Through this year, I have posted from time to time about my journey forty years ago from the Episcopal Church to the Roman Catholic Church. Today is the fortieth anniversary of that transition. On a very nice South Florida November afternoon, I took my baby blue Pinto on the very short drive to St. Thomas More Parish and, with just me and Fr. Connolly there, I took the profession of faith as a Roman Catholic. These days, both churches like to do stuff like this in big public ceremonies but, as was the case with my baptism seven years before, it was in private.
My family wasn’t happy with the decision, and my liberal Episcopal school chaplain wasn’t either, although I probably spiked the football harder about it than I should have. But for a senior in high school in a church which careened between no answers and silly ones, there weren’t many viable alternatives at that point other than the one I took.
I’ve said before that my years as a Roman Catholic were the spiritual adventure of a lifetime. Today, of course, we have another Episcopal Church departure of far greater import that also promises to be an adventure of another kind: the decision of the Diocese of South Carolina to exit the church, with the central office already preparing a faux diocese complete with Potemkin bishop from here in East Tennessee. The confluence of the two, although not comparable in scope, leads to some reflections.
The current Presiding Bishop likes to say the people can leave TEC but churches and dioceses cannot. Rubbish like this notwithstanding, I have come to realise that conservatives departing individually is an expected result. One Anglo-Catholic bishop told me many years ago that liberals, in fact, want conservatives to leave, and for many on the left that’s probably the case. The current church-wide triumph of the “revisionist wing” was facilitated by the massive departures of conservative Episcopalians for other church homes. By the time the LGBT community upped the ante with V.G. Robinson’s enthronement in 2003, there weren’t enough conservative prelates/dioceses/parishes/lay people left to organise a successful resistance on a church-wide basis. That’s something that was obvious to some of us at the time; others have had to learn this in great pain. That’s the situation that the DioSC finds itself in.
The problem with parishes and dioceses leaving, however, isn’t people but property. I’ve said this before, but I’m still amazed that people as ostensibly socialistic as those on the Episcopal left have made such an expensive stand with the property. In the 1960’s we were told that we needed to get out of our pews overlooked by stained glass and get real; in the 2000’s TEC has bankrupted itself keeping both. There are two basic reasons for this volte-face, although they are not flattering to the mind changers in TEC.
The first is that TEC, for all the changes, still fancies itself as the church of the upper reaches of society. What has changed is the composition of that upper class. Before the revolution we had industrialists like my family and professionals such as attorneys and physicians. Now we still have the latter but we now have the noblesse de robe from the government and academia. These still like to liturgise in the same nice surroundings as those departed did. The historical property is still a major draw for the church, and thus is fought over. But that’s a long way from the radical vision that helped to kick off the revolution in the first place.
The second is simply…because they can. Overall, the success rate of TEC in our judicial system is pretty good. That’s in part because our courts have traditionally been reluctant to interfere with the operations of religious bodies, although that reluctance is becoming selective, as the flap over Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate indicates. But more profoundly the judiciary is made up with the same élite style of mind that permeates TEC, and in many cases the two are one in the same. They find a church’s reluctance to apply the same “equality” standard that is being imposed on society highly distasteful, and so take that aversion out on the conservatives in the litigation.
The Diocese of South Carolina is both the early bird and the latecomer to the war transferred to the court system. They made their missteps early but have learned from their mistakes and those of others. Whether their plans are successful remains to be seen. The U.S. used to have a predictable rule of law, but the more complex our laws have become and the more “outcome-based” our judiciary is the less predictability exists. That bodes ill for us as a country and not just for DioSC.
It is my prayer that the Diocese of South Carolina will prevail and join the orthodox Anglican world on a formal basis. It is also my prayer that in its own way their departure, like mine, will be the spiritual adventure of a lifetime, because once we have split we must then build, not only for this life but also for the life to come.