July 24, 2009
The Episcopal Church in the United States took another major step toward ensuring its own demise last week, by adopting a resolution endorsing the ordination of homosexuals as clergy and bishops.
The resolution, adopted at the denominations General Convention, said that gay and lesbian persons … have responded to Gods call and have exercised various ministries, and declared that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church.
The resolution was widely interpreted as abandoning a moratorium on the ordination of homosexual bishops that was adopted after the furor surrounding the appointment of Gene Robinson, a homosexual man, as the Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. Several branches of the worldwide Anglican Communion, particularly the more conservative churches in Africa, rejected the decision to elevate Robinson. In the U.S., a number of Episcopal parishes and dioceses have already left the Episcopal Church altogether, and they recently organized as the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).
The Episcopal General Convention three years ago adopted a resolution urging restraint regarding the elevation of any bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church. The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the highest ranking official in the worldwide Anglican Communion, had told the convention, I hope and pray that there wont be decisions in the coming days that will push us further apart.
Sponsors of this years resolution denied that it constituted a repeal of the earlier statement, but Pamela Reamer Williams of Integrity USA, a pro-homosexual advocacy group, declared that this years action supersedes the effective moratorium.
Most observers believe that this years resolution may be the last straw that results in a complete rupture of relationships between the Episcopal Church and most other worldwide Anglicans. Jeff Walton of the Institute for Religion and Democracy noted, In the Anglican Communion, 22 out of 37 other provinces are already in a state of either impaired or broken communion with the Episcopal Church. [Source]
The liberal Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori, warned against recognition of the new ACNA by declaring that schism is not a Christian act. But British theologian (and Bishop of Durham) Tom Wright pointed out in the Times of London that it is the Episcopal Church which is formalizing the schism they initiated six years ago by consecrating Robinson as bishop. This marks a clear break with the rest of the Anglican Communion, said Wright.
One aspect of the resolution that has not attracted much media attention is that it appears to use money as a weapon to discourage any action against the Episcopal Church by the Anglican Communion. The resolution reaffirm[s] its financial commitment to the Anglican Communion, and the accompanying explanation notes that in 2007 the Episcopal Church contributed $661,000 to the Inter-Anglican budgetmore than a third of the total of $1,864,000. Presumably the resolution was hinting that this funding would be in jeopardy if the Anglican Communion were to break with the Episcopal Church.
In addition to a break with worldwide Anglicans, the Episcopal Church action is likely to lead to further erosion here in the United States as well. News about the release of the American Religious Identification Survey earlier this year focused on the 10% drop since 1990 in the percentage of Americans who identify as Christians (from 86% to 76%), without noting that almost all of the decline occurred in the 1990s. But they also failed to highlight that the biggest drop in Christian self-identification has come among the more liberal mainline Protestant bodiessuch as the Episcopal Church, which dropped from 3.5 million adherents in 2001 to only 2.4 million in 2008.