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Do justice

A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003

The Rev. Dr. Harold Lewis Writes
to The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan

19 November 2001

The Right Reverend Robert Wm. Duncan
Bishop of Pittsburgh
325 Oliver Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Dear Bob:

When last we spoke, I mentioned to you that I had begun a letter to you concerning our diocesan convention. I think there was a good, positive and irenic spirit in the air. One of the things that contributed to that atmosphere was your willingness to lay out at least some of the issues that divide us as a diocese. As in any disease, or dis-ease, it is necessary to name the problem in order that it might be addressed. Conspicuous by its absence, however, was any allusion to the issue of human sexuality, so it was with great interest that I read in Trinity the news about the letter that you and the Standing Committee sent to the Bishop and Standing Committee of the Diocese of Delaware.

While I, too, regret the fact that the Diocese saw fit to act unilaterally on this matter, it will come as no surprise to you that I do not concur with the tenor of that letter's remarks. Nevertheless, I find that they are consistent with your theology and your reading of Scripture, and therefore, come as no surprise to me. Two questions do immediately occur to me. First, you state that the Delaware decision separates that diocese from catholic practice; that in that diocese's actions, they do not recognize the authority of Anglican councils both at home and abroad; that their acts scandalize countless brothers and sisters, breaking themselves from the Body of Christ; and that finally their actions have initiated schism. Surely, you will agree that all of these observations could be made of the illegal and irregular consecrations that took place in Denver, yet you did not see fit to separate yourself from those actions or from the consecrators. It would appear that we are left to draw the conclusion that you condone those actions, while you condemn in no uncertain terms the actions of the Diocese of Delaware.

My second concern is more serious. If, indeed, you "completely dissociate" yourself from the actions of the Diocese of Delaware, I would like to know what you would do at such time that the General Convention may see fit to make similar provisions for the blessing of same-sex unions. Can we take your actions with regard to Delaware as presaging a similar response to the national church? And if so, what form would this take. It is one thing to dissociate the Diocese of Pittsburgh from a sister diocese on account of its actions; it would be quite another for dissociate yourself from the rest of the Episcopal Church. Since several of my colleagues both within and without the Diocese of Pittsburgh have indicated that a decision on the part of General Convention to make provision for same-sex unions would be for them the proverbial "straw" which could result in their defecting from ECUSA, your letter to the Diocese of Delaware gives me some pause. Are you in a position at this time to say what you might do in the not unlikely event that such a provision is made in 2003 or 2006?

Finally, I must say that my major objection to the article in Trinity had to do not with the text of the letter to the Diocese of Delaware, but to a statement issued by the Standing Committee: "Our quarrel is not with those of homosexual orientation, or of any condition that leans away from God's design in creation." Could you please explain the meaning of this phrase, which, on its face, seems pastorally insensitive, to say the least? It would seem to suggest that homosexuals owe their creation to some source other than God. It is disturbing to many of us that such statements profess love and concern for those of homosexual orientation in one breath, while in the next breath seem to regard them as somehow outside the sphere of creation itself. As an historian, I see parallels between such comments and early statements about the status of African Americans. In 1723, Bishop Gibson of London, in addressing slave-holding planters, made it clear that although slaves could be baptized, that their baptism made "no manner of change" in their status as slaves, but laid them "under a stronger obligation to perform those duties with the greatest diligence and fidelity."

Bob, if indeed, as you have indicated, you are concerned with maintaining some sort of dialogue around the issue of human sexuality, surely you can understand that such gratuitous comments only serve to impede dialogue and to offend the very persons, gay and straight, with whom you would hope to carry on a conversation.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,

Harold T. Lewis

You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.


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