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A BOOK YOU MAY NOT WANT TO READ

A BOOK YOU MAY NOT WANT TO READ

The Seduction of the Episcopal Church
By David W. Virtue
J2b Publishing, 146pp
Available at Amazon $12.78

Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Peter Moore
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org
December 17, 2019

I've been asked by several people to write a review of the book I'm about to introduce you to, but am conscious that the book may prove to be too offensive to some readers and so I wish to issue a disclaimer -- or a few of them.

First of all, the book is about the Episcopal Church in which I was an ordained priest for over 50 years. I was a confirmed Episcopalian, went to an Episcopal boy's boarding school, then studied theology at Oxford (almost the birthplace of Anglicanism), then at another Episcopal seminary, and served churches in both the USA and Canada. I was deposed as a priest by Katherine Jeffords Schori, the Presiding Bishop of TEC (The Episcopal Church), along with most other Diocese of South Carolina clergy who refused to go along with the theological and ethical innovations that she and others were urging the Church to adopt.

On top of this I helped create an Episcopal theological seminary (Trinity in Pittsburgh), and was President of it for 8 years (1996-2004) have taught courses in Episcopal seminaries. Plus, I am the author of several books that deal with issues affecting the church, and currently serve as scholar-in-residence at St. Michael's Church as well as Director of Anglican Leadership Institute.

These contacts don't make me an expert on all things Episcopalian, but at least they enable me to say that I am familiar with a lot of stuff that has gone on in my denomination for the past 50 plus years. I am now happily a priest in the Anglican Church in North America.

If, therefore, you do not wish to think about what has happened in this once proud denomination, nor are you concerned with any specifics of what this or that bishop or presiding bishop said or did, the book I am going to introduce you to is not for you.

If, also, you have been persuaded that those of us who have left TEC (or been removed from it) are hate-filled homophobes, or if you have a close friend or relative who identifies with any of the permutations that go under the rubric of LGBTQ or if you believe that a same-sex orientation is a God-given natural gift that must be cherished and celebrated, and if you have come to the opinion that same-sex marriage is not only the law of the land (which it is), but that it should be the law of the Church of Jesus Christ as well, then this book is probably not for you.

Finally, one more caveat. If you do not like journalistic writing that sometimes speaks boldly and causes the finer side of people to chafe and squirm, you may not want read this book. The author is a journalist who is not only theologically trained but has carefully watched TEC for almost 30 years, and writes an online column that reaches hundreds of thousands weekly, and he is occasionally abrasive and even crude. So, if you do read the book, fasten your seat belts, you will be treated to some pretty heavy stuff along the way.

The title of this book is The Seduction of the Episcopal Church, by David W. Virtue, D.D. It is published by J2B, Pomfret, MD, and is available on Amazon.com for $0.00 (Kindle) and $11.95 (paperback) if you are an Amazon.com PRIME member.

In many ways the book was a trip down memory lane since it follows the careers, sayings and actions of several TEC leaders whom I either met or knew: Bishop James Pike, Presiding Bishops John Murray Allen, Frank Griswold, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and of course that old standby: Bishop John Spong. Its thesis is that these men (except Bishop Allen) led TEC down a primrose path to near destruction by their fascination with extreme liberal theological ideas and their willingness to tolerate and celebrate any and every form of sexual expression between "committed" or "consenting" adults in the name of Christian love.

The facts speak for themselves. Under the leadership of these outspoken men (and one woman) the numerical decline of TEC is incredible and would have caused huge alarm by any organization or corporation other than TEC under the leaders it had. Virtue, who keeps a very close statistical count of baptisms, confirmations, Sunday attendance, ordinations is able to compare the size of TEC from one year to another, and one decade to another. From 1966 when the total membership of TEC was 3,647,297 over the next 35 years it declined to 2,320,221 for a loss of over a million members -- while the population of the country rose considerably. The median Sunday attendance dropped drastically so that although in 1965 3.62% Americans claimed to be Episcopalians, only 579,780 of them went to church on an average Sunday. Over the same period there was a drop of 81.7% of children enrolled in Episcopal Church schools and a drop of 83% in Episcopal confirmations.

And when it came to actual beliefs and attitudes, the facts were equally disturbing. Today, only 18% of Episcopalians look to religion for guidance on right and wrong, while 47% say that the Bible is not the Word of God.

THE ORIGINS OF DISCONTENT

So, what has happened? The Episcopal churches are still there on the corner. Their services are advertised in the newspapers. The bells ring on Sunday mornings. The church offices crank out bulletins and notices of coming events. And e-mail notices are sent out to members with great regularity. What has happened is a seismic shift in the official teachings of the Church combined with (or the result of) a vigorous program to reshape the Church's attitude towards sexuality.

On March 7, 2004 V. Gene Robinson stood before a congregation in Concord, New Hampshire embraced his male lover, Mark Andrews, his ex-wife and two daughters, and was made Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire. This was the culmination of a decades-long crusade to change the doctrine of TEC on marriage. The House of Bishops rolled over from its usual and canonical obligation to uphold the "doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church" and flagrantly went against the wishes of the global Anglican Communion and changed its doctrine of marriage in one fell swoop. The House of Bishops went against what they knew to be the teaching of thousands of years as found in the Bible ("A man shall leave his mother and father and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh"-- Jesus) and thumbed its nose at the expressed will of the 70+ million member Anglican Communion, of which it is a part, and said that from now on clergy and bishops could be married to their same-sex partners, or same-sex married men or women could be ordained as clergy or bishops.

There were objectors, of course. Some brave souls stood up and challenged the consecration of Robinson. Many primates who at the time were leaders of multi-million-member Anglican provinces around the world objected and announced that their province would no longer be in communion with TEC. Meetings of all 38 primates were called and statements issued showing how unpopular with the vast majority of Anglicans worldwide were these unilateral actions by TEC. But the water had gone over the waterfall, and now the American House of Bishops proceeded to justify, defend, and celebrate the new gay bishop -- and welcome others into the House of Bishops who were similarly yoked.

In one paragraph Virtue summarizes the effects: "Following the Robinson consecration, Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic Episcopalians began the long march out of the Episcopal Church. Faithful priests faced deposition, loss of parishes and in some cases loss of pensions. Lives were torn apart, but the majority of the House of Bishops stood firm under pressure from Church attorneys and watched as more than 100,000 faithful Episcopalians, more than 700 priests and more than a dozen bishops were evicted from the Episcopal Church." (p.XVI)

Large conferences began to be held, one in Jerusalem in 2008. There faithful Anglicans spoke out against the drift away from orthodox biblical teaching, and protesting the divisions that TEC's actions had causes. New coalitions were formed between primates and their provinces and there was talk of forming a new "holy alliance" of orthodox provinces throughout the Communion. What later became known as the Anglican Church of North America was clearly in their sights, though it was some years away from actually happening. To these orthodox primates, worldwide Anglicanism had entered a post-colonial phase. "Instead of continuing to rely solely on the colonial structures that had served the Anglican Communion so poorly through the present crisis, the movement now was to accept all those Anglicans who affirmed the Anglican standard of faith." (p.XVIII)

LEADERS WHO WILL NOT LEAD

But where were the leaders during this time of institutional chaos and change? Virtue takes us back to consider the lives and witness of several pioneers of change. The first is James A. Pike, Oklahoma-born priest who had once considered himself an agnostic. Using the media as few of his fellow bishops knew how to do, Pike began to launch his own crusade against orthodoxy within TEC. Thrice married, he became Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, where he reached large audiences with liberal sermons and weekly TV programs. While in New York he taught at Union Theological Seminary, and eventually became Bishop coadjutor of California in 1958. Along what can only be called a "pilgrim's regress" he took pot shots at many cherished Christian doctrines such as The Virgin Birth. That was one of his favorite whipping boys. The Ascension of Jesus became another. He proclaimed that the Trinity was dispensable, and the unique divinity of Jesus also had to go. One of his favorite whipping boys was the concept of Jesus ascending to heaven. "Going up" means nothing in our post-Copernican age. "I don't believe in these physical images" he intoned. Meanwhile efforts to get Pike censured as a "heretic" failed in the House of Bishops. In a Look Magazine article Pike called The Episcopal Church "a sick -- even dying -- institution." Virtue says: "In this, at least, the bishop may be said to have been prophetic." (p.7)

Bishop Pike died in the deserts just West of the Dead Sea now in Israel. He was trying through a seer to get in touch with his son who had committed suicide. Searchers eventually found the bishop's decomposed body.

Moving from Pike onward, TEC began to descend into a miasma of theological confusion and denials which led to this historic orthodox denomination "embracing openly practicing lesbian and homosexual priests and bishops, with homosexual marriage being the end of the pansexual experiment." (p.10)

We next are treated with a chapter on Dr. Louis Crew who taught at Rutgers University in New Jersey from 1989 to 2001. Though neither a bishop nor a priest, Crew founded Integrity a pro-gay organization named Integrity committed to gaining full acceptance for actively homosexual men and women In TEC. He worked tirelessly from General Convention to General Convention to make this happen in the course of which he married his partner Ernest Clay and changed his name to Dr. Louie Clay. The two men moved to San Francisco. Integrity used words like "inclusion" and "diversity" to advance the cause of practicing homosexual behavior. I remember listening to debates on the subject at various General Conventions and feeling that the deck was stacked because those advocating change had learned how to build on sympathy for society's underdogs while those opposing change relied on reasoned arguments.

EDMUND BROWNING

After the Crew chapter, several chapters of the book trace the careers and teachings of a number of Presiding Bishops of TEC. First Virtue deals with Edmund Browning, a Presiding bishop who had a particular aversion to theological orthodoxy. Along with his pal, Bishop John Spong of Newark, the men went on a crusade to create a church of 'no outcasts" that would support the ordination of homosexuals. No matter if this put TEC on record as opposing the authority of Scripture which the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, who once said: "I cannot bless what God would not bless."

Nor was it just Browning's own teaching that was aberrant, he would pass over the sins of others when it suited him. The book recounts an incident when Bishop Browning disciplined Steven T. Plummer, the late Bishop of Navaholand. Plummer was reported to have sexually abused his nephew over a period of two years. Browning "sent him away for a year of therapy, and then returned him to service as a bishop, based on his counselors' opinions that he was unlikely to repeat his former behavior." (p.27)

FRANK GRISWOLD

One of Virtue's saddest chapters is the presidency of Frank Tracy Griswold who after 11 years as Bishop of Chicago was elected Presiding Bishop in 1998. Theologically, Griswold could be said to have been ambiguity magnified. His statements were usually hard to understand because central to his teaching and sermons was the whole concept of "ambiguity". He said: "I see myself as an Anglican with the breadth to live with ambiguity and contradicting perspectives and stay grounded." (p.37)

Another of Griswold's sayings that Virtue quotes is equally befuddling: "Through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit...we can welcome the paradox, complexity, ambiguity and outright contradiction, which is where real life is lived and the grace and peace of God are truly to be found" (p.37)

Virtue has a long section in which he questions Griswold's sexuality based on reports from various parts of TEC, including Europe. He learned that there were so many rumors of Griswold having assignments with gay men on Paris' Left Bank that the Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Paris refused to let Griswold preach there. A number of well-known Episcopal leaders at the time called on Griswold to resign, to no effect. He saw himself as a "martyr" and the "focal point of people's discontent." (p.67)

THE END OF ORTHODOXY

Following Griswold's disastrous leadership TEC embraced the Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Bishop of Nevada as its next Primate. Virtue entitled this chapter "The End of Orthodoxy." Some, of course, objected to there being a woman at the headship of TEC because their Anglo-Catholic theology forbade women priests to begin with. Others questioned her preparedness to be Primate since a number of things on her resume raised serious questions. For example, she said in her resume that she had taught at the seminary level, when in fact she had only taught some adult education classes at her home parish.

As Presiding Bishop Schori soon revealed that she was totally committed to the cause of ordaining homosexuals as priests, and in the words of Virtue: "The Pandora's Box of sexualities had been opened, there would be no turning back." (p.76)

The Anglican Communion was again plunged into controversy, with bishops meeting all over the globe to issue reports on the divisive actions of TEC that were tearing the Communion apart. An "Anglican Covenant called the Ridley Cambridge Draft Covenant (2008) was circulated to try to bring the Communion together; but it was neither rejected nor accepted by TEC. Instead, TEC opted for a "pastoral response" to the crisis, which meant that nothing definite would be forthcoming.

Under Jefferts Schori's leadership a crusade was begun against orthodox parishes and clergy who did not support her vision of TEC or of the historic place of the Bible in determining human sexuality. Virtue calls this Jefferts Schori's "personal Inquisition of Episcopal churches not perfectly in line with her message." (p.78) Churches disaffiliating with TEC would now lose their properties and could be sold to start up evangelicals, fundamentalists, even to Muslim Imams for mosques. But in no way would they be sold to Anglicans wishing to remain Anglican but connect to the Communion outside the purview of TEC. The legal proceedings that were now required to ensure that every last conservative voice would be silenced required the use of millions of Church dollars that most surely had been given for other purposes but were now pressed into service to the new pansexuality doctrine that Schori and her "legal Doberman, David Booth Beers and his law firm" required. (p.79)

The moral anarchy that now seemed the order of the day in TEC was no better illustrated than in the story of The Rev. Heather Cook who had grown up in the bosom of TEC's Diocese of Maryland and despite a well-known history of drug and alcohol abuse was seen as a sign of good things to come. Schori promoted Cook and she was ordained priest despite the rumors.

On December 27, 2010 with a blood alcohol level well above the legal limit, The Rev. Cook ploughed her Subaru into a man on a bicycle. The man eventually died while Cook fled the scene to the gated community where she lived. The man left behind a wife and two small children. Later that evening, Cook was persuaded to return to the scene of her crime. There she was arrested, and soon faced charges.

The Baltimore Sun carried the story outraging all decent-minded people and openly protesting Jefferts Schori's lack of wisdom in supporting Cook along the way, knowing her drug and alcohol problem. After having served half of her 7- year prison sentence, Cook was let out of prison and soon being promoted by Schori to become a bishop. In 2014 Heather Cook became the first woman to be elected a bishop in the Diocese of Maryland.

In 2015 Bishop Cook resigned as bishop, and was not permitted to exercise any ministry within TEC from then on. But the Diocese of Maryland had a strange public response. The Bishop of Maryland, Eugene Sutton, issued a shocking statement. "He declared that the church would continue to serve alcohol...(because) we would not want to be compared to 'Puritanism.'" (p.91) This story alone should make any continuing Episcopalian scratch their head.

Virtue's "epitaph" on Jefferts Schori's tombstone is worth quoting: "In the course of over nine years, she variously denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the full deity of Christ, referred to Jesus as 'mother Jesus' at one point and said St. Paul should have listened to a demoniac girl for spiritual guidance...She was the perfect ecclesiastical piñata. Hit her hard enough and out would pour more heresies." (p.99)

Now you can see why I warned you not to read this book. You have read enough in my little synopses to get a picture of how TEC has resolutely gone down the primrose path of self-destruction. It is not those who have objected all along to these nonsensical and sinful actions (and suffered the consequences by doing so) but those who have quietly looked the other direction and shut their ears to what was so obviously happening. Let's pray that in this Advent Season there will be another John the Baptist who comes to call God's people to repent.

Peter Moore holds degrees from Yale ('58), Oxford ('60), Episcopal Divinity School ('61), and Fuller Theological Seminary ('86), and has three honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees. He is the Director of the Anglican Leadership Institute and is scholar-in-residence at St. Michael's Church, Charleston. He lives in Mount Pleasant with his wife. His daughter and son-in-law are also ordained Anglicans. He is the author of 5 books.

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