Re-writing History: the Episcopal Church struggle

Abstract

In the global intra-Anglican 'wars' about sexuality, biblical interpretation, authority and church polity, The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the USA has been singled out from other Anglican provinces and subjected to harsh criticism and threats of expulsion. Why is this? What are the underlying issues about the use of Scripture and other questions which explain why TEC is such a bone of contention? Can Christians learn to handle differences in more creative ways which honour the life-giving Gospel message they are supposed to exemplify?

You can read a new report and analysis from Ekklesia associate Savitri Hensman in *.PDF form here

A nine point summary is given below.

Summary

1. Because The Episcopal Church (USA and other regions) is more accepting than most provinces of lesbians and gay people, including those in loving partnerships, it has been accused of failing to act in accord with the clear teaching of the Bible and the agreed position of the Communion, being too heavily influenced by the dominant culture and acting in an imperialist manner. Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference is often mentioned: though its position on homosexuality was not binding, TEC has been condemned for breaching 'bonds of affection' by not conforming.

2. However it is unjust to punish TEC when senior clergy in certain other provinces have to a far greater extent failed to act in line with Scripture and Anglican consensus, to examine their own cultures critically and to oppose imperialism. These include the primate and bishops of the Church of Nigeria, who have acted in ways contrary to key Biblical teachings, the 1998 Lambeth Resolution on homosexuality and over thirty resolutions agreed by Lambeth or the Anglican Consultative Council, as well as several recommendations of the Windsor Report.

3. Yet they have not been treated nearly as severely as TEC. Indeed, internationally agreed Anglican positions on a range of matters are frequently disregarded by bishops and archbishops.

4. What is more, TEC was placed in a difficult position because of apparently contradictory principles widely held in international Anglican circles, and the persistent refusal of leaders of several other provinces to promote serious study of human sexuality and listen attentively to lesbians and gays, despite repeated conference resolutions.

5. Traditionally Anglicanism's broad nature, and careful attention to Scripture, tradition and reason in responding to complex issues, had enabled the church to revise its position radically on various matters over the past couple of centuries, including ethnicity, gender and sexuality, while staying true to its heritage.

6. Recently, however, some senior clergy have demanded that their own opinions on specific matters be treated worldwide as core truths, like those in the Creeds, and refused to consider any evidence to the contrary.

7. With the hope of adequate international dialogue fading, members of TEC were faced with the pastoral realities of a diverse society and the strength of the theological case for full inclusion of lesbians and gays. It seemed to many that, by postponing justice decade after decade, they were failing to seek and serve Christ in all persons and love their neighbour as themselves, and this was damaging ministry and mission. In becoming less discriminatory, TEC was acting in a reasonable manner.

8. For associating too closely with those often facing rejection and contempt, TEC has been targeted, and has become a scapegoat for wider divisions, based partly on different responses to social issues and the determination of some bishops elsewhere to transform the nature of the Communion.

9. Respect for the dignity of all people, encouragement of thoughtful study of the Bible, appreciation of advances in science, participation of the laity at all levels of decision-making and catholicity based on acceptance of provincial autonomy and diversity have long been valued by Anglicans, but are now under threat. What is of value to the church and world in the Anglican heritage should not be lightly discarded.

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You can read the full report in *.PDF format here. If you do not have an Adobe Acrobat (PD) reader, you will be invited to download one when you seek to access this document. (c) Savitri Hensman, 2007.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Savitri Hensman was born in Sri Lanka. She works in the voluntary sector in community care and equalities, is a respected writer on Christianity and social justice, and was founder of the Black Lesbian and Gay Centre in London. She was a long-standing member of the Jubilee Group, a network of radical Anglo-Catholics and others committed to understanding the transformative impact of traditional Christian faith. Savi is an Ekklesia associate.

We are grateful to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM - http://www.lgcm.org.uk/), who are also reproducing this document on their site, and to the author for this thought-provoking research article, which we publish as a contribution to an important debate.