Virginia Episcopalians in Revolt
Tensions in the American Episcopal Church are finally causing a long-anticipating schism, with several Virginia churches pulling out.
For about 30 years, the Episcopal Church has been one big unhappy family. Under one roof there were female bishops and male bishops who would not ordain women. There were parishes that celebrated gay weddings and parishes that denounced them; theologians sure that Jesus was the only route to salvation, and theologians who disagreed.
Now, after years of threats, the family is breaking up. As many as eight conservative Episcopal churches in Virginia are expected to announce today that their parishioners have voted to cut their ties with the Episcopal Church. Two are large, historic congregations that minister to the Washington elite and occupy real estate worth a combined $27 million, which could result in a legal battle over who keeps the property.
In a twist, these wealthy American congregations are essentially putting themselves up for adoption by Anglican archbishops in poorer dioceses in Africa, Asia and Latin America who share conservative theological views about homosexuality and the interpretation of Scripture with the breakaway Americans.
Together, these Americans and their overseas allies say they intend to form a new American branch that would rival or even supplant the Episcopal Church in the worldwide Anglican Communion, a confederation of national churches that trace their roots to the Church of England and the archbishop of Canterbury.
The idea of the congregations in an Episcopal church revolting against their bishop is quite bizarre. After all, the belief apostolic succession of the bishops is a defining tenant of what it means to be Episcopal; indeed, that’s what the name means.
Still, there’s no doubt that the church has become virtually nihilistic. Episcopalians openly joke about the fact that they don’t really believe in much of anything. It has become very much a priesthood of all believers, with a total rejection of a unified, hierarchical doctrine.
I’m surprised, frankly, that it has taken people this long to get sick of that. A central reason people attend church to begin with is to be part of something bigger than themselves to create a sense of order. If you’re going to be left to your own conscience to determine your own private morality, you might as well just be a free agent and keep the tithe.