By Mark Michael
The Rt. Rev. John H. Rodgers, Jr., an evangelical theologian and seminary dean whose controversial 2000 consecration in Singapore sparked the Anglican Realignment Movement, died November 23 at 92.
“He was a tireless servant of our seminary and our country as a United States Marine veteran,” said a brief tribute from Trinity School for Ministry issued shortly after his death. Rodgers was among Trinity’s founders in 1976, and remained connected to it for the rest of his life.
A native of the Midwest, Rodgers graduated from the Naval Academy and served in the Marines before answering a call to the priesthood. After studies at Virginia Theological Seminary and a curacy in Washington, D.C., Rodgers earned a doctorate in systematic theology at the University of Basel in Switzerland, studying under Karl Barth, the 20th century’s most influential Protestant theologian.
He returned to Virginia to teach systematic theology for thirteen years, before resigning because he felt the seminary was drifting leftward. He helped establish Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry — as it was then known — in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, in 1976. He taught systematics to the seminary’s first class of seventeen students, and two years later became its dean and president, a role he would hold for twelve years.
Rodgers led Trinity through a season of dramatic growth, molding it into a bastion of conservative evangelical thought, as exemplified by his most important work, The Faith of Anglicans, a massive commentary on the Thirty-Nine Articles. Rodgers was also a firm supporter of the charismatic movement, and an outspoken advocate for orthodoxy in the Episcopal Church, especially in matters of human sexuality. He stepped down as dean and president in 1989, but continued on the faculty for over a decade. Many of his former students have gone on to serve as bishops in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).
In January 2000, Rodgers, together with the Rev. Chuck Murphy, was consecrated bishop in Singapore by two Anglican primates, Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda and Archbishop Moses Tay of Southeast Asia. Two retired Episcopal bishops. FitzSimons Allison of South Carolina and Alex Dickson of West Tennessee, also participated in the service.
Rodgers and Murphy were commissioned by the Church of Rwanda to establish an Anglican province in the United States for disaffected Episcopalians, while planting new congregations in areas without a strong Episcopal presence. The new church body led by Rodgers and Murphy was formally established as the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) seven months later.
Then-Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said he was “appalled” by the consecration, stating, “We are not helped by voices of panic and catastrophic projection which seek to undermine the careful and patient way we have sought to proceed together in discerning the motions of the Spirit.” Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey criticized the consecration as well, calling it “irresponsible and irregular”, an action that would “only harm the unity of the Communion.”
Rodgers’ own bishop, Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh (later the first Archbishop of the ACNA) told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “It was bound to happen somewhere, somehow, since the left seems unwilling to make provision for those whose views have actually not changed.”
This intervention in Episcopal Church disagreements by the Anglican Church of Rwanda over issues of human sexuality was among the first in a series by Global South provinces, a movement widely known as the Anglican Realignment. The Continuing Anglican Movement, formed of churches that independently broke away from the Episcopal Church, is older, dating from 1970’s controversies over prayer book revision and women’s ordination. GAFCON is the network most prominently associated with the Anglican Realignment today.
Rodgers would go on to serve the Anglican Mission in America for several more years, as it planted over 200 churches and incorporated Canadian jurisdictions into its common life. He returned to serve as interim dean and president of Trinity for a year in 2007. In 2009, the Anglican Mission in America was a founding member of the Anglican Church of North America, and Rodger was a member of the ACNA’s College of Bishops at the time of his death.
Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, as it was originally known, dropped “Episcopal” from its name in 2007, and the Episcopal Church has not recognized it as an Episcopal seminary since January 2022. Today it mostly trains candidates for ministry from the Anglican Church in North America and the North American Lutheran Church, a conservative Lutheran church body formed of congregations that separated themselves from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2010. A Trinity spokesperson confirmed in May that it has several students preparing for ministry in the Episcopal Church
Rodgers was preceded in death by his wife of more than 60 years, Blanche, and is survived by their four children and several grandchildren.