NOT SURPRISINGLY, our bishops’ responses to the Lambeth Conference continue along the lines I described last month. Conservative bishops are happy, liberal bishops are not.
Thanks to the clarity of the resolution on sexuality and marriage, on this issue the “?center” has shrunk greatly. In general, a “centrist” or “moderate”? Episcopalian is one who does not want to take any principle to its logical conclusion, who fully affirms neither the tradition nor the innovation but who “trusts the process.”
Lambeth’s resolution eliminated most of the ambiguities in which they hide, as for example the resolution passed at our General Convention in 1991 which declared what the Church’s teaching is, while leaving unclear whether it would be so in the future and indeed whether it is truly binding now.
One centrist, the bishop of Colorado, voted at Lambeth for the resolution but returned to Denver and told the local newspaper that he did so because “Frankly, the African Church needed that vote to take back with them. They are under a great deal of pressure politically because the Muslims are watching.”?
“I think God intended heterosexual marriage,” Bp Winterrowd said, “but the reality we live with is that some people cannot live that way.” This is an example of the standard response of the conservative centrist: to acknowledge the biblical teaching but justify his openness to some innovation by conceding, for “pastoral” reasons, that one sometimes has to ignore it. The liberal centrist typically ignores the biblical teaching and justifies his hesitation to endorse an innovation by appealing to “where the Church is now.”
According to the Rocky Mountain News, “Despite his vote, he said he believes ‘?God speaks with a local accent’ and that homosexuality is not a matter of right or wrong: ‘?I don’t believe that Scripture necessarily condemns homosexuality.’ He said he hopes to begin a process of reconciliation and education by inviting African bishops here to show them ‘?committed and faithful’ gay relationships.”
Only an ardent “moderate,” who has dissolved principles into process, could think that such an experience would change the mind of a man who is a) convinced that his principles are God-given, and b) has both seen the fruits and borne the cost of living by those principles.
Mrs. Gentle-Hardy resigns
In the most surprising news of the past month, a woman priest resigned from an activist organization because it would not excommunicate “false shepherds.” The Rev’d Judith Gentle-Hardy, rector of one parish in the diocese of Massachusetts and vicar of another, resigned from the board of the American Anglican Council because she thought they had “fail[ed] to embrace the Cross.”? (In the Episcopal Church, a rector has a sort of freehold but a vicar serves at the will of the bishop.)
Her bishop, Thomas Shaw (a Cowley Father), is one of the new liberals, led by the new Presiding Bishop, who have used the forms and language of Catholicism in service of liberalism, one of the forms being a very, very high view of the bishop as (in the usual phrase) “the center of unity in the diocese.” He is a signer of Bishop Spong’s Koinonia Statement and Bishop Haine’s post-Lambeth letter, both explicit rejections of the traditional moral teaching as articulated at Lambeth.
Two years ago, Mrs. Gentle-Hardy, a member of the board of the AAC since its founding, declined to take communion when Bp Shaw visited her parish. She suffered his wrath and the eventual loss of the parish of which she was vicar, and therefore part of her income, and has been threatened with the loss of the parish of which she is rector.
The AAC did very good work at Lambeth but has been quiet here since their disappointing response to our General Convention last summer (see the August 1997 Letter). The AAC have never made it clear what they intend to do, but will not approve the breaking of communion with or withholding of funds from the liberals.
“When the Lord convicted my heart in 1996 about the horror that was taking place as a result of [Bp Shaw’s] false teaching and actions,” Mrs. Gentle- Hardy wrote in her resignation letter, “. . . the Lord also began relentlessly teaching me that there can be no compromise where His Truth is at stake.”
She was convinced “that the greatest gift we can give our brother and sister bishops and priests who have chosen to preach, teach, and act contrary to the Scriptures is our own willingness to risk everything in order to take a firm stand for the apostolic Faith. We must be willing to let the Lord make us into good shepherds who truly lay down our lives so that the Truth will be given to the sheep.
“Consequently, I firmly believe orthodox Christians in ECUSA, especially priests and bishops, must declare and live into the broken communion that exists between orthodox Christians and those bishops and other clergy who have stepped outside the bounds of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Faith by blessing same sex unions, ordaining active homosexuals or signing the Koinonia Statement. This includes declaring broken communion with the primate of ECUSA, Frank Griswold, until and unless he sincerely repents and undergoes conversion.”
Grateful for the vote at Lambeth, she wrote that “We who are the supposed orthodox bishops and priests in the U.S. must be willing to take a public stand of declaring broken communion as part of our own ongoing conversion and repentance. I believe we are wrong to ask the bishops of the 2/3rds world to do for us what we ourselves are unwilling to do.”
The cost of the Cross
She concluded her letter, after discussing at length (and movingly) the cost of taking up the Cross, by resigning from the board of the AAC. “Because the Lord continues to purify and convert this poor servant of His at deeper and deeper levels, inviting and strengthening me to join Him more completely in the Mystery of His Cross, I can no longer remain on the AAC Board because of its unwillingness to declare and live into the broken communion that already exists with those who are false shepherds in ECUSA.”
These false shepherds are “leading people away from Jesus Christ. Their evil will flourish even on the other side of Lambeth as long as good bishops, priests, and people fail to embrace the Cross. At such time as the AAC Board is moved publicly to declare and abide by the broken communion that, in reality, already exists, I will stand with you. Please know that each of you remain continually in my prayer.”
David Mills, an adjunct member of the steering committee of the Episcopal Synod of America, is the editor of The Pilgrim’s Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness, published this summer by Eerdmans.*