WHICH IS WORSE, heresy or schism?, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church asked its Executive Council (a sort of Archbishops’ Council of Episcopalianism) at a recent meeting in Parsippany, New Jersey. His answer was predictable. Heresy, he opined, can be corrected over time by the community and sometimes what is thought to be heresy, such as the belief that the earth revolves round the sun, is later found to be true. Schism, on the other hand, is difficult to repair once a break has been made. Truth is discovered in communion. Schism is the shattering of communion. In order to discover God’s truth, everyone has to be at the table.
Then why did the Episcopal Church ordain to the priesthood and the episcopate those whose orders it knew would not be and could not be accepted in a majority of other provinces and would prove an impediment to ecumenical relations with the greater part of Christendom?
That schismatic act ended, perhaps forever, the mutuality in ministry which had previously expressed the fullness of koinonia which Anglicans once enjoyed. It ensured that they could no longer sit down together at the same table. It was an action, involving ‘a principal instrument given by God for the maintenance of true communion’ [English House of Bishops, GS 829, para 33(b)]; an action which was both definitive and (in every practical sense) irreversible.
Why, if Unity trumps Truth in the present debate about human sexuality, did Truth trump Unity in the matter of women’s ordination? And why, when the plea is for diversity of opinion about same sex marriages, is the General Convention seeking to persecute into conformity those dioceses still opposed to women priests?
It is all very puzzling. But those who did not follow the Presiding Bishop’s logic in this matter may care to consider the following.
Irritated by the intransigence of orthodox Christians on the subject of homosexual relationships he reflected recently upon the attitude of the Episcopal Church to divorce and remarriage. On that issue, he said, ‘the Church has set aside what Jesus actually said without causing any concern.’ Why, he wondered, if the Church can ignore a word from the Lord, can it not equally ignore Paul and Leviticus?
Now that’s a proposition which has a logic all its own…