It’s nearly and, blessedly, over. The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburg, rejecting Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori’s plea for reconciliation, has voted to leave the Episcopal Church. Joining the Diocese of San Jaoquin, and likely to be followed by the Diocese of Ft. Worth and the Diocese of Quincy, Pittsburg will have to wait a year for its action to be final (and take one more vote), but, as in any divorce, once it’s gone this far, it’s not likely to be undone.
Over the next couple of years, the most conservative Dioceses of the Episcopal Church (perhaps including the “lower” Diocese of South Carolina headquatered in Charleston) will affiliate with African or Asian conservatives and create an alternative Anglican Communion. Individual congregations will vote to leave their dioceses, the canon lawyers will wring their hands, saying it’s all illegal; the legal fur will fly and the money and property will, eventually all be sorted out.
If I had the power, I would just tell them to go in peace, to love and serve the Lord. But, alas, I’m just a Deacon, not a Pope. In fact, Anglicanism doesn’t have one of those, so we’re pretty much stuck with the five century-old tradition that the Diocesan Bishop trumps all. And, if I recall my church history, that’s what made us Anglicans in the first place.
To call this action “illegal” is to name it in a technical sense. To call it “inevitable” is to name it in reality. To call it “blessed” is to name it in grace.
The whole reason that we’ve got various denominations (all of whom claim to represent most closely the apostolic tradition) is that people understand the Gospel and the Bible differently. We tend to affiliate with people whose views connect with ours. It’s not a new problem. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church : “Some from Chloe’s family brought a most disturbing report to my attention—that you’re fighting among yourselves! I’ll tell you exactly what I was told: You’re all picking sides, going around saying, ‘I’m on Paul’s side,’ or ‘I’m for Apollos,’ or ‘Peter is my man,’ or ‘I’m in the Messiah group.'” (1 Cor. 1:11-12)
While it distressed Paul that divisions among Christians existed, he did very little to try to heal them, later on calling his opponents ” a sorry bunch—pseudo-apostles, lying preachers, crooked workers—posing as Christ’s agents but sham to the core. ” (2 Cor. 11:13) Theologically agreeing to disagree usually means agreeing to fellowship apart from each other.
That’s actually not a bad thing: because it leaves Christians to focus on living the Gospel rather than wrangling over Jesus’ view of the issue du jour. I’d like to suggest that anyone who needs to leave the Episcopal Church just get on with it, so we can all go back to caring for the poor, doing justice, making peace and living out the call to follow Jesus in a world that so badly needs his message. We in the Episcopal Church will miss arguing with you, but let’s all admit that we’re pretty bored with that routine anyway.
Blessed are the schismatics, for they shall inherit the property. The Church still belongs to Jesus.