Tuesday, August 12, 1997

Fourth and Goal: A Perilous and Hopeful Situation

A General Convention Reflection

A first-time visitor to the General Convention in Philadelphia this July could not help by be struck by the contested state of the Episcopal Church. Ours is not the church of Acts 2:42 but of Revelation 2-3. (It is fitting therefore that the next General Convention will take place at the millennium in 2000.)

Time and time again, one found speakers at microphones who were worldviews apart, representing “Integrity,” the homosexual lobby, on the one hand, or the American Anglican Council on the other. Integrity managed to inject sexuality into virtually every hearing, with gay and lesbian couples repeatedly “telling their stories.” The AAC, by contrast, organized speakers to address issues from several perspectives: biblical teaching, the need for consensus within the Anglican Communion, and the need to strengthen the traditional family in our chaotic society.

So if the General Convention was a contest, who won? “We’ve won,” declared Integrity’s spin doctors with their usual bravado. In fact, they failed to achieve their primary goal: official sanction of homosexual practice. The Convention rejected various attempts to change or subvert the official teaching that marriage is God’s exclusive norm for sexual relationships. (Permission for dioceses to designate “domestic partners” for Church health insurance was the closest Integrity came to official approval.)

The election of a Presiding Bishop who has publicly repudiated the Church’s traditional teaching on sexuality is distressing. As with all other issues, Bishop Frank Griswold’s election was closely contested. He received what some called the “Clinton mandate.” The question is whether, like the President and unlike Bishop Browning, Bishop Griswold moves to the center by offering genuine franchise to conservatives within Church decision-making bodies.

The attempt via canon law to disenfranchise opponents of women’s ordination is just the kind of power play that will test the leadership of the new Presiding Bishop. Opposition to this canon revision brought together a surprising coalition of biblically orthodox, ordained women and traditionalists associated with the Episcopal Synod of America. They too will be challenged to work and talk and pray together in the years ahead.

So where are we? In a sober appraisal, Bishop John Howe of Central Florida commented: “We haven’t won a thing! But we have stopped the ball at the one-yard line. I have no doubt whatsoever that three years hence they will get it all – unless Lambeth and the Holy Ghost decide otherwise.”

This appraisal is also hopeful, especially if we consider that it’s “fourth and goal to go.” A goal-line stand is often the turning point in a football game. There were signs at this Convention that biblically minded Episcopalians could play defense and that they had a game plan for the next possession.

One little-noted event was the passage of the canon on doctrine (Title IV.15), which affirmed that “the Doctrine of the Church is to be found in the Canon of Holy Scripture as understood in the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds, and in the sacramental rites, the Ordinal, and the Catechism in the The Book of Common Prayer. The affirmation of the primary authority of Scripture may be the “fist-sized cloud” (1 Kings 18:44) that tokens the end of the Walter Righter era and a day of latter rain for the Episcopal Church.

Our situation is perilous. Therefore, by biblical precedent, God has got us where he wants us. The Holy Ghost alone must be our guardian and guide. We must hope and pray that the Spirit will direct the Anglican bishops at the Lambeth Conference next year to clarify the truth of God’s design for marriage and sexuality. And we will seek his wisdom and power as we continue in our beloved Church.

As many tired workers return home to the “trivial round and common task,” we will apply the Spirit’s forgiving and renewing grace for whatever the Lord brings us in the time to come. In the Church and in our lives, the warfare may be fierce and the struggle long, but “thanks be God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This editorial first appeared in the August 1997 issue of Encompass, the newsletter of the American Anglican Council. Used with permission.

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