The Developing Schism Within The Episcopal Church

BOOK REVIEW: The Developing Schism Within The Episcopal Church (1960-2010)
Social Justice, Ordination of Women, Charismatics, Homosexuality, Extra-Territorial Bishops, Etc.

By Dr. Nancy Carol James
Edwin Mellen Press, 259pages, $98.95

Reviewed by David W. Virtue
March 9, 2011

Few dispute that the Episcopal Church today is deeply divided with tens of thousands of Episcopalians running helter skelter in all directions over hot button issues such as the ordination of a homosexual and a lesbian to the episcopacy, women’s ordination, which Prayer Book to use, and, above all, the challenge to the authority of Scripture at all levels in the church especially by its leaders.

It is an unfolding drama that has resulted in more than 100,000 fleeing The Episcopal Church for a variety of Anglican jurisdictions, many with off shore connections to Africa, Asia and Latin America. This has resulted in the birth of a new North American Anglican province that is competing for souls and going head to head with the Episcopal Church in major cities and local communities across both Canada and the US.

Not since 1977, when the House of Bishops meeting in Port St. Lucie failed to censure New York Bishop Paul Moore for ordaining the first woman priest with the full knowledge that she was a lesbian, has the Episcopal Church been so divided. Some might say it is irretrievably shattered with four dioceses in full flight from a once proud denomination that has played host to eleven presidents and many of America’s intellectual elite.

Dr. Nancy Carol James, assisting priest at Grace Episcopal Church in Georgetown, Washington, DC, and the holder of a Ph. D. from the University of Virginia, has performed an excellent service to the church by documenting the developing schism over the past 50 years. She has written with a scholarly objectivity that eschews polemic. She sought the views of many of the major figures of the church ranging from Gene Robinson, Louie Crew and Washington Bishop John Chane on the one side and Uganda Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi, CANA Bishop Martyn Minns and ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan on the other. It has been no small task. She writes with clarity and winsomeness.

While she presses no conclusions on the reader, her own theological bias comes from her long scholarly association with the late Dr. Charles Price, former preacher to Harvard and chair in Systematic Theology at Virginia Theological Seminary whose long shadow over the church is apparent in this volume. She acknowledges his liberal proclivities. Price’s accomplishments brought the Episcopal Church into modern life with expansive social changes that included writing the new Prayer Book, advocating for the ordination of women and later coming out in favor of the ordination of homosexuals. Price’s primary authority was God’s redemptive love. He called on Anglicans to destroy any part of their tradition that impedes the actions of this love. He believed, however, that homosexuality itself was not part of God’s plan for humanity. He said that homosexuality was part of the fallen creation and should be placed in the category of unfortunate human realities such as poverty. His position on the ordination of homosexuals did not allow him to be classified as either liberal or conservative. He did not believe that the Bible was the church’s ultimate authority only “redeeming love,” concluded James.

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