November 10, 2016

Episcopal Church Isn't Nimble?

Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service
I mentioned recently that mainline churches tend to be thought of us as unable to be reflexive and nimble. Unable to respond to cultural shifts and evangelistic opportunity.

This is not completely true.

Since the civil rights movement, mainline leaders have increasingly displayed a spiritual conviction and organizational capacity to respond to injustice. Most recently, hundreds of Episcopalians descended upon Standing Rock to stand with Native American sisters and brothers in opposition the pipeline proposed to run through sacred burial grounds. I mentioned more about this here and here. Something similar was seen in Ferguson, MO not long ago. This kind of responsiveness can be additionally seen in how Episcopalians nimbly and compassionately respond to natural disasters as well.

Moments like this display a readiness, a responsiveness in the "DNA" of Christians within the Episcopal tradition. It's a positive trait. It's a necessary trait. But I do wonder why this is not so evident in areas such as church planting and evangelism.

I think there are a two core reasons that I hear from conversation with Episcopalians:

History: Episcopalians are still grief-stricken by and repenting of colonial, expansionist practices of their collective past. Church planting and evangelism feel too akin to this.

Theology: Episcopalians see that standing against oppressive systems is important, prophetic work. Seeking justice and caring for creation are as important to bringing God's kingdom come as evangelism.

There are other responses that seem to stem from these two things but here's what I would offer:

1) How we collectively respond to injustice and disaster is evidence that the Episcopal church is more responsive, reflexive and nimble than we give ourselves credit for (forget what others say).

2) A missional posture is very different than a colonial posture. We can plant communities and share God's good news in biblical, culturally appropriate ways. And we ought to because of our deep commitment to justice and reconciliation.

Thoughts? You with me?