It’s finally happened: an entire diocese of the Episcopal Church has voted to secede from the national church! The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, based in Fresno, California voted overwhelmingly to leave the national church on Saturday. Saturday’s vote was 173-22 in favor of secession, far more than the two-thirds majority required for the measure to pass.
Tensions in the Anglican church began back in the 1970s, when the U.S. church approved the ordination of women. This caused something of an exodus from the church, and led to the formation of a patchwork of “affiliated Anglican” churches. However, the national church’s liberal stance in recent years has accelerated the schism – especially after the 2003 consecration of openly-gay Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire… the first openly-gay bishop in the 500 year history of the Anglican church in particular and 2000 years of the “Church Catholic” in general.
The worldwide Anglican communion – the third largest Christian denomination after Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy – has almost 80 million members. It may come as a surprise to many, but most of these members are in former British colonies in Africa and the Caribbean. And these folks tend to hold deeply conservative religious views. Which puts them at odds with the more liberal churches in the US, Canada and the UK. And unlike the Roman church, which is headed by an all-powerful pope and the College of Cardinals, the Anglican communion works by consensus. With the numbers favoring the conservatives in the “Global South”, the US church is stuck between a rock and a hard place. If the ECUSA pushes too far to the left, they risk being voted out of the communion. However, the ECUSA has painted itself into a “liberal corner” with the ordination of Robinson, so it has no way to back down. In recent years, 32 of the ECUSA’s 7,600 congregations had left the communion, and 23 others have voted to leave, but have not yet done so (typically, most congregations vote twice on the issue: once, and then again a year later). San Joaquin’s actions today not only removes 47 churches in 14 counties from the ECUSA, it also removes an entire diocese from ECUSA control.
Expect a lot of court battles in the near future over San Joaquin’s property. The individual churches will claim that they were built using local money, while the ECUSA will claim that it owns the 47 church buildings. Interestingly, two of the oldest Anglican churches in Virginia voted to secede from the ECUSA last year: Truro Church in Fairfax City and The Falls Church in Falls Church. Both churches date from the 1700s and both predate the founding of the ECUSA. While arcane discussions of colonial-era law don’t apply to San Joaquin, it will be interesting to see how these issues are played out, especially next year, when the dioceses of Pittsburgh and Fort Worth vote on similar secession resolutions.
Read more here.