Too Small a Calling
THE SECOND NATIONAL Coalition for the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions met in mid-July at the National Cathedral in Washington. They continued working on a rite for homosexual ‘marriages’ (for that is what their Celebration of Commitment to a Life Together is intended to be) and called on next summer’s General Convention to authorize such a rite.
Nine of the eleven seminaries (theological colleges) were represented at this meeting, several surely unofficially, as even today such involvement will alarm some graduates and offend some contributors. The nine did not include us nor, I presume, the one Anglo-Catholic seminary, Nashotah House though their liturgics professor is one of the organizers of the Affirming Catholicism movement in this country.
This means that nine seminaries, producing about 90% of the ordinands each year, had at least one person on their faculties committed to an innovation clearly contrary to Christianity. (I put it so, because to modify the word Christianity with biblical or traditional or some other qualifier implies that the Faith of the Church is merely one option among several. That, I think, we should not do.) To put it another way, even if the majority of the faculty in some of these nine still holds to the biblical teaching, their institutional life declares that diversity on this point is a good thing: which is to say, the sinfulness of homosexual acts being obvious, that diversity on any point is a good thing. This is a bad thing.
At the same time as the coalition, the Standing Liturgical Commission and the bishops’ theology committee have asked the seminaries to give their thoughts on rites honouring love and commitment between persons of the same sex and promised them that their contributions would not be made public, except in a report summarizing all their responses. I am not being cynical in thinking that this is intended to get the seminaries’ authority behind the rites by letting them speak freely, while sparing several of them the protest their public support of homosexual marriage would cause them.
Our academic dean, Stephen Noll, wrote to protest the secrecy, saying that our contribution would be public and urging the other seminaries to do likewise. So far the policy has not been changed. (One of his essays prepared for the prosecution in the Righter trial, on the dependence of discipline upon doctrine, will be appearing in Churchman, by the way.)
The Synod meeting
At its annual meeting in June, the Episcopal Synod declared that those who had signed Bishop Spong’s Statement of Koinonia had placed themselves out of communion with us. Whether most members will actually follow the resolution, I do not know; most conservative Episcopalians are really congregationalists who have no idea that communion puts them into an intimate relationship with people with whom they should not be so intimate.
I know the point seems obvious to you, as Forward in Faith began with a strong statement on communion, but passing this resolution is important for the Synod. We have been plagued for thirty years by a mechanistic concern solely with the validity of the sacraments, a theology a friend calls ‘the magic cookie theory’ and one which justified continuing in intimacy with heretics, because through them you still received your dose of grace. Those of us who asked about the relationship in which the sacraments were administered were attacked as extremists, hard-liners, or (one of the Anglo-Catholic’s favourite insults) Donatists.
Yet ours seemed and seems a simple point: sharing in the Eucharist (like sex) both expresses and creates a unity with others, and one should agree with them quite substantially before sharing it with them. Therefore it has its limits. A man ought to recognize the validity of another man’s marriage, but he should still stay out of bed with that man’s wife.
The resolution was not universally popular, even now, and passed with less than two-thirds support. During the discussion of the resolution, one elderly priest rose to say that we still had one year before the General Convention and he was sure that a lot of people were coming round to our position and that they’d join us if we just didn’t scare them by doing anything too extreme or by moving too quickly. I leaned over to John Broadhurst to say that I’d heard that same speech, in almost the same words, at every meeting I’d been to in the last ten years, and in that ten years, the orthodox resistance had shrunk by, say, 75 percent, and many of those people who were said to be moving to our side wound up on the other.
For years conservatives have counseled patience over the practice of principle, in the hope that some external movement the exhaustion of liberalism, a sudden uprising of the moderates, the establishment developing a sense of justice or tolerance or actually practicing what it preached about inclusivity and tolerance would save us from having to do anything difficult. Behind this, I think, was the realization that most supporters would not follow bold leaders even into impaired communion. We are now, I think, at the point at which principle cannot hurt any more than patience.
The Synod in London
The Synod’s steering committee (including me) will be meeting in London in conjunction with the annual meeting of Forward in Faith and Father Broadhurst’s consecration. We decided to meet with you, at some sacrifice, in part because we believe that God is using the dissolution of the established Churches (in our case established socially, in yours socially and legally too) all round the Western world to bring closer the recovery of the unity our Lord wants and expects us to have.
To Christians living in rapidly secularizing societies, in which even the memory of Christianity is being lost, trying to recapture the Episcopal Church seems much too small a calling. We would not want to miss the promise of this moment in history, like someone in Abram’s household who continued trying to capture and expel a gang of thieves while Abram set out for the Promised Land.
David Mills is the editor of The Evangelical Catholic, the journal of the Episcopal Synod of America, and the director of publishing at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry.