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VirtueOnline - News - Exclusives - How the Cultural Elites Are Destroying the Episcopal Church:
It should be apparent by now that the Episcopal Church is on a downward trajectory. Nothing it seems can or will stop it. Figures for attendance and income are both down.
This summer delegates to General Convention will pass a resolution allowing trial rites for same sex marriage thus even further jeopardizing the consciences of the dwindling orthodox minority who still vainly believe that their voices matter. The few plaintive cries for a return "to the faith once for all to the saints" will be drowned in a sea of cries for "tolerance", "inclusivity", "diversity" and the need to strengthen interfaith alliances. A much-touted Covenant will be quickly washed away as "fault-finding", "homophobic", "fundamentalist", "colonialist" and much more helped along by the Executive Council's already revealed rejection slip. Liberals and revisionists will run up the victory flag of pansexual inclusion while the small minority of orthodox bishops, clergy and laity will leave GC2012 with their tail between their legs wondering what the future holds for them in TEC.
What will happen with Rites after they are passed is predictable. It will follow the bell curve of women's ordination. First you may use Rites to unite same-sex persons, then you will be told you ought to use rites, and then it will soon be you must use such rites. Then priests must perform these unnatural unions if asked or face being thrown out of the church by a revisionist bishop.
Liberal priests in orthodox dioceses will feel greatly encouraged and strengthened with greater clout to challenge their bishops knowing that they have the full weight of PB Jefferts Schori, the House of Bishops, Bonnie Anderson and the House of Deputies and the defiantly pansexual organization Integrity behind them. Groups like the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina will feel more empowered to challenge their bishop Mark Lawrence. Liberal parishes will use DEPO to bring liberal and revisionist bishops into orthodox dioceses. (See my story on the Diocese of Albany here: http://tinyurl.com/6pquozp )
All will climax when an orthodox bishop announces that he will not allow same sex marriages or rites for such unions to be performed in his diocese. Like Canute's courtiers frantically scratching yet another line in the ever-diminishing ecclesiastical shoreline, he will only discover that he has run out of beach. Liberal clergy will go right over his head and appeal to 815 2nd Ave and Bishop Clay Matthews, Jefferts Schori's consigliore for bad boy bishops, who will bring up charges of discrimination against said bishop. His life will be made a living hell. South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence will suddenly find he has company as he watches other orthodox bishops being hounded like he is.
MONEY, NUMBERS AND DISCIPLESHIP
The rub for liberals lies in the area of money. The population of TEC is aging and dying. The Episcopal Church looks more like Louie Crew and Gene Robinson than Beyoncé or Brad Pitt. People seem to be drawn more to the Assemblies of God and cults like Mormonism with its strict definition of the family, even if it does have bizarre views of the Trinity and salvation, as well as to New Age religions and the feel good froth of televangelists and mega churches preaching a health, wealth and happiness gospel.
People are not rushing to join the Episcopal Church. This will not change even if the Diocese of Eastern Oregon does get a resolution passed saying that the Constitution and Canons and the Prayer Book should be changed to invite all to Holy Communion, regardless of age, denomination or baptism. The church is officially on record saying that anyone, including people of other religions, no religion or without recognizable Christian Faith, can take the sacraments. People will still not be rushing through the church's red doors where TEC's priest's sermons are indistinguishable from the New York Times or Gay Times.
Money, or the lack of it, will be the crunch point for TEC. The Episcopal Church cannot stop the hemorrhaging of people and parishes and the inevitable loss of dollars that go with it to keep both parishes and diocesan coffers afloat. Already whole cathedrals are starting to close down. Seminaries are conflating to accept fewer seminarians because the cost of a seminary education is rising and graduates cannot pay off education loans while taking small parishes.
Even short term winners like the Diocese of Virginia that managed to get its hands on $3 million of endowment from Falls Church when they emptied that parish recently won't last long. They still have legal fees and empty churches to maintain in the short term as they will not be able to talk people away from other parishes or bribe enough people into becoming Episcopalians. Last week the Diocese lost over 6,000 Episcopalians, a large portion of them from Falls Church, (there were six other churches) who will never return or be replaced if they had 100 years to do so. The 300 plus returnees at Falls Church were mostly ringers who will be gone in a month. The church and all its properties will be unsustainable in the long term. So what exactly has The Rt. Rev. Shannon Sherwood Johnston XIII Bishop of Virginia won?
In time, when they sell off Falls Church to a Mosque or Long Term Care facility or saloon - Mrs. Jefferts Schori favorite - their coffers will temporarily fill. They will still be incapable of making disciples for Christ because they have no gospel to proclaim. You can buy a hooker for a price, but you can't buy and make people into Episcopalians who have no interest.
Sarah Frances Ives, in her brilliant expose of the Diocese of Washington's efforts to get its hands on the Soper Fund of $25 million so it can go on propping up the diocese, notes, "Even a limited discovery process should reveal the debts and financial decline that the Diocese of Washington now experiences. Its situation is dire and getting worse. Already the sophisticated Diocese of Washington pays for lawsuits out of a trust, dismisses concern of whether its actions will drive the Episcopal Church out of existence... the current sophisticated leadership of the Episcopal Church conducts dozens of lawsuits, while watching its money disappear. The Episcopal Church as a whole watches parishes and dioceses flee to Rome or faithful Anglican groups, and yet it still continues to reject the scriptures with their written record of the holy actions of Christ. For those watching the Episcopal Church's follies and heresies, this hearing seems somehow indicative of the Church as a whole." http://tinyurl.com/cff58t6
A recent TEC sponsored report by C. Kirk Hadaway revealed that 72% of all Episcopal parishes in the U.S. are under water or in serious financial straits. It is only going to get worse. Congregations are aging and getting smaller. With no discernible life-changing message, there is little hope they will survive.
Hadaway also established that the Episcopal Church spends 77% of its income on staff salaries, buildings and investments with only 22% on program support, "evangelism" and fellowship. Top-heavy bureaucracy never grew a single church or won a soul for Christ that work is being done by church planters with nickels in their pockets and a passion for the lost in their hearts. TEC doesn't believe anyone is lost, hence no need to preach a life-changing gospel. In fact evangelicals from orthodox seminaries are specifically not wanted in liberal dioceses.
Short term financial gains like those in the Diocese of Virginia are just that, short term. Even if Bishop Johnston had $50 million in the bank, he cannot create converts if he doesn't believe in Christian conversion. He might just as well dump the money into the Church Pension Fund where they can use it to fund more retirees.
Susan Brown Snook in her blog A Good and Joyful Thing says The Episcopal Church's resources are being eaten up by administrative costs. "In a world that is rapidly changing, in which hierarchical institutions are being flattened, and new forms of church are bubbling up, our churchwide structure is caught up in a top-heavy model of ministry that simply eats up money." She noted that the millions it cost just to run the church has resulted in the elimination of Christian Formation (that is, all youth and campus ministries, and all formation offices), which currently costs much less than running the finance offices. "It's like the dioceses are sending money to 815 so they can spend the money counting the money."
This past week, Executive Council - the Episcopal Church's elite corps - met in Salt Lake City. It was as though someone switched on a 100-watt light bulb where a dim 25-watt bulb had been with reality suddenly hitting like a thunderbolt. Light shone in the darkness. Miraculously, the darkened minds of this elite group actually comprehended it.
Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori tried to put the best spin on things when she talked about "collective grief" at the state of the church and called on the Council "to let go of suspicion, assumptions about others' motives, and power politics - all of which are based in fear and scarcity." She then lamely invoked the spirit (small s) to let go of what is dead and embrace the new life that's emerging... seeds are already springing forth, she said. But where this "new life" is she did not say. One thing is for sure, she did not have the ACNA in mind.
Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies, talked about the need for TEC to be restructured, but she was a lot more direct when she said, "Either we meet the challenge or become irrelevant and, eventually, bankrupt." Those are words Jefferts Schori did not want to hear, but they may be closer to the truth.
She went on to bewail The Episcopal Church's declining membership noting that since 2000 TEC's membership has declined by 16% "and we lose about 50,000 members per year."
COO Bishop Stacy Sauls went so far as to talk about survival. "Vestries, councils, and boards have a fiduciary duty to use financial assets so that the institution survives, but survival is not a value of the Gospel this institution exists to serve.
"I have never been a part of a governing body that did not spend a lot of its time on survival. We do. In the eight months I've been back as a part of the life of Executive Council, and in the six years I spent as a member of it prior to this triennium, I have noticed a lot of time spent on survival. It is not wasted time, and the topics are important, but they do relate to survival."
This is the desperate state of the Episcopal Church coming from its own leaders - the elite of the elite - the supposedly bright lights showing us the way forward out of the descending darkness.
The deep profound tragedy is that with no transcendent message of God's unique salvific plan for mankind being offered, The Episcopal Church is simply going with the tide of the culture. That means it will, in time, be swept away like so much ecclesiastical flotsam and jetsam into interfaith and secular oblivion.
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