Friday, November 17, 2006

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 Roselyn 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.


david+ said...

Being a BSG fan myself, as well as a priest in tec, I think you've hit the nail on the head. Your article is not unlike the Pontificator's piece entitled "Fly you fools!" He used Gandalf's cry in the way you quote Rosalyn.
There are a few of us who are called to stay and try and save as many as we can. At least as long as we can. But I believe you're right in the essentials: tec is lost.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Fr. David,
I admire the obviously good intentions behind your decision to remain. But I must vigorously though respectfully disagree with that decision. Whatever good you are doing is doubtful when compared to the possible harm. You indicate that you agree with me (and Al Kimel with whose post you flatteringly compared mine), that TEC is lost. How can you remain in a denomination that is institutionally heretical at the least and arguably apostate? Are you counseling people to leave TEC? Do you receive converts? Have you considered that by remaining you may be encouraging others to remain and thereby doing grave spiritual harm? I humbly submit that the best thing you could do is to lead others out of TEC to a place of relative spiritual safety. By remaining in this sect you are at least on some level giving support to it. One can not ethically be a priest/minister in a church which one believes has at its core rejected Christianity. Please forgive me if my words sound harsh. They are written in love, but also with a true concern for those who are still wandering around the ruins, wondering what they should do. And I am also aware that leaving, especially for clergy can have serious real world implications (income etc.). But I must repeat, that I can not think of a single compelling argument for remaining in TEC if you believe that it is truly lost to Christianity.

"Some have suffered final shipwreck with regard to the faith. Others, though they have not drowned in their thoughts, are nevertheless perishing through communion with heresy."
-St. Theodore the Studite.


david+ said...

Ah, what grace. Thank you for your warm words. Please believe me when I say you haven't suggested anything that I haven't and don't pray about hourly. Your comments are received in love.
Allow me time to reflect and respond as I can to your admonition. God willing, I shall.
your servant in Christ,

Anonymous said...


I tend to agree with you and have one foot out the door myself. However, the vast majority of the world’s Anglicans are faithful Christians, and bishops representing those regions are engaged in helping the conservatives here. While I can’t predict the outcome, I believe the decision to engage these overseas members of the Anglican Communion (along with active use of the internet) marks the critical difference versus the earlier years of this long, slow meltdown.

Granting the fact that the small-o orthodox Anglican presence within the United States will be small, do you change your analysis if that presence is firmly linked to the larger Communion?

John (Ad Orientem) said...

You make some interesting points. However, from everything I have read TEC’s days in the Anglican Communion are numbered and the progs running the show seem to have come to accept this. For them, being booted from the WWAC is a price they are willing to pay in order to advance their radical agenda. It is also quite clear that most of the Global South bishops will not be at the next WWAC convention if TEC is there. Even Rowan Williams seems to have come to realize this.

Given that TEC is on the way out I think your question is based on an inaccurate premise, namely that the orthodox (small o) can remain in both TEC and the Anglican Communion long term. They can’t because TEC is about to get shown the door. But let’s assume for a moment that the ABC balks and tells the Global South bishops to go pack sand. They would leave and that would leave TEC in a vastly reduced WWAC. It also should be noted that the CofE is theologically only a couple steps removed from the same wacky positions now held by TEC. I think the WWAC is in the process of disintegrating. My guess is that within twenty years there will be two (or maybe more) ecclesial communions claiming to be the true heirs of Anglicanism.

Of course none of this changes the reality on the ground here in America, which is that to be in TEC one must logically be in full communion with avowed heretics. I can’t speak for anyone else. But that’s not something I could ever agree to. To be in communion with someone means they do not hold views which you feel place them outside the bounds of orthodox Christianity. When you take communion in the same church as Jack Spong you are making a public gesture of shared faith. Being in communion with heretics is in itself a declaration of heresy. So the answer to your question is no. My position remains that no orthodox Christian should be in TEC.

Out of curiosity where is the one foot that’s out the door pointing you towards?

Yours in Christ,

Anonymous said...

John, thanks for the comments.

I was unclear in my question: my premise is that it looks possible we may see the creation of a faithful ecclesial body separate from ECUSA (pardon me, I refuse to use their new moniker). In that case, it will be possible for the orthodox Anglicans to “come out from among them.” In my judgment, however, ECUSA will never be booted from the Communion, only – at best – placed in a downgraded, non-voting relationship with the other provincial churches. And so, your comment that we must logically be in full communion with avowed heretics remains true. What’s more, it is not only the ABC pulling up lame on discipline that could fracture the Anglican Communion, but any action against ECUSA as well, because many in the Church of England itself sympathize with the American direction.

What this says to me is that, if Anglicanism has not already, it is destined to fail. I have heard some of the Global South bishops speak, and they are powerful men of God, utterly faithful in the face of persecutions most of us will never experience. And yet. Much of Anglicanism, on the matter of women’s ordination alone, has departed from Catholic faith and order, and it seems clear that it is not coming back. Rowan Williams has said as much, forcefully. I also believe that ECUSA is a cancer, destined to rot and destroy any body with which it remains in relationship. Its filthy money has already entirely co-opted the church in South Africa, for example, and the direction of the CoE is clear.

As a Catholic-minded Anglican, I am intrigued by Orthodoxy, and with little basis, really, I am leaning strongly in that direction. On the positive side, a lot of what Orthodoxy teaches just seems to make sense to me; and, as a negative alternative, I suppose I just can’t get over lingering objections to some of the claims and teachings of Rome.

I’m still a Western Christian, though, and I see a lot of practical issues with Orthodoxy that I need to think and pray on more. With apologies for imposing, as a convert yourself, would you be willing to talk about advice and your experiences once the Nativity Fast has ended?


John (Ad Orientem) said...

Email me privately at


Alice C. Linsley said...

You may know that my background is in linguistics and cultural anthropology. I'd like to make an observation from this background. Power struggles within tribes or clans have only a few possible outcomes. 1. Those who hold the power exterminate their opposition. This doesn't happen often in tribes and clans because people are generally hesitant to kill their own kin. 2. Those without power are willing to compromise and pledge loyalty to the powers that be. 3. Those who are without power must leave the community. This third reality is what has happened with the orthodox in TEC. But that is not the end of the story! Expelled groups become very adventurous risk-takers. They wander until they find a territory that they can claim for themselves. That is probably what led the people who we call the "Olmecs" to leave West Africa and settle in Mexico. That is one explanation for the migration of peoples and it often results in a physically stronger people with a well defined identity.

aveverum said...

Well, I’m a sixteen year old in TEC stuck in two dioceses, Dallas and Ft. Worth. My church is in Dallas, but has Episcopal oversight from Fr. Worth (don’t ask, no one understands what it really means). But I’m on the Dallas youth commission and I just came back from a retreat with the commission a few hours ago. It’s crazy and messy and it would be great to be in a perfect church, but that doesn’t exist. I hate what’s happened in TEC and how stupid decisions at political conventions have put obstacles in the way of my Faith. And maybe it’s just that I’m young and naive, but I still have this crazy hope. Even though Dallas is in many ways a lukewarm diocese, the youth are not—this weekend proved that. And up north Nashotah (sp?) House is jam packed, and the St. Michael’s conferences are spreading like wildfire. This summer is the southwest conference’s third year and last summer’s attendance doubled that of the first year.

I don’t know how reform happens, but I know it does. I know the Israelites rebelled again and again and again. But God is patient and merciful and, well, just read Isaiah 30. I don’t think Anglicanism is destined to fail unless Anglicans give up their hope in God. God really tested my faith this weekend and asked me if I really believed that He is as powerful I as tell other people that He is. It was a hard process…a really hard retreat…but I really do believe that He can. I don’t know how and I don’t know when. But I know He can.

At the same time, I would appreciate any adult advice. Thanks.

Pax vobiscum,

Anonymous said...


The best advice I, an 18 year old Roman Catholic, could give you is to leave. However, this should not be done without great prayer and discussion with priests/ministers. I would recommend sitting down with your priest/reverend (don't know what they commonly called) and discussing your beliefs and thoughts. Then, find a Catholic priest and discuss the same topics. I would also recommend watching EWTN, the global Catholic television network, and again praying constantly.

Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus,