Monday, January 05, 2004
As I was driving to church yesterday morning, a thought struck me. Previously, I had been so outraged by the consecration of an openly heterodox priest and other similar shenanigans by the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) that I'd merely been biding my time, waiting for a chance to leave with a like-minded group of congregations. ECUSA had fallen, and I didn't want to risk being tainted. My church had been raped.
Then it occurred to me: why should I be running? If I were married and my wife had been raped, I wouldn't divorce and leave her. I would stay with her and try to help heal her and help her move on. If orthodox Episcopalians run away, then it's open season on denominations. Will anyone expect orthodox Methodists and Lutherans to stay when the United Methodist Church (UMC) and Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) do similar things? As soon as the enemy has breached the other wall, will we give up the keep? I say no. A spiritual battle is being waged, and we must rally our defenses. I'd read of and heard from several Episcopal leaders who had argued for staying within ECUSA, and hadn't understood it at the time. Now I think I get it. I don't know the demographics of the Episcopal Church, but I do know that the Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics have a lot more of the money than do the Liberals, along with immeasurably greater backing among the Anglican Communion. They also have more of the kids. Within twenty years, the only Liberals will be middle-aged and older and sitting in half-full churches, at best. The Anglo-Catholic parishes I've attended have had decent-sized congregations, and the Evangelical ones were full to bursting, mostly with people about my age.
What we need is to be mild as doves, but wise as serpents. If the conservatives (Evangelicals and probably most Anglo-Catholics) leave, then the liberals (Liberals and some Anglo-Catholics) can declare victory, sell off the parish buildings formerly belonging to the conservatives, and thrash about before the media finds its next flavor-of-the-month. However, we can stay in, bide our time until we're ready, and wreak havoc in the meantime. I don't mean that we should vandalize or anything like that, but that some civil disobedience may be in order. At Church of the Good Shepherd, in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, the parish clergy and the Bishop of Pennsylvania, who denies that the Bible is God-inspired, had a feud, with the result being that the church itself remains in the diocese while the clergy themselves are variously part of the Diocese of Pittsburgh or the Province of Kenya. Quite a few parishes have ceased sending money to their diocese or the national church.
My friend Kyle, now a missionary in Japan, has told me several things, each of which tends to not make much sense at the time but sink in exactly when I need it. Over the summer, he had helped coordinate a trip by a dozen Japanese students to the East Coast. The coordinator was a Japanese Christian living in America, and while some of the tourists were interested in religion, most were typical college-age kids. At one point he took two of them down to Virginia Tech to show them around, only to be recalled mid-way through his trip with the news that man in charge of the visit, whom I'll call Sato, had stolen most of the money and locked himself in his bathroom with a razor blade while threatening to commit suicide. Kyle rushed back with the two he had, and attempted to do what he could. The man returned to Japan, but the money was gone and the students were leaning towards going home. Kyle, being connected with Sato, was in their eyes, also not trustworthy. However, he had gotten to know the two students he'd taken down to Tech, and they eventually convinced the rest of their group to stay and trust him. There was a lot of talking about religion, and they asked Kyle if Sato was really a Christian. They'd seen the way he'd acted, and were not impressed. Kyle told them that he didn't know, but labored to set as good an example as possible. Finally, a little while before they left, one of them asked why he was going to Japan to be a missionary. The reply was basically that he wanted to learn from them, and share the joy he'd found. The person who'd asked, having seen Kyle in action over the summer, told him that he finally knew what a Christian was.
In this way, we need to set in people's minds what an Episcopalian is. We need to win the PR war. Previously, we were the country-club denomination. Now we're the flaming liberal denomination. If we were to be known as the rock solid denomination that helped the needy and liked our candles and fancy churches, I'd be happy. We need orthodox Episcopalians to proclaim their church, so that when people think of Episcopalians, they think of people like Christopher Johnson, William Sulik, and Ben Domenech, and not Frank "Forcefield" Griswold, Charles "Not-God-Inspired" Bennison, John "Bible?" Spong, Neff "Planned Parenthood" Powell, Jane "Fear My Wrath" Dixon, or Gene "I Am" Robinson. Our church is diseased, but not dead. We can't give up on it so easily.