Beliefnet
Just before Christmas, my neighbor and I were hauling our trash to the curb. She mentioned her family's desire to live near a parochial school, so I asked if she were Catholic. When she said yes, my first and natural impulse was to tell her I was an Episcopalian. But then I did a quick calculation. It was cold; we were both in a hurry to get back inside. I didn't have time to explain that I was an Episcopalian, BUT that I wasn't in agreement with the Episcopal Church's highly publicized decision to consecrate a gay bishop. So remained silent.and ashamed.

Today, American Anglicans who are upset with the official church's decision to ordain a gay bishop are gathering in Texas to form a Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes. Around a dozen dioceses will be represented by bishops, priests, and laity. Representatives from regional "mission districts" (from parishes outside those dioceses), as well as at least one non-geographical mission district (representing parishes that oppose the ordination of women), will also participate.

So why are they coming together? First, because the Archbishop of Canterbury and many of the Primates have urged them to do so. Secondly, they recognize that our unity in faith and our common mission outweighs our differences. So the gathering in Texas has a strong emphasis on mission and ministry, based on common worship and theology.

What do traditional Episcopalians like me want? We want to be able to tell people where we go to church--and to share our church affiliation proudly. We want to disassociate dramatically with the unbiblical actions of our denomination. We want to stop funding programs incompatible with our vision of godly mission and ministry. We want to strengthen our ties with the worldwide Anglican Communion and with the majority of Christians globally. We want to be led by bishops we can respect.

The Anglican Communion has been held together by a kind of gentleman's agreement--common faith and practice without centralized authority. The Episcopal Church broke that agreement when it ordained V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. It's now a classic case of the need for legal external restraint when internal restraint is abandoned.

But to get there, we want to avoid a legal struggle with our denomination, whihc is certainly possible. We don't want our priests to be deposed, our parish lay leadership dissolved, or the loss of valuable church properties. We don't want costly legal battles.

What we really want is an amicable realignment of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. One possible scenario is that membership in the Anglican Communion is redefined with more obligations and with some measure of accountability. For example, perhaps the question of who gets to be an Anglican bishop might be settled, not only by national churches, but also through confirmation by some sort of global body. The Episcopal Church would presumably opt out of a Communion that requires such accountability, leaving the way for another entity to be granted the Anglican "franchise."

What would realignment look like? We don't know. Nobody does. We have hopes, but they are varied. Broadly speaking, there are three categories of preferred outcomes.

  • Some want to stay within the structure of the Episcopal Church and continue to work for reform, while still distancing themselves in terms of financial giving and participation.
  • Others want to be within the Episcopal Church, but with a very different structure that allows for conservative non-geographical dioceses with their own kinds of leadership and programs.
  • Others want another church (or "province" in Anglican parlance). This could be parallel to the Episcopal Church or could replace the existing Episcopal Church. (That is, replace it within the Anglican Communion. In a nation that enjoys religious freedom, liberal Episcopalians may have a viable church.)
  • Even before the Episcopal General Convention, the Archbishop of Canterbury had spoken sympathetically to the idea of a parallel province. Some of the American conservative leadership embraced that idea while still at the Episcopal convention. But they quickly heard from international Anglican leaders that a parallel province that left the rest of the Anglican Communion "in communion" with the wayward Episcopal Church was unacceptable.

    Relatively more bishops and priest tend toward the first two options. Relatively more lay persons, who consider those options at best confusing, prefer the latter.

    Frankly, agreement on structural options doesn't matter. In the end, whether or not the Network remains largely within the Episcopal Church or eventually becomes a Church is out of our hands. It's up to the Anglican Communion.

    This is the point at which the current leadership of the Episcopal Church still doesn't have a clue. The so-called progressives are downright reactionary when it comes to preserving institutional organizational charts. They are fundamentalists when it comes to the form, but not the content, of their religion.

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