To no one’s surprise, this summer’s Convention in Anaheim, California, decided to wriggle out of the very loose restraints which it had imposed upon itself in the 2006 Resolution B033. In that resolution it had accepted a certain form of the moratoria on the election of partnered gay clergy as bishops and on liturgical recognition of same-sex partnerships, as requested by the Anglican Communion’s Instruments of Unity. This resolution was not technically repealed at Anaheim. Nonetheless, in the view of almost every observer, Resolution D025 has opened the door to the ordination of such persons; Resolution C056 has opened the door to liturgies for quasi-marital blessings of their unions. (The Presiding Bishop insisted that these resolutions are “descriptive” rather than “prescriptive” in force, but it is to be doubted whether such gossamer-fine distinctions will be maintained, even by her. What is acknowledged is permitted, and what is permitted soon becomes mandatory ”“ that is the pattern of most innovations over the past forty years.)
Because these resolutions authorize what the Bible and the Church catholic have not authorized, they cannot be reconciled with the fundamental constitutional commitments of the Episcopal Church to “uphold and propagate the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer”, and to do so as “a constituent member of the Anglican Communion”. Nor can they be reconciled with the teaching of the Communion articulated in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.
In an age of social tolerance like ours the controversy these resolutions stir up may seem inexplicable. It is worth attending to the recent reflections of the Archbishop of Canterbury ”“ a theologian who cannot be accused of reactionary views, and indeed is considered by many conservatives to concede too much to the liberal position (the complete statement may be read at http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/2502). He argues convincingly that the action of General Convention destroys the very communion that is intrinsic to the Church’s mission:
“the issue [he writes] is not simply about civil liberties or human dignity or even about pastoral sensitivity to the freedom of individual Christians to form their consciences on this matter. It is about whether the Church is free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage.
“In the light of the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.
“This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church’s teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires. (…) … a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle. (…)
“When a local church seeks to respond to a new question, to the challenge of possible change in its practice or discipline in the light of new facts, new pressures, or new contexts, as local churches have repeatedly sought to do, it needs some way of including in its discernment the judgement of the wider Church. Without this, it risks becoming unrecognisable to other local churches, pressing ahead with changes that render
it strange to Christian sisters and brothers across the globe.
“This is not some piece of modern bureaucratic absolutism, but the conviction of the Church from its very early days. The doctrine that ‘what affects the communion of all should be decided by all’ is a venerable principle.”
Where then does the schismatic unilateralism of the General Convention leave the diocese of Georgia? Since our communion with the wider church is through the local bishop and not the General Convention or the Presiding Bishop, we must be grateful that Bishop Louttit in conscience voted against these resolutions. Moreover, the lay delegation of the diocese voted 4-0 against both resolutions. Less happily, the clergy (hereby dubbed the weakest link) voted 3-1 in favour of C056 and was divided 2-2 on D025. Since two of the clergy delegates are candidates for bishop (William Willoughby and Frank Logue), how they voted is a matter of legitimate public interest which the report on the diocesan website coyly withholds. As for Saint John’s, at the next Vestry meeting I trust the State of the Church committee will propose a resolution declaring where we stand as a parish.
–The Rev. Gavin Dunbar is rector, Saint John’s, Savannah, Georgia