A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
Susan’s Thoughts about the Communiqué for the Newsletter of St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church and Northside Presbyterian.
I need to write about the Communiqué from the Primates of the Anglican Communion before I can go forward with other business. If you have not seen the communiqué it can be found at: http:/episcopalchurch.typepad.com/episcope/2007/02/the_communiqu.html
There are also hard copies at the church. Before I began to write this I also listened to our Presiding Bishop’s (Katharine Jefferts Schori) webcast: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_82922_ENG_HTM.htm
My very first reaction to the Communiqué was “Wow, someone is really scared about the inclusion of LGBT in the life of the church.” There is way too much emphasis in this document and certainly way too much time at this important meeting spent on the pastoral practices of the Episcopal Church. What gives? What is so frightening? I wondered if there is some powerful potential here that we are missing?
Then I just got frustrated. The communiqué is so full of illogical reasoning and pandering to the misbehavior of some primates who are ready to leave the church for their own power needs, (the Archbishop of Nigeria has given the ArchBishop of Canterbury until September 30 to change the policy of the English Church about support for gay clergy and union blessings or he might be separating from that church. http://allafrica.com/stories/200702221147.html) that it is hard to take it seriously. But people will. It makes a righteous law out of the Lambeth’s resolution on Human Sexuality. (“1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 is the standard of teaching.”) This resolution has no theological or legal authority in any jurisdiction of the church. That responsibility rests with each national church, ours rests in the General Convention of our church. In our church, such standards cannot be set by bishops alone. That is how we operate. Lambeth never has had the authority to make law or set theological standards. All of a sudden the primates act as if it did. Once that error is made, every action of the primates, based on that error is ridiculous.
Even if the Lambeth Gathering of Bishops every 10 years could set standards of teaching, should Human Sexuality be the base of unity or not in the Anglican Communion?
A few years ago I had to give a court deposition about my part in a panel of ministers from LGBT welcoming churches that appeared at Pioneer High School. The lawyer from the Thomas More Law School took out the Roman Catholic Catechism and asked me to comment on its teaching about Human Sexuality. I informed him that I was not a theologian nor was I on any of the teaching faculties of our seminaries. I would, however, be willing to give him my opinion. He asked me if I taught Catechism. I said yes. I also said, there was nothing in our Catechism about any aspect of human sexuality. Our Catechism talks about things like God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It defines sin and offers grace and encourages prayer. It simply does not talk about sex at all. It starts (p845 BCP), “We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of God.” It ends (p862 BCP), “Our assurance as Christians is that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Why then are so many people worried about sexuality? I do not really know the answer to this puzzle. I do know that people I have talked to who have done the hard work of introspection about their sexuality, testing the possibility that they might not be normative heterosexual individuals, have found that the exercise really was not so terrifying after all. That response is the same whatever the conclusion. We are who we are, created by God to live the most loving, responsible lives we can. Why all the fuss? Why, particularly if one is a normative heterosexual, would one spend so much time and venom on the lives of others how ever different they may be?
Some say it has to do with scripture. I think this is nonsense. Perhaps the untaught and uninformed still believe this because our biblical translations persist in mistranslations of the few possibly relevant texts. The reality is that the is no biblical text in the whole of the Old or New Testament that definitively condemns what we know as modern gay or lesbian relationships. Most texts are translations of difficult texts fitting the prejudices of the translators at the time of translation. Others simply do not speak about what we are experiencing today. I say this because I really believe the Bible does not condemn the faithful lives we see around us. I also know that if it did, in the six or seven texts people talk about, it would not justify the persecution and exclusion of LGBT people that some in the church would like to see us adopt. While some people do not know enough about the Bible to understand what I am talking about, the leaders of this neo-conservative movement do. They have been to seminary. Many have had training in Greek and Hebrew and should be able to do the research themselves. Yet, they still misinform the people they lead. Why?
Our bishops have been asked to refrain from giving permission for the blessing of same-sex unions. They know we have no authorized rites but feel the bishops have strayed from an authoritative teaching that itself is stated this way. “We cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions.” That is correct. The Lambeth Gathering of Bishops can advise. They cannot make law. Our bishops have been given the flexibility to offer special services for the pastoral needs of their dioceses in the Book of Common Prayer (p13), a publication passed in its entirety not by bishops alone but by the General Convention of our church.
What should we do? First of all, we should not lose hope. Our Presiding Bishop finished her address at Trinity Wall Street with the admonition that we ask God to quiet our fears. I think that is important.
I think we should recognize the cautions the President of the House of Deputies presented in her letter. email@example.com (hard copy at the church). She makes many good points among them these paragraphs.
“To honor all of the Primates' requests would change the way the Episcopal Church understands its role in the Communion and the way Episcopalians make decisions about our common life. Our church makes policy and interprets its resolutions and Canons through the General Convention and, to a lesser extent, the Executive Council.”
“Our baptismal promise to seek and serve Christ in all people must be very carefully
considered when we are being asked as Episcopalians to exclude some of our members from answering the Holy Spirit's call to use their God-given gifts to lead faithful lives of
ministry. Our promise to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of all people
binds us together. The Episcopal Church has declared repeatedly that our understanding of the Baptismal Covenant requires that we treat all persons equally regardless of their race, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities, age, color, ethnic origin, or national origin.“
I would urge our bishops (as I have in a letter signed by all the members of my clergy support group) to act individually but not collectively on the requests made of them by the Communiqué. No one can command a consent to a bishop’s election, nor can anyone command a bishop to authorize the blessings of same-sex unions. If they move to make a collective decision, they will be in violation of our Constitution and Canons and if they move to discipline a dissenting member (many have already declared such dissent), they will have no canonical justification for doing so and the Primates will have succeeded in driving a wedge between the bishops and the rest of the Episcopalians, lay and clergy, in our church.
Finally, I would urge everyone to make sure the LGBT people you know do not doubt their place as cherished children of God. As a pastor, the most frequent question I get from lesbians and gay men who care at all about spirituality is this, “Am I going to go to hell because I am gay?” We, the church are responsible for that fear. Who are we?
“We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of God.” That means every one of us. There may be many things we do it this life that displeases God. I imagine God is very concerned with our use and abuse of the world, and our use and abuse of each other. I think God cherishes our loves as the best part of our obedience to a God of love who would have us image the same. We will displease God, we need to repent and try to make amends but in the end our Christian belief is this, “Our assurance as Christians is that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Oh God, quiet our fears. Make us instruments of your peace.
Please sign my guestbook and view it.
Statistics courtesy of