Saturday, January 10, 2009

Reflections on the current crisis in The Episcopal Church

Over at T-19 a frequently asked question has been posted in the form of an article. Should I stay or should I go? I wrote a reply there but on consideration I think this is not a bad time to repost my thoughts on the situation in TEC from back in 2006. A few of the details have changed but the fundamentals have not. I stand by the substance of the post below as strongly now (perhaps more so) as I did when I wrote it.

Some thoughts on losing a war...

One of the few programs on television I watch religiously is on the Sci Fi channel. It’s called Battlestar Galactica. This is a remake of the campy late 1970’s series of the same name. But while the older series was a cross between space opera and silly comedy the new series is incredibly gritty, well written and blessed with superb acting. It is also dark. When I say dark, I mean midnight black. The motto of this program could be “remember it’s always darkest just before it gets even more hopeless.” Most television programs tend to end on a happy note. If that’s what you’re looking for DO NOT watch this program. Allow me a small example from the pilot miniseries.


The pilot is set in an unknown time and corner of the universe with humans living on twelve planets in a solar system called “The Colonies.” A long time ago we are told in the written prologue, they made a race of machines called Cylons to serve them. But the machines rebelled and there was a war that eventually ended in a draw. The Cylons left and had not been heard from in a generation. Meanwhile The Colonies are seen as an advanced society that is relatively democratic, peaceful and prosperous. Then the Cylons came back.

In the space of roughly 24 hours in their time (about 3 1/2 hrs on DVD) the twelve colonies are annihilated. I mean gone, as in wiped out. Genocide is an often overused term. This program shows what a real genocide might look like. The home worlds are obliterated in a massive surprise attack with nuclear weapons raining down on cities. The Colonial Fleet is also destroyed except for a lone ship called the Galactica, a sort of space age aircraft carrier/battleship.

The Galactica survives the initial massacre by a stroke of luck and retreats to the far corner of the solar system to rearm. While there a handful of civilian space ships arrive lead by the erstwhile Secretary of Education, now President of The Colonies, Laura Rosalyn with perhaps 50,000 survivors left from a civilization of probably tens of billions of people.

There she meets the commanding officer of the Galactica, Bill Adama who quickly makes it clear he has only one interest. He wants to get back into the fight as quickly as possible. A stunned President Rosalyn asks him if he is serious. To which Adama replies with his own question. “What do you suggest we do? Run?” And that’s when Rosalyn gives the money quote that is at the heart of my post.

“Yes. We run. I respectfully suggest it’s the only sane thing to do. We leave and we don’t come back. I am not sure if you realize this, but the war is over. And we lost.”


There are today in the Episcopal Church (TEC) 110 dioceses and a significant number of retired bishops. Of those perhaps a dozen are at least somewhat orthodox (small “o”). Five are in open resistance to their own church, with one (San Joaquin) contemplating secession from TEC. The rest are to varying degree heretics or even apostates. The number of orthodox Christians left in TEC is not known but it’s unlikely that they comprise more than 10% of the clergy in most dioceses. There are exceptions to be sure. But in the big picture they are an extreme and dwindling minority in a denomination which has elected an apostate as its presiding bishop. How many times have we all heard of the few clergy and laymen who courageously soldier on against all odds, dreaming of a restoration?

My question is at what point does one step back and say the cause is lost? The few bishops who have not become formal heretics in TEC must at some point retire or die. Do you think the people running the show will tolerate many more Bishop Schofields? They came very close to taking steps to remove him as Bp of San Joaquin, and may yet do so. How long can one remain in communion with heretical or apostate bishops knowing them to be such? Even if your own bishop is one of the few, he (and by extension you) is in communion with heretics. Leaving is painful. But fighting for a cause that is lost can be more painful. It can warp one’s faith and allow bitterness and anger to intrude itself into the soul. Better to accept this defeat and focus on where to go for spiritual nourishment. For the Protestant minded there is no shortage of denominations available. Pick one.

For the catholic minded, that is to say those seeking The Church and not a denomination there are logically two choices, Orthodoxy or Rome. But wherever you go one thing needs to be said plainly though with love and empathy for the pain of this fact. Staying in TEC is no longer a moral option for an orthodox Christian. There is no longer any reasonable hope of reversing the fortunes of this fight. To believe otherwise is to be willfully blind to the truth. “The war is over. And we lost.”

Matthew 10: 14-15
14 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.
15 Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.


Tregonsee said...

Indeed, as far as TEC is concerned, we have lost. Some regard the departure as lifeboats leaving the Titanic. I have always thought that the evacuation from Dunkirk is more apt, as the BEF and other allies were under constant air and ground attack, unlike the Titanic passengers. To continue the analogy, a few stay behind to care for and comfort those who can't leave, or to help that last few off the beach. May the Lord bless them for their faith.

Steve Hayes said...

I left more than 20 years ago, when it became clear to me that if I stayed I would spend the rest of my life fighting with people over what the Christian faith actually is. I was more interested in learning to live and proclaim the kingdom of God, not arguing about what it is and what form it too.

Tregonsee said...

I am a more recent departure, having been in a diocese and parish where it was possible to ignore the larger situation until recently. Having left for what is now an CANA/ACNA parish has truly lifted a weight off my shoulders. Of course we have problems, including financing the building of a new church building by a congregation which is not affluent. However, not being nagged by guilty conscience over my complicity on a daily basis has freed up much time and emotional energy for the very active ministry and outreach of my new parish. And no, while we do not dwell on it, we have not forgotten those who are in a real sense "Left Behind."

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I, too, left TEC nearly 20 years ago. And became Orthodox, not because TEC was falling apart, but because I discovered where the True Church really was. (I had long since given up supposing there WAS any such thing as "the True Church," so was quite surprised to stumble upon her.)

Visibilium said...

For the catholic minded, that is to say those seeking The Church and not a denomination there are logically two choices, Orthodoxy or Rome.

Old Rome isn't a denomination?

John (Ad Orientem) said...

As Orthodox Christians we would certainly say that the Roman Catholic Church is not The Church spoken of in the Creed. Its exact relationship to The Church has not been defined and remains the subject of some debate. I think that whatever it is, as a matter of opinion I believe it is something more than a mere denomination.

The late Patriarch Sergei addressed this in his work on "The Significance of Apostolic Succession in Heterodoxy." And Florovsky also obliquely touched on the question in his essay "The Limits of the Church."

However my point was directed mainly at those in the Episcopal Church. For them Rome and Orthodoxy are the only two choices if they seek an ecclesial home that can make any credible claim to being The Church spoken of in the Creed.

You and I have investigated those claims and made our choice. But denying that there is a choice to be made does not seem to serve much purpose. And whatever shortcoming the Roman Church may have, they pale next to those of the Anglicans.


Visibilium said...

I see your point. Doesn't their branch theory admit the Orientals as well?

Sergii notes that the West understands succession more mechanically than we do, but he then proceeds to permit such an understanding through the back door using the Church's ecumenical relationship as the criterion of validity. My head is still spinning at the circularity. I'd be interested in your thinking about this topic sometime.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Sergii has made some very interesting comments lately. He is on record as being hostile to the traditional teachings of the Orthodox Church on some subjects such as ecclesiology and also the grace of heterodox sacraments where he favors the western approach. While I am certainly not in the Athonite camp (where they have as a matter of praxis if perhaps not yet theory, rejected the concept of oikonomia) I none the less am decidedly uncomfortable with the trend among some Orthodox to embrace the kumbaya spirit of modern ecumenism.

With respect to my thoughts, I have been working on a piece for a couple days now (as time has permitted)that will speak to this subject in more detail. I hope to have it ready in the near future for posting.