I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6
In March 2001, the primates of the 37 Churches that make up the Anglican Communion will meet in Hendersonville, North Carolina. The meeting will be extraordinary in that it apparently begins a new pattern of yearly meetings for this body. Perhaps more extraordinary, however, is the pressure being put upon the primates to declare the Communion in a state of crisis and react by developing clearer structures of authority and accountability with themselves at the center.
I write as a member and priest of one of these Churches, the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA). It is the member Church that is the special focus of the cry of crisis and the need for reactivity. I write also as a Christian who happens to be gay, and who also happens to live in faithful union with another man. I am also the President of Integrity, an organization of Episcopalians committed to the full inclusion of lesbian and gay Christians in the life of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
I write, therefore, as someone who is a part of the problem‚^ņ^”or the crisis‚^ņ^”as many see it. I write only for myself, but I know I speak for many and have the authority to do so at least for the 2,500 members of Integrity. I write out of the hope that there be some chance that our voices be heard in what is a very closed system.
My purpose in writing is to ask the primates to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," as urged by St. Paul to the Ephesians. I believe that the proposal for increased authority for the primates meeting, and, in particular, that proposed by Archbishop Gomez (West Indies) and Presiding Bishop Sinclair (Southern Cone) under the title "To Mend the Net," does not meet this apostolic charge.
I note, to begin, that Paul outlines the oneness of the Church: "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all." These words are very familiar to members of ECUSA, as they appear as a dialogue at the beginning of the Service of Holy Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer, a rite that has deeply affected our life in this Church over the past twenty-five years. One would do well, from an observer's standpoint examining ECUSA, to dwell significantly on both the development of that rite and its use. It is the story of a sea-change in theological perspectives, core vocabulary, and ministerial and missionary understanding. It has changed the way Episcopalians understand themselves and their mission. These shifts have far more to do with the current uneasiness in the Communion than do the particularities of gender and sexuality.
It is, indeed, most frustrating to me that the international conversation continues to avoid these larger issues. I would feel much better about the primates sitting down to make decisions about authority and accountability if I knew they had engaged in serious and sustained mutual conversation about the nature of Baptism and the implications of Baptism for our theology of ministry, who and what we understand the church to be, and how we make decisions within it.
The truth is that currently within the member Churches of the Anglican Communion there are wide-ranging theologies and practices of Baptism, and so there are wide-ranging theologies of ministry, church, and authority. One of the most basic problems that cause the current tension among the member Churches is the vastly different way decisions are made from one member Church to another. We are a Communion of diverse polities.
Indeed, one way of interpreting the proposal "To Mend the Net," is that some member Churches are attempting to force their more hierarchical and collegial decision-making structures onto those of us who have much more dispersed decision-making structures. I am one who is very sensitive to the tyrannies of the former "Northern/Western" majority within the Communion. Our dominance of the Communion‚^ņ^”which continues in many ways today‚^ņ^”has had and continues to have serious negative consequences. But the answer cannot possibly be to replace one dominance with another. Dominance of any kind destroys "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
The proposal contained in "To Mend the Net" seems almost solely obsessed with "the ordination of active homosexuals and blessing of their partnerships." It refers to them as "adoption of a new sexual ethic that places great emphasis on pleasure and individual fulfillment," "novel and unauthorized," "devoid of Scriptural or historic precedent," and resulting in "tragic pastoral consequences for the sexually broken."
These words betray at the very least a deep misunderstanding of how gay and lesbian Episcopalians understand themselves, practice their faith, and exercise their ministries. It is clear that the primates who make the proposal do understand the conservative minority in ECUSA very well and feel bonds of sympathy and affection with them. I have not seen any real attempt to establish such bonds with lesbian and gay‚^ņ^”or even "liberal"‚^ņ^”Episcopalians. I know of only one meeting with conservative primates with gay and lesbian Episcopalians under extraordinarily controlled circumstances with very little opportunity for us to be listening to rather than talked at. It seems an apostolic imperative that, when a group of persons formerly considered outside the Church (although who were always "secret" members) desire to be part of the fellowship based on their experience of the Spirit of the Risen Christ, they are accorded the respect of a thorough examination, including the building of relationships and a serious attempt to be in the faith environment of the "other." Surely this basic level of respect is an automatic expectation across cultural boundaries within our Communion. Why should we be treated differently in this regard?
The answer, no doubt, lies in the proposal's use of the phrase "devoid of Scriptural or historic precedent." These two assumptions, like all history, are written by the "victors," the powerful. We challenge the first presumption ("devoid of Scriptural precedent") based upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ itself, and the triumph of grace over law that is the heart of the theology of Paul. We challenge the latter ("historic precedent") because it is a house of cards, built on centuries of hypocrisy and an oppressive, pharisaical ethic of heterosexual exclusivity that betrays Jesus' great challenge: Is the law made for humankind or humankind for the law?
"Maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." From my perspective, our unity as Anglicans has always lived up to this apostolic charge. Our unity has been spiritual, not juridical, formed by bonds of peace, not bonds of coercion. In an atmosphere of supposed crisis, the primates risk this unity. Any attempt at enforcing a uniformity beyond "one faith, one Lord, one baptism, one God and Father of us all," will not be received by the vast majority of ECUSA. Attempts to "clean up" what Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called the "untidiness" of our Anglican family will serve to sow the seeds of its destruction.
My plea to Archbishop Gomez, Presiding Bishop Sinclair, and other primates who share their concern, is for them to spend time with lesbian and gay members of ECUSA, clergy and lay, where they live and minister, without accompanying conservative spin-doctors. If you sincerely believe that you must act to curb our participation in the Church, then you must meet us where that participation takes place. As fellow Christians we deserve that much respect.
I, personally, am available at any time. I will travel to your place of life and ministry as well. The doors of my own congregation‚^ņ^”St. George's, Glenn Dale, Maryland, in the Diocese of Washington‚^ņ^”are open to you. I invite you to join us in common prayer, as is the greatest legacy of our Communion. Let us see whether we can maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Let us see if indeed we share one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.
The Rev. Michael W. Hopkins
Glenn Dale, Maryland
February 12, 2001
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