My wife, Willa, and I have determined that we must leave the Episcopal Church. To leave a parish where we have been blessed and loved for sixteen years, and to leave a denomination to which we have belonged for thirty-six and sixty years respectively is no small thing. However, we believe that the condition of the Episcopal Church as a denomination is such that as believers in Jesus Christ we must separate ourselves from this body.
I believe it would be wrong to simply leave and not explain why. Therefore this paper is written for our brothers and sisters at St. Mary's, for the many Episcopalians who through encouragement, prayers, gifts and labor have been a part of Regeneration, and to others throughout the church with whom it has been our privilege to labor on behalf of Christian orthodoxy in the Episcopal Church for the past fifteen years.
When we say that we are leaving the Episcopal Church, let it be clear that we believe that in the most important ways we are not leaving our brothers and sisters in Christ who remain in the Church. Our bond to them in Christ is much stronger than any connection we have had through our denomination. What we are leaving is the national institution, its Presiding Bishop, its corporate structure, and its General Convention including its House of Bishops. We acknowledge that there are wonderful healthy local bodies, even dioceses, in the Episcopal Church, but we believe that they are merely healthy remnants of a very diseased body.
Willa shares with me most of what follows, but because the words are mine, I am writing in the first person.
WHAT IS WRONG THAT MAKES US BELIEVE WE SHOULD LEAVE -- The problems in the Episcopal Church, and its departures from orthodoxy are so well known that the question for many is no longer, "Why leave?" but "What are the reasons for staying?" The recent Good Shepherd statement from the Episcopal Synod of America, and the recent release from Concerned Clergy and Laity of the Episcopal Church spoke more eloquently than I could of the range and depth of the problems in the ECUSA, but I will list briefly the areas which I believe most clearly place the Episcopal Church outside the limits of historic Christianity:
1. Its stand on sexual issues reflects a rejection of Biblical authority and historic Christian teaching. With the recent General Convention's failure to even seriously consider overriding the Righter decision, the ordination of practicing homosexuals is now clearly permitted in the Episcopal Church. The blessing of same-sex unions is, according to Integrity, going on in every diocese, and little if any opposition to it is coming from the bishops. Most believe that it would have received official Church sanction had the four Central American diocese left the ECUSA before General Convention rather than after it, and were the Lambeth Conference not lying just over the horizon in 1998. The church has repeatedly shown that it is not inclined to say that clergy should not engage in sex outside of marriage.
2. Its stand as an advocate of abortion on demand. Perhaps no single issue reveals the hearts and beliefs of men and women today than their stand on partial birth abortion. I have difficulty differentiating from the Presiding Bishop's endorsement of partial birth abortion and the picture of a priest standing before an altar driving a dagger into a newborn baby, sacrificing it to the goddess of radical feminism. That we--including myself--weren't much more outraged by this, shows to me that we have become so accustomed to tolerating abominations in our church that we are all in spiritual danger.
3. The church's rejection of the authority of Scripture. Testifying at General Convention, one soon knows that to quote Scripture is to speak irrelevancies to many in our Church. No major issues in the ECUSA are being settled by a reference to God's written word.
4. The rejection of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Whether it be in individual dioceses or in the "Evangelism" office of the national church, Jesus Christ is now "a way," not "the way."
5. The rejection of evangelism. The strenuous objection to the evangelization of the Jews reveals the fundamental universalism of the Episcopal Church.
6. The rejection of the terms whereby God has revealed Himself. Inclusive language as applied to the Godhead, clearly reveals a church sold out to the spirit of the age.
SEPARATION IS REQUIRED -- Scripture is clear that when a brother persists in sin after every reasonable effort has been made to bring him to repentance, then he is to be put out of the fellowship. (Matthew 18:15-17 and I Corinthians 5:1-5) We cannot put the Bishops out of the Church, but we can still separate from them by breaking fellowship with them. We are also told in Scripture (III Corinthians 6:14-18) not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. Yes, by the criteria of most Christians in the world today, and by the standards of historic Christianity, I believe that those who are prevailing in the Episcopal Church today are unbelievers.
I BELIEVE WE HAVE TWO OPTIONS -- I believe that it is not possible to stay in the Episcopal Church and remain obedient to the authorities in the Church while being obedient to our Lord's commands. This gives us two options: either to stay and be disobedient, or to leave. If I were a rector of a local parish and believed that holding my parish together was critical for the life of those entrusted to me, I might choose to stay and be disobedient. If I were an Anglo-Catholic, and thus custodian of treasured Christian traditions which are found nowhere else in the same way in the Body of Christ, I might try to stay as a separate, but disobedient fellowship within the Episcopal Church--for a time at least. I believe that the role being taken by the primarily Anglo-Catholic Synod is a courageous one.
WHY I HAVE CHOSEN LEAVING RATHER THAN STAYING AND DISOBEYING -- I am not a priest so the welfare of other believers will not be greatly affected by my departure. I am not an Anglo-Catholic so more options are open to me. Furthermore, there are some very strong reasons why I believe I should leave:
1. The turmoil, the battles, the chaos in the Episcopal Church are an enormous distraction. In my quiet times, in my discussions with other believers, and in the journals I read, I find myself constantly being drawn away from the more important matters of the faith and of the specific ministry to which I am called into the ongoing battles within the Episcopal Church. (I hate to think how much the fulfillment of the Great Commission has been hindered as so many of our finest leaders have been forced to fight a holding battle for Christianity within their own church).
2. The battle is over in the specific area in which I have been called to serve. I am not a leader in the Episcopal Church. I am a leader in ex-gay ministry, and as the most prominent ex-gay minister in the Episcopal Church, I believe I was called to stand beside and support those who were called to battle for the renewal of the Church. This has been a great honor and privilege. I have surely gotten to know some of the finest Christians one could ever meet. But, the battle over homosexuality in the Episcopal Church is finished, and therefore my specific job of support has come to an end.
THE SIGNS ARE THAT REFORM IS UNLIKELY TO COME -- For a number of years
many of us felt we should stay and fight, that victory could be ours. Perhaps the truth of what we were saying would get through to the other side. Perhaps the great uninformed, essentially conservative mass of people in the pews would be stirred up and we would take back our church. There are two reasons why I don't believe this is going to happen; both indicate to me that God is not working to save the institution of the Episcopal Church:
1. The continued drift into moral and ecclesiastical chaos -- Every time something terrible happens in the national church, I wonder, can it get any worse? It always does. Moral scandals, suicides, divorces, financial scandals, and rebellion in the ranks occur one after another. Of course, except for the hand of God each of us could fall into these things. It seems as if the hand of God has been removed from the Episcopal Church.
2. The valiant efforts of the finest believers seem to have come to naught. This, perhaps more than anything else, indicates to me that the days of the Episcopal Church as a viable part of the Body of Christ may be over. For years we have had brilliant and balanced, sold-out and selfless bishops, priests and laypersons fighting for the life of the Episcopal Church, but their efforts seem to have done almost nothing to slow down the denomination's slide into apostasy. Surely, if God were wanting to save this church, we would have seen some fruit borne by the efforts of these men and women.
One may say that God can always work miracles. There could suddenly be massive conversions among the leaders of the denomination. There could, but we do not force God's hand by doing nothing and waiting for a miracle. To take no action but simply wait for a miracle, would in light of the crisis that the church is in today, be the equivalent of not getting medical care for my injured brother--just waiting for the miracle to take care of him.
MY PREVIOUS REASONS FOR STAYING ARE GONE -- Three things kept me from leaving several years ago.
1. I would not trust just my judgement or discernment to tell me if and when to leave. I decided to wait until I saw other people whom I highly respected leave. This has happened. Leanne Payne, Mark Pearson, Richard Lipka, Phil Zampino and others whom I have known and admired have now left the Episcopal Church.
2. I would not leave until I knew where to go. Although our decision will not be made finally until we have been there a while, the Charismatic Episcopal Church offers us a place to go where we can experience everything that we would seek in a church. It is evangelical, catholic and Pentecostal, and from what we have seen it is maintaining that which historically has made Anglicanism such a rich part of the Church.
3. 1 would not leave because Regeneration had an important role to be play in being held up as a "better way" in the debates over homosexuality in the Episcopal Church. I believe that the debates are now over and so this role is finished. Sadly, I recognize that our departure may leave some of our brothers and sisters with a feeling of abandonment, but I do not feel like I am leaving my comrades in the midst of a battle. Let's face it, homosexuality has been approved and endorsed by the Episcopal Church.
THE EFFECTS OF OUR DEPARTURE ON REGENERATION -- Regeneration has never been an Episcopal ministry so far as having been sponsored or endorsed by a diocese or the national church. Over the years, however, the majority of our staff and Board members have been Episcopalians. Several Episcopal churches in Baltimore and Northern Virginia have been key in meeting many of our needs, financial and otherwise. Nationally, we have received much financial and prayer support and encouragement from Episcopalians. Our presence at five General Conventions and at other national church conferences, and articles by and about us in Episcopal publications have given us a national reputation in the Episcopal Church. Most of this need not change. Willa and I can no longer testify as Episcopalians in the debates over homosexuality in the Episcopal Church, but we believe that they have run their course anyway.
Although we are leaving the Episcopal Church, half of our Board will still be Episcopalian. Bob Raga, and many of his Northern Virginia volunteers remain Episcopalians. Willa and I will still be the same people, and our Christian faith will still have an Anglican accent especially if we find our new home in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. I have noticed how both Leanne Payne and Mark Pearson continue to minister into the Episcopal Church even though they are no longer a part of it. We believe that we can do the same.
To say that Willa and I and Regeneration have been blessed mightily by being in the Episcopal Church would be a terrible understatement. Regeneration has grown to be one of the largest Christian ministries to men and women overcoming homosexuality, in no small part due to the support that we have received from our fellow churchmen. I speak not only of financial support, but also of affirmation, encouragement and friendship. We love many of you very much. As I said earlier, the tie that binds us in Jesus Christ is far greater than any denominational affiliation. My prayer is that this tie will endure and even grow in the coming years. God bless you and thank you for hearing me out.