anthills–Episcopalians & the Anglican Communion

July 13, 2006


Filed under: Anglican Communion, Episcopal, Episcopal Church, General Convention — anthill @ 11:26 pm

Christopher Johnson beat me to this title. I will use it anyway as a classic one-word jeremiad found in one verse of most English Bibles. Now Bill Atwood has pronounced “Ichabod” in his departure from the Episcopal Church (7/31/06).

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Elect Jefferts Schori (who also pulled Mr. Johnson’s “Ichabod” trigger) has pushed me over the edge to write my last anthills post.

“Ichabod” is a Hebrew word with the sense of “bereft of glory.” Put as a sentence in the Old Testament, it is “The glory has departed.” A woman dying in childbirth gave this name to her son after hearing of the death of her husband in battle, the death of Eli, his father, and of the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines (I Samuel 4:21,22). The defeat of Israel and the loss of the Ark were rightly understood by the dying mother to be the judgment of God on Israel. “Call him Ichabod; the glory has departed from Israel.”

Can God leave his people, whom he has claimed? Again and again in the Old Testament, the answer is a shocking “yes.”

Anthills let me process my thoughts and feelings leading up to the Columbus General Convention and in the aftermath. Remaining anonymous let me vent when I couldn’t go to an open window (or pulpit) and emulate Peter Finch in the movie Network: “I’m mad as hell; and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

Now I must turn my full church-attention to the parish I serve and to my diocese, to see if we are walking together with the Anglican Communion. I know which way I have to go. We claim to be a “Windsor diocese,” but will we follow through when the day of decision comes? It will come and I have some work to do.

Without factoring in the resolutions in response to The Windsor Report, I have an overall impression of the General Convention based on intense observation of the whole event. I monitored a legislative committee early in the morning, attended worship, witnessed legislative sessions (Bishops and Deputies), read all the daily publications, and talked to various people.I’m going to use a rather gross illustration. If you have a weak stomach or if you are eating, skip the following. Greg Griffith will like it.


A toxicologist friend once told me about an experiment they were compelled to conduct to test for all possible traces of chemical residue in lab rats. They would quick-freeze a rat in liquid nitrogen and then put it in a blender. An analysis of the homogenized rat would reveal the presence of the chemical, no matter where it might have lodged.


My “whole rat” analysis of the General Convention is that the Episcopal Church, at its highest levels, has departed from classic Christianity. “Ichabod” can be written on a banner above it.


I did not detect the message about Jesus Christ that brought the Episcopal Church up from the ashes after the American Revolution. This message has an American Episcopalian pedigree. Even “high-church men” preached personal faith in Jesus as the way our reconciliation with God is grasped.

The gospel message that saturates the New Testament—that in Jesus Christ, God broke through into our history to make right everything that had been wrecked by human rebellion—did not ring in the halls of the Convention. Jesus Christ offering us, first of all, the forgiveness of our sins, based on his sacrificial death on the cross, vindicated by his actual resurrection from the grave, was not the heartbeat of the Convention. New life coming to us through a relationship with God through Christ, sealed by baptism, not primarily caused by baptism, did not drive the emphasis on mission to the world.

This vacuum of the New Testament gospel has now been clearly illustrated by our Presiding Bishop Elect. In two prominent interviews, Katharine Jefferts Schori has failed to mention the mission of Jesus Christ to bring eternal life to the world.

In what may go down as her greatest missed opportunity, an interviewer for Time, one of the premier news magazines in the world, asked KJS about her focus as head of this church. She listed her priorities—feeding the hungry, educating children, fighting disease. Nothing about Jesus! Jesus is absent from here stated priorities.

An interview with The Living Church, a magazine that appeals to Episcopalians in the “center” (apologies to Doug LeBlanc—it is a sarcasm quote), she came out with the same unifying mission of feeding the hungry and doing the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. No Jesus for the salvation of the world.

Jefferts Schori, the new pilot of our church, does not have Jesus on her close-in radar screen. He’s in the manual and she could readily say some words that would approach the New Testament picture. But Jesus is not on her list of mission-passions.

What filled the void created by the absence of the New Testament gospel message? My “rat shake” analysis of all resolutions passed gives a chemical reading similar to the left wing of the Democratic Party. Labor unions for migrant farm workers, opposition to any legal efforts to restrict gay civil marriage, reparations for slavery, and so on. Social justice is the gospel of the Episcopal Church at the national level.

Another question from the Time interviewer was whether Jesus was the only way to God, KJS gave a standard universalist answer with a spooky twist—he is the “vehicle to the divine” for Christians. “But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.”

I’m not even going to touch “vehicle to the divine.” You figure it out. But the throw-away solution to the tensions in “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life” is disturbing to me to the depths of my soul. Give me some nuance and mystery; don’t throw this out. Some of the largest Episcopal parishes thrive and grow year after year in large part because of the power of those words.

Christ Church, Plano (Dallas), Texas—the parish in the Episcopal Church with the largest average Sunday attendance—couldn’t take it anymore. They have given notice to leave the denomination. To the purists out there: I wrote “denomination” on purpose. The Episcopal Church has marked itself off as one more declining old-line Protestant church. That verdict will be confirmed on the world stage.

Now factor in the discharge of the resolution affirming Jesus as the only Savior. Please see my long post on this. For present purposes let it be said that the legislative committee on evangelism, after agonizing over the “systemic decline” of this church, couldn’t find it in themselves to send even a softened version of resolution D058 on “Salvation through Christ alone.” How tragically pitiful! I can’t bear it.

I conclude with a symbol. Forgive my self-referential citations, but please see my short post, “The cross in the shadows.” Apart from lingering and dear memories of friends—old and new—my fading memory of General Convention in Columbus and of the Episcopal Church will be that worship space with symbols of nature prominent and the cross hidden.

I am convinced that the Episcopal Church has confirmed a long drift away from classic Christianity. I will find my way out of it, with or without the congregation I serve, not precipitously, but deliberately and pastorally.

With great sadness, I must conclude, “Ichabod”—“the glory has departed.”



  1. Depart in glory, anthills, and perhaps spare us a posting wherever you find yourself. Nearly any path you take away from TEC will suprise you by how many of your old friends, theologically speaking, are already there and waiting to great you in His name.

    Comment by Alan — July 13, 2006 @ 11:50 pm

  2. Amen

    Comment by mousestalker — July 14, 2006 @ 5:09 am

  3. All of life is about deciding what bridges to cross and what bridges to burn.

    Get free…


    Comment by DHR — July 17, 2006 @ 8:05 am

  4. I do like the “rat shake” metaphor, but I dearly love your boldness and courage. God bless and keep you, anthills.

    Comment by Greg Griffith — July 17, 2006 @ 10:09 am

  5. Do let us know who you are when it is safe, anthills.

    Comment by zephyr — July 17, 2006 @ 1:12 pm

  6. As a cradle Episcopalian who crossed the bridge over 23 years ago — to the Continuing home I’ve been in ever since and cannot now imagine ever leaving, my prayers are with you.

    To cross such a bridge is a short walk though difficult, but in short time the difficulty is forgotten and new joys are discovered.


    Comment by CH — July 17, 2006 @ 8:45 pm

  7. I think it so unfortunate that Christians cannot dialogue about the meaning of Jesus without this vitriol.

    Nowhere did the presiding bishop elect denigrate the mission of Jesus Christ. Her interpretation, and apparently the interpretation of TEC, is just different than yours. I believe Christ taught us to feed the poor– are you suggesting there is something wrong with that?

    The “evangelist” message of believing in Jesus Christ and then all will be well may suit some– and to you, Peace! But that isn’t enough for all of us. Christ works in many ways, and that is the glory of the Gospel. It is deep and many-layered.

    If you go, go in peace. But to leave in anger because you are frustrated that you cannot see the message which TEC is spreading is the same Gospel of Jesus Christ is a little disingenuine, in my book. I would suggest, rather, that if you choose to leave that you leave in peace because you have honest differences over interpretation, and leave the vitriol and judgement behind. “Judge not…”


    Comment by Jeff — August 2, 2006 @ 12:40 pm

  8. Jeff–Thanks for writing.

    I completely recognize that there are two (and more) versions of Christianity around. There always have been. They are not “the the same Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Yours is an ancient one–Jesus was a moral prophet who did good; we are Christian if we emulate him. The other, that you call “evangelist,” is the moral/service view *based* on the message of the whole NT that Jesus came to do for the world what only God could do–to make all things right in the plan of God, including our reconciliation to God through his death and resurrection. We are Christian when we accept that new life through Christ. We serve on that basis.

    I hope you find the true peace of God also.

    As for “vitriol,” read again the story (in *all* four gospels) of Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers and driving them out of “his Father’s house” with a whip. There is a time for anger. The highjacking of a church is one of those times.

    Comment by anthill — August 3, 2006 @ 8:51 am

  9. Interesting perspective.

    Is there ever a time when anger is not appropriate just because we would like to be angry?

    In other words, how do we discern when anger is appropriate, and ensure that we are not just using the moneychanger story for our own shortcomings?


    Comment by Jeff — August 3, 2006 @ 4:47 pm

  10. Jeff–Of course there is inappropriate anger. I have it in traffic too regularly.

    How can anyone ever know whether their behavior approaches the expectations of God? When you have consulted the explicit statements of Scripture (“adultery”), the tradition of the Church (women’s ordination is debatable, although I accept it), and godly admonition from Christian leaders, you are left with your personal judgments in the presence of God. This is the shaky ground where we often rationalize and self-deceive. Tricky business.

    My “Ichabod” has some anger attached to it because I’m convinced by being present at General Convention the whole time that my church has been hijacked. It won’t be coming back. I’m angry about that.

    Comment by anthill — August 5, 2006 @ 9:20 am

  11. […] “Ichabod,” says Anthill blog. […]

    Pingback by On the Episcopal Church « The Original Soapbox — November 4, 2006 @ 6:20 pm

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