A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
By The Rev. Susan Russell
A trip to the Anglican Communion Office in London was not on my "to do" list for 2005 . or it wasn't until late December, when I found a letter from England half-way down the pile of between-Christmas-and-New-Year's mail stacked up on my desk. It turned out to be a letter of invitation - extended jointly to Integrity and two UK organizations (LGCM - Lesbian Gay Christian Movement and Changing Attitudes) - for us to officially add our voices to those from around the Anglican Communion being represented to the Primates as part of the Windsor Report Reception process. It was a significant step forward for a process that had - up until then - declined to receive any official representation from gay and lesbian folk maintaining that our voices were not relevant because the issue at hand was "not sexuality but unity." The fact that we were in the end included in the process and had the opportunity to address the issue of unity from the particularity of our experience as gay and lesbian Christians was a step forward due in some very large part to the persistence of the Reverend Colin Coward (of Changing Attitudes).
The letter of invitation, from the Reverend Gregory Cameron, Deputy Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Office and Windsor Report Reception Reference Group Secretary was in part a response to a recent letter from Colin and included the following: I think that you are absolutely right to put your finger on the fact that a number of Lambeth Conference Resolutions, for a period of thirty years now, on engaging in conversation with this subject on an international level seem to have been ignored. You are also right to point out that the Windsor Report, in paragraphs 135, 145, 146 does say that this conversation must happen. So it becomes a very real concern to me to see how we can persuade the Anglican Communion at its highest level to engage constructively with the existing resolutions and to take this matter forward. I would be very happy, therefore, to have a conversation about an appropriate way of doing this. And so basically, we were invited to London to be part of a conversation about how we might engage in the conversation to persuade the Communion to have the conversation it has steadfastly refused to have since it committed to it in 1978.
And so off we went to London - a very far ways indeed for a conversation on conversation. I will admit to taking with me across the Atlantic both low expectations and a high degree of suspicion that this might be nothing but an effort (to be blunt) to shut us up by saying, "There, we've met with you. Now do run along." But as I write this reflection (on the return flight home) I am bringing back both a renewed conviction that there are indeed possibilities beyond the current impasse and a renewed sense of hope that our Communion can weather this current storm if we're willing to work at it.
That being said, I am also increasingly clear that in order to do so we must reject the "urban myth" (perpetuated in no small measure by some of the foundational assumptions of the Windsor Report itself) that we find ourselves in this mess because of the actions of the American and Canadian Churches who unilaterally thrust a hitherto happily unified Communion into a schism-bound tailspin of controversy. Rather we cannot ignore the impact of the broken promises of an institution that: · in 1978 committed to engage in deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality, which would take seriously both the teaching of Scripture and the results of scientific and medical research · in 1988 urged such study and reflection to take account of biological, genetic and psychological research being undertaken by other agencies, and the socio-cultural factors that lead to the different attitudes in the provinces of our Communion and called each province to reassess, in the light of such study and because of our concern for human rights, its care for and attitude towards persons of homosexual orientation. · In 1998 recognized that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ. In his critique of the Windsor Report, "Broken Promises Result in Broken Communion," Michael Hopkins writes that there is: . no analysis of how the near total ignoring of those resolutions outside of the United States and Canada has contributed to the crisis. Indeed, having mentioned these resolutions, the Report goes on to lay the blame on the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada for not "consulting" the Communion. Yet it was the Communion leadership itself that promised to have the conversation for twenty-five years, a promise that remains broken. It should be no surprise to anyone that twenty years of broken promises have produced broken communion. That is the essence of the collective message we took to St. Andrew's House for our Tuesday afternoon meeting with Canon Cameron: scapegoating ECUSA, New Hampshire, gay and lesbian Christians in general or Bishop Gene Robinson in particular will not move us through this impasse. To quote Michael Hopkins once more, "Our Communion has been broken because we have broken promises about listening to each other. The only way to heal the brokenness is by listening, by holy conversation. It is not by strengthening authority, as the Windsor Report suggests." There were, in the end, ten of us - men and women, gay and straight, lay and ordained and we brought a variety of perspectives and contexts into the conversation: Michael and I representing Integrity USA, Colin and Sally Rogers (Changing Attitudes, England), Kelvin Holdsworth (Changing Attitude, Scotland), Paul Collier (General Synod Human Sexuality Group), Giles Fraser (Inclusive Church), Richard Kirker and Anthony Braddick-Southgate (LGCM), and Bertrand Olivier (Clergy Consultation).
We were deeply aware of the absence of any of our two-thirds-world brothers or sisters - despite best efforts to include their voices at the table. In point of fact, mere days before, Christopher Senteza (Integrity Uganda) had been denied a visa to enter the UK for our meeting - a fact noted in a January 29th article in the Guardian and responded to in a letter to the editor over several of our signatures printed on January 31st:
Just last month, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission reported that the persecution of homosexuals in Uganda had intensified following the Anglican church of Uganda's aggressive campaign against homosexuality that was launched as a direct response to the American church consecrating a gay bishop. Throughout Africa, gay Christians are frightened, isolated and desperate. Those who are open about their sexuality are commonly excluded from church life and refused baptism and communion. They can be subjected to verbal abuse by their priests and bishops. Those working for the church are sacked. The Anglican church has committed itself to listen to the voices of lesbian and gay people. Yet the church attacks and excludes them as soon as they make their voices heard. The bishops of the Anglican communion must make it possible for listening to take place and engage in the dialogue that it has been so repeatedly promised.
It would be neither helpful nor possible to recount the contents of a four-hour meeting. However, I will offer some overview impressions. First of all, I felt that we were genuinely listened to and that the concerns we represented would be (as promised) included in the representations being compiled for the Reception Committee to report to the Primates when they meet later this month. I was and am deeply grateful for both the privilege and the opportunity to be in some small way part of this important process.
Secondly, I was struck by what a broad diversity of experience was represented by this really rather narrowly white, western sampling of Anglicans. Whether reflecting over a pint or conversing over the meeting table our differences in theology, polity and ecclesiology were sometimes staggering, causing me to wonder whether we mightn't better be amazed that we've ever managed any unity rather than being surprised that we're currently being challenged by our diversity!
As to a few of the particulars of the conversation, we experienced some genuine surprise at the suggestion that Lambeth Conference Resolution 1:10 was not universally "received" in the first place. Kelvin Holdsworth was clear that the Scottish bishops quickly distanced themselves enmasse from it and I shared that in the Diocese of Los Angeles our December 1998 Diocesan Convention passed a resolution (as did other dioceses in ECUSA) declining to receive the portion of the Lambeth Resolution decreeing "homosexuality incompatible with Scripture." Those actions, along with others, go toward refuting the premise that the actions General Convention 2003 were somehow extraordinary to the point of rupturing the Communion.
What was in fact extraordinary was not the action of Convention but the re-action of a small percentage of those whose vehement dissent manifested itself in a well-financed temper tantrum of global proportions. I said in Minneapolis and I'll say it again: if schism happens (and I still do not believe it is inevitable) the responsibility will lie firmly at the feet of those in ECUSA whose criteria for being included is being agreed with - and having been disagreed with one-time-too many by a Church enriched by the ministry of gay and lesbian clergy and blessed by the witness of faithful gay and lesbian couples have determined to either remake this Church of ours into one in their own image or rupture it trying.
There was much discussion about the difference between the process of "reception" of the ordination of women (which precipitated the last great threat to Anglican Unity) and the current situation. The representation I found so disingenuous (and named as such) was painting the gradual coming to terms with women's ordination over these last thirty years as a case-in-point of how we "ought to have been going about this." Clearly the most influential factor in the eventual level of tolerance-if-not-outright-acceptance of women in ordained ministry was the incarnational experience of women in ministry. The irony is that if the Windsor Report has its way and some kind of moratorium on ordinations or blessings of relationships is taken forward the Communion will be prevented from having the same kind of transformational experience of gays and lesbians in ordained ministry; of faithful gay and lesbian couples living in holy, committed relationships. I believe such a moratorium needs to be named as part of the concerted strategy of those who "lost" on the former issue to frame the current debate to preclude such witness in the latter.
Another flaw of the Windsor Report we represented was the attempt to ignore issues of ethics and theology in favor of narrowly discussing ecclesiology. It was acknowledged that it was determined to be so "messy" to try to deal with all the intertwined components of the current debate that isolating one and working it through was a considered choice - a bad one I would (and did) say. This image came to me later (and I wished I thought it up at the time): it's as if the Communion is an automobile that has been running increasingly roughly for a number of years. Finally getting it in the shop, we take out the carburetor and commence to getting it in shape - neglecting altogether the other essential components of the car that have to work in concert in order for the thing to run properly and are suffering from years of deferred maintenance. It seems to me a profoundly narrow, linear, "un-holistic" approach -- both doomed to failure and lacking imagination.
And it's precisely that imagination we must bring to this next phase of our work together as members of this "Big Fat Anglican Family." Are we broken at the moment? Absolutely - and let's not default to some ancestral British "stiff upper lip" place and deny both the pain and reality of that brokenness. Rather let's imagine admitting our brokenness, to our Lord and to one another, and committing to a time of holy listening, of openness to God's healing grace, of trust that the historic voices reminding us that as Anglicans we have more in common than we do in difference will, if we listen, be more compelling than the hysterical voices telling us "the sky is falling, the sky is falling."
Finally, let's imagine facing our Lord on Judgment Day where Matthew assures us we will be called to account for our actions in this life. Imagine hearing, "Inasmuch as you have articulated a viable ecclesiology" or "Inasmuch as you have enforced the Levitical purity codes" or "Inasmuch as you have preserved the Instruments of Unity." If we take Matthew at his word, in the end it will have nothing to do with what we did either for or in the church - but what we've done for and in the world: what we've "done unto the least of these."
And the least of these are children around the world dying of HIV/AIDS and malaria while we finance commissions and committees to sort out our ecclesial wrangling. The least of these are gay and lesbian people who face persecution, imprisonment and even death for just telling the truth about who they are while we dare to debate whether or not they should be fully included in the Body of Christ. The least of these are those who have not yet heard that the Gospel is meant for them: the plentiful harvest that awaits the Good News of God in Christ Jesus. And the sad truth is that we "too few laborers" are too busy fighting with each other to go out and do the work of evangelism that is our baptismal call.
And out of that sad truth come the sense of possibilities beyond the current impasse and the sense of hope I'm bringing home with me from London - along with the Henry-the-Eighth teapot and Big Ben pencil sharpener in my carry on bag. The possibility is that our Communion leadership will refuse to continue to allow the Gospel we share in common to be held hostage to the differences that are being exploited to divide us. The hope is that like the Persistent Widow who is our spiritual ancestor our voices calling the Communion to listen to us - and to each other - will finally be heard and that God's justice will be served. And the conclusion is that if there's room for the voice of a California Yankee in King Arthur's Communion then there is indeed room for all of us in this Big Fat Anglican Family of Faith.
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