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A series of essays toward General Convention 2003 and beyond


Do We Believe the Holy Spirit Moves through our Councils?

Do We Believe the Holy Spirit Moves through our Councils?

By The Rev. Howard Anderson Howard@stpaulsduluth.org

I find myself wondering who the "orthadox" Christians really are? I was in pain for the last three conventions as issues of wider inclusion of gays and lesbians were voted down by the faithful Bishops and Deputies. I had to go home and tell lesbian and gay folks, parents of the same, "liberal" people that the Spirit had not yet moved to include the ones they love. "Is my son chopped liver?" one mother asked. Did I leave this "covenant" with my church because I felt we were not following the prompting of the Spirit and the model of Jesus? Did my "liberal diocese" withold its money because so much pain was inflicted on our members who felt the rejection so keenly? No! But our more conservative brothers and sisters said at those conventions, and I agreed, that the Holy Spirit, which Jesus clearly told the disciples would be left to guide them (the Church) had put the brakes on this inclusion at this time. I felt it was wrong not to follow the Christ on this, and the tradition of the Church. In fact, if those "Judaizers" in Jerusalem and elsewhere had won, and the purity codes of the day had held, infant Chrisitanity would have been a small, short lived branch of Judaism. I so firmly believe that both scripture, most especially the model of the inclusion of the gentiles who are by both dreams and visions (Peter) and the modelling of those with whom Jesus dined, sets the tradition of including those who are "unclean" in the eyes of the Temple/Church. In the Holiness Codes homosexual acts were classified as toevah, unclean, just as menstruation or touching the blood of animals rendered people unclean. They were not called sin, for if they were zimah, wrong in and of themsleves, they would have been classified in that way, not unclean. So this GC, when the vote went in favor of inclusion, the more conservative folks all of a sudden say that the Holy Spirit whom Jesus left to guide us wasn't working? Why?

Let's be honest here. Do we believe that the Holy Spirit moved through the great councils at Nicea, Jerusalem, Chalcedon..yes, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Denver and Minneapolis, or not? I do. I was crushed at the lack of faithfulness of the Church in following Jesus, and the apostolic churches model of including those excluded previously, but I stuck with this Church because I DO belive that the Spirit guides us still. I simply believed that we were not ready as a church to follow God's persistent call to inclusion, and with pain, accepted the verdict of the church. Why is that Spirit suddenly gone, Kendall, Guy, Alison, Bishops threatening rebellion et al at the GC where the Spirit guided the majority of us faithful people to vote for inclusion? Are you then apostate, no longer Trinitarian Christians if you don't believe in the presence of the Spirit which reveals new truths? Yes, as we heard several weeks ago in the lectionary, these teachings are hard to accept! But not being circumsized nor following the purity codes was ever so much more a challenge to the emerging Church than this act of inclusion. It would be like saying to us Episcopalians today, Baptism and Eucharist are not necessary to salvation. And yet we would all agree that this act of breaking down the purity codes, and inviting the unclean gentiles into the fellowship was good. After all, Peter was given a dream as told in Acts, to change his mind. I'm praying for those distressed about our GC act of inclusion will be given a dream. I'm spending hours with my own members who are troubled by the decision, talking to them about the reason, tradition and scriptural reasons how I, as the first deputy from our Minnesota delegation voted yes on Gene Robinson and Blessing of Unions. As the former chair of the Standing Commmission on Human Affairs our committee spent six years studying, talking to theologians, geneticists, Biblical scholars, gay and lesbian folk, and "Ex-gay" ministries, and with that background of study, prayer and stuggle, I came to my decision to vote yes on Gene Robinson and Blessings.

I do think, as one writer has said in today's post, that we do have two cultures in our church. But Anglicanism has always managed to stick together with very disparate "parties." Differences are fine. But do not say things which are untrue, like "the liberals are just following the culture in acceptance of a "gay lifestyle." Non-sense! Between 65% and 80% of the American public polled since GC disagree with our action of inclusion. It is those who resist these votes that are capitulating to culture. There are two cultures. The culture of social conservatism which prevails today and wants the status quo on such issues as inclusion are demanding that churches cease from making these changes. And many of the dioceses whose leaders are upset are in cultures where it is much easier, much less painful, to go along on the exclusion of gays and lesbians from leadership in the Church. So please be honest, Kendall in South Carolina. Tell me that it takes more courage to say "no" to this GC's actions than to have said yes in South Carolina. Even here in Minnesota, arguably the most liberal diocese in the American Church, in my parish, I am losing families who are against the GC action. Don't even tell me that we are taking the easy road of following society. The conservative folks in the church may well be taking a principled stand against the actions. Say that. Don't say that those of us who voted for this did so frivilously and to go along with society. It simply aint so. Don't say that to be in the good graces of your diocese that clergy and laity should sign a confessional statement(a decidely non-Anglican thing to demand don't you think?) Don't say that your diocese is witholding its national church pledge because of the decisions of GC when you were already witholding the lion's share of that pledge for a number of years. [See ECUSA Diocesan Assessments/Payments for 2001.] Don't say that believing Christians cannot come to different decisions about what scripture says about this issue. Don't say that after years of training in reading the scriptures not in a literal way, but in its context, allowing it to be a living document for us today, that the "plain sense" of scripture is abundantly clear. That's not what we have been taught in Anglican seminaries. That's not our Anglican tradition. Don't say that the sola scriptura approach is the only Anglican way to read scripture and that the sole authority is scripture. It's simply not true.

So we disagree on a matter clearly secondary, not essential to the faith. Can we not do as Anglicans always have done, and realize that those essentials which unite us are ever so much more powerful than the secondaries about whose interpretation (Biblical and otherwise) we disagree? The wonder of Anglicanism as the PB has recently pointed out, is that we have been able to live in cognative dissonance. Anglicanism in not for sissies. It takes real courage to take the risks of inclusion, the risks of losing beloved sisters and brothers, the scorn of society. The early church did exactly this by including "unclean" gentiles. It will take real risks for those Episcopalians in Pittsburgh, Florida, Texas, South Carolina, to be faithful to the movement of the Spirit (yes I do believe that is what happened at GC) and withstand the anger and vituperation, Episcopal flag stomping et al and still live in love and forebearance of one another. I believe we will survive this. I pray that we will stay in communion. But no one ever said it would be comfortable or easy following Jesus. To lose the full participation of those who disagree with GC 2003 decisions in this Church would be beyond a tragedy. The full truth would not be present without the full Anglican panoplay of interpretation, churchmanship and opinion. Please stay. We "liberals' stayed all these years when we felt the GC votes had violated our core values as Christians and Anglicans. Richard Hooker said it best. "Pray that none will be offended if I seek to make the Christian religion an inn where all are received joyously rather than a cottage where some few like minded friends of the family are to be received." Howard Anderson, Clerical Deputy 1, Minnesota

Ps Not having written in months, I guess I saved up all my words. Thanks for being patient with my passion, pain and gulp, I know, some platitudes.


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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