Letter writer Rosalind Ellis Heid recently urged Episcopal bishops to "back off on some of their left-wing, ultra-liberal philosophies that are anathema to so many parishioners" ("Switch of faiths raises questions," June 26). As one who came of age in Baltimore's Emmanuel Episcopal Church, I value both our reformation heritage and our diversity as a church that is big enough to include a wide array of theologies, practices and beliefs.
As Ms. Heid notes, Roman Catholicism is not a democracy, since decisions for the faithful are made by unelected leaders. The same cannot be said of the American Episcopal Church, which is governed by local representatives meeting at our General Convention every three years. This very American approach to church governance is reflected by each Episcopal diocese in the form of a Diocesan Convention and in each parish in the form of their annual meeting.
Major decisions by the national church — such as the proposal to bless same-sex couples or revise the Book of Common Prayer — must be approved in two consecutive General Conventions. Typically, before a major shift is made, the general Convention authorizes at least one period of study. Since the General Convention only meets every three years, sustentative changes require three approvals by lay and clerical deputies as well as our bishops spanning almost a decade.
One of the good things about this lengthy process is it prevents any one group from ramming a major change through the approval process. Instead, it requires change be based in a broad and continuing consensus among lay leaders, members of the clergy and our bishops.
The "ultra-liberal" policies Ms. Heid opposes are not the work of "left wing" bishops. Instead these policies are an honest attempt of our elected representatives to apply God's word to the 21st century through a process that is very much in the tradition of the radical reformers who launched the Reformation.
While I grieve when a congregation decides to leave our church, I also rejoice at the growing number of Roman Catholics who are joining the Episcopal Church. On balance, we are gaining more people — and priests — than we are losing.
Many of these recovering Roman Catholics say they are drawn to us by policies others see as "ultra-liberal." The beauty of our faith is that there is room for all of us under the big tent of our common church.
Thomas C. Jackson
The writer is an Episcopal priest in Alameda, Calif.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun