Jerry Bowyer is an Episcopalian in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He thinks that the Episcopal Church "made a terrible mistake when it installed Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire in 2004." And he says the answer is not found in schism which would, in his view, "break more commandments."
In an essay he wrote for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, he describes his discussion with his wife, a reader at St. Stephen's, McKeesport, PA, who was instructed by Bishop Duncan to no longer pray for the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori.
This directive placed his wife, along with many other laity, in a bind. Bowyer's advice was
"that Katharine was elected lawfully under the standards of the Episcopal Church. Robert was using his authority to tell her to disregard Katharine's authority. When there is a disruption in the chain of authority, I said, "look to the highest authority." He said, "Love your enemies, pray for those who despitefully use you." If you should pray for your enemies, should you not pray even more for friends with whom you disagree?"
Bowyer has read the scriptures and understands tradition and believes that "secession is not the biblical pattern of resistance to flawed authority."
Are my fellow conservatives fully aware of the biblical and patristic teachings on schism? How do they justify a break with the Episcopal Church to which they have literally sworn loyalty? How do they justify taking Episcopal property with them? Given Paul's command to the first-century Corinthian Church not to address church issues in secular courts, how do they justify the inevitable legal battles that accompany a schism? How much will the litigation cost? Will the money come from our offerings?
There are moral questions, too. If we break with the Episcopal Church in America over gay priests, how can we then align ourselves with African bishops who tolerate polygamist priests? Paul says that a church leader is to be "the husband of one wife." Do we think that the word "husband" is inerrant but the word "one" is not?
If the Episcopal Church really has become apostate and its current leaders really are enemies of God, then how can we justify leaving the church, its resources and its sheep in their care? If not, how can we justify this separation?
Yes, there are times when it's necessary to leave one authority for another. When the New Testament writers were forced to deal with this issue, they concluded that they were compelled to obey higher authority at all times, except when it commanded them to disobey God. Roman Emperors were monstrous beasts. The church preached against them and prayed for them to repent, but Christians still obeyed the law. It wasn't until Rome ordered them to stop preaching the gospel and to offer sacrifices to Caesar that the early church was forced to disobey.
By analogy, New Hampshire can install a whole pride of gay bishops, but we don't break our oath of loyalty to the Episcopal Church until they order us to start installing them here.
Until then, the pattern of David and Jesus holds: Be faithful. Be patient. Be active in good works. And be in prayer for all in authority ... "for Katharine, our presiding bishop; Robert and Henry, our bishops; and Jay, our priest, I pray. Lord, hear our prayer."
Hat tip to epiScope for pointing us to this important essay.