The Continuing Devolution of the Episcopal Church

With thanks to Anglicans United

Posted on June 29, 2012 by cherie

by Cheryl M. Wetzel, reporting from Dallas

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June 29, 2012

This editorial is my opinion on how the Episcopal Church came to be in the position it is in today.  My “rant” at the top of yesterday’s post on Obamacare, liberals and how TEC reflects this liberal drive to remake the country/church, is my opinion.  I have been in this job since September of 1996.  I attended the 1994 General Convention in Indianapolis as a guest and was on the floor of the House of Deputies when Presiding Bishop Ed Browning publicly castigated my husband, the Rev. Todd H. Wetzel, and Episcopalians United.  EU distributed Browning’s Christian Ed program that proclaimed the gay life style as equal and Christian.  The program was defeated by the deputies, who invited Browning to speak.  He made a similar statement in the House of Bishop’s, stating that Episcopalians United was destroying the Church.  Why?  Because EU told the blunt truth of what the liberal agenda was and how earnestly the leadership of the Church was involved in the implementation.  In 1994, both the Deputies, Bishops and about 80 of the 100 dioceses were, for all intents and purposes, orthodox/ traditional.

By the end of the decade and century, we saw a rapid change in both Houses.  But, to my way of thinking, the unusual happened.  After the 1994 Convention, bishops started to pull away from Episcopalians United, stating that they couldn’t support an organization that was so strident.  The analysis of EU’s work and many publications was deemed too strong.  Not wrong; not incorrect.  But, worded in a frank way that could not be publicly supported.  They still belonged to the Bishop’s Council that advised EU and maintained private memberships, but publicly walked away.

This did not affect membership in most places.  The decline began after the 1997 General Convention, when Frank Griswold was elected Presiding Bishop.  Many people responded that his election by the House of Bishops meant that the Church could not be returned to its former traditional ways in short order.

The 1997 Convention also saw the height of the gay demonstrations. Gay activists came in large numbers and there were demonstrations and incidents of harassment daily. They lined the halls and stood outside the doors, handing out pamphlets and rainbow buttons.  They knew our names and called to us as we walked the halls and rode the escalators.  Liberal priests and bishops joined the cat calls and physical bumping and  slapping.  The final straw came as we walked back from lunch the end of the first week.  There were priests in clergy shirts and gays fighting – yes fist fighting – a  group of anti-gay protestors. Police were called and came with riot gear.  It was so pronounced, so ugly and so aggressive, that I left the Convention that night, in order to take our son home and away from this sudden change in the previously gracious atmosphere at the General Convention.

Many of the bishops we knew that were part of the Council resigned/retired between 1996 and 1999.  They were all replaced by  less traditional, “progressive” bishops.  During this time frame, orthodox authors found that the publishing houses, previously excited to review their work and publish their books, refused their manuscripts.  Episcopal Life, the national monthly newsletter, refused their letters and editorials.  Transfer to another diocese began to slow for clergy labelled either charismatic or orthodox.  The most frequent response was that the interview with the bishop was denied, or at worst, the names were not approved when the parish submitted their potential interview list to the bishop.

The 2000 General Convention in Denver was the sea change.  Pro-gay activists were still in place and active, but this time, their actions towards the known orthodox was much less hostile.  They didn’t need to be either hostile or aggressive.  They were at even numbers in the House of Deputies and slightly higher numbers in the House of Bishops.  Discussions in both houses became more pointed in terms of differences in opinion.  Votes took longer in Deputies, discussion was often rancorous.  And, for the first time, CNN sent a reporter for the final 3 days.  The Episcopal Church’s General Convention made the cable news, especially any item that dealt with sexuality and transgendered rights.

In 2003, the battle was over.  At the first roll call in the House of Deputies, deputations announced that they were all gay and had come to enact the final changes within our Church.  The canons for ordination standards included non-celibate homosexuals.  Men in drag read the lessons at the daily worship services.  Gene Robinson became the celebrated bishop-elect.  He was confirmed after minimal discussion in both houses.  The bishops who spoke on behalf of what this would mean for the Communion, and how it would permanently change our church, were met with stoney silence.  The Anglican Communion responded with an emergency Archbishop’s meeting in London and the production of the Windsor Report.  The Communion split over whether TEC should be excluded.  Our deputation to the 2004 AAC meeting was relegated to seat, but no voice and no vote.  They still attended, and the press commented on their largess in grants and aid money, in spite of their demotion in status.  TEC’s international effort to convince the rest of the world that they were correct and not in violation of any Communion policy gained new ground.  The Communion, they stated frequently is a federation, without any rules.  Each Province can do as they please.  This philosophy continues today and the Communion has never recovered their sense of unity.

After Katharine Jefferts Schori’s election in Columbus, OH in 2006, the issue of the 2008 Lambeth Conference – and the House of Bishop’s pending invitations to same – became a focal point.  Jefferts Schori addressed the House of Deputies, who was poised to refuse to approve a resolution stating TEC would not consecrate another gay bishop “for a period of time, in deference to the Communion.”  Her persuasive speech convinced the Deputies and they voted in support of the resolution.  Invitations were issued to Lambeth and the Provinces that broke communion with TEC after the Robinson consecration refused to attend.

Parishes and people  started leaving  TEC after the Robinson consecration in 2004 in larger numbers.  The quantity of people and parishes walking away increased dramatically after the 2006 Convention.  Between 2006 and 2008, five dioceses walked away, claiming membership in the Communion but not TEC.  One after another, the bishops and priests were deposed.  In the fall of 2008, after Lambeth,  Bob Duncan was deposed and the seed of the alternate jurisdiction in the US that was traditional and orthodox flowered.

Now back in Indianapolis, the 2012 Convention will be asked to approve trial use of a commitment ceremony for same-gender couples, ordered by the 2009 General Convention.  Ordination standards are proposed to include transvestites, as a distinct class of people not explicitly included in the canon.  Open Communion will come up for a vote, meaning priests can give communion to those who are not baptized.  Items that have traditionally been done at the discretion of the local clergy are being set in stone as changes to canon law.  A special ceremony for the death of a pet is under review for inclusion and a resolution supporting Obamacare is up for review.

There is no doubt about who holds the vote count for this democratic event.  Yet, the last vestiges of the Bishop’s Council started in 1990 will still be here.  New members, but equally committed to the authority of Scriptures and the divinity of Jesus Christ.  We will be there and we will celebrate what we share together.

Pray for us.  Only the Lord’s presence and joy can move us through the next 12 days in tact.  Indianapolis is not the final vote on this Church.  God may lose the occasional battle, but He never looses the war!

Cheryl M. Wetzel  June 29, 2012

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