More That Unites Than Divides, Episcopalians Tell ACC

Episcopal News Service. June 22, 2005 [062205-1]

Matthew Davies

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold joined six presenters at the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting in Nottingham June 21, explaining that while the Episcopal Church includes diverse views on sexuality, common mission continues.

"Although certain actions by the Episcopal Church have deeply distressed a number of you, we have not come to argue," Griswold said. "I want to be clear that the Episcopal Church has not reached a common mind. However, it is our desire to be faithful to scripture. It is my hope that in the tradition of classical Anglicanism we will be united in Christ's love and called to serve the world in Christ's name."

The presentation came at the invitation of the ACC and in response specifically to the Windsor Report's request (paragraph 135) to outline "how a person living in a same gender union may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ."

A booklet titled "To Set Our Hope on Christ" was distributed as part of the presentation. [Link to the text: ]. "We believe that God has been opening our eyes to acts of God that we had not known how to see before," the text states.

Joining Griswold in addressing the ACC were Bishop Neil Alexander of Atlanta; Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana; Bishop Suffragan Catherine Roskam of New York; the Rev. Michael Battle, academic vice president of Virginia Theological Seminary; the Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity and an assisting priest at All Saints' Church in Pasadena, California; and Jane Tully, founder of CFLAG (Clergy Families of Lesbians and Gays) and a parishioner of St. Bartholomew's Church in New York City.

Welcoming the listening process as recommended by the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution 1.10, Roskam recognized that humility is required from those who speak in Western contexts. "Through history we have been more ready to speak than hear," she said. "It is our desire to hear and learn the theological differences of Anglicans around the world. Perhaps mutual humility is an essential virtue throughout the Anglican Communion."

Roskam acknowledged that the presenters comments may seem surprising or unsettling to some people, but "there is no intention to grieve or hurt you in any way," she said. "We want to serve our God [and] we pray that whatever differences there are that they may not be overtaken [by] the divisiveness from this world."

The Rev. Michael Battle described how the Episcopal Church has struggled with the issue of sexuality just as the early church struggled with gentiles in its midst. "The inclusion of the gentiles in the early church was of great controversy," he said. "We have learned to appropriate scripture differently from many other Christians. We are still learning that this remains a complex matter as it did in the early church."

The Bible is interpreted in different ways throughout the Anglican Communion," Battle said. "We need to trust the Holy Spirit in our midst. We have learned that scripture is not a threat and it should not be used to destroy others or categorize others ... We've learned to read scripture in a way to make sense of its whole."

He added: "We invite you to continue to listen and we invite you to hear us as we are hearing you."

The Rev. Susan Russell, an assisting priest at All Saints' Church in Pasadena, California, and president of Integrity, a national organization for gays and lesbians in the Episcopal Church, addressed the ACC as the only gay member on the delegation.

"In some degree I am charged for speaking for countless [gay and lesbian] people," Russell said. "I carry many of their stories with me and it is my deepest hope that this meeting will be about the beginning of a genuine listening process ... and making the experiences of the gay and lesbian faithful more readily available to the wider church."

Russell explained that her parish in Pasadena has flourished and numbers have greatly increased since the congregation began blessing same-sex unions. She also acknowledged the witness of people who say they have been healed of their homosexuality. "I do not doubt the sincerity of their witness and I praise God if they have found a place of healed," she said, [but] it is not possible to be healed of something that is not an illness. What matters to God is not our sexual orientation but our theological orientation."

A mother of two sons and wife for nearly 40 years of the Rev. Bill Tully, rector of St. Bartholomew's Church in New York City, Jane Tully, offered a personal account of dealing with homosexuality in her own family. Ten years ago the Tullys' younger son announced that he is gay and, at first, Jane Tully feared for his health and worried that he would face the same discrimination that many gay and lesbian people do every day.

"I had many questions, but I knew three things for sure," she said. "I knew that I loved Jonah, I knew that God made him and Jesus loves him, I knew that he was the same beautiful, funny person that I know now. Nothing had changed, but I had to learn what it meant."

The best way to learn about my son's sexuality was to listen, Tully added. "I listened to my son because I loved him, I listened to other people, I listened to my husband and others in the church [and] I listened to Jesus and to my heart," she said. "I learned that my son didn't choose to be attracted to men. I did not choose my sexual attraction and neither did my husband."

Tully explained that people discover sexuality deep within themselves. "I believe that this is an essential God given reality," she said. "I believe that God made some people to love the same sex and the other sex. It is pretty clear to me that God loves diversity, just look at the world."

There is much talk about sin and sinners, and Christian scape-goating of people with same-gender orientation has been going on for centuries, she explained. "It is deeply hurtful. In my view, the sin is not who you love, it is refusing to listen and to see God's love in the people he gave us and who are different from ourselves," she added. "We have all paid a great price for this, and I believe that God is leading us to a new place."

In the Episcopal Church there is a new and growing network of families like Tully's, she said "We all went through a process of listening and learning when our people told us the truth," she explained. "...Some of us were angry and unable to accept the reality in front of us. Some of us were surprised but all of us have a lot to learn."

As families this doesn't have to break us apart, it can make us stronger, Tully added. "I believe this can be the experience of our Anglican family too. Our family has embraced my gay son and it has brought us closer to one another and taught us that what we have in common is much more than that which divides us."

Two bishops from the Episcopal Church, Charles Jenkins of Louisiana and Neil Alexander of Atlanta, voted differently to the consent to the election of Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. They spoke about how it is possible to hold divergent points of view about sexuality and theological interpretation, yet remain in Communion.

Jenkins, who serves the Presiding Bishop in his council of advice, explained that although he did not give his consent to Robinson's election and remains convinced that sexuality should be between a man and a woman, "my presence is an act of obedience to Jesus who calls his flock to unity."

Griswold and Jenkins are in obvious disagreement, Jenkins said, "but I believe in every fiber of my being that Frank Griswold would guard my interest if I could not and I would guard his if he could not. Such relationships of trust are not uncommon in the Episcopal Church."

Jenkins explained that his presence at the ACC was intended to "give you a glimpse how I as a bishop who voted in the minority at the 2003 General Convention now lives and functions in the Episcopal Church."

"I affirm in all humility that every bishop, and the majority of bishops, clergy and laity in the Episcopal Church, want to remain a part of the Anglican Communion" he added "As Christians we highly value family and I pray that we may continue with integrity and will remain within the Anglican Communion. I do not choose to walk separately from you and I pray that you will not walk separately from me."

Alexander expressed his hope that the consultation would be the start of an ongoing process to listen as called for by 1998 Lambeth Conference. "I am convinced that if we talk more to one another, we will discover the gifts of the risen Christ," he said. "I believe that we are called to be faithful to the fundamental mysteries of the risen Christ. I believe that ... people of faith ... can live together with integrity in spite of different viewpoints..."

Having given his consent to Robinson's election, "I did so thoughtfully and prayerfully and ... with the understanding that the people of the Diocese of Atlanta would walk together with me through mission and ministry," he said.

"As I have reflected on the life of our church I have been encouraged by the strength and vitality," he said. "The decisions of the 74th General Convention have left no one unaffected. We have welcomed the Windsor Report. It continues to be the source through which a great deal of exchange has occurred [and] we will continue to widen the circle of our consultation and discernment."

The conversations relating to issues of human sexuality have been hard with passionate voices on both sides of the argument, Alexander explained. "Many people have found significant common ground. Consensus will emerge in time, both within my own church and the Anglican family along as we continue in conversation. The key to our life needs to move from beyond conversation and consensus to commitment ... I am here because of my commitment to the life and work to the Anglican Communion."

Alexander urged people to see this as a season and a time for "a renewed commitment of our life with one another. It means that there needs to be a place in my church for my dear friend Charles Jenkins, because we are committed to each other's interests at all times."

Alexander's collegiality with Jenkins is not unique in the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, he explained. "It is a commitment that is deep and broad and high and a commitment that is shared with our clergy and laity," he said. "I do not know of anyone in our church who does not value the relationship with our brothers and sisters around the Anglican Communion. Our relationships with one another are of the utmost importance.

"I believe that the risen Christ calls us into relationship with one another because our mission," he added. "It is to that mission that I am committed, that the Episcopal Church is committed -- and for the sake of that mission that we seek to set our hope on Christ."

[thumbnail: Presiding Bishop Frank Gr...]