'Leaving Isn't the Answer'

david at virtueonline.org david at virtueonline.org
Fri Jan 9 16:54:41 EST 2009

'Leaving Isn't the Answer' 
Why the pastor of the largest Episcopalian congregation is staying put in a 'very sick' church.

by Timothy C. Morgan 
Christianity Today 

In four weeks, top Anglican bishops and archbishops will gather in Alexandria, Egypt, to determine the next steps for the worldwide Anglican Communion, deeply divided over gays in the church, women's ordination, and the authority of Scripture.

Presbyterian, Methodist, and other mainline Protestant pastors have been closely watching the Anglican struggles, since many Protestant groups are under many of the same theological pressures.

Among Anglican conservatives, the spectrum of response is widening. Many pastors and churches are joining the new Anglican Church of North America. But not every conservative pastor or church is jumping ship.

Recently, Russell Levenson Jr. contacted Christianity Today on behalf of his church, St. Martin's Houston. The congregation of more than 8,200 members is the largest single parish church within the Episcopal Church (TEC). It's not surprising that it is in Houston, the land of megachurches; it is also no surprise that this church is conservative, evangelical, and healthy. The surprise is that its rector (senior pastor) is staying within the Episcopal Church. He has joined with other conservatives in the Communion Partners Plan.

Members of the plan support the moratoria on additional gay bishops and same-sex blessings, and also views the draft Anglican Covenant as one way to facilitate renewal. Levenson agreed to an exclusive e-mail interview to detail why he and his church are not leaving. (The following transcript has been edited for length.)

What is the role of the Communion Partners in the Episcopal Church?

The Communion Partners is a fellowship that will work closely together not only to provide a means of mutual support among its primates, bishops, and rectors, but also  provide a witness to the importance of evangelical faith. I am keenly aware that some feel that their only choice is to leave a very sick, in some places dying, in other places errant, Episcopal Church.

But I do not think leaving is the answer. That is where the Communion Partners rest. Daniel had to stay in Babylon, but did not abandon his faith. Jeremiah was not given another Israel. Ezekiel had to preach to the dry bones. When Jesus and his message were completely rejected, he did not leave. He wept. He stayed. He did not move on to Egypt. He stayed and faithfully preached when they believed and when they did not believe.

There appears, for now, to be tremendous hope in the other forms of Anglicanism that have been springing up around the country. But they are very much in their embryonic stages. In my previous diocese, there were six different expressions of Anglican identity in one small area of the state. None of them were growing significantly. There are already some divisions within these breakaway movements over liturgy, women's ordination, and prayer book language. I wish them well, but I would have rather seen them stay.

I have asked every person I personally know that has  or was pondering to leave the Episcopal Church if they were prevented in some way by their parish or bishop from preaching the gospel. Each one has said, "No."

They have been criticized. They have been mocked at clergy conferences, but they have not been prevented from preaching the gospel, and thus I wonder why they leave. But I do honor their decision to do so.

In Jesus' last prayer before his arrest, he prayed that his followers would "be made one" (John 17:11). How can anyone hear that prayer, knowing it was prayed with Christ's blood-stained sweat, and say that division is the way forward? How can we read Paul's plea, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit" (Eph. 4:3), and strive for further schism?

Do you think TEC will move in 2009 to allow more gay bishops and same-sex unions/gay marriage? If so, what will you do?

Every effort will be made by those who support the revisionist agenda to seek approval for the ordination of persons sexually active outside of heterosexual marriage, and who seek approval of same-sex blessings - every effort will be made to further that agenda.

If we see a further step to the Left, at this time it will be disastrous. There are many who believe the Episcopal Church can withstand another body blow like it did in 2003, and it may. But the furthering disunity between the polar opposites will grow even further; another similar step will make the hemorrhage after the General Convention in 2003 look like a paper cut.

Some will argue that the Episcopal Church has put on the brakes on issues related to human sexuality since 2003, but that is simply not true. There has been a consistent and pervasive move to further the agenda. I have pleaded with the presiding bishop, , to hit the pause button - to honor the moratoria - to not pole vault over the obvious divisions and try and land in a place that the church cannot land without further division.

We will stay and continue to preach faithfully; we will build strong relationships with other bishops, clergy, parishes, and dioceses who share that desire; and we will work with all due diligence to embrace whatever requests the greater Anglican Communion makes of its constituent members.

Church fathers said the two great enemies of the body of Christ were heresy and schism. They did not say one was better than the other - only that both were tools of the Devil to divide the body of Christ. I think we are seeing both actively at work in virtually every mainline denomination today. We have an obligation to stand against both and work instead for a faithful, orthodox witness and a body of believers bound by their common love of the Lord Jesus and one another.

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