Wednesday, May 9, 2012

General Convention Should Do Nothing

Writing at A Tribe Called Anglican, JD Ballard has written a passionate open letter to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  It's such an impressive piece that I am going to quote from it at length in the hopes that even more people will read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it.

Starting off by noting that he is a convert to the Episcopal Church who deeply loves this Church and the Anglican Tradition of which we are a part, JD notes that "the path we are treading seems to be leading suspiciously away from beliefs and practices that have shaped, defined, and refined the Church of Jesus since the time of the Apostles."  (He goes further in a comment by saying "I converted to Anglicanism, not Unitarian Universalist Progressive Secularism in catholic dress up.")  JD continues:

We have been in a steady, and now precipitous, decline for nearly 50 years. Rather than pull back the reins, pause, reflect, and consider, we have dug in the spurs and whipped it up. I have almost no doubt that we can expect more “prophetic actions” forthcoming, though the prophecy they speak to the world may be, “Do not go this way. It leads to death.”  
According to The Barna Group, nearly one in three Episcopalian marriages ends in divorce. We aren’t taking care of the marriages we’ve got, and yet we are preparing (very controversially) to redefine and reconfigure the ancient custom.  
We are barely able to get one in three of our baptized members to communion on any given Sunday (probably lower if you took out Easter and Christmas), and yet we are going to consider making communion available to those who have never been baptized in contravention of nearly two millennia of unbroken, uninterrupted Church teaching. We, apparently, can’t even get our baptized membership to take the Eucharist more seriously than soccer, spring break, fishing, and football!  
In a so-called spirit of hospitality, clergy in almost every diocese flaunt the canons of this Church and their ordination vows by offering communion to the unbaptized. The bishops are either ignorant of the conditions in their own diocese, unwilling to do anything to bring integrity and order to the parishes, or are sympathetic to this disregard for the established and agreed upon regulations by which we order our common life. Any of those three would be a tragedy, and we’ve probably got all three going on in some measure.  
We seem unable to get our own children to go to church and grow into faithful, mature Christians in any meaningful numbers, yet we have the audacity to issue a resolution to the President of the United States regarding the Middle East Peace Process or a resolution calling for statehood of the District of Columbia. The hubris of this would almost be laughable if I weren’t already on the verge of tears.  
We are spending millions of dollars a year to sue other Christians in direct contradiction of the clear teaching of Holy Scripture under the guise of “fiduciary responsibility.” Since when did fiduciary responsibilities take precedence over issues of faithfulness, love, forgiveness, and mercy? I suppose Jesus’ words, “If anyone would take your tunic, give them your cloak as well” were obviously for a different cultural context, and could hardly be expected to have any bearing on our present difficulties.  
In the meantime, very little is spent on missionary work to the unreached peoples of the earth, and we are reducing or cutting programs aimed at poverty, illiteracy, and environmental care. Dozens of parishes are closed every year for lack of monetary resources, yet there seems to be an endless supply of those resources for litigation. And as far the planting of new parishes in this country? Virtually non-existent. ...
What we do seem to have is a bumper crop of bishops and priests who want to be prophets, but do not want to be bishops and priests (except that it helps them to be prophetic). We have clergy and laity who love to tinker with the liturgy, but are woefully or willfully ignorant of Scripture, Patristics, and the Anglican Reformers… the very wellsprings and sources of our Faith and Tradition. We have hundreds of parishes with interfaith services and not a few with the actual prayer services to other deities or from other faith traditions, but precious few that offer the daily offices on a daily basis.

JD is spot on to note that the Episcopal Church finds herself in a period of massive decline.  The sad irony is that, far from being signs of health, vitality, and renewal, things like communion without baptism are symptomatic of anomie and decline.  Such boundary-breaking practices evade the core problems, fail to name the elephant in the Episcopal Church's living room, and thus maintain the status quo of our downward spiral.

So, what exactly have all of the prophetic stances and boundary-pushing/breaking practices yielded?

We have succeeded in very little other than bringing great disrepute upon the Gospel of our Lord and we are shrinking at a calamitous rate and spending millions of dollars a year in the effort. We have effectively collapsed our Ecumenical Dialogs and put them on tenuous ground for the rest of the communion. There was a time when the world thought the Anglicans would lead the charge in the reunification of the Church catholic. That time has passed. We are a byword among the nations, and a laughingstock among the peoples. If you we haven’t realized that, it is because we only spend time with other self-congratulating Episcopalians. We are shrinking at a rate of roughly a diocese per year. And rather than saying, “Whoa there! Something is wrong. This road doesn’t lead where we thought it did.” We seem to be saying instead, “ONWARD!” Again, such silliness and poor decision making would be funny if it weren’t so expensive and if it weren’t wreaking such havoc on this Church, the Gospel of Jesus, and the spiritual life of its members. 

In light of this big mess, what then does JD think General Convention should do when the deputies and bishops convene this summer?

STOP! Don’t do anything. We are on the verge of committing spiritual and institutional suicide, and further alienating our brothers and sisters in Christ of every sort… Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. Don’t do it. Nothing would please me more than if the 2012 General Convention went down in history as the “Do Nothing Convention.” As a matter of fact, for probably the next three General Conventions we should do nothing but gather together (as cheaply as possible), fast, and pray for mercy and guidance. That’s it. No resolutions. No lobbying. No “prophetic voice.” No covenant. No restructuring. Simply repentance and prayer for the dismal state of our church.

I wrote JD a note to say that I have low hopes that the liberal ideologues who control General Convention will listen to such passionate wisdom.  As one clergy colleague from another province of the Anglican Communion put it, in contrast to those sympathetic with the current trajectory for the Episcopal Church charted by General Convention, JD is "working within the life-giving frameworks of the catholic creeds."  However, I also told JD that God may still accept his offering and use it in the long run for the renewal of this neck of the Anglican woods. 

In the meantime, read all of what JD has written and follow the discussion in the comments.  And note also his wise counsel in response to a priest's question, "What constructive vision might you have for a new rector to create paradigmatic shifts on the parish level?"  It's a faithful prescription for Anglican renewal within the Episcopal Church.


The Underground Pewster said...

Maybe Bonnie Anderson can read this in place of her presidential address.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for calling attention to this post.

Do you think that the current group of "liberal ideologues" within TEC is slowly dying out or at least on their way out the door (due to age and retirement)? This could be good news, right?

I ask this as a younger person about to undertake the discernment process for ordination. This may just be my geographical location, but I see more and more younger Episcopalians hungry for the liturgy and the sacraments and not just the culture-industry-spun-'values.' That is, they are interested in Radical [Orthodox] faith and not just a thin veneer of getting on bored with the latest cultural fad. They really want to live with the poor and not just vote Democrat, that sort of thing.

By contrast, it seems to be older folks who are clamoring for so-called progressive values, reared as they were in the 60's. People who still think Marcus Borg is relevant or that he sticks it to the man, that sort of thing.

Be curious to hear your thoughts on this.


Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Robb. I don't know for sure if "the current group of 'liberal ideologues' within TEC is slowly dying out" or otherwise fading away. They very well may be.

I think you're on to something important in the contrast between the "older folks" who are willing to tinker with the Prayer Book (or throw it out entirely) for things deemed more "relevant" and the younger generation who hunger for authentic liturgy and sacraments and thus find worship according to the Prayer Book life giving. Looking to the future, that is a very hopeful sign. In that regard, Derek Olsen's thoughts on spiritual revitalization and the non-negotiable Book of Common Prayer are critically important to keep in mind as we seek to address current challenges in mission and evangelism.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks, Brian.

Although things can get discouraging at times, it's good to know that there are people like you out there.



Bryan Owen said...

Thank you, Robb. It is good to know that there are folks like you out there as well! I wish you all the best as you enter the discernment process.