National Commentary

An Epilogue: God & Demagogues

nfbentonpicHallelujah! Almost 1,000 souls poured into the historic Falls Church last Easter Sunday weekend to celebrate rebirth, including the signed and sealed rebirth of the historic and rightful Episcopal ministry there after many years of darkness.

It is almost impossible, even for this “wordsmith,” to find language to adequately describe the profound impact, the aroma of spring flowers and fresh cut grass, the buoyant step, the spontaneous smiles, that have accompanied the closure brought to the transition from a closed, angry, arrogant and exclusionary “my way or the highway” leadership of the biggest, most influential and historic church in the center of the small City of Falls Church community, to one that is open, progressive, welcoming and diversity affirming.

The contrast between an institution that hates this world and strives to save it with an exclusionary formula and one that loves it and seeks its betterment through transformative grace is stark, indeed.

Like awakening from a long slumber, many in the little city of 13,300 are just beginning to sense the change, the new springtime. For 25 years the wider Falls Church community endured the strident extremism of a leadership dominating its mega-church and the community around it that ultimately ripped its congregation out of the Episcopal denomination for espousing love for and the full enfranchisement of all God’s children, including women and gays, arrogantly confident it would take the historic Falls Church campus with it.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in March, reverting the property to the Diocese of Virginia after a five year defector occupation, struck the final blow that expelled it once and for all from any further designs there.

As the dark cloud dissipates, and sunshine begins pouring in, residents of the wider area are quick to respond. The feisty and faithful “continuing Episcopalians” who’d held out in exile since December 2006 had their church returned to them two years ago, and since had built back their diminished numbers from average worship attendance of 80 per week to roughly 200 since being back in the historic church.

But this last Easter Sunday, with news that all options for a reversal were denied the defectors by the U.S. Supreme Court, the historic Falls Church opened its doors to welcome 1,000!

Had the Falls Church schism not been stopped as it was, primarily by the grit, determination and resilience of local “continuing Episcopalians” and their supporters, it would have served as a model for a massive destabilization of all of mainstream Protestantism.

Some of the most powerful forces in our society were behind this schism, the legions of top bankers, politicians and clergy who form the core of “The Family” (recall Jeff Sharlet’s book by that name), the quasi-clandestine network wielding inordinate influence in the nation’s corridors of power, with headquarters only a couple miles away in Arlington. Its goal is to chisel away at the separation of church and state with the eventual aim of replacing U.S. Constitutional law with its notion of Biblical law.

With all the advances The Family had made since forming in the early part of the 20th century as a radical free market, industry-led battering ram in the name of religion against organized labor and FDR’s New Deal (Social Security included), this movement’s next great goal was to shatter mainstream Protestant churches through schisms and divisions just as took place at the Falls Church.

Under the watchful eyes of top lieutenants in the George W. Bush administration who’d joined the Falls Church, the Falls Church operation was to be the signal for the launch of national helter-skelter chaos, sparked from George Washington’s own church.

But its success was conditional on taking church properties with it, or else it would not have the force needed to rip up mainstream churches. Everything about this nasty operation was dependent on establishing the precedent of a successful defector seizure of church property from denominational control.

With all this at stake, which is why the Falls Church defectors took their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, last month’s ruling marked an epochal setback for this duplicitous wrong and an equally significant victory for the forces of good.