What I Told The Primates

Today, at our House of Bishops’ meeting, we had presentations from Dr. Ephraim Radner and Dr. Kathy Grieb — two members of the Covenant Drafting Committee — about the possibility of developing an Anglican Covenant which might serve to bind us together more fully as a global communion. The three bishops who accompanied our Presiding Bishop to the Primates’ meeting in Tanzania were asked to share our remarks with the House. I share them also with you. On Feb. 14th, I said:   


 My dear sister and brothers: First of all, it will not surprise you that I have a different view of the Episcopal Church than my brothers who have just spoken. As ecumenical officer, I travel all across the United States and I do not recognize the church they describe. I find Episcopalians generally more orthodox and less divided that what you have just heard.

However, I assume that the main reason I have been invited into this conversation is to share my perspective as Deputy for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations for the Episcopal Church, given our current difficulties in the Anglican Communion. Obviously, the presenting issues of homosexuality and the ordination and blessing of homosexual persons and their relationships are of deep concern to our ecumenical and interfaith partners.

In the United States, and elsewhere in the Communion, these are vexing issues and our partners are in different places with respect to these issues. Most notably, some of the Old Catholic churches in Europe and some of the churches of the Reformed tradition, in the
US and elsewhere, permit such ordination and blessing. Obviously, the Roman Catholic and
Orthodox Churches, and others, do not. Two of the three branches of Judaism, the Reformed and Conservative traditions in America, similarly allow for such ordinations and blessings. The Orthodox Jews do not!

However, I must say, in all humility but with complete honesty, that – at least in the States – we have been treated with more charity by our ecumenical and interfaith partners than we have by some in our own Anglican Communion! No national dialogues have been terminated, or even missed a beat, because of our current difficulties. The only church which has officially broken off dialogue with the Episcopal Church is the Russian Orthodox Church and – if I may say – even the Vatican has difficulty sustaining that relationship!

Every bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American – a church with which we are in full communion – will receive Communion from every bishop in the Episcopal Church – and the priests and deacons they have ordained!  The Anglican – Roman Catholic dialogue in the
US has never missed a meeting and reports of the Lambeth Commission and the Windsor Report have provided rich input for our discussions on “The Gift of Authority” and the balance between the local and universal exercise of authority in the Church.

I just returned last week from Washington and the National Workshop on Christian Unity. Nearly 400 participants engaged in common worship and seminars on a variety of topics. Fr. Paul McPartlan, an English Roman Catholic scholar, and I co-presented to a packed house on the new document, “Growing Together in Unity and Mission,” from the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission. And the issues with which we are concerned here were not avoided! They were faced squarely, but put into the context of 40 years of advances and convergences between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. If that context is important, how much more must be our own history together as Anglicans – which is much longer!

I do not wish to minimize the difficulties we face in some of these conversations! But I believe I can honestly say that the greatest concern of our ecumenical partners is the potential “deconstruction” of the Anglican Communion! Many, though not all, of our partners deal with us, first and foremost, as a global Communion…and only derivatively as a “national church.”

Many of them are very interested in the development of an Anglican Covenant. I am often asked – by Episcopalians and others – whether we have learned anything in the ecumenical movement which can be helpful in our current difficulties as Anglicans. And I often point to ecumenical agreements as models of “covenantal relationships” that have served us well over time. Whether it is the Bonn Agreement with the Old Catholics, the Concordat with the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, or “Called to Common Mission” with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America – these are very fruitful for both unity and mission.

Indeed, in the development of such covenants each partner learns more about the other, time is taken to get it right, and then solemn agreements are reached. Of course, there is a variety of opinions across the Communion about the contents, or even viability, of such an Anglican Covenant, but I think I can say without exception that our ecumenical partners want us to give it a try!    

Of course, I have to point out that – at least in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue – both partners want to be at the table! In ecumenical conversations, we are not willing to place the best of our tradition against the worst of another – because we have learned how destructive that can be for dialogue and eventual communion! In ecumenical dialogue, we have learned to honor difference and to look for common ground where it can be found. In the ecumenical movement, we have learned to respect one another and to assume that – even in disagreement – both partners are seeking to be faithful to God in their own context. Never in ecumenical conversations do we describe ourselves (as we have heard here) as being of “two faiths.” We share one Christian faith!

That does not mean “papering over” genuine disagreement! But it does mean staying together while we each learn from the other. I hope that a similar commitment can emerge among us. I know that is what the Episcopal Church wants.

(This statement also appears in the March 25, 2007 edition of The Living Church magazine)

11 Responses to “What I Told The Primates”

  1. Rev. Peter R. Carey Says:

    Dear Bishop Epting: Why is it that you persist in referring to gay and lesbian people as “homosexuals” (eg above: “the ordination and blessing of homosexual persons”) Groups have a right to be called what they want to be called and gay and lesbian persons have chosen that term. It is only those who hate us and who wish to exclude us who persist in using the term “homosexual”. Would you refer to black people as “negroes” or as “darkies”? I think not and you should stop using “homosexual” unless you wish to signal your hostility to them, something you are now doing. Thank you.
    (Rev.) Peter Carey, Holy Apostles, New York City.

  2. Ann Says:

    It concerns me that Dr. Ephraim Radner is a Board Member of the Institute for Religiona and Democracy – the far right wing group that has been working to break down the progressive mainline churches. More here

  3. driver8 Says:

    This seems a fantasy land to me. Ecumenical dialogues are going to continue come rain, come shine. That’s right and proper and should neither be underestimated nor over emphasised. It’s neither about personal friendships which doubtless exist but about moving towards full visible unity (a hope affirmed, for example, several times in the joint meetings of various Archbishops of Canterbury and Popes).

    There is no doubt that some actions by the Anglican Communion and by TEC in particular have added obstacle after obstacle to the process of working towards full, visible unity with, for example, the Roman Catholic church. How do we know this – the Roman Catholics have repeatedly said so. We may decide to disregard their appeals but can’t say they haven’t told us that it is making things more difficult.

    Just to give one example, I heard the co-chair of ARCIC once say that in his judgement the ordination of women (which he supported) would delay full, visible unity with the Roman Catholic Church by centuries.

    He may be mistaken in this. Yet it is a view of someone at least as involved in the dialogues as Bishop Epting and deserves some kind of honest recognition.

  4. titusonenine » Blog Archive » Bishop Christopher Epting: What I Told The Primates Says:

    […] Read it all. […]

  5. rob roy Says:

    “Rev.” Peter Carey, the term “gay” for male homosexuals is probably the most bizarre moniker ever known. Homosexuals, themselves, have raised the politicization of homosexual medicine to the point where any research in the area is extremely difficult. However, most studies do state that there is a higher incidence of depression and suicide in the male homosexual population. Thus, the “Cage Aux Folles” stereotype that homosexuals are more “gay” than the majority population is just plain silly and any moniker promulgate such stereotypes should be eschewed. The comparison to pejorative terms like blackies for African-American is simply fallacious . (I do have issues with the later term, in that most people would say it was inappropriate for Egyptian-American or white South-African African-American.)

  6. ecubishop Says:

    Mostly, I won’t dignify the above comments with a response…

  7. Tess Says:

    “Gay” and “lesbians” are not inclusive terms though. It leaves out bisexuals, transexuals, pansexuals, drag artists, the fetish community, transvestites, etc. There’s a huge amount of bigotry in the gay and lesbian culture over bisexuals and transexuals, try going to many womyns events being a MtoF person and see how far you get. At least to straights, homosexuality covers everyone.

  8. Ad Orientem Says:

    The only church which has officially broken off dialog with the Episcopal Church is the Russian Orthodox Church and – if I may say – even the Vatican has difficulty sustaining that relationship!

    Most Orthodox Christians are very uncomfortable with the “ecumenical” discussions between TEC and Orthodoxy. I favor severing them altogether. For dialogue to exist there must be some basis upon which to build. That commonality from the POV of Orthodoxy really does not exist. It is rather akin to dialoguing with the Unitarians.

  9. rob k Says:

    AO – In your opinion, of course.

  10. TM Lutas Says:

    The key part of the message:

    Many, though not all, of our partners deal with us, first and foremost, as a global Communion…and only derivatively as a “national church.”

    You currently shelter under the Anglican Communion. To exclude you is to exclude the other, more orthodox parts of the Communion. As a package deal, it’s still worth talking to you.

    Once the package is undone, the calculus changes. Current partners can drop the Episcopal Church without impacting its conversations elsewhere with segments of the old Anglican Communion that are much closer in theology and practice. Some will maintain talks regardless but an unknown number will cease discussions until you come to your senses.

    It’s your choice but don’t kid yourselves as to what’s at stake.

  11. rob roy Says:

    “We have learned to honor difference and to look for common ground where it can be found.”

    What a farce. In a span of mere five days, we have the following examples of the “inclusive” TEc:
    1) Despite obtaining a majority of consents, KJS threw out the election of Mark Lawrence on “hanging chad” argument that would have made Katherine Harris and the pharisees proud.
    2) Raised the middle finger to the primates (including KJS)’s proposal to protect conservatives in the church from INJUSTICES like 1) (where is the social justice that you build the new Christ-less church on?)
    3) Announced the reprehensible prosecution of an 86 year old retired bishop (all the while ignoring open communion at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco).

    How about a new bumper sticker: The Episcopal Church Welcomes You (unless you uphold the sanctity of scripture).

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