Friday, July 21, 2006

A Point of No Return?

A tip of the biretta to Kendall for this one:

The Episcopal Divinity School offers us an essay by Charles Willie, former Vice-President of the House of Deputies of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I reprint here in its entirety:

A Point of No Return for the Episcopal Church in the USA
By: Charles Willie

The contentious relationship between the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America and the worldwide Anglican Communion is appropriately called a “civil war over homosexuality” by the New York Times. I, also, think it is an event of “civil stress” about love and justice. In 1966, Joseph Fletcher, an Episcopal priest on the faculty of the Episcopal Theological School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, wrote a book titled Situation Ethics in which he declared that “love is the boss principle of life” and “justice is love distributed”.

While other institutional systems in society like government, the economy and education identify principles other than love that are central to their mission, certainly love is the foundational principle of religion – all religions. It is our religious responsibility in society to remind other institutions to do what they are called to do in loving and just ways.

Thus, it is a shocking experience to see a religious institution like the Anglican Communion demonize gay couples and lesbian couples who wish to marry and homosexual people who wish to make a sacrificial offering of their leadership skills to the church as priests or bishops. There is no evidence that one’s sexual orientation limits one’s capacity to love others. So, why is the church so upset about women and homosexual people serving as church leaders?

If a group like the Anglican Communion is unwilling to accept the proposition that “all . . . are created equal” as stated in our Declaration of Independence” and that all institutions should “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed”, the Episcopal Church in the United States may have no alternative but to withdraw from a Communion that proclaims homosexual people are not worthy of being church leaders. It is an inappropriate proposal to suggest that the Episcopal Church in the USA may be willing to remain as an associate member of the Anglican Communion without decision-making status if it does not wish to conform to a covenant which may deny gay people the privilege of serving as bishops.

In 1789, the United States established a democratic nation state governed by a Constitution that did not resolve the undemocratic issue of slavery. Two-thirds of a century later we paid dearly for this miscarriage of justice with a civil war that resulted in more that 600,000 deaths and lingering mistrust to this day between some civil districts in the South and North. Can the Episcopal Church in the USA expect a different outcome if it permits itself to be governed by a covenant of the Anglican Communion that discriminates against gay people? I do not think so! For this reason, I believe that the Archbishop has mentioned a proposal that will not work.

Now may be the time when the Episcopal Church in the United States may have to suffer the redemption of its friends elsewhere in the world by showing forth its love for all sorts and conditions of people and by refusing to compromise on this human rights matter.

Charles Willie, past Vice-President of the House of Deputies of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and honorary trustee of Episcopal Divinity School, wrote this reflection following the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Dr. Willie asked EDS to share this reflection with its distribution lists. This reflection may be reprinted in its entirety, including author information. Please contact Nancy Davidge at for additional information.

Although I agree with the general sentiment of this piece, I do have a couple of problems with it. At this time, there is no rush to withdraw from the Anglican Communion, as the Communion as a whole is not insisting that gay and lesbian Christians are second class citizens in the kingdom of God. Withdrawal at this point would be a mistake, it seems to me, as it would leave a void that others will rush to fill, to the detriment of Anglicanism in North America. There may come such a time, however, when we can no longer remain in the Communion in good conscience. It is helpful to remember that we do have the option of walking away. Feeling trapped is not a good place from which to make decisions. But I see no reason for a pre-emptive separation right now.

There is also the assumption that a future Covenant would discriminate against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. That remains to be seen. The claim that a majority of Anglicanism is against the actions of TEC is bounced around a lot, but, when push comes to shove, I think we will find that we have many more supporters than the bouncers expected. The Communion needs TEC as much as TEC needs the Communion. I wouldn't be too quick to assume that we will not be welcomed participants in the crafting of a future Covenant.

As far as having some kind of "associate" status in the Communion, although it doesn't feel just, especially if we are expected to continue to pick up the tab, it might not be such a bad postion to be in for a season. I recall Jesus suggesting to take the lower seat, so to be invited to the higher one by the host. It could be a "walking the extra mile" gesture that might become a bridge of reconciliation.

In the meantime, we need to clean up the mess in our own backyard, so we can stop this incessant debate and get on with the mission of restoring all people to unity with God and one another in Christ.


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