On Sunday seven conservative northern Virginia Episcopal congregations decided to split from the national church and align themselves with a “mission” established by the violently homophobic Nigerian archbishop Peter Akinola.While a significant if relatively small percentage of Episcopal parishes, and 7 of the 111 Episcopal dioceses, have expressed strong opposition to the ordination of openly gay priests and bishops, and/or rejected the leadership of new Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (who supports gay and lesbian clergy), these are the first churches to formally secede.And these parishes are very aware of their symbolic position, as well as the material issues at hand, as the Washington Post explains:
Two of the congregations are among the state’s largest and most historic: Truro Church in Fairfax City and The Falls Church in Falls Church, which have roots in the 1700s. Their leaders have been in the vanguard of a national effort to establish a conservative alternative to the Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion.The result of the week-long vote, announced yesterday, sets up the possibility of a lengthy ecclesiastical and legal battle for property worth tens of millions of dollars. Buildings and land at Truro and The Falls Church are valued at about $25 million, according to Fairfax County
.In other words, these churches aren’t willing to just leave the Anglican Communion, as conservative scriptural literalists have done time and time again, because they want to keep their money, and think their support in Africa and Asia will give them the whip hand in any protracted dispute.It will be interesting to see how well the conservatives’ decision to accept Akinola as their new spiritual shepherd will go over in the long run.
Truro and The Falls Church, with a combined membership of more than 3,000, will form the core of what is envisioned as a new Fairfax-based mission of the conservative Episcopal Church of Nigeria. The head of the Nigerian church, Archbishop Peter Akinola, has voiced support for a pending law in that country that includes prison sentences for gay sexual activity.
The Rev. Martyn Minns of Truro Church, who is missionary bishop of the splinter group known as CANA (Convocation of Anglicans in North America), said that although the dissident Virginia churches believe that homosexuality is banned by Scripture, they do not support criminalization of gay sex.
Akinola’s spokesman and his advocates have said he does not advocate aggressively pursuing the jailing of homosexuals. His advocates say he is trying to navigate an explosive cultural situation in Nigeria and appease Muslim leaders.
So, these right-wing Virginians (viz. Truro’s history as the stomping grounds of conservative political figures like Ollie North) are letting themselves become pawns in a Christian-Muslim competition for homophobic honors in Nigeria. Hard to see how this will work out well. But for the time being, the schism is on.