Thursday, June 14, 2007
Long and Winding Road Home: Pt. 2 - The Episcopal Church
While I will continue to be a priest of the Diocese of Tennessee, as I leave active involvement in the Episcopal Church in early September it will be with tangled and knotted feelings. For most of my three decades here I have appreciated being part of this denomination, and it has been a setting in which I have grown as a disciple of Christ and as a person.
There have always been elements of Episcopal life that have irritated me no end, high on the list has been this church's inability to take seriously the need for doctrinal clarity, but then there have been all sorts of other components of Episcopalianism that have enriched me, stimulated me, challenged me.
The Episcopal Church forced me to reach outside the tiny little Anglican box I had inhabited prior to my first crossing of the Atlantic, and for this I will always be profoundly grateful. Yet it has been recent years that have floored me, with deficiencies of the church getting out of control in such a way that they have completely overwhelmed many of the benefits.
There was a time when with a sense of genuine appreciation I could tell people "I am an Episcopalian," yet these days I try to avoid such identification, and when it is necessary to make it with mingled emotions of regret and embarrassment. The turmoil of these recent years has, in effect, stolen the church I loved, and started the process of putting in its place something so distorted that at times the only descriptive words I can come up with are bizarre and even grotesque.
The extreme lurch that the Episcopal Church into the arms of the Zeitgeist has disfigured it to such an extent that part of me is very tempted to get back into that tiny little box that I once inhabited. Certainly, it has been made abundantly clear by those who control the denomination that those of us who occupy the broad mainstream of Anglican Christianity are no longer wanted nor particularly welcome. The most recent actions of the Executive Council are further illustrations of this, and such things will always be a source of personal sadness.
I came to America in the first place because God made it clear that this was the setting to which he was calling us, and we believed that we were being asked to play a small part in the renewal of the Episcopal Church that was gathering strength at that time. There have been all sorts of good things that have happened, and over the years we have seen God's hand at work in things we have been part of, and enterprises we have undertaken. There have been some successes, and there have also been a number of obvious failures.
Yet the present climate excoriates what we considered to be advances, and what I had thought had been worthwhile contributions to the life of the Episcopal Church in obedience to the demands of the Kingdom, is being treated by the postmodern majority as some sort of a defacing of the tradition (although the postmodernizers are very much making up what they believe the tradition to be as they go along). While I do not like what has become of the Episcopal Church, this is the setting in which God has placed me, and it has become a very difficult boat from which to fish in recent years.
While the Episcopal Church seems determined to rid itself of many of the major contributions I and my ilk have made, I honestly do not see much in the new alphabet soup of Anglican entities that is emerging as anything more than a temporary holding pattern, and not necessarily a wise one at that. I agree entirely with Archbishop Drexel Gomez that much of this separating has seemed extraordinarily premature.
While the doctrinal side of me finds is much more at home with these slivers of Anglicanism than the ailing denomination from which they have turned, I am sure that if I were to be part of one of them, then I would be peculiarly uncomfortable about their life as well. While I respect many of those who have made these moves, there is no reason to believe that separation solves the problems we have -- which are so much bigger than the presenting issues that have disrupted the life of the church.
This battle is about nothing less than who God is, how God has revealed himself to us, and what the implications of that might be in daily living. The starting point for any debate or discussion has to be the Trinity, and certainly not human sexuality.
What has happened is that we have been shoo-ed by God out into a Wilderness, we have been dispatched into Exile. After the Jews were taking into exile in Babylon, a couple of generations passed before God began speaking to them with the red-blooded words of that great prophet in the tradition of Isaiah.
Exile is agony and can be utterly debilitating, but evidence from the history of salvation is that it is the place where God meets and renews his expectant people, having allowed them to shed much of the unhelpful baggage that they were carrying. My work with the Russian church in the 1990s brought me face-to-face with a church who had been forced to learn some incredibly painful lessons from a different kind of exile, now it is our turn.
If we look at the experience of the Jews and of church history, it is in exile that we experience theological and spiritual renewal that would have been impossible if our standard had still been flying high. In humiliation and sitting amidst the ruins we are called upon to wait until the Lord God is ready for us again. Maybe all this will take decades and not months, and all the time our demeanor should be humility in sackcloth and ashes.
There is much from the Episcopal Church that I will miss, but most of these things are from the old Episcopal Church, the one that used to exist, not the one that is being born in the confusion and error of today. I have fond and thankful memories, and my prayer is that even an ocean away I will be able to do something that will play a tiny part in the restoration of North American Anglicanism to the favor of the Lord.