Thursday, March 09, 2023

Wolves, serpents, and doves

Please bear with me. This is a bit of inside baseball for Episcopalians, but given what happened with the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1990, and what's happened in the Methodist Church recently, it's actually about how conservative evangelicals who are convinced they know the mind of God will be -- and are - willing to use any tactic to achieve their goal of patriarchal power over women, people of color, and any man who doesn't fit their masculinity test.

I want to try to explain why the story of famed Baptist leader Beth Moore's move to a Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) church is NOT a lesson in evangelism, and NOT a teachable moment for ushers and greeters at Episcopal Churches, contrary to what some leaders in The Episcopal Church seem to think. Ushers and greeters everywhere, I suspect, would greet a famous person with welcoming courtesy. What the Beth Moore story is, is a lesson in how well meaning and loving people can err for far too long on the side of making allowances, and can mistake a common background for common ground, thus leaving themselves and their churches vulnerable to a takeover by ACNA.

Because ACNA is playing a long game.

For example, see the very recent attempt to take a Diocese of Texas parish church into ACNA, the planting of "mission" ACNA churches in Dioceses of Dallas and Albany, and the as-yet-unexplained behind the scenes effort to resurrect the infamous Lambeth Resolution 1.10 as "the mind of the Church" at the recent Lambeth Conference.

ACNA has been counting on this willingness to give the benefit of the doubt, on the preference to appease rather than confront, and on the tendency of straight privileged white male bishops to think their world view is shared by everyone who matters. They have been doing so since the infamous Chapman Memo was issued on 2003, in which they clearly laid out their goal:" 1) Our ultimate goal is a realignment of Anglicanism on North American soil committed to biblical faith and values, and driven by Gospel mission. We believe in the end this should be a “replacement” jurisdiction . . ."

How did the schismatics predict the leadership of The Episcopal Church would react? They also laid it out in the Memo: "But we think that the political realities are such that American revisionist bishops will be reticent to play 'hardball' for a while." The memo continues, "ECUSA [Episcopal Church in the USA] leaders know well how conservatives could quickly become the 'victims' in the public mind."

They read the room right -- Episcopal leaders have been willing for far too long to throw LBGTQI Episcopalians/Anglicans and women under the bus to appease conservative evangelical bishops -- and we all know how well appeasing bullies works. Any mom can tell you that. They simply decide you are weak and go for more. We saw it in the years leading up to the 2008 Fort Worth schism, and we've seen it since, as recently as Lambeth 2022.

The refusal to play hardball with people who do nothing else is a recipe for failure, and, I believe, a betrayal of what we assert we believe.

And now comes the recent story of Beth Moore. Moore, perhaps the most famous Southern Baptist who is a woman, left the Southern Baptist Convention when the disconnect between her call and the edicts of the SBC against "women teaching men" became simply too much for her to bear. She is now identifying as an "American Anglican evangelist, author, and Bible teacher."

She "found a home" in a church affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). She is positively giddy about her new church home, and why wouldn't she be? She has stepped about one inch outside her comfort zone, essentially moving the tiniest step possible away from the SBC that she could without staying in it.

Because ACNA is just the SBC with liturgy, and Moore is a conservative lay straight woman with no aspirations to ordination.

About half of ACNA dioceses refuse to ordain women as priests, and all of them refuse to ordain women as bishops. None of them welcome LGBTQI people. They have their own prayer book, one that tellingly has omitted the Baptismal Covenant with its pesky vows to "respect the dignity of every human being" and to "seek and serve Christ in all people." And yes, Jack Iker is STILL working to get rid of women priests in ACNA, stating that he's in "impaired communion" with the ACNA bishops who do ordain and tolerate women priests. Ironically enough, it was to appease Iker that ACNA decided women might be priests, but certainly not bishops.

But wait! There's more. . . to the Moore story. The "Anglicans" she is affiliated with are not Anglican at all, in the sense that the definition of Anglican is "being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York." ACNA is not. Nor are they part of the Worldwide Anglican Communion.

You see the list of member churches at

ACNA's openly stated and oft-repeated goal is to replace The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada as the Anglican presence in North America.

They scored a huge victory in Texas in 2021 when the Texas Supreme Court awarded $500 million in Episcopal Church property and the name Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth to the group who left The Episcopal Church in 2008 and eventually joined with ACNA. When the US Supreme Court refused to hear our appeal, the Texas Supreme Court opinion stood, and it was all given to ACNA.

This resulted in the former Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth becoming The Episcopal Church in North Texas and then reuniting with the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. We lost beloved church buildings, altar goods, icons, trust funds -- everything, essentially.

But the loss of those things wasn't as hard as having to come to term with the hardness of heart of the ACNA folk. Even as they refused to follow donor wishes that items stay with the Episcopal congregations, even as they refused to sell us items they had no need for and didn't even want, even as they harassed women priests and trolled them on Facebook, we tried to find good in them.

After all, before they left The Episcopal Church, many of them had worshiped with us. Many were family, and friends. But the split that began when The Episcopal Church voted to ordain women to the priesthood and episcopate in 1976, continued to be widened by conservative clergy who saw their hold on power in the church being challenged by those who historically had been on the margins -- Black, Indigenous, people of color; women, and LGBTQIA people.

When the diocese of Fort Worth was formed out of the Diocese of Dallas in 1983, much of the impetus for that was reaction against this opening of the life and worship of the church to all people. When The Episcopal Church began seriously exploring what it really meant to seal someone in Baptism as "Christ's own forever," they saw a threat, not a promise.

Fear, outraged patriarchy, and schism were in the very DNA of our founding. All three bishops of the diocese -- Donald Davies, Clarence Pope, and Jack Iker -- left The Episcopal Church, Davies to found the Missionary Episcopal Church, Pope to go to the Roman Catholic Church (and then back to us, and then back to Rome, and, well, one loses count), and Iker eventually to ACNA. Iker claimed all Episcopal Church property of the diocese -- and the Texas Supreme Court gave it to him.

Iker layered on outrage over the inclusion of LGBTQI in his fuming against The Episcopal Church, but for him it was always -- and remains -- the ordination of women that is at the heart of split here. Notice that he didn't leave when Gene Robinson was elected the first (openly) gay bishop in The Episcopal Church in 2003. After all, even though he was gay, Robinson was at least male.

No, Iker left only when Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected presiding bishop. For a man who said that women were no more proper matter for ordination than is a dog, a woman presiding bishop was a bridge too far.

She was elected in June 2006. Iker held the first of two (illegal) votes to leave The Episcopal Church in November 2007, and the second in November 2008.

But while ordained women are the line in the sand for Iker and others, all of ACNA is united in fighting against the full inclusion of LGBTQIA folk in the life and worship of the church. And they are willing to do just about anything to achieve their goals.

So when we see Episcopal Church leaders promoting a Beth Moore book in which she sings the praises of ACNA, it is hard to swallow. When we see priests who have actively worked to undermine The Episcopal Church readmitted into full leadership positions in TEC, it's worrying. When we hear bishops lightly dismiss ACNA as "a few lightweights that they can easily handle," it is alarming.

We are told we are overreacting. We are dismissed because, "Oh, they are just speaking out of their woundedness." We are admonished that we are called to love one another. We are told that ACNA is a "gateway" to the Episcopal Church, so play nice with them.

This is exactly the kind of gaslighting victims of abuse get when they try to warn others of the dangers of powerful white church men.

My point? We are living amid wolves, just as were the disciples when Jesus sent them out in Matthew 10:16: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

Jesus warned them they were being sent out among wolves. And so are we. The fact that wolves are purposefully hostile and intentional about the harm they inflict EVEN AS they abide among other "believers" does not mean we ignore the threat they pose.

Jesus told them to be alert, to be careful, to advance the kindom of God but without using the tactics of the wolves -- be wise as a serpent, but gentle as a dove.

Because here's the thing -- one can be loving without being complicit in one's own abuse, one can be hospitable without handing a thief the key to one's house, one can be welcoming while maintaining boundaries.


Unknown said...

A truth statement...thank you, Katie.

The Rev. Meg Ingalls

Lionel Deimel said...

FYI: The Chapman Letter,