2014: Seizing the Moment. How Episcopalians and Anglicans Will Fare

COMMENTARY

By David W. Virtue
www.virtueonline.org

he year past ended with one of the worst and most litigious years in the history of the Episcopal Church. At a time when congregations are shrinking and closing, millions of dollars are being spent on lawyers to take back church buildings that will inevitably be sold off to other (evangelical) church groups, to Muslims…anybody except to orthodox Anglican churches that could keep them open as places of Anglican worship.

The Episcopal Church is now more dysfunctional than ever and more and more people, especially Millenials, are simply not interested in The Episcopal Church and its constant rants about the need to accept pansexuality as a prevailing cultural issue. Talk of inclusion and diversity has not stirred them to suddenly fill Episcopal churches. Pews are emptying and will continue to empty with no salvific message of redemption and hope being heard from pulpits.

Endless preoccupation with social and “justice” issues, whether it is about the Middle East or women’s rights to abortion, or gay marriage, will not and is not, making churches grow. People are spiritually starving and hurting. There is more pain out there than ever before. Suicides are up, divorce is still rampant and perhaps the biggest single unaddressed issue in America today is loneliness. Millenials are not committing themselves to much of anything and, apart from occasionally “hooking up”, they are not committed to life-long marriage. I recently heard a wedding vow in which both partners said “till love do us part” not death.

A whole generation has given up on the church. Millenials don’t care. Once upon a time, they would have looked to the Church for aid and comfort. No more. Nowadays, people turn to therapists and psychologists of one stripe or another for help along with self-help gurus, professional advisors, and financial advisors. No one really believes a clergy person has the answers they need for the angst in their souls. Gnosticism, agnosticism, atheism, skepticism and naturalism rule the day.

In my own view, the main cause of spiritual dysfunction in the church is now the almost complete focus on the church as little more than a community for outreach on a variety of social issues. Secondly, there is a complete loss of nerve in proclaiming the exclusive claims of Christ to a nation in urgent need of hearing them. Furthermore, one rarely hears any talk of sin, except perhaps in corporate terms; hence there is no need for salvation. Inclusion and diversity is the hallmark of most churches with a nod to the creeds and sacraments. Today you are more likely to hear talk of Interfaith Alliances and going along to get along. No one is willing to stand up and say “this is the Word of the Lord” — it stands over all time, space and history.

Mega churches, health and wealth prosperity purveyors have watered down and neutered the gospel to make it fit with the modern mindset. The prevailing mantra is that one dare not offend…anyone, except of course those who dare say that there is such a thing as absolute truth.

Witness the latest Duck Dynasty fiasco. The Patriarch of a family dared to say that the Bible opposed sodomy and he got taken down by a film channel. (He was restored because of a vast pushback by the general public). But that is rare. There has been no push back against the gaystapo tactics of homosexual leaders who yell and scream homophobia at anyone, including the Boys Scouts of America, churches (that still maintain a biblical stance on sexual ethics) B & B owners, bakeries that won’t bake same sex “marriage” cakes, and more. They must be eviscerated, fined and jailed, made to feel guilty for being less than inclusive of a behavior that the Center for Disease Control says is rampantly worse now than it was in the 80s.

There is no push back against the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church with whatever she utters…either about the resurrection of Jesus, His uniqueness over all creation, her Dominion vs Domination views of minorities in countries like the U.S., her spending of tens of millions of dollars on lawyers to take back parishes she and most of her predecessors never had a hand in building. Her demand for total fealty by her bishops is unremitting even when a small number (9) offer palliative support of a once fellow bishop over property issues.

There is mercilessness in her dealings with bishops like Mark Lawrence and Jack Iker that would make the Borgia Popes wince. There is still talk of selling the church’s national headquarters in NYC to pay the huge litigation costs. Nothing is going to stop the legal roller coaster so long as she is in office. Before she leaves office she will have spent down the family farm so to speak.

A survey of the Episcopal Church at the end of 2013 does not bode well for its future.

* The average age of an Episcopalian is now between 64-66
* The average size congregation is about 66.
* The church is still overwhelmingly white and Middle Class; all the programs of anti-racism training and the promotion of black bishops have not substantially changed those demographics.
* Even while the Episcopal Church’s overwhelming talk of love of the poor and its promulgation of food banks, more Americans, 46.5 million, are now living in poverty than at any time in the nation’s history and child poverty, at 22 percent, is the highest of any major country. The Episcopal Church cannot begin to scratch the surface of these social needs even though it maintains a political lobby in Washington DC.
* A double irony is that The Diocese of Washington would be broke if it was not for the interest on the Soper Fund that basically keeps it afloat.
* While TEC lobbies for women’s rights (read abortion advocacy), there is no new generation coming along to fill emptying Episcopal pews. You abort, you die. Millenials are not interested in The Episcopal Church.
* Advocating for more women, gays and lesbians to fill pulpits has not filled pews. If your message is not that significantly different from what is advocated by the world around you and by newspapers, television and Hollywood, why bother with church.
* Suicide is the third largest killer of young people, and #2 among those aged 25-34. More than twice as many Americans kill themselves – as are murdered. In 2006, there were 45,300 highway deaths and only 33,300 suicides. That situation has reversed. Traffic deaths plunged to only 34,700 in 2011 while suicides jumped to 38,300. Would any of these people find comfort and consolation in an Episcopal Church or from a priest preaching inclusion and diversity from a pulpit? “How then will you comfort me with empty nothings?” cried Job. (Job 21:34)

At the very root of The Episcopal Church dilemma is a complete loss of nerve in proclaiming a strong message of God’s love AND salvation through the cross. The first half of the message cannot be separated from the second half of the message. That has been the fatal error of contemporary Episcopalianism.

ACNA

The bigger and deeper question is can the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) save Anglicanism in North America? There was hope that the AMIA might do it but that now seems unlikely. The first great split of 1977 from The Episcopal Church raised hopes that the Continuing churches might pull it off. But they have only succeeded in splintering and dissipating their energies in internecine warfare. There are, however, shards of light that four of the leading Continuing players are moving closer together.

The ACNA now claims 25 dioceses with almost 100,000 members in upwards of 800 plus congregations. By any account, Archbishop Robert Duncan has succeeded where no one to date has been successful. It is a mark of his genius that he has held it all together. He has drawn together the Reformed Episcopal Church, at one extreme, and Anglo-Catholics like Bishop Jack Iker and the Diocese of Ft. Worth at the other.

The advent of the Ordinariatehas syphoned off a number of Anglo-Catholics around the country, but not enough to damage the overall Anglo-Catholic movement which continues in its flagship seminary Nashotah House and in various dioceses like Ft. Worth, San Joaquin and Quincy and in such movements as Forward in Faith.

The evangelically driven Ambridge-based Trinity School for Ministry (TSM) is raising a new generation of evangelical leaders that will feed both TEC and the ACNA.

THE GLOBAL PICTURE

Two noticeable events took place in 2013 that set the tone for 2014.

The first was the enthronement of a new Archbishop of Canterbury in the person of Just Welby, an evangelical, a distinct change from the Affirming Catholicism of Dr. Rowan Williams. His elevation to the top post in the Communion held high promise for evangelical Anglicans around the globe.

African Anglicans, who make up the preponderance of Anglicans in the communion, were ready to be his spear carriers in the charge for a renewed orthodoxy in the face of a growing heterodoxy in North America and Europe. They were bitterly disappointed. His appearance at GAFCON II in Nairobi was greeted with mild applause when it became apparent that he was merely viewing them as just a part of the social and spiritual fabric of Anglicanism and not its axis for renewal.

GAFCON II was the central Anglican fact of 2014. Africans, Asians, Latinos and those orthodox dioceses in Australia, the US and Canada came together and affirmed the faith “once for all delivered to the saints”, announcing that they would continue to cross provincial and diocesan boundaries to rescue orthodox priests and bishops under siege. The ordinations of three young Englishmen by the Archbishop of Kenya in June and the launch of the Anglican Mission in England was a “game-changer” marking a turning point after four and a half years of discussions with and proposals to Lambeth Palace.

The launch of AMIE and the establishment of its panel of bishops indicated that orthodox Anglicans in the Church of England would no longer play the game of politics as defined by the Church of England Establishment.

AMiE is a product of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GFCA), the movement that came into being following the first Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON 1) which took place in Jerusalem in 2008.

The reaffirmation of the Jerusalem Statement and Nairobi Declaration will now and forever be the confessional basis of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.

THE FUTURE

Subsequent events in the Church of England – the Pilling Report, the recognition of homosexual unions if not gay marriage, using gay affirming Stonewall to re-educate Britain’s children on gay issues, the changing of the language of the Prayer Book on baptism initiation — only further indicate to Global South Anglicans that allegiance to the C of E is fast waning as is allegiance to the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Following GAFCON II, bishops in Nigeria threatened once again to pull out from the Church of England, if the Archbishop of Canterbury continues to recognize gay marriages, homosexuality, lesbianism and all other forms of social vices that permit same sex marriage.

The Bishop of Enugu Diocese, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Olisa Chukkwuma announced this on his return from GAFCON, but his boss, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh will have the final say on any such departure.

Patience for the apostasies and heresies of Western pan Anglicanism is wearing thin. The future of Anglicanism lies with the Global South. The perception is, if the ACNA (along with its subsidiaries like CANA) and AMIE, can be the springboard for a renewed Western Anglicanism, the Global South will go along with it. If not, then the whole ball game could change.

END

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