Is The Episcopal Church Rebranding?

Finally! People are asking relevant questions about The Episcopal Church without referring to same-sex marriage or female ordination. That only took about two decades. In this advent of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who stated that The Episcopal Church is the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, the curiosity of some people is piqued, causing them to ask, Is The Episcopal Church attempting to rebrand its image? The answer is no.

Under the leadership of Michael Curry, The Episcopal Church is not rebranding its image, as though we are a celebrity in need of a reinvention to further a career. We are, rather, re-engaging with the historic roots of the first-century Jesus Movement, asking ourselves pertinent questions unrelated to the institutions of an American denomination (in a corporation fashion), and challenging ourselves to engage a culture that needs Jesus Christ.

This re-engagement, I think, is perfect timing. We are inundated with fake news websites, FOX "News," racist / white nationalist ideology propagated by Alt-Right fanatics Steve Bannon of Breitbart and Richard B. Spencer, Glenn Beck and The Blaze, Rush Limbaugh, Religious Right supporters of Donald J. Trump like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., James Dobson, James Robison, Robert Morris (and, tragically, too many others to name), all of whom are advancing their own religio-politico agendas and kingdoms and betraying Jesus, His life-giving Message, values and teachings. We, as regenerate Christians, must re-align our lives (our thinking and feeling and acting) with the Christ of the New Testament.

No, you will no longer find prominent Episcopalians in politics as we once witnessed in this country, for the Religious Right has assumed that role. Dwight J. Zscheile writes:
[T]he Episcopal Church has long held a strong commitment to public advocacy and political engagement. Historically, this has tended to assume an establishment [and entitlement] posture -- that the church functions as a privileged moral authority within national life to direct the nation toward Christian values. That is no longer the case.1
We should be grateful for this posture. Former Religious Right advocates Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson have written and argued extensively of the corrupting influence of politics upon evangelical Christianity, the former using and tarnishing the latter, leaving casualties in its wake. "Whenever the church cozies up to political power, it loses sight of its all-important mission to change the world from the inside out."2 Episcopalians are being directed to look to and to imitate Christ and not politicians. We must engage a culture with Jesus.

Jesus is drawn toward the oppressed, the marginalized, the abused. He, today on His kingly throne, has no vested interest in sin, in the propagation of evil, including acts of violence, racial slurs, nor the oppression of foreigners, people of color, minorities, women, or LGBTQ people. This is why the marginalized are drawn to Christ. (Some, who falsely claim the Name of Christ, like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Ted Cruz and Robert Jeffress, defend this anti-Jesus, anti-Gospel, anti-Kingdom evil propagation.) But folks cannot be drawn to Him unless they hear or read from us that He is on their side, He will defend them through His people, and He suffers when they suffer. We, also, are called to weep when they weep (Rom. 12:15); suffer when they suffer (1 Cor. 12:26); to be always empathetic (Heb. 13:3).


I noted recently that social justice is not the Gospel -- the Good News -- of Jesus and the Jesus Movement: it is the natural consequence of Jesus' Message. Consider the following:
Yet Jeremiah tells them [the exiled Israelites] to settle in [Babylon], to build community with the people in that place, to intermarry, to construct houses and plant gardens, and above all, to seek the welfare of that city. The Hebrew word translated "welfare" is shalom -- the same thing Jesus tells the seventy disciples to share with the villagers in Luke 10. Shalom means peace with justice, the reconciliation of difference into right relationships, the flourishing of the whole community. It is not mere harmony or the absence of conflict.3
We are being redirected in our thinking toward re-engaging with people in lieu of thinking about the protection of our institution. The Episcopal Church is not an institution! The Episcopal Church is made up of regenerate followers of Jesus Christ who long to imitate His Way, His teachings, and to carry His message to our next door neighbor and abroad. What is that Message? The core of Jesus' Message to the world is contained in the following notion:
I created you for goodness but you freely decided to turn inward and focus on self-gratification and sin. I willingly decided to redeem you back to Myself. I created a people, Israel, and made redemptive promises to the world through her. I was born like one of you, in flesh, and I lived among you. I was loved and I was hated. I was betrayed by someone whom I chose to disciple. I was beaten and crucified for the sin of the world. I was buried but conquered death and the grave. I showed Myself alive to hundreds of people before ascending back to Heaven. I promised to return and establish everlasting justice in the earth. I embrace all people without exception. I am building a community of people named the Church -- not a political movement, but a just and redemptive Jesus Movement.
Am I guilty of putting words into the mouth of Jesus? Well, read Matthew, chapters five through seven, as well as the other Gospel accounts, and then you can answer that question for yourself. This Jewish-born, not white, Savior, claims St John, died an atoning death to take away the sin of the world. (John 1:29) The "world" (as well as Heaven itself) is full of all kinds of ethnic, and not just white, people. (cf. Rev. 5:9) St Luke records the words of Jesus portraying the heart of God as wanting all people to be reconciled to God (Luke 14:15-24; cf. St Paul at 2 Cor. 5:19). Our Mission is to tell (and disciple, Matt. 28:19) all people in all the world about this reconciliation so that the House of God may be full (Luke 114:23).

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1 Dwight J. Zscheile, People of the Way: Renewing Episcopal Identity (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2012), 82-83.

2 Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999). The answer assumed in the question in the subtitle is no, the Religious Right is incapable of "saving" America, as Jesus alone is Savior. "Registering people to vote and persuading them to vote a certain way on issues and for certain candidates is one way power can be used to manipulate." (53) These tactics are used by Franklin Graham and other Religious Right advocates during each campaign season; and such individuals are idolatrous, religious frauds whose true religion is Republicanism, not Christ.

3 Zscheile, 83-84.

2 comments:

The Govteach said...

I am glad to find your blog...I had somehow "lost it."
I too grew up SBC, ( I am even an alumni of a SBC seminary)and am going to an Episcopal Church, but can't pull the string and convert. ( Part of it is my 87 year old mother will never understand...she doesn't see what is going on with the SBC in 2017....)
Someday, someday....

The Episcocrat said...

My transition had to be slow-paced; my parents did not understand. They understand better now but simply do not agree with me (even on the events taking place in the SBC). I "converted," if you will, in 2012 but did not begin fully attending an Episcopal church until 2014 and did not officially join until December 2016. Slow-paced indeed! It was necessary and I'm glad I did it that way.

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.