Church or Faith?

While attention was focused on the Anglican-Episcopal meeting of bishops in New Orleans that hopes to avert schism, yet another Episcopal bishop departed from Canterbury for Rome. Bishop Jeffrey Bishop Steenson of the Diocese of Rio Grande has written a letter to his clergy informing them of his decision, and will write a letter to the diocese shortly. (HT: Amy Welborn.) He is is the process of resigning as bishop in order to clear the way for his move. Steenson is the third Episcopal bishop to swim the Tiber this year; the other two were retired.

Of course, all are welcome. But I find these conversions interesting because 1) they are all from self-styled "orthodox" Christians and 2) they all seem rooted in disaffection and disagreement with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

Certainly ecclesiology is vitally important. But converting to Catholicism because one disagrees with the intra-ecclesial disputes of one's own church--especially in such a "churchy" church as the Anglican Communion--seems to be only a first step on a pilgrimage rather than the final destination as it is often portrayed. What about their thoughts on, say, the Eucharist, for example? Or a host of other key questions that they had previously disputed--unless, that is, they weren't being quite forthright all these many years as Episcopal bishops. Orthodoxy would seem to entail a great emphasis on believing the right things for the right reasons. And if these neo-converts think they're joining a church with no disputations, well, they should check in on this blog.

I of course can't judge anyone's conscience. But going by the public comments of these bishops, I have to ask if these are "conversions of convenience"?

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.

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