The following article by Harold Lewis appears in the parish magazine of Calvary Church, Pittsburgh, go here for PDF version.
The New Confederacy
In alleging that there was no canonical impediment to the recent actions of diocesan convention, namely the vote to remove the Diocese of Pittsburgh from the Episcopal Church, Bishop Duncan made an appeal to historical precedent. He stated that in 1862, a group of dioceses located in the Confederate states withdrew from the Episcopal Church but that their action did not prompt the Episcopal Church to enact a canon asserting that such an action was illegal. In other words, the bishop interpreted the church’s silence as assent, thereby giving carte blanche to all dioceses, in perpetuity, to separate themselves from TEC, despite their constitutional obligation to remain in communion with it. The bishop’s assertion was problematic on two levels. First, it was a mark of gross insensitivity on his part to hold up the example of the Confederate Episcopal Church, which came into being because it believed it could no longer share a church with those [i.e. Northerners] whose attack on slavery was “treason to the Southern cause.” Moreover, as the Confederate House of Bishops also stated, the Confederate Church believed that the institution of slavery was one of “those sacred relations which God has created, and which man cannot, consistently with Christianity, annul.” Secondly, the bishop’s historical recollection was selective. In point of fact, The Episcopal Church, it can be said, never really recognized the formation of the Confederate Church. When the roll was called at the General Convention of 1862, and the Southern dioceses did not respond, they were simply marked absent. When the Convention convened three years later, following the end of the Civil War, the dioceses representing the defeated Southern states had returned, contrite. Their attendance was duly noted, and the Church saw no need to be punitive. (This issue is discussed in some detail in my book, Yet With a Steady Beat: The African American Struggle for Recognition in the Episcopal Church.)
As I reflected on the bishop’s comments, I realized that from his theological point of view, the Confederacy may well be an apt analogy for the so-called orthodox movement in the Episcopal Church. Like the Confederacy, it stands for a different set of values than those of TEC. Progressives, like the Northerners, are considered traitors —- in this case to the cause of the Gospel. Moreover, we have been accused of doing to the church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality what the Northerners did to slavery, that is, annul a sacred relationship created by God. But the similarity is most evident in the fact that just as the Confederate Church maintained that they could no longer exist under the same roof as TEC, so has the conservative element in the Diocese declared that the Episcopal Church is an unfit cohabitant for them in the house of God. Separation from us, and realignment with another province of Anglicanism deemed to be, in the words of the Epistle to the Ephesians, “without spot, or wrinkle or any such thing,” is, for the “conserving church,” the only recourse.
Perhaps the most painful experience at Convention was listening to the laundry list of the theological deficiencies purportedly in evidence throughout the liberal wing of the church. They were summarized at a pre-Convention hearing led by Jonathan Millard, the rector of Ascension, Oakland. According to Fr. Millard, there is, in TEC, in addition to erroneous teaching and practice regarding human sexuality, confusion about who God is, a failure of bishops to defend the faith, and a lack of clear teaching about Christ’s divinity and about salvation and sin. A drift towards universalism; a loss of confidence in the Gospel as Good News for all; a preoccupation with social justice (as if justice were not a Biblical concept); contempt for the Bible’s authority, and a lack of respect for truth or unity are other shortcomings. While “evidence” for the existence of such opinions can be culled from various isolated sources, it is as preposterous as it is presumptuous to suggest that the entire church can be tarred by that brush. But tarred it has —- and our alleged failures are held up as the reasons for our being unfit to share Word and Sacrament with those who believe that they and they alone possess and practice the faith once delivered to the saints.
In his Convention address, Bishop Duncan observed that since the vote on Resolution One was but the first of the two votes required to effect a constitutional change, nothing has changed. I beg to differ. For the foreseeable future, the people of the Diocese of Pittsburgh are living in a situation not unlike that of a couple who have decided to divorce, but who for whatever set of reasons, still share a residence. But it is actually worse than that. For whereas some couples may actually recognize that their marriage has failed but have no animosity toward each other, the conservative party sees itself as the wronged party in the marriage who has informed the progressive party in this Diocese that they have sullied the marriage because we follow a different Gospel and a different Lord.
If indeed the Episcopalians seeking realignment can be seen as the new Confederacy, we can take some comfort in the knowledge that the old Confederacy and the church that it spawned were short-lived. Already there is dissension in the ranks. In this diocese, although we could not tell by their behavior at Convention, there are several clergy and lay leaders from conserving” parishes who have indicated to the bishop that when push comes to shove, they will not join ranks with the Realigners, and will instead remain in the Episcopal Church. Beyond the bounds of the Diocese, other Realigners are seeking different paths. The bishop of Fort Worth, for example, whose diocese is a member of the Network, has indicated that his diocese will only realign with a province which does not recognize the ordination of women. One religious body which is a member of the newly formed group called Common Cause is reportedly considering a petition to the Holy See. Such, historically, has been the fate of religious organizations formed in protest against other religious organizations.
The memory of the words and the presence of Archbishop Tutu buoyed me during the cheerless hours spent at diocesan convention. His embracing message of inclusivity, based on his interpretation of John 12:32, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself,” rang in my ears. Despite a Biblical theology which trumpets a penchant for believing in “the plain meaning of Scripture,” this passage seems to elude our conservative brethren, who by their actions continually suggest that the Lord’s intention was to bring only some to himself. Here at Shady and Walnut, in an effort to be faithful to our Lord, will continue to endeavor to welcome all in the Name of Christ.