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For the last month, I’ve been in Australia and only
occasionally heard news from the United States. I haven’t minded too much missing arguments over health care
and the Supreme Court confirmation hearings. But I have fretted about missing the General Convention of
the Episcopal Church–my own denomination’s triennium meeting now happening in
I know that sounds a little crazy. After all, what kind of church geek would be jonesing for a
denominational meeting while looking out her hotel window at the Sydney Opera
But this meeting was particularly important for
Episcopalians. Six years ago, in
2003, my church confirmed the election of Gene Robinson as the first openly gay
bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion. That meeting made international news and led to a painful
theological backlash from conservative Anglicans and some churches in Africa
and South America. Three years
later, in 2006, the Episcopal Church passed a resolution of “restraint” at the
convention, committing itself to conversation and no further ordinations of
bishops whose “manner of life” (i.e., they were gay or lesbian persons) was
offensive to other Anglicans.
This, too, made news as conservative Anglicans launched a political and
legal assault to divide the Episcopal Church and drive a wedge between American
Episcopalians and the larger body of Anglicans around the world.
And now, in 2009, six years have passed. Episcopalians have done a lot of
talking, some serious crying, much worrying, and have tried to honor the wide
diversity of Anglicans around the world.
We didn’t ordain any more gay or lesbian clergy as bishops. We practiced restraint. We listened. We tried to be nice.
We prayed. Yesterday, the
Convention meeting in Anaheim summed up what Episcopalians have learned in that
By a 2-1 margin, Episcopalians agreed “that through our own listening the General
Convention has come to recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal
Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships characterized
by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest
communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to
see in each other the image of God.”
And the Episcopal General Convention equally has come to understand
“that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in
The Episcopal Church.” In plain
English, the Episcopal Church has now formally recognized the lived reality of
faithful same-sex Christian couples in our community and that the Holy Spirit
may call persons in such relationships to Christian ministry–even the ministry
doesn’t demand that anyone do anything or anyone be forced to believe something
they find offensive. Indeed, in
the resolution, the church stated that Christians are not of a unified mind and
that Christians “of good conscience” may disagree in regards to these
concerns. But the resolution also
does two important things: 1) it
recognizes that many, many Episcopalians are perfectly comfortable and open to
being part of a diverse spiritual community that includes gay and lesbian
brothers and sisters; and 2) that local dioceses may chose their bishops by
discerning the best candidate for ministry without restriction placed on sexual
Some may argue that
the Episcopal Church has broken faith.
No, Episcopalians are struggling to be faithful and to live justly as
our society widens its understanding of human relationships and marriage. The attempt to do so is not somehow
“secular” or untraditional.
Rather, adapting to local cultures is an important part of being
Around 600, Pope
Gregory the Great saw a group of blond-haired children in a slave market and
was told they were “Angli,” or “Angles,” from Britain. Gregory replied, “Not Angles, but
Angels” and dispatched missionaries to the British Isles. He instructed the missionaries to work
within the context of the culture they encountered in order to preach the
gospel and spread the church. These
first missionaries accommodated their message to many of the spiritual practices
they found in pagan England. It is
deeply Anglican to believe that God works within human cultures, in all their variety. As recently as 1988, when African
Anglican bishops asked that the church permit polygamy as a Christian practice,
western Episcopalians and Anglicans approved the tradition of multiple wives as
an appropriate expression of faith in some cultural contexts.
The same Anglicans
who have been mad about Gene Robinson for six years will continue to be
angry. The same Anglicans who have
threatened schism will continue to threaten. Maybe Anglicans in the rest of the world won’t understand. Some people will see this as
unbiblical. But, trying to figure out faith in particular cultural contexts is Anglican tradition. For 1400 years,
Anglicans have believed weaving together the message of Jesus with human
culture and experience is the best way to embody the love of God and
neighbor. We don’t always do that
perfectly, but we are trying.
After all, we’re Anglicans not Angels.