During the 21-year period of 1978-1999, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark lost 27,983 members, a decline of 43.5 per cent. The Episcopal Church (TEC) nationally was also not doing so well during that time, losing 23.4 per cent of its membership. The national church’s decline (which continues to this day at an ever accelerating pace) could be attributed in general to the doctrinal adriftness embraced by its upper echelon leadership. Newark’s far steeper decline, nearly double the national average, could be attributed specifically to the flamboyant shenanigans of its bishop, John Shelby Spong, a self-styled “maverick” for whom every tenet of Christian orthodoxy was a target for his poison pen. Spong was a prolific writer whose books often included the provocative sub-title, A Bishop Rethinks . . .
In other words, Spong exploited his episcopal office to sell books in which he questioned the validity of nearly every basic doctrine, from the virgin birth to the resurrection. Along the way, he trampled upon two thousand years of Christian teaching on human sexuality and marriage, placing his imprimatur on every form of deviancy imaginable (and some truly unimaginable).
Royalties from book sales, of course, were not Spong’s chief source of income. All the while he was making a name for himself as an author of popular books, he was drawing his salary as a bishop and functioning as such within the bounds of his diocese and in the councils of the church. Yet, his high profile and notoriety came about as a result of his acting in a manner utterly contrary to the nature of his office. In his voluminous writings and public pronouncements, Spong, while presenting himself as a bishop of the church, attacked and undermined the very faith he was bound to uphold and defend.
In retirement, Spong has been no less outspoken, thundering his opposition to all things orthodox while continuing to wear his purple shirt and gold pectoral cross, although slowed in recent months by poor health. His legacy, for which he has no regrets, is an Episcopal Church that has so cast off the restraints of orthodoxy that it now embraces even the most radical fringe elements of theological revisionism and the sexual revolution, all the while continuing to present itself as a church in historic continuity with such Anglican luminaries as Cranmer, Hooker, and Seabury.
Notwithstanding the tiny remnant of faithful Christians still residing within its structures, TEC has become the mirror opposite of what a church is supposed to be. Instead of proclaiming Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life, TEC proclaims many paths to truth and many ways to God. Instead of honoring marriage as God’s divinely instituted means of perpetuating life, TEC extols the virtues of same sex intercourse, transgenderism, and unrestricted abortion.
Newark’s rapid decline under Spong is more and more becoming the national trend as the continued viability of TEC beyond its present generation of aging membership grows less and less likely with each passing day. Having abandoned the rich storehouse of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is left with nothing but the perishable resources of earthly wealth, which its leaders have poured into one lawsuit after another, seeking to punish those individuals, parishes, and dioceses who, having discerned the way forward does not include remaining tethered to TEC, have sought to escape its clutches.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the false church which allowed a false bishop to propagate a false gospel should now concoct the false charge of “false advertising” against a true man of God.
As Bishop of South Carolina, the Right Reverend Mark J. Lawrence led his diocese for over half a decade in a vigorous, but ultimately futile, resistance against the apostasy that was rapidly engulfing TEC. Finally left with no other options, the Diocese of South Carolina disaffiliated from TEC in 2012, provoking the wrath of the national church, which had an ace in the hole on the South Carolina Supreme Court. Not content to snatch away historic church properties, however, TEC and its local rump affiliate in South Carolina have taken aim at Bishop Lawrence himself, suing him in federal court for violation of the Lanham Act.
With a straight face, TEC has lodged against Bishop Lawrence the charge that he is falsely presenting himself as a bishop.
The charge is patently absurd on its face. But we are living in an age of absurdity and TEC is the quintessential church for such an age. It is an utterly apostate body that has coddled a bishop who denigrated the faith and is now pursuing a vindictive campaign against a bishop who not only upholds and defends the faith but, with his very life, embodies and exemplifies it.