Saturday, June 20, 2009

NPR: Conservatives Push For Rival U.S. Anglican Church

From NPR:
Martyn Minns recalls the moment he knew he had to leave the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It was 2005. He was rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, Va., and he was talking with a young family who told him they could no longer attend a church that accepted gay bishops or diverged from what they called Orthodox Christianity.

"As I looked at them, I realized that I had a decision to make," he says. "Either I moved with them into a rather uncertain future, or I lost the heart of the congregation. So for me it was a matter of, 'Do I want the church of the future, or the church of the past?' "

Soon after that, Minns' church bolted from the American Episcopal Church and aligned itself with the conservative archbishop of the Anglican province of Nigeria. Now he and other church leaders representing more than 700 congregations, four dioceses and up to 100,000 churchgoers are meeting in Bedford, Texas. They hope to form a new Anglican province in the U.S. — one that would rival the Episcopal Church.

Mainline Church Irked, Not Worried

The Rev. Ryan Reed of St. Vincent's Cathedral, which is hosting the Bedford conference, says conservatives have tried to stay in the "big tent" of Anglicanism.

"The problem," Reed says, "is in the last 30 years, the boundaries of that tent, or those views, have expanded so far that you can find leadership in the Episcopal Church that is radically not Christian in terms of their understanding of the cross, the Resurrection, the uniqueness of Christ, the authority of Scripture."

Reed says the Episcopal Church is following culture, not the Bible. When it ordained a gay bishop in 2003, he says, the conservatives finally decided to offer an alternative. That view irks — but does not worry — leaders in the mainline church.

"The folks that are gathering in Texas represent a small, conservative fringe within the Episcopal Church," says Susan Russell, a minister at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif., and a leader in the church's gay rights movement.

"Their goal has been to vote the American Episcopal Church off the Anglican island," she says. "They failed at that over and over again, and now they're trying to re-create a new province in their own image."

Breakaway Province Unlikely To Be Recognized

Russell believes they won't succeed this time, either. For one thing, she says, they would probably need the approval of two-thirds of the 38 Anglican leaders around the world to create a separate Anglican province in the United States. Currently, only a handful of those leaders have signed on publicly. Plus, she says, leaders of the breakaway faction would need the recognition of the archbishop of Canterbury — and that hasn't happened.

"It would be as if Sarah Palin were to take a small, but vocal, percentage of very conservative Republicans and decide that they were going to create a parallel United States without having the White House at the center," Russell says.

George Pitcher, an Anglican priest at St. Bride's Anglican Church in London and religion editor at the Daily Telegraph, agrees. He says the communion welcomes conservative views.

But, he says, "when they want to say this is the one true way, and we want to impose it on all Anglicans, then it's at that stage that the broadly tolerant Anglican Communion says, 'Well that's not the way we do things.' "

Conservative Churches Growing

In the past, a number of conservative groups have left the worldwide communion over things like women's ordination or the prayer book. And they've shrunk into virtual irrelevance.

But this time, it might be different, says religion historian David L. Holmes at the College of William and Mary. He says the American conservatives have the backing of many leaders in Africa and South America, who represent more than half of all Anglicans worldwide.

Moreover, Holmes says, the Episcopal Church has shrunk 40 percent in little more than a generation, whereas these conservative churches are growing.

"My sense would be if the Episcopal Church continued to lose members in a striking way, and this new group kept gaining members, it would be a new ballgame," he says.

Minns says he is not expecting the conservatives will succeed overnight.

"I think it will take a while," he says. "These things normally do. These provinces take sometimes decades to be recognized, so we're not holding our breath on that."

But Minns does believe time, demographics and theology are on their side.

Read it all here. Audio will be online. Stay tuned.


Daniel Weir said...

No surprises here. I believe that the leaders of ACNA have for about 20 years wanted to reverse liberal trends in ECUSA or replace it. They found allies in many African bishops and when ECUSA handed them the presenting issue of the NH election they were off and running. However much I disagree with them, I pray that ACHA will unite them.

DietofWorms said...

Kudos to Susan Russell for tossing in one of the weirdest (and most dishonest) analogies I have seen in this Anglican drama.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is like the White House? ACNA is like a treasonous Sarah Palin?

Of course, the message to NPR listeners is that the ACNA people are gun-toting, extremist lunatics and while TEC and the rest of the nifty-fifty United States (Anglican Communion) are all under the White House, in all its majesty, and run by a benevolent Obama character.

It's a stupid and dishonest analogy on so many levels. But the one thing I certainly know - the WHITE HOUSE - no MATTER THE OCCUPANT - is NOT the center of the United States. THE CONSTITUTION IS!

But Kudos to Susan nevertheless.

Anonymous said...

Interesting how TEC tries to stand up an issue that has no proponents - the replacement of TEC by ACNA. That is a fear of TEC, but not a goal of ACNA.

TEC will continue to expend dead mens money to crush ACNA, but ACNA will continue to channel resources to expanding the Kingdom. TEC is one or two generations from collapse - no outside pressure needed for it to happen.

Anonymous said...

Anon: I don't think ECUSA or continuing Episcopalians have any beef with ACNA other than efforts to alienate unilaterally property that either now houses or formerly housed Episcopalians. Other than that, I don't think there are or could be any issues of note with fellow Christians who leave for another church or to start a new denomination. This happens with great frequency in Christendom and the only correct response is to wish each other well as we continue our striving toward God's will. Within the Anglican communion, there is the difficult issue of whether there can be two Anglican polities in the same geography. That has not been the practice in the past and will take a great deal of sorting out. But I predict that it is an issue capable of resolution. My only reservation is that I think that much of the motivation for ACNA to remain tied to the Anglican communion, to maintain that diocese in their entirety (as opposed to individuals) have departed the Episcopal church, and, peculiarly, even to hold on to "Episcopal" terminology (e.g., Pittsburgh, Texas), is motivated by hopes to control property. Too bad about that.


Anonymous said...

Scout: I don't think that jibes with TEC's reneging on the Virginia Protocol in favor of litigation. Nor the deposition/abandonment charges that have been routinely brought on dubious canonical grounds against current and retired clergy and bishops for years. Most of the litigation (not all, as I recall), has been over property, but that is only because it is one of the few subjects on which the civil courts will take church lawsuits. TEC could sell the properties (as it did apres Schori in Plano and Kansas - indeed, Griswold said that was up to the local bish), or as it agreed to in the Virginia Protocol.

It seems rather clear that the litigation - even against individual laypersons - and non- negotiation strategy is not about preserving property for TEC to use, as in most cases TEC has no use for it. It is all about inflicting pain on the perceived competition, pour encourager les autres.

Daniel Weir said...

I would be glad to see ACNA join ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada in the Anglican Communion. However, I don't see that happening until the leadership of ACNA and its supporters in the so-called Global South are willing to be in communion with ECUSA and the ACC. Their rhetoric does little to indicate such a willingness. The only scenario that I see as likely is that ACNA will become part of an Anglican Communion that will not include the Church of England and its neighbors in Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and ECUSA and ACC will be in an Anglican Communion that includes thise churches and several others. That would be sad as we are all poorer without one another.

Allen said...

All the wizened TEC commentators and bloggers need to start lto ook to home for THEIR own survival. Wonder whatever happened to the GC's 20/20 Vision for evangelism? TOAST. What happened to the GC emphasis on Youth? TOAST! Executive Council cut the budget for youth and eliminated its key position. Hired more lawyers though.

TEC, look to home. Forget what and the tens of thousands of "whos" that were supposedly "just a few" who now have moved on. Wonder at how an Executive Council (unusually larded down with gay activists) can obfuscate the voted upon priorities of GC and instead fund and manage the Church in a different direction.

Anonymous said...

Anon 0936: It's a little premature, I think, to announce unilaterally that TEC has no use for church property occupied properties by departing parishioners. Those departing should just leave. Over time, it will become apparent if the property can be sustained by those remaining. If not, some alternate dispositions will have to be made. I think the depositions are occurring in contexts where the design of the departures is intended to create confusion over ownership of properties. ECUSA is essentially clearing the roster of clerics who have departed. I can't imagine that they would care.

It seems fairly clear to me that much of the design of the methods of departure in various dioceses is intended to create legal ambiguity over ownership of property. While I don't denigrate the sincerity of the theological precepts that cause people to want to leave (I largely share them), a lot of the activity, including great pains to maintain ties with Canterbury, strike me as substantially motivated to support property retention. That, in turn, helps pump up the numbers of the faithful in the pews, given that many worshippers become comfortable worshipping in a given building, particularly when so many Episcopal properties are rather charming structures. I've expressed this view more than once in public places and have never had anyone explain to me why I am mistaken (at least as to my impression that arranging for diocesan defection and the retention of "Episcopalian" terminology are intended for use in property fights. I'm not as certain that the continuing affinity for Anglican affiliations and nomenclature is so substantially linked to property lust, but I do think that brick madness is part of that strategy).

I would be more supportive of the departing crowd if they just left, worshipped in temporary quarters until they amassed enough resources to build or acquire new churches, and stopped the massive support of the legal profession instead of funding Christian missions.


Anonymous said...

I don't think it is terribly premature to predict what is going to happen when 90%+ of the congregation departs. It is actually just being realistic. See what happened in Connecticut

Nor do I think the departing congregations created any legal ambiguity over ownership of property. It was already there, though the extent varied by jurisdiction. That is why a reasonable party with no other motives than to maximize the use of the property (sometimes known as "stewardship") would in the more difficult cases settle rather than litigate. And we know who has repeatedly called for settlement and who has refused to consider it.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking more about situations where maybe 50% votes to depart (some of this depends on what the correct number in the denominator is, and that's not particularly clear in some of the larger parishes), 10% expressly votes not to, and 40% doesn't vote at all (technically, in Virginia, at least, a NO vote, but more likely a reflection of just not caring one way or the other about the issues that led to the break and being primarily interested in peaceful worship in familiar, comforting settings). One has to assume that the 40% will keep worshipping as always, even if the departing crowd coughs up the buildings.

Rather than having people leave and seize the property, the better test would be to have those leaving, leave. If the remaining congregation proves over time to be unsustainable in the physical plant, the buldings will be sold to a congregation that can sustain it. This might prove to be those who left.

The porblem with the idea that those who leave can keep the property is that it clearly influences the voting decision by at least some of those who are fond of the surroundings. In my parish, the pre-meetings on the separation vote were lavishly layered with assurances that a vote to depart would probably not require us to give up the buildings.