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


At February 27, 2010 10:10 AM, Anonymous ConnecticutYankee said...

"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 ..."

I find this "unmistakable trend" all too convenient since this so-called observation comes from a liberal progressive.

At February 27, 2010 1:30 PM, Blogger AAK said...

I am not convinced that Episcopal evangelicals – which I take to mean those who believe in the importance of a strong faith and a mighty Gospel – are necessarily the driving force behind our current troubles. The blog author quite rightly counts herself among evangelicals, but I think she would be mistaken in calling herself an Evangelical, since she is more than moderately literate, humble, and sensitive to the needs of a varied and complex world. One thinks it not very surprising – in this current crop of schismatics – that the most adamant "Evangelicals" tend to be located in white, middle-class suburbs and to belong to intellectually (if not socially and racially) homogenous parishes. One doesn't see many schismatics at the rich, conservative, socially elite urban churches where New York, not Connecticut, Yankees worship, churches where the many afflictions of the contemporary world cannot be obscured by leafy culs-de-sac or attractive landscaping. One suspects that our current troubles derive less from legitimate theological quarrels than from a certain group's Leave-to-Beaver, 1950s petit-bourgeois vision for the church. No gays. No minorities, except supplicant in the soup kitchens. The affinity for the Nigerian archbishop and "Evangelical" alliance with certain elements of a decidedly authoritarian and paternalist Third World church – certainly more a marriage of convenience than of affection – has muddied the shape of the dispute in this country. But let us not believe, in the matter at hand, that theology does more than cover social conflict (since this is a popular dispute not restricted to theologians) between those with differing visions of the body of Christ.

The distinctiveness of the blog author's orthodoxy is its generosity, a trait borne (one suspects) of a lifetime of sensitivity to all sides of these social conflicts, and of a ministry spent not as an intellectual ostrich but marked by vigorous engagements with ambiguity, strife, and competing agendas. Many Evangelicals seem to refuse to negotiate the world in which they find themselves, preferring – as the blog author notes – separatism and utopianism (which have long histories in American life) to more creative engagement with the fragmented world of the present. That the opposite should be true of the blog author is laudable, and it is evangelical. Evangelical though, perhaps not.

One did, however, enjoy ConnecticutYankee's throwing of stones… always the mark of a top-rate mind.

At February 27, 2010 7:14 PM, Anonymous ConnecticutYankee said...

"One did, however, enjoy ConnecticutYankee's throwing of stones ... "

I was just giving them back to their owner, whose liberal generosity often exceeds her orthodoxy.

At February 27, 2010 9:53 PM, Blogger Fleming Rutledge said...

Hi, everyone, I am very complimented to be called a liberal progressive. I wish I could get that message out to those who call me a fundamentalist reactionary.

Thanks for reading.


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