Dear Bp. Jefferts Schori,
I am an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of South Carolina and attended the [recent] meeting on Monday with you at St. Andrews, Mt. Pleasant. As I was rising to speak, time was called so I did not have an opportunity to offer my thoughts to you and those of us gathered.
First, thank you for your willingness to come and be with us. It seems always essential to meet face-to-face when there is conflict, mistrust and disagreement between parties. So, I am glad for the opportunity provided us to meet with you and listen to you in person. Perhaps you were able to listen to us as well.
I certainly won’t attempt to speak all that is on my mind, but as a 3rd generation Episcopal priest, the angst and sadness I feel for this province of the Anglican Communion could not be any deeper. I’ve written you once before about this, in fact””the only two occasions I have ever felt called to communicate with the Presiding Bishop. The perspective I offer is this. A majority of Episcopalians has chosen new directions with regards to an understanding of the primacy of Scripture and Biblical authority, with regards to the uniqueness and supremacy of Jesus Christ and his saving work, and finally with regards to marriage of same-sex persons. (If you only agree that it is the last of these three, the rest written below still can stand.)The side you are on has won the political battle for the high ground. Now that your battle has been won, one of the most urgent questions that remain is how to treat the losers. One can continue to wield power and simply beat us into submission or drive us out of the family. One can use every jot and tittle of the letter of the law to demean, belittle and thoroughly bind us by forceful, aggressive litigation and by a ”˜take no prisoners’ mentality. In other words, we are being told to do it the way the winners would have it or face various forms of reprisal. For those of us on the loser’s side, it is embarrassing, humiliating and heart-rending.
As Dr. [Kendall] Harmon highlighted on Monday [February 25th], this is not about 45 parishes. It is countless more! I have hundreds in my parish alone who are still in the Episcopal Church, but barely hanging on. For me, the operative word is thousands. That is the word for the winners to remember. There are thousands upon thousands who have left the Episcopal Church, are leaving the Episcopal Church, or simply have totally detached from the Episcopal Church solely for the reasons of General Convention decisions of the past decade. Thousands, tens of thousands, are spiritually dislocated and have lost their spiritual home””exiles, in other words. Are the winners certain they wish to jettison them all?
And yet as I read Episcopal Life or read quotations from Executive Council or from the Presiding Bishop’s office, I read that all is fine, there is great ministry going on (And I believe that is true in spite of the circumstances, but not relevant to the issues at hand.), and this is a little storm soon to pass over. I’ve been hearing that since 2000, but I do not believe it is true. Neither do I believe the storm is abating as I believe I heard you suggest on Monday.
Is there another alternative that the winners might choose in how they might treat the losers? Is there a Christ-alternative that rises above the law that transcends usual human behaviors that would be life-giving for all? I believe there is! It has not been heeded thus far because of the unwillingness to move from power to love. But, the gospel finally stands only on a measure of love whose depth is as wide and deep as the measure of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Paul Zahl in his book Grace in Practice writes:
”¦the case I know best, has occurred in relation to the loss of status on the part of the ”˜orthodox’ or ”˜conservative’ minority of the Episcopal Church in relation to the struggle over human sexuality”¦.The interest of it here is not in the issue of Christian social ethics that precipitated it, but in the political defeat of a minority by a majority in an institutional church, and the way this defeat played out. No mercy was given. The result was total loss and splitting.
This is what happened. A victory in the form of a political vote was won, and the winning group was unable to assure the losers that a place would remain for dissidents within a comprehensive church. The minority appealed to the majority for ”˜space’ or toleration: a place of safety, a ”˜no-fly’ sector within the American Episcopal Church. This was not granted, and the spin-out of the long process of applications for such a place of safety is a paper trail worthy of study. But the victors, to whom the losers constantly appealed, did not give grace. Formal concession was never granted. The result was a species of martyrdom for ”˜conservative’ Episcopalian Christians. The formal result was a long-term hemorrhage, and the end of what had once been an uneasy but official unity. (p. 230)
I would offer that this is clearly the perception of thousands of present and former Episcopal Christians. As a presbyter of the Church I appeal to your high office, Bp. Jefferts Schori, to seek for ways of creating space for us to co-exist while we sort out the turmoil of disparate views of sexuality, Biblical authority, the supremacy of Christ. What the winners are doing is not working. Oliver Cromwell’s plea to his adversaries applies here to the winners yet again, ”˜I beseech thee by the bowels of Christ, could ye be wrong?’
–(The Rev.) Mike Lumpkin is rector, Saint Paul’s, Summerville, South Carolina