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VIRGINIA: ECUSA Priest Flees for AMiA

"Episcopal Church has begun a new religion"
"Ecclesiastical action against me logically incomprehensible"

By the Rev. Joseph P. Murphy Ph.D.

January 21, 2004

The Rt. Rev. Peter J. Lee
The Rt. Rev. David Jones
The Rt. Rev. Francis Gray

Mayo Memorial Church House
110 W. Franklin St.
Richmond, VA 23220

Dear Bishops Lee, Jones, and Gray,

At the gathering of clergy you convened this past fall at Christchurch School to discuss the actions of General Convention 2003, I made clear to you all my understanding that the Episcopal Church no longer holds the teaching of the Christian Faith that it had received, thus making void the vow of ordination that I, and all Episcopal clergy, have taken.

I repeated this to Bishop Lee in person later that month. That I am not alone in such an understanding is clear from Claiming Our Anglican Identity: The Case Against the Episcopal Church, USA, a paper commissioned in 2003 for the Primates of the Anglican Communion by the Most Rev. Drexel Gomez, the Most Rev. Peter Akinola, and the Most Rev. Gregory Venables (pages 13-14). Further reflection and consideration of the action of the Episcopal Church, and the responses from Anglicans all over the world, have only deepened my conviction that the Episcopal Church of the United States of America has departed from the Christian faith in a substantial manner.

By reading Scripture in such a way that its ethical imperatives no longer address personal desires where they conflict with Scripture, the Episcopal Church has now formally adopted a spirituality that is not subject to the Word of God. Without its life rooted in submission to God Who speaks, its theology and liturgy are cut off from the source of all life in the One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You may view such a judgment on my part as extreme. However, if Christian disciples cannot be taught that all of our lives are to be submitted to Jesus Christ without reservation, that all of our thoughts and desires are to be brought into obedience to Him such that He alone determines what pleases Him, and that determination comes through what He has spoken to us all publicly through the writings of the Hebrew prophets, the teachings of Jesus, and the writings of His apostles and their immediate disciples, then such “discipleship” as results from such restricted teaching will not know the freedom for which we have been created. It is not worthy of the name Christian. Truly, by formally relaxing the demands of discipleship on the entire self, the Episcopal Church has begun a new religion, one in which we determine what is necessary to please God. Of course, that determination rests in what pleases the majority of us, reducing our grasp of He Who is wholly Other than us to our political consensus about Him. Rather than ruling over us, He is effectively tamed.

It is the call of Jesus to lay down one’s life for Him, or lose it. To reduce His call for radical discipleship at the level of the thoughts, desires, and intentions of our hearts to merely bearing with one another’s “opinions” as if the Church were merely a body politic, is to not only misconstrue the nature of the Church, but to fail to hear Jesus’ call to discipleship at all at the level where His cross—which differentiates Christianity from all other spiritual ways—becomes evident, that of personal obedience to Him where our desires run contrary. The issue at hand is not merely a social issue, or even an ethical issue. It is a question of the gospel itself, and of the reality of the acts of God in the life of humanity—since words are acts. It is a matter of the differing ways we read scripture, but that is of the most profound importance, as that reading instantiates, brings into being, who we are. God’s Word is alive, as are those who submit their hearts to Him through it. The Episcopal Church has chosen to deny His words by granting itself the right to read them in such a way that they do not address our sinful condition. What is left is a message, a “gospel,” indistinguishable from the ways of the world, and frankly, better served by abandoning the vestiges of Scripture and tradition that can be retained under its new understanding. Cut off from its power to address the sinful self as God has chosen to, Scripture as contextualized in the new ethos of the Episcopal Church is no longer the Word of God, no longer the conduit for His Life that our Anglican tradition affirms.

I applaud the efforts of the American Anglican Council, and look forward to the day when a single Anglican Church will faithfully serve our Lord here in the United States. Until then, however, due to the actions of the Episcopal Church, I find the conclusion inescapable that violating Anglican order in some way is a necessity if Episcopalians are to remain obedient to the Lord. In my observation, the ethos of the Episcopal Church in large part is ignorant of, and resistant to the teachings of Scripture, evidencing processes long under way and only brought to fruition in the decisions of 2003.

While many congregations demonstrate exception to this observation, so many do not that I am convinced that the Church cannot reform itself. As I mentioned to all of you prior to the General Convention while urging you to help avoid the current crisis, the Episcopal Church is now in so many ways akin to the Donatist Church of the fourth and fifth centuries, that I believe its only hope is intervention from the wider Anglican Church as that Church’s salvation came from the universal Church. Consequently, to remain faithful to my ordination vow to serve as a presbyter in the Church of Jesus Christ proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, I hereby submit myself to the Anglican Province of Rwanda in the Anglican Mission in America. I do so in order to fulfill my ordination vow, maintaining my desire to serve the Lord in the Anglican Communion as it has historically existed as catholic and evangelical, proclaiming Christ in both Word and Sacrament.

Further, since the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda on September 5, 2003 declared that “the Episcopal Church, USA has departed from the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as the Church has received them,” and that “by these actions the Episcopal Church, USA has placed itself out of communion with other member of the worldwide Anglican Communion” by this letter I do hereby declare that any action taken against me as a presbyter under authority of Title IV Canon 10 of the Constitutions & Canons of the Episcopal Church of 2000, as revised by the General Convention of 2003, by the Diocese of Virginia (1) to be legally and logically incomprehensible given the loss of status in the Anglican Communion of the Episcopal Church which is assumed in Title IV Canon 10, and (2) to be null and void in the Anglican Communion by virtue of the Episcopal Church’s loss of its communion with other Anglican Communion churches.

It is my understanding that by this action I remain a presbyter in the Anglican Communion, whereas by my remaining in the Diocese of Virginia of the Episcopal Church, I would not.

By my stating what I deem to be the truth in regard to the Episcopal Church as it now stands, I imply nothing in regard to yourselves or any other clergy or members of the Episcopal Church. We each answer to our Lord alone. However, I urge you and all Episcopalians, by the mercies of our Lord, to give ear to His voice anew.

Sincerely yours in Jesus Christ,

The Rev. Joseph P. Murphy, Ph.D.
Formerly rector of St. Mary's - Fleeton, Reedville, VA

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