Don't repeat the mistake on page 847 of The Prayer Book .  Here is what God really requires from the chosen people:

Do justice

A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003

Muffie Moroney

4010 Whitman Street

Houston, Texas 77027


July 18, 2003
The Rt. Rev. Don A. Wimberly
Episcopal Diocese of Texas
3203 West Alabama Street
Houston, Texas 77098

Dear Don,

This is an open letter in reply to the June 11, 2003,  message from the Bishops of the Diocese of Texas concerning the election of the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor in the Diocese of New Hampshire.   Because no names are attached to the document (as confirmed by Alice Kerr in the Diocesan Office),  I address my response to you since only you “exercise jurisdiction”(Constitution Art. II.2) and thus you alone are qualified to vote on Canon Robinson’s election, but please share this with the other bishops who joined in that message.  Several statements you make have prompted me to respond.

First, you draw an erroneous distinction between a “political rather than pastoral resolution to our disagreements.”  You imply that matters of church politics, properly defined as the art and science of governing, are distasteful and that politics are somehow separate from, and inferior to,  pastoral concerns.  In the Church, the political and the pastoral cannot be separated.  The election of any bishop - including your own election as well as Canon Robinson’s - illustrates the inseparable relationship of the two.  Distinguished theologian and lawyer William Stringfellow explains this reality in greater detail in The Politics of Pastoral Care: An Ecumenical Meditation Concerning the Incumbent Pope (from A Keeper of the Word, Bill Wylie Kellerman, ed., Eerdmans Publishing. Co. 1994).  Stringfellow notes that “when bishops are most conscientious pastorally, they are apt to be most cogent politically”; but that episcopal politics can have an “antipastoral emphasis” or bishops may exhibit a “pastoral ministry... that is antipolitical.”  When such confusion reigns and the integrity of their intrinsic relationship is ignored, neither politics nor pastoral activity is authentically grounded in biblical precedent (compare, e.g., The Acts of the Apostles 3:1-10, 4:1-3).

Next, you say that Canon Robinson’s election “simultaneously funnels the creative energy of the faithful away from mission into internal conflict.”  Do you mean that because they made such a choice, the delegates to the diocesan convention in New Hampshire are not faithful? Or that they are purposely fomenting conflict to undermine the mission of the Church? Or that our internal disagreements have no place in fulfilling that mission?  If so, I disagree vigorously as to all such contentions.  I am confident the people of New Hampshire believed they were fulfilling their responsibility as faithful members of the Episcopal Church, that it was their prerogative to choose a bishop from their particular place in the Church, and that their choice would be honored as valid.  That the Diocese of Texas might not have chosen Canon Robinson, or the Diocese of New Hampshire might not have chosen you, reinforces an essential aspect of our identity as a Church: our differences are a part of our strength, and it is in our nature not only to disagree but to accept and welcome disagreement.  I am surprised and troubled that you do not acknowledge that fundamental - and defining - characteristic of the Episcopal Church.

Finally, you state that you “have consistently opposed the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals” and that therefore you oppose Canon Robinson’s confirmation.  Your focus on celibacy raises a number of concerns about the propriety of asking that question generally and the circumstances under which it might be proper.    Canon Jeffrey John, appointed by the Crown as a Bishop in the Church of England, volunteered that he and his partner have not had sex for years, but that disclosure did not calm the hysteria of some people over his appointment (although the Crown apparently was not perturbed by their relationship).  One lesson from Canon John’s experience is that the question of celibacy is not relevant to extremists who flatly oppose the ordination of gays and lesbians, whether they are celibate or not.

But we are not the Church of England.  The Episcopal Church recognizes its obligation to ensure the dignity of gay and lesbian persons through, for example, the National Canons (I.17.5, III.4.1) and the Baptismal Covenant (BCP 304-305).  Similarly, the Church recognizes its obligation to avoid discrimination against anyone on the basis of his or her marital status (National Canons I.17.5, III.4.1).  The two forms of discrimination could be linked by innuendo if, for example, a single person is presumed to be secretly  gay or lesbian because he or she is not married.  For anyone in the Episcopal Church to invoke the test of sexual celibacy against a gay or lesbian person - who at this point in time cannot be married - or to oppose an episcopal election on that basis, not only offends sensibilities  but also violates canons prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and marital status.  Recently the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that the Constitutional right of privacy extends to homosexual persons.  As Lawrence v. Texas makes plain, the dignity of adult, responsible homosexual persons to make certain choices in their private lives is an interest that is protected by the Constitution of the United States.   I do not believe that our clergy should be forced to forfeit their Constitutional right to privacy as a condition of ordination.

When might it be proper to inquire about a person’s sexual practices, or ask questions about a person’s marital status?  If there is evidence of misconduct, or if abnormal psychological indicators appear, certainly these would constitute reasons for raising questions in these areas.  But without evidence of impropriety or other extenuating circumstances, as a general rule it simply is not the business of the  Episcopal Church to inquire about intimate details related to the adult, consensual relationships of its clergy.

I drafted the enclosed summary of my thoughts in response to your June 11 message as I prepared for a telephone interview with Richard Vara, religion writer for the Houston Chronicle.  Although the interview has not made its way into print yet, I wanted you to have a copy of this document because I was invited to post it on the House of Bishops/Deputies Internet Listserv.  These observations are grounded in our polity, our identity as a Church,  and in the national canons.  In Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold’s letter to all bishops, he said “we need to respect the action of the Diocese of New Hampshire.”  I believe our canons require that we defer to the Diocese of New Hampshire,  not merely respect its action.  In light of the clear meaning of the Episcopal Church’s canons prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and marital status,  there is no impediment to Canon Robinson’s confirmation.

Your message may have pleased some readers, but I assure you, it has outraged many others.  It is not pastoral because it has inflamed division and will lead to unhealthy political/economic consequences.  To be sure, you are entitled to your own opinion on the subject of Canon Robinson’s election in New Hampshire.  But in your role as a bishop for the whole Church and for this entire diocese,  you are not entitled to issue a divisive and hurtful a statement such as the one of June 11, which has caused damage that cannot be measured.  I urge you to retract it.


Muffie Moroney
St. Stephen’s, Houston

cc(w/encl): General Convention Deputies and Alternates
       The Rev. Helen M. Havens                                
       The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold III

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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