American Christianity is undergoing an identity crisis. It can’t decide whether to be a unifying, uplifting, transcending force or succumb to man-made, narrow, partisan ideologies. Sometimes it’s hard to enter the church on Sunday to simply hear the Gospel rather than a political speech with a few Bible verses sprinkled in.
One denomination particularly riven by conflict is the Anglican and Episcopal tradition I was baptized in. This conflict has gone global, but in America, it’s particularly ferocious. Locally, in the D.C. area, The Falls Church Episcopal in Virginia spent years locked in court battles over multimillion-dollar properties and bank accounts.
It was a conflict between a local congregation majority that viewed the Bible as the basis for life and a progressive, global Episcopal leadership preferring a more headline-driven, postmodern approach. Though some Episcopal congregations are far less overt in their politics, the official Episcopal, liberal ideological views of Christianity include endorsing Black Lives Matter and embracing abortion.
After this lengthy legal dispute, the local congregation lost and surrendered to the Episcopalians millions in locally donated cash, along with the historic chapel that Founding Father George Washington helped build in 1769. The local congregation, which named itself The Falls Church Anglican (TFCA), left the Episcopal fold and joined the communion of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which holds a nonpolitical, Bible-based worldview.
After seven years of physical homelessness — borrowing space from Catholics, Lutherans and Presbyterians — in the fall of 2019, TFCA opened its doors on a beautiful, lovingly built brick church near the Seven Corners area.
This background is relevant to understand the enormous pressure and adversity that TFCA’s people endured in pursuit of truth. So it was jolting for me to learn that the pastor of Restoration Anglican Church in Arlington, a TFCA daughter church (a smaller spinoff church plant raised up by TFCA folks), was backpedaling toward Episcopalianism by promoting the toxic ideology of critical race theory (CRT) and critical theory more broadly.
What’s sad is that this pastor, David Hanke, is now up for election on Oct. 15 to assume the powerful office of bishop for the entire Mid Atlantic Diocese of ACNA. Given his plaudits for critical theory, Mr. Hanke, a former TFCA staffer, doesn’t belong in this senior leadership role within ACNA, where he’d have greater influence over whether the communion tries to sew the old garment of socialism (which underpins CRT) onto the new garment of the Christian Gospel. Bishops should provide eternal moral clarity, not short-term, man-made political equivocations.
I moved from NYC to the D.C. area in January 2020 and started attending TFCA but switched to Restoration because it was within walking distance of my home at the time. Restoration has a friendly and warm congregation, one that welcomed me as a violinist on the worship team. So it was painfully jarring when several months later, Mr. Hanke from the Sunday pulpit said “In the academy, critical theory has long been a tool that has been taught to generations of scholars. It is useful for examining our assumptions.”
While I respect Mr. Hanke has expressed a deep desire to assist with racial reconciliation, critical theory does the opposite. As empirically robust research by African American men like Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams and Jason L. Riley shows, critical theory is not useful. It is a man-made economic theory created by atheist Marxists from the Frankfurt School who sought to destroy Western civilization. It is harmful to play with fire, to lead parishioners to dip a toe in the water of Marxism, an ideology that has resulted in the deaths of 100 million people globally.
Restoration church also set up a racial reconciliation ministry where attendees during a Zoom prayer group I attended further incorporated a CRT lens.
In addition, during a young adult church fellowship event, Mr. Hanke quoted political writer David French, saying that “critical race theory can be an analytical tool (one of many) that can help us understand persistent inequality and injustice in the United States.”
To his credit, Mr. Hanke further quoted Mr. French on CRT, stating, “To the extent, however, that it presents itself as a totalizing ideology — one that explains American history in full and prescribes an illiberal antidote to American injustice — it falters and ultimately fails. Moreover, as a totalizing ideology, it contradicts core scriptural truths.”
So on one hand, Mr. Hanke says that critical theory is a “useful tool” but that it also “contradicts core scriptural truths.” He wants to have it both ways, even though James 1:8 tells us that “a double-minded man is unstable in all they do,” and Matthew 5:37 tells us, “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”
Regardless if Mr. Hanke wins his election, voters deserve answers about this double-mindedness. Christians are called to be followers of Jesus, not followers of Marx. Obviously, it’s unhelpful to expect perfection from any church, but given ACNA’s history, this communion understands what’s at stake when the church falls captive to the dogmas of the world.
• Carrie Sheffield lives in Arlington, Virginia.