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A series of essays in the Episcopal Church

Broken Promises Result in a Broken Church

Broken Promises Result in a Broken Church

By The Rev. Michael J. Hopkins

Broken Promises Result in Broken Communion

By the Rev. Michael W. Hopkins

In response to the 2004 Windsor Report of the Lambeth Commission

January 26, 2005


While we reaffirm heterosexuality as the scriptural norm, we recognise the need for 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. The Church, recognising the need for pastoral concern for those who are homosexual, encourages dialogue with them. (We note with satisfaction that such studies are now proceeding in some member Churches of the Anglican Communion.)            From Resolution 10 of the 1978 Lambeth Conference


This Conference: 1. Reaffirms the statement of the Lambeth Conference of 1978 on homosexuality, recognising the continuing need in the next decade for "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."  2. Urges 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.  3. Calls 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.  Resolution 64 of the 1988 Lambeth Conference


Anglicans worldwide—particularly those in leadership—are acutely aware of the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 which stated, first that it

recognises 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;

and, second that it

cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.

Six years later the Anglican Communion found itself in continued crisis surrounding this issue, primarily because in significant portions of the Communion neither request has been followed.  Dialogue as described in the first portion of the resolution has not occurred on a Communion-wide level, and, in those Provinces ready to proceed, ordinations and blessings have continued (it should be noted that the 1978 Lambeth Resolution was partly a reaction to the ordination of a self-affirming lesbian by the then-Bishop of New York).

It is, of course, the continuation of blessings and ordinations that have been widely seen to have precipitated the current stage of the crisis.  No one has suggested that the lack of dialogue has done so.  And no one has pointed out that this dialogue was promised not in 1998, but in 1978, a promise reiterated in 1988.  The Windsor Report itself mentions the 1978 and 1988 Lambeth resolutions in passing, and includes them in an appendix.  There is, however, 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.

It would be one thing if these broken promises were broken solely by passive inaction.  Unfortunately that is not the case.  Having endured twenty years of passive inaction, gay and lesbian Anglicans went to the 1998 Lambeth Conference hoping for actual conversation.  At first this seemed possible with the cooperation of both the chair of Section One and the chair of the subcommittee dealing with human sexuality.  But this dialogue was refused by the membership of the subcommittee.

Is it any wonder that gay and lesbian people in the United States and Canada lost patience long ago with the Communion’s promises of dialogue?  What choice have we had other than to go about our own faithful lives in our own parts of the world?  And yet the extent to which we have remained loyal members of the Communion has been astounding.  Even now, when we might be seen by many rightly to lead a charge of our Provinces out of the Communion, we do not do so.

And yet we do not know how, effectively, to carry on a conversation when others refuse to listen to us.  We do not know how to proceed productively.  If gay and lesbian response to the Windsor Report has been relatively muted, this is why.  How do you get passionate about assisting a process out of which you have been closed out?  Yet the Windsor Report chides the US and Canada for not doing its theological homework.  That is simply not the truth.  We have bookshelves worth of work to prove otherwise.  But no one has been listening and when given the chance, the very people charged with listening have refused to do so.

The first step in an honest and potentially productive process of repairing the Communion has to be the honest recognition of where the Communion itself, and, in particular, the “Instruments of Unity” have failed.  There is nothing of the sort in the Windsor Report and it is a glaring omission.  And this honest recognition must also include the larger admission that, yes, Communion is broken.

We, as a communion, must take the risk of such honesty.  We must take the risk of declaring to the world that as an Anglican family that is broken, we are entering a period of discernment as to whether or not we can continue to live together.  We want to, and we believe God wants us to, but there are obvious things in the way.  And having said that we would have a powerful evangelical opportunity to show the world how mature relationship in Christ works.  We can meet together (and this must take place at all levels of our existence, not solely with the “Instruments of Unity,” and certainly not solely with bishops.  We need a period of getting to know one another again, of talking together about the deep things of the gospel

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.

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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