This morning, while reading up on the recently concluded 77th triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church, I became overwhelmed with an uncontrollable melancholy. I should not have been surprised. Indeed, I really wasn't. But the list of matters brought up for discussion — funeral rites in anticipation of resurrection for dogs and cats, dismantling the effects of the "doctrine of discovery" (which, in effect, apologizes to Native Americans for introducing them to the Christian gospel), banning discrimination against transsexuals (including in matters such as ordination), and approving church-wide blessing of same-sex partnerships — ran the gamut from the stereotypically ridiculous to the safely politically-correct to the downright transparently unfaithful to the Scripture their standards still profess to be the Word of God.
Anglicanism is part of my heritage. My grandparents were members of the Church of Ireland and, after immigrating to the US in 1920-21, attended the Christ Church Christiana Hundred in Greenville, Delaware, where my father was baptised as an infant in 1921 (a plaque still stands there with my father's name on it honoring the men from the church who served in WWII). Anglican New Testament scholars, theologians, and preachers from Charlie Moule, Dick France, Anthony Thiselton, and Tom Wright to J. I. Packer, Alister McGrath, and John Stott have played an enormous role in shaping my own understanding of the Bible and the Christian faith. The beauty of Anglican liturgical worship is unparalleled, and it is only partly in jest that I have proclaimed at times to be on the verge of switching to the Episcopal Church "because of the architecture."
But the American branch of the worldwide Anglican communion is rudderless and in danger of collapse. As recently as 1970, the Episcopal Church claimed 3 million members. Today it has shrunk to less than 2 million, meaning it has less members than the minuscule African Methodist-Episcopal Church. Not only is it hemorrhaging members, it is shedding both individual congregations — in 2006, the vast majority of the historic Falls Church (VA) voted to disaffiliate with the ECUSA and join the Anglican Church in North America; in the same year, the ECUSA kicked the conservative congregation of the historic Church of St. James the Less in Philadelphia out of its building for having disaffiliated from the Episcopal diocese of Pennsylvania — and even entire dioceses in such large cities as Fort Worth and Pittsburgh. The resulting situation, in which a shrinking church spent $18 million this past year suing churches in its own denomination (1 Cor 6 anybody?) to retain white elephant, un- or under-used historic sanctuaries, reeks of spite and is, more than anything else, the ultimate indictment of the abject theological liberalism that has bankrupted this denomination.
Make no mistake. When the claims of Christ are rejected or minimized, the church, for all practical purposes, ceases to exist. The Episcopal Church, like the UCC and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the UMC, PCUSA, and ELCA, is famous for its politically correct posturing on hot-button social issues. One might suppose it has simply misplaced its priorities. In some instances, perhaps this is the case. More often, however, they have, like Esau, substituted their glorious inheritance for the bowl of porridge provided by a desired cultural acceptance. Exhibit A in this regard is Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Jefferts Schori, in direct contradiction to Acts 4:12 and Article XVIII in the Thomas Cranmer's 39 Articles, has publicly denied that Jesus is the only way of salvation. Even worse (if possible) was her denouncing of the notion that "we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God" as "The Great Western Heresy" (for fine rebuttals of Jefferts Schori on these points, see the responses by David Virtue and Fuller Seminary's Rich Mouw). Virtue aptly quotes the retired Bishop of South Carolina, The Rt. Rev. Dr. C. FitzSimons Allison, to the effect that Bishop Jefferts Schori's remarks are not a distortion of Christology, the Trinity or even the Creed, but are rather the announcement of a different religion: "It doesn't measure up to heresy. She is trying to reduce Christianity to the blank space in the creed between the Virgin Mary and Pontius Pilate." Indeed.
What is a traditional/conservative/evangelical Anglican (or Anglican sympathizer) to do? The easy thing to do would be to follow the example of conservative Presbyterians and secede (of course they, like the Baptists, have unfortunately seceded into multiple "conservative" denominations). The other option would be to emulate Martin Luther and attempt reform from within. That is a noble goal, but we all know how that turned out for Brother Martin. Even rock 'n roller John Mellencamp knew how such things almost always turn out: "I fight authority; authority always wins." The only hope is that ultimate authority resides in heaven. It is to him that Christians owe their ultimate allegiance, and to him that they can, as my old teacher Claire Hitz used to say, "always pray." The Episcopal Church certainly needs that prayer today.