2016-06-30
Bishop Robert W. Duncan Jr. of Pittsburgh, 55, is the de facto spiritual leader of conservative Episcopalians outraged over the consecration last year of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire--a gay man in a long-term relationship. Once Robinson became a bishop, Duncan began helping to organize what he calls a "realignment" within the Episcopal Church and, by extension, the Anglican Communion. It is not yet clear what lies ahead for the Episcopal Church, but Duncan says he is sure that change will happen.

In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Duncan said some of his earliest memories revolve around attending church in his hometown of Bordentown, N.J. The church was stable and reliable, a sanctuary for a boy whose home life often included beatings from his emotionally disturbed mother. In a society that he calls highly sexualized and confused, Duncan believes Robinson is clearly outside the moral bounds of the Anglican Communion.

Duncan recently sat down to talk with Diana Keough, a regular Beliefnet contributor who lives and works in Ohio.

How are you keeping your spiritual life in balance these days?

I keep up with my daily prayer life, and in particular, my time of morning prayers. I make a monthly retreat of 24 hours where I spend time with the community of St. Vincent's Arch Abbey, which gives me an opportunity to be with my spiritual director and confessor.

What are you praying about?

For my own ministry, for my family, for all the people who have been part of my walk over the years. I keep a monthly list and pray every morning along with all the standing prayers. A lot of my day-by-day prayers are about the present situation. I pray for those who are in opposition. I pray for those who see me as someone who's hurting them.I pray for the presiding Bishop of the church and the other Bishops who are on the other side.

What particular Scripture is helping you through this time?

Right now, I'm reading Genesis, Hebrews and John. The other day when we came to the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, there was the word about the patriarchs and those who set out by faith, and they knew they were aliens and exiles--those are wonderful passages for what we're going through There is a particular verse I was given when I was elected bishop--in fact, the same verse was sent to me by two different leaders who didn't know one another. It was I Thessalonians 5:24, which says, "He who called you is faithful and He will do it." I have great trust that anything that happens in this is going to be the Lord's doing, and not mine. I'm just trying to listen to Him day by day.

Why are you taking this battle so far?

The battle is about the authority of Scripture. It's about the basics of Christian faith. It's about sin and redemption. It's just so fundamental. The issues have to do with sexuality and morality, but at the very heart of it is whether Scripture can be trusted. In my experience I learned the one person I could trust was Jesus Christ and the only testament that was reliable was what was in Scripture. And I cannot let the Church, of all bodies, challenge the notion that you can't trust the plain meaning of Scripture.

Are you referring to what the conservatives in the Episcopal Church call "revisionism?" And if so, can you define revisionism?

A more ancient word for the same thing is "heresy." What's going on in this day and age (and, incidentally, it's not unlike other ages) is that this particular age has a notion that we're created good and we just need to be self-actualized. Well, all that is directly contrary to Scripture--it's heresy that doesn't require a Savior. But revisionism within the Episcopal Church has been going on for decades.

Revisionism in the Episcopal Church is to revise what's been received, and we've been in the process of revising a lot of things in the last 50 years, particularly relating to sexual morality. Matters like abortion, like remarriage after divorce and issues like sexual activity outside of marriage, including homosexual activity.

But why is this such a bone of contention now? Why are you taking action now?

It's the issue the culture presents us. Ours is a highly sexualized culture so it's not surprising that our particular failures have to do with the consequences of sexual immorality. And that's simply the issue on which the Church, under the influence of the culture, is at risk and why I have to speak out about it.

Many people are calling your actions divisive. Do you feel you're being divisive?

The question is, who is doing the dividing? Of course, we could keep silent, and then things would appear to be going on just fine. The ones who are divisive, I try to say, gently but regularly, are the ones who are doing the new thing. It's not the ones who are holding onto what has always been held onto by the church.

Is it worth breaking up the Episcopal Church and potentially the Anglican Communion for?

You can't have unity without truth and you can't have truth without unity. It matters whether people are committed to their marriage vows; it matters whether people decide that a child should be aborted. I think that saving human life, I think that saving individuals from decisions that may lead them to death and destruction, I think those are things you have to speak up about.

And you feel homosexuality will lead to death and destruction?

The statistical reality is that those who practice anal sex live 20 years less than those who don't-pthat's kind of death and destruction. It's not how the human body was intended to be used.

Let's turn to the issue of Adequate Episcopal Oversight. Could you define what that means?

Adequate Episcopal Oversight is a phrase used by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in their statement of October 16, 2003. Adequate, as they defined it, is what is needed by those who believe they are being put out because of their traditional views. Episcopal means it has to do with bishops. Oversight means that complete care is given a particular bishop. So AEO, in this situation, could end up with a situation in which a revisionist bishop has a traditional congregation in his diocese and hands that congregation over to another bishop who holds traditional views. After that, there'd be no further connection between the revisionist bishop and that traditional congregation.

And in what way is this agreement by the Primates not being kept?

What the American church has done is to propose something called Supplemental Episcopal Care. Supplemental Episcopal Care says that a revisionist would continue his association with a traditional parish. But think about the problem here--the bishop who is teaching that same-sex relationships are all right is still in connection with the congregation that believes that children in the congregation shouldn't be taught that. Meanwhile, another bishop, who is more to the congregation's liking, is only allowed to minister some of the time. That is not adequate for traditionalists. You can't teach children two different moralities.

So what's your ideal solution?

Our ideal solution would be for the Episcopal Church to turn back from this outlandish innovation. To turn back to the witness of the whole Christian church. That would be the very best solution.

And if that doesn't happen?

Then what the Primates have called for is what's wise, and that's Adequate Episcopal Oversight. That is, a congregation would be set free to be put under bishops who teach in a way that is not only consistent with Anglicanism worldwide, but with the whole Christian world.

And what has the Archbishop of Canterbury told you?

The Archbishop of Canterbury has stated publicly through his press officer that he has encouraged the formation of the Network of Anglican Communion of Dioceses--a network that was just chartered a few weeks ago in Plano, Texas. He's been in regular touch, and we're able to communicate about the emergency situation we're in and exchange ideas.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is in an extraordinarily difficult position, presiding over the worldwide Anglican Communion--a communion whose Primates unanimously said to the Episcopal Church, "Don't do this. Don't consecrate Gene Robinson," and then the American church did it anyway. The Primates, who represent the majority of the worldwide church, have said, "We're no longer in communion with the American Church;" and the Archbishop of Canterbury, as the first among equals, is trying to find a way to bring some sort of negotiated settlement.

What you say the Archbishop of Canterbury says and what Bishop Griswold says the Archbishop says appear to be completely opposite. Can you read to me some of the emails or letters you've gotten from the Archbishop?

I'm not at liberty to speak of how the Archbishop and I have communicated. It is certainly well known that I, and a number of other American bishops, were graciously received by the Archbishop of Canterbury the day after the Primates meeting in October. We make sure he's informed appropriately of things that are happening here, just as we inform the presiding Bishop of things that are happening. The Archbishop really has to speak for himself in terms of the things he wants to say. Again, it's a diplomatic thing at this point and he will say publicly what it is he believes is right to say.

One of the bishops I interviewed referred to all dissenters as homophobes. Are you a homophobe and is that what this is really about?

No. No way, not at all. Anybody in ministry deals with people facing all kinds of brokenness. The orientation or affection toward same-sex relationships is one of the many things we deal with. I'm a pastor. I've spent a tremendous amount of my ministry ministering to people with sexual brokenness. I wish that we weren't having this debate in the Episcopal Church, because it's hard to speak about these things without people thinking I'm condemning them or that somehow they're separated from God. The issue is that when you've received God's love, He calls you to a different way of life, and that call applies to every last one of us. That call falls on different ones differently depending on what our weaknesses are.

What is your reaction to Bishop Griswold's contention that some of the other Primates, even the ones who are publicly opposing him, are secretly on his side?

I just cannot imagine on what evidence he states that. I probably know half of the world's Primates and have had private conversations with most of those. I just find that to be a remarkable statement that I don't see any evidence for. But again, that's his experience versus mine.

Why is the official church's proposal--the one that will be discussed in March at the House of Bishops' meeting--not worth waiting to debate?

This proposal from the House of Bishops is not adequate, and it's not oversight. It just doesn't cut it. What we need to do in the March House of Bishops is talk about Adequate Episcopal Oversight--something that will actually deal with the pastoral crisis we find ourselves in.

In your opinion, how does this crisis compare to the controversy over women's ordination in 1976? This is a vastly different situation. One of the things I've learned (and it's taken me a long time to grasp this) is that the "progressives" simply see that God's truth is forever being revealed. And because of this, they can't see the difference between the women's ordination issue and this issue on sexual relations outside of marriage, and in particular homosexual activity. What should be obvious is that the intensity of this crisis is vastly greater than the crisis over women's ordination.The reason is that women, and being a woman, is never condemned in Scripture. Indeed, there are lots of passages in Scripture that talk about women in leadership, sometimes against great odds and contrary to the way women were generally treated in that age. Women like the judge Deborah, or the women who were the first witness to the resurrection. The highest view of women in the ancient world is the view of them in Scripture.

But homosexual activity is uniformly condemned throughout Scripture. So what you're dealing with is not just a social change, but a change in practice. To believe that God has changed his mind about homosexual activity, you actually have to change what the authority of Scripture is. And that's why the reaction to this involves the international worldwide Communion.

Do you think the church is going to schism?

"Schism" is a breaking--and whenever there's a heresy, the church breaks. What the Episcopal Church did last summer was a heresy. It departed from the historic faith not only in Anglicanism, but also in the whole Christian world. So the schism is an action that occurred in August at the Episcopal Church's General Convention. We're simply describing that it happened; the progressives are blaming us for making the trouble when, in fact, they were the ones who made the initial break, taking the action they did.

Is there any way to compromise?

There's no way to compromise in terms of the truth of the Gospel or the reliability of Scripture or the necessity of salvation in Jesus Christ. What many of us on the conservative side have always offered is freedom to the progressives to try out their innovations but not to force those innovations on the rest of us. And again, I believe the consequences of those innovations will take them to a dead end. I would prefer they don't go to that dead end. But as they head there, they have no right to take our church to that dead end.

Do you have any idea how this is going to work?

No, not at all. All I know is that 400 years after the Reformation, it's clear that there are denominations that have different emphases and still respect each other, and it's also clear that some of those attempts at Reformation went in directions that ceased to be Christian. It's clear that diocesan boundaries won't hold in the future. It's clear that we're part of a global church and we have instant communication, so there aren't any secrets anymore and that's always good for the truth.

How do you respond to the claim that the Network is being funded by conservative foundations?

I'm the moderator of the Network and we don't have any money at all, as far as I know. It's been alleged that the American Anglican Council (AAC) has funding from conservative foundations. The AAC has more than 30,000 contributors, and obviously, there are a couple of folks that contribute to that organization that are very wealthy. But the fact that someone contributes money does not mean they control the organization. I can certainly say as a board member of the AAC, there's never been any quid pro quo with money.

Is the Network being funded by the AAC?

The AAC was a very strong preexisting organization. I'm an officer of the AAC. The Network is a new thing and we have no idea how it's going to be funded. We're doing this on a wing and a prayer.

` A conservative bishop in West Tennessee got angry about the "secret plan" and disassociated himself from it. What's your reaction to the letter that was leaked detailing this "secret plan?"

Let me say a couple of things about the "plan." I hadn't seen it, nor had any Bishop from the Network seen it before it was put out. But having said that, I'd also say that what was in it had been talked about publicly for months. I regret the Bishop of West Tennessee said what he said. I truly regret he didn't call one of us to talk about it. But these days, the Bishops are under extraordinary political pressure in their own dioceses and sometimes we do things that, on reflection, we might've wished we'd done differently.

What is your ultimate goal in all of this?

My ultimate goal and the goal of those who have been a part of the AAC and many other conservative Anglicans in the United States, I think, is for an orthodox, united North American Anglicanism.

And as your building, pensions and endowments start getting taken away, and defrocking starts to happen, what then?

If things are taken away from us, including our ministries, nothing is going to keep us from speaking the truth that set us free-nothing.

Wouldn't it be easier to just walk away?

These are holy trusts--things that generations have entrusted to us. Why should I walk away from the people in the Diocese of Pittsburgh? Why should I walk away from what the generations have left us as places to do ministry? I would do that if that is what is asked of me or if that is what the Lord requires, but I'm not simply going to give it over to folks who are using it for purposes it wasn't intended for, who are going to use it for things that aren't of the Christian faith.



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