Damocles’ Sword Unsheathed

One astute ecclesiastical commentator here in the States has termed the present centripetal collapse of American Anglicanism the ‘balkanization of the Episcopal Church.’ I think him spot on.

On Saturday 7th June, the laity and clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire elected the Revd Canon V Eugene Robinson as bishop to succeed the Rt Revd Douglas Thuener, the current diocesan, upon his retirement. This would not in itself be newsworthy but that Gene Robinson is an openly gay priest. Robinson, 56, abandoned his wife and two daughters almost two decades ago and has been living with his current partner for the past 13 years.

The joy of election

The Canon’s election was greeted by the delegates in St Paul’s Church, Concord, where the election was held, with wild applause, dancing in the aisles, and a hug and a kiss from his partner, Mark Andrew, who joined him at the altar rail at the announcement of his victory. ‘Get to know my love of the Lord. Get to know my devotion to the Church. Get to know my devotion to my family,’ Robinson said following his election. ‘Look for God as we travel this road together. It is going to be a wild, wonderful, spirit-led ride. So buckle up.’ Uh-huh.

The usual suspects on the left weighed in on Robinson’s election. ‘To see the way people reacted and their joy today was the highlight of my life,’ Deacon Willis Ottery said. ‘I felt closer to God today than I ever have before.’ ‘It is wonderful!’ the Revd Bryon Jones, Rector of St Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Long Beach, California, opined. ‘I think it’s appropriate that it’s happening on Pentecost, in the spirit of God opening up in that church.’

‘I expect there are people who will say they cannot vote for an openly gay person,’ Bishop Theuner said to the media following the election. ‘I hope they are in the minority.’ Bishop John Chane of Washington, DC, a long-time gay champion in the Church, issued a statement following the election declaring the selection to be ‘guided and directed by the action of the Holy Spirit’, and warned the bishops and laity who must give consent for Robinson’s election at the triennial General Convention meeting in July before a consecration can proceed not to withhold that consent lest they ‘challenge … the revelation of the Holy Spirit upon which Episcopalians and Anglicans throughout the world-wide Anglican Communion place great credence, faith and trust.’ The Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, had no comment.

And its misery

And the usual suspects on the traditionalist side likewise issued statements following the election. Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh called it a ‘grievous wound’ to unity of the Church, whilst bishops Ed Salmon and William Skilton of South Carolina said it caused them ‘the greatest possible concern’. Fr David Moyer, President of FiF/NA, declared in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer that the election is evidence of the erosion of the Faith and Order of the Christian religion.

Do not be mistaken: this election of a public, practising homosexual to the office of bishop in the Episcopal Church is not merely a revisionist shot across the traditionalist bow, but could prove to be a torpedo amidships. It contravenes the clear resolution of the 1998 Lambeth Conference which declared gay sex ‘incompatible with Scripture’. It flies in the face of resolutions and canons in the Episcopal Church which have affirmed sexual expression appropriate only within the bounds of the lifelong, exclusive union of a husband and wife called marriage.

It tramples on 4,000 years of unanimous and unambiguous moral teaching in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. And it elevates an activity which God says is an abomination (and for which he destroyed two entire cities in Genesis 19) to the position of an undeniable good. Indeed, it is unlikely that even the most mushy-headed liberal would not discern the blatant contradiction in the Church allowing a sodomite bishop to have a see, while simultaneously refusing other gays and lesbians the privilege of rites of union in the same Church. Thus, it is clear that Robinson’s consecration, should it occur, is intrinsically bound to the ultimate victory of the gay lobby and its agenda in the Episcopal Church – and might very well be the impetus for it.

Strategies of opposition

There have of course been rumblings emanating from the traditionalist camp – from clergy and laity alike – about opposing the canon’s consecration, by marshalling sufficient political force to ensure that the necessary consent is not given at next month’s General Convention. And while it is always dangerous to prognosticate about such matters, I must say that such an eventual hoped for outcome is unlikely. It is so, firstly, because the above strategy depends simply and finally on a superior quantity of votes by our side, and the slow but steady haemorrhage of traditionalists from the Episcopal Church over the last two decades all but guarantees our lack of the required number of votes to prevail.

Secondly, a successful campaign against Robinson’s consecration demands from traditionalists a redoubtable courage and singularity of will, both of which are currently in short supply and have been for some time. The balkanization of the Episcopal Church (the triumph of so-called ‘local option’, which obviates the accountability required by unified decisions in the Church, and allows each diocesan to do what he/she wants, when he/she wants within his/her diocese, with flagrant and impious disregard for consensus) has fostered a timid provincialism among orthodox priests and bishops.

This provincialism manifests itself most acutely in traditionalist clergy taking stands in their own dioceses which will not have political cost, but refraining from taking stands on national issues, in other dioceses, which might. It is extremely unlikely that a bishop heretofore lacking the backbone to resist the enemies of the cross in the House of Bishops, on matters such as divorce and remarriage in the Church and the ordination of women, will suddenly find one now and resist the consecration of an active homosexual.

Dire warnings about the imminent sundering or collapse of the Episcopal Church in the United States have become tired and meaningless. Nevertheless, I believe the election of Gene Robinson is a watershed moment. It is impossible for me to see how the Episcopal Church can continue hobbling on with such rancour and division for much longer, especially in light of the shock and awe tactics employed by the left, which first seek toleration for a novelty in the Church, then forces it as a de fide demand on the Church.

Brethren, pray for us.

The Revd Quintin Morrow is Rector of St Andrew’s Church in the Diocese of Fort Worth.