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Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Death of the Episcopal Church


The big news from the Connecticut Episcopal Convention was widely reported: the Bishop of Connecticut announced that churches will now "bless" same-sex unions. However, little attention was actually focused on the Bishop's actual words and his reasoning, which will undoubtedly split his diocese into pieces.

Even close observers of Episcopal Church controversies seemed stunned at the implosion and polarization in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church worldwide over the past few days. And Connecticut is providing the loudest bang at this controlled demolition.

At the Connecticut Episcopal Diocese's annual convention, Bishop Andrew Smith made a stunning address in which he castigated the remaining five parishes engaged in the Connecticut Six controversy. If you can remember back this far, this controversy stems largely from matters of church discipline arising from the ordination of a practicing homosexual man as the Bishop of New Hampshire. The Bishop wants the traditionalists to toe his line or leave:

To the clergy and members of the five congregations. Perhaps in your mind or in meetings some of you already have made the decision to leave this church. Perhaps you are caught in this fray. It is time for your yes be yes, and your no be no. If one church, or two churches, or all five churches will return to the life and mission and communion of this Church, and, clergy, if you will honor your ordination vows, the door is wide open. If you cannot tolerate the life and openness of The Episcopal Church, then honorably move on. Above all, stop the whining and the destructive behavior which diminish all of us and the Lord Jesus. This Church has gospel work before us, and we have been more than patient, and the attacks continue and it is time for us to say, enough!

In other words, get out and stop hindering our "gospel work."

The Bishop then took the occasion to, in essence, invent new Scripture for his diocese:

Again, at the heart of the matter is whether we as a Church will welcome and embrace and serve with and care for and bless persons who are homosexual and partnered as cherished and fully accepted members of the Body of Christ. I believe it is right to change our current policy which prohibits our clergy from blessing same-sex relationships....

There are several verses of Scripture that have been used for argument over and over by folk from every side.

What has not been heard, however, is the sweep of Scripture witness in which Jesus and later the apostles over and over open up new dimensions of what it can mean to live in faithful relationships with God and one another and the whole world. Without question there I see a progression of revelation, beginning with our Lord’s inclusion of women among his disciples. It continues as Peter and then Paul recognize that in the New Covenant faith is not about family lineage, dietary laws or the Biblically mandated mark of circumcision, but about accepting Jesus, and receiving the gifts and bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit.

It is convincing to me as I read the New Testament and also see how the implications of the person of Jesus and his teaching and actions continue to unfold in new ways in the Church. Even though we continually slip back into old ways, there have been triumphant breakthroughs in new ways: equality regardless of nationality or social classes, equality regardless of being male or female, equality regardless of age, and equality regardless of race.

Was the Church in the forefront of all of these new understandings, leading the way? In reality we the Church struggled with those issues sometimes against and often with the rest of the culture. And so it is now.

Jesus’ ministry so radically redefines what life in faith is that, says Jesus, it is a call to a new realm, the Kingdom of God. Both Jesus and Saint Paul say that entrance into it means dying and being born over again. Because I see this teaching and its implications unfolding in the Bible and through history, I believe that God continues to open our eyes to new insights and truths of living in faith.

I believe that it is time for us to re-think, re-pray and re-form our theology and our pastoral practices, to welcome, recognize, support and bless the lives and faith of brothers and sisters who are gay and lesbian in the equal fullness of Christian fellowship.

I could go on but here's the kicker:

Many times, in the presence of gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, I have felt a little like Peter in the house of Cornelius. Recognizing the presence of God where it wasn’t supposed to be, in a pagan household, Peter baptized the entire family. Like Peter, who when criticized by the elders in Jerusalem for breaking the traditions, I have said to myself, “Who am I that I can hinder God?”

Read that again - Bishop Smith compares his recognizing the Presence of God around homosexuals to Peter's recognizing the Holy Spirit (the real Holy Spirit) being poured out upon the Gentiles in Acts 10.

This is like bad dialogue from a cheap "end-times" novel. The "Connecticut Six" couldn't make this up if they wanted to.

So now we have new revelation that sodomy is OK, good even, just as the apostles received important revelation from God in the New Testament. It's just a part of the ongoing process of God's revelation to humankind. We're making it up as we go along with no reference to Scripture or the teaching of the Church throughout history that homosexuality is sin and a sign of profound human brokenness and not a grace from God. Acceptance of homosexuality in the Church is a "triumphant breakthrough."

You can call this whatever you like, but what you can't call it is Christianity. There's nothing to look for now except for the few remaining traditional parishes to pick up their hats and coats and go out the door.

There's a lot more to it, all bad, and you can get Virtue's take here.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So you ignore the rest of the Episcopal Church's misinary activities because they like the gays? Its your right to discent from their opnion but dont throw out the entire denomonation because of it. the Episcopal Church has started countless homeless shelters, soup kitchens and many more out reaches. Christianity isn't just about doctrine, thereis also action involved in being a christian, and you know this. You and I both know that no one individual will be a perfect christian, we will always be flawed in this flesh, even our denominations will reflect this. So if you condemn the Episcopal Church, condemn every Church.