Left with God
All the orthodox organizations in the Episcopal Church, political or not, seem to be losing money, because fewer people are supporting them. I think there are three reasons for this, and that these reasons suggest that the orthodox resistance is changing.
Death and exhaustion First, many of the people who support such ministries have died, retired, or converted to other Churches, but have not been replaced by younger activists. I am not yet forty, but I am never more than the fourth youngest person at any rally of conservative Episcopalians.
As 9 1/2 of the 11 seminaries (or theological colleges) are liberal, most of the younger clergy are either liberal or company men who will accept almost anything as long as the proper processes are followed. The few who are orthodox do not want to be tagged as trouble-makers, because they want to be employed for the next forty years and bishops do not like priests who might be divisive.
The younger laity who would be activists often don’t become Episcopalians at all (why would they?) or have the Baby Boomers disregard for denominational affairs. They could not care less about the Episcopal Church, though being an Episcopalian still has some social appeal, and they are happy to leave if the Church offends them.
Second, many activists seem to be exhausted by years of political activism which has had startlingly little success. This is especially true of those who are now, say, 35 to 60 and suddenly thinking about mortality, and want to leave something more significant than he voted for the losing cause at General Convention.
At this point, ecclesiastical activism just doesn’t seem as good a use of limited time and energy as teaching or writing, visiting the sick, spending more time with the children, witnessing to the lost or even gardening. These seem a better investment in the Kingdom of Heaven than going to more meetings and writing more protesting letters.
I think many of us also feel guilty about the passion with which we charged into battle, a passion most of us rarely gave to reaching the lost or feeding the hungry. We saw in ourselves how the battle for control of the Church deformed our souls and minds, and once exhaustion opened our eyes we did not like it.
In worse shape than ever Third, I think many who have long fought to retake the Episcopal Church from the liberal ascendancy have come to believe that it cannot be retaken politically. (I exclude the willfully optimistic, the worst of whom still deny the problem.) They have given millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours, and the Church is in worse shape than ever.
At the General Convention in Detroit seven years ago, for example, only one bishop publicly rejected the Church’s teaching on homosexuality (Bishop Spong, of course); at the next, in Phoenix four years ago, three or four did; at last years, about seventy-five did. In Phoenix, a proposal that clergy be chaste lost by a few votes in the House of Bishops; last year the conservative bishops thought that they might lose badly, and decided it was better not to risk public defeat.
These activists believe that they should do what God has given them to do, and particularly to minister first to their families and friends and parishes. If the Episcopal Church is to be recaptured, it will be by the renewal of individuals and parishes serving God where they are. And, further, that this work will not be wasted even if the Episcopal Church disappears, and thus is a wiser use of ones time and energy.
Not really depressing This decline in the activists strength is not as depressing as it seems. It has alarmed those who have put too much faith in the Episcopal Church, and I think made it an idol, but it has encouraged many of those who think they have lost.
Many of us are exhausted yet also much more cheerful than we have been, I think because we have finally been stripped of the illusion of our own self-sufficiency, and left with God. In some cases this has led to real conversions, when people for whom religion had become routine suddenly rediscovered the life that had brought them to Christ years earlier.
Being left with God, we can view the continued collapse of the Episcopal Church with a new sense of peace, and of hope. Which lack of concern for our success is far more dangerous to the liberal ascendancy than our activism ever was.
David Mills is the editor of the Episcopal Synod’s journal The Evangelical Catholic, and the director of publishing at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. His Collapsing Churches: A Sociological Analysis is published by Reform.