That they all may be One: Why divorce is not an option.

Centrists / General Convention / Religion

Having pointed out that I am seeing an increasingly common meme being voiced – that the Episcopal Church (perhaps even the Anglican Communion) is one body of two minds which can no longer be joined together – I want to make a couple of points about why I reject it.

I was first drawn to the Episcopal Church because it was the only church I knew where the altar and pulpit were the same size. It was the one place where I saw people taking both Word and Sacrament seriously at the same time. Of course there are people in the Church who emphasize the Word to the diminution of Sacrament and vice versa, but the Anglican ethos states that an either/or position is wrong. It must be a both/and. That is at the core of what we commonly call the Elizabethan Settlement.

Today the question isn’t one of Word versus Sacrament, it is, as our present Presiding Bishop has pointed out, Justice versus Holiness. There are voices claiming the overriding need for Justice in this world precedes any concern for Holiness, and there are voices claiming that we need to first focus on the internal transformation of our lives that will lead to true Holiness and then to heavenly justice. Different melodies, but it’s the same harmony. And our ethos insists that once again, it is not an either/or question, it is still both/and.

Is it possible to hold these two views at the same time? Of course. Many, if not most of us do just that. But there are those in the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church who grow weary of the tension that comes from such striving.

I think it is these voices, the weary and heartsick (and justifiably so), which are the ones ultimately calling for the separation in such a way that we need to hear them. But hearing them, and recognizing the real pain that is motivating their call, I can’t agree with what they ask.

I believe the Anglican Communion is the truest example of what it means to be a Catholic (universal and comprehensive) Church. We do not claim a single way or belief brings us closer to Jesus. Rather that there are many paths inside our faith in Christ Jesus, and all of these paths lead us closer to the center where there is the presence of the living God and simultaneously closer to each other. This comprehension for the sake of Love is in my mind the true mark of Catholicism.

I claim to be a moderate. By that I mean I believe that the sacred center (as opposed to a political one) is where we will find the most authentic expression of the Catholic faith. It is in the fullness of the Anglican Communion that I find the truest expression of this idea.

If we shrug our shoulders and agree that it would be better to walk apart, what message do we send as the Bride of Christ to a world that is fragmenting before our eyes?

When a couple comes to me and tells me that they have decided to divorce because they grow weary of the bickering – I ask them if they have gotten to the point in their marriage where there can be no hope, no sign of God’s love among them. I work with them to try to answer that question. If the answer is no, and it almost always is, then I work even harder to help them find the resources they need to recapture the selfless love for each other that they once had.

So what of our Church? Is there any sign of God’s love among us? Are the starving being fed? Are the ill be cared for? Are new people hearing the Gospel? The answer to all these questions is yes. We heard this at General Convention from both inside the Episcopal Church and from the whole of the Communion. So, since we still have hope, I can not agree that the time has come for “divorce” from one another in the Church.

There are better ways to address the real tensions among us right now. Ways that perhaps we have finally found the political courage to start taking seriously. This seems to me to the first step we take rather than jumping all the way to the end of the process and acting in such a way that we may never be able to go back.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Nick,
    Thank you for this very helpful post. I’ve linked it on my blog.
    Rick Lord

  2. I just want to thank you for what you’re writing, and especially for reminding me why I love the Middle Way – and the Episcopal Church, too.
    A person can breathe again around here. Thanks.

  3. Jay says

    I’ve always rejected “divorce” as a metaphor for schism, so obviously that’s why I agree with your premise, at least, that divorce is not an option.
    I say this because the imagery of Christ’s teaching is overwhelmingly that we are spiritual brothers and sisters, joint heirs to God’s Kingdom, adopted children of the King. We are NOT “spouses in Christ.” So, extending the metaphor, we can’t divorce a brother or sister. We can become estranged. We can disown one another. But guess what… we are still brothers and sisters by blood, the blood of Christ.
    So those who talk of sectarian divorce are deluding themselves. As long as any of us proclaim ourselves as children of God, then we are still connected to all the other children. Believers may pretend not to be, but at their own grave peril. They may estrange themselves, but God has not granted ANYONE the authority to stop loving or to stop being accountable to other believers. And by choosing estrangement, it’s easy to figure out who loses; who has separated themselves from vital parts of Christ… his Body.

  4. But is there any way of protecting the orthodox diocese and parishes within ECUSA – I mean any way that those who say they do not want a divorce would actually be willing to accept? The failure to protect the orthodox and provide alternative oversight has been the great missed opportunity by ECUSA.

  5. Pendennis88 – I believe so, but it’s not the existing DEPO that is presently on the table. It’s going to have to be stronger for it to work. I’d be happy to see it made stronger if it means we can start to talk with each other again.
    I’m praying that other people in the Church will be willing to let that happen as well. Perhaps now that we see so clearly *why* it is neccesary for the people we love and want to say in relationship with. It’s an imperfect solution, but this whole thing is imperfect at the moment.

  6. We’ve already had to leave our parish; after a rather acrimonious debate (or rather, lack of debate) on the WR in which much distrust was on display by both sides, but especially by our pastor… we no longer feel welcome. There is no other Episcopal Church in our town; no other viable Episcopal Church closer than Toledo, which is 60 miles each way.
    What else can we do? We are determined to tremain Anglican. We don’t think TEC is going to do so; it just told the rest of the AC to take a flying leap (or, more correctly, patted them on their little heads and told them “there, there, it’s not so bad as that and we really do want to stay in communion, but we’re going to do it our way.”)
    There is no middle way. Either we believe the rest of the AC when it said that the WR was the irreducible minimum required to return to Communion (not stay, return), or we don’t. TEC didn’t believe the AC. It still remains to be seen whether the AC will follow through… but it looks as if they will.
    There is no middle way. Either Christ is “the way, the truth and the life” or He isn’t. TEC refused to say He is, and elected an open heretic as PB.
    I just can’t hang with that. Even if I had still been in ECUSA on Saturday, I wouldn’t have been on Sunday.

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