Actions…and Consequences…

While it is no secret that I support the full inclusion of faithful gay and lesbian Christians in the life of the Church, let there be no mistake about the costly nature of such decisions in the life of The Episcopal Church and beyond.

I write this post from Cairo, Egypt where I am attending the annual meeting of the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. This is a body which reports to the Anglican Consultative Council and monitors the activity and progress of the various Provinces of the Anglican Communion in matters ecumenical.

Since our General Convention decisions of 2003, these have been difficult meetings for The Episcopal Church’s representatives as well as our colleagues from the Anglican Church in Canada. Despite warm personal relations with our Church of England, Asian, African, South and West Indian colleagues, we are roundly criticised as Episcopalians for putting major stumbling blocks in the way of Anglican ecumenical relations.

Often cited are the writings of Bishop Spong, the confirmation of the Bishop of New Hamshire by General Convention 2003, and some bishops’ permission for the blessing of same sex unions in their dioceses despite the lack of an official liturgical rite in our church for such an event.

We were received by Pope Shenouda of the Coptic Orthodox Church here in Egypt one morning and subjected to nearly an hour of lecturing by His Holiness on the sins of the Anglican Communion and especially The Episcopal Church. This venerable monk and leader of his ancient church noted all the concerns I have mentioned above. He has actually read at least one of Bishop Spong’s books. And, is not impressed!

It would, of course, have been possible to take exception to much of Pope Shenouda’s hermeneutics, but “state occasions” like this are hardly the place for that. Particularly in a country where Christians are in the huge minority and undergo scrutiny and often severe criticism from their Muslim neighbors. We heard him out, acknowledged the difficulties we face, and asked for his prayers.

What would have been possible, however, had not the official dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox Churches been suspended over our actions, would have been to engage these issues together in a serious dialogue where our perspectives could be given a fair hearing rather than caricatured by the press or by voices from within our own church who wish the world to think that we are teaching some kind of “new faith.”

This is why I believe the Lambeth Conference must happen. No matter who is, or is not, invited and who chooses to come or not to come. Those of us who will be there must sit together, face to face, in the context of prayer, and both share and listen to one another deeply.

Only in this way can the wounds in our particular expression of the Body of Christ begin to be healed and a contribution perhaps made, by Anglicans, for healing the very Body of Christ of which we are a part.         

24 Responses to “Actions…and Consequences…”

  1. rwk Says:

    At Lambeth 1998, the Episcopal Church was warned of the consequences of the actions everyone knew it was going to take. Recent statements from Rome show that the actions of the Episcopal Church also have damaged relations with Rome — not just with the TEC but with the entire Anglican Communion — These are the consequences of being in communion. +Schori’s “yes” to the primates in Tanzania followed by her declaration that she meant “no” in her testimony in the Virginia trial have undermined whatever trust might have remained with most of the primates. I do not doubt that there are cordial relations between persons and you can discuss these issues in private, but I applaud these leaders for keeping a distance between the institutions. Their job is to defend their flock. I’m not trying to be cynical, but it seems to me the Episcopal Church is going to have to “live into” this new reality of its own making. The warning was clear, the decision was TEC’s to make and the consequences followed. TEC chose its agenda of inclusion over the unity of the greater church. TEC may be right, but to assume all of this was in any way a surprise is not possible. I would note that, these are also consequences that would have been reaped had not one parish, and we will soon likely add “diocese”, left the Episcopal Church.

    The reaction of more than one Global South primate has been,”What purpose does Lambeth serve if its decisions are so easily and quickly cast aside?”. It seems clear that Lambeth 1998 didn’t even so much as “pause” the TEC agenda and for that I can see their point. I don’t think Global South primates will actually think they are being “listened to” given the past 10 years. Does TEC’s “yes” mean “yes” and “no” mean “no”?

    One broader point here is that it seems to me that this attitude of TEC probably comes across globally as yet another manifestation of American “exceptionalism” or “imperialism”. “We’re the most advanced, richest, most powerful, most progressive, we know what’s right.” The Americans will do as they please and there is little point in discussing things with them or making treaties or covenants or agreements. They will only support them if they seem them to their advantage. Most of the rest of the world sees little difference between the attitudes of 815 2nd Ave. and 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

  2. thomas bushnell, bsg Says:

    can we hear, maybe just once, maybe just a little, a tiny bit, please, just a tad, of awareness on the part of the folks in the middle east and central africa and northern south america of the effects their decisions have on our mission?

    or does our local context just not count?

    actions have consequences. every time akinola says that gays are evil, we must think of another suicidal youth in america who is pushed over the edge and takes his life, despairing.

    yes, actions have consequences. the house of bishops seems not to spend much energy on the consequences here at home. lives are at stake in these discussions!

    if the episcopal church capitulates, lives will be lost.

    but of course, queer lives. not really worth much in the grand accounting, i suppose. even the house of bishops could say that we must name oppressors, but has not actually, well, named them.

  3. thomas bushnell, bsg Says:

    if it is appropriate for Pope Shenouda to lecture us, is it not appropriate for us to return the favor? or is ecumenical diplomacy a one-sided affair?

    can we ask about the condition of gays and lesbians in egypt? can we ask about the condition of women in Pope Shenouda’s churches? or are these concerns not real?

    are we allowed to have our own convictions too?

    it seems we are playing a double game, and this is the usual failure of liberalism. we are trying both to have our own convictions, and to avoid saying anything contrary to the other guy’s convictions. the other guys will always win at that game.

    and the accusation is that we are weak and uncertain and unable to stand up for truth. we only make that stronger when we won’t stand up for our own opinions.

    can you take it as your mission not to be an ambassador rather than the secretary general of the un? do you understand what difference i’m reflecting here?

  4. thomas bushnell, bsg Says:

    oops i meant rather not to be the secretary general and to instead, please be an ambassador.

  5. thomas bushnell, bsg Says:

    i should add that i agree with your thesis. we should talk with anyone who will talk with us.

    but we should not accept as a condition of talking that we silence ourselves about our own convictions.

    this is exactly what happened in 1998, when so many bishops abstained from the key vote; this is what happened when we didn’t participate in the ACC meeting; this is what happens when our presiding bishops go along with decisions of the Primates’ meeting; this is what happens when the house of bishops says “we must speak up against oppression!” and then doesn’t actually do so.

    so i agree 100% that we must participate in lambeth and encourage everyone else to do the same. we must accept the imperfect invitation list, and come. and, once there, do not be silent; stand up for your own people.

    gay people have no one to speak for us but well-meaning straight people, because you all have done a very good job at keeping gay people out of the conversation. having made sure that the queers won’t have the right to speak at Lambeth, we must now look to you to do our speaking for us. if you do not speak for us, then nobody will. and lives are at stake.

  6. ecubishop Says:

    Well, clearly I’m not the Secretary General! I try to be an ambassador. Sometimes ambassadors speak; sometimes they listen. Yesterday was a day to listen. I speak in dialogue groups…I speak publically…I speak in the House of Bishops. And what I speak about is God’s grace and unconditional love we have experienced in Jesus, and about the need for Christians to be united in proclaiming that message to a dying world.

    And sometimes ambassadors let the actions of their “sending bodies” do the talking for them. The General Convention consented to Gene Robinson’s election, we have many gay and lesbian clergy and lay people in our churches, we speak out for the safety and protection of gay and lesbian persons, we provide various levels of pastoral care for them. Are we blameless? Or course not. Is the direction clear? I believe it is.

  7. thomas bushnell, bsg Says:

    i’m very glad to hear you say that. 😉 i know it is the truth, and that it is what you say, and i hope you don’t think i am distrustful. i am anxious (obviously!) and fretful.

    i have just been attuned recently to the apparent assymmetry of these conversations, as if the question were “has the episcopal church done wrong or not” and everyone else’s morally problematic acts are not on the table and not for discussion.

  8. Diane Says:

    If I’m understanding him correctly, in the first paragraph rwk refers to a warning from Lambeth and then in the second paragraph calls it a decision. When some equate the two and others don’t there’s bound to be a lot of talking past one another.

    My recollection is that the PB said when she signed the Tanzania Communique that she was only agreeing to bring it to TEC because she had no authority to accept or reject it, that authority rests in the Church.

    Again, when some recognize the difference and others don’t communication breaks down.

  9. Bill Moorhead Says:

    I’m having a little trouble understanding why it was not okay for TEC to take actions which the majority of us thought we needed to take for the sake of the Gospel, but which we did not claim to impose on anyone else, but it’s completely okay for several other Provinces to wet their cassocks in outrage against one more example of Yankee Imperialism; it’s apparently just fine for them to impose their ideas on us. (Anyone who can’t tell the difference between 815 and 1600 needs new glasses.)

    Apparently it’s appropriate that for the sake of the unity of the Communion we throw 5-10% of our people under the bus. As it says in the Scripture, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not say, ‘Well, I need to take care of the ninety-nine, so too bad about the one who got lost.'”

    No, wait — I guess that’s not what the Scripture says…

  10. rwk Says:

    We are talking past two different issues here. One is unity, the other is inclusion. These are two things greatly valued but clearly in conflict. My point was, and I will admit to be more than a little agitated this morning when I drafted my comment, that TEC was clearly informed that its push for inclusion would damage the unity of the church. Not just the Episcopal Church but of the Anglican Communion and the its relations with the rest of the Christian world. TEC chose its course, which it has a right to do, but the consequences should not have been a surprise.

    With regards to whether what you term as “full inclusion of gays and lesbians” is correct scripturally is still a matter of debate for the vast majority of Christendom (if I may use the antiquated term) — although apparently no longer in TEC. I think TEC pushed too hard, too fast. It was willing to take on as allies leaders like +Spong, who were clearly hostile to the most basic Christian doctrines. So it should not be a surprise when someone, like myself, looks askance at the movement. It may be that TEC is correct. If I come to that conclusion, I’ll repent and ask for forgiveness, and if you are christians (and I’m not saying you’re not) you’re called to forgive me, not just once — but seventy times seven times. But is there any scenario in which you might imagine you were wrong?

    Thomas, there are some things we agree on. I believe the General Convention and House of Bishops have spent the last decade obfuscating and refusing to take a bold stance. I would have more respect for the innovation if it was at least done with conviction. All of the parsing of words and political games with Windsor and B033 strike me as suspect, evidence of a group that wants to have its cake and eat it too. For example, +Bruno’s statements at the last HoB meeting that same sex blessing occurred in his diocese without his knowledge is just not credible and this was from a bishop in a diocese where such a stance would earn him copius praise.

    I will have to disagree about +Schori in Tanzania. By all accounts there were no qualifactions to her “yes” in front of the primates. The qualifications were given upon her return. In her testimony in the Virginia trial she said she did not agree with the statement from Tanzania. For all concerned, her “no” would have been better in Tanzania than over a year later in Fairfax.

    TEC could have walked apart, taken a bold stance and if this is truly “a new work of the Spirit” the rest of the Christian world would be chastened and humbled, maybe slowly at first — but if it is the work of God it will come to pass. However, that does not seem to be the thinking from the leadership of TEC. I submit the example of +Lee, who had worked out a much more Christian resolution to our divisions that would have left us much closer together and thereby making reconciliation much more likely. 815 wanted an all or nothing strategy that was guaranteed to drive us further apart both at home and abroad.

    I have struggled with these issues. It’s not as if I flip open the Bible and say,”yep, that settles it.” These are difficult issues. My views regarding gays and lesbians have changed substantially over the years. Maybe they will change more, I can’t know. There are questions I would like to ask, but honest listening is hard to come by.

    I would also like to apologize for some of my language from this morning. I find the last paragraph a bit over the top, although I still see some truth in it. Clearly this is an issue we all feel deeply about. I don’t look out at those I disagree with and see “heretics”, although I do feel you are in error. I hope you feel similarily.

    Go with my prayers,

    RWK

  11. ecubishop Says:

    rwk: Of course, there are scenarios in which I could admit that I am wrong on this issue! I question my position (and many other of my positions) on a nearly daily basis! It’s the kind of mind I have.

    I suppose that, if I were to cease seeing lives of Christian holiness and dedication being exercised by gay and lesbian clergy and laity, that would raise serious questions. But this has yet to happen.

    When I dialogue with thoughtful conservatives like you and not simplistic “black-and-white-answer” Christians, that causes me to think ever more deeply about these matters.

  12. rwk Says:

    Thank you, +Epting. This is one of the few corners of cyberspace in either camp where the opposing view isn’t me with slings and arrows. If anyone wishes to engage on a one-on-one level I am always open to that.

  13. rwk Says:

    sorry, “isn’t met with slings and arrows”

  14. Kendall Harmon Says:

    The ecumenical damage to the church in Egypt vy the actions of the Episcopal Church is hard to calculate. I applaud Bishop Epting for recognizing this. This also deeply impacts Christian-Muslim dialogue in the region.

    I hope Bishop Epting did not intend this, but he comes off as quite condescending here:

    ” He has actually read at least one of Bishop Spong’s books…”

    I do not think this is a helpful or constructive way to speak of the Pope of the Coptic Church.

  15. bls Says:

    And again “ecumenical damage” (or something, whatever it happens to be this time) trumps the incalculable damage done to gay people by church and its minions. So what else is new?

    Apparently it never occurs to anybody that it’s time for “Christians” and Muslims to look at themselves and at last repent of their viciousness towards innocent people who aren’t hurting anybody else? Br. Thomas isn’t speaking rhetorically above.

    Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time the Church has engaged in this sort of dreadful damage to innocent people; it has a long, sad history of such damage, and nobody’s forgotten, believe me. When I take a look at Jesus Christ on one hand, and the Church on the other, I often wonder what possible relationship there could be between the two.

    And so do lots of other people, BTW. Now you know why the churches in the West continue to empty out…..

  16. ecubishop Says:

    Kendall:

    Just amazing how we ascribe motives to someone else without asking for clarification. I was impressed and amazed that His Holiness, Pope Shenouda would have taken the time and expended the energy to read one of Jack Spong’s books. He may have read more than one, but since he only mentioned one, I thought it correct to sa that I know he had read “at least one.” Whether it was “helpful or constructive” or not, I was speaking what I knew to be true. Absolutely no disrespect intended…quite the contrary.

  17. rwk Says:

    The Episcopal Church is offering the “safe place” for gays that you require/request. The next General Convention will probably see sweeping innovations which will pale in comparison to the past. The Diocese of Northern California, LA, Newark, Chicago among others are more than safe havens. What the Episcopal Church is not doing is letting those who disagree with this innovation do anything other than abandon all they too have also worked for. The Episcopal Church is asking that the rest of the Communion accept this, despite the warning that it would be divisive. Once again, +Lee tried to do this in a respectful way to keep us in “as close in communion as possible”, but the effort was nixed by 815.

    Why are parishes, and now dioceses, leaving an assault on gays? It would seem it would clear the deck of obstructionists. TEC could stride forward boldly as the prophetic church it claims to be and fulfill the entire “gospel of inclusion”. It could possibly mean separation from the rest of historic Christianity for a time, but the life of a prophet was never a pleasant one. What I find difficult is that the TEC wants the role of a prophet while still being able to live a comfortable life of a priest in the Temple.

  18. Christopher Epting Says:
  19. Christopher Says:

    Well, personally, I am distrustful. As a gay man, I see very little in our bishops’ actions worthy of trust or confidence. At every turn we have liberal bishops making statements that are outright insulting and don’t bother to ask a gay person before saying yet one more “fast”, “crucified place” or “be concerned about life and death issues” type of thing. I don’t expect our bishops will speak up for the queers. The track record shows to clearly that when push comes to shove, we’re expendable.

  20. Christopher Says:

    Not too mention, this gets thrown around a lot without asking actual gay people what might be most helpful, “we provide various levels of pastoral care for them”. From what I’ve seen, on the most part, much of it is on the lowest level.

  21. rwk Says:

    Christoper, in some ways we agree. Currently, I can see your point. Full-inclusion, as likely defined by yourself and others is not a reality in TEC, although it is an operational reality in many dioceses. I am assuming full-inclusion would mean the ordination of openly gay persons would not even raise an eyebrow and the same for SSBs. Now, would the gay community be able to “live with” a fully-inclusive Episcopal Church that would likely be separated in some significant way from the rest of the Anglican Communion — possibly permanently, although maybe for a time? I know that’s not what the liberals in TEC want, but that seems to be the reality we are facing. Maybe God will do something else. This hearkens back to my previous comment about TEC wanting to be prophetic but not wanting all that comes with it. I am sure Jonah, Jeremiah, Isaisha and all the prophets, would much rather have preferred to give their message in an easier way — I mean, who really wants to live in the desert or be thrown in a hole and left to die? Finally, thank you for responding in a most helpful and informative way that did not lead us down some other rabbit hole on this issue — goodness knows the last few years have generated one mighty big warren. +Epting, this was one of the few times I’ve seen “listening” — even via the internet — go both ways.

  22. ecubishop Says:

    Thanks, rwk…

  23. Linda in Iowa Says:

    “gay people have no one to speak for us but well-meaning straight people, because you all have done a very good job at keeping gay people out of the conversation. having made sure that the queers won’t have the right to speak at Lambeth, we must now look to you to do our speaking for us. if you do not speak for us, then nobody will.”

    Thomas, thank you for saying this. We are indeed shut out of the conversation, especially at Lambeth. All we can do is to pray that others’ consciences will compel them to speak on our behalf. As I remind students, it took men to vote to give U.S. women the vote; and white people to give black people in the U.S. legal equality. It will take heterosexual people with the courage to ‘stick their necks out’ for us to remove the yoke from our necks as well. I also remind myself that as a white, middle-class woman I must use my race and class privilege for the benefit of those to whom it is denied.

    We are, truly, our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

    Peace,
    Linda

  24. Kendall Harmon Says:

    Bishop Epting, thanks for the clarification. I confess there is no way I would have come up with that interpretation but that is why requests for clarification and responses thereto are so helpful.

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