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A series of essays in the Episcopal Church

Warner Traynham's Ash Wednesday Letter to the Presiding Bishop

Warner Traynham's Ash Wednesday Letter to the Presiding Bishop

The Rev. Warner R. Traynham
6125 Alviso Ave.
Los Angeles , Ca. 90043

Ash Wednesday, 2007

The Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
815 Second Ave, New York
New York, 10017

Dear Presiding Bishop:

We have never met. I am a retired priest in the Diocese of L. A. who lobbied in four different General Conventions for the blessing of same sex unions and the full acceptance of homosexuals in the church. I took the position I did because the christian church has added its voice to that of most cultures and reinforced this viscous taboo with the word of God. For all of its life until now, the church has done this, just as it has reinforced gender roles and the subordination of women. We discovered an opportunity to change that situation, to do justice and to provide leadership in this regard for others.

When Matthew Shepherd was lynched in Wyoming, Bill Swing, a seminary classmate of mine and then the Bishop of California, observed that if we were horrified by this murder, we would have to disavow the book of Leviticus when it states that ‘a man lying with a man as with a woman is an abomination, they shall be stoned’, because his murderers acted in accordance with that law. They killed Matthew, as the book prescribes.

When I advocated this cause I understood that conservatives in this church would object and even leave. I later understood that some of the provinces of the anglican communion would possibly do the same. What has happened on that score therefore has not surprised me. As a Bishop, I would expect that it would not surprise you. I argued that if the theology was uncertain in the minds of some, the justice of accepting gays fully as baptized members of the church with all the privileges and responsibilities was manifest. Not to do so made us complicit in Shepherd’s murder and that of other gays and joins us in fact with the people who declare that God hates gays. If that is not the gospel, as christians, it is our duty to stand and not only say so, but change our behavior and act like it.

When you were elected P.B. that was an occasion of joy for me as for many. You were a woman, one who supported the blessing of same sex unions and who voted for Gene Robinson’s ordination. But then you asked the Convention for something they could not easily deny their newly elected primate, a moratorium on the ordination of gay bishops. The glass ceiling so recently and briefly ruptured, was instantly restored and at your request. That was distressing. I was not at that Convention, but I know that some who were there, granted your request, assuming that you believed you would not get to the primates meeting to make the church’s case without it. You were a woman and supported gays. Neither fact was likely to make the majority of the primates happy. Either was sufficient to exclude you from their meeting or encourage a boycott of your presence. You got what you wished. If the news is correct, your presence did not change the primates’ minds about our church. Just the reverse. You left with an ultimatum. I was not surprised. We were given an ultimatum in the Windsor report and as a church, we, as the primates observed, gave an ambiguous answer.

What has surprised and disappointed me was the report that you spoke subsequently, on the brink of lent, about a season of fasting for our church on blessings and gay episcopal ordinations and that the conservatives would fast with respect to property litigation. Are we to give up Justice for property? Astonishing!

Who is to do the fasting in our church, certainly not the whole church. It is only gays that you, are proposing should fast. The victims of the anti gay taboo, the victims of homophobia, are being asked to step back into the closet and surrender the rights which only portions of the church have recently accorded them. What you propose is that the church renege on its actions, and admit that it was wrong. Well. I do not believe it was wrong and I don’t believe that you do either. But perhaps I am wrong about the latter. You spoke of a season of fasting. That frankly seems disingenuous. The Primates show no sign of changing their position, rather they seem to have changed yours. That season is not a brief spring or summer of delay. Rather it is likely to be more like a nuclear winter and last for decades if not longer. What you in fact seem to be proposing is what the prophet threatened israel with, not “a season of fasting” but “a famine of the word of God”. If we were right to do what we did, then we should say so and take our lumps. If our fellow anglicans cannot stomach that for whatever reason, for God’s sake, let them expel us! The issue will not go away until we get it right. The Anglican Communion is no longer what it was anyway. It is coming apart. Today we’re on the mat. Tomorrow it will be our Canadian brethren and the day after it will be the venerable Church of England itself.

The Windsor Report, with its proposed covenant and the Primates proposed rules for disciplining and expelling provinces, things we never needed before, are already working a dreary transformation, making our Communion instead, a centralized church with a clerical hierarchy empowered to legislate for it. ( Shades of interdicts and the centralized Roman Communion). Why are we struggling to hold on to that? What we belonged to is passing and we seem to be one of the few provinces which wants to hold on to it. The other provinces want something else. The Anglican Communion is dissolving around us. We should open our eyes. Let it go and let those who wish to go out from us go. We cannot hold them. They do not like biblical criticism, the new Prayer book, the ordination of women or gays. This is just the last straw. How much fasting are we supposed to do before we wake up to the reality? God founded the church, not the Anglican Communion. It is an accident of history like the Commonwealth. That has passed and the Anglican Communion is passing before our eyes. Let it go.

Rather than stall or squirm or by various means try to stick with a changing entity designed to constrain us and I believe, constrain the word of God, we should take our stand, accept our expulsion and negotiate a relationship, extra communion, with those provinces which still recognize us as christians and labor with them on those world wide goals we are committed to. The loss of the Communion will, I believe, not turn out ot be a tragedy, but a new possibility, one leaving us the freedom with which Christ has made us free.

I have noticed over the years that bishops understandably fixate on unity and are loath to see any diminution in their patrimony. But Europe fought two long religious wars before it was willing to accept that things had changed and the church had survived, not in the old form, but in a new . Things have changed. As christians we should not fear the new when it reveals the presence and the love of God. Between unity and the truth I believe we are called to stand for the truth as we see it.

I believe you were elected to lead a new Episcopal Church, one not a part of the old Anglican Communion. Let us get on with it without looking back. I believe Christ Jesus calls.


The Rev. Warner R. Traynham

See Father Traynham's follow-up letter to the Presiding Bishop.

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