December 18, 2006
The long-feared Episcopalian schism finally came to pass this weekend, as eight parishes of the Diocese of Virginia voted to leave the Episcopal Church U.S.A., the culmination of a protest against the 2003 ordination of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. In all but one of the cases, the vote was by a majority of at least 90 percent. Two of the parishes are among the oldest and largest congregations in all of Virginia: The Falls Church (for which the town was named, to which George Washington once belonged) and Truro Church. The eight parishes combined account for over five percent of the 90,000 members of the diocese. See Washington Post. The stage was set at the General Convention last June when Katharine Jefferts Schiori, a Nevada bishop who strongly endorsed Robinson as bishop, was chosen to be the church's presiding bishop. The dissenting congregations will presumably join the "Convocation of Anglicans in North America," which is a mission of the Anglican Church of Nigeria. Now there's a role reversal! Conservative Anglican Kendall Harmon has links to many news stories and commentaries on these developments.
So which side is most at fault in this tragedy? Generally speaking, organizational breakdowns can be blamed upon the side that made the precipitating action to change the status quo. In this case, it was the "liberal" faction that took the initiative in pushing for the ordination of Bishop Robinson, even after the traditionalists warned that such a move would be intolerable. For them, the election of Katharine Jefferts Schiori as presiding bishop last summer was the final straw, leaving no doubt that most "liberals" cared nothing for addressing the concerns of the traditionalists. Another reason for putting the onus on the liberals is that many Anglican churches around the world have come to regard the Episcopal Church U.S.A. as a renegade sect. Perhaps it is one of those irreconcilable differences, or perhaps it is not too late for "saving grace." This is a time for all Christians to pray that religious divisiveness will soon be replaced by a new spirit of cooperation, love, and mutual understanding.