(The sixth and final part of a series following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this month to let stand the lower court decision that the property of the historic Falls Church in Northern Virginia belonged to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, and not an arch-conservative pack of defectors from that church who voted to leave it in December 2006, but subsequently occupied the property for five and a half years. For part one, click here. For part two, click here. For part three, click here. For part four, click here. For part five, click here.)
On Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012, two years ago, shortly after the Virginia circuit court judge ruled against the defectors who’d occupied the historic Falls Church property for five and a half years, the persevering band of “continuing Episcopalians” who’d been forced to worship all that time in a Presbyterian church fellowship hall, reclaimed their proper home. With celebratory support from friends throughout the region, the historic chapel on the Falls Church property was packed to its capacity on a happy, sunny morning.
From a front row balcony seat, I snapped a photo that I published on the front page of the subsequent edition of the Falls Church News-Press over the headline “‘Continuing’ Episcopalians Come Home at Last to The Falls Church.”
Now, this coming Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014, “continuing Episcopalians” and friends will celebrate again, this time with the cloud of on-going litigation over the site finally completely lifted by last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling. It will be yet another great cause, beyond Easter itself, to celebrate. This series wraps up on the eve of that event, the past being past as a fresh and hopeful future arises.
Signaling that this Holy Week, in something never seen during the 25-year era of John Yates and his defectors, there will be an ecumenical service – ecumenical! – at the Falls Church chapel, with Good Friday meditations on the last words of Christ offered by ministers of seven area churches.
Also this week, as if affirming final closure to what’s past, Bishop Gene Robinson was invited by U.S. President Barack Obama to deliver an impromptu closing prayer at the White House’s Easter Prayer Breakfast across the Potomac. In 2003, it was the election of the openly-gay Rev. Robinson as a (now retired) bishop by the national Episcopal Church that provoked the whole Yates-led schism at The Falls Church.
The schism ordeal was an important epoch in the history of the entire Falls Church community, but its significance goes well beyond that. Yates and his congregants are off the church property, but they didn’t go far, and there are many more like them. The struggle for justice, peace and, yes, Christian values, goes on.
Religion can be used for good or evil. William Sargant, in his important book, Battle for the Mind, A Physiology of Conversion and Brainwashing (1957), cited “social historians who insist that (the religious revivalist) conversion of large areas of the British Isles” in the late 1700s “helped to stave off political revolution at a time when Western Europe and North America were in a ferment, or actual revolt” that led to the American revolution.
“Fundamentalist” Christianity was spawned around then as industrializing nations competed in the 19th century for natural resources. It substituted the Bible as the “inerrant the Word of God” for Jesus of Nazareth as the Logos, the “Word,” in the Trinitarian theology of the early church. The doctrine of the Trinity was developed to fend off heresies that separated God’s will from the person of the historical Jesus; that is, God’s will as seen in the humble, peace-loving words and actions of the Jesus who in the Sermon on the Mount said “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Instead, 19th century “fundamentalist” heresy used its claim that the “Word of God” is the “inerrant” Bible, not Jesus, to engender irrationality and enable ordinary demagogues to project a fearsome image of an angry cosmic warrior overlord demanding obedience.
Why is their angry God/Christ so anti-gay? Because such a God image is used by imperial aggressors to launch wars, led by men who must be warriors, and their subordinate women. In this paradigm, gays are fodder to brutes as dangerously averse to sending millions of mostly young men to battlefield deaths in the pursuit of territory and resources.
The Falls Church defectors included legions of Washington and defense establishment neo-conservatives espousing “American exceptionalist” doctrines of perpetual war. They wanted the historic Falls Church as a conveyor for recruits to their wars.
But they lost it. Thank God.