Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sermon for 5 Lent after the House of Bishops March 2007 Communication to the Church

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church - Delray Beach
5 Lent - Year C - March 24/25, 2007
Isaiah 43:16-21; Ps. 126; Philippians 3:8-14; Luke 20:0-19
Preacher: The Reverend William H. Stokes, Rector

I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God based on faith....
Philippians 3:7-9

“Episcopal bishops reject Anglican demand” the headline of a page two story in The Palm Beach Post read on Thursday. Below that, it said, “The U.S. Church could face demotion or expulsion from the worldwide family of churches.” The New York Times ran a similar story on Thursday. The headline read, “Episcopal Church rejects demand for 2nd Leadership.” Actually, of the two headlines, that of The Palm Beach Post was the more accurate.
The Post headline indicated that what occurred this past week in Texas was an action of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church. The New York Times incorrectly inferred that what happened this past week in Texas was an action of the whole Episcopal Church. It is an important distinction.
In many ways, the error and misunderstanding of The New York Times underscores what is at the heart of the current dilemma facing the Episcopal Church and its relationship with the wider Anglican Communion.
In other parts of Anglicanism, Primates and bishops govern autocratically and without a great deal of accountability to others. This is the case in Nigeria, where Archbishop Peter Akinola, who has been the principle antagonist of the Episcopal Church, is Primate of the 17 million member Anglican Church of Nigeria. What Akinola says, goes, in Nigeria.
That is not the case in the 2.3 million member Episcopal Church. We are governed democratically and have been since our founding in the days following the American Revolution. Prior to the Revolutionary War there was no Anglican Communion. There was only the Church of England on American soil. Clearly, war with England made the continuance of the Church of England in America problematic.
Immediately after the Revolutionary War, those who had been members of the Church of England in America, both clergy and laity, began to organize. In Maryland in 1785, those who had been Church of England in America gathered together in convention. They adopted the name “Episcopal Church” – the word “Episcopal” being derived from the Greek word for “bishops” – and called for the meeting of a Constitutional Convention. They designated Philadelphia as the site where they would meet.
In Philadelphia, from 1787 - 1789, groups of lay persons and clergy gathered and drafted the Constitution and Canons of what would become the Protestant Episcopal Church in America - a fully autonomous and self-governing church, which had ties of affection to its English mother and her ways, but which was not at all ruled by her. Please note that these Constitutional Conventions were being held at the very same time and in the very same city that the United States Constitution was drafted. Our governance as a church reflects this. We are a democratic church, with a bicameral legislative governing body.
One of the two governing houses, the oldest house by the way, is the House of Deputies. It is made up of clergy and lay people elected from each diocese. The “junior house” is the House of Bishops made up of all the bishops of the Episcopal Church. It is “junior,” because before Samuel Seabury was consecrated as the first American Bishop by Scottish bishops in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1784 (after English Bishops refused to consecrate him because he could not swear to the “Oath of Supremacy” ), there never were any bishops of the Church on American soil. The English never sent any bishops here, not once, during the whole of the colonial period. Americans who felt called to the priesthood in the Church of England on American soil prior the American Revolution had to get on a ship and make the dangerous journey to England so that a bishop could ordain them.
The General Convention in 1787 sent two priests of its number, William White, Rector of Christ, Church, Philadelphia, (who had been a Chaplain to the Continental Congress), and Samuel Proovost, Rector of Trinity Church, New York to England to again, petition the English bishops to consecrate them as bishops. This time, the English bishops consented without requiring White and Proovost to take the Oath of Supremacy - an oath that acknowledged the King as as the supreme head of the Church. When White and Proovost returned to the United States, they joined with Samuel Seabury to make up the first House of Bishops which consisted of those 3 members. These three also joined together to consecrate Thomas Claggett of Maryland the first Episcopal bishop consecrated on American soil. Claggett’s consecration, by the way, brought together the Scottish and English lines of succession. In the catholic tradition with its apostolic succession of bishops, it takes three bishops who are in that historic succession to consecrate another bishop.
From the time of the first General Conventions forward, in the American Episcopal Church, governing authority would be shared by bishops, priests, deacons and laity. There would be no Archbishops. There would be a “Presiding Bishop” who would preside over the meetings of the House of Bishops and represent the Church to the nation and the wider world. All bishops in the Episcopal Church, as had always been the tradition in Anglicanism, were understood as having equal standing and authority. The Presiding Bishop is, to this day, a “first among equals” and does not have authority over any other bishop in their jurisdiction. The same, it should be noted, has always been the case with the Archbishop of Canterbury and any other bishop in the wider communion, at least up until now. This understanding is now being threatened.
Anyway, we are a democratic church with a bicameral governing body. No official position of this church may be stated, and no action of this church may be taken outside of General Convention, which meets every three years. That’s why The New York Times story headline was wrong when it said, “Episcopal Church rejects demand for 2nd Leadership.” What happened this past week was an action of one House, the House of Bishops. It was not an action of the Episcopal Church. It couldn’t be. General Convention has not met since June when it was in Columbus, Ohio.
When the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other Primates of the Anglican Communion gathered in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in February and developed a “pastoral scheme” for the Episcopal Church and demanded that actions be immediately taken by the House of Bishops that affected the whole Episcopal Church, and when they called for an alternative Primate to come into the Episcopal Church and to have oversight of those dioceses and parishes who feel disaffected by the decisions of General Convention and who refuse to acknowledge Katharine Jefferts-Schori as Primate, they were making demands that could not possibly be met. Their schemes and plans were, and are, in absolute violation of our democratic polity and processes.
In doing this, they are attempting to centralize the governance of the Anglican Communion and arrogating authority in a way that is unprecedented in our history. No matter how any one feels about the questions and issues of human sexuality and the decisions made by recent General Conventions of the Episcopal Church, this attempt by the Primates and by the Archbishop of Canterbury to accrue power to themselves and to control and interfere with the Episcopal Church and its polity and governance, should alarm us all.
We need to remember that, historically, “communion” within Anglicanism has existed because the member provinces desired it. The four so - called “Instruments of Unity” in Anglicanism – that is, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the 38 Primates of the 38 autonomous Anglican Provinces, the Lambeth Conference of Bishops which meets every ten years, and the Anglican Consultative Council (elected lay, clergy and bishops who from each of the Provinces who meet every three years) – these Instruments of Unity have never had any formal authority over the Episcopal Church or any other member province of the Anglican Communion. They have always been only advisory. For the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates to now begin to develop a “Pastoral Scheme” controlled by and accountable to them and to attempt to impose this pastoral scheme on the Episcopal Church under threat of sanctions and punishment, which is what they are, in fact, doing, is unconscionable
At their meeting in Texas this past week, the Bishops of the Episcopal Church passed three Resolutions which represented an appropriate response: They indicated a strong desire to remain a part of the Anglican Communion. They also firmly stated that acceding to the demands being made in the primates’ pastoral scheme would be “injurious to the Episcopal Church.” They asked for a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In a letter which was distributed at the conclusion of their meeting, the bishops gave five explanations for their refusal to accede to what the Primates were demanding. As the House of Bishops wrote:
“First, it violates our church law in that it would call for a delegation of primatial authority not permissible under our Canons and a compromise of our autonomy as a Church not permissible under our Constitution.”
“Second, it fundamentally changes the character of the Windsor process and the covenant design process in which we thought all the Anglican Churches were participating together.”
“Third, it violates our founding principles as The Episcopal Church following our own liberation from colonialism and the beginning of a life independent of the Church of England.”
“Fourth, it is a very serious departure from our English Reformation heritage. It abandons the generous orthodoxy of our Prayer Book tradition. It sacrifices the emancipation of the laity for the exclusive leadership of high-ranking Bishops. And, for the first time since our separation from the papacy in the 16th century, it replaces the local governance of the Church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates.”
“Last of all,”
the House of Bishops stated, “it is spiritually unsound. The pastoral scheme encourages one of the worst tendencies of our Western culture, which is to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them and be instruments of reconciliation. The real cultural phenomenon that threatens the spiritual life of our people, including marriage and family life, is the ease with which we choose to break our relationships and the vows that established them rather than seek the transformative power of the Gospel in them. We cannot accept what would be injurious to this Church and could well lead to its permanent division.”1
I am taking the time this morning to share all of this with you because I want you to know that what is going on is important and has serious implications for all of us. I also want you to know that I fully support the decisions and reasoning of our House of Bishops that came out of Texas this past week. Moreover, I am proud of them and appreciate the courage they are showing both in expressing our strong desire to remain in relationship with the wider Communion and our commitment to this, but also our unwillingness to compromise values we hold dear and essential.
I know that many have been troubled and distressed by the decisions that have been made by recent General Conventions. I am truly sorry that this is so. I don’t like to see people hurt. It is important that we are all sensitive about this, that we are mindful that people have been wounded and hurt over these matters, as gay and lesbian persons have been wounded and hurt throughout the Church’s history.
Nonetheless, the decisions made by the Episcopal Church through its General Conventions have been the result of a lively and faithful democratic process and polity involving the full participation of bishops, priests, deacons and lay persons under what I trust and have confidence has been the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Our polity and processes have served us well throughout our history. I personally believe the decisions that we have made have been right and just. If you wish to have a fuller sense of my thinking about these matters, there are copies of a paper I wrote after the Primates’ Communiqué from Dar es Salaam was released available on the piano and at the back of the church.2
I will not pretend that the Episcopal Church is perfect. I will, however, affirm my love of Christ as he is known through this church and my allegiance to its doctrine, discipline, worship and governance. Historically, we have offered the world a broad-minded, democratic catholic church in love with freedom. We have been an attractive and welcome alternative for many who see in a us as a sharp contrast to centralized systems of authority and governance; to Popes and Cardinals and bishops who have little accountability beyond themselves. We have been a church of hope for those who have noticed in other expressions of catholic Christianity that laity, and women in particular, have virtually no authority or role in governance.
That is not who we as American Episcopalians are. It is not who we as Episcopalians should want to be and we should strongly resist those today who are trying to lead us in the direction of centralization and autocratic governance by an Archbishop of Canterbury and a council of Primates.
I believe our peculiar way of doing things, our ability to engage in rigorous conversation, to grapple with difficult issues and challenge one another, and our democratic processes that involve every order of ministry, represent a gift to the wider Church and the world. There has been a distinct absence of Christian charity on the part of many in the wider the Communion toward the Episcopal Church, and especially its governing bodies. The Episcopal Church has been vilified and threatened with punitive measures, including, perhaps, formal separation from the larger Communion and its organs if it does not accede to the Primates’ requests and the terms set forth both in the Primates’ Communiqué and in the Windsor Report. I believe the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates are acting oppressively and repressively.
As the Episcopal Church, we will be determining over the next months and years how to respond in ways that are faithful to the Gospel and to our core identity as Christians. This may mean that, for the sake of our beliefs and convictions, we allow the Archbishop of Canterbury and the instruments and agencies of the wider communion to discipline and diminish us. While that would be regrettable, for the sake of justice, it is, I believe, time for us to follow in the steps of Jesus; to focus less on power and more on service and servanthood; to take up our Cross and to work with partners throughout the worldwide communion who accept us for who we are and what we are about.
I do not believe that the Episcopal Church should walk away or take formal action to separate ourselves from the Anglican Communion. As St. Paul writes, no part of the body may say to another part, “I have no need of you” (See 1 Corinthians 12:12-26). I believe we should continue to assert our membership and participation in the wider communion. Many parts of the Communion sympathize with us and don’t like the way we are being treated. They will continue to be in relationship with us and to work with us no matter the decisions of Rowan Williams and the other Primates.
If the Archbishop of Canterbury and majority of the Primate’s feel compelled to take action, let them do so and let us accept their decisions with grace and equanimity even if we think they are acting unjustly. This is the Christian way, not the anger and bitterness, and destructive behaviors that have been too prevalent both in the Church and in the wider society.
Our House of Bishops has shown both love and respect for the wider Communion, but also courage and faith in standing up for their convictions and for the integrity of our church and its polity and processes. They have expressed their affection for the wider Communion and their willingness to try to find ways to meet the pastoral needs of those within the Episcopal Church who feel alienated from the Episcopal Church. They have shown their rightful and dutiful responsibility to Christ and his Church by saying to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates, “You are exceeding your authority and threatening injury to this Church and its polity and we cannot allow this.”
As we bring Lent to a close and “prepare to greet with joy the Paschal Feast,”3 it is my hope and prayer that we will not be afraid...It is my hope and prayer that we will trust in Christ, trust that the Spirit is at work in all of this, “leading us and guiding us along the way,” leading us to a new and bolder love of Christ and his resurrection power; knowledge that only comes when we share his sufferings; sufferings which are always in solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed...with the victims of injustice.
It is my hope and prayer that like St. Paul we will strain forward to what lies ahead, always pressing on toward one goal, and one goal alone, the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus!4
And as we pray for our beloved Church, its laity, deacons, priests and bishops; as we pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury; for the Primates and for the Anglican Communion; as we pray for a return to a spirit of respect and forbearance, which has always been a hallmark of Anglicanism and which should, it seems to me, be the hallmark of any truly Christian Church, let us have confidence that as St. Paul assures us, “...neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:38-39). Amen.

1. See “Bishops’ Mind of the House Resolutions” and the accompanying “Communication to the Episcopal Church from the March 2007 Meeting of the House of Bishops” at the Episcopal Church Website
2. Stokes, William H. “Persist in Love and Take the Lowest Seat: Responding Faithfully to the Primates’ Communiqué following their meeting in Dar es Salaam” See
3. See “Proper Preface for Lent” Book of Common Prayer” p. 379
4. See Philippians 3:13-14

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Persist in love and take the lowest seat

Responding faithfully to the Primates’ Communiqué
following their meeting in Dar es Salaam

by The Reverend William H. Stokes
(This paper was written in reponse to the Dar es Salaam Communique and prior to the meeting of the House of Bishops in Navasota, Texas.)

The Communiqué issued by the Primates of the Anglican Communion at the conclusion of their meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania February 15-19, as well as the follow-up statement issued by The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts-Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, titled “A Season of Fasting: Reflections on the Primates Meeting,” and her supplemental remarks during a live webcast conversation with the Episcopal Church are disturbing. The former represents an arrogation of authority and a potentially cataclysmic shift in the shape and experience of Anglicanism at the expense of charity and justice. The statements by the Presiding Bishop, although thoughtful and gracious, fail to sufficiently represent who the true oppressed minority in this Church is, both nationally and internationally, or to give adequate expression to the significant issues of justice involved.

In their Communiqué, the Primates state that our Communion suffers from an “illness.” This illness, they declare, “arises from a breakdown in the trust and mutual recognition of one another as faithful disciples of Christ, which should be among the first fruits of our communion in Christ with one another.” It is a true statement. Parties on all sides have contributed to this.

Nonetheless, having been a participant in the two most recent General Conventions, I am aware that the decisions made in 2003 and in 2006 came after much prayer, anguishing conversation and careful consideration by many of Scripture, our historic traditions and the sensitivities of our partners throughout the Communion. In the end, I believe the Episcopal Church acted for the sake of justice, a central biblical demand (See Deuteronomy 16:20; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 1:17, 30:18, 42:1-4,56:1,Amos 5:24; Micah 6:8). Confident of this and of our faithfulness, I believe the time may have come for the Episcopal Church to express its willingness to take the “the lowest seat” (Luke 14:10).

Fair and Equal Treatment of Gay and Lesbian Persons is a Justice Issue

There are those who argue that fair and equal treatment of gay and lesbian persons, including fair and equal access to the sacraments of the Church, is not a justice concern. This argument must be rejected. When one class of persons, whose only harm to society is that their love and affections are ordered toward members of the same sex, is singled out and labeled in a way that they become, not only the victims of discrimination, but also targets of violence by governments, religions and general populations, then injustice is clearly at work. Untold acts of violence around the world perpetrated against gay and lesbian people, efforts in Nigeria to pass stricter anti-homosexual legislation, enforcement of anti-homosexual laws in the Middle East and elsewhere throughout the world[i] which often involves cruel and inhuman treatment and even, in some well-documented instances, torture,[ii] underscores this as a justice issue. The Church’s continuing marginalization and demonization of gay and lesbian persons and its failure to grant them equal access to the sacraments of the Church is symptomatic and marks the Church as an active participant in this injustice.

Much of the western world holds a widely disparate view of human sexuality than those held by significant parts of the Anglican Communion and the world. In Europe, only the Turkish Republic of Northern Cypress has anti-homosexuality laws.[iii] In the United States anti-homosexual laws were ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 2003 in the case of Lawrence v. Texas. The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and Spain recognize same sex marriage (as does South Africa). It is also allowed in Massachusetts.[iv]

Civil unions, domestic partnerships or registered partnerships are offered in Andorra, Columbia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland. They are also available in parts of Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, all Australian states and territories, and the U.S. states of California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, and Vermont, as well as Washington, D.C.[v] The World Health Organization, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, the government of the United Kingdom and the Chinese Psychiatric Association are among those bodies that have declassified homosexuality as an illness.

Greater understanding of human sexuality, as well our experience of gay and lesbian persons living in loving, committed relationships that have blessed society and the Church, has led to a growing acceptance of these relationships. As a result, there has been an increasing societal willingness, especially in the West, to affirm and approve same-sex relationships even to the point of providing public recognition and legal rights. Increasingly, people are coming to recognize and acknowledge that sexual identity represents an inherent aspect of one’s personal human identity and deserves society’s protection as a basic human right. This is not the consequence of the western world’s general moral decay, as opponents of this trend argue. It is, instead recognition of the fact that, as the American Psychological Association emphatically states, “...human beings can not choose to be either gay or straight.”[vi]

The Decisions of the Episcopal Church have been arrived at using Anglican sources of authority and are in keeping with previous Lambeth resolutions

The decisions of the Episcopal Church both to approve the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire and to allow for experimental use of rites for the blessing of same sex unions are a consequence of good theology, prayerful reflection and scientific research and study. They are the product of our three primary sources of Anglican authority: Scripture, Tradition and Reason. They represent, as well, a pastoral attempt to provide gay and lesbian persons a framework in which to live in healthy, faithful, loving and monogamous relationships with integrity.

In 1958 the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops called upon the members of the Communion to “learn reverently from every new disclosure of truth…”[vii] The decision to approve the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire and the Episcopal Church’s overall stance with respect to gay and lesbian persons represents just such a “reverent learning” and new disclosures of truth that have emerged from experience and reason. It is these experiences and learnings that make it a matter of biblical justice. What does the Lord require of you, the prophet Micah so famously asks, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8).

Lambeth 1.10 is intellectually dishonest and theologically flawed

Even as large segments of society, in response both to scientific research and to social experience, have become more accepting of gay and lesbian persons and their relationships, bishops of the Anglican Communion declared in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 that “homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture.” We should not be surprised at this. It is widely known that there are biblical verses that condemn homosexuality. They have early roots in Scripture and in the culture from which those Scriptures emerged – a culture which has a clear historical bias against women and against homosexuality. They are also few in number and can easily be grouped with other verses of Scripture that have been overturned (e.g. most of the Holiness Code in Leviticus).

The bishops were aware that there were anti-homosexual verses in Scripture and of ancient Israel’s historic antipathy to homosexuality before they began their consideration. Their conclusion is, therefore, the product of circular logic and something of a tautology: Anti-homosexual verses are in Scripture; therefore homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture. They did not ask the appropriate question. The appropriate question is not, “Is homosexuality compatible with Scripture?” but, “Is homosexuality compatible with God, God’s Creation and God’s Love?”[viii] The answer to this question is most assuredly yes. Beyond the love that these relationships evidence, which clearly emanate God and God’s Love, “for love is of God” (1 John 4:7), same sex attraction and sexual behavior is manifested throughout nature.[ix] It is clearly a part of God’s handiwork and design. In this instance, the evidence and authority of Nature, not just human nature, but that of other animals: birds, mammals and reptiles, must be seen as superseding the scriptural witness opposing homosexuality. The witness of Nature gives expression to the voice and purposes of God.

In light of contemporary research about and experience of same-sex relationships, as well as the evidence of Nature, the bishops who have upheld these particular and limited anti-homosexual portions of Scripture should be challenged. The American Psychological Association has stated, “Psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals agree that homosexuality is not an illness, mental disorder or an emotional problem. Over 35 years of objective, well-designed scientific research has shown that homosexuality, in and of itself is not associated with mental disorders or emotional or social problems. Homosexuality was once thought to be a mental illness because mental health professionals and society had biased information. In the past, the studies of gay, lesbian and bisexual people involved only those in therapy, thus biasing the resulting conclusions. When researchers examined data about these people who were not in therapy, the idea that homosexuality was a mental illness was quickly found to be untrue.”[x]
Anglican theologian Joseph Butler once stated, " indeed the only faculty wherewith we have to judge concerning anything, even revelation itself."[xi] Did the Anglican bishops who approved Lambeth Resolution 1.10 use reason appropriately and judge revelation correctly when they determined to give such considerable weight to the anti-homosexual verses of Scripture or was their objectivity limited by their own prejudices and biases as the objectivity of the scientific, medical and therapeutic communities had been prior to their more recent research? Have they listened faithfully to the voice of God and obeyed God’s leading hand?

Since, as the American Psychological Association and countless medical and mental health professionals agree, “homosexuality is not an illness, mental disorder or an emotional problem,”[xii] on what reasonable bases can the Church declare homosexuality immoral and sinful? Do the commandments to love, and most especially Christ’s Great Commandment and Summary of the Law supersede the anti-homosexual verses of Scripture and call for a different response from the Church? The answer is YES.

The bishops who approved Lambeth 1.10 appear to be like those who rejected the Copernican revolution and condemned Galileo. They ignore the evidence of science and nature available today that seriously calls into question traditional, biblical thinking about matters of human sexuality, and especially concerning same-sex relationships. As did so many church leaders who supported slavery and apartheid in days past, they uphold a fixed and immutable view of “Natural Law” that proceeds from the categories of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, and is not subject to revision or growth in understanding, to support their prejudices. During this “season of fasting and reflection,” it would do us all well to reflect on the Church’s appalling record of acknowledging its own sinful prejudices throughout history. It is a history that has led the Church to participate in all sorts of barbaric oppressions, justifying them all the while with appeals to convenient verses of Scripture.

While, for the sake of justice, many governments (including, ironically, that of Great Britain), are promoting rights for gay and lesbian persons, the Archbishop of Canterbury has unilaterally determined that “the language of ‘rights’ has not served us in good stead in the Church.”[xiii] Even as he has made this determination, the Church throughout the world has moved in a direction that is increasingly oppressive and intolerant, and especially of gay and lesbian persons. What a profoundly sad state of affairs! Indeed, throughout history the Church has marginalized gay and lesbian persons. Often it has demonized them, as the current Primate of Nigeria and other bishops in the Anglican Communion have done over the past several years. All the while, as the Church perpetuates historical bigotry, it simultaneously urges that “pastoral care and love” should be shown to homosexual persons. Meanwhile, marginalization becomes more deeply embedded and the fundamental humanity of gay and lesbian persons is openly degraded by the Church’s members, including its Primates and bishops, who pass resolutions saying they will not do the very thing they are doing.[xiv]

The Episcopal Church should not withdraw from the Anglican Communion

The Primates’ Communiqué, the Windsor Report, the Dromantine Statement as well as other statements that have emerged from some quarters of the Anglican world, have not only failed to address concerns for justice, but also showed a distinct lack of” mutual trust” or recognition that the members of the Episcopal Church, and especially those who participated in the General Conventions of 2003 and 2006 are “faithful disciples of Christ.” Instead, there has been an absence of Christian charity on the part of many parts of the Communion toward the Episcopal Church, and especially its governing bodies. The Episcopal Church has been vilified and threatened with punitive measures, including, perhaps, formal separation from the larger Communion and its organs if it does not accede to the Primates’ requests and the terms set forth both in the Primates’ Communiqué and in the Windsor Report. As the Episcopal Church, we must determine how to respond in a way that is faithful to the Gospel and to our core identity as Christians.

There are those within the Episcopal Church who, supporting the claims of gay and lesbian persons, feel the time has come for the Episcopal Church to formally break from the wider Anglican Communion. I urge against this. Jesus’ high priestly prayer was for his disciples “to be one” (John 17:21-22). Similarly, St. Paul writes:

“ the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”(1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

The Episcopal Church cannot be faithful to Christ or its baptismal identity by formally separating itself from the wider Communion.

The Episcopal Church cannot faithfully accede to the Primates’ Demands

On the other hand, because the issues at the heart of our current dilemma involve serious justice concerns, I do not believe that the Episcopal Church can faithfully accede to the requirements of the Primates’ Communiqué as our Presiding Bishop seems to suggest we do. This would represent an accommodation to injustice and acceptance of what civil rights leader, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” as the “myth of time” – “the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills.” As King observed, “time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively” In that same Letter, Dr. King also recognized that “people of ill will have often used time more effectively than people of good will.” This certainly seems to be the case in the current situation.

I submit that it is time for the Episcopal Church to have the faith and courage to walk the way of the cross and to risk being ostracized by the rest of the Communion for the sake of justice. Like the persistent woman in the parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8), the Episcopal Church must show its deep love for the wider Communion by persistently “banging” on the locked door of the Anglican Communion and demanding justice for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters throughout the Communion and the world.

In their Communiqué, the Primates request that the House of Bishops offer reassurances by September 30, 2007 stating without qualification that consent will not be given to gay and lesbian persons for consecration to the Episcopate and that each diocesan bishop will prohibit the use of forms for the blessing of same sex unions in his or her diocese. The appendix to the Communiqué goes on to warn, “If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion.”

The actions of the 2003 and 2006 General Conventions make it clear that these assurances cannot be made in good conscience. Such assurances should not be made. Offering such assurances would not only make the Episcopal Church complicit in the sin of injustice, it would compromise the integrity of our democratic processes. It would also compromise “episcopacy” by leading us toward a centralized Anglican governance and authority that has heretofore been anathema to us.

The Episcopal Church has shown good faith in its commitment to the Anglican Communion and must now say “enough!”

The Windsor related resolutions passed by the Episcopal Church at General Convention in 2006 represent our loving response to the Anglican Communion and the Windsor Report. We could not state more clearly our affection for the Communion and our commitment to it then we did in Resolution A159 in which we affirmed the “abiding commitment of The Episcopal Church to the fellowship of churches that constitute the Anglican Communion,” our willingness to “seek to live into the highest degree of Communion possible;” and our reaffirmation “that The Episcopal Church is in Communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.”
I believe that the time has come for the Episcopal Church to say “enough” to the oppressive and repressive behaviors of some parts of the wider Communion. In saying “enough,” we should not, however, say “we quit!” Rather, we should boldly say, “We are committed to you and to our common life together and because we love you we will not leave you. If you want to diminish us or remove us, you will have to take that step on your own. We will not cooperate with you in schism by walking away.”
In having the courage of our convictions and stating this, we must hear the angelic voice say “fear not!” and be prepared to accept whatever consequences may come as a result. If the wider Communion, through its Instruments of Unity, determines that we must “sit at the lowest place” (Luke 14:7 ff), or perhaps, no longer “sit at the table” at all, so be it. Did not our Lord say, “I am among you as one who serves?” (Luke 22:27). Let us focus our energies on service and servanthood. Let us concentrate on strengthening our relationships within the Communion with Anglican partners who are willing to accept us and to work with us. We have expended enormous time and energy on the question of homosexuality and the Church. The hurting world has plenty for us do that is much more important than perpetuating prejudice, bigotry and hatred.

Proposals for a faithful response by the Episcopal Church to the Primates’ Communiqué

To effect this bold statement of “enough,” the following is proposed:

1. The House of Bishops reaffirms its commitment to the Anglican Communion and the Windsor-related Resolutions passed at General Convention other than B033.

2. The House of Bishops repeals its consent to B033 thus making that Resolution effectively null and void. It is clear that this Resolution, designed to appease, has not appeased anyone. The Resolution compromised our integrity and came at the expense of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

3. The House of Bishops formally repudiates Lambeth Resolution 1.10 acknowledging that it is a product of circular logic, is theologically flawed and that it contributes toward the perpetuation of injustice, prejudice and bigotry and so toward abuse, violence and torture against gay and lesbian persons around the world.

4. The House of Bishops expresses its desire to be invited to attend Lambeth Conference in 2008, but only on condition that all the bishops of the Episcopal Church will be welcome with full and equal standing. In the event all Bishops of the Episcopal Church are not invited with full and equal standing, the entire House of Bishops determines to meet at an alternate site in or around London or Canterbury during the period of Lambeth Conference so that they may gather and pray for the other bishops of the Anglican Communion, for the unity of the Church, and to end the unjust treatment of women and gay and lesbian persons throughout so many parts of the wider Communion.

5. The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church reaffirms its commitment to the Anglican Communion and the Windsor-related Resolutions passed at General Convention other than B033 – upon which it should not comment at all.

6. Resolutions should be drafted and acted upon by both the House of Bishops and the Executive Council that memorialize those parts of the Communion that do not provide women, or gay and lesbian persons with fair and equal access to the sacraments of the Church. A resolution to this effect should also be put before General Convention 2009. It is time to state without equivocation that the fair and equal treatment of women and of gay and lesbian persons is not a question of cultural prerogatives, but rather has to do with basic and essential human rights and dignity, as well as inherent Christian values.

7. Recognizing that we cannot be enablers of injustice, the House of Bishops and Executive Council of the Episcopal Church should draft and pass resolutions that prohibit the use of Episcopal Church monies in those dioceses that perpetuate discrimination and bigotry against women and against gay and lesbian persons, including those that do not allow women or gay and lesbian persons access to the ordination process. Instead, Episcopal Church funds should be used in support of the Millennium Development Goals with particular attention to Goal number 3 which calls upon all people to “promote gender equality and empower women.” Episcopal Church funds should also be used in support of ending discrimination, violence and torture against gay and lesbian persons around the world.

8. The House of Bishops and the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church should clearly state our willingness to accept the consequences of our convictions including possible exclusion by and from all or some parts of the Instruments of Unity. If this eventuality occurs, the Episcopal Church, through the Executive Council, the House of Bishops and the General Convention should ask serious questions about the appropriate and best use of its monies in support of the so-called Instruments of Unity. Just as economic protest served the purposes of justice in the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and when apartheid was overturned in South Africa, it should be understood as a legitimate tool of justice in the struggle for women’s rights and the rights of gay and lesbian persons in the Church. Failure to grasp this principle can easily result in the Episcopal Church’s continuing complicity not only in perpetuating injustice and discrimination, but also in enabling violence and torture.

All of these actions should be understood within the framework of the Baptismal Covenant of the American Book of Common Prayer (1979) and Christ’s Summary of the Law.

Adoption of the above proposals manifests the faithfulness of the Episcopal Church

Adopting these proposals in response to the current situation confronting the Episcopal Church, and especially the ultimatum issued in the Primates’ Communiqué at the conclusion of the meeting in Dar es Salaam, meets the criteria of a faithful response in the following ways:

· In reaffirming its commitment to the See of the Canterbury and to the wider Anglican Communion and expressing its strong desire to remain in Communion, the Episcopal Church responds faithfully to Christ’s desire that his disciples be one as well as Paul’s recognition in 1 Corinthians that no part of the body may say to the other “I have no need of you.”

· It is faithful to the Gospel and the pattern of Jesus Christ – especially in its emphasis on servanthood over power.

· It is faithful to the demands of justice and does not forsake gay and lesbian Christians at the expense of a false unity.

· It preserves the integrity of the Episcopal Church’s polity and processes.

· It is faithful to the historic Anglican understanding of the episcopate in which all bishops are understood as having equal standing and authority.

· It does not dehumanize those who oppose the Episcopal Church’s positions. On the contrary, it invites the wider Communion into to a fuller and deeper love of humanity, one that no longer acts with bigotry and prejudice toward gay and lesbian persons or women.

· It adopts a posture of humility, wherein the Episcopal Church is willing to take the “lowest seat” (Luke 14:7 ff) and accept whatever consequences the wider Communion deems fit to impose. It assumes that others are acting out of their own faith and convictions, even if we believe them to be wrong. It also allows for the possibility that the Episcopal Church is in the wrong. As St. Paul wrote, “count others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

The time has come for a major reassessment of the Church’s historic position with respect to same sex relationships

The possibility that the Episcopal Church is in the wrong must be allowed. Nonetheless, it does not seem probable. The scientific evidence about, and the social experience of, gay and lesbian persons today clearly calls for a major reassessment of the Church’s historic position and a paradigm shift. The most strident voices in the wider Communion who have been excoriating the Episcopal Church fail to recognize this or to acknowledge the possibility that it is they who might be in the wrong. They have not followed through on that part of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 which committed all parts of the Communion to listen to the voices and experiences of gay and lesbian persons. Instead, they have joined with forces within the United States to foment anger and schism. It is scandalous behavior, yet we must not respond in kind.

Our response, must instead, be one that is attached to Christ and is faithful to the Gospel. It is one that must deliver justice to those who are being treated unjustly. It must be a response that allows us to continue loving our opponents, even as we stand up to their injustice. Such a response conforms to the mind and pattern of Christ and represents the mark of a true Church. When we are weak, then we are strong (paraphrase 2 Corinthians 12:10).

As we go forward, let us also give thanks to God for the many dioceses and provinces within the wider Communion who have supported the Episcopal Church as we have been isolated and under siege. Their support of the Episcopal Church is evidence of their determination to take the lowest seat with us, and perhaps even, to walk the way of the cross.

Lastly, let us have confidence that our ultimate unity is assured, for as St. Paul writes:

...neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:38-39)

[i] In Tanzania, where the Primates meeting was held and from which their Communiqué was issued ,sex acts between men are illegal, and carry a penalty of 14 years in prison. Sex acts between women are not mentioned in Tanzanian law. In Zanzibar, an autonomous island which is part of Tanzania, the law was changed in 2004 to clarify the legality of homosexual acts. While sodomy and "unnatural acts" were already illegal, the new law imposes a penalty of 25 years in prison for sex acts involving two males or seven years in prison for sex acts involving two women. See “Gay Rights in Tanzania” See also “Homosexuality Laws of the World”
[ii] See Azimi, Negar - “Prisoners of Sex” which appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Sunday, December 3, 2006.
[iii] See “Homosexuality Laws of the World”
[iv] See “Same Sex Marriage” in Wikipedia
[v] See “Same Sex Marriage” in Wikipedia
[vi] See website of the American Psychological Association – “Answers to Your Questions About Homosexuality” at
[vii] 1958 Lambeth Conference Resolution #8 the full text of which reads, “The Conference acknowledges gratefully the work of scientists in increasing man's knowledge of the universe, wherein is seen the majesty of God in his creative activity. It therefore calls upon Christian people both to learn reverently from every new disclosure of truth, and at the same time to bear witness to the biblical message of a God and Saviour apart from whom no gift can be rightly used.” Applying this resolution to the current challenge of how the Church ought to relate to gay and lesbian persons: The sexuality of a gay and lesbian person is the gift from God. The Church’s blessing of covenanted relationships that are intended to be faithful, lifelong and monogamous promotes healthy relationships as the “right use” of that gift.
[viii] While the two page “Human Sexuality” report presented to the 1998 Lambeth Conference titled Called to Serve appears to frame the question with this language, it did not take into account either the extra-biblical evidence of nature or contemporary scientific research. Neither did the report of the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops (Episcopal Church) titled The Gift of Sexuality: A Theological Perspective. In both instances, round theological prose and selected portions of Scripture all proceeded from a predetermined biblical view of sexuality. As a result the essential theological questions were not brought under the light of open and honest critical reasoning using the best knowledge, research and experience available today. Consequently, these processes and the final results lacked theological rigor and intellectual honesty.
[ix] For an exhaustive study of this see Bagemihl, Bruce Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (New York: St. Martins Press, 1999). Especially noteworthy are the scores of academic papers and the significant amount of scientific research cited in this work.
[x] See website of the American Psychological Association – “Answers to Your Questions About Homosexuality” at
[xi] Quoted in Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality ed. Richard H. Schmidt Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans and Company, 2002, 114.
[xii] See website of the American Psychological Association – “Answers to Your Questions About Homosexuality” at
[xiii] Rowan Williams addressing the Primates of the Global South, “3rd Encounter” Red Sea, Egypt, 2005”
[xiv] See Section 4.5 of the 2003 Report of the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops titled The Gift of Sexuality: A Theological Perspective which stated, “The Church vigorously denounces discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation, and we call upon all members of our society, and especially members of the body of Christ, to honor their baptismal vow and respect the dignity of every human being.” In the Primates Communiqué following the Dromantine meeting in February 2005, the Primates stated, “We also wish to make it quite clear that in our discussion and assessment of the moral appropriateness of specific human behaviours, we continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people. The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship…” Section (d) of the 1998 Lambeth Resolution I.I0 stated “while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, [the Lambeth Conference] calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex." One is forced to wonder about the willingness of the Conference to only condemn “violence within marriage.” Is it their intention to condone violence in other contexts and other relationships? Their use of qualified language in this instance gives license for the continuation of governmental and non-governmental oppression and violence against persons in same sex relationships.