Declaration of Conscience Issued by Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen (Episcopal) In Open Letter to All Episcopal Bishops

Episcopal News Service. March 10, 1976 [76092]

Rowayton, Conn. -- A Declaration of Conscience has been issued by a group of Episcopal organizations and publications in the form of an Open Letter to the Bishops of the Episcopal Church. This group has existed in association as "The Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen" since 1973. The Open Letter is attached. The organizations and publications which have jointly signed this letter are:

  • The American Church Union
  • The Anglican Digest
  • The Canterbury Guild
  • The Certain Trumpet
  • The Christian Challenge
  • The Episcopal Guild for the Blind
  • Episcopal Renaissance of Pennsylvania
  • Episcopalians United
  • The Foundation for Christian Theology
  • The Living Church
An Open Letter to the Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America
February 23, 1976

Reverend Fathers in God:

The undersigned, meeting recently at Seabury House as associates in the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen, have reviewed the issues which are throwing the Episcopal Church into increasing turmoil and confusion.

We feel impelled by our faith and by our loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and to His Church to make a solemn declaration of conscience before our Bishops and the Episcopal Church. We use this means to make clear with all the gravity which lies in our power our common attitude.

We do not intend to list here, much less to debate, the many issues which divide churchmen today, the resolution of which will affect the character and validity of the Christian witness of all Episcopalians. We simply wish to state with all the emphasis at our command the nature of our attitude, both now and in the face of possible developments in General Convention which could influence such fundamental principles as:

the validity of the Catholic Orders of the ordained ministry; the beauty, majesty and dignity of our common worship inherited through the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and the maintenance of the Catholic faith embodied and protected therein; the authoritative Christian nature of the moral and ethical values held and taught by the Church.

There must be no conceivable doubt, Sirs, that in all these areas we are moved by a deep sense, a deep certainty, that the Episcopal Church is being urged to make irrevocable errors which could remove it from the Holy Catholic Church and could destroy -- whether at one move or gradually and insidiously -- its validity and credibility as an authentic voice of God to man in our age.

We beg you to understand and to believe that we and many other churchmen with us face a true crisis of conscience.

We do not classify worship as an easy matter for word changes; it affects the Church's very being. We do not classify changes in the nature of the priesthood and episcopate as a mere matter of adjusting to "enlightened modern secular views" of sociological relationships, to be accomplished by parliamentary maneuvers and voted by parliamentary majorities favoring constitutional or canonical changes; such changes can destroy the sacramental life of the Church. We do not classify the rise of a relaxed moral code and teaching as admirable evidence of growing tolerance or as a permissible way to adjust ourselves to a secular society increasingly impatient to throw off all moral restraints; we see it as treason to Christian teachings about morality, sin and repentance, to whose hard truths we must remain loyal if we make any pretense of passing on the message proclaimed by Jesus Christ.

In all of this, we perceive the most immediate threat to the Church's life to lie in the proposal to ordain women. We must proclaim in all conscience, with deep pain, that the proposed changes in the nature of the ordained ministry are unacceptable to us. In this we believe we speak for all those who, like us, are first and foremost loyal to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of the Creeds and have always hitherto been loyal to the Episcopal Church as a cherished expression of the universal Church. If General Convention were to exceed its authority and purport to authorize the ordination of women into the priesthood or the episcopate, we would refuse to accept this action. We would not recognize the validity either of General Convention's action or of any results of such action. We would not accept or recognize as priests or bishops any women purportedly ordained under such spurious authority. We would never submit to such a development, for to do so would be to betray our most conscientious religious beliefs and loyalties.

A moment of truly profound crisis and tragedy is upon us and the Church. Those who are striving to push the Church irretrievably into that crisis and tragedy should be under no illusions as to the test to which they put us nor as to our immovable will. They should be under no illusion that, if successful, they would not shatter the unity of our branch of the Church, in the inevitable course of time.

Right Reverend Sirs, you and all others in and out of positions of authority in the Church should understand beyond the shadow of a doubt that we, the undersigned, stand together in our resolve to fight with every Christian means at our disposal to prevent an alteration in the nature of the ordained Ministry. Our confidence is strong that such a change can be prevented. We rely upon God's continued guidance and protection of His Church.

However, if God in His inscrutable purposes should permit the Episcopal Church to depart from the Catholic community, we would feel called by him to be steadfast. Moreover, we and countless Episcopalians sharing our crisis of conscience are confident that, whatever trials might come, God would in due season open an acceptable way of preserving the Christian heritage we have received. It is a heritage in which we glory, which has strengthened and uplifted us, of which we would not deprive our posterity, and which will not die.

We want you, our Bishops, to know the depth of our feeling. We want you to know our fixed resolve. We trust that, knowing these things, you may help all Episcopalians to understand what is at stake and to draw back, even at this late date, from condemning the Church to carry its Cross to Calvary. If Calvary were to become inescapable, nobody should forget that Calvary was not the end of the story.

Our faith is threatened but we trust in the God who parted the waters of the Red Sea. We are beset but we are serene. We are in arms and we are confident.

Faithfully yours in Christ,

This letter has been signed by the following individuals, representing the organizations and publications stated, and the original signatures are on file with the Chairman of The Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen.

(The Hon.) W.R. Baker, Vice President, The American Church Union

Frederick Cooper, Vice President, Episcopal Renaissance of Pennsylvania

Ellen Crowell (Mrs. Albert W.), Chairman, The Certain Trumpet

(The Rev. Canon) Albert J. duBois, President, The American Church Union

(The Rev. Canon) Albert J. duBois, Coordinator, Episcopalians United

(Mrs.) Dorothy A. Faber, Editor of The Christian Challenge

(The Rev.) J. Raymond Fisher, Board of Directors, The Foundation for Christian Theology

(The Rev.) Stanwood E. Graves, Board of Directors, The Foundation for Christian Theology

W. Clark Hanna, Past President, Episcopal Renaissance of Pennsylvania

(The Rev.) Robert C. Harvey, The Canterbury Guild

Perry Laukhuff, Editor of The Certain Trumpet and Chairman, The Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen

(The Rev.) Carroll E. Simcox, Editor of The Living Church

(The Rev.) Harry J. Sutcliffe, Director, The Episcopal Guild for the Blind

Walter R. Swindells, Managing Editor of The Anglican Digest