The Windsor Report invited the Episcopal Church in the US to explain “from within the sources of authority that we as Anglicans have received in scripture, the apostolic tradition and reasoned reflection, how a person living in a same gender union may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ” (Ã‚Â§135). Among many other things, the Episcopal Church’s careful response lists a number of issues-stewardship of creation, usury, slavery, just war, abortion, capital punishment, contraception, marriage and divorce, evolution, labor laws, and property rights among them-with respect to which “the Church’s appropriation of Scripture has been complex and in many cases … at odds with the most obvious sense of the biblical text.”
Like “the threat of schism over the role of women in [ordained leadership of] the Church,” the current controversy represents a moment of “severe theological and institutional crisis” for the Episcopal Church, and indeed for the wider Anglican Communion. Following the Episcopal Church’s reconciliation of northern and southern church structures after the Civil War, the House of Bishops refrained from addressing the question of race relations in pastoral letters for the rest of the nineteenth century, resulting in a mass exodus of African Americans and prompting one historian to describe the General Convention of 1865 as “abhorring ecclesiastical schism more than the suffering of people held in bondage.”74 Today the Episcopal Church seems prophetically clear about which violence is greater, and the more greatly to be abhorred.
The “lesser” violence of schism, however, is not to be suffered lightly, for preserving ecclesial communion as the proper context for hermeneutical work is integral to an Anglican understanding of reception of the living Word through the written word, traditioned experience, and reasoned reflection. “In the process of discernment and reception,” urges the 1997 Virginia Report, “relationships need to be maintained, for only in fellowship is there opportunity for correcting one-sidedness or ignorance.”75 For good and ill, the Anglican Communion enjoys no structure equivalent to the Pontifical Biblical Commission in the Roman tradition. For good, possibly, a broad church with soft edges has flourished seasonally and regionally, creating a healthy dialectical environment for theological discourse. For ill, certainly, implicitness has for too long governed its hermeneutical theories and argumentative practice. Under such conditions it is too easy for ecclesial identity-formation to become culturally fraternal, and thus biblically fratricidal and idolatrous.
As the Anglican Church narrows and hardens-to the point of being brittle-around positions on what the Bible says (or doesn’t say) in relation to this issue, greater accountabihty is needed to what its own tradition teaches the Bible is, and, in the unprotected space of public discourse, to those wider canons of sense-making by which our structurally murderous desire is held in reasonable check. Clearly the resources exist within the formularies and plausibility structures of Anglicanism to make such things explicit. By attending to these more intentionally, perhaps we can learn to be more fully ourselves: to “come out” as Anghcans-gay, lesbian, and straight-precisely by “staying in” communion.
Please take the time to read it all.