Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Real Falls Church?

A Response to an Editorial in the Falls Church News-Press


Dear Mr. Benton,

With reference to your editorial of February 1, 2007, I am uncertain whether you are speaking as an Episcopalian or merely a concerned citizen. If the former, I hope that you appreciate that acts of conscience are not confined to the Church's progressives. We can debate the wisdom of seeking to retain church buildings, but I must confess that I am curious what Bishop Lee will actually do with the properties when - and if - he inherits them. It is not as if there are masses of churchless Episcopalians in northern Virginia currently seeking a building. Furthermore, The Falls Church (and Truro) are in the condition they are today largely because of thirty years of sacrificial giving by committed Evangelicals. They trusted Bishop Lee to hold the line in 2003 and he chose not to do so. When is he going to offer to compensate them for his change of direction?

Can you also clarify the civic issues? I would imagine that most large churches use their influence to improve access and space. Is there a qualitative difference between how The Falls Church has behaved and how other churches (or secular enterprises) work within the system? If not, it would seem that you are complaining only because The Falls Church expresses views with which you disagree, not because they have employed unethical methods. With regard to the public schools, I'm puzzled as to how they were able to make inroads. No religious body ought to be able to witness on school property. Do you mean that they have evangelized young people in malls and other public places? I was under the impression that freedom of religion included the right to evangelize. Or is it that you believe that "non-inclusive" churches do not enjoy such rights. If so, who has the responsibility for making that determination?

What do the overall voting patterns of the City of Falls Church have to do with anything? Would you not be shocked if a liberal congregation in Fort Worth were told that it should not be there because the Democratic inclinations of its members conflicted with the Republican sentiments of the city? What else does the separation of Church and State mean if not that? As for The Falls Church being a congregation whose members live outside the city, you must know that this has been a Protestant phenomenon in America for decades. The notion of the territorial parish has been a dead letter, at least since the Second World War, and even in Roman Catholic circles it is nothing like what it used to be.

You claim that The Falls Church does not "represent the character of the civic community in which they’re operating" and that the city must seek to become "famous for a welcoming and affirming disposition toward racial, ethnic, sexual, gender and lifestyle diversity." But not diversity of opinion? I suspect that during the Byrd era many local newspapers used somewhat caustic epithets to denote those civil rights protesters who did not "represent the character of the civic community in which they're operating." As Bishop Lee rather injudiciously put it some weeks ago, "Nigerian congregations occupying Episcopal churches [do not represent] the future of the Episcopal Church envisioned by our forebears.” (New York Times, December 18, 2006).

We are in a situation that pleases no one. There are people of good conscience on both sides who are being torn apart in the struggle. I ask merely that you do not descend to the level of dismissing any and all contributions that The Falls Church might make to your community simply because you do not share their Evangelical theology. Unless you wish to go down the road of proscribing any and all religious practice that does not reflect your personal values (which would certainly not be in line with historic American practice), this is merely a recipe for further disintegration of the social contract.

Sincerely, Jeremy Bonner

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