January 6, 2009
Monday’s unanimous Supreme Court decision is a landmark ruling that states – once and for all – the reality that individuals may choose to leave the Episcopal Church but they cannot choose to take the property that belongs to the diocese with them.
The truth is, in spite of all the efforts to spin the story otherwise, the current departures from the Episcopal Church amount to a splinter … not a split. A relatively small but vocal minority of Episcopalians have chosen to leave over the inclusion of gay and lesbian people more fully in the life and work of the church but the vast majority of Episcopalians remain committed to moving ahead with our mission and ministry, in spite of their differences on this and many other issues.
In the 1970’s here in the Diocese of Los Angeles four congregations attempted to “leave the Episcopal Church” over the ordination of women. There were law suits and property challenges and – at the end of the day – two of them left and two of them ended up staying.
Now in 2009 we have four congregations seeking to “leave the Episcopal Church” -- ostensibly over the ministry of gay and lesbian folk in the church. This is not the greatest schism in the history of Christendom – it is the cost of discipleship we pay as a church willing to follow the Jesus who called all people into God’s loving embrace. We paid it in the 70’s over the ordination of women and we’re paying it now over the full inclusion of the LGBT baptized. And we will be a stronger church as a result.
While we believe it grieves the heart of God whenever there is a split in the fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ, at the end of the day what matters more than those who choose to leave the Episcopal Church because they’re disagreed with are those who will COME to the Episcopal Church because of our policies of welcome, inclusion and our message of love and tolerance.
That’s the good news we have to proclaim as Episcopalians in this New Year and the welcome decision of the California Supreme Court is going to help us do precisely that.
(The Reverend) Susan Russell, President