The Falls Church Episcopal Church is now front page news all over the world for its vote, announced Sunday, to formally defect from the Episcopal denomination. But the 10,500 folks in the tiny City of Falls Church have had the Falls Church Episcopal — with its membership drawn from the wider region almost a third the size of their whole town — not only in their midst, but “in their faces” for much of the last 20 years since the church took a decidedly right-wing turn.
Many in the Falls Church school system recall its influence beginning almost that long ago, churning evangelical zeal among young people, in particular. An aggressive youth program in the 1990s preached to high schoolers that their parents had made too many compromises with the world and were hardly role models for the kind of holy warriors they could become. We listened to some of these sermons, ourselves, throwbacks to notions from the 1960s counterculture era when the mantra was, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Parents of Jewish students were alarmed that their youngsters were being drawn into a church where it is claimed that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.
Still, the countless high school essays that eschewed personal introspection to gush explicitly of personal relations with Christ, along with not infrequent claims on high school fields and courts that God was responsible for one team (our team!) winning and another suffering ignominious defeat, could be construed as mere nuisances. On the other hand, the stacking of family life education committees in the school system to block modern sex ed curricula, and a campaign to vilify a high school advisor for allowing his student newspaper editorial board to publish a free ad for a non-profit group offering counseling to young gays were more serious intrusions in the City’s daily life.
Nonetheless, it wasn’t until the Republican neo-conservatives who’d taken over nearby Washington in the mid-1990s and began flocking, along with their well-heeled patrons, from considerable distances to assemble at the church to hear the likes of Ken Starr and hob-knob with board members of the Bush White House’s personal favorite Weekly Standard magazine, that the church’s leaders started making pushier demands on its neighborhood. They bought a next-door shopping center, booted everyone out, and tried to bully the little Falls Church City Council into closing a busy public street and giving it to them.
That led to years of acrimony that included a successful push-back from the local community. Meanwhile, many in the community who’s families were members of the church for a half-century and longer, became caught up in the church’s recent frenzied crusade to defect. Some now claim the church was less than up front to those folk about its real chances of keeping its current location upon defecting.
All in all, this week’s news comes as no surprise for those who’ve suffered the current church leadership in our midst for this long.