29 August 2007

Speaking the truth -- with love

Via The Episcopal Majority, I see that Episcopal Life Online has published an essay by Ken Howard+. It reads, in part:
Reading yet another story about schism in Episcopal Church ("More U.S. Episcopalians Look Abroad Amid Rift -- Overseas Prelates Lead 200 to 250 Congregations," June 17, 2007), I found myself growing a little bored with the topic. While we all know that divisions exist and that some congregations have seceded or are planning to, it gets tiresome after a while seeing the same tired old story repeated for the umpteenth time.

There seems to be a generally accepted storyline that runs something like this: Conservatives vs. Liberals. Traditionalists vs. Revisionists. Conservative congregations growing. Too-liberal Episcopal Church shrinking. Unfortunately, the storyline does not fairly portray the reality. Yet sheer repetition has given it an aura of "truthiness."

Take the title of the article for example. The term "rift," coupled with the estimate of 200-250 departing churches, makes it seem that a congregational exodus of seismic proportions is underway. Yet compared with the more than 7,500 congregations that make up the Episcopal Church nationwide, even that number barely registers as a tremor. But the article's estimate is much too high. To date, only a majority of members of 45 Episcopal congregations (less than 1%) have voted to leave the denomination (the higher figure quoted by the article includes congregations who were never a part of the Episcopal Church.) Compare this to the more than 1,200 Southern Baptist congregations that left their denomination to form the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship after the Southern Baptist Convention was taken over by its ultraconservative wing. Similar migrations of liberal and moderate parishioners have occurred from Episcopal congregations that have grown more conservative. But trends like these that don't fit the popular presumptions seem to fly under the reporting radar. There are some significant shifts going on in the Church at present, but the realignment runs in both directions.

The article also reported uncritically the "overseas prelates" (and their disaffected American congregations) self-portrayal as protectors of traditional Anglicanism against an aggressively anti-orthodox U.S. Episcopal Church. Unreported is their selectivity about which traditions they want to protect, rejecting traditions that do not suit them in favor of some very non-Anglican practices. The current rush of overseas prelates to outsource the Episcopal oversight of American congregations, for example, violates not only traditional Anglican practice, but ancient Christian practice as well. The reason most often given for violating this ancient tradition is to preserve orthodoxy. But this plethora of prelates raises the question of whose interpretation of orthodoxy will be enforced. Some of these foreign Anglican Churches, for example, accept the ordination of women as orthodox practice, while others do not. And the overarching enforcement body that some of them propose looks very much like a "magisterium" (i.e., top-down interpretation of Scripture by the hierarchy of the Church), a concept the Anglican Church has rejected since its inception.

Well said. I encourage you to follow the link and read the whole essay.

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