Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Why I left ECUSA, Part 3: The deluge

The third in a series outlining why my family and I believe it is time for us to leave the Episcopal Church (read Why I left ECUSA, Part 1: A brief history and Why I left ECUSA, Part 2: A crack appears)

Every church is made up of sinners, including me. You don’t leave your church—that was how I was brought up. Ministers may come and go, you may like some and not like others, but the important thing is to be consistent and faithful. You are born an Episcopalian, you should die one, too.

All in all, not a bad strategy. Otherwise, you can spend your life “church shopping”—looking for the “perfect” church and always being dissatisfied. This side of heaven, it does not exist.

Okay, so Frank Griswold lied to the Primates in October of 2003 and my eyes were opened that the church wasn’t perfect (hey, I’m a slow learner). Just as the one act of consecrating +Gene Robinson as a bishop should not determine an entire church, so one person of an untrustworthy character should not either. After all, look at some of the popes in the Middle Ages and some of the Protestant preachers who have crashed and burned.

But these events made me consider what else might ECUSA be involved in. I had seen some of this in the news coverage of the General Convention in 2003 where I saw a bishop saying that the Bible was “just a book.” At the time, I thought it was an aberration and the media were just picking the most salacious comments, but now I began to wonder.

So, for the first time, I took a look at some of the contentious issues in the church.

First, the history of women’s ordination. I knew that was a divisive issue but I didn’t really know why—I had always figured it was just part of the whole turmoil around women’s rights in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But discovering that the first women ordained were ordained against the canons in an “illegal” ceremony only bolstered my concern that those who were called to uphold the faith and the rules of the church were institutionally uninterested in doing so.

I also found it pretty telling that the church had come to this new “understanding” of the role of women in ordained ministry just as the entire country was rethinking the role of women in the workplace. Not exactly being “prophetic”—rather being “of the world” and trying to be trendy. And the fact that it was presented as a fait accompli at the next General Convention and so voted in made me very suspicious.

My doubts about the direction of the Episcopal Church were growing. But in 2004 they became more than doubts, they started becoming real concerns. And because I was, for the first time, really paying attention to what the church nationally was doing, I saw this:

March for Women's Lives Washington, D.C. (April 2004)
This is the official banner of the Episcopal Church in the 2004 March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C.

March for Women’s Lives—that sounds good, doesn’t it? Not when you realize that they specifically picked the name to sound like the annual March for Life but that this rally is pro-abortion. The Episcopal News Service reported on the march at the time [boldface mine]:

Episcopalians joined more than one million people, representing 100 religious and religiously-affiliated organizations and congregations, to march on Washington, D.C., April 25 in support of women’s reproductive rights at home and abroad. The march recorded the largest ever crowd count for women's rights in the nation's capital.

The "March for Women's Lives" was co-sponsored by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), an alliance of national organizations from major faith groups, local affiliates, the national Clergy for Choice Network, Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom, and the Black Church Initiative. According to its mission statement, RCRC supports the constitutional right to abortion and solutions to problems such as the spread of HIV/AIDS, inadequate health care and health insurance, and the "severe reduction" in reproductive health care services. The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Women's Caucus are both members of RCRC.

The Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, a member of RCRC's Council of Governors, welcomed the gathering with assurances that the religious community is behind them. "You can't sustain a movement on outrage," she said. "We are here to support the providers, politicians, women and activists, and let them know that we respect them for their work and their commitment.". . .

Also marching behind the Episcopal Church banner were the Rev. Margaret Rose, director of the Episcopal Church Office of Women’s Ministries; Executive Council members Louie Crew and John Vanderstar; long-time women's rights activist and General Convention deputy Marge Christie; and Maureen Shea, director of the Government Relations Office.

Before the march, the RCRC also held a "Prayerfully Pro-Choice Interfaith Worship Service.". . .

General Convention resolutions have expressed unequivocal opposition to any legislation abridging a woman’s right to make an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy, as well as the pain and possible support that may be needed for those making difficult life decisions,” Rose said, adding that participating in the march shows that supporting women's rights is “essential to our call for justice.”

“By publicizing this march and other events through our network, we are able to enlist and inform Episcopalians about important events,” explained Mary Getz, director of the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN). “This is one of the ways we are continuing to build our grassroots advocacy network.”. . .

After seeing this, I had two questions: how could we as a church be participating in something that advocated and supported the taking of innocent life, and what in the world was the “Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice”?

The answer to the first was that ECUSA seemed to be concentrating completely on what they defined as “justice” issues, although why the rights of the unborn are not seen as a justice issue is beyond me.

The answer to the second was that the RCRC is a group, using religion as a front, that advocates for abortion, up to and including partial birth abortion. One of their position papers calls abortion “self-defense” by a woman. I have come to realize in looking through their literature and their website, that while they try to make the issue palatable, they truly see the unborn child, the fetus, as the enemy, as an organism that somehow has invaded the mother’s body and must be eliminated. And the Episcopal Church Women’s Ministries group was affiliated with the RCRC.

Okay, now we were moving past individual sin and poor judgment to corporate sin. The support for abortion was not just one individual, it was a decision made at the national level of the Episcopal Church and there was no compunction about displaying the church’s banner for all to see at this event.

We were, I was, supporting abortion. I had no idea.

I knew then that there was something deeply wrong and resistantly evil about this and about the workings of the Episcopal Church. As a church, we should be working for the most innocent and vulnerable among us, and that is definitely the unborn. We should be helping girls and women who find themselves with unexpected pregnancies, scared, alone, and without resources, so they don’t have to compound their problems by making their situation worse, thinking abortion is their only option. Research of post-abortive women shows increased drug and alcohol problems, more depression, etc. Abortion is not an easy answer—it is a lifelong sentence.

Then, in January 2006, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church voted to officially affiliate the entire Episcopal Church with the RCRC. No longer could we say, well, only the Women’s Ministries group is associated with this and the church as a whole is not. No, a small group of people had just committed the entire church to the advocacy of infanticide. At the February San Diego diocesan convention, we passed a resolution asking that General Convention that summer bring this membership up for a vote so that all clergy and deputies to the GC could vote and come to a mind of the church on this. Other dioceses passed similar resolutions. All resolutions dealing with membership in the RCRC or with abortion were killed in committee, with the exception of one that made it to the House of Bishops for a vote, but not to the House of Deputies.

By the end of General Convention 2006, the Episcopal Church could not bring itself to vote on a resolution confirming Jesus as the only way to salvation or on a resolution condemning abortion (or even resigning from the RCRC).

This was no longer a church, this was a political organization.

And this was my (growing) list of issues/concerns/events in the order I became aware of them:
  • Disrespectful comments on the Bible by bishops of the church (General Convention 2003)

  • Breaking the trust of the Primates by Presiding Bishop Griswold through dishonest actions (October 2003)

  • Consecration of a non-celibate, divorced bishop (November 2003)

  • Illegal “prophetic” ordination of women (1974)

  • Participation on the March for Women’s Lives (pro-abortion) (April 2004)

  • Official affiliation of the Episcopal Church through the Executive Council with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (January 2006)

  • Refusal to pass resolutions on fundamental Christian faith (General Convention 2006)

  • Refusal to allow vote on membership in the RCRC by the entire church (General Convention 2006)
The flood waters were rising.

Coming: Part 4: The end


Phil said...

Anne, I'd like to pick up on this:

I also found it pretty telling that the church had come to this new “understanding” of the role of women in ordained ministry just as the entire country was rethinking the role of women in the workplace. Not exactly being “prophetic”—rather being “of the world” and trying to be trendy.

The same thing applies to the Gene Robinson affair. If ECUSA had been pursuing this path in 1903, rather than 2003 - with "Ellen," "Will and Grace," "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," etc. already quickly receding in the rear-view mirror - they might have an argument for being prophetic. Given the timing, though, the claim is simply a fraud.

Anne Coletta said...

I agree, Phil. It's the "Church of What's Happening Now."

Perpetua said...

Hi Anne,
Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Hi Anne,

I want to echo Perpetua's note of thanks too. Documenting your exodus out of TEc is very helpful.

Joel said...

OK, but how does the story end? Do I have to wait until 12:01 on Friday morning to see the last episode of Refugees of the Lost Church?

jleecbd said...

I haven't been keeping up with your blog as of late, so I just started reading this today. Very interesting.

I, too, am interested in how the story "turns out". I guess we'll be seeing that soon. As I've said before, you should "come and see" as we like to say, what Orthodoxy is all about. My telling of our reasons for leaving, while a bit more brutal at times, hopefully relates some of the incredible depth and beauty we only discovered once we had actually started to make the music rather than play the notes.