Repeatedly I am asked, Al, as Rector of St. Michael’s Church, what is going to happen to us in all these debates and splits in the Episcopal Church? Is St. Michael’s leaving the Episcopal Church? Is the Diocese of South Carolina leaving? What are the options? Why do we care? Can’t we just keep our heads down here in South Carolina, after all, we seem to be doing fine!
The short answer is, we follow the lead of our Bishop as he guides this diocese through icebergs. The reality is that the Episcopal Church continues to make decisions and take actions that are making it look more and more Unitarian than anything Christian. Because of that, over the past 24 months, there has been a veritable exodus out of the Episcopal Church by many individuals, churches and dioceses. So, what about the Diocese of South Carolina? Let me reflect on the above by telling you about the recent convention of the Diocese of South Carolina. I also urge you to read the accompanying article by our Junior Warden, Ann Hester Willis.
As you may know, each year, clergy and lay leaders from all over the Diocese of South Carolina join our Bishop for an annual convention to elect new leadership, address the state of the church and strategize about Kingdom ministry. This took place at Christ Church, Mount Pleasant on March 12-13. I urge you to look at the resolutions that were passed (which can be found on the diocesan website). Let me pause here and say how much I enjoy convention. We have amazing clergy leadership in this diocese and because of our crazy schedules, I find this is one of the only times annually I see all my fellow colleagues!
However, back to the above questions. There were specifically two events that shape my thoughts, the first being the resolution regarding the confirmation of the Bishop of Northern Michigan.
In the Episcopal Church, every diocese elects its own Bishop. However, that election must be confirmed by every other diocese in the United States. In other words, the Diocese of South Carolina has the right to vote against the election of another Bishop for reasons of theology, doctrine or any other concern.
The announcement of the election of the Bishop of Northern Michigan sparked controversy because he (the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester) is also a practicing Buddhist, had received Buddhist “lay ordination” and is “walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together.” This craziness should not surprise any of us. He simply is the poster child for the continuing Unitarian drift in the Episcopal Church, a commonplace universalism that says among other things, all religions are the same. In fact, in a recorded sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday posted on the St. Paul’s Church, Marquette MI website, the Rev. Kevin Thew Forester preached the following: “One of the amazing insights I have found”¦is that, no matter what you name that source, from which all life comes””you can name that source God, Abba; you may name that source Yahweh; you may name that source Allah; you may name that source “the great emptiness;” you can name that source many things”¦ everything that is comes from the source. And you can name the source what you want to name the source. And our response to that is with hearts of gratitude and thanksgiving, to return everything back to that source, and there’s a spirit who enables that return”¦and you can be a Buddhist, you can be a Muslim, you can be a Jew, and that makes sense.”
While this sounds so palatable and comfortably cultural, it is not Christianity! John 14, in a passage that in many ways defines love, we hear these challenging words of Jesus: “I am the way the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father but by me.” Yet Scripture has predicted these days we find ourselves in. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy chapter 3. Paul writes: In the last days, there will come times of stress. For men will hold the form of religion but deny the power of it. We find a similar word in Titus 1:16”¦they profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds”¦And so it is in our denomination today. We have all the great vestments and pageantry, but more and more, emptiness with no solid theology.
By the way, the resolution passed which urged the standing committee to vote against the confirmation of this bishop.
The other event I wish to highlight is the Bishop’s Address. Again, you can read this on the website. Bishop Lawrence made an analogy that the Diocese of South Carolina could be compared to a motorcycle. The front wheel being Scripture and our Gospel Ministry. The back wheel is the mission of the diocese. However, as a diocese, we have a sidecar, an appendage and that sidecar is the Episcopal Church. Our denominational affiliation has been sidelined in this diocese because of the Unitarian/non Biblical direction of the Episcopal Church. What does this mean? After all, surely things will get even worse at the General Convention of the United States this summer in Anaheim, California. The answer is that for now, as a church within the Diocese of South Carolina, and as a diocese within the larger denomination, we continue to be part of the Episcopal Church USA, but with a bigger desire to remain part of the world wide Anglican Communion.
The reality is that unlike ever before, our Bishop now has options he will be weighing to guide us as a diocese. Options that include other provinces and partnerships connected with the worldwide Anglican Communion. So, it is back to what I stated earlier”¦the short and long answer to the first questions is that we follow the lead of our faithful Bishop who believes Jesus is who He says He is. Please keep Bishop Lawrence, his wife Allison and their family in your prayers.
–The Rev. Al Zadig is rector of Saint Michael’s, Charleston, South Carolina