Principles of arrogance
Anyone following events in The Episcopal Church (TEC) can observe certain unwavering principles of change that have been propagated, in one form or another, by those leading the charge of revolutionary innovation. I would summarize these principles as follows:
“The Bible may offer guidance in some areas of life, but any scriptures that vary from current sociological and political presuppositions should be ignored as relics culturally conditioned by a now-antiquated world view. We are therefore no longer bound by the authority of holy scripture, the teaching of the apostles, or the practice of catholic Christendom over the centuries. Gender no longer matters. The revolutionary changes we seek are matters of human rights and social justice. We in TEC are better informed than those who went before in discerning Gods hidden plan for his Church. The Holy Spirit guides us and sets us free from the past, so all we do will be consistent with the will of God. If some in our church resist our prophetic changes, we will push the change ahead anyway to demonstrate the Tightness of our views. Eventually the rest of the Anglican Communion will recognize our wisdom and imitate us.’
Not 2003 but 1976
If any reader thinks I have just outlined how the 2003 General Convention rationalized its consent to the consecration of V. Gene Robinson and winked at the blessing of homosexual unions, think again. The principles just outlined did not first appear in 2003. Rather they are the exact principles The Episcopal Church acted on when it approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate in 1976. A close examination of the principles will reveal that several run contrary to classical Anglican formularies, and others reveal nothing more than American arrogance.
These principles emerged with clarity in 1973 just after the General Convention in Touisville declined to authorize the ordination of women to the priesthood. On 29 July 1974, the principle of ‘push ahead anyway’ was activated when 11 female deacons were ordained to the priesthood in Philadelphia, in defiance of
the General Convention and contrary to the Constitution and Canons.
How did the church respond? The 1976 General Convention (Minneapolis I) was persuaded that the illegal ordinations in Philadelphia, and four more in Washington, were prophetic rather than defiant. By the margin of a hairs breadth, the 1976 convention consented to a minor change in the canons that allowed the ordination of women as priests and bishops.
Contrary to recent assertions of Bonnie Anderson, the new president of the House of Deputies, this change was only pushed through because it was understood that the ordination of women would be permissive only, never mandatory. No bishop or diocese, we were assured at the time, would ever be forced to adopt this new practice which was contrary to the theology of holy orders held by many in our own church, and also flew in the face of Roman Catholics and Orthodox with whom we were actively pursuing ecumenism.
A firm assurance
Consequently, after witnessing the firestorm unleashed by the 1976 convention, as individuals and whole parishes began to head for the door, the House of Bishops issued a pastoral letter in October, 1977, On The Matter of Conscience, which said in part, ‘We have sought to recognize that many were dismayed because of General Conventions action concerning the ordination of women… We do affirm that one is not a disloyal Episcopalian if he or she abstains from supporting the decision or continues to be convinced it was an error. We call for careful avoidance of any kind of pressure which might lead either an advocate or an opponent of the action to offend against his or her conscience… The Minnesota Convention sought to permit but not to coerce. We affirm that no members of the Church should be penalized for conscientious objection to, or support of, the ordination of women. A vivid personal example is the Presiding Bishop himself. He has acknowledged his inability thus far to affirm such ordinations.’
Despite such assurances, the principles of revolutionary change outlined here took deep root and now hold TEC in an iron – and apparently unbreakable – grip. They are the operative principles behind many of the actions of some of our bishops and others since Minneapolis I.
So it should have been no surprise when Minneapolis II (2003) consented to the consecration of a man living in a homosexual partnership, and tacitly approved the ongoing practice (of many years) of priests and bishops publicly endorsing homosexual conduct and blessing homosexual relationships. While that same 1977 pastoral letter said ‘this Church confines its nuptial blessing to the union of male and female,’ and that the bishops ‘agree to deny ordination to an advocating and/or practicing homosexual person,’ arguing that ‘in each case we must not condone what we believe God wills to redeem,’ the gay-rights lobby continued its unrelenting assault. Its goal was to force acceptance of not only homosexual orientation but also of homosexual conduct, and to demand further that such conduct be not only tolerated but also blessed by the church.
This badgering wore down the resistance and carried the day when the 2003 convention consented to the consecration of a man who in many dioceses not many years before would have been deposed for immorality. The Episcopal Church had swallowed the gay-rights’ lure hook, line, and sinker.
Why the surprise? Have we lost our minds, or only our memories? Have Episcopalians forgotten that at least one of the ‘Philadelphia 11’ illegally ordained to the priesthood in 1974, Carter Heyward, was a lesbian? The same Dr Heyward, described in a Sept. 10, 1981, Episcopal News Service article as ‘an openly avowed lesbian priest on the faculty of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., who has done much to speak out for justice for gay/lesbian people in the Church and elsewhere,’ concelebrated at the altar during the consecration of Bishop Barbara Harris, in 1989.
So the outcry over Gene Robinson’s consecration rings hollow, and comes too late. Tet’s tune up our memories. The principles of revolutionary change that reached full bloom at Minneapolis II were planted at Minneapolis I, where credulous Episcopalians either knowingly – or unwittingly – planted the seeds of destruction for apostolic faith and order in this part of God’s Church.
Though many will continue to deny it, the principles used to justify the ordination of women as priests and bishops, when watered and cultivated, grew into the justification for homosexual priests (and bishops) and for homosexual ‘marriage.’ Those who cannot see the clear connection and progression are, I suspect, simply blinding themselves to the plain, glaring facts of history.
The Very Revd John R. Spencer is the vicar of St Francis’ Church, Dunlap, Illinois.
This article first appeared in The Living Church, 17June 2007
Living with ambiguity
Years ago, when I met with one of the advisors on my PhD committee, he told me that if I was going to survive the programme I would have to learn to live with ambiguity. He was correct. This acquired skill had one unexpected by-product: it allowed me to live with Anglicanism in the United States.
Who is Anglican?
When my parish was negotiating to leave the Episcopal Church I was told that we could not use the term ‘Anglican since we would not be in communion with Canterbury. Our Episcopal visitor was a diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church. I was eventually licensed in five Episcopal dioceses. As you know, the majority of Episcopal bishops ordained women and discriminated against those who could not accept women’s ordination on theological grounds. In a number of Episcopal dioceses the women’s movement had special services using milk and honey intending to represent women’s bodily fluids. On the other end of the spectrum, not long ago I attend an AMIA (Anglican Mission in America) meeting where the communion service had no words of institution!
What does it mean to be an Anglican? What must one believe? I am not saying that all members of the Episcopal Church or all members of AMIA have strayed from the Faith Once Given. There are many Episcopal priests and a number of bishops who are orthodox and/or Anglo-Catholics. There are members of AMIA who hold the Catholic faith and understand Anglican worship. And there are some in both groups whom most of us would question. At best, it is a sloppy situation.
Like most seminary-trained Episcopal priests, I once had a certain distrust of those in the Continuum. There was a sense that many of their clergy had worked their way up from parish lay reader to parish priest. Worse than that was the perception that they had almost as many clergy as parishioners. After I was deposed for leaving the ‘communion of the church’, I attended the recent Synod of the Diocese of the Holy Cross, a diocese which requires its members to be members of Forward in Faith. Talk about eating crow! Yes, some of the clergy did not have an MDiv but ‘only’ a license in theology. They, of course, knew more Greek, Hebrew and Latin than I. Many of the other clergy had multiple degrees. Of the twenty-some clergy there, eleven had earned doctorates.
I have heard many criticisms of continuum bishops because they never sat in the Episcopal House of Bishops. Yet, some of these same critics have no difficulty making common cause with Anglican and Episcopal bishops who support the ordination of women and may even have discrete and genteel doubts about the Real Presence.
Yes, many of the continuing parishes are small. Average Sunday attendance is under 70. Yet, if the truth be told, a full 70% of Episcopal parishes also
have attendance 70 or below! There is a website which provides attendance and giving statistics about every parish in the Episcopal Church