by The Rev. Dr. Caroline J.A. Hall
President of Integrity USA
Yesterday afternoon the deputation from South Carolina went home. Not just because they were tired and the Exhibition Hall has been closed and the Convention Center cafes are hardly open, but:
"Due to the actions of General Convention, the South Carolina Deputation has concluded that we cannot continue with business as usual. We all agree that we cannot and will not remain on the floor of the House and act as if all is normal. John Burwell and Lonnie Hamilton have agreed to remain at Convention to monitor further developments and by their presence demonstrate that our action is not to be construed as a departure from the Episcopal Church. Please pray for those of us who will be traveling early and for those who remain."
They didn’t explain why, but most pundits assume that it is in response to the authorization of rites for same-gender blessings. That’s probably correct because their Canon Theologian, Kendal Harmon had this to say about the Same-Sex Blessing decision:
"This General Convention action is unbiblical, unchristian, unanglican and unseemly. It will further wreak havoc among Anglicans, and indeed Christians, in North America and around the world.
I am sorry that he sees it that way. It goes without saying that I don’t.
Harmon’s comment on holiness is surprising given the recent admission of Alan Chambers, president of Exodus international, that they cannot “cure” homosexuality after all. If I understand Harmon correctly he is saying that Jesus Christ transforms us to a holiness which is defined by the norms of the last two thousand years of Christianity. The problem with that statement is that the Holy Spirit hasn’t done that for me. And I know an awful lot of other people who haven’t been transformed into the shape defined by two thousand years of history; twenty centuries that have been wrought with conflict, war and oppression (I’m thinking Crusades, Inquisition, Thirty Years war, slavery). I have stopped trying to be heterosexual, I have stopped trying to be changed into that restrictive shape of holiness. Instead I look for the fruits of the Spirit in my life and ministry. And I see them.
So does the Episcopal Church. “To Set Our Hope on Christ”, an important theological statement written for the Nottingham meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in 2005, says, “we note that members of our Church have begun to discern genuine holiness in the lives of persons of same-sex affection”. How much more so now we have experienced the gifts of ministry in the life and person of two bishops, as well as in the lives of the LGBT people we know and love.
We cannot and will not go back into the cookie-cutter holiness that demands that we conform to the social norms of a bygone era. Wasn’t that why Jesus constantly challenged the Pharisees? Wasn’t that why Paul was so opposed to circumcision and a return to the Jewish law?
In Christ we are free. Free to live in a new way, and free to disagree. I am grateful for a Church that includes both Kendal Harmon and me. We have much to learn from one another. But I have to disagree that blessing same-gender relationships is “unbiblical, unchristian, unanglican and unseemly”.
Harmon knows my position even better than I know his, so I won’t rehearse once again the argument against unbiblical and unchristian. I suspect that “seemly” or “unseemly” is in the eye of the beholder, or at least in the gut of the onlooker. Recent ethical theory suggests that we often have a gut response to something for which we then construct a rationale. “Seemliness” is surely a matter of the gut – was it seemly for David to dance naked before the ark? Was it seemly for Jesus to overturn the tables of the moneychangers?
But unanglican (sic) I will push back against. The Church of England was born in the middle of social upheaval and political controversy. “Anglicanism” has been contextualized wherever it has gone and has generated new understandings of God, humanity and the work of the Trinity. We are a thoughtful, passionate people. We have major disputes regularly. It is probably more normal for us to be disagreeing than to be peacefully in sync with one another.
There are many Anglicans who agree with our siblings in South Carolina. There are many other Anglicans who agree with me. (Some of them may live in South Carolina and may need the resources Integrity can offer.) There are even more Anglicans who don’t need to take a position. I’m sorry that you “need to differentiate to stay loyal to Christ” but I understand it. “We” also need to differentiate to stay loyal to Christ. We need to differentiate ourselves from those who preach religious oppression, from those who would put LGBTQ people out of the church, those who would put people like me in prison, or even to death. Their voices resonate loudly in the ears of LGBTQ people and their allies.
Our world needs to hear loud and clear that God loves everyone, no exceptions, and that God doesn’t expect or even want, cookie-cutter holiness.