anthills–Episcopalians & the Anglican Communion

July 13, 2006

-“ICHABOD” TOO

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.

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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.

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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.

MY EVIDENCE

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.”

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