Saturday, June 20, 2009

Conservatives Push For Rival U.S. Anglican Church

by Barbara Bradley Hagerty
Audio for this story will be available Sunday at approx. 12:00 p.m. ET

[NPR source link] Weekend Edition Sunday, June 21, 2009 · Martyn Minns recalls the moment he knew he had to leave the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It was 2005. He was rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, Va., and he was talking with a young family who told him they could no longer attend a church that accepted gay bishops or diverged from what they called Orthodox Christianity.

"As I looked at them, I realized that I had a decision to make," he says. "Either I moved with them into a rather uncertain future, or I lost the heart of the congregation. So for me it was a matter of, 'Do I want the church of the future, or the church of the past?' "

Soon after that, Minns' church bolted from the American Episcopal Church and aligned itself with the conservative archbishop of the Anglican province of Nigeria. Now he and other church leaders representing more than 700 congregations, four dioceses and up to 100,000 churchgoers are meeting in Bedford, Texas. They hope to form a new Anglican province in the U.S. — one that would rival the Episcopal Church.

Mainline Church Irked, Not Worried

The Rev. Ryan Reed of St. Vincent's Cathedral, which is hosting the Bedford conference, says conservatives have tried to stay in the "big tent" of Anglicanism.

"The problem," Reed says, "is in the last 30 years, the boundaries of that tent, or those views, have expanded so far that you can find leadership in the Episcopal Church that is radically not Christian in terms of their understanding of the cross, the Resurrection, the uniqueness of Christ, the authority of Scripture."

Reed says the Episcopal Church is following culture, not the Bible. When it ordained a gay bishop in 2003, he says, the conservatives finally decided to offer an alternative. That view irks — but does not worry — leaders in the mainline church.

"The folks that are gathering in Texas represent a small, conservative fringe within the Episcopal Church," says Susan Russell, a minister at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif., and a leader in the church's gay rights movement.

"Their goal has been to vote the American Episcopal Church off the Anglican island," she says. "They failed at that over and over again, and now they're trying to re-create a new province in their own image."

Breakaway Province Unlikely To Be Recognized

Russell believes they won't succeed this time, either. For one thing, she says, they would probably need the approval of two-thirds of the 38 Anglican leaders around the world to create a separate Anglican province in the United States. Currently, only a handful of those leaders have signed on publicly. Plus, she says, leaders of the breakaway faction would need the recognition of the archbishop of Canterbury — and that hasn't happened.

"It would be as if Sarah Palin were to take a small, but vocal, percentage of very conservative Republicans and decide that they were going to create a parallel United States without having the White House at the center," Russell says.

George Pitcher, an Anglican priest at St. Bride's Anglican Church in London and religion editor at the Daily Telegraph, agrees. He says the communion welcomes conservative views.

But, he says, "when they want to say this is the one true way, and we want to impose it on all Anglicans, then it's at that stage that the broadly tolerant Anglican Communion says, 'Well that's not the way we do things.' "

Conservative Churches Growing

In the past, a number of conservative groups have left the worldwide communion over things like women's ordination or the prayer book. And they've shrunk into virtual irrelevance.

But this time, it might be different, says religion historian David L. Holmes at the College of William and Mary. He says the American conservatives have the backing of many leaders in Africa and South America, who represent more than half of all Anglicans worldwide.

Moreover, Holmes says, the Episcopal Church has shrunk 40 percent in little more than a generation, whereas these conservative churches are growing.

"My sense would be if the Episcopal Church continued to lose members in a striking way, and this new group kept gaining members, it would be a new ballgame," he says.

Minns says he is not expecting the conservatives will succeed overnight.

"I think it will take a while," he says. "These things normally do. These provinces take sometimes decades to be recognized, so we're not holding our breath on that."

But Minns does believe time, demographics and theology are on their side.

12 comments:

John said...

Ah, yes. Nothing says "Jesus" more than schism. Methinks that this is addition by subtraction.es

Neil Houghton said...

From the article, Mimms:

"So for me it was a matter of, 'Do I want the church of the future, or the church of the past?'"

Kind of sums it up. Do we believe in Living God or a God that was around thousands of years ago, gave us a set a rule (as ambiguous and contradictory as they are) and walked away to let us decide with to worship HIM?

KJ said...

So if I'm following this correctly, Marty chose the church of the past.

IT said...

HOw can they believe "demographics are on their side" when polls show that acceptance of gay people is highest in the young?

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

IT ... they don't read the polls?

Thanks for all the nice feedback ... and yes, as soon as the "Sarah Palin" analogy was out of my mouth, I thought "She's SO going to use that!" :)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

The Sarah Palin zing was brilliant. We'll have to check back in in about, oh, say, another 100 years and see how their "new" church is doing. Bets, anyone?

uffda51 said...

“Reed says the Episcopal Church is following culture, not the Bible.”

How demeaning - to the LGBT community, to progressives, to centuries of Biblical scholars, i.e., those of us who don’t view Cecil B. DeMille’s versions of “The Ten Commandments” and “Kings of Kings” as documentaries.

As for “radically not Christian in terms of their understanding of the cross, the Resurrection, the uniqueness of Christ, the authority of Scripture,” the Jewish Christians of the first century might not qualify as “Christian” either.

Kathy said...

Hmmm, interesting quote regarding the decline in the Episcopal Church and the increase in conservative churchs. I believe the Pew report indicated the RC church recently lost 400,000 in the U.S. and but for the hispanic immigrants to the US they would be down even more in numbers. As a recovering RC that has gratefully found the Episcopal Church, I think the Episcopal Church could make a run at the recent exodus of fleeing former or recovering Catholics if it only tried. Many of these recovering Catholics left because of the 2004 pronouncement about women in the priesthood, the recent prohibition on gays as priests, and/or the sex abuse scandal where the American Catholic Bisphops did nothing to protect the flock but move the wolves around. I think an extended hand to this group would help. Also, I think a few minor additions to many of the liberal or middle ground Episcopal churchs would help. For example, many recovering Catholics like to kneel, they like holy water, and some like incense. These minor additions might help bring in these recovering Catholics that may actually be Episcopals but they just don't know it yet.

Just my two cents.

LGMarshall said...

In these end times.... aren't True Seekers looking for something different than what the World has to offer? --- but currently, TEC matches up directly with the prevailing American Culture.... Demanding Abortion Rights, Demanding Gay Marriage, constantly disrespecting Christians (i.e., Sarah Palin)and their Bible beliefs.

True Seekers will continue to leave TEC, and join Christian Churches. Few newcomers will come -- Because... in the realization of our own dark hearts, we long for a place that will tell us the Truth about Sin, Heaven, & Hell. *(Jesus mentions Hell more often -- so it must be important to Him.)

It seems like those (very few)arriving to TEC hold tightly to their own man-made beliefs. It certainly suited me (for a long time) to have a place where I wasn't challenged and I also enjoyed the pats on the back re my false modesty.

(Generally speaking, those that hold Worldly beliefs -- by definition -- aren't much interested in attending church anyway.)

God says that we only have one 'work' to do... and that is to 'Believe in Him'. After that, the #1 thing God wants us to do is be his hands and feet & bring more Believers to Him, by teaching his Word, preaching his Word, and using His Name. (He doesn't want anyone to perish.)

If people (in the last 20 yrs.) are leaving in greater numbers than joining.... then how does that figure into the TEC's Great Commission?

"He said, 'Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.' When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. ' JN 21:6


*It's good to read the Bible, not just books 'about' the Bible.

IT said...

Why is LG Marshall here, spinning frantically, with ever more insulting language? What does he/she hope to achieve by snapping at the people here?

THe Episcopal community we are visiting is growing visibly with many new members (offical members, not just part timers like us) being welcomed. Many of these are former-RC like my wife, but the demographic is wide and the community is vibrant, engaged, and compelling.

LGM lives in a sad, twisted, dark little place obsessed with women and genitals. Very sad, really. I believe you can get help for that, maybe even a pill.

Hank said...

Pitcher says "TEC welcomes conservative views.." Really? Not when it comes to the "LGBT" community- ask the former bishops who were deposed- read the records-let's be honest-TEC censors those views-
LGBT "rights" are certainly appropriate in the constitutional sense- in the laws of man and the world-no doubt- you win conservatives loose- but "rights" in God's kingdom? Are we just talking about rights? I don't think so. To borrow a quote- "One cannot imagine St Francis of Assisi talking about rights". I thought Jesus was about more than just some one-dimensional LGBT idea of "rights"- i must be confewsed.....the movement in Texas will flourish- i'll take all the bets because its about more than just "rights"-

JCF said...

Hank: "i must be confewsed"

Best misspelling ever!