However important pension and benefit plans are to TEC and its clergy and lay employees – and they are vital – questions about plans do not define the full picture for the Church going forward. Far deeper forces are at work:
- Through climate change brought on by three centuries of industrialized fossil fuel use, humankind has damaged and is on course to destroy the environments in which human life has flourished. The earth will survive, but will “civilization”?
- Human labor and “natural resources” have been industrialized and monetized – in short, exploited – to feed global consumption, and we pursue only short-term goals narrowly defined, not the well-being of the planet or of living things.
- Violence and the threat of violence permeate human life, and the temptation to use weapons – and to build and someday use weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear missiles and poison gas – bedevils efforts to live in peace.
- Aggressive tribalism has surfaced across nations, peoples and cultures, driven by fear (and fear of change) and supported by ideologies — based on “religious,” “racial,” “cultural,” sexual orientation, or other lies — asserting the supremacy of one group over all others, whoever they may be. Then human rights are denied by “our” group to those deemed other, that is, not “human.”
- Democratic institutions are under attack not only by regimes long opposed to democracy but also by citizens and leaders of nations we had thought were firmly anchored in democratic principles. The common good is denied and disparaged.
- Despots and oppressors, and their deeds, are praised. Exploitation and greed have been accorded the status of virtues, rather than sins.
And some of us in the U.S., and in TEC, benefit from these forces.
Organized religion is in decline across the developed world, yet spiritual hunger seems widespread in both developed and less developed societies. As we all know, in the United States the relative size and influence of mainline Protestant denominations, including TEC, has faded since the mid-1960s.
What is the way forward for The Episcopal Church? I do not know, but I believe it must be through speaking and acting as the Church, not as a part of a secular movement. However, in so doing the Church does need to be prepared to join with others, some with faith commitments and some without, who are willing to work together for humanity and for creation.
Surely we must be faithful. We must keep praying. We must love God and our neighbors. And we must try to be humble.
I take some hope in recent, unexpected events. We have seen that people still reach for our sort of faith, if they can find it. A strong mainline evangelist can work wonders, with one sermon — and global media exposure! Of course, eyes of faith may see in that the work of the Holy Spirit.