March 22, 2007

The Episcopal House of Bishops: "Here I Stand"

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 6:45 pm

This is just so cool. I usually leave blogging on the Episcopal “troubles” to Father Jake and other Episcopalians better able to talk about Anglican politics, but this just demands some comment.

The new “Reformation” is a way-overused metaphor — the second Reformation has been declared hundreds of times, without it having happened yet. (Hmmm…reminds me of the second coming.) So I’m not about to call this equivalent to Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses on the Wittenburg church door. But it certainly is reminiscent of Luther’s pivotal statement “here I stand…I can do no other.”

As Christians of a progressive persuasion, we are very good at listening, at empathizing, understanding the other side’s hurt, at walking a mile in their shoes. We look to reach compromise, to make everyone happy, or at least leave no one upset. And this is a good thing, a Christ-like thing, that we should never lose.

But at some point, compromise requires compromising the very Gospel itself. At some point, compromise requires us to stop being faithful servants of Christ. It is at this point that we must, with Luther, state that here I stand, I can do no other.

It seems the Episcopal House of Bishops has reached just such a point. They have issued “A Communication to The Episcopal Church from the March 2007 Meeting of the House of Bishops.” This is essentially an answer to the Anglican Primates from around the world who have been poaching congregations in the US, and in the Dar es Salaam Primates meeting, demanded a mechanism for foreign pastoral oversight of Episcopal churches that dissent from the ordaining of gay Bishops.

The first part of the communication recounts the Episcopal Church’s repeated attempts to reconcile with the conservatives in the world-wide Anglican Communion, particularly those from the global south, and how those attempts have been repeatedly rebuffed. They make it clear that they have been trying to do all the listening/working together/empathizing/compromising stuff for quite a while, to no avail. It appears that Dar es Salaam has become the equivalent of a papal bull that the conscience of the House of Bishops will not tolerate:

We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God’s children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ’s Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God’s children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ’s Church. We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué is distressingly silent on this subject. And, contrary to the way the Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council have represented us, we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God’s truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision.

The rest of the communication is a rather forceful rejection of the demands made on the Episcopal Church by the Primates at Dar es Salaam.

As I have often thought regarding my own denomination, schism is not something to be avoided at any cost. At some point, faithful following of our Christ requires us to say “no” to compromise. I have no idea how this will play out in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, but if the price to avoid schism is to recant on this statement from the House of Bishops, then it seems far too high a price to pay.


  1. Bob, I love you, but:

    First Reformation: Defending the biblical doctrine of justification by faith

    Second Reformation: Defending a man’s right to stick his penis up another man’s butt

    Please tell me you don’t really think this is what Christianity is about…

    Comment by SDH — March 25, 2007 @ 8:40 am

  2. SDH, as a bisexual woman, I appreciate that you have left me out of your picture of what the “second” reformation is about. I suspect that you would defend my right to sleep with my husband, que no? Because you and I would agree that marriage is so much more than that act. Indeed, at our age my husband and I most frequently *sleep* together. But if by chance I had instead fallen in love with another woman and had wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, the only mental image you would have of us appears to be the sexual act–not the kind of knowledge one has of a person one has lived with for 35 years, not the comfort of a long-distance phone call when one of us has to be away, not late-night conversations about the nature of God, not sweetly holding hands during a sad movie. Although I can’t guarantee that, since perhaps the hold-up for you has to do with the idea that *men* have sex with other men, and that somehow that makes you less of a (I’m guessing) man?

    God blesses love, wherever it is genuine, and God blesses the fight for justice, which is what this reformation is about.

    Comment by Klondike — March 25, 2007 @ 10:13 am

  3. Thank you for such an eloquent response to SDH, Klondike. Personally, it amazes me how obsessed some people seem to be with what I may or may not do with my lover when we retire to the bedroom. (After all, let’s not forget that not all gay men even participate in anal sex.)

    Comment by Jarred — March 25, 2007 @ 5:24 pm

  4. This was just a reminder of an often overlooked fact in this issue. Whatever else may be involved, sodomy is at the heart of it. Wrap it up it whatever ethical language you like, it is still sodomy. I find it ironic that people who defend it so strongly get so offended when it is described in a little detail.

    Personally, I feel a great deal of compassion for persons who suffer from same sex attraction. It is a brokenness that needs to be ministered to by a loving Church. But to make it into something noble, something worth splitting the Church over… you are all going off over the deep end, against Scripture, against tradition, against nature.

    I concede that in a few years time, “gay” “marriage” will be accepted as normal by most people and by many churches. Just when you go to church each Sunday, occasionally remember what your gay pastor/bishop was doing the night before and reflect upon if you think that is something God truly blesses.

    Comment by SDH — March 25, 2007 @ 7:16 pm

  5. Wow, SDH, I love you too…but you are not only wrong, but spectacularly so.

    Men, and women, already have the right in this country to engage in homosexual acts, and unless you are advocating a return to the anti-sodomy laws, it will stay that way no matter what the Episcopal Church or Anglican Communion does. That’s kind of beside the point.

    Also, for the record, I’m not saying this is a second reformation — in fact I think there is/will be no such thing as a second reformation. But, I find a parallel between Luther’s statement of conviction in the face of his church’s aggressive opposition and the Episcopal House of Bishops’ statement.

    But to your point…this is not about the sex act itself. Plenty of Christians through the ages, and even today, find heterosexual sex dirty, ungodly, unholy. Christian tradition has treated sex as something bad, even between husband and wife, unless being undertaken to produce children. But we are a more enlightened generation, so we know that sex between a husband and wife serving to enrich and deepen their relationship is good…unless of course a husband and wife choose to engage in anal sex, which I guess you would consider against tradition and against nature. It is absolutely not about the sex act itself.

    You find anal sex between two men distasteful, apparently, so you then make that normative for the rest of the human race, and in fact impute that abhorrence to God. What we are saying is that if God calls an actively gay person to God’s ministry, who are we to object? If a congregation sees the work of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of their actively gay pastor, who are we to tell them they’re wrong? God can do whatever God chooses, and it seems in this day and age God has chosen to use not only straight, but also gay people to act as pastors, priests and bishops. Who are we to tell God we don’t accept God’s will because we find anal sex between two men unpleasant to think about?

    I have a better solution — when you’re in church, don’t think about your pastor having sex, whether gay or straight, think about why we’re in church to start with!

    Comment by Bob — March 25, 2007 @ 8:14 pm

  6. To be quite fair, Bob, I don’t think SDH is starting from a personal dislike of homosexual sex, and imputing that view to God. It would help the debate to acknowledge that those who oppose same-sex unions generally do so because their reading of scripture requires them to take that stand, and demands that they can do no other.

    This is not about nice people who have a liberal moral stance, versus nasty bigots who just like to victimise people.

    But your concluding remark was spot on – let’s all think about why we are in church to start with!

    Comment by Paul — March 26, 2007 @ 1:38 am

  7. Paul,

    I agree with you that “this is not about nice people who have a liberal moral stance versus nasty bigots who just like to victimise people.” But it’s interesting that a church that no longer follows the levitical code, that has made a way to ordain women despite Paul’s injunction that we should remain silent, that regularly minimizes even Jesus’ words that divorce is to be avoided, finds homosexuality the rock on which it stands. Anti-gay Christians regularly claim that welcoming gay and lesbian people into the life of the church is the infiltration of “culture” into Christianity. I would argue on the contrary, with all due respect to those who genuinely struggle with the text, that being overly literalist* about one passage in Romans is the infiltration of a particular(ly) homophobic culture into Christianity.

    * Literalist is perhaps the wrong word, since those with better knowledge of Greek than I assure me that Paul is not speaking to mutual, adult relationships in Romans 1, but rather to the Hellenic practice of man-boy love.

    Comment by Klondike — March 27, 2007 @ 6:39 am

  8. Bob,

    God bless you for this post. As a non-Anglican viewing
    this from afar, it seems to be long past times for
    Anglicans in the U.S. to move forward as two churches,
    working together on the wide range of issues where they
    agree. If the global Anglican Communion chooses to
    cut ties with the U.S. Episcopal Church, that’s
    regrettable, but much less so than failing to do what
    you believe God has commanded.

    My prayers are with all Anglicans/Episcopalians in
    these troubled times.

    Comment by Matt — March 28, 2007 @ 11:44 am

  9. There is no New Testament support for the pro-homosexual proclamation of the Liberal-Progressives in any Church anywhere.
    The intolerance being meted out, is being directed at Christians that desire NOT to encourage others to sin.
    It is clear that schism is justified, as the people desiring not to pollute the Church for those that want to encourage sin, are
    are the ones doing what is right. It is interesting to see that the Liberals are the ones desiring to push their heresy on
    a captive and innocent populace.

    Comment by Donny — March 31, 2007 @ 6:32 pm

  10. Reformation has to do with purifing the church doctrinaly and morally. Not letting sin go unchecked. To tell someone they can sin wothout conquence is not LOVE. LOVE is telling people to repent of that sin and return to GOD.

    Comment by Reformed Catholic — April 19, 2007 @ 11:09 am

  11. Both sides in this issue have elements of righteousness and sin. All of us sin; homosexuality is no more of a sin than greed, pride, arrogance, self-centeredness, deliberate harm to others or deliberate failure to help others in need. Acceptance of homosexuals into the body is proper.

    More pointedly, I perceive it as more of an illness than a sin. Both sides disagree with my viewpoint, but the desire is built into the person who truly is most comfortable in same sex relationship. It is no different than the predisposition to depression, diabetes, cancer, or nearsightedness.

    The Bible clearly stands against same gender sexuality. The Greeks did practice adult-child sex and maybe that is what was being preached against in the New Testament. They also practiced homosexuality among their soldiers. I do not know Greek and cannot argue one way or the other. Leviticus would seem to be against homosexuality in any form.

    Jesus clearly sought to include the powerless, the sick, the poor, the persecuted in “the Kingdom”. As long as we all confess our brokeness, none of us should exclude another self-confessed sinner. It is always easier to see someone else’s sin than our own.

    My point is not that we should not be punished for sin, but that even sinners must be included in God’s love. Both sides in this argument have done more than enough to break the fellowship of the Church.


    Comment by Chas — April 21, 2007 @ 7:46 pm

  12. Though it’s a flashpoint, homosexuality is not the primary issue for neoreformationists. The issue is the idolatrous biblicism of fundamentalist Christianity. The doctrine of literal inerrancy does to the Bible what ecclesiastical authorities did to the pre-reformation church. It turns Scripture into the thing that is worshipped. It ain’t “Father, Son, and Holy Bible,” not the last time I checked.

    Comment by Rev. David Williams — April 26, 2007 @ 5:54 am

  13. Just one question folks – Why will you not accept
    biblical truth on this issue?? If scripture is
    to be our guide and foundation does it not make
    sense that we should follow its directives and
    accept those of being God’s directives?? Remember
    also the Jesus was God in the flesh and as such
    could not have any other position on this except
    what God had already said about it – it’s sin
    period! Jesus didn’t do away with the law he
    fulfilled the law – all of it. While he didn’t mention
    this issue specifically one can draw no other conclusion
    but that Jesus would be opposed to homosexuality since
    that is the Father’s position (God’s position)and by
    his admission he only did as the Father directed period.

    Comment by rccm — May 1, 2007 @ 11:21 am

  14. With respect while you may by some be considered progressive, regardless of your affirmations to the contrary you can not be considered Christian. Refreshingly the EC in America has been lovingly confronted by the Anglican faith community and forced to a decision. Sadly, the HOB response reflects an imperial unwillingness to comply with the overwhelming opinion of the world Anglican community. Sexual depravity in any form is not a gift from God but an expression of life lived in rebellion against the God. To say otherwise is a willful misrepresentation of Scripture.

    It is time for a division. Those who willfully refuse to accept the clear teachings of Scripture should be allowed to depart. In the heritage of Luther the world Anglican community has AC decided, “Here we stand!” They are to be commended for refusing to yield to compromise.

    Comment by Vaughn — May 5, 2007 @ 9:03 am

  15. With respect please excuse my error as I wrote “the God” when I intended to simply write “God.”

    Comment by Vaughn — May 5, 2007 @ 1:02 pm

  16. Vaughn: Error respected. The “clear teachings of Scripture?” Hardly. The issue of homosexuality is a minor and essentially irrelevant excursus in the Torah, and while no-one in their right mind could say that the Apostle Paul approved of it, he primarily uses his most sustained invective against homosexuality as 1) a proxy for a natural-law discussion of sin and 2) a rhetorical device to caution us against being self-righteous. Want more details? Go to my blog.

    Splitting over this issue is a necessary response for fundamentalism, which must hew to it’s worship of the literal perfection of Scripture, but it hardly has a thing to do with being a follower of Jesus Christ.

    Comment by Rev. David Williams — May 8, 2007 @ 12:26 pm

  17. Interesting.

    Comment by Tracie — May 8, 2007 @ 5:33 pm

  18. “Why will you not accept
    biblical truth on this issue?? If scripture is
    to be our guide and foundation does it not make
    sense that we should follow its directives and
    accept those of being God’s directives??”

    As another poster inquired on Fr. Jake’s blog: How’s that
    shellfish thing working out for you? And the pork? Do you wear clothing made
    of mixed fabrics?

    Biblical truth says that we should love the Lord our God
    with all our heart, mind, and strength – and the second commandment
    is like unto it; love your neighbor as yourself.

    Where’s the problem, then? We ARE following Biblical truth.

    Not only that, but we mustn’t get idolatrous about the Bible anyway. Bibliolatry is not cool.

    Comment by Tracie — May 8, 2007 @ 5:40 pm

  19. That homosexuality and other forms of deviant sexual conduct are little mentioned in the Old Testament can not be taken to mean the issue of no real importance. The passages of Scripture that address the issue are of sufficient clarity that no reasonable man would be able to claim any possible misunderstanding of what was clearly intended and what is clearly expected of God’s people. Paul’s condemnation of unnatural sexual relations, whether homosexual or lesbian, is clear and unambiguous. That objections are raised by advocates of what Scripture condemns is not surprising as the same response was voiced when the “clear teachings of Scripture” were applied to equally ancient and socially acceptable practices such as infanticide, prostitution, idolatry and slavery.

    As regards a split, denominations are not sacred. If the Episcopal Church divides into two separate communities of faith, it will not be the end of the world. The result will likely free up members of each new denomination to follow Christ rather than engage in endless ongoing debate. It would appear that much of the heated discussion revolves not so much around any real issue of doctrine but rather concern as to who will end up in control of property. According to the wishes of the individual members, let the individual churches decide with which side they will take their stand. Let them control their own property as is their right. And let each church as the members choose seek then to follow Christ according to the dictates of their hearts. In dividing denominational assets, simply liquidate the physical property and distribute the proceeds according to membership.

    Any possibility of splitting over this issue is not the fault of any supposed Fundamentalist element within the EC. It is less than honest to so characterize sincere Christians who can not with integrity tolerate much less affirm homosexuality as consistent with Christian faith. Yet the use of such a pejorative term is indicative of the bitterness and possibly even hatred that characterizes those who find themselves rejected by the Church in which they claim membership.

    Comment by Vaughn — May 8, 2007 @ 7:08 pm

  20. Nice website. Check out my Christian website at for other intersting views and comments on spirituality.

    Comment by Josh — May 14, 2007 @ 6:17 am

  21. I think the sentence that disturbs me the most in this piece is this one:

    “This is just so cool.”

    I can’t imagine that when Luther pinned his 95 theses on the Wittenburg church door that his sentiment would have been “this is just so cool that I have the opportunity to divide the church over this issue by making a stand,” rather I would think he did so with great trepidation and a deeply prayerful spirit out of great sorrow for feeling he was required to take such action. I cannot imagine him having this sort of gleeful attitude.

    Sad commentary.

    Comment by Jacke — May 15, 2007 @ 6:20 pm

  22. I, too, feel that homosexuality in all it’s forms are wrong in the eyes of the Lord and in the eyes of Heavenly Father. I have a nephew that is gay, and I love him, but I will not love his lifestyle. He is not allowed in my home, nor do I go into his house, because I am so very uncomfortable with his lovers. And yes, he knows of my stance,and of my religion, which is Latter Day Saint. Why will the churchs abide by the stance of the scriptures!

    Comment by Patti — May 25, 2007 @ 9:48 pm

  23. Wow!! After reading these hateful and ignorant comments I am SO glad to be a UU. 🙂

    Comment by David — June 8, 2007 @ 5:41 pm

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