Bishop Atwood’s Reflections on TEC and the Anglican Communion


The problem with Indabbaing your way through life without addressing the crises that are strangling life (and members) out of the church is that it is based on a post-modern fantasy that the atmosphere is more important than the true state of things. In the emerging train wreck, it is like focusing on the musical program in the ballroom of the Titanic. In the case of our crisis, there are plenty of life boats available for the people. The problem is that they are being lulled into thinking that the crisis is exaggerated.

If the crisis about the faith, teaching, and practice of the Episcopal Church (and others as well) is not addressed, what is the result? The “liberals” want to go on because they agree with the direction. Many “moderates” do not want to disrupt institutional life to pay the price of addressing the problems because they think it would be too painful to do so. But the heart of the question is whether or not it is possible to be eternally separated from the redeeming love of Jesus Christ. If (as the Scriptures present and the Church has always taught) it is possible, then we must assess the content of the current conflicts with the seriousness of Hell.

To take a “Decade of Generosity for the Spirit to lead us into all truth,” is utterly inadequate. In order to do that, one MUST believe that there are no consequences in people’s lives today. To accept the current state of affairs with the current innovations while waiting for a decade is to choose to normalize the things that have torn the communion. We have certainly seen this before. If we can “live with” the status quo for a decade then it will be impossible to restore historic faith and discipline.If one were to countenance even the possibility that there could be negative eternal consequences for those in same-gender sexual relations (however monogamous), then a “moratorium” is utterly inadequate

Back in the 70’s, when I was a pilot in the Air Force, we used to pick up broken and shot-up helicopters in South East Asia, and fly them to Corpus Christi Naval Air Station to be rebuilt. One of the first times we flew in, the Navy Operations Center radioed to us and for some reason asked who was the ranking officer on board. They were probably expecting a VIP…

I told the co-pilot just to pass my name since I was the ranking officer. I didn’t think anything about it until we landed and were met by a staff car and driver who had come right to the airplane looking for “Captain Atwood.” Of course he was expecting a Navy Captain (high rank) instead of an Air Force Captain (modest rank). The driver thought it was a hoot as he drove us to a gigantic suite at the Officers Quarters and to a reserved table (with a little flag) at the Officers Club. This was a delightful misunderstanding that was a bit of fun in the everyday grind.

Significantly more “edgy” was the prank of one of my other pilot buddies. On a flight where he knew he would have passengers instead of cargo, he cooked up a plan to trade jackets with the Loadmaster. The Loadmaster was the one who managed how cargo should be loaded. He also looked after passengers when they were on board.

As the passengers were arriving, the Pilot (who was wearing the Loadmaster’s jacket) cooked up a fake argument with the Loadmaster (wearing the Pilot’s jacket). As their words escalated, the Pilot (that the passengers thought was the Loadmaster) said, “You fly boys are so over-rated. How hard could it be? We do all the grunt work and you just steer the plane. What a rip! Anyone could do what you do.”

“Alright then,” replied the Loadmaster (that the passengers thought was the Pilot, “If you are so smart then just go ahead and fly this plane now,” and went to sit down in the back of the plane looking grumpy.

The passengers were understandably nervous as the engines started. Anxiety peaked through a wobbly take-off as the one they thought was the Pilot sat in the back of the plane. Before the end of the short flight, the Loadmaster (still wearing the Pilots jacket) went up to the cockpit saying, “It’s a bit more complex to land this thing than take off. I better go up and help.”

As far as I know, they never told the passengers that it was really the Pilot who had flown the plane all along, despite the appearance.

I remembered these incidents while thinking about the crisis in the Anglican Communion. Years ago, the Donatist Controversy addressed the fact that the sacramental acts of a bishop were still valid even when the bishop had sinned. It is certainly no news bulletin to point out that bishops sin! The greater question is whether or not individual bishops are doing good things or evil ones.

The Episcopal Church is asserting that they have the right to make whatever changes to the faith they deem fit. They are claiming apostolic order as a cover for absolute jurisdiction over a given area. The “naked emperor” truth, however, is that Apostolic Order without Apostolic Faith is impossible. The two are intertwined. It is not possible to have one without the other.

Many “moderate” clergy and bishops who disagree with teaching and direction of the Episcopal Church have refrained from speaking the truth. Some have said that it is too costly and they are afraid. Others try to maintain that the crisis does not directly impact them because their parish is OK and their bishop is not attacking them (yet).

The question remains, however, “Is the teaching and practice of the Episcopal Church leading people away from Christ?” If the answer to that is “No,” then sitting out the battle can be ethical. If the answer, however is “Yes,” then the battle deserves our full energy, heart, and all the resources we can muster. Jesus said that all that we have is of less value than even one single soul. People are of great value and are worthy of rescue, but there is another truth, too:

Mark 9:42 “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.

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