A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
By The Rev. David Klutterman
From the 2000 General Convention of the Episcopal Church:
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the members of the 73rd General Convention intend for this Church to provide a safe and just structure in which all can utilize their gifts and creative energies for mission; and be it further
Resolved, We acknowledge that while the issues of human sexuality are not yet resolved, there are currently couples in the Body of Christ and in this Church who are living in marriage and couples in the Body of Christ and in this Church who are living in other life-long committed relationships; and be it further
Resolved, We expect such relationships will be characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God; and be it further
Resolved, We denounce promiscuity, exploitation, and abusiveness in the relationships of any of our members; and be it further
Resolved, This Church intends to hold all its members accountable to these values, and will provide for them the prayerful support, encouragement, and pastoral care necessary to live faithfully by them; and be it further
Resolved, We acknowledge that some, acting in good conscience, who disagree with the traditional teaching of the Church on human sexuality, will act in contradiction to that position; and be it further
Resolved, That in continuity with previous actions of the General Convention of this Church, and in response to the call for dialogue by the Lambeth Conference, we affirm that those on various sides of controversial issues have a place in the Church, and we reaffirm the imperative to promote conversation between persons of differing experiences and perspectives, while acknowledging the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of marriage.
The resolution above was passed at the 2000 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. It is realistic, in that it acknowledges what is already happening both in society and within the church. There are couples who are living in marriage and there are couples who are not married but living in life-long committed relationships. The latter category includes both heterosexual and homosexual couples. The resolution also acknowledges the Church is not in common agreement about those couples who live together outside the bonds of marriage.
What do we say about these relationships? If we condemn any life-long committed relationship outside marriage, then we lose any ability to speak to these people other than a call to repent. Heterosexual or homosexual, all stand outside the biblical and traditional norm, and the only response to such willful disobedience is a call to repent. If we embrace couples living outside of marriage, we risk watering down our faith, and threaten the theology of marriage, but we also enter into a relationship with those couples, in which we can hold them accountable even as we hold married couples accountable.
The resolution passed refuses to condemn all couples living together in life-long committed relationships. Instead, it commits us as a Church to holding all couples, whether living within the vows or marriage or outside, to certain values:
These are biblical values, and represented throughout Scriptures, whether in the relationship between God and creation, or in the relationships among the children of God. Genesis tells us of the image of God within each of us, and it becomes our responsibility as the stewards of God’s creation to “name” that image in each of us. Careful, honest communication is a hallmark of God’s relationship with us; beginning with Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and all the prophets, and through Jesus himself, there is concern for communication that is truthful and meaningful. Even when we have not deserved it, God has shown us respect and affection, and demonstrated faithfulness and monogamy that is to become the cornerstone of all our relationships.
If there is any doubt the Church is calling all couples to live biblical values, there is also a list of those qualities we denounce:
Relationships that are characterized by these qualities are based in sinfulness, and are condemned. Once again, these condemnations are based upon biblical values, carried on in the long tradition of the Church.
The resolution of the 2000 General Convention, has in effect, provided a powerful rebuke to any who would claim we have fallen away from Scripture and embraced popular culture. In fact, we have gone beyond merely reading passages, and explored the fullness of the Scriptures for their meaning and discovered the model for all relationships in the relationship of God with us, culminating in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Episcopal Church, in this time of its history, has chosen to embrace the ambiguity that surrounds human sexuality, and declare that regardless of how that human sexuality is manifested, there are certain values, based upon the Scriptures, that we will hold our members accountable to. Accountability will be based not upon who you are with, but rather how you live with others.
The resolution does not mark the end of the conversation, but it does provide a place for us to live as a community. We may be uncertain about issues regarding human sexuality, but it seems clear that universal scriptural values can still be proclaimed. As people ask what do we teach our children or say to the world, the Church has made it clear through this resolution: Amidst the ambiguity, proclaim faithfulness, monogamy, respect, communication, and a love that sees the image of God in one another. These are values that should be part of all relationships, and transcend the temporal world and current culture.
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