Magazine article The Christian Century

Blest Be the Ties That Bind

Magazine article The Christian Century

Blest Be the Ties That Bind

Article excerpt

While I never suffered the childhood trauma of parents getting divorced, I know as an adult what it is like to suffer with a divided family. That is because I am an Episcopalian. As everyone knows--the late-night arguments and breaking of dishes have been audible since spring 2003--the Episcopal Church teeters on the edge of a breakup.

If you zoom in from the denomination level to individual parishes, you see that divorce has already occurred in many parts of the family. According to at least some of the people who have separated from the Episcopal Church, there isn't a single parish in America unaffected by the turmoil. And surely it's on the parish level that the family fight hurts the most. That is where it really comes, well, home.

A while ago someone suggested to me that the best way to choose a congregation is to ask oneself: Are these the people I want to bury me?

And I thought, Yes, there's something deeply right about that. But I have probably 20 or 30 years before my death. Will there then still be an Episcopal Church, or my particular Episcopal church, to bury me? What a shame that such a thought might be the first to occur. Children need a parental union that will undergird their childhood, and a Christian needs a church that will outlive him or her.

Some may think I am making too much of the marriage metaphor in applying it to ecclesial life and commitment. But I wonder if we have made too little of it. Yes, the church universal and church catholic will continue whether or not the Episcopal Church or a single one of its parishes survives. But we could say the same about the institution of monogamous marriage. It survives divorces. Yet we still worry about high divorce rates. We don't talk about how the "invisible" and "spiritual" reality of marriage is still strong, though half of actual marriages crumble. Why, then, should we regard church splintering and promiscuity in church membership with comparable glibness? Especially when the church splintering and promiscuity in membership clearly isn't confined to Episcopalians?

Casting aside subtlety for the moment, I think there are two basic attitudes to church membership or commitment. One is the Protestant attitude. It focuses on the individual choosing a compatible and right "mate." It emphasizes that work and vigilance are required to keep the relationship alive and well. It allows that a marriage can die, and that if it does, it's best to dissolve that marriage and seek a new, more vital one. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.