I am witnessing the approach of a decision in my home parish of Grace Church concerning whether to sever itself from the Episcopal Church. The decision has been a long time coming. Few institutions or individuals would wallow in indecision over any serious matter – finances, personal relationships, career choices – for such a protracted period of time before having some sort of resolution. We have done so for 6 years as a Communion. Remarkably, some still argue for more delay, awaiting the “next thing.”
I think I can assess this situation with a little detachment, having finally given up on Anglicanism itself. The issue is an issue of authority, and Anglicanism has been in a constant struggle of authority since it departed from the leadership of the Pope. Anglicanism, lacking effective mechanisms to maintain discipline, is entering upon a period of ecclesial and theological anarchy. I am speaking of Anglicanism minus the Episcopal Church, which is entering a period of apostate hegemony. It (TEC) is likely to survive as a curious blend of secular humanism cloaked in a thin veil of Christianity… non-belief masquerading in Christian costume. Anglicans, on the other hand, will contend for orthodoxy, but will remain unstable and fragmented within and beyond the United States. Even so, this is better than the Episcopal way of “walking apart” from Christendom. Though I will depart for the Roman Catholic Church, at a yet undetermined point, I still consider myself a friend of Grace Church and I want what is best for this parish. I am attending RCIA classes, and Roman Masses which do not conflict with my service to Grace Church. This is the honorable way of serving my parish, even as I am making plans to depart. I will fulfill my duties at Grace Church, as best as I am able and allowed to fulfill them, until the end. This is part of my service in offering my unreserved opinion.
But back to the decision Grace Church faces. The parish has entered upon a “discernment” period, in which an effort will be made to educate (without indoctrinating) the “ostrich party” within the church of the serious issues dividing the Episcopal Church, and the need to come to grips with them. I feel most parishioners are very well acquainted with the situation, and either favor or oppose separation, but there are still those who are in denial that anything is wrong that benign neglect won’t cure.
Then there are those who want to be done with the Episcopal Church, but think waiting just a little longer will surely take us to a “soft landing.” These will listen to any remotely plausible theory which will get us past the necessity of incurring any risk or pain. They are ready to wait for the next rosy best-case scenario which will get us to the promised land – a safe orthodox Anglican province which has the full approval of Canterbury.
Here is the latest theory of a safe landing:
a. As the final act of the “Windsor” process, an Anglican Covenant will be produced in final draft in May of 2009.
b. Provinces will be able to embrace this Covenant (or suggest revisions) any time thereafter, thereby establishing their authenticity as truly Anglican.
c. The Episcopal Church in its General Convention (July 2009) will decline to take up the Covenant.
d. Canterbury will signal its acceptance of approval by “renegade” covenanting dioceses such as our own, which will establish our membership in the Communion, while The Episcopal Church is left as a less-than-Anglican outsider.
e. This solves our problem.
NO IT DOESN’T.
Here are several reasons why it won’t work, i.e. it will not result in Grace Church’s separation from The Episcopal Church. While many snags and wrinkles are as yet unforeseen, we can clearly see this much: The Diocese of Western Louisiana may indeed endorse the Anglican Covenant; it will not leave The Episcopal Church. The two are entirely different matters. Leaving the Episcopal Church to affiliate with a new orthodox Anglican Province cannot get the approval of a majority of lay and clergy, as the last two diocesan conventions have shown. Much milder resolutions, neither involving canonical changes, failed to receive a majority of both orders. This would require radical canonical changes like those passed in Pittsburg, for two successive years. Ain’t gonna happen here.
The Diocese of Western Louisiana has been Windsor compliant, while the National Church has not. Western Louisiana can be “Covenant compliant” in the same way, while the National Church is not. In two years most of the “Communion Partners” may well have accepted the Covenant, all the while remaining as much under 815 (National Headquarters) as they were before. One or two may take the next step and leave TEC. Western Louisiana will not. Those who try will face the same legal onslaught as has been visited upon the departing Network dioceses.
We have to face it: the time to leave is NOW, not later. Our Bishop is not immortal. While he would not be happy to lose a strong “resource parish” like Grace Church, he is not going to persecute Christians whose witness impels them to separate themselves from the “New Episcopal Religion.” Like John Howe of Florida, he is likely to negotiate settlements with departing parishes. He is no cat’s paw for Katherine Jefferts-Schori, and Louisiana law is not the fertile field for legal contests that have met success for the national church in New York, Massachusetts or California. Has any diocesan bishop simply refused the Presiding Bishop’s instructions to sue? Not that we know of. We only know that some are not suing and are getting away with it. Maybe the financial resources of TEC to conduct litigation on so many fronts are indeed running out.
The argument that we have "no where to go" is dead. The new Province will be reality before the end of 2008, according to those who are creating it, like Bishop Duncan. This positions Grace Church to vote on joining this new Anglican Province in January, at our annual parish meeting, if the leadership of Grace Church will allow it to be brought to a vote. I hope this is the case.
As long as Grace is part of the Diocese of Western Louisiana, its contribution to the diocese (restricted or otherwise) helps the diocese send an apportionment to The Episcopal Church. Part of that is going to fund the legal assaults on orthodox entities. In contributing to the diocese we are enabling these un-Christian actions against our brothers and sisters in Christ. One more reason to
In closing, I saw a sign in West Monroe this past weekend which said, it is better to have a backbone than a wishbone. I feel Anglicanism has counted on its wishbone for far too long.