An Open Letter to +Rowan Williams, 104th Archbishop of Canterbury

An Open Letter to +Rowan Williams,
104th Archbishop of Canterbury

by Chris Evans
From: Chris Evans
Subject: RE: Your [appointment] and statements since

Dear Most Rev. Williams,

I was elated upon your [appointment] to the Archbishopric of Canterbury. I know that you are a man of prayer, of reflection, of contemplation, and of theological insight. I knew that you would be a bishop that could hold all parties together amidst our several disputes in this blessed Anglican Communion, honouring each party as you held to your own point-of-view. I appreciate your thorough knowledge of church history and your love for a deep catholicity. I admire your ecumenical spirit, all the more so, because while I am Anglican (ECUSA), my partner is Lutheran (ELCA). I was excited to have a welshman elevated to this hard and demanding position, since my heritage is mostly Welsh. Like you, I love the daily practice of the Liturgy of the Hours, silent meditation in the form of the "Jesus Prayer," and theological reading and thought.

Your recent words, however, on the place of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered persons in the life of the church have required me to ask myself again whether the Anglican Communion is a community in which I can with integrity as a Christian share the Good News of Jesus Christ with other lgbt persons:

"In a letter sent to all 38 primates of the Anglican Church, Williams said that the 1998 Lambeth Resolution "declares clearly what is the mind of the overwhelming majority in the Communion and what the Communion will or will not approve or authorize. I accept that any individual diocese or even province that officially overturns this resolution poses a substantial problem for the sacramental unity of the Communion." (from Planet Out, "Anglican leader backtracks on gay issues," Friday, August 9)

While, it seems, the Anglican Communion can offer alternative episcopal oversight to those who disagree with having same-sex union ceremonies or ordaining persons in same-sex partnerships, those of us who are convinced otherwise are not given such options. We are left to live under the power of majority rule.

I share with you just one short story among my many: A young woman on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene, Oregon asked me to share with her my understanding of Christianity after a meeting of the campus lgbt fellowship group. At the end of my explanation, she shared that her past experience in the Orthodox Church had left her deeply wounded. She asked me if she would find healing and supportive pastoral care in my church, would her long-term committed relationship with another woman be recognized formally in my church and would she be equally welcomed as a baptized Christian in my church. I replied, "In all honesty, 'No!'" She turned to me, and responded, "I am moved by what you have to say about God, Jesus, and the Christian faith, but I'll have to pass on your church." This has been a common experience of mine at the University of Oregon, and presently, at University of California-Berkeley where I am also a student.

Most Rev. Williams, it would have been better had you remained silent or, even better, emphasized continuing dialogue between parties who disagree on the basis of conscience about the place of lgbt persons in the life of the church; but now you have spoken, and your words are your testimony to the lgbt community and a testimony that in the Anglican Communion, the minority conscience is out, period. Like the incessant blather of so many bishops, you threw more words onto an already raging fire, re-emphasizing my conviction that pastoral care for lgbt persons in the Anglican Communion is weak, even non-existent in many places, and more to the point, that bishops are not to be trusted.

In the recent report on sexuality, you and your fellow bishops mention that the Anglican Communion has no credibility with homosexuals because the Anglican Communion has not strengthened heterosexual marriages. The Anglican Communion does not have credibility (particularly among us twenty-something folks who have formed long-term partnerships and struggled to ethically live out our sexuality and grow in Christian discipleship) because it has failed: to provide means for us to live out our lives in holiness both through community support and ritual action as part of the larger Church family (it has failed pastorally), to give us the opportunities to actively engage your select group of ordained, presumably all heterosexual men with the stories and ethics of our lives while pontificating to us and talking about us without our challenging input, and to work for a more open environment while yet even now allowing fellow bishops to take active persecutory stances working with the leaders of their national governments that at times take quite Draconian stances and measures (Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe, etc.) toward gay men and lesbian women. Many of these same bishops are praised for their endurance of the horrible persecutions of Christians in their own countries; yet, not one bishop that I know of has called these same bishops directly to account for persecuting another group: lgbt persons (who are often also Christians). Such is not the way of the cross!

So I would like to know: Where is the hope in your message for such as this young woman I talked with on campus? And where is the self-critique? Your latest words seem to be another piece of pointless politicing that do not call us to account to do the hard work of serious self-reflection as individuals and as a communion.

I find no hope in your message, bishop, but only despair, fear, resignation to the way things are and concession that too easily fuels the call to zealousnous by your fellow bishops while covering up real insecurities in the Anglican Communion which would appear to be seeking to enforce unity through uniformity--the opposite of catholicity, I might add. Such an enforcement has never worked and never will (at least not in the long run). And more importantly, as a Christian, and hence the lens through which I view the world, I do not recognize the fullness of the God of Jesus Christ in such an approach.

As a Christian, my understanding of God comes first and foremost from the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. And "What did Jesus do?" to put a spin on this American evangelical catch-phrase. Rather than coerce those who persecuted him, rather than force his tormentors into doing his will, Jesus chose instead to be nailed to the cross--an instrument of torture and death used by the Roman Empire to silence those who threatened the political and economic order of the nation-state (AND of the church, especially the church!). And Ohhh was Jesus of Nazareth a threat! Rather than define the power of God as almightiness, God chose in Jesus Christ to define the power and glory of God as self-emptying, compassion, forgiveness, and trust in a God who makes futures out of even the most sorry of circumstances.

Most Rev. Williams, when we chose to scapegoat individual persons and even entire classes of persons to shore up our own identities against any Other, any foreigner, any stranger in our midst while failing to notice in them the God of Jesus Christ who chose to die rather than define herself in such ways (indeed, God in Jesus Christ chooses to define himself through the weak, the maligned, the harassed, those forced to keep silent in conscience for the sake of "holy unity"), we fail to live up to the God whom we proclaim--we sin! In other words, God in Jesus Christ took such identity formation techniques to the cross and declared these techniques forever null and void. And at the moment, the Anglican Communion is trying desparately to shore up its ecumenical identity and internal unity by negating gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered persons, while at the same time that we continue with this heated debate, we ignore the dangers of globalization, the endangered environment, the plight of the poor, the care of the sick, and the foul ideologies of racism, sexism, and the like.

Yes, we can find temporary solace and identity by maligning an Other, any Other, but such an identity is founded on sand, not the rock of our identity who is God in Jesus Christ working through, with, and in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Your married heterosexuality will not justify you before God anymore than my committed homosexual partnership will justify me before God. Heterosexuality cannot save us anymore than homosexuality can save us. So we had best find another way: We are justified by grace through faith in Christ Jesus who calls us to grow in holiness together amidst our differences, including differences of opinion on how we might grow in holiness.

So it seems we are at a crossroads: we can choose--we can choose to turn inward and define ourselves against the "Evil Other" out there or in our midst whom we need to silence, abort, ignore, cast out, or we can choose to be transformed by the power of God in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit, reflecting on our own failings and tendencies toward destruction and violence and working toward creative, dare I say, holy solutions which may very well cost us our lives while opening the door to life for others (including plant and animal others) and future generations. "I do not desire your sacrifices [of others], but changed hearts."

So sadly, while the Anglican Communion presently seeks to root out the "devil" in its midsts in order to shore up its identity and mission, the most plentiful and dangerous example of satanic action in history is the repeated stirring up of crowds into mobs by which crusades, witch hunts, lynch mobs, SS troops, "fag"-bashings and the like coalesce to destroy others in order to shore up our own identity and mission. And the church, including the Anglican Communion, has played and does play a powerful supporting role in many of these shameful circumstances both in the past and in the present. Recall the recent outburst by Rev. Jerry Falwell who blamed feminists, homosexuals, and women who have had abortions for the destruction on September 11th. Or recall the many bishops, including those of Nigeria, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, who continue to hold other bishops under house arrest for supporting lgbt persons, to use hate-filled speech to malign lgbt persons, and to work with their national governments in support of alarming pogroms aimed at rooting out lgbt persons from their societies and churches. And yet, these bishops are not censured by the majority?!

It seems likely that violent outbursts such as these by church leaders and silence, or now formal complicity, of church leaders like yourself, should in part be held responsible for those who justify their violent actions against stigmatized Others. So daily, I have to ask of all of us, myself included, "what is our own personal "fundamentalism?" We all have a fundamentalist streak in us to one degree or another. When do we get so carried away by our own fears, zeal, anger, beliefs, and ideologies that we are unwilling to stand-in for and to speak up for (in other words, to protect) and willing to malign, to persecute, or to destroy an Other even to the point of "death, death on a cross?" "God, forgive us, for we know not what we do."

I leave you with your own words for reflection:

The unavoidable encounter

The Christian gospel tells us not simply that we are saved from sin or that our guilt is taken away - it insists that we shall find out who we are and what we may be in an encounter, a relationship. All human identity is constructed through conversations, in one way and another. The gospel adds the news that, in order to find the pivot of our identity as human beings, there is one inescapable encounter, one all-important conversation into which we must be drawn. This is not just the encounter with God, in a general sense, but the encounter with God made vulnerable, God confronting the systems and exclusions of the human world within that world - so that, among other things, we can connect the encounter with God to those human encounters where we are challenged to listen to the outsider and the victim.

In Christ,
Chris Evans

"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone?" Ecclesiastes 4:9-12  


August 14, 2002

Dear Most Rev. Williams,

After the slough of e-mail letters that I received today concerning my response to your recent statement, I thought to myself, my God, what must this man be going through? I can only imagine the thousands of e-mails you must receive to your every word, and I can't even imagine how tiring that must become. My apologies if I have added to this burden...

You are in my prayers,

chris evans

Berkeley, CA


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