As Long As We All Get Along

Peter James Lee was one of the sixty Episcopal bishops who voted to approve the appointment of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire. Since the vote, Lee has faced stiff opposition from conservative evangelical churches in his diocese. In his speech to the annual meeting of his diocese, Bishop Lee said this, "If you must make a choice between heresy and schism, always choose heresy." I can think of nothing more dangerous. What Lee is basically saying is that we can tolerate anything within the Church just to keep the Church together. What would cause someone to think this way? In part there is much at stake economically in keeping things the way they are. Schism is the enemy because pastors' retirements and church properties get threatened if you break away from a denomination -- as do bishops' reputations. But putting personal interest ahead of truth, sacrificing truth on the altar of what we call unity? No. And it's not real unity; it's expediency. The second reason for putting unity over truth is that American Christians of all stripes -- evangelical, as well as liberal -- no longer take truth seriously. David Brooks in a recent New York Times column made the point that Americans believe that, "In the final days, the distinctions will fade away, and we will all be united in God's embrace. This happy assumption has meant that millions feel free to try on different denominations at different points in their lives, and many Americans have had trouble taking religious doctrines altogether seriously." As a result, says Brooks, we tend to think that all people of good will are "basically on the same side," we practice religion that is easygoing and experiential rather than rigorous and intellectual, and we "have trouble sustaining culture wars." The result is that, like Bishop Lee, we've fallen into this mushy ecumenism, believing that doctrines and distinctions make little or no difference. But our forebears, particularly in the Reformation tradition, didn't shed their blood for retirement plans, for buildings, or for a cozy sense that everybody is okay. They shed their blood for truth. All other considerations, whether we're seeker-sensitive or liturgical, whether we're taking care of our retirement plans or building new additions, everything is secondary to the preservation and defense of truth. This applies to every church, not just the Episcopal church. In my experience, Bible-believing churches can sometimes be as unwilling to apply church discipline over matters of truth and morality as Bishop Lee. One politician I know boasts about his faith while voting for gay rights and against the partial-birth abortion ban. Not only is he not disciplined by his church in the name of truth, but he gets time and again to speak in the pulpit. Anything else, of course, might cause disunity. As Pogo said, "We have just met the enemy, and he is us." It's all well and good for evangelicals to sit around and say "those crazy Episcopalians." But they're just reflecting what all of us do in lesser degrees. And Lee's words ought to be a sobering wake-up call to us all.  
For Further Reading and Information
"Diocese Says Gay Bishop Should Not Be Cause of Split," New York Times, 2 February 2004. Julia Duin, "Heresy better idea than schism?Washington Times, 31 January 2004. BreakPoint Commentary No. 040116, "Say It Ain't So, Dave: Evangelicals and the Cultural Mainstream." BreakPoint Commentary No. 011218, "Mushy Ecumenism: Incoherent Civil Religion." (Archived commentary; free registration required.) Matthew Spalding and Joe Loconte, "In Defense of Marriage," Heritage Foundation, 19 November 2003. "Mass. Court: Gay Civil Unions Not Enough," FOX News, 4 February 2004.


Chuck Colson


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