The conservative forces in the Episcopal Church seem to be shifting to a “post-denominational” strategy, reflecting a national mood that de-emphasizes the importance of denominations.
The conservative caucuses in the church in the past were mainly concerned with fighting liberal tendencies and extending orthodox influence (such as by electing bishops) within the denominational structure. The traditionalist Christian Challenge magazine (May) reports on three fledgling groups that are taking the new approach of challenging the traditional hierarchy and structure of the Episcopal Church. A “First Promise” movement, made up of about 200 clergy and their parishes of the evangelical wing of the denomination are actively resisting liberal church authorities and policies.
Such resistance is seen in two parishes stepping outside their own dioceses and seeking the oversight of foreign bishops. Rev. Thomas Johnston of St. Andrew’s Church in Little Rock, Ark., is in the center of such protests, as he seeks episcopal oversight by Rwandan Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini, while another South Carolinian priest is now under the oversight of Archbishop Moses Tay of South East Asia.
Such a step of seeking authority outside of the Episcopal Church was once considered radical even by traditionalists; now many conservatives as well as some leaders in other Anglican provinces (especially in the conservative Third World churches) are supportive of such an action, since they believe the Episcopal Church is moving in increasingly liberal directions. The recent formation of the North American Missionary Society is now under the oversight of Archbishop Tay. The group plans to bypass denominational missions as well as plant “orthodox” parishes in the U.S.
The most ambitious and controversial project is the formation of a “shadow” denomination known as the Protestant Episcopal Church (PEC). The PEC was the former name of the Episcopal Church. Conservatives plan to regroup under the PEC if the denomination becomes too liberal on such issues as homosexuality.
The move to become a possible “separate orthodox province” under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury is also the goal of yet another organization, the Episcopal Synod of America, a large group of Anglo-Catholics protesting the forced acceptance of women’s ordination and other liberal measures.
(Christian Challenge, 1215 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003)