Pittsburgh Diocese to Episcopal Hierarchy: “I Want to Start Seeing Other Churches”

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On October 4, deputies of the diocesan convention of the Pittsburgh Episcopalian diocese voted by more than a 2-1 margin to break from the Episcopal Church of the United States.

Reports say that 54 of the diocese’s 74 congregations will follow the convention’s lead and join with members of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone in South America (who, incidentally, don’t like being called “coneheads” — I checked) in their sincere and theologically motivated opposition to the ordination of homosexuals. The leader of the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (who, incidentally, up to 1976 couldn’t have been officially ordained either because she’s a woman) stated solemnly in the wake of the Pittsburgh vote:

“I have repeatedly reassured Episcopalians that there is abundant room for dissent within this Church, and that loyal opposition is a long and honored tradition within Anglicanism. Schism is not, having frequently been seen as a more egregious error than charges of heresy.”

I pause here for a moment to comment on Bishop Jefferts Schori’s claim that schism is not “a long and honored tradition within Anglicanism.” Surely, from a Roman Catholic perspective, something about that statement just doesn’t ring true. What was all that business in the 1530s about anyway? Just a big misunderstanding? Maybe Henry VIII simply “forgot” to return the pope’s phone calls.

In any event, the Episcopal Church has had its share of schisms. “Three Episcopal schisms—in 1873, 1968, and 1976 [actually 1977]—produced tiny splinter denominations with no official Anglican Communion affiliation.” The last of those schisms, in fact, was over the issue of female ordination, which certainly tends to refute Bishop Jefferts Schori’s claim that Episcopalians don’t possess the schism gene. Indeed, it seems that the church will fracture any time some previously shut-out segment of the population is welcomed into the ranks of the priesthood. Women then, homosexuals now — one is left to ponder which minority group will split Episcopalians in the future? Robots? Extraterrestrials? Gay robots from outer space? The mind reels.

This Episcopalian intramural imbroglio over homosexual ordination is not the first, nor even the most widespread, schismatic event in American protestantism. In the 1840s, several large denominations, including the Methodists and Baptists, split over the issue of slavery. That’s why we have Southern Methodists and Southern Baptists — it’s not because the south is strange (although that pretty much explains why, long after the slavery question had been resolved, we still have Southern Methodists and Southern Baptists).

At this far remove, it’s now safe to say that the southern congregations that split over the issue of slavery were on the wrong side of history. It’s likely that we won’t need another century to show that the Pittsburgh diocese was equally wrong about the ordination of homosexuals.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. nimh  •  Oct 6, 2008 @7:00 pm

    Interesting stuff, and nicely written up too.