2019 Annual Meeting

Fun and Family - January 20, 2019

John’s Talk: “So Why Can’t we just Go back to the Episcopal Church?”

Let’s see if we can catch you up on the current state of the lawsuit.  It’s been year of basically wait and see.

In 2017 the Supreme Court made a convoluted ruling where for the first time South Carolina all five justices considering the case issued opinions. And the five opinions were all over the map. There is no clear direction in terms of carrying out the court order because the words of the five justices do not agree.

The diocese appealed because of the ambiguity of the ruling and there’s been a whole lot going on behind the scenes. And then there’s the federal law suit on the diocesan name and trademarks. That, too, is still in a wait and see mode.

Pinckney Thompson has been in the front of the court case since it began and in about ten minutes from now, I want to call on Pinckney to catch you all up on where we are in the legal court wrangling. 

But first, I want to talk to you about what may be the elephant in the living room so to speak.  There is an underlying issue related to the court cases that I really need to address. Some of you may be wondering why we can’t just go back to the way things were before the cases.

Why can we just go back to the Episcopal Church?

Some of you may have been approached by members of the Episcopal Church and they said to you, “Come on back. We’re willing to let bygones be bygones and welcome you back.”  

And some of you might be wondering why we can’t do that.

To begin with, your clergy can not go back. Ever.  Deacon Mike works for and works under the orders of the Bishop of South Carolina – that would be Mark Lawrence.   As a deacon, Mike can not work for another bishop, only for Bishop Mark Lawrence or his duly-elected successor. That’s the way our ordination system goes. 

And as for me, I can’t ever go back either.  Because I chose to stay with Bishop Lawrence, I was removed from ministry in the Episcopal Church by the Bishop of Central Florida. I can not minister in an Episcopal Church unless I am re-ordained in the Episcopal Church. That is not going to happen.  I have no desire to get re-ordained.

My ordination is still seen as valid and proper by every branch of the Anglican Church except the Episcopal Church.  England recognizes my ordination, Africa recognizes my ordination. Everywhere else in the world recognizes that I am an ordained Anglican.  I am legally recognized everywhere except in the Episcopal Church. 

And by the way, my ordination is valid and legal in the state of South Carolina and in every other state in the United States of America. I will not be re-ordained as something of which I am already am – a priest in the Anglican Church. Politics removed me from the Episcopal Church – pure politics – and I can not go back to that.   

So first of all, understand that if this church went back to the Episcopal Church, you would have to go without your present clergy.
(And I’m sure that some of you wouldn’t mind that at all. After all, clergy come and clergy go.)

But more importantly, know this: the Church that you would be going back to is not the Church you grew up in. The Episcopal Church of 2019 is not the Episcopal Church you were baptized into, or even the church you enjoyed in the 70’s or 80’s or 90’s.  There has been a shift in theology in the Episcopal Church from a belief in Biblical Christianity to a belief in secular humanism.

I don’t make that statement lightly; it breaks my heart that it has happened, but it has happened. The shift began in the General Conventions in the 1970’s and picked up speed in the 2000’s and now in 2019, the Episcopal Church is now committed to a progressive theology that runs counter to Biblical Christianity. 

I don’t say this with malice.  And I’m not being political here. The leadership of the Episcopal Church has actually changed the doctrine and the discipline of the church in which I grew up and into which I was ordained.

Where do you get your moral authority? How do you know what is right and what is wrong?  If you get your authority from the Word of God – if you believe the Bible is true – you need to know that the leadership of the Episcopal Church does not get their authority from the Bible any more.

This isn’t about whether we accept or reject gays and lesbians. Please hear me - we have always welcomed everyone into our fellowship regardless of their behaviors or their beliefs.  We still do. I still do and I always will. I like to say, even if you don’t believe in God at all, we welcome you to worship with us. And I mean it.  

The problem is the Bible makes it completely clear that practicing homosexuality is settling for less than God wants for us. In other words it is a sin.  It is not in God’s will for His people and we can not bless it as if it was. We can’t ordain it, and we can’t join two people of the same sex in the sacrament of holy matrimony, which God designed for Husband and Wife. For Man and Woman.  We can’t call good that which God has said isn’t.

 There are at least nine places in the Bible where God specifically prohibits his people from homosexual practices.  Here’s two. First:

 “Homosexuality is absolutely forbidden, for it is an enormous sin.
(Leviticus 18:22, Living Bible)

If you say, “Well, that’s just the Old Testament.” (I hope you don’t say that), but if you do, here’s one from the New Testament:

Don’t you know that those doing such things have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who live immoral lives, who are idol worshipers, adulterers or homosexuals - will have no share in his Kingdom. Neither will thieves or greedy people, drunkards, slanderers, or robbers.  
(1 Corinthians 6:9-10, ESV)

St. Paul’s point in this passage is to remind us that the only way that any of us ever get to go to heaven is by God’s grace, not our merits.  But the Bible makes it clear that we can’t say that the stuff the Bible calls sin is alright for us to practice.

At the National Episcopal General Convention in 2003, when we were considering the consecration of Gene Robinson to be Bishop of New Hampshire, some clergy stood up and pointed out some of these Biblical verses, along with this one:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! 
Isaiah 5:20, ESV)

A proponent of the consecration stood up and said this - I quote: “Man wrote the Bible and man can change the Bible.”   Some of us were astounded. He wasn’t just saying it, he really believed it. That was the Convention when I first noted a shift in theology towards a secular humanism.  Since that that time, the Episcopal Church has completely embraced same-sex marriages and in 2012 they authorized a marriage service that proclaimed same-sex marriage as good and right and blessed by God.

At the most recent General Convention they voted to force any bishop who did not want to have same-sex marriages in his diocese to make provisions to allow another bishop to oversee any parish in his diocese that disagreed with him.  In other words, if a bishop tries to uphold what the Bible says, then he can’t be the bishop for those who want to do what the Bible says we can’t do.  This is today’s Episcopal Church. 

This is just one of a number of issues that make it impossible for us to go back.  This is not the church we grew up in.  If we believe that humans get their authority from God’s Word, then we can not join again with those whose leadership believes that authority comes from General Convention.

And yes, the Episcopal Church in South Carolina fully embraces this revised view.  Here are a few lines from an FAQ distributed by the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.  First, let me show you a picture of the question in the FAQ. Now, let me read you what it says:

Q: The Episcopal Church permits same-sex couples to marry. Will my individual beliefs about human sexuality be respected if my parish returns to The Episcopal Church?

A: In keeping with the living out of our Lord’s two great commandments, our Baptismal promise is to “respect the dignity of every human being.” We believe we are all part of the Body of Christ, and that unity transcends our individual differences of opinion on the controversial issues of our day. Same-sex marriage is included in the life of The Episcopal Church. No clergyperson is required to officiate any marriage ceremony that goes against her or his beliefs. 

Question: Will my individual beliefs about human sexuality be respected if my parish returns to The Episcopal Church?  Answer. We respect the dignity of every human being but your individual beliefs will not be respected. Same sex marriage is included in the life of the Episcopal Church.

We in the Diocese of South Carolina absolutely respect the dignity of every individual. It’s our Baptismal Covenant, too. But - respect of others doesn’t mean that we must give approval to blessing an event that is counter to God’s Word in the Bible.  It does mean that in the Episcopal Church.

 In the FAQ They mentioned that there are some clergy in the Episcopal Church who feel that same-sex marriage goes against their beliefs. What they did not say is that if that clergy person refuses to perform a marriage, another clergy person who will do it must be brought in to do it and the marriage will take place in that church building.  That is the law in the Episcopal Church.

And if a bishop is against same-sex marriage and a parish in his or her diocese wants to have same-sex marriages, the bishop must allow the parish to switch to another bishop in another part of the country that will allow it.  That is the law in the Episcopal Church.

Now, I’ve got to say it again and please listen to me:  This is not about sex. It’s not. It is about Biblical authority. We welcome anyone and everyone to worship with us each and every Sunday and Wednesday. We are all sinners in need of a Redeemer. This is not a club for saints, it is a hospital for sinners and your rector is the chief patient.  But we can not say that what God calls sin is acceptable behavior.  Our authority comes from God’s Word.  That is why we can’t just go back. The church of my ancestry has changed.  It’s not the church we knew and loved when we were growing up. We can’t go back.

The next time a member of the Episcopal Church invites you to join them, why don’t you say, “Hey, why don’t you come and join us at the Redeemer! We’ll make you feel right at home! We’ll accept you wherever you are in your faith journey and let God take you where He wants you to be!”

Thanks for indulging me in this. I really believe we need to cover it.  Now let’s bring Pinckney up to catch us up with where we are in the lawsuits. Pinckney?