I'm a Christian today because of the Episcopal Church. As an undergrad I was nudged out of Intervarsity because I helped start a Jewish campus group. As a college student this might have been the time to leave the faith, a common route, but I found a local Episcopal campus ministry (and some other mainline groups as well) where I found my doubts and concerns were welcomed, not shunned. It was Episcopal authors like Carter Heyward that provided rich ideas about God, the ethical demands of the faith, etc. that drove my interest in pursuing graduate study in religion.
I admit that I'm not an Episcopalian. I find myself closer to lower church forms of protestantism, within the mainline. Today I'm primarily active with a UCC/Disciples campus ministry program. But I've always taken an interest in the Episcopal Church. Even went so far as attending the Episcopal Nat'l Convention in Minneapolis last summer, watching the House of Delegates vote for Gene Robinson 2 to 1. But the very things which kept me in the church, which made the ECUSA so welcoming, are cause for the turmoil denomination faces.
When the Episcopal church consecrated Gene Robinson, who is gay, as bishop of New Hampshire, other Anglican churches in the developing world expressed outrage. That outage, if followed with dialogue and working to hold the communion togther could have produced something novel for the church. But that possibility has been rejected by these church bodies. They seek to punish the Episcopal Church, with their eventual goal being the expulsion of the ECUSA from the communion. Historically the Anglican communion's provinces had autonomy. For example some churches ordain women, some do not; it varies by province. But on this issue, autonomy has been thrown out the window.
But the expulsion would not mean the end of an Anglican body in the US. The plan would be to take the small group of churches within the ECUSA (and some outside of the denomination) who are on the right, and who oppose gay and lesbian inclusion, etc. and declare them as the new Anglican province. The framework for such a body has largely already been created via the Anglican Network. Now Rowan Williams, the head of the communion, is faced with a choice.
Either keep faith with the sort of Anglicanism which allowed for diversity and autonomy and lose most of the churches in the developing world which are fast becoming the largest segment of the communion. They would be lost because they promise to leave the communion if the ECUSA is not removed. Or one could ditch the ECUSA and perhaps Canada as well, keeping the largest portion of the church, and allowing the Communion to be largely taken under the direction of the right wing. In the latter case, it'd be impossible to remain a liberal within the communion, without becoming a target of the right.
A commission was established by Williams to figure out how to keep the communion together and its recommendations are due to come out next month. But portions of the report have been leaked to the press and it looks like punishment and then expulsion will be the route they recommend. Such a course, is finally raising the alarm not just in the US but around the world. After all, it's not just a problem of the ECUSA, it is any church which includes religious liberals within it. In the UK, religious liberals within the church have spoken out against the possible recommendations, going so far as to predict mass resignations if the church is taken in such a direction.
Originally the plan was to target the US, but with Canada's affirmation of same sex unions within the church, with liberals to be found in some dioceses in the UK, South Africa, Australia, and Ireland, no one who is a liberal could be safe of recriminations. Canada, or at least the New Westminster diocese in British Coulmbia, could face the same fate as the ECUSA. It's a church devouring anyone not on the right, the result will be a very different communion. But it raises for me, fundamental questions about the nature of the Christian faith.
If there ever was any group in church history which could allow for a diversity of views, which could include doubters and true believers, liberals, conservatives, high church, low church, protestant, catholic, with provinces all around the world, it was the Anglican Communion. It's transformation into a rightwing outfit that kicks out those who differ from it's religious beliefs and practices, means the death of the possibilities of the Anglican communion. And the death of the dream that any religious body can actually break down walls and include the diversity of human existence.
But it also makes me wonder: what room exists for religious liberals within Christianity? It gets old being the enemy, hated simply over issues of sexuality and theological differences. The conservatives, armed with the numbers, are in a position to take over the United Methodists. The Presbyterians are racked with heresy trials. The Episcopal Church faces expulsion from the communion. Is there any place which is safe, where one is not the target or considered the enemy in the church? I don't know anymore. It certainly has shaken my faith in this religion and what role I could play within it.