LA Times mangles the Anglican timeline

9780060775377No wonder so many reporters get confused about the whole Anglican timeline issue. Click here and take a look at a conservative website's version of how the Episcopal Church reached its current crisis. This is the kind of info that is all over the place.

Now this is a useful timeline in many ways. It has all kinds of information about all kinds of events over a long period of time and, for reporters, saving this URL would put them one click away from basic documents in the middle and on one side of this global debate. Let me repeat that this is a conservative timeline and folks on the left would say that it omits many important facts and events.

That's my point, too. Take a look at this section of the timeline:

1989 -- Bishop John Spong, Diocese of Newark, publicly ordains first non-celibate, openly-partnered, homosexual.

1991 -- Bishop Walter Righter, Diocese of Washington, D.C., ordaines a non-celibate homosexual.

1994 -- General Convention of ECUSA approved Resolution C042 calling for preparation of a report considering rites for blessings of same-sex unions.

1994 -- Bishop Spong drafted the "Koinonia Statement" defining homosexuality as morally neutral and affirming support for the ordination of homosexuals in faithful sexual relationships (signed by 90 bishops and 144 deputies). See also Spong's 12 Theses.

1996 -- The American Anglican Council is incorporated.

1996 --- Both counts of heresy against Bishop Righter dismissed in an ecclesiastical court, which declared there was "no clear doctrine" involved regarding the ordination a non-celibate gay man.

1997 -- The Kuala Lumpur Statement, is released by the Second Anglican Encounter in the South, upholding traditional theology on human sexuality. At General Convention, Resolution B032 to endorse the Kuala Lumpur Statement was defeated in the House of Bishops 94 to 42.

1998 -- Lambeth Conference upholds Scriptural and traditional teaching on marriage and human sexuality in resolution 1.10. Showing their dissent for resolution 1.10, 65 ECUSA bishops sign a pastoral statement to lesbian and gay anglicans.

Now, this shows that the fighting has been going on a long, long time -- certainly before the ordination of a certain noncelibate gay bishop in a tiny diocese in true blue New England.

That's good. That's factual.

But read this timeline -- a conservative one, remember -- and you would think that this is all about sex or, at best, sex and the Bible. In a way, this bias in the timeline helps the Episcopal left make its case that this is all about sex and biblical literalism.

I bring this up because of a recent Los Angeles Times article by Louis Sahagun that has been nagging me all week. Something in it bugged me and I have had trouble pinning it down. The article focuses on the conservative Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin and its controversial leader, the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield. Here is how it opens:

FRESNO -- For Bishop John-David Schofield, the question is central to the future of the church he loves: Does the American Episcopal Church believe the Scriptures are the revealed word of God?

In a recent vote, a majority of his flock answered with a resounding "no," and that is why Schofield is leading his San Joaquin Diocese in an unprecedented effort to pull away from the Episcopal Church.

And later in the same article we read this summary:

Schofield's diocese, which had been largely ignored for decades by top Episcopal leaders, is sharpening the national debate over church identity and mission. Although the Fresno-based diocese has focused on its differences with the national church, Episcopal leaders have stressed their commonalities, such as core beliefs about the salvation promised by Jesus Christ.

... Schofield's goal is to place the diocese under the jurisdiction of a conservative prelate, possibly one in South America or Africa.

Now, this is truly strange -- especially that phrase that the U.S. Episcopal Church is stressing that it remains united to conservatives because of "core beliefs about the salvation promised by Jesus Christ." This is strange, because the national church has tabled or rejected attempts to affirm a simple statement affirming (tmatt trio question No. 2) that salvation is found through Jesus Christ, alone. There is no way that salvation theology is a source of unity in modern Anglicanism -- at least not in the First World.

But as I pondered the Los Angeles Times article, something else hit me. Schofield is known as a leader among the conservative camp known as "Anglo-Catholicism." His emphasis has been on the Catholic -- large "C" -- nature of the church and its doctrines. This is a man who would, with his first breath, defend the creeds and sacraments. I cannot find, anywhere in this article, a clear reference to this fact. He is not an Evangelical or Reformed Anglican. He is an Anglo-Catholic.

And there is another problem in the story. In that timeline at the start of this post, note the little phrase: "See also Spong's 12 Theses."

Now what is that all about?

Consider this section of the Times article:

In a message to his congregations in December, Schofield said the Episcopal Church's departure from doctrine began in 2003 when for the first time it consented to allow an openly gay man to be elected bishop.

Later, church leaders failed to challenge a retired Episcopal bishop who published a book denying the virgin birth and questioning the divinity of Jesus. Then in November, Jefferts Schori, a supporter of same-sex unions, became the first woman to lead a national church in the Anglican Communion's roughly 500-year history.

spong coverThe word "later" makes it seem that this "retired Episcopal bishop" published his radical views after 2003.

This has to be a reference to retired Bishop Jack Spong of Newark and his 12 theses to modernize Christianity. When did that firestorm take place? Well, I wrote about it in 1998 -- well before the events of 2003. The key is that Spong -- click here for the details -- rejected the very heart of theism as well as Christianity. Thus, I wrote:

Anglicanism begins and ends with The Book of Common Prayer.

Obviously, this volume is full of prayers -- morning prayers, evening prayers and prayers for all the times in between. There are hundreds of pages of prayers for Holy Communion, baptisms, ordinations, funerals and other events and most begin with "O God," "Heavenly Father," "Eternal Lord God" or similar phrases. The working assumption is that the God of the Bible hears these prayers and can answer them.

Wrong, argues America's most famous Episcopal bishop.

The Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong believes the time has come for intelligent Christians to grow up and admit there isn't a personal God of any kind on the receiving end of these prayers and petitions. The bishop of Newark fired this shot over the bow in a recent missive containing 12 theses, starting with: "Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead." The logical implication appears as his 10th thesis: "Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way."

There's more. What about Jesus? What about the cross? Heaven? Hell?

After ditching theism, the bishop says it's "nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity." He rejects miracles in general, humanity's fall into sin and any belief that the Bible contains revealed, transcendent moral laws. He rejects the virgin birth, resurrection and ascension of Jesus as historical events.

In some of his most sweeping language, Spong writes: "The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed." Later he adds: "The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment."

Spong has never hidden his beliefs and he remains a bishop in good standing in the Episcopal Church. Here is an interesting question for reporters covering the church at this point in its history. Ask Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori which points in Spong's revolutionary post-theistic creed she would reject and which she would affirm. Read her the list.

This 1998 Spong firestorm belongs on any timeline of the current Episcopal controversy. And it certainly did not take place after 2003 -- no matter what the Los Angeles Times says.

Please respect our Commenting Policy