Generous Orthodoxy  

Friday, February 26, 2010

Evangelical Episcopalians at the crossroads

I wrote this letter in 2001 and it appeared in The Living Church on February 4, 2001, two years before the election of Bishop Robinson. There is nothing in it that I would change today, and I offer it here, nine years later, as a statement of my own convictions. However, as Bishop Ed Little of Northern Indiana has thoughtfully written, there might yet come a moment when the national church hierarchy may force diocesan bishops and local clergy to act against their own consciences (which happened in regard to women's ordination), and then what will happen? That day has not yet occurred, but if it does, it may be a game-changer.

This is the letter:

As a longtime contributor to TLC I write more in sorrow than in anger. David Kalvelage’s column “Split Can’t Be Avoided” [TLC, Dec. 31, 2001] grieved me deeply. I assume he wants this piece to be understood descriptively rather than prescriptively, but my impression during recent months has been that most of those who say a split cannot be avoided actually want a split to happen and are working toward that end.

Many of us count the leaders of the current move toward separation as treasured friends, but we also see an unmistakable trend among them toward precisely that self-righteousness which has heretofore been identified as a hallmark of the so-called liberal, “progressive” wing. When self-described scripture–grounded Christ-centered Episcopalians become hell-bent on separation from the heathen, it makes most people deeply uneasy. The very people we want to attract—the unchurched—are the ones most likely to flee from a scene of bitter division. There are those of us who might have preferred to live in an earlier century when theological dispute was relished for its own sake, but for the sake of the gospel we cannot entertain the luxury of withdrawal into such a world. Americans do not like what they perceive as intolerance and rigidity. We must reckon with this factor if we are serious about reaching people with the gospel.

Evangelicals have felt marginalized and patronized within the Episcopal Church for a long time. I have felt this personally for many years. I believe this is our cross to bear. I do not want to withdraw into a conventicle of the like-minded. We cannot win minds and hearts by separatism. We can only do it through humble service and, if necessary, by continuing to be marginalized but unsilenced for “a time, two times, and half a time” until the vindication of the ungodly (and that includes everybody) is complete in the Day of the Lord.

(The Rev.) Fleming Rutledge