Episcopal Evangelism Emerges at Yale

Featured, Social Justice — By on December 7, 2011 at 6:45 am


While programs designed to train missional pioneers remain very much works-in-progress in most dioceses and seminaries, students infused with an Episcopal-entrepreneurial spirit are presently taking the initiative to enhance the missional aspects of their seminary education by forming the Episcopal Evangelism Network (EEN). Founded by Otis Gaddis III, a thirty-year-old postulant in the Diocese of Washington, the EEN is an inter-seminary student organization that connects the seminarians who are interested in starting new contextual missional communities either from scratch or as a renewal of an existing Episcopal community such as in contexts where a parish or a chaplaincy has significantly declined. Their dream: to be able to start new contextual mission shaped ministries upon graduation.

At General Convention 2009, Otis watched as the Episcopal Church demonstrated its commitment to its progressive social justice theology and its attention to issues relevant to contemporary life. In the face of declining income the Convention reaffirmed the church’s passion to end global poverty by reappropriating 1 percent of the Episcopal Church’s budget to the Millennium Development Goals. It endorsed liturgical resources to help people reckon with the loss of a child or the end of a marriage, as well as strengthening its affirmation of LGBT members of the Church. Coupled with the church’s long standing support for the equality of women, these actions created a social justice portfolio that Otis perceived to be very appealing to unchurched young adults and opening the door for the clear proclamation of a different kind of Christianity, the kind of progressive spiritual path for which he feels a massive swath of young adults are looking. “As a church, we are real about social justice—socio-economic issues, gender, sexuality, and stuff that affects people’s lives—we are on point. Now on race we are still working, but we are working at it,” says Otis. “We are a faith where young adults do not have to keep choosing between being a good Christian and begin a good person. So our social justice theology is a real plus for accomplishing the mission to make disciples for Jesus.”

 

At the time, Otis perceived that affirming the full humanity of gay people would help broaden the missional opportunities for the Episcopal Church, especially when combined with the rest of what the church proclaims. He references a 2007 Barna Group survey indicating that 91 percent of unchurched young adults (ages 16–29 at the time of the survey) think that Christianity is anti-gay (see www.unchristian.com). This understanding of Christianity was the most common perception by unchurched young adults of what Christianity taught, even more than basic Christian tenets like the divinity of Jesus. When combined with a host of young adult surveys that reveal that young adults are overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality, this anti-gay perception of Christianity is missionally devastating. “Basically,” he explains, “our work on sexuality helps people who have written off Christianity to take a second look. Now, when they do that we

have to be ready to give them what they are really looking or—which is a living relationship with God.”

 

Otis realized that as a progressive expression of Christianity, the Episcopal Church defies the Barna Group’s statistics of what makes unchurched young adults hostile to Christianity; yet, most Americans, especially young adults, do not even know that the Episcopal Church exists let alone know what it teaches. “So I started EEN to help get our Church’s story out,” Otis says, “so we could reach the people almost no one else will be able to reach. Because, if we’re going to take the step to affirm women and LGBT people, and are willing to fight for the global poor even when our own income is declining, and have conservatives not be happy with us, then we should make the social justice theology of our church work for us in our missional approach to the unchurched, who are actually attracted to that theology.”

 

From Ancient Future Disciples: Meeting Jesus in Mission-shaped Ministries (http://www.amazon.com/Ancient-Future-Disciples-Mission-Shaped-Ministries/dp/1596272317), by Becky Garrison (160 pages, $18.00, ISBN: 978-1-59627-231-6), and used here with permission of Seabury Books, an imprint of Church Publishing Inc., New York. For more information, visit

 

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    6 Comments

  • “91 percent of unchurched young adults think that Christianity is anti-gay. This understanding of Christianity was the most common perception by unchurched young adults of what Christianity taught,”

    I wonder why that is. I have heard and read several progressives make the claim that we on the Right are obsessed with the topic of homosexuality, but as far as I can tell, it’s always being brought up by those on the left. Today’s post being one more example.

    For those of us who hold to the biblical teaching that homosexual sex is sin, we don’t bring it up often, nor do we dwell on it. It’s the pro-gay-rights folks who mention it constantly.

    • Two words – Rick Santorum.

      Sorry the religious right brings up “homosexuality” all the time. See American Family Association/Family Research Council for starters.

    • Well, as long as we don’t have empirical data, we could argue about this all day. I’m just giving my perspective. It seems to me that I see a lot of pro-gay-rights writers and commenters bring up the topic, then make a remark about how the other side seems obsessed with the topic.
      I am aware that AFA and FRC have thousands or millions of followers, but they are so far off my radar that I have no idea what they are up to. But I cannot dispute your claim that they mention this topic a lot. But I also think there are a lot of folks who have studied scripture, and come to the same theology about homosexuality that I have, and it isn’t a central focus of our lives, and rarely comes up except when someone else brings it into the conversation.

      In other words, I would like to not be known as “anti-gay”, since that is but one of many sexual sins I don’t think we should affirm, but more importantly, because it’s not something I even think about much.

      I’m anti-abortion, anti-greed, anti-coveting, anti-porn, anti-pride, anti-shacking up, and anti- a lot of other things before I ever think about one particular set of sexual behaviors. But maybe I’m in the minority.

      And by the way, i have no idea what Santorum has to say about homosexuality. I gave up on politics a long time ago, and I doubt that a president can influence much about anyone’s sexual behavior anyway.

  • Gary says:

    I was under the imppression that this forum was for discussion of Christian perspectives. The Espicopal Church Of America has long since dropped any relation to a Christian witness church. Any church that questions the diety of Christ has more in common with most secular institutions and will remain a shrinking body constantly dealing with, as Becky describes, a shrinking , but still humanly relevant, voice. As a Christian I try to DEEPLY love all people of any sexual persuasion; I will not , however, call sin anything other than sin just because the sinner demands that I do. True love for my neighbor has no room for those type of lies.

  • Jeff Winter says:

    Evangelism has nothing to do with what the author shared in her article. I encourage this woman to study the Scripture to understand what is true evangelism.

  • julian nuñez de arenas blanco says:

    POR AMOR A DIOS

    AYUDAROS A VOSOTROS MISMOS

    RECOMIENDO Y ANIMO COMO TERAPIA

    DE GRAN HUMANIDAD Y MEJOR NIVEL HUMANO

    REALIZAR UNA AYUDA A JUSTO

    POR TODOS LOS QUE NO SIGUEN LOS CAMINOS DE DIOS.

    AYUDEMOS A JUSTO A TERMINAR SU OBRA QUE YA ES DE TODOS NOSOTROS

    PORQUE NOS ESTAMOS AYUDANDO A NOSOTROS MISMOS

    DISCIPULOS DE CRISTO A LA OBRA DEL SEÑOR

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