Theology pushes Episcopalians to Nigerian church
By CAROL McGRAW
Today is Palm Sunday, one of the most important Christian holidays, and it will be especially so for the 2,000 registered members coping with the splintering of Grace Church and St. Stephen’s Parish.
They must decide which Grace Church to attend: one service to be held at Colorado College’s Shove Chapel under the umbrella of the Episcopal Church and led by Grace’s associate rector, Michael O’Donnell; or one at the Grace downtown church led by Grace’s longtime rector, Donald Armstrong, who is backed by board members who voted last week to affiliate with a Nigeria- based Anglican church led by a controversial conservative archbishop.
In December, the Colorado Diocese placed Armstrong on leave as it investigated and accused him of theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars. No criminal complaint has been filed and Armstrong and the board vehemently deny the accusations.
Secular issues aside, parishioners must make a much more dramatic decision - which path best nurtures their spiritual lives. Do they have more in common theologically with a Third World church or an American-grown one?
The Church of Nigeria offers a conservative evangelical Anglican theology. The Episcopal Church of the United States embraces a liberal social and theological view, which the worldwide Anglican church has chastised as deviating from centuries-old tenets.
“This fight is over what it means to be Anglican, but it is also reflective in many ways of the cultural wars that are going on all over America now between liberals and conservatives in politics, religion, everyday life,” said Michele Dilon, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire who has studied the fallout from the ordination of a gay man as an Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire.
The American Episcopal Church and the African church are both members of the Anglican Communion, a worldwide confederation of national churches linked to the Church of England and its leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
But Grace church officials voted to separate from the 2.4 million-member American branch because they believe it has become a “secular church” that has set aside the Gospel for a political agenda.
“We’re not interested in politics in the pulpit,” said Alan-Crippen, a secessionist Grace parishioner. “We want a substantive encounter with a living God.”
The worldwide Anglican Communion apparently agrees with that assessment. The Primates - the governing body - gave the American Episcopal Church an ultimatum to draw back from such liturgical innovations as blessings for same-sex unions and homosexual ordinations. But the American bishops voted March 20 to spurn the demand.
“That is when many of us at Grace lost all hope and had to leave the Episcopal Church,” Crippen said.
American Episcopalians have been in the throes of such debates for years. First there was strife over the ordination of women; now a woman, Katharine Jefferts Schori, heads the national church.
The evangelical movement, which has spread like wildfire in America, has also advanced worldwide in various denominations including the Anglican church, especially in the Southern Hemisphere and in missionized Africa.
Evangelicals tend to emphasize personal conversion; evangelism of others; the authority, primacy and inerrancy of a God-inspired Bible; and belief that Jesus’ death reconciled God and humans.
The American Episcopal view of the Bible is as a record of man striving to understand God, as opposed to being God’s revealed words to man. They also believe that the church theology is evolving and must be practiced in context of social changes.