here is the latest – posted on Slate.

Please note: This title, "Good Riddance," is the author's alone, and does not reflect the view of The Episcopal Majority.

Good Riddance
The Episcopal split promises a stronger church
By Astrid Storm
Posted Friday, Dec. 22, 2006, at 11:55 AM ET

As a theological liberal, I take a rather dim view of the doctrine of providence. Still, I have to say that there was something vaguely providential about the way events unfolded in the Episcopal Church this past week.

Last Sunday, eight Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Virginia voted to break away from the U.S. Episcopal Church. Many of them are now affiliated with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a network of churches in the global Anglican Communion under the oversight of the archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola. The vote was the result of increasing frustration with the liberal direction the Episcopal Church has taken over the past 30 years, starting for many with the ordination of women in 1976 and culminating in the consecration of the first openly gay bishop in 2003.

The possibility of a breakaway, particularly one involving foreign bishops, has been taking up a lot of the Episcopal Church's energy over the last three years, because it could have significant consequences for its polity, finances, and even day-to-day parish life. Yet some Episcopalians, like me, are relieved that it has finally happened—and are especially relieved at how it happened. In fact, it seems to me that this couldn't have happened at a better time, with better people, or in a better way. The Episcopal Church may even be stronger for it in the long run.

Most significant, perhaps, is these churches' decision to align with controversial Archbishop Akinola—someone whom even many conservatives in the church have serious qualms about. He's called homosexuality a "satanic attack" on the church and considers gay-affirming churches to be a "cancerous lump" in the body of Christ. He has endorsed the implementation of anti-gay legislation in his country that would ban homosexuals from having relationships and practically eliminate their right to free speech, all at risk of imprisonment—proposals that the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association considers among the most oppressive in the world. Also noteworthy is his propensity for making stupendously insensitive statements—like, "I cannot think of how a man in his senses would be having a sexual relationship with another man. Even in the world of animals, dogs, cows, lions, we don't hear of such things." Elsewhere, he compared homosexuality and lesbianism to bestiality. He also made an earlier statement this year that was tied to ensuing violence against Muslims in his community; while American mega-pastor Rick Warren was deftly defending Akinola, people in Nigeria, including another bishop, were decrying it.

Try as some have, no excuse—cultural factors, tribal politics—mitigates his venomous statements, and aligning with what basically amounts to the Jerry Falwell of the Anglican Communion exposes just how visceral and unexamined these anti-gay feelings must be for many of these people in these Virginia parishes. Even before they departed, these parishes were very much on the fringe of the wider Episcopal Church.

The timing of this decision is also important. It came at a time of relative calm and good will in the Episcopal Church, and many people have questioned the reasons—or lack thereof—behind it. The Rev. William L. Sachs, director of the Center for Reconciliation and Mission at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Va., told me that "since 2003 the Episcopal Church has worked very hard at listening to the Anglican Communion and trying to honor the Windsor Report and, in fact, there has been a moratorium on the consecration of gay bishops. So, what have they got to complain about?" The election of a female presiding bishop with liberal views on gays and lesbians is the closest he could think of to a proximate cause for last Sunday's decision, but considering Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's recent efforts to accommodate those who don't share her more liberal viewpoint on homosexuality, and considering many people's support for women clergy in these breakaway churches, even that seems an unconvincing provocation.

It's also worth pointing out that this decision came on the tail end of a bad week for conservatives in England. A few members of an influential conservative organization unilaterally presented a very un-Anglican proposal to the archbishop of Canterbury in which they brazenly petitioned to bypass bishops they don't agree with and to choose where their money goes—not acceptable practices in Anglicanism. A number of confused and angry replies—some of them from people who belonged to the group that presented the proposal but hadn't even seen it—poured in. Closer to home, that debacle in England may have prompted Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, to issue a statement clarifying that the Archbishop of Canterbury had not indicated any support for the establishment of CANA, the organization to which these Virginia churches now belong.

The way these churches went about severing themselves from the U.S. Episcopal Church is also interesting. A church voting to secede from the larger church is not accepted practice in the Episcopal Church, and neither is seeking out another bishop. Elaborating on one of Schori's earlier statements, Bob Williams, the director of communication at the Episcopal Church Center in New York, said, "Parishioners and clergy leave the church; churches don't. … One bishop is not supposed to intrude upon another's jurisdiction. This has been true since the Council of Nicaea." Strangely enough, Akinola himself said the same to the Church of Nigeria News back in 2001: "You don't just jump from your diocese to begin to do whatever you like in another man's diocese. That is not done in our Anglican tradition."

Which is all to say that, in doing what they did, when they did it, and with whom, these churches appear disorganized, impatient, and uncouth. To quote William James, the ideal pairings of "fervor with measure, passion with correctness" seemed distinctly lacking in their actions, and it's very hard to imagine many other churches following their lead. In fact, Bill Sachs assured me that Virginia Episcopalians are distancing themselves, and he surmises that splinter parishes will amount to "not more than five percent" of the U.S. church—probably far less. If I had to bet on it, I'd even say Archbishop Akinola's power among Episcopalians in this country is quickly waning as of last Sunday.

It has been said that measure and manners are the glue that binds the Anglican Communion together. If so, then it seems these churches are coming unglued; as for the rest of us, I think we'll be sticking around just fine, thank you very much.

Astrid Storm, an Episcopal priest, is the vicar of St. Nicholas-on-the-Hudson. She lives in New York City.

Copyright 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC


Anonymous Anonymous said...

posted from various sources

word to Astrid Storm:

..."there are 18 MILLION Anglicans under Akinola's leadership. There are what, maybe 2 million Episcopalians in the US? Who is the 'fringe' and who is the 'mainstream' in this picture?"

"The problems in the Anglican Communion are not going to be solved in the court of public opinion. The other side may not have the kind of access that your side has to the media, but they are still there in significant numbers. They have geniune grieviances that you should not ignore.

You cannot wish them away by calling them bigots. You should stop pretending that to be alarmed that people are opposed to your interpretation of scripture. You should tell the world that the appointment of Robinson as a bishop was bound to cause problems that is exactly what the Church is dealing with.

You should pause for a moment and remember that most members of the Anglican Communion do not read Western Media. (Most liberal people who read do not go to Church).You ask yourselves with all honesty whether you fully consulted with the rest of the communion before embarking on a radical changes"

My words and an excerpt of the bishops interview with larry king:
" Jesus was a nice story"

good Lord?.. is this the best we could do?.. how long has she been a Priest? ... were the pickings that slim... lol..

you were elected along the same lines like the gay clergyman in CT. by deception... you and your ilk are truely being deceived..I will continue to pray for you Bishop and your misguided followers... I hope the damage that has been done can be for the writer if this article?.. it suits your veiws, facts be've only seen the beginning --satanic work being done here...yes! it is satanic and the Bishop and her following are being played ... THAT is what is happening here..and while many of us see this, only a few will admit this only problem with those leaving?.. is they have chosen to leave the fight. I suppose there are more things to worry about and spend your time doing ...I wish them well...I'm sure our diocese will be next...

nobody wins

as for many of the gays ?..
.... it seems you would rather promote and worship your lifestyle rather than Christ or has he been taken out of the picture totally with the new way of worshipping

12/23/2006 1:12 AM  
Anonymous Dennis said...

Wow. Anonymous above is an incredible example of the unhinged nature of this debate. I am amazed at the invective and sheer mindless anger from the traditionalists. And on the other side I see good kind caring Christian gays and lesbians at work in their parishes, serving on the vestry, teaching classes, helping with outreach and community programs, often at great cost of time and money. And then I see unhinged posts like the above determined to chase these good people out of the church. Do you wonder why we call you bigots? Because of so much anger that you must feel inside you say such awful things about people who are truly showing the fruits of the spirit in their lives. If you are in one of the majority of Episcopal parishes go see the gays and lesbians in your parish, observe the hard work they do, the dedication and service. And then rethink your anger. Because when I see their dedication and kindness and I see your anger the word bigot comes to mind. Not because I am an elitist or don't like your politics, just because your anger and bitterness stands in stark contrast to the devoted love and hard work I see in the lives of gay and lesbians in the church. We have passed resolutions welcoming gays and lesbians since the 70s. Was this news to you? Was this a surprise? Enough. Quit trying to chase out good people from this church. Take the anger elsewhere. We welcome diversity in this church because we prayerfully believe the Lord would have us do so - as Christians we believe the Christian thing to do is to be a welcoming and open church. I and most other Episcopalians will not stand by while some attempt to chase out of this church good, devoted, caring Christians because they are lesbian or gay. All are welcome at Christ's table. All are invited.

12/24/2006 1:39 AM  
Blogger Grace said...


This is abit of a tangent here, but while I personally do not agree with Rick Warren's views concerning GLBT inclusion in the church, and other issues.... I feel he and his wife need to be commended for the tremendous work and resources they are pouring into the tragedy of AIDS in Africa, especially Rick's wife has a tremendous concern and ministry to help AID's orphans.

I understand that Rick Warren does not even accept a salary from his church.

12/24/2006 8:03 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Thank you, Dennis, for what may be the most inspiring sermon I'll hear today.

12/24/2006 8:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dennis does your smugness make you feel better?. I blame not the gays but rather the extreme liberals ..amd even then , I cannot ever hate you or anyone--- for the power of satanic forces have duped the head Bishop and her following, I will continue to pray for you all.

The recent trends in the Episcopal Church have been to define "diversity" as "accepting a new agenda." The irony is that the diversity she speaks of does not include the viewpoints and long-standing teachings that those churches have upheld. These parishes have been marginalized as primitive, bigoted and homophobic.

They have been told time and again that there's no room in the church for such hateful activities as questioning how decisions deemed incompatible with Scripture and tradition can suddenly be accepted by the church. In the next breath they hear more hypocrisy about diversity. This diversity incorporates every viewpoint except the viewpoint of more than 80 percent of the Anglican Communion and approximately 90 percent of Christians worldwide that the teachings of the church must be grounded not just in reason, but in Scripture and tradition, mostly Scripture.

If there's no room in the Episcopal Church for these so-called "bigoted" churches (which they are not), then why the surprise and feigned uproar when they decide to leave? Don't act so surprised when after years of being insulted and pushed toward the door, they suddenly turn the door latch.

12/25/2006 12:55 PM  
Anonymous Dennis said...

I am not so sure it is "smugness" that I am trying to convey. More like sadness. I am sad that so many of the people in the parishes have been led away by so-called pastors who have been more interested in power than the gospel of Christ. And now that they find that they won't be able to get power like they want they create angry and schismatic videos like Choose You This Day to show in the homes of good Episcopalians and lead them away from the Church. I am sad to see this. And the continual branding of liberal Episcopalians as "satanic" is awful and illustrates my point about the anger and bitterness I see so often on the right. Do you not hear the invective and anger and fury behind those words? Do you really believe that this woman who has brought her life to be one of service at the altar is somehow "satanic"? Are you this embittered and angry at the acceptance of those who are different?

I also hear a lot of anger and bitterness on the part of those on the right at being called homophobic or bigoted. But there is something behind this. I grew up in Mississippi in the early 70s through the late 80s (no longer live there), while the fury and fire over desegregation and civil rights was still raging. One of the most powerful motivations for change among southerners in my family was the fear of being thought a racist. The gradual change of shaming those who dislike those who are different made a real difference - it stopped all sorts of poor behavior on the part of many Southerners.

In the same way I hope that this dread of being called out for disliking gay and lesbian people will be the start of real change.

Look, there were people in my own family who thought that blacks were ok, and swore that they didn't hate blacks, but who thought that blacks shouldn't worship at white churches and shouldn't have positions of authority in white churches. They were wrong. They thought that they didn't dislike blacks but their attitude spoke far more than their supposed caring for blacks. At the time probably 80% of white southern Christians thought that blacks and whites shouldn't worship together. They were wrong, wrong, wrong.

Racism and homophobia are different things, but we can see the effects of the anger and the divisiveness in both examples as different as they are. In previous ages the majority of Christians in the pews believed that it was unChristian to advocate for an end to slavery, it was unChristian to advocate for women voting, it was unChristian to advocate for racial equality. There was even a strong movement against sending foreign aid by the church to help feed the poor around the world because it was somehow communist. Each and every time these tradtionalists were wrong, wrong, wrong.

Gay and lesbian Christians are living the fruits of the Spirit and the gospel in their lives. They usually most want the church to stop spewing so much anger so they can carry on their own part of the work of grace.

Before you label people as not belonging, as unwelcome, as somehow unworthy of grace because they live with a partner whom they love deeply and have built a life with, do you know any gays in the church? Have you met them and watched their witness?

No more charges of smugness when what I am asking is for an end to the anger, to a recognition of the good things that gays and lesbians do in the church, to the lives that they lead as human beings searching for God and his grace. Stop trying to chase people from the church. This is a welcome and inclusive church but no one can demand that their participation is contingent on the exclusion of others. No one can attempt to exclude others and then complain that the church is not diverse enough to accept you. This is a welcoming church and we join it by being welcoming.

And lay off calling our Presiding Bishop "satanic" - she too is a fallable human being searching for grace in her life and seeking to serve our Lord where He has called her. We do not do such things as Episcopalians - we recognize Christ in all persons as we say in the baptismal vows. The Presiding Bishop is a servant of the living Christ and the gays and lesbians in this church are children of God and so are you and I and all the liberals and conservatives and we are all welcome here as long as we don't attempt to demonize and demean and chase out others.

I hope that you and everyone here has a blessed Christmas. Last night at our parish's midnight Christmas eve Eucharist service there was a family of visitors seated near me. One of their two teenaged boys, exhausted by trying to keep up with which book to open and read from or sing from announced to his mother, "Boy they have a lot of stuff to keep open." He is right, as Episcopalians we do have a lot of things to juggle and keep open, but we can do it if we continue to show love and grace to those whom we are different than and whose beliefs we may not share. Peace during these seasons of Christmas and Epiphany.

12/25/2006 2:20 PM  
Blogger Cranmer49 said...

For Anonymous -

I think the folks over on titusonenine and virtue-less speak your language much more fluently. You might want to get a wheelbarrow and carry your mud over there.

I hope your Christmas is in better shape than your soul, and I pray that someday you will have an intimate relationship with the Prince of Peace.

12/25/2006 4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would say that most conservatives think of most liberals as well meaning albeit misguided people. When I look at the above conversation, I do not think that most liberals have the same charity for conservatives.

Let us be clear, opposing sin is not hate. Defending the faith is not hate. There is a passage about millstones for those who would lead others to sin.

12/27/2006 8:20 AM  
Anonymous Dennis said...

We don't hate conservatives. We are very tired though, of the posturing and pretence when conservatives claim to be defending the faith and define the faith to look exactly like their own beliefs.

Defending the faith is not hate, but calling the Presiding Bishop of this church (elected by this church and admired and supported by the majority of this church) terms like "satanic" is beyond the pale and unacceptable. We are Epsicopalians and we are not going to let you and other schismatics insult our Presiding Bishop with such terms.

Charity is as charity does.

12/27/2006 10:29 AM  
Anonymous nebulus said...

Though I read the Rev. Storm's essay when it was posted at another site, this is the first I've seen of these comments, six months later. These comments are eerily similar in tone and content to the arguments going on in my parish at he northern end of the Diocese of New York. My personal prerogative as a committed Episcopalian and vestry member is to seek consensus, at least enough consensus so that the work of sharing the Good News goes on despite our differences. Too often I see people that seem highly intelligent, reasonable, logical and loving caught up in the process of confusing their opinions with fact, calling their opinions the truth. It's really easy to find support from scripture, tradition and like-minded people and have those opinions reinforced as truth.

At some point I have to stop banging my head against a door that won't open, and go elsewhere. I'm not going to change my views, or surreptitiously hide my views that clash with the majority, in order to fit into any group.

I am loved by my Creator, as are we all, and by the awesome grace of that Creator I am able to stand in relationship to all of creation. That's all I really need to know, and that's all I really care about, ultimately, even if it means not being part of any religious institution.

After all of the arguing and posturing over the Great Gay Schism, I wonder if the players will be able to describe how they loved another as the Lord loves us.

6/29/2007 9:49 AM  

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