'Leaving Isn't the Answer'
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 [to] 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 [left] 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?