Commentary by Robin G. Jordan
What does Presiding Katharine Schori hope to gain from the costly and lengthy litigation in which she is involving the national church and a number of dioceses? It will not stop the Episcopal Church from hemorrhaging members. It will not help Episcopal parishes and churches to retain existing members and to attract new members. It will not prevent clergy, congregations, and dioceses from leaving the Episcopal Church. It will not keep other provinces from assuming jurisdiction over the departing congregations and dioceses. What it will do is strain the resources of the dioceses involved in the lawsuits. It will use monies that might have been put to better use in a shrinking denomination for evangelistic outreach, new church development, and congregational revitalization.
Even if the national church and those dioceses involved in the litigation are successful, they will not be able to fill the empty buildings and replace the departed congregations. Where some church members remain, parishes will be reduced to missions that must be subsidized by the diocese. Dioceses will be forced to assume the debt of departed congregations, yoke congregations, merge congregations, and close churches. All of these developments will weaken the diocese and place greater demands upon the congregations that have not departed. There will be less money for congregations already dependent upon the diocese for subsidies. The remaining congregations will be asked to increase their giving to the diocese to keep the diocese afloat. Their ministries will also be weakened. A diminished membership base will be faced with shouldering an increased financial burden at both the diocesan and local level.
The dioceses can be expected to sell the buildings and other property to pay off their legal costs and the debts they have encumbered from seizing the property. There is not likely to be much incentive to revitalize the congregations that have lost a large number of their members. Indeed the national church can be expected to ask dioceses to increase their giving to cover the cost of the lawsuits in which it was involved and may even seek a share of monies from the sale of seized properties by the dioceses, claiming an interest in those properties.
I would not be surprised to see the creation of an Episcopal Church investment fund from these monies. Revenues from such a fund could help the national church and participating dioceses to keep operating without a serious effort at membership recruitment and new church development. It would enable the Episcopal Church to maintain an illusion of vitality as it slowly dies from attrition.
Another likely development is that the Episcopal Church will retreat from those areas where it cannot benefit from the demographic and psychographic composition of the area. The denomination will confine itself to areas in which the demographics and psychographics favor it. The Episcopal Church will become a tiny denomination largely serving a very small liberal, educated, primarily Caucasian, white collar and professional segment of the U.S. population living in the more affluent downtown urban and suburban areas, sharing the “progressive” beliefs and values of the denomination, and still seeing some value in church attendance and membership.
The Presiding Bishop’ present attitude can be described as that of a dog in the manger. The dog cannot eat the hay in the manger. It is useless to him. However, the dog crouches in the manger and snarls and bares its teeth at the livestock in the barn, snapping at them when they try to take a mouthful of fodder, and prevents them from enjoying the hay. In this attitude she is representative of the Episcopal Church’s liberal leadership as a whole.
Katharine Schori, when she was a diocesan bishop, oversaw a diocese that was experiencing a serious decline in church membership. She did nothing to arrest that decline, much less reverse it. Indeed the decline grew worse. However, the 2006 General Convention, in its wisdom elected her Presiding Bishop. It chose as the lead Bishop of the Episcopal Church someone who is incapable and uninterested in mobilizing the denomination in the cause of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed her public statements following her election revealed that she has rejected the Gospel.
Most of the Episcopal Church has little if any interest in reaching the lost with the Gospel. Liberal Episcopalians implicitly if not explicitly believe in universalism. They have forsaken the teaching of the apostles and, to use the words of the apostle Paul, have turned to a different gospel—which is really not a gospel at all. Liberal theologians have perverted the Gospel of Christ, throwing a large segment of the Episcopal Church into confusion. Consequently, liberal Episcopalians see no need to pursue unchurched peoples and evangelize them. Indeed the idea is abhorrent to them.
At the same time the United States is the largest English speaking mission field in the world. 59 percent of its population is unchurched. This percentage is growing. Millions of people face a godless eternity unless someone shares the Gospel with them and introduces them to Jesus Christ.
The research of the Rainer Group and others shows that a large segment of the unchurched population would attend a church if someone invited them and would accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord if someone shared the Gospel with them. The fields are white for harvest. Yet the laborers are few.
More laborers are clearly needed. God is prompting those who are departing from the Episcopal Church to respond to this need. The orthodox provinces that they are inviting to assume jurisdiction over them also have a God-given burden for the lost. They are not willing to see them perish in their sins. They are faithful to their Lord and to the task to which he has appointed them—to proclaim the Gospel and to make disciples.
However, the Episcopal Church asserts that it has exclusive jurisdiction in the United States. Under the leadership of Presiding Bishop Schori the national church is seeking to stop departing congregations from placing themselves under the jurisdiction of one of the orthodox provinces where they could join with other like-minded congregations in carrying out the Great Commission. The Presiding Bishop claims that she is protecting the integrity of the Episcopal Church.
The United States can be compared to a vineyard and the Episcopal Church to a group of workers whom God, the owner of the vineyard, hired to work in the vineyard. Instead of doing their appointed tasks, most of the workers have neglected the sections of the vineyard to which they have been assigned. They have interfered with the few workers who have been properly tending their parts of the vineyard. Their sections of the vineyard have fall into a bad state through their neglect and have failed to produce the harvest that they should have. God as the owner of the vineyard has every right to replace them with other workers that have served him well in another one of his vineyards, keeping those few workers who have done as he instructed them.
To compound their unfaithfulness, those workers who have neglected their parts of the vineyard and whom God has chosen to replace are demanding that they should be recognized as the owner of the vineyard and as the ones to decide not only who works in the vineyard but also what work is done there. They are trying to keep those who have been faithful in the tasks to which God appointed them from working in the vineyard with the new workers God is sending into the vineyard. They are also attempting to seize the tools of these faithful workers. They are taking steps to retaliate against anyone who does not go along with them.
These are not the actions of true Christ followers. They are not the actions of those seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness. They are the actions of rebels against God.
Our Lord in his teaching repeatedly said those who are faithful with what is entrusted to them and multiply it will be given more. Those who are not faithful will have what was given them taken away from them and given to those who are faithful. Presiding Bishop Schori and the Episcopal Church’s liberal leadership have not been faithful with what has been entrusted to them. They have not been faithful in spreading the Gospel. They have not been faithful in producing followers of Jesus Christ. Whether they win in court will not matter. God is taking away what He has given to the Episcopal Church and will give it to others. God has warned the Episcopal Church over and over again through His Word but its liberal leaders have denigrated God’s Word and refused to heed His warning. They have only themselves to blame.