New Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Michael Curry: Amiable Heretic or TEC Savior?
By David W. Virtue DD
October 12, 2015
In two weeks, the Episcopal Church will consecrate Bishop Michael Bruce Curry, the 11th Bishop of North Carolina, to be the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Washington National Cathedral. It will be done as only Episcopalians do things, with much pomp, fanfare, and trumpets with dignitaries both sacred and secular in attendance.
Based on past performance, Bishop Curry, TEC's first Black Presiding Bishop, will talk a lot about Jesus and the Jesus Movement; he will encourage his listeners to start talking up Jesus as they have never done before and not be embarrassed to say they are Christians, especially that they are Episcopalians.
It will not be an easy task.
Latest figures reveal The Episcopal Church is in free fall. The average number of Sunday worshipers dropped from 623,691 in 2013 to 600,411 in 2014, a decline of 23,280 persons in the pews, down 3.7 percent. In 2015 that figure is expected to go even lower hitting below the 600,000 mark into 500,000 plus territory. With no millennials or Generation X and Y (the lost generation) in sight, TEC has little future.
For the first time in 75 years, The Episcopal Church's total membership dipped below the two million member mark. TEC's just-released official 2014 stats show worldwide church membership standing at 1,956,042. The last time Episcopal Church membership was below two million was in 1939 when there were 1,996,434 Episcopalians.
In most church growth indicators -- total membership, ASA, congregations, baptisms, communicants, faith formation pupils, confirmations, and receptions from other Christian denominations -- were down. There was a slight uptick in marriages and an increase in funerals (Note the latter).
From 1967 until 2003, when gay Bishop Vicky Gene Robinson (IX New Hampshire) burst upon the scene, the Episcopal Church's membership ebbed and flowed -- up one year and down another. Once Bishop Robinson joined the House of Bishops, TEC's worldwide membership steadily declined from 2,419,562 (2003) to 1,956,042 (2014), a loss of 463,520 souls in just little more than a decade.
Nine years later, the 26th Presiding Bishop is about to step down, handing off a smaller Episcopal Church to the incoming 27th Presiding Bishop.
During Jefferts Schori's tenure as Presiding Bishop, five Episcopal dioceses disaffiliated with the fold: Pittsburgh (2007); San Joaquin (2007); Quincy (2008); Fort Worth (2008); and South Carolina (2012) taking 54,654 souls with them. She has spent millions of dollars taking the departing dioceses and their bishops to court while battling for buildings and diocesan identities. Will Curry continue her litigious policies?
Furthermore, women over sixty make up two thirds of The Episcopal Church and they are not evangelists, however much he hopes they might be...they won't be talking up Jesus. TEC's gays and lesbians are more concerned with pushing their pansexual agenda than they are talking about Jesus, unless they can make the case that His relationship with John "the beloved" disciple was homosexual in which case all bets are off. With Bishop Gene Robinson now ensconced in Washington, the case for a queer Jesus can now be made that much stronger especially with his White House connections.
Truth is Curry's "Jesus" call will fall on deaf ears, but there's nothing like trying.
After the disastrous reign of the TEC's first female Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, Curry might seem like General Douglas MacArthur promising to return with Bible in hand and Jesus on his lips.
However, Curry's own track record on the hot button issues is anything but sterling. When asked at the last General Convention in Salt Lake City if he was an evangelical, the 62-year old bishop said, "I am a follower of Jesus." He spent the rest of the press conference dodging bullets. There will be no significant change of direction for the Episcopal Church despite talk of "evangelism" and "discipleship."
His performance as bishop of North Carolina was lackluster. He took office in 2000. In 2003, the year figures were first recorded, there were 48,957 baptized members. It rose by 2.1% to 50,009 in 2013. The figures are not so good in Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) -- the true health of a diocese; the diocese has seen significant decline from 16,765 in 2003 to 14,729 in 2013 a drop of 12.1%.
But his votes on all the hot button sexuality issues have consistently been on the side of the progressive revisionist agenda.
In November 26, 2003, 12 orthodox priests in his diocese wrote Curry, laying out their concerns, distress, and sadness for his support of the ordination of Robinson and his vote to acknowledge the blessing of same sex unions as a part of the common life of the church. (Curry voted to change the canons on marriage at the last General Convention.)
The twelve priests said that the teaching of Scripture and the Universal Church was clear -- that the union of a man and a woman in marriage is the will of God for sexual expression.
They blasted his interpretation of the Old Testament moral codes and said his move to exempt the moral law of the Old Testament along with the ceremonial and temporal laws was wrong.
They ripped the bishop in their letter by writing, "To say that Jesus loves everybody, including homosexuals---is true! Homosexual orientation is never condemned in scripture. It is the practice of non-marital sex that Jesus proscribes. Here is where we come to one of your major mistakes. We are not free to make Jesus into someone who would bless whatever relationships we chose ---just so long as we feel love. Jesus teaches us over and over that our loves are disordered. He showed us that we must not trust ourselves. Fallen humans need to be taught a new life where we love what God loves and hate what God hates."
In public statements, Curry has said that the New Testament texts regarding homosexual expression should be dismissed because those texts are about abusive relationships.
Curry's view on homosexuality is also at odds with the vast majority of black pastors in America.
Recently 34,000 black clergy said, after the Presbyterian Church USA endorsed gay marriage, "Don't equate your sin with our skin."
Homosexuality for Curry is no longer the white man's burden. It will be his to bear with pride as he leads a church whose establishment credentials he will wear with pride and a gay button of approval on his lapel. He will try and break the Law of Non-contradiction by affirming the gospel (however he defines that) and approve gay marriage at the same time.
Curry's understanding of evangelism means "listening" not converting and being open to absolutely everybody...gays, straights and now, because the numbers are slipping, even allowing unbaptized persons access to Holy Communion, a violation of canon law (1.17.7). These are desperate times for clergy and bishops as parishes and dioceses wither. There is a wink-wink to what is euphemistically called "open table."
On evangelism: "After formation, there's evangelism and I know sometimes folks are afraid of that word, but I'm not talking about evangelism like other folk do it," he said. "I am talking about the kind of evangelism that is as much listening as it is sharing." Being present with another person and listening to that person is a "transforming possibility" of invitation and welcome.
No one should expect things to dramatically change. People might be fooled, but God is not mocked. Global South archbishops won't see any change in TEC's direction despite all the "Jesus" talk by Curry. They will not be fooled for a moment. Curry will have his moment in January in Canterbury if he wants to show a different face of TEC. The Global South will search in vain for a different face of TEC. They won't see it.
Curry will not be able to stop the continuing slide of TEC into the abyss. The most he (and the Church) can hope for is to slow the hemorrhaging of the church. With his winning smile and personality, he might just achieve that...at least for a while.
In the end, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will be seen not as a staunch defender of the Faith, but as little more than an amiable heretic.