God Welcomes All People: Reply to Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas’ recent column in the Messenger (6/23/06) misrepresents the issues confronting the Episcopal Church. We are open to a variety of opinion and encourage members to think for themselves. Not satisfied with the results of our democratic process of Church government, some have sought to subvert our doctrine and discipline. Others remain loyal dissenters.
Thomas confuses our desire to be a Church where all are welcome with being “wishy-washy.” We discern God’s will together, without cutting off relationships. This is consistent with taking principled stands. God’s love for all people is in fact a bold, countercultural claim. Witness our General Convention’s statement about the rights of immigrants, when undocumented workers are under assault. We recommitted ourselves to obey God’s commandment to care for strangers, widows, and orphans, which is far more central to the Bible than anything concerning sex. We also reaffirmed our position, now thirty years old, that gay men and lesbians are “children of God” entitled to the pastoral care and support of the Church. Today, these persons are often made political scapegoats and face physical, spiritual, and emotional violence. Although the General Convention took a few actions that I find inconsistent with this position, I believe that these are temporary setbacks, disappointing but predictable reactions to the conflict in the Church since the election of our first openly gay bishop.
As an advocate for the full inclusion of all people in the Church, I take offense at Thomas’ dismissal of the statement by Katharine Jefferts Schori, our Presiding Bishop-elect, that the “great message of Jesus” is “to include the unincluded.” Jesus preached about God’s universal hospitality and gracious Kingdom; he lived it out when he ate with those considered outcasts and sinners. The inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s People is central to the New Testament. Without it, most Christians could never have joined the Church. I believe a similar movement of the Spirit is happening today as we begin to respond to the experience of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. They are not an issue. They are real people, who speak for themselves.
Thomas urges us to adopt a model of biblical authority which would silence their voices before they can be heard. This is inconsistent with the best Anglican theological tradition, which locates authority in Scripture, tradition, and reason. It is unreasonable to rule the experience of some people out in advance. Such a model is also used to silence women, often to deadly effect. Episcopalians believe that the Bible “contains all things necessary to salvation,” i.e. that it is a reliable witness to God’s saving deeds in history, but not that every word is literally true. Jesus himself felt free to reinterpret Scripture in ways that highlight its life-giving and liberating purpose.
A well funded minority of “traditionalists” is seeking to recreate the Episcopal Church in its own image. Similar groups, funded by the same foundations, exist in other mainline denominations, as part of a concerted effort to undermine institutions necessary for a free society, including the press and the academy. (See Jim Naughton, “Follow the Money” at http://www.edow.org/follow/)
Episcopalians are not of one mind about sexuality. Thomas correctly notes that the trend toward an unequivocal welcome to all will not change. Sadly, the degree to which God’s children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trangendered are welcomed still varies widely. In this regard, the Church mirrors our society. Some of our members have reservations about same sex relationships, especially among the clergy. Others, myself included, are convinced that recent developments in this regard are not only permitted but required by the Gospel.
The vast majority of Episcopalians still want to belong to a Church where all can gather around God’s table, even when we disagree. We share a vibrant faith in Jesus, and we are joyfully pursuing the mission of his Church—worshiping God, housing the homeless, welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, baptizing and making disciples, and sharing the Good News with all people. No exceptions allowed.
The Rev. R. William Carroll, Ph.D.
The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd
64 University Terrace
Athens, OH 45701