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A series of essays toward General Convention 2003 and beyond


PASTORAL LETTER 02/2003AD

SOUTHWESTERN BRAZIL DIOCESE

THE RT REVD JUBAL NEVES

 

 

                          PASTORAL LETTER 02/2003AD

                                    How to face the Ordination of a Bishop of homosexual orientation?

 

 

 

                        TO THE CLERGY AND PEOPLE OF THE SOUTHWESTERN DIOCESE,

HEALTH AND PEACE!

 

                        “Don’t judge, and then you won’t be judged”.  (Mt 7:1)

 

1.       The trip to Minneapolis, participating in the Convention (Provincial Synod) of the Episcopal Church of the United States, was an advantageous experience that provided us with greater knowledge of the ecclesiastical life within that Anglican Province, for us “The Mother-Church”, from which we became independent in 1965 (the date of our autonomy as an Anglican Province).  We could see the vitality of those 109 dioceses, their programmes, ministries and priorities, surrounding the theme of the meeting – “Let us engage in the Mission of God”, which worked on the foundation of four basic pillars, to know, to receive, to repent, to reconcile and to restore.

 

2.       Outstanding moments of the meeting were the thematic liturgical celebrations, intermixed with Biblical studies, as well as the seriousness, objectivity and respect of various subjects, rather controversial, that were discussed and voted upon.  One of the subjects was the ratification of the election of the Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson, dealing with a non-celibate gay who has lived with his companion for more than ten years.  As many lay and clergy (in proportion of 2/3) as diocesan bishops (in proportion of 3/5) said YES.  Coadjutor Bishops, Suffragans nor retired have a vote on such matters, although they can discuss it in the House of Bishops. In the process and in the result, we noticed clearly that Canon Robinson had not been elected by being a “professed gay”, but because his diocese wanted their bishop, a man with his ministerial qualities and his pastoral testimony.  Two days later, at the end of Convention, a resolution was approved recognizing that some local communities, in the parochial life, try liturgies celebrating and blessing people of same sex unions.  (It is important to explain that the word “marriage” is not mentioned, that a specific rite was not authorized, and the “unions” refer to the manner that people live together and love each other, before referring just to the subject of sex.)  As a journalist said, it is the consequence of faith in the Gospel that speaks of inclusion, “Jesus, liberator, that accepts us exactly as we are”.

 

3.       Many people did not like that decision, especially the conservative Anglicans, the traditionalists, with a very rigid Biblical formation.  They are people that should be respected and that firmly believe that “Jesus calls everyone to repent of their sins and to transform through a new life in accordance with the will of God”.  It is certain that many disagree, generally because of Biblical interpretation, that which leads us directly to the way appointed and reiterated by Lambeth ’98, of which we study more and more of the Holy Bible in accordance with the Anglican manner, that is, in a ‘creative interaction” with Tradition, Reason and Experience.  In Brazil, the media in general granted a wicked treatment to the subject, without valuing properly the course of inclusivity and alternative life style.  On the contrary, it reinforced the prejudice and the erroneous conception of homosexuality as a disease or deviation of moral conduct – as if people “choose to be gay”.

 

4.       As Anglican Bishops, we cannot ignore that the Church “was affected” by the fore-mentioned voting in the Provincial Synod of ECUSA.  But we should also recognize that it also “was shaken” when it moved its point of view on slavery in the XIX century and when it began to consecrate women bishops in the XX century.  And confident in the unfathomable love of God, amid the discomfort and risks of our decisions, with much love and peace we are looking to shepherd our diocesan people, at the same time as we are trying to be obedient to the Great Commandment.

 

5.       Likewise, while in New York on the 11th, contacted by reporter Lucas Mendes regarding the subject, we granted an interview explaining several points, also not noticed by most of the people, that they were disturbed by.  He began asking “like us, Brazilian Anglican bishops, we had voted for…”   Soon we explained that we were just invited guests, and that it was the agreement of the Provincial Synod of the Episcopal Church of the United States of North America.  We also clarified that in the Anglican Communion we don’t have centralized power that decides everything by all and for all, but that each Diocese and each Anglican Province, constitute levels of decision.  The Archbishop of Canterbury is our spiritual leader in the whole world, being a clear sign of unity of the 77 million Anglicans dispersed in more than 165 countries of the world, but he doesn’t have jurisdiction over those hundreds of dioceses.  And in that quality, he has called a special meeting of the Anglican Primates for October in order to discern the will of God in this historic time in our Communion, in light of Ephesians 4: 1-6, when many acts in intolerance, disrespect and presumption are arising hurriedly.  It is the Anglican manner of “Dispersed Authority”.  In the same way, the Lambeth Conferences (the regular meetings of Anglican Bishops every 10 years) express through resolutions the thoughts of the majority of the bishops present, being constituted in “moral authority” but never in “legislation”.  The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC, the organization that brings together lay and clerical representatives and bishops of the whole Church) and the Primates’ meetings are also part of the four pillars under which our Communion rests, - where different, they learn how to co-exist together”, - expressing the Anglican thought of our time.  These “Sources of Anglican Unity” serve to express and strengthen the unity in our diverse Anglican Communion, that besides one’s deep ecumenical vocation, one possesses essential points in common, as the “Quadrilateral of Lambeth” (Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments interpreted with the help of Tradition, in the light of Reason, in the Experience of the worshipping life, Apostolic and Nicene Creeds, the two Fundamental Sacraments (Baptism and Eucharist) and the Historical Episcopate.

 

6.       Therefore, my friends and dear friends in Christ, we didn’t need to agree or disagree with the decisions of General Convention of ECUSA.  In fact, we should respect both opinions, accepting the autonomy of our sisters and brothers, that through regular and democratic canonical processes, in their socio-cultural context, they made a mature decision to have a bishop of homosexual orientation that has lived with another person of the same sex for more than 10 years, being very well known by the people of his diocese.

 

7.       It is the time to remain calm, of not feeding discord or division, a time of humility to (re)understand and respect differences, and to pray a lot for the peace and health of the whole Church of God, for it to be a true sign in the midst of transformation and reconciliation.

 

8.       In case our people still want to ask what the Brazilian Church thinks with respect to this question, we are informed that very shortly the House of Bishops of the IEAB (the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil) will send a Pastoral Letter to everyone, and we remember what our House already said in 1977, in a Pastoral, about Human Sexuality:

 

“We affirm that sexuality is a gift of God and that sexual relationships, exercised in the context of love and mutual respect, should not only be accepted, but also considered as the good things that God created.  On the other hand, the sexual promiscuity between people of the same gender or different gender should be combated as being contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures.

However, the Church should receive with love, people from any race, culture, social class or sexual orientation.  After all, as Christians, we are bearers of the promise of the Holy Spirit that leads us to the Word made flesh, that welcomes the abandoned ones, those misunderstood, the marginalized; to demonstrate love and compassion to the battered woman, those who speak with the Samaritan woman, and affirm the sanctity of men and women in holy matrimony…

The Bible, in some texts, explicitly condemns homosexual relationships, although the majority of the texts condemn promiscuity, orgy or mockery.  However, we should understand that the Bible is not a dictation of God, but the Revelation of God carried by interpretation by the authors that brought the influences of their culture and time (they lived in a patriarchal and chauvinist society).

It is necessary that the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil includes in its educational and pastoral programmes, studies and orientations about human sexuality, taking into account the teachings of the Scriptures, the knowledge of humanities, the experience of the Anglican tradition and the contextualized understanding of the controverted subject, so that their Ecclesiastes, free from preconceived ideas and in the vision of a healthy Christian sexuality, can assume the gift of sexuality in the context of the community of faith and respect for one another.”

 

9.       “And we know that God cooperates in all that is good for those that love him, those who are called according to his purpose.”  (Rm 8: 28)

 

With our blessing and fraternal embrace, we ask for prayers and the work of all.

 

 

                                                                                    + Jubal Neves, Diocesan Bishop

 

Santa Maria, 15 August 2003 AD, day of the Blessed Virgin Mary

 


You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to lcrew@newark.rutgers.edu 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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