By David W. Virtue
The Episcopal Church is heading off the cliff.
On any reading of the situation, a church that once saw eleven presidents, numerous senators and many politicians pass through its hallowed doors and was recognized as the unofficial state church of the country, TEC has morphed into the "Gay Church". It is a church led by a cabal of loud, angry and noisy pansexualists, left wing ideologues, aggrieved and whiny haters of orthodoxy whose assorted sexual preferences and views go against the American mainstream.
It is as though a Jim Jones collective suicide pact has overcome the church's bishops as they wade into the parted waters of the Hudson River, not really believing that the orthodox who have gone before them will be saved, but presuming they will somehow avoid perishing when the waters roll over them.
The Bishop of Bethlehem put his finger on the pulse of the situation when commenting over the debacle of the Buddhist practicing wanna-be bishop-elect of Northern Michigan. "As a Church, we are increasingly a laughing-stock. Not because we welcome lesbian and gay people, and carry on social ministries that enact the sacrifice of Christ on a corporate basis, and certainly not because of our latitude and the conversation it engenders. We are a laughing stock because we do not consistently proclaim a solid core, words as simple as 'all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,' yet 'God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.'"
What is surprising is that these words come from the lips of Bishop Paul Marshall and not say from the evangelically driven orthodox Bishop of Central Florida, John W. Howe. Marshall is known for his liberal views on sexual morality; he has written a book on the joys of lesbian love and is comfortably a liberal, but not a revisionist, when it comes to the teachings of the church. He is creedally orthodox, but sees sexuality issues as second tier.
That he should have cited the above texts concerning sin and salvation is a stunning admission by a hard core liberal of The Episcopal Church's failure to address fundamental issues. His statements no doubt cause heartburn for his fellow liberal and revisionist bishops. His brazen Scriptural "fundamentalism" perhaps warrants a note of displeasure from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori stating that his approach upsets her "gospel" of Millennium Development Goals.
The truth is that the very word "sin" has been almost obliterated from the vocabulary of Episcopal Church leaders - unless it is the "sin" of failing to include sexual deviants and such theologically erring bishops as Charles E. Bennison - who may yet be finally tossed out of the church, not because he cannot affirm basic doctrines of the faith, but for failing to report his brother's sexual abuse of a young woman.
"Sin" is not to be found in the major documents of GC2009. One searches in vain for language that recognizes or says that we have fallen short; rather it is the note of triumphalism, of a church come of age, caught in perpetual sexual pubescence. It is a church experiencing its own sexual self enlightenment, of multiple sexual preferences in keeping with the world rather than with Scripture. Conformity to the world, not conformity to Christ, is the church's zeitgeist. It is no longer death to self, but the conforming of self to the world. Few, if any voices have been raised against the confusion.
It's as though a revisionist bishop had entered The Bowery Mission in New York City, ripped down the statement reading: DROP THE WORLD AND PICK UP JESUS, and replaced it with PICK UP THE WORLD (and your free supply of condoms) AND DROP JESUS.
One secular reporter, Becky Garrison headlined a story "Reports of the Death of the Episcopal Church are Greatly Exaggerated" and cited Diana Butler Bass who argues that a brief tour of church history reveals that 100,000 Conservative Anglicans defecting from the 80 million-member Communion is nothing more than a case of the spiritual sniffles. Really. This is historical nonsense and grossly inaccurate. It is 100,000 orthodox Anglicans out of 800,000 practicing Episcopalians. The vast majority of the Anglican Communion's 55 million Anglicans (the real number) have sided with the 100,000 orthodox North American Anglicans and not the liberal Episcopal Church. It is the so-called Progressive Episcopal Church that is out of touch with history and reality. The Arians ultimately lost.
Occasional moments of enlightenment - shards like light through a prism - enter the darkness revealing for all to see that the theological and ecclesiastical emperors running the show have no clothes on, or barely enough to cover their groins.
The Blue Book prepared for the 76th General Convention, to be held July 8-17 in Anaheim, California, warns of long term decline, a decline directly related to tensions caused by the consecration of the homosexual Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson and the fact that he lives brazenly with his homosexual partner.
The fact that his consecration occurred five years ago and is still an issue for the majority of Episcopalians is indicative of the fact that this will not go away. Robinson, Jefferts Schori and others believed it would. They said so...repeatedly. They earnestly told us that homosexuality, in general, and the consecration of future homosexual bishops would be as acceptable as women bishops, along with the victories of the Civil Rights movement. This belief has proven to be a fiction. Another fiction is that gays and lesbians would come flocking into the church, filling the pews with hand-holding lovers mincing their way to the table of our Lord, blaspheming it with every step.
The truth is that the Bishop Coadjutor of New Hampshire's presence in the church has affected HALF of all Episcopal churches in the country.
What this says is that in thousands of hamlets across the country, small aging Episcopal congregations, many of whom would still like to use the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, open their doors each Sunday with the sickening knowledge that their beloved church openly espouses a behavior that would have their parents rolling in their graves.
Remember too, that the average age of most Episcopalians is now in the mid-Sixties and for the most part culturally conservative. For them, such cultural shifts don't come easily, if at all. Their parents abhorred such behavior. While they blindly follow their present leaders, many know in their heart of hearts that something has gone deeply wrong with the church, something they are powerless to fix. The levers of ecclesiastical power are now firmly in the hands of pansexualists and their camp followers. These aging Episcopalians have only a columbarium to look forward to.
Furthermore the decline is being accelerated by the advent of a new North American Anglican province, which liberal bishops barely talk about and certainly do not share with their priests and parishes.
The facts don't lie. According to census information compiled by the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church, the results from 783 completed surveys reveals a sobering snapshot of an aging denomination, struggling with unresolved conflict and in danger of long-term decline.
How are liberals and revisionist bishops going to spin that ten or even five years from now?
The Blue Book Report said: "In prior years the Committee on the State of the Church often heard the criticism that our church seemed unwilling to recognize the presence of a major source of internal controversy that some argued was having an impact on our common life, as reflected in declining membership and attendance statistics. The metaphor most often used was that we 'failed to acknowledge the elephant in the room', referring to what many viewed as the momentous decision by the 74th General Convention (2003) to consent to the consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire."
There you have it, no spin, just the raw, naked truth. A similar survey, conducted in 2008, revealed that 64 percent of congregations reported some level of conflict over the ordination of homosexual clergy, with most reporting such conflict to be serious. That's two-thirds of the entire denomination in turmoil over ordaining non-celibate homosexual clergy. This turmoil is going to go away because Jefferts Schori says so?
How congregations have responded is to say 'not in my church' and pushed it away. Revisionist bishops make sure nothing of substance creeps into diocesan publications to upset the faithful. Stories of parishes fleeing to other orthodox Anglican jurisdictions are played down as of minor significance. Local newspaper and Internet reports give liberal bishops heartburn and they regularly scold sources like VOL for being "divisive", "inciting fear" and "hate-mongering".
What all this amounts to is that when people can find an alternative, they will often drive 100 miles or more to a "safe" parish. When a local orthodox Anglican entity is formed, they begin to leave the church in droves; men, women and young people, particularly families who do not want their children raised (and indoctrinated) in a church that affirms a behavior that might not see them having grand children. Now, whole dioceses are leaving. The word is out.
The loss of young people was especially noted in the report along with the nearly twenty percent of members who withheld funds this past year from their local parishes.
The rate of decline in Average Sunday Attendance from 2003-2007 among congregations with serious conflict over the ordination of gay clergy is 35 percent higher than congregations with no conflict over the issue (and accounted for more than double the aggregate loss), according to the report. These are scary numbers by any definition.
The report further stated that the most enlightened insight gained from the survey is the skewed age structure of The Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church has an average 19,000 more deaths than births each year, which is comparable to the loss of an entire diocese, annually.
"Despite these trends of decline, about 50 percent of 'cradle Episcopalians' are being retained,' said the report. Why is that? The truth is, in their small hamlets, aging Episcopalians have nowhere else to go. Many are not comfortable going to Rome. They find Baptist and Presbyterian services liturgically light. They also want to be buried as Episcopalians, not in an alien cemetery. It is also why parishes like St. James the Less in Philadelphia lie fallow. The diocese, in winning it back from its priest Fr. David Ousley, now finds they can do nothing with it. Five bishops are buried in the church yard. You can't touch them.
The ongoing tension and loss of membership has caused an "alarming" increase in the number of congregations reporting financial difficulty. By all accounts, this is going to get worse before it gets better, if it ever does. VOL has documented much of this in a five-part series you can read at www.virtueonline.org
In time, whole dioceses will be forced to "juncture" (merge) as bishops discover that fleeing and dying Episcopalians cannot write out checks.
What will make it all so much worse is news that the church might well consecrate as bishop a lay Buddhist who quotes from the Quran and that an Episcopal seminary Dean advocates abortion as a gift from God that borders on the sacramental. With lunacy like this, borderline Episcopalians may well find themselves pushed right over the edge. Who can blame them if they say 'enough already'?
When General Convention rolls around this summer in Anaheim, it will be a circus of sexual liberation with middle aged geriatric clerics and laity pushing the final frontiers of sexuality with same-sex rites and future homogenital bishops fully brokered into the church, (to Hell with the Windsor Report and the umpteenth written draft Covenant) all in the vain hope that the Holy Ghost will descend upon 10,000 Episcopalians and perform a second Pentecost anointing Gene Robinson as the Apostle to the Sexually Liberated. If, however, He fails to appear, The Episcopal Church's Enlightened Ones might have to conclude that the church is doomed.