September 2009 – During the 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in July, a majority of the denomination’s bishops set their faces like flint in support of a sinful lifestyle – homosexuality – that the Bible declares to be an “abomination.”
The 2.4-million member TEC is the American branch of the 77-million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion. Most of that communion is theologically conservative.
In 2003 TEC stunned the Anglican Communion by consecrating a non-repentant homosexual, Rev. Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire. This defiant act flew in the face of not only Scripture but also Anglican tradition.
“The teaching of the Anglican Church remains that homosexual activity is not compatible with Scripture,” said Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and figurehead leader of the Anglican Communion.
At TEC’s 2009 convention, however, delegates overwhelmingly passed two controversial resolutions that were merely two more steps in a stubborn march on the path toward schism. The first, Resolution D025, opened the door for the embrace of homosexual clergy. The second, Resolution C056, made way for Episcopal priests to openly bless same-sex relationships – possibly including the performance of homosexual weddings.
Following the Robinson controversy, conservative leaders worldwide insisted to TEC that it forgo further consecration of homosexual bishops or risk the permanent fracture of the Anglican Communion. That led the General Convention in 2006 to pass Resolution B033, which called upon Episcopal bishops to “exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”
That “restraint” came to an end this summer. Resolution D025 “effectively removed the moratorium which was agreed to three years ago on the consecration of non-celibate practicing homosexuals as bishops,” Jeff Walton, director of the Anglican Action program at the Institute of Religion and Democracy, told AFA Journal.
It was clear that TEC leadership was chafing under the restriction of B033 because they believed homosexuals were worthy of consecration. Thus D025 stated, “God has called and may call such [gay and lesbian] individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church.”
Meanwhile, the issue of whether or not TEC should bless same-sex relationships – the subject matter of Resolution C056 – was a little murkier.
According to a PBS story in 2007, while TEC had not officially endorsed the blessing of homosexual unions, some 10% of its 110 dioceses now perform same-sex blessings. None are allowed to perform homosexual marriages.
But C056 noted the “changing circumstances in the United States and in other nations” regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage. It also authorized bishops to “provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members” within TEC.
What does that mean? It means that the majority of the Episcopal leadership celebrates homosexual relationships.
In her letter to the church about the 2009 General Convention, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said TEC applauded “same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships ‘characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God. …”
Nevertheless, convention delegates seemed reticent to openly antagonize the Anglican Communion by brazenly calling for a same-sex version of the marriage liturgy. So, without specifying exactly to what “generous pastoral response” referred, the General Convention called for the church to “collect and develop theological and liturgical resources” and report back to the next gathering in 2012.
Conservatives presume this indicates that the pro-gay Episcopal leadership intends to sift through these collections and establish an official same-sex marriage liturgy to be performed at homosexual weddings.
In any case, delegates moved with strategic precision to advance the gay agenda, since the embrace of homosexual clergy and a wider latitude when it comes to blessing same-sex relationships was clearly no accident. The two issues are not only related on a fundamental level, but TEC could not embrace one without the other.
“There have been openly gay clergy in the Episcopal Church for some time,” Walton said. “Technically they were not supposed to be partnered – they were supposed to be celibate.”
The pro-gay TEC leadership thus had to deal with both issues at once. Even if the convention OK’d the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy, if the church forbade the recognition of same-sex relationships then those ministers who entered into one might be disciplined. Likewise, homosexuals living with a same-sex partner might be disqualified from being ordained in the first place.
But Williams said the exact opposite was true: Same-sex relationships are wrong and so is the consecration of openly – that is to say, practicing – gay clergy.
In his own statement regarding TEC’s passage of D025 and C056, Williams said gay relationships are not something “that the Church’s teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how [practicing homosexuals] can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.”
Heart of the Gospel
Liberal leaders of TEC have refused to yield ground. Schori said that to reverse the direction of the denomination on these matters would be to cease “being honest about who and where we are.”
Some advocates – like Susan Russell, an Episcopal priest and president of the pro-gay group Integrity USA – are even bolder. On the PBS program Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Russell said the full acceptance of homosexuality reflected “our vision of the inclusive Gospel.”
But the true Gospel is centered on the divinity of the Son of God, His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection, and presents the unique and divine Jesus Christ as being the only mediator between God and man.
According to Walton, this is where the real battle lies in TEC. “The human sexuality arguments that were so high-profile at this convention aren’t really what the controversy is about. They’re symptomatic of the controversy,” he said. “The real thing that’s at stake here is who is Jesus Christ – what’s His identity and who does He say He is?”
This has led some conservatives to question whether or not TEC has exchanged the true Gospel for the so-called “social Gospel,” which in some cases replaces the preaching of the cross with calling for a utopian effort to better society.
The presiding bishop seems to have clearly embraced the latter. When asked in 2006 what her focus would be as the newly-elected head of the U.S. church, Schori told Time magazine she thought the “primary focus” of TEC “needs to be on feeding people who go to bed hungry, on providing primary education to girls and boys, on healing people with AIDS, on addressing tuberculosis and malaria, on sustainable development.”
There was not a single mention of the proclamation of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins … in His name to all the nations” (Luke 24:47), nor of “making disciples of all nations” and teaching them to obey the teachings of Christ (Matt. 28:19, 20).
But Schori not only exalts the social gospel, she disparages conservative emphasis on orthodox belief. She told Time she prayed that “we remember the centrality of our mission is to love each other. That means caring for our neighbors. And it does not mean bickering about fine points of doctrine.”
Such “fine points of doctrine” apparently include the centrality of the saving work of Jesus Christ. When bluntly asked by Time, “Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?”, she said: “We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.”
This is why Walton said the dust-up over homosexuality “is really a battle between historic Biblical Christianity and an anything-goes Universalism.”
A coming schism?
Canon Kendall Harmon, theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina, said he expected conservative bishops worldwide to view the decisions of the General Convention as further evidence that TEC has lost its way.
“They will see this unsurprisingly as a church that’s become untethered from apostolic Christianity, continuing to go on its own way and leaving them and the Biblical faith and the Communion behind, and I think they will continue to see it that way,” Harmon said. He added, “So what you’re going to have is you’re going to have increasing chaos, I’m afraid, in the [Anglican] Communion and in North America. I think [schism] is very much down the road.”
Walton agreed and said the breach between TEC and Anglican conservatives would probably never be healed. “Healing that wound is only going to happen with some sort of reversal or repentance by the Episcopal Church, and I don’t believe that’s going to happen,” he said.
Neither man could precisely predict what the results would look like should schism occur, especially regarding what conservatives might do in the U.S.
Regardless, trying to change TEC from within would increasingly seem to be futile. If the leader of a Christian denomination will not proclaim that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, hasn’t that church by very definition ceased to be Christian?
Doesn’t a church which has embraced sodomy as a valid and holy expression of God’s purposes for mankind deserve to have “Ichabod” written above its doors – indicating that the glory of God has departed (1 Samuel 4:21)?
And if not, what would it take?