I got no dog in this fight: The Episcopal Church, The Diocese of South Carolina, and the end of denominationalism

“I’ve got no dog in this fight.”

It’s something you hear occasionally in the South, usually when discussing childish antics of politicians or conversations over community conflicts. Sometimes, it seems especially appropriate when looking at conflicts within or between denominations. It’s true for me in the ongoing tussle between The Episcopal Church and the entity that now calls itself “The Protestant Episcopal Church of South Carolina (well, it still claims to be the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, but now there’s also a continuing diocese). This is the pattern that has been followed in other places where bishops and dioceses have attempted to leave The Episcopal Church.

What makes this case somewhat different is that Bishop Lawrence and the Lawrencian Episcopalians claim that TEC has “abandoned” them. You can read about it all elsewhere. There are a number of purported theological issues at stake. The Lawrencians assert it’s not just about LGBT issues but about central matters of the faith like the uniqueness of Christ.

I lack the time or the energy to go into the details of the conflict, but it’s pretty clear even to an outsider like me, that none of this is going to end well. The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina has published a resolution urging Presiding Bishop Jefforts Schori and Bishop Lawrence to seek resolution to this matter that would prevent the imminent legal battle. You can download it here.

In an earlier post on this matter, I wrote this:

So why not stop it all now? Why not imagine what a church would be like that could allow those who want out to go, leaving behind all of those who want to remain in the Episcopal Church? Let them have their property and go their separate way. And after they go, let’s imagine what an Episcopal mission might look like in the low country of South Carolina–an Episcopal mission freed from the oppressive traditions of slavery, racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.

Why not put our limited resources toward that vision of a future church rather than paying lawyers and fighting to hold on to a vision of an eighteenth or nineteenth century Church?

… I’m still waiting for an answer.

Look, everyone agrees that mainline denominations are in steep decline. Most observers think that the idea of “denominationalism” is on its way out, that in a few decades the way congregations are organized is going to look very different than it does today. That’s probably true even of hierarchically organized denominations like the Episcopal Church. Our intellectual energy, our institutional resources should be focused on thinking about the future, experimenting with new ways of being together as Anglican Christians, locally, regionally, and globally. We are in the midst of transformation. What the future will look like is unclear, but it’s safe to say that in fifty years The Episcopal Church will look very little like what it looks today. Why bother protecting its turf now?

When will we abandon our efforts to protect our “brand” and get around to doing the work of the gospel?

… I wonder whether anyone will attempt an answer to this question, either.