Schisms are nothing new in Christian history. In fact, as part of what is known as the western catholic tradition, I’m divided in many ways from the eastern church. On the western side would be the Roman, Anglican, and Lutheran churches, on the eastern side are the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches. Among the western churches, although there are significant differences in organization and governance, there’s not much more than a nickel’s worth of theological difference between the branches, even those of us who are called Protestant. I have absolutely no issues with anything in the three creeds (Athanasian, Nicene, Apostles) that the western church holds to. I’ve been baptized, I cross myself when I pray, I worship and accept the Eucharist regularly.
Delegates of the San Joaquin diocese met at Fresno this weekend and, by a vote of 173 to 22 (with 6 abstentions), chose to disassociate themselves from the Episcopal Church. The bishop, John-David Schofield, and the majority of churches in his diocese, have some rather bizarre theological affectations. This is the only diocese in the Episcopal Church that doesn’t ordain women as priests, for example. Their big issue, which galvanized them to secede from the national church, is the ordination of gay priests.
I guess they’re embarrassed that the Episcopal Church is lead by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, a woman. I guess they’re upset that V. Gene Robinson, the bishop of New Hampshire, is homosexual. I guess they’re being childish.
If this really bothers them, they should be embarrassed to worship a god who sent his only son to die for the sins of all who believe, including women and gays. They should be embarrassed that this god sends his spirit into the world and calls all those women and faggots!
Here’s the crux of the matter: We, meaning the western church, do not believe that we can come to believe in Jesus Christ by our own intellectual prowess. We believe that those of us who have faith in the trinity do so because we were called by the Holy Spirit. We further believe that men and women do not choose the ordained ministry as part of normal career selection, that men and women are called to ministry by the same Spirit. When a parish needs a new pastor, a Call Committee is established. In the Lutheran and Anglican tradition, bishops are chosen by election, but we have faith that the selection is guided by the Spirit.
God called Peter, the fisherman who couldn’t keep his foot out of his mouth, the man we see as the first bishop of the Christian church, the man the Roman church sees as the first Pontiff. God called Matthew, the despised tax collector, to be an apostle. Some of what they did may have turned his stomach, but God called the Borgia popes, and later called Martin Luther. And seeing their faith and their willingness to serve his people, he calls women and homosexuals and expects his church, all branches of his church, to succor them and equip them for that service.
Bishop Schofield believes the important part is completely different. There is a section of the Old Testament book of Leviticus (chapters 17-26) known as the Holiness Code. It’s quite a collection of prohibitions, some of which don’t make a whole lot of sense, most of which the Christian church regards with amusement. For example, followers of the Holiness Code can’t eat lobster or shellfish, can’t eat cheeseburgers, and men can’t “lie with” men. This is the part of the Torah that made the Pharisees so proud of themselves, they never contravened any of the 600+ rules in there. I don’t know why all those rules were recorded, and I don’t know why they ended up as part of Torah, and thus part of the Old Testament. It’s not important. It’s part of the heritage of Judaism, which is part of the heritage of Christianity, but it isn’t binding on you and me today. I have no intention to “lie with a man as with a woman”, but you separate me from McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese at your peril, and a bowl of steamed clams sounds really good right now.
That’s the part of scripture that Bishop Schofield holds to be central, apparently. Well, John-David, you are wrong. The Gospel is the part of scripture that’s central, and furthering the work of Jesus Christ in the world around us is what’s central to our lives today. Driving wedges that divide the church, or that divide believers from the church, is anathema.
Just like the church survived the Borgia popes, the church will survive this latest fracas. The national church, which apparently owns all the buildings in the diocese, will doubtless take care of the paperwork so that new priests can be called to serve these troubled parishes. The real diocese, that is the body of parishes in that area, will elect a new bishop. The gospel will be proclaimed, souls will be saved, and John-David Schofield will, if he’s very lucky, be a footnote in history a hundred years from now.