Responding to Tanzania

The Primates of the Anglican Communion, including TEC’s Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, have just concluded (last Wednesday) a meeting in Tanzania. They issued a communique from that meeting.

I am saddened by this communique on several levels. After the election, consent and consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, I remained optimistic that the Anglican Communion would survive as it always had. After all, we had elected a woman bishop, and while “the bonds of affection” that hold the Anglican Communion together had been strained, they had not broken.

After reading the Tanzania communique, I am not so optimistic. The Episcopal Church is chided for failure to satisfy the rest of the communion that we are living up to the Windsor Report, while the actions of those Primates who are crossing provincial boundaries to provide oversight to disaffected members of the Episcopal Church (a novelty never before countenanced in the Anglican Communion) are seen as a “pastoral response.”

Also, the Primates clearly do not understand the polity of the Episcopal Church. The communique asks our House of Bishops to provide guarantees by September 2007 that the language of Resolution B033 of the 2006 General Convention means that consents will not be given to any openly gay or lesbian person in a committed relationship elected as bishop. The House of Bishops cannot provide such guarantees. In the Episcopal Church, it is really the General Convention that has primatial authority. The Presiding Bishop only convenes the house of bishops, and that house can take no unilateral action for the Episcopal Church. I hope the house of bishops will point this fact out to the Primates.

And most deeply I am saddened that the Presiding Bishop has asked us to put the status of our GLBT brothers and sister in the faith of Jesus Christ on hold yet again. In our baptismal covenant, we promise to respect the dignity of every human being, to seek and serve Christ in all, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and to strive for justice for all. While the Episcopal Church has been slow to embrace our GLBT brothers and sisters among this “all”, we have at last taken a courageous few steps out over the stormy waters of our baptism. I can only hope that we won’t sink like Peter when we see the severity of the storm, and come in for our Savior’s rebuke, “Oh, you of little faith.”

Nearly three decades ago, when I moved to a new city after college, and found myself alone and in a strange place, it was a group of gay men who welcomed me into the Episcopal Church. I heard marvelous church bells on Sunday morning, and thought church would be a good way to meet some people. I found my way to source of those bells, St. Paul’s Cathedral in Burlington, VT. Soon a group of men had invited me to join them for brunch after service. I was so naive that if I had known they were gay, I would never have joined them. Thank God, I hadn’t a clue. Soon I was baptized, trained as a lay reader, and the rest, they say, is history.

Along the way, God overcame my blindness, and I discovered these true friends were gay. When I moved away to Boston for Divinity School, I attended a church in Boston with a strong gay and lesbian presence. Again, I was taken in and welcomed, despite my naivety. This is the only Episcopal Church I have known, and I resent those voices trying to impoverish it by silencing the GLBT witnesses among us.

I also find it terribly ironic that the Primates communique makes repeated reference to Lambeth 1998, as represented the “consensus” among Anglicans on issues of sexuality. Lambeth 1998 also called for a 10 year listening process during which all provinces of the Communion should listen to the voices of gays and lesbians, and during the process treat them with pastoral care and sensitivity. Peter Akinola has thrown his support behind the laws of Nigeria making it a crime to be gay or lesbian. How is this listening? I believe it is time of us to stop letting ourselves be bullied by such voices. Until persons like Akinola really listen to the witness of gays and lesbians in their own churches and in the communion, they are less in compliance with Lambeth and Windsor than the Episcopal Church. I pray our Presiding Bishop will have the courage to demand fairness in further dialog within the communion.

While I am less optimistic than in 2003 that the communion will hold together, I am no less confident that this is Christ’s church, not ours. If push comes to shove, I would rather remain where I am confident that I am in communion with Christ and all his brothers and sisters, of whatever orientation, than with people who stop their ears to the richness of gifts given to this church.

And finally, I would pray that however deeply the actions of the Primates have hurt our GLBT brothers and sisters, they would know that my life and my faith would be the poorer without them. I cannot know the hurt this causes, but I pray our church will have the courage of its baptismal covenant, and I know our Savior won’t abandon us to sink in the waters if we have the faith to step out of the boat.

3 thoughts on “Responding to Tanzania”

  1. Dan,

    Thank you for your reflections and words of good news to the church! I am grateful for your ministry in this diocese and I am thankful that Church of the Advent has a priest motivated by the grace and love of Christ.

    Jason Samuel
    Church of the Transfiguration, Lake Saint Louis

  2. I wish I thought this was just a matter of bigotry. I know that bigotry is involved – it is rooted in fear and ignorance, which are everywhere – but I can’t bring myself to write off large segments of the Anglican Communion as homophobes any more than I appreciate being written off as a “liberal wacko” in return.

    But with that having been said, I found the communique disappointing, and in conflict with my understanding of Anglicanism. Word after word about a specific item when the fundamental issue is what one accepts the Bible to be. My understanding of the Anglican communion is the three-legged stool: scripture, tradition, and reason (specifically, “Sweet Reason” is the term as I understand it). Ambiguity is embraced as a matter of course (and discourse!) Yet, in paragraph 22 of the Communique (granted, taken from its context), I read “It is the ambiguous stance of The Episcopal Church which causes concern among us.”

    It is the nature of a “broad” church that those with a “narrow” interpretation will not feel comfortable. It is the Catch-22 of the welcoming church; by welcoming all, some will feel unwelcome. That works at the Anglican Communion level just as it does at the local parish level.

    On a separate note regarding the communique, I found disturbing the lack of balance between the attention paid to the “fractured, sick Episcopal church” (that’s how it came across to me) and very little about the rogue activities of archbishops who have taken up their own extracurricular activities to provide alternate pastoral oversight.

    I’m afraid that the die may be cast. When push comes to shove, I’ll go with the church that says “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You”. Sounds pretty non-ambiguous to me, you’d THINK the Primates would be proud…

    Bill Sanders
    Church of the Advent, Crestwood

  3. Dan,

    Your authenticity consistently draws me to Christ. I appreciate your candid response to the communique, and your dedication to the love and grace of Christ.

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