The Primates of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion have just concluded their first meeting in five years. Their concluding statement indicates that because of our decision at the 2015 General Convention to allow same-sex marriages, for a period of three years The Episcopal Church (TEC) will “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”
I want to echo, support and give thanks for Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s statement to his brother Primates (and they are all men):
“Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.
“For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain. For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain. For many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our church opening itself in love was a sign of hope. And this will add pain on top of pain.”
The pain is real. The Primates punishment sounds harsh – and it is, to a degree. But The Anglican Communion is less a structure and more a network of relationships. While we have been given a “time out” for three years in TEC’s participation on some of the formal bodies of the Anglican Communion, it will not – as far as I can tell, have any effect on our participation on the Anglican Consultative Council or other formal or informal networks that have long been the hallmark of what it means to be Anglican.
I take a large measure of comfort in the primates’ unanimous desire to continue to “walk together”. That says to me that there is a widespread recognition that we need to stay in relationship. That across the Anglican Communion we can acknowledge difference and disagreement – and still be in relationship with one another through the living Christ whose reach knows no bounds.
I am reminded by the challenge given by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to the 700 bishops from around the world at the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury England in 2008. Rabbi Sacks was then the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, a gifted scholar and the author of a very important new book, Not in God’s Name, about the need for Muslims, Christians and Jews to remain in relationship. He knows the Anglican Communion intimately, having grown up in Anglican schools in Britain. He told us that we were one of the largest, if not the largest voluntary organization in the world. He said – no, he shouted, you have to stay together – for the sake of the rest of us.
That is not always easy to do. There are disappointments and misunderstandings and painful outcomes. Sometimes “walking together” is as much as we can do. And that can count for a lot.
Vote and Response
Your response to the vote of the Primates is at once kind, calm and well reasoned - and much easier said than done. It is extremely difficult to remain in relationship with people who want to punish you like a petulant child for wanting to walk in the way Christ intended, and not judge, lest we be judged. It seems that our penchant for opening our arms to those whose way of life may be different than our own is taken as a personal affront by the Anglican Communion. But Christ teaches us to open our arms to all of God's children regardless of their person or persuasion. Jesus communed with lepers, yet we are punished for communing with what is possibly the modern day version thereof (at least as far as some people are concerned). It was not Christ's way (at least not according to any Bible I have read) to beat people over the head until they came around to his way of thinking. Yet, the American Episcopal Church has been suspended from school for three years because we welcome those that others might shun, or relegate to the fringes. I only hope that I can take your words to heart, and be as forgiving as you are asking us to be. However, it might take a minute (or 1,576,800).
I keep thinking that God did not stop speaking when the Bible was assembled, and that our Church is doing its collective best to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying today. Although this action was nominally directed against TEC, we are not the ones likely to suffer any real harm from it. I agree we should continue to "walk together" with others in the Communion. If we are indeed hearing the Holy Spirit speak, that will become clear in God's time.
Well stated and spot on.
You cannot escape the fact that Jesus did not write the New Testament. His words come through the men who wrote it and those men wrote that homosexuality is unnatural and wrong. The Bible speaks against everything you have said here and this is delusional logic you use. Nature itself speaks against you as well. By your logic Islam may now be God's newly revealed plan. This letter you have written reeks of arrogance in the face of the known truth.
Our Lord, Jesus Christ led by example and showed us more than once to include the most unexpected people in our compassion. We try to follow that path. Therefore I think that we better are inclusive and suspended than exclusive and accepted.
Sir, I appreciate your
Sir, I appreciate your recognition that this decision will result in real pain to many parishioners. Indeed, our civilization has a long history of mistreatment of those of same-sex attraction and the Episcopal church has done much to bring such mistreatment to light, even if it has perhaps been carried along too far in its Godly desire to minister to the marginalized. Your response is truly pastoral to those who are experiencing such pain.
That being said, I cannot help but believe that our desire to walk together with the Communion, and indeed to walk in our place within the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, entails a willingness on our part to submit to the common mind of the Church. Jesus himself said that a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25). This does not mean we must be all of one mind in everything but where the Church does speak with that common mind, and is supported by Scripture and Tradition (or the democracy of the dead), then it is our duty, privilege, and benediction to submit to that God given authority of the Church. And no one can question that the common mind of the Church has been expressed on this issue numerous times in the past both within the Anglican Communion and in the greater Church catholic. Persons of same-sex attraction are to be respected, loved, supported, and treated with the dignity that they deserve as image-bearers of our God and Father. But sexual activity should be encouraged only within the bond and sacrament of marriage, which is a faithful, lifelong union between one man and one woman. The Primates expressed this common mind again last week.
We are not dishonest if we cannot in good conscience accept the common mind of the church on this or any issue. But if we indeed cannot accept and submit to the common mind and teaching of the Church, perhaps we should consider the intellectually honest approach, and recognize that we are no longer Anglican.
WALKING TOGETHER AND MAINTAINING ASSEMBLY
Recent campaign language expressed by would-be U.S. presidents reminds us how important it is to "walk together," and 'not refrain from assembly...' (Hebrews X, 25), when threats to build walls between countries, carpet-bomb entire nations and deride Islamic customs have now become the country's normal alternative political discourse.
While most people I know treat gays and heterosexuals with equal good manners, the Episcopal Church's traditional welcome of all people has now led to demands over which no Christian church has any particular control. In some situations, it is proper for laymen to perform baptisms and rituals we call, 'marriage.' An investigative journalist might be allowed into a jail in, say, Saudi Arabia, to interview two non-practising Christian men who had, by dint of living together, formed over many years a type of romantic attachment which might not otherwise have come about. If the journalist, out of great human kindness, were to decide to bless that relationship, one could say, "whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder." The fact that the church could not do anything about that does not alter the fact that the Episcopal Church of America is out of step with honestly held beliefs of the rest of the communion.
We would be hard-pressed to find in the gospels any reference to rights; the gospels speak only of duties. So, once again, gay marriage does not have to be an official church issue just because gay people, whom our communion rightly welcomes, feel they have a right, irrespective of the possibility of offspring, to share. Charles I might have claimed the divine right of kings, but, if alive today, would not expect to be a basket-ball player. Charles would have said he had a lot to be thankful for; not, of course, his beheading.
Canterbury is clearly unhappy at the degree to which the Episcopal church, by claiming the right of limited autonomy, continues to defy the consensus of the rest of the communion. Meanwhile, all denominations seem to be ignoring the dreadful campaign threats would-be leaders are making that can not lead to peace and do not embrace even that 'inclusivity' and welcome which we all purport to hold out to strangers, the mentally ill and former prisoners.
By 'walking together' as Christians, we can overcome the enormous burdens placed on children throughout the world, and not least in America. By assembly, we can talk through the issues raised by participation in a global communion. By voting, we can overcome wage theft, high rates of incarceration, TIAA-Clef participation in Brazil that results in small farmers being disenfranchised by their government, human cargos all over the world, and, yes, even the life-threatening slavery in the mines of Eastern Congo and Bangalore by which we are able to have the wonderful convenience of cell 'phones and the doubtful benefit of magnificent tombstones.
Marriage equality? I feel ashamed that the Episcopal Church as a whole does not recognize much bigger fish to fry. Parishes throughout the world, especially in Africa, are practising meaningful ministries. Yet, too many parishes in the Episcopal church are relying on a profile that mostly derives from Sunday habits, but does not really denote all we could do together by way of effective and dedicated service. Even with simple things like good liturgical music and Shakespeare plays, one sees that affluent parishes are initially quite reluctant to share these things with poorer parishes and, in particular, with adults and children in inner-city environments who therefore never experience a play, a museum or even a well-constructed church service.
May we, indeed, learn to walk together more humbly in the future, be a real force for good against all kinds of political extremism, and not henceforth be mortally obsessed with the mere distractions of height, intellect, self-righteousness and, of course, the social distinction of a church wedding.
Does "walking together" mean that we can keep paying dues to those who do not want us?
The Primates Gathering
I would suggest the premise that this is an official reprimand from the Canterbury gathering of Anglican Primates that must be followed, is wrong. This was described as an informal gathering, not an official meeting. The Primates, none of them popes, have no authority, spiritual or temporal, to exclude or suspend anyone. Our union is through communion with the sea of Canterbury, not agreement with one another. To honor their suggestion would give unwarranted authority and set a dangerous precedence of independent Provinces excommunicating each other any time there is a disagreement. The church has been through all that before and it is not pretty. At this point a dissent from our Executive Council might be helpful in preventing actual official bodies of the Communion, such as the Anglican Consultative Council, acting similarly. It should reject the action of the Primates, attach consequences if it is upheld, rebut the premises about marriage on which it is falsely and hypocritically based, and expose the homophobic bigotry that is the real issue. My premonition is that Archbishop Welby set all this in motion well ahead of the gathering in order to persuade African Primates, who had previously said they would not attend any meeting at which the Episcopal Church was represented, to attend this informal gathering. In the meantime, we should welcome dialogue while continuing to bring our gifts and faith to all of the Instruments of Communion.
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