The Archbishop’s Advent Letter

It seems a very wise thing for Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to welcome, as she has done, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advent letter to the Primates’ suggesting, among other things, that he personally invite to the table representatives of The Episcopal Church and those who are most upset with some of its recent decisions. Far from imposing some kind of preconceived solutions or an extra-provincial council of some kind, this seems to be perfectly in line with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s role and may actually be helpful in the run-up to the Lambeth Conference next summer.

There were some very tough things said about The Episcopal Church in his letter. And one wonders why we continue to be singled out on the issue of the blessing of same sex unions when it is going on all around the Anglican Communion, and in other Christian communions, ‘under the radar screen.’ Nonetheless, there was also appreciation for the hard work done by The Episcopal Church, and its bishops, and a recognition that we have probably gone about as far as we can right now in seeking to clarify our position with respect to the Windsor Report and the Primates’ requests from Dar Es Salaam.

As always, with Rowan Williams’ writing, I shall want to take some time to parse it more deeply instead of making some kind of knee jerk response (of which there will be, I am sure, many!). He has rightly summarized our current difficulties as being every bit as much about the scripture and ecclesiology (especially the ministry of bishops) as about Christian ethics and the presenting issue of the place of gay and lesbian persons in the Church.

All topics we very much need to continue discussing — at the Lambeth Conference…and in our “advent preparation” for it.

25 Responses to “The Archbishop’s Advent Letter”

  1. rwk Says:

    The letter certainly warrants reading and re-reading. On other issues, I think the Episcopal Church has been singled out because it has led the way and been most vocal. If you want to be on point, you had better expect to take fire. These things should be expected when one dons the mantle of “prophet”. I think all sides in this debate will find themselves shaking their heads “yes” to some things and “no” to others. I am grateful, finally, for the recognition that TEC has not given space to conservatives. Even +Schori admitted as such to +Schofield in one of her recent letters.

    To the homosexual readers of this site, I can understand there will be intense frustration at this letter as well. I’ve already seen Integrity’s response. There are more shades of grey on the conservative/reasserting side than we are often given credit for. I’ll once again put forward an offer to chat at length with anyone privately on these issues…that’s where the real listening process starts.

  2. Wm Paul Says:

    “And one wonders why we continue to be singled out on the issue of the blessing of same sex unions when it is going on all around the Anglican Communion, and in other Christian communions, ‘under the radar screen.’”

    Because of the fracturing going on in our church; because KJS is advocating lawsuits; and because it is a matter of integrity not to do ‘under the radar’ that which has been for 2,000 years proscribed and still has not, a Williams makes clear, been received and adopted by the church.

  3. Craig Goodrich Says:

    With all due respect to both Bishop Epting and rwk, one point that the ABC clearly emphasizes is that the TEC side of the matter has been exhaustively (and exhaustingly) presented and the time for a “listening process” is over, except possibly for yet another try at facilitated negotiation.

    Two additional points about the “listening process” need to be made (once again) —

    First, the phrase originally referred to listening with a view towards developing a more effective and compassionate pastoral approach to the homosexually tempted; it most definitely did not envision any change in the Church catholic’s doctrines on sexual ethics.

    Second, over the last dozen or more years it has become quite clear that any listening that occurs is purely unidirectional; the “progressive” side of the conflict has shown no inclination whatever to address or even make an effort to understand the concerns of those who hold to the teachings of the Church universal, preferring instead to continue shouting “homophobia! bigotry!” and performing rote recitations of the shellfish argument.

    The major underlying theme of the ABC’s letter is that TEC’s progressives have lost the argument, and the question now remaining is how the Communion should deal with the situation.

  4. ecubishop Says:

    Just a point for rwk: You have made the point more than once that “if you want to be on point, you had better expect to take fire” or words to that effect. In other words, if you really believe you are being “prophetic” don’t be surprised if you are criticized and/or marginalized. I agree.

    I think many of us are willing to undergo the kind of marginalization you describe if it comes to that. But I don’t think the prophets relished what happened to them…it just came with the territory. I also sometimes wonder if all the prophets were *absolutely* and at all times clear that they *were* being “prophetic.” They just did what they believed they were being led to do and suffered the consequences.

    We may be wrong on this, but we want to be at the table — both to speak and to listen — but in a dialogical and respectful way, not lobbing verbal grenades at one another across the oceans and across the internet.

  5. rwk Says:

    Let’s hope this is one corner where we can listen.

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  7. Bettina Says:

    The idea that it is “under the radar screen.” does not make it acceptable.

    If people insist on the listening process, they should not be offended when they are heard.

  8. dwstroudmd Says:

    Bishop Epting,
    I refer you to your post of 24 September 2007 regarding the HOB meeting and your experience in Louisiana:

    With this letters crystal clarity regarding why it is that ECUSA/TEC is “singled out”, I must ask if the pillories for you and other bishops there at 815 have yet been erected? Or will it be in Times Square?

    As Ecumenical Relations point man, do you actually maintain that what the ECUSA/TEC has wrought amongst itself, the Anglican Communion, and our relations with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, leaves ANY DOUBT as to the cause? I don’t suppose a person in your position rose to it by an inability to read responses to the errors of the ECUSA/TEC written by such respondents nor their actions in repudiating prior efforts and negation of on-going efforts towards ecumenicity.

    Really, Sir, this suggests a lack of connection on much more than merely the Louisiana hinterland backwaters. It seems much more like invincible ignorance in the Roman construction of that term.

  9. ecubishop Says:

    to dwstroudmd:

    I do not respond to diatribes or personal attacks on this blog. I have too many thoughtful correspondents who know how to disagree respectfully.

  10. dwstroudmd Says:

    It was neither a diatribe nor a personal attack, Sir. I did not write the September blog, I merely recalled it. Why should I imagine your life in NYC being made the subject of pillory-ing unless you had initiated the process?

    Do you really hold that the actions of ECUSA/TEC are NOT responsible for the “singling out” you make of complaint?

    I have yet to read of a single advance in ecumenical relations as a result of ECUSA/TEC’s actions. Perhaps with with advantages you can cite some.
    As a physician I scarcely consider the patiernt’s request of for more information or a second opinion either a personal attack nor a diatribe. It goes with the job. I merely question in follow up of your reports.

  11. ecubishop Says:

    Well, I should think full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (part of a worldwide rapproachment between Anglicans and Lutherans), interim Eucharistic sharing with the Moravian Church, and the United Methodist Church (again part of a global conversation) would be three examples of “advance(s) in ecumenical relations by The Episcopal Church.

  12. Linda in Iowa Says:

    “I think many of us are willing to undergo the kind of marginalization you describe if it comes to that.”

    I cannot begin to tell you how much these words mean to LGBT Episcopalians like me. Thank you.

  13. dwstroudmd Says:

    Sir thank you for the positives. I had noted your accurate report of the negatives in the Ecumenical realm on your December 7 posting. The official report is here: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/news.cfm/2007/12/17/ACNS4355

    The marginalization of other Christians as a result of ECUSA/TECan antics, which Pope Shenouda clearly enumerated by your own post is of no consequence then? You question his hermeneutics. Have your ever considered seriously that the hermeneutic at work in ECUSA/TEC is faulty. We now have the Orthodox, the Roman, and the Coptic Church at odds with us in very clear terms. It is hardly likely that the talks were broken off because of the intransigence of the Copts. By your own account they note that is the ECUSA/TEC intransigence that is the stumbling block. Have you any response to that reality aside from asserting the superiority you believe ECUSA/TECan hermaneutics must OBVIOUSLY have. Because it seems that that hermeneutic is precisely what is called into question by these Christians as THE stumbling block within Anglicanism and between others and Anglicanism.

    I note that the progress you cite is in 3 American churches related to ECUSA/TEC. That is some sort of progress. But it ignores the embeddedness of those in the same cultural milieu and same social mores as background. Do you not think that if the ECUSA/TEC hermeneutic were as viable as you seem to think it as an alleged move of the Holy Spirit, it would receive rather wide acceptance and approval among widely dispersed and diverse Christians? In short, it the Holy Spirit confined to post-Enlightenment, Western materialistic cultural mores as the only mode of revealing truth or might He be speaking a profound word to ECUSA/TEC by the majority of Christians in the world?

    Thank you for your time and attention to these questions.

  14. ecubishop Says:

    The Episcopal Church has sought to marginalize no other Christians although we have certainly been marginalized by some. And, of course, our hermeneutics may be wrong. We do not attempt to force them upon any who so believe. All we ask is for the grace to follow where we believe we are being led. Let’s let God do the judging for a change.

    No, I do not believe that IF all this is “an alleged move of the Holy Spirit, it would receive rather wide acceptance and approval among widely dispersed and diverse Christians?” Over time, perhaps (IF we are “right”) but certainly not right away. Christian history (and even human history) would demonstrate that new developments, or insights, are rarely received uncritically early on.

    Nor should they be. Undoubtedly, discernment takes time and prayer and dialogue…and living with ambiguity for a while. That’s all we ask.

  15. dwstroudmd Says:

    And if the discernment is “No”?

  16. ecubishop Says:

    We shall be mentioned in an interesting footnote in church history texts.

  17. dwstroudmd Says:

    The last implies an assurance of correctness on your part that belies any other response than to keep on the current track of the ECUSA/TEC. Is there no possibility of correction of the path currently obsessing the ECUSA/TEC into marginalization of the rest of the AC except for those who agree with this course? In short, given a resounding “No” is ECUSA/TEC incapable of repentance? I foresee another communion around ECUSA/TEC of short duration and separate from the Anglican Communion as currently constituted.

    By the by, in a paper for Church History second semester at the Episcopal School for Ministry (Diocese of Missouri) 2007, I made the same conclusion. It so upset the Professor that he showed the paper to the Head of the Diocesan Committee on Ministry and the Bishop without consulting me. The bishop, George Wayne Smith, and I had a little chat about it at his request. May I reference your conclusion to His Grace as agreeing in spirit, if not -perhaps- in tone with mine? I find it highly encouraging that I arrived at the same conclusion as yourself though from a different take on the matters in hand. We shall see if we are diagnosticians indeed or seers indeed!

    Pax Christi in 2008 et aeturnum!

  18. ecubishop Says:

    No “assurance of correctness” at all. I have said more than once that “we may be wrong on this.” But, we do not believe we are, so “repentance” (beyond that which we have already expressed for the pain and brokenness our decisions have caused) would be hypocritical.

    If we are “right” (how I hate this kind of simplistic dichotomy) then history will reveal it. If we are “wrong” history will reveal that as well. Until that kind of “judgment day” we simply ask for some modicum of respect and a place at the table.

    You may share anything in this web log with my friend Wayne Smith that you like. Hopefully, it will be done in context and with the kind of even handedness I try to achieve in these postings.

  19. dwstroudmd Says:

    Well, thank you for permission to share. I shall send the entire discussion in hard copy to Bishop Smith with a cover letter pointing out the salient interchanges between us and the pertinent conclusion. That’s as contextual as I can get, I believe.

    The precipitous movements in the ordination of Bishop Robinson in the face of the concerted expressed written disapproval of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the emergency meeting of the Primates does not – in your mind – constitute a marginalization of the rest of the Anglican Communion? That is an interesting viewpoint. Again using a schoolmaster metaphor (cf. Christmas I readings in Galatians), if I ignore all the advice from my various professors in matters of preaching, interpretational hermeneutics, ethics, theology, and preaching and modes of expression, do you think I should be kept at the table when disrupting the school by my actions, or is there a place for discipline by the larger body and its constituted organizational network (purely hypothetical, of course)? Mainstreaming in the secular school has proven less than spectacular in its results given the comparative SATs and ACTs over time. Should there be remediation to the slow and advancement to the achieving or should the whole have to slog on together to an insipid mediocrity?

    And you overlooked, perhaps, my prediction of the separatist fate of the ECUSA/TEC as a corollary to its footnote status. Would you concur, have no opinion, or vehemently disagree? I agree with the ABC that if one takes the prophetic stance one must be prepared to be wrong, even though one “feels” certainty. I should love to be proven in error. In which case I should acknowledge the facts, abase myself, and go forward. I do not sense such a willingness on the part of those holding ECUSA/TEC’s “prophetic” stance.

    But, assuming I err in this as well, what steps do you think would be sufficient for ECUSA/TEC to take to reconcile its current stance with the Anglican Communion, the Roman Catholic Communion, the Orthodox Communion, the Evangelical communion, the Reformed communion, and the Pentecostal communion?

  20. ecubishop Says:

    “Slogging on together to an insipid mediocrity.” A sad way to describe the Body of Christ.

    I prefer the Pauline analogy of the body, full of diversity, with its many members, each respecting even “the lesser parts.”

    What steps do I think sufficient for reconciliation? Lambeth, work on the Covenant, allow the four “instruments of Communion” to develop and carry out the functions we all agree they should perform.

  21. dwstroudmd Says:

    Well, our Head isn’t about “insipid mediocrity” however much humans may be. He said that bit about “if the salt has lost its savor, it is fit only to be thrown out and trampled upon”. Corollary to being “spewed out” out for “lukewarmness”, it seems. And I wholeheartedly agree that you and I and the Lord Jesus Christ seem to be in agreement that “slogging on together toward an insipid mediocrity” is an intolerable description of the Body. There is agreement amongst us all on that.

    Which leads to a discussion of what constitutes “saltiness” and what needs to be salt and what salted. Cultural accomodation to indistinguishability would seem the very definition of “insipidity” or “lack of saltiness” of the Body, would it not? A Body which knew no more of flavor than that would have offered the pinch of incense and merely civil worship of the Emperor in the name of diversity. Yet such was stoutly resisted, even to the death!, in the days of the nascent Church.

    Cultural accomodation attempts within the assembly of the called out to the sexual mores of the times is no new phenomenon. Paul and Jesus are both rather straightforward on the subject. Why is the stance you advocate different from those of the surrounding culture of Second Temple Judaism in Jesus’ Incarnation and of the Greco-Roman-Judaic world of Paul? Why is that each of these, to mention only two with their post-exilic and intertestamental rabbinical understandings, stand in the Tradition in opposition to your stated stance, and what reason have you that I should listen to you rather than they? To ‘corinthianize’ was a byword for licentiousness in sexuality that Paul stood against rather pointedly – even to the shunning of persistent sinners within the church of Corinth. Jesus, in his revelation of God to John the Revelator, repeatedly makes the same injunctions and speaks of eternal shunning sought by those who embraced such behaviors.

    I note you again avoid the separatist issues at play in the ECUSA/TEC by deed and word, though I will undertake that you meant the steps you outline sufficient for reconciliation IF the ECUSA/TEC accords itself with Lambeth I.10, adheres to the Covenant approved by the Communion, submits itself to the current Instruments of Communion, and functions within the mutuality, interdependence, subsidiarity, and trust necessary to return to the Anglican Communion as outlined in the Windsor Report.

    Nonetheless, you still avoid the steps necessary to reconcile to the other-than-Anglican Communions and communions I named. Perhaps because they stand united against the innovations you support? – and are not malleable to the agenda of the ECUSA/TEC due to funding issues as some allege the dependent Provinces and certain Anglican agencies and agents are?- and find themselves absented from conversations by ECUSA/TEC’s precipitious actions and words and the discordance caused thereby?

    Ecumenism does not mean that “we” do all the talking and “they” do all the listening until “they” see it “our” way, does it? Such an attitude seems hardly of the Christian oikemene.

  22. ecubishop Says:

    Frankly, at least in the States, “other communions” are quite sympathetic to our struggles around human sexuality. They have their “official positions” but, like the Church of England, are fully aware of their many gay (and sometimes lesbian) clergy and laity and that their hierarchs would just much prefer not to talk about it.

    We certainly do not intend to “do all the talking” while “they listen.” But we need a good bit of both talking and listening if we’re going to sort our way though these complexities, being faithful to the tradition and yet also cognizant of new understandings in science and anthropolgy.

  23. dwstroudmd Says:

    Precisely which new “understandings in science and anthropology” and appropriate references, please. There is quite a bit of slinging about of the terms by persons with no grasp of the realities of real science. There is no conclusive study, for instance, about the origins of homosexuality, yet many say that “science” proves it an unalterable “given”. Of course, these same users of “science” would reject the grounds of “The God Gene” on quite the same scientific grounds as the “science” of their statements about homosexuality should be rejected. Not that straining at gnats and swallowing camels is an altogether 20th or 21st century phenomenon, but it is certainly a highly selective one in the ECUSA/TEC.

    Anthropologically, I should need clear citations to understand your reference. Merriam Webster’s Medical Dictionary defines it thusly:
    the science of humans; especially : the study of humans in relation to distribution, origin, classification, and relationship of races, physical character, environmental and social relations, and culture. We have some rather egregious examples of the alleged prevalence of homosexuality, for instance Kinsey’s much abused 10% of the population, versus the reality of 2-3% in current study. I was myself taught the former in medical school as an axiom of practice. Alas, twenty-plus years on, both scientifically and experientially, I know the numbers to be much more like 2-3% rather than the former. Now, the use of victim status in social relations provides an excellent anthropological study. And the remarkable progress of the agendization of the ECUSA/TEC by the pro-homosexualist factions within the hierarchy and laity will undoubtedly be the source of future PhD dissertations in the subject in the future. But I cannot see where you intended the remark to apply.

    You fail, again, to address the separatist tendencies of the ECUSA/TEC. Is it that you see it with the same eye as science and anthropology? Or do you wish to avoid the “mene, mene, tekel, parsin” moment of truth? Or do you feel it is really all the fault of the “others” in the Anglican Communion who are “forcing” the ECUSA/TEC to face the disparity between itself and the Body of Christ catholic and teaching what has been taught for 4 millenia in regards to sexual morality issues and choose its allegiance betwixt that and alleged “new understandings in science and anthropology” which suit its cultural relativism?

  24. ecubishop Says:

    I do not believe that science has proved the unalterable nature of homosexuality. I do believe that the weight of evidence points in this direction. Of course, even were that to be proven true, there is still the question of behavior and choices people make about how they live their lives (i.e. the rather tiresome comparison between ‘inherited’ alcoholism and the need — nonetheless — of abstinence for those so afflicted).

    While the Church makes its way painfully forward in dealing with this “issue” there are millions of God’s children simply trying to do the best they can with the cards they have been dealt whether by nature or (lack of) nurture. They are not “pro homosexualists.” They are human beings. Whether 10 or 2 per cent is quite beside the point.

    I have said all I intend to say about whatever you believe “the separatist tendencies” of The Episcopal Church to be. We are a a constituent member of the worldwide Anglican Communion and intend to continue to be.

    By the way, I do not know why you continue to use the strange designation “ECUSA/TEC” to refer to The Episcopal Church. ECUSA has never been a proper canonical designation for our church. We are either the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America or The Episcopal Church.

    Our overseas Provinces — in Central and South America, Taiwan, and Europe — have asked us to use the proper term The Episcopal Church (TEC) out of respect to their geographical and national origins. We have agreed to do this, the Anglican Communion office has agreed, and I would appreciate it if you would call us by the name we call ourselves.

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