Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Although this article is about the realignment going on in the Anglican Communion, it raises perennial issues of common concern to all the faithful of all communions.


Date:    Tue, 7 Mar 2006 19:29:49 -0500
From:    David Virtue
Subject: As Eye See It : STAY, LEAVE OR STAND: Two Bishops Weigh in on the Issues

STAY, LEAVE OR STAND: Two Bishops Weigh in on the Issues

Pittsburgh Bishop Bob Duncan writes to his clergy
Dallas Bishop James Stanton takes a stand

Bob Duncan writes his clergy:

At a recent clergy day I was asked if I would put into writing a
response I made to a question posed to me by one of our rectors. As I
reflected on the request, I thought my TRINITY column might be a good
place to give everyone in our diocese opportunity to consider what I had
been asked to put into print.

The context of the question was a presentation I had been making to
various gatherings of diocesan leaders throughout the month of January.
I had shared my sense that the battle in which we are engaged in the
Episcopal Church will go on for a very long time, that there were
unlikely to be any "quick fixes" or decisive actions either at the
General Convention or in the systems of the Anglican Communion, and that
our best course forward, remained a relentless and unyielding focus on
the mission of our congregations, on our mission together as a diocese
and on are missionary partnerships worldwide.

If our situation is not going to be "fixed" tomorrow, why hang on? Why
struggle on? Why endure? The answer has to do with the magnitude of the
reformation and the scope of the transformation now underway. The answer
has to do not only with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion,
but with all the "mainline" churches and all of Western Christianity.
(The writings of one no less than Joseph Ratzinger, now His Holiness
Benedict XVI, share this assessment.) The theological issues and social
forces that are tearing the Episcopal Church apart are at play across
the whole Christian spectrum in the churches of Europe, North America
and Australia/New Zealand. The Episcopal Church happens to be on the
"sword's point" I want to offer three contemporary appeals as to why the
faithful of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh should "hold on" -
"stand fast"- through the very long season of global reformation of
Christ's Church into which we have entered.

First, we are on the "sword's point." I cannot count the number of times
my ecumenical colleagues whether Presbyterian or Methodist or Lutheran
or "free church" or Roman Catholic have thanked me (and us) for standing
as we have as Orthodox Anglicans. Their consistent observation is that
we are the leaders in a battle in which they, too, are engaged and
cannot escape. They pray for us and for our success, because in our
efforts are their futures, too.

Second, Western society is disconnecting from its Christian foundation.
We Episcopalians, as much as any Western denomination, are inheritors of
a "state-church" mentality. State-churches are tied to their cultures.
The present reformation of Christianity in the West requires that the
Church become counter-cultural, rather than chaplains to the culture.
This very fact points to why the Episcopal Church (and Church of
England) are so compromised, so divided, and so much at the center of
the very thing God is intending to change among Christians in the West.
Few of us want to be at the center of this battle for the soul of the
Church in the West, but that is precisely where God has put the
Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Given the toughest assignment on the
battlefield, will we as Pittsburghers shrink back? Like our Steelers, we
may be sixth-seeded in the contest, but that is the kind of position
from which our God always selects those whom He intends to use for His

Third, Christianity's center is shifting South. As Philip Jenkins so
well documented in his revolutionary analysis of the future of Global
Christianity entitled The Next Christendom, the engine, the heart and
the model of 21st century Christianity is shifting to Latin America,
Africa and Asia. Few Anglican dioceses are better positioned to help our
fellow countrymen and fellow Christians understand and embrace this
change. This is an epochal shift in Christian history, one for which God
has called us faithful Episcopalians in Southwestern Pennsylvania to be
ambassadors. Would we shrink from this privilege?

Some years ago, a book appeared entitled Will our Children have Faith?
Not only will our children have faith, but they will have the Faith. God
always reforms His Church. We stray and He redeems. We sin and He saves.
Proclaiming Jesus Christ, - the same yesterday, today and forever - is
the rock of faith against which even the gates of hell cannot prevail.
It is time to accept our vocation as "soldiers of Christ" once again.

We are in a very tough fight, not with those who disagree with us, but
with the "world, the flesh, and the devil." Jesus had the courage to go
to the cross. Courage breeds courage. Let's get on with it, difficult as
it may be, not in our own strength, but in His.

On the one hand, Bishop Duncan is quite right. The Episcopal Church will
not be "fixed" any time soon. That's because the Episcopal Church
doesn't want to be fixed.

But Duncan assumes an awful lot here. He seems to suggest that the cause
of Christ will be harmed if conservative Episcopalians walk away. But
talented clergy and great numbers of people who regularly comment here
know that there is orthodoxy apart from Canterbury and while the Lord
can use Anglican Christianity, He certainly does not need it.

And Duncan's assertion that "Christianity's center is shifting South"
and that Pittsburgh is well-positioned "to help our fellow country men
and fellow Christians understand and embrace this change" is an evasion.
Were I a Global South bishop, my opinion of the Anglican Communion
Network and its bishops would not be high. Men like Henry Orombi,
Emmaneul Kolini, Gregory Venables and others have taken risks over the
last three years and have opened themselves up to whatever
ecclesiastical sanctions the Anglican Communion can or will apply. The
Network's issued lots of open letters.

Dallas Bishop James Stanton writes:

But just here I want to pose for you a question I often get: "Bishop, if
the General Convention in 2006 goes badly, will we stay or leave the
Church?" And I want to suggest to you that putting the question this way
is wrong.

On staying: What does it mean to ask if we will 'stay'? I would have to
ask, "stay with what?" Here you really have two options, as the
dictionary makes plain. First, to stay means to stop, to cease moving,
to remain put. The Church of Jesus Christ cannot look upon staying put
as an option. The second option is to remain in a certain place or
condition. I suspect this is what people really mean when they ask the
question: will we remain in that 'place' or 'condition' of being part of
the Episcopal Church structure and leadership.

But think about this for a moment: what 'place' or 'condition' does the
Episcopal Church now occupy? Can anyone really say? The General
Convention of 2003 took certain actions which put it at odds with the
rest of the Anglican Communion, indeed most of the rest of the Christian
world. It ignored pleas not to do so, ignored its own long-held beliefs
that it should not act unilaterally, and ignored some of its own
covenants in this regard. But it did all this without, actually, having
changed its teaching officially. It did this by resolution. And, as we
have been told again and again by the revisers, resolutions are merely
recommendatory and have no binding force. So the problem is this: what
'place' or 'condition' has the Episcopal Church laid out that we can
define. All the world knows what we did, but no one knows where we are.

There is, as they say, no there there.

Add to this reflection another, namely, that what one Convention has
done the next could very easily undo, and the point becomes clearer. We
may want to believe, for different reasons, that the Episcopal Church is
well defined and committed - either bravely on the cutting edge, or
stupidly on a blind precipice. But the fact is that the Episcopal Church
is today merely a vapor floating across the ecclesiastical landscape.
Its leadership is not living by its own Constitution and Canons - that
is clear. Its formularies - here I think of the Book of Common Prayer -
retain the form and, I believe, the substance of the Christian Faith.
But as a discernible entity with a coherent life it seems to me to be
seriously lacking.

So, I do not know what "stay" would mean. To those who ask if we will
stay in the Episcopal Church, I have to ask in return, "Stay with what?"
If the General Convention is a momentary gathering of individuals
expressing in the moment their personal opinions and preferences, it is
clear that that has no staying power. And if it cannot "stay" with
itself, how are others to "stay" with it? Staying is not an option of
any consequence. It is an empty choice.

One the other hand, what about "leaving"? Well, again, one might ask,
"leave what?" If there is no there there, leaving is about as meaningful
as staying would be.

But there is another dimension to leaving. Leaving for what? Christians
are one Body under one Lord. There is no "leaving" if that is true.
Denominational affiliation does not make a Church a Church. What makes a
Church is the presence of the Risen Lord, operating through His Holy
Spirit, confirming and strengthening the apostolic faith once delivered
to the saints. Some years ago it came to me that no structure, no
organization, no affiliation can impede the people of God from
proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus Christ or the great Good News this
is for the world. The Church has often had to confront evils and
distractions both from without and from within that would deter it from
its mission of being the one Body, with the one Lord and one Faith Paul
claimed for it. It demonstrates that it is the Church, however, not by
leaving the field of these confrontations, but by being clear,
determined and courageous in the face of them.

One could, I imagine, "leave" a certain denominational organization. But
then what? What would a Church be which did this? Would it not still be
the Church? Would it not then have to set out with the same clarity,
determination and courage to know Christ and make Him known that was its
task before? It could not stand alone, that is for sure. Since there is
one Body under one Lord, it would have to be connected to all other
apostolic Christians in some way. But could it not do this as well in
the one case as in the other? Do we not give to those forms which "are
passing away" - human organizations such as denominations - too much
power if we think that the only way to be the Church is to leave (or
stay in) them?

What was the Church in its earliest generations? Before there were
organizations, long before the word denomination was invented to
describe them, there were Churches. What made them so? "They continued
daily in the apostles teaching and in communion, in the breaking of
bread, and in the prayers." (Acts 2.42) They worshipped, taught, and
lived under the guidance of the Spirit of the Risen Christ. They made
disciples. They gave to the poor. And they were connected, not by charts
and manuals, constitutions and canons, but by their bishop and around
him the people and their priests, to that great community of believers
in other parts of the world.

So, again, I ask what would it mean to "leave"? I think this is as empty
a choice as the one to "stay".

What is the alternative? For me it is simple. We stand. We are the
Church. We are not the Church alone, of course. But we are the Church.
And we have a mission to fulfill. We must stand on that mission.

The Apostles' teaching is the charter of our mission. To that we will be
loyal and energetically dedicated for as long as we are given the
opportunity. No one can deter us from pursuing this mission. It is only
our own weakness and misgivings that will take from us our ability to be
faithful to our call. We need to be quite clear about this.

We will remain Christians rooted in the Anglican tradition. That is not
just a nice thing to be. For many of us, for myself in particular, this
tradition is rich and deep and has fed and nourished our sense of
Christian Faith in profound and far-reaching ways. I am humiliated when
this tradition is invoked by some to justify teaching and actions that
go contrary to the Apostles' teaching - I am also infuriated that this
should be permitted. But the fault is not in our tradition so that I
would for a moment think of fleeing it. Rather, standing firm in "the
doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received
them," I propose to stand and be counted. In the strength that comes
from the Spirit who has led us so far, I propose to continue!

Translation: I have not chosen to walk apart. They have.

So what should the Network do, Johnson? Walk away? I don't know. But if
ECUSA confirms another homosexual bishop at GenCon and treats the
Windsor Report as the toilet paper they consider it to be, the Network
should do something and act as though ECUSA's apostasies mattered. The
time for more words is long over.

It is well and good to talk about staying and fighting. A powerful case
was recently made that orthodox Christians ought to running toward ECUSA
rather than fleeing from it and that perhaps I made a serious mistake
cutting ties with ECUSA as abruptly and as finally as I did.

The call to stay in or leave ECUSA is, of course, between the Lord and
each individual believer and them alone. But at some point, conservative
Episcopalians are going to have to get realistic. They're going to have
to stop talking about fighting the battle and study what is actually
happening on the battlefield. And if necessary and if they are told to
by their General, they are going to have to withdraw.

If the Network is waiting for the Global South to pull its chestnuts out
of the fire, it may find itself excluded even if an Anglican split does
come. And if ECUSA relieves itself all over orthodox Christianity once
again this june and the Network replies by urging conservative
Episcopalians to hang on until some undetermined time in the future when
something undetermined may or may not happen, then Anglican news and
commentary will dry up considerably around here.

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