a discussion starter from Dr Peter Toon in preparation for the upcoming General Convention of the Episcopal Church of the USA.
After World War II the [Protestant] Episcopal Church as a mainline denomination made a major attempt to discover and present both a relevant and credible form of Christianity, having a Catholic & liturgical face.
It began by seeking to update its liturgy which its “experts” judged was too inflexible, traditional and pessimistic in order to be appropriate for the new era where more celebration was required. After a series of published studies and experimental trial liturgies, General Convention approved what became known as “The Book of Common Prayer, 1979.” Although this book shared the same title as the earlier official editions of the Prayer Book (1662, 1789, 1892 & 1928), it was a wholly new kind of Prayer Book, similar in style to that called “The Alternative Service Book, 1980” in England and “The Book of Alternative Services, 1985” in Canada. Obviously it had the wrong title! In it flexibility, variety and relativism had replaced traditional order and style. Further, the “You-God” had achieved dominance over the “Thou-God” as the classic English form and style of Public Prayer gave way to an upgraded form of contemporary street language. Finally, this new Book replaced the classic Book of Common Prayer, Ordinal and Articles of Religion as the Formulary of the Episcopal Church.
Whilst the “renewal” of the liturgy was progressing within ECUSA a cultural revolution, which began in the 1960s and stretched well into the 1970s, was turning American society and values inside out. Naturally the ECUSA felt the winds of change and began immediately to adjust its worship, doctrine and discipline to the canons of modernity.
First of all, in the context of what was now a “divorce culture” in the USA, the General Convention in 1973 set aside its ordered canonical discipline for marriage, divorce and possible remarriage (under very strict conditions), replacing it with a new approach that was deemed “pastoral.” By this the marriage of divorcees in church became much easier and over the years became normal and common. Jesus Christ’s rules for Christian marriage were effectively made an option not church law in ECUSA.
Secondly, General Convention set aside the received doctrine of the relation of man and woman as given by God in creation by (a) the seating of female deputies in 1970, and much more obviously by (b) providing for the ordination of women to all three Orders of the Ministry in 1976. Meanwhile abortion on demand, as a means of birth control for a woman, was stated to be a women’s right by the same Convention.
Thirdly, to confirm the liberation of women from a supposed evil and oppressive patriarchy, the Convention decided that a different language of prayer was necessary, a language which gave equal emphasis to feminine and masculine metaphors, images, names and pronouns. This principle, begun in the 1979 Prayer Book, was continued more specifically in books of services approved in the 1980s and 1990s. By this, the revelation written in the Holy Scriptures was effectively revised and changed, and as a result all the received dogma of the Church became subject to revision or rejection.
Fourthly, with women’s rights fully acknowledged, and the biblical doctrine of marriage as a one-flesh union for life without divorce made optional, space was created for the Les[bian]Bi[sexual]Gay agenda to be pushed in the Convention. Those persons who believed that they have an “orientation” to persons of the same “gender/sex” and that this is God-given and should be recognized by the Church had their day and the result was – to cut a long story short – the approval of Gene Robinson (a divorced man with children now living in a same-sex union with a man) as a Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. Here the move from order to disorder in human and sexual relations was proclaimed from the housetops.
Just where the General Convention and its House of Bishops will take the ECUSA next in this pilgrimage within the canons of modernity and post-modernity is anyone’s guess. As it has followed liberal society and culture since the 1960s, it is most probable that it will continue to do so well into the new century.
Meanwhile, a minority of ECUSA members of a socially conservative background desire that the Church slow down in its embracing of daring innovations, while a smaller minority (mostly Network and AAC members) desire that it begin a U-turn at its June 2006 General Convention. In particular, the latter minority is working hard to get the Convention to reverse itself on the LesBiGay agenda for to this group this particular innovation is that which God in heaven most abhors.
It is certainly conceivable that the Convention in mid 2006 will begin a U-turn; and with God (if HE so purposes) all things are possible. However, it is very difficult to believe that there will be anything more than a politically guided attempt to appease offended Anglicans abroad even as the progressive agenda continues apace, perhaps in hidden and mysterious ways. Reasons for saying this are: (a) major Western provinces of the Anglican Family have traveled in much the same direction as the ECUSA, if not so far; (b) all the mainline denominations of the USA are going in parallel tracks to the ECUSA; (c) since the time of Bishop Pike of California, the House of Bishops has shown no resolution to drive out error and heresy, but in fact has usually done the opposite, welcome disorder; and (d) the elite who run the ECUSA and the majority of the membership believe that the ECUSA is on its way to becoming a true church for the 21st century, a community of love, an inclusive community of justice and thus a credible and relevant expression of Christian faith and morality – and as such it remains attractive to many of liberal disposition in modern America.
When C.S.Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity, was published after World War II in the USA one could say that the vast majority of the PECUSA agreed with it. Now in 2006 the majority would see it as commending oppressive patriarchy, sexism, androcentrism and outdated theological traditionalism. Times have changed and with them the PECUSA.
firstname.lastname@example.org January 8, 2006