Tuesday, April 13, 1999

CONTENDING FOR THE RISEN LORD: Major Statements on Episcopal and Anglican Identity since Lambeth

That evening of Easter, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20:19-20)

The joy and peace of Easter cannot be separated from the marks of the nails still apparent on the Lord’s Risen Body. Jesus Christ’s Resurrection is a costly victory over sin and death, and his disciples proclaim that victory in the midst of a world that does not yet know him and a church that often refuses to believe just how precious his offer of eternal life truly is.

Every sermon proclaiming the Risen Jesus in the Book of Acts is set in the context of controversy. Every Epistle of Paul involves argument over the nature of the Gospel and its implications. Indeed it was only by “contending for the faith” that the Church found its separate identity from Judaism and from heretical groups like the Gnostics who claimed top be Christian.

The most glorious vision of the Risen Lord comes in the Book of Revelation, but according to John, this same Lord also makes clear that to be “happy,” one must keep the words of the prophecy addressed to the churches (Revelation 1-3). And in the Letters to the churches (Revelation 2-3), Jesus does not hold back from “contentious” language (cf. Revelation 3:19-29).

It is in this context that this issue of Encompass chronicles a series of statements and letters which bear on the identity of the Anglican Communion and the future of the Episcopal Church within it.

August 1998
The Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops passes, by an overwhelming majority, a Resolution on Human Sexuality (1.10) “rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture.” The moral force of this Resolution rests on the Lambeth Quadrilateral’s claim that Scripture is the primary authority for Anglicans and the “rule and ultimate standard of faith and practice,” reaffirmed by the bishops in Resolution III.1 and III.5.

Recognizing the possibility that this norm might be rejected, the Conference authorizes the Primates’ (the international council of archbishops) intervening “in cases of exceptional emergency which are incapable of internal resolution within provinces, and giving of guidelines on the limits of Anglican diversity in submission to the sovereign authority of Holy Scripture and in loyalty to our Anglican tradition and formularies” (Resolution III.6).

Fall 1998
Many bishops and dioceses of the Episcopal Church immediately repudiate Lambeth Resolution 1.10 and declare that they will continue to ordain non-celibate homosexuals and condone “same-sex blessings.”

January 1999
The Association of Anglican Congregations on Mission (AACOM), a group of independent congregations in the United States, appeals to the Primates’ and all other bishops to intervene in the Episcopal Church. In supporting its Petition, this group presents detailed documentation of the rejection of the sexuality Resolution in diocese after diocese. It concludes that the Episcopal Church qualifies as a case of “exceptional emergency.”

As will be more fully set forth below, the exceptional emergency consists of members of ECUSA being led astray from the true Gospel, and deterred from bringing people to Christ, by unorthodox (“revisionist”) bishops and other leaders of ECUSA who have rejected the sovereign authority of Scripture. The revisionists have supplanted Scripture with human experience to fashion a new religion and code of moral standards that are irreconcilably contrary to historic, orthodox Anglican faith and practice. They are imposing this new religion and morals throughout ECUSA, all in violation of the Resolutions I.10, II.8, III.5, and III.6 adopted by the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops.

The emergency cannot be resolved within ECUSA itself. The revisionists control ECUSA’s national governing bodies and most of its major dioceses. They cannot be persuaded to change their teachings or be dislodged from their positions of power by the orthodox minority within ECUSA. The emergency can be resolved only by the Primates’ Meeting, or by its individual members, causing the reformation of ECUSA or the replacement of it with a continuing Episcopal Church as the province of the Anglican Communion in the United States…

Petitioner also prays that if ECUSA, its General Convention, and its bishops and other leaders do not heed the actions of the Primates’ Meeting, but continue to violate Resolutions 1.10, II.8, III.5, and III.6, the Primates’ Meeting assist in the formation of a continuing Episcopal Church that submits to the sovereign authority of Scripture and is loyal to our Anglican tradition and formularies, and recognize it to replace ECUSA as the province of the Anglican Communion in the United States. Petitioner further prays that, if the Primates’ Meeting fails to cause ECUSA to be so reformed or replaced, the individual Primates exercise their individual powers to that end.

February 24-26, 1999
The AACOM Petition voices concerns held by orthodox Episcopalians throughout the Church. Therefore when the AAC bishops meet in Orlando, they address the question positively by emphasizing the missionary necessity of the Church to follow “all that Christ taught” his disciples in Scripture [see “The Great Commission in the Episcopal Church”]. They also speak of an “authentic reformation” and “impending realignment” within our branch of the Church.

February 24, 1999
Although the entire Primates’ Meeting is not scheduled until September, eight archbishops respond to the AACOM Peitition with a letter to Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. In this letter, they urge him and the American bishops to abide by the principles and resolutions of the Lambeth Conference.

It is our prayer and commitment that as a Communion we may hold together “by mutual loyalty sustained by the council of bishops in Conference.” None of us can rightly ignore the fellowship in the Spirit which the Lambeth Conference represents. Each Province is accountable to the whole Communion. True Christian freedom lies within the compass of truth and love and not in the satisfaction of mere autonomous desire.

It is therefore with sorrow and disappointment that we have heard from different parts of our Communion statements at variance with what was resolved at Lambeth. Some even appear to repudiate resolutions before they are fully published…

We think with particular concern of Resolution I.10 stating that “
this Conference, in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those not called to marriage,” and that our Communion “cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those of those involved.”

It is our concern that we should work sensitively and pastorally in full recognition of this resolution which affirms the Gospel welcome, as well as the Gospel obedience and Gospel hope. Regardless of sexual orientation, all are loved by God and nothing can cut us off from the love of Christ. The Church must listen to all her members but they must listen to the Church as well. For, to echo the words of Archbishop Carey, we must listen not only to each other, but also to Scripture. We must seek to bring healing to every kind of brokenness with both the compassion and the truth of our Lord.

Fidelity to Christian truth cannot be reduced to aspiration; it entails definite and present obligations. Our particular responsibilities oblige us to say that the continuance of action at variance with the Lambeth resolutions, within your own or any other province, would be a grievous wrong and a matter over which we could not be indifferent.

We therefore ask you, dear brother, to examine the directions apparently proposed by some in your Province and take whatever steps may be necessary to uphold the moral teaching and Christian faith the Anglican Communion has received. In doing this you will have the prayers and support of us all and you will bring healing and renewal to your church.


March 10, 1999
The Presiding Bishop, along with nine American bishops, then replies to the eight archbishops, in effect rejecting their appeal.

We write to emphasize to you that within the Episcopal Church USA, as in other provinces of our Communion, there exist divergent opinions on the question of homosexuality. The four understandings articulated in the Lambeth report on Human Sexuality, and quoted below, accurately described the opinions held among us. They are:

- “those who believe that homosexual orientation is a disorder, but that through the grace of Christ people can be changed, although not without pain and struggle;
- “those who believe that relationships between people of the same gender should not include genital expression, that this is the clear teaching of the Bible and of the church universal, and that such activity (if unrepented of) is a barrier to the Kingdom of God;
- “those who believe that committed homosexual relationships fall short of the biblical norm, but are to be preferred to relationships that are anonymous and transient;
- “those who believe that the Church should accept and support or bless monogamous covenant relationships between homosexual people and that they may be ordained.”

We therefore find ourselves in a process of discernment and “testing the spirits” and are instructed by the observation and wise words of His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury in a letter addressed to one of our primates, and which I have his permission to quote:

First, let us remind ourselves that in reality the discussion at Canterbury was the very first time the bishops as a body had discussed it [homosexuality] at any length. A Resolution was passed that indicates where bishops stand NOW on the issue; it does not indicate that we shall ever rest there. That MAY be the case – but who knows?

Second, the debate showed – and showed me more powerfully than I had very seen before – that argument and controversy solves nothing. We need a new kind of “conversation” – one that begins with respect for the integrity of another and a willingness to study the scriptures together, to reflect on our experience – including the experience of homosexuals – and to share in a process which attempts to put into practice what the write Joseph Monti once called “The Church as a community of moral discourse.” It is time we got a discourse going and started discouraging the polemic and bitterness that is around.”

Therefore in answer to your concerns, and in the interest of fostering conversation and “moral discourse” and an even greater relationship of affection and understanding, we invite each of you to visit those parts of our church which cause you concern so that you may inquire and learn directly what has animated certain responses to the above mentioned resolutions. Such visits will afford you the opportunity not only to query some of our bishops and representaives of their dioceses but also to listen to the experience of homosexual persons, which is mandated by the Lambeth resolution on homosexuality. I will be hoping to hear from each of you in order that we might plan visits for you such as I describe.

March 23, 1999
Since Bishop Griswold’s letter gives the impression that he is speaking for the whole Episcopal Church, the AAC Board replies to his letter, offering “an alternative viewpoint held by a sizeable body of faithful Episcopalians.”

We believe the Presiding Bishop’s letter misrepresents the meaning of the Lambeth Resolution on Human Sexuality, and it misrepresents the reality of the “conversation” over homosexuality in the Episcopal Church.

First, the Lambeth Resolution makes clear that “listening to the experience of homosexual persons” is to take place within the moral context of their refraining from sexual activity. This context derives from the clear teaching of Scripture and the universal consensus of the Christian Church that God has ordained sexual relations exclusively for one man and one woman in the covenant of marriage and that abstinence is called for from those who are not married.

Conversation over an issue where Scripture and ecumenical tradition are so overwhelmingly normative must begin with the party wishing to change that consensus agreeing to abide by the existing norm. But Bishop Griswold and the other signers of the so-called “Koinonia Statement” have publicly stated that they will not abide by this principle. Both before and after the 1998 Lambeth Conference, they have been condoning the ordination of non-celibate homosexual men and women and the performance of unauthorized “same-sex blessings.”

Secondly it has not been our experience in the Episcopal Church that a true “conversation” on this issue has taken place over the past decade since Bishop Spong ordained a non-celibate homosexual man with great public fanfare. A process called “Continuing the Dialogue” collapsed after several years with no significant progress. In many dioceses, the issue is highly politicized. Conservative clergy and laity, who hold to the Lambeth teachings, are frequently excluded from significant leadership roles, their concerns are often dismissed, and the full counsel of the Holy Scripture is widely ignored. Worse yet, some faithful clergy and congregations are being persecuted for their beliefs.

Although we had no part in presenting the recent Petition by the Associaton of Anglican Congregations on Mission (AACOM), we agree that it accurately presents the reactions of many of the American bishops and dioceses to the Lambeth Conference in their own words. We do not believe that such repudiations of Lambeth form the basis for an authentic conversation either within the Episcopal Church or within the Anglican Communon.

Let the American bishops stop condoning homosexual practice. Then let genuine conversation begin.

April 1999
A number of international archbishops will be meeting to consider all these proceedings in the Episcopal Church. The AAC Board has commended (not endorsed) for the archbishops’ study a paper written by your editor on the subject of “Broken Communion.” This paper argues, among other things, that the repudiation of the Lambeth Resolutions confronts the whole Anglican Communion with a question of its integrity and internal discipline.

The call for a disciplinary judgment from the Primates follows logically from the key Lambeth Resolutions.

IF the Anglican Communion is constituted by its fidelity to the primary authority of Scripture (1998 Lambeth Resolution III.1); and
IF the practice of homosexuality is contrary to Scripture (Resolution 1.10); and
IF a diocese or province sanctions this practice; and
IF this diocese or province harasses parishes, clergy and people because they uphold the biblical teaching on sexuality,
THEN the Communion must deal with this violation of its own integrity and identity…

The question of whether the Anglican Communion has any integrity as an ecclesial body is clearly of great importance in ecumenical dialogues. Archbishop Carey’s recent call for an international conference of Anglican and Roman Catholic archbishop in Canada in May 2000 should put real pressure on the Primates to demonstrate that Anglicanism is not a mere hodge-podge of communities with historic ties to the Church of England. For the American Episcopal Church to have spurned the Lambeth Resolutions on issues where Rome’s teaching is clear would be a major embarrassment…

The Lambeth Conference did speak clearly to the American Church in its key resolutions. Sadly, many of the Episcopal Church leaders have rejected this word of warning. It is now necessary to speak forcefully, to show that the Anglican Communion will not accept the open repudiation of biblical moral norms. I do not know exactly what form of action is most prudent and godly, but I do hope and pray that the Primates of the Communion will not retreat from this matter of principle and duty.

***

This is where we stand “this joyous Eastertide” in the Episcopal Church. It may not seem joyous to be embroiled in “contentions” within the Church. And surely disputes can be a sign of a Church that has lost its focus on Christ and its patience in the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:39). However, the appearance of conflict and contention is also the sign of a church in ferment, a church coming alive in the Gospel, a church which is responding sacrificially to the message of the Risen Lord (Ephesians 6:12).

Pray, brothers and sisters, that we may be the latter kind of church, contending only “for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Stephen Noll, Editor

This article appeared in the April 1999 edition of Encompass, the newsletter of the American Anglican Council. Used with permission.

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