From the real Diocese of San Joaquin, Canon Mark Hall writes of the struggle of faithful Episcopalians:
Here at my dad’s house several weeks ago I saw a rerun of “A Band of Brothers” called “Why we are fighting the war.” In it, a new addition to the unit is reading an Allied propaganda piece by the same name. The veteran members of the unit are completely unimpressed as they are weary, discouraged and cynical. They are just tired of the war. However, later in the episode they liberate a Nazi concentration camp and they all understand the stark reality of why they have been fighting. This discovery puts their sacrifices in perspective.
We are not in a war like WWII, but I am getting tired of the litigation and the delays, and many of you have expressed comparable feelings. Similar to those tired and stressed soldiers, we too are tired of it all. So, “Why are we doing this?” I believe we are doing this for two very important reasons: We are upholding the principle of the integrity of the Episcopal Church, and we are opposing a big lie.
Our church’s essence is its unitary nature. Just as Christ is one, we who profess Christ also are one. It is an affront to the Gospel that the church universal is divided and partisan, but we reflect unity in our organization. Parishes (even incorporated ones) are integral components of the diocese, and the diocese is an integral component of the Episcopal Church. An example of this is that the tax exempt status of every parish and church organization is certified to the IRS periodically by officers of the Episcopal Church Center. Our diocesan tax exemption and that of each of our congregations depends on the tax status of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS), aka, The Episcopal Church. Another example is the organization of the General Convention. Each diocese is given equal representation of clergy and laity, not proportionally by size. Why? Because those elected by diocesan conventions are deputized to represent the whole church in convention, not their dioceses individually. Individually, we may disagree on many things, but organizationally we act as one body.
Why is this unitary nature not extended to the entire Anglican Communion? Very early on, each province was recognized as fully independent, yet connected, to insure that there was suitable and generous allowance for cultural diversity. The United States was not England, we adapted our organization to meet New World needs, and we still are being sensitive to local and cultural differences. This has remained a principle of the communion up to current distortions and demands for uniformity. Which leads us to the Lie.
The lie that we oppose is simple. It is based in the very erroneous assertion that “the faith” was once delivered complete, and that Holy Scripture speaks plainly on certain social issues. The current issue is that of the LGBT community and full inclusion. I’m sure Jesus explained his faith and understanding of the Father clearly, but his followers didn’t get it complete. This is fact. We are still trying to get it and live it.
The early church argued over the inclusion of gentiles, then barbarians. Cultural norms quickly excluded women from leadership roles. The church has used scripture to affirm slavery, the superiority of the aristocracy, the inappropriateness of women’s suffrage, condemning women as witches, and a whole lot more. We all should be embarrassed by the abuses done in the name of the church.
Yet, the church also has been at the forefront of social progress. By using more complete understandings of scripture to overcome cultural conditioning, we have been able to “draw the circle wider” and include more and more of God’s people into those who we understand to be “His beloved.” And we should be proud of the fact that the Episcopal Church has more often than not led these movements in the last two hundred years or so. Unfortunately, during the struggle to understand the greater demands of the Gospel, there were elements of our church that opposed changing their perspective. Yet, the progressive positions have always become the mainstream because they were (and are) on the Gospel side of loving, openness, acceptance, honoring and grace. Christian charity has prevailed against misdirected bombast and distorted rhetoric often grounded in the special interests and “sacred cows” of cultural chains. Literal Biblical narrowness does not reflect the grace and spiritual wisdom of the “Good News” of Jesus Christ.
Who today in the church would seriously argue the merits of slavery, the rights of the aristocracy, the exclusion of women from positions of leadership, etc. The facts are that the old order of prejudice, class privilege, sexism, racism, etc. has faded. The generations after each struggle have had trouble understanding what their ancestors fussed about. We understand we won’t solve all the problems this side of heaven, but we have overcome huge road blocks to living into the fullness of Christ.
We are using the only means in our system, the civil courts, because we need to stand up for the organizational integrity of the Episcopal Church. And possibly ever more importantly, we are also standing up for the Truth of Jesus. The continuing challenge we face, individually and corporately, is to engage in and to live fully that Gospel Message.