Saturday, January 16, 2016

Statement on the Primates' Meeting in Canterbury

My dear brothers and sisters,

The recent news from the Primates' Meeting in Canterbury has generated a lot of controversy, debate, and hurt feelings in the Episcopal Church, particularly among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer people, as well as their heterosexual allies. The resolution by the primates to exclude the Episcopal Church from the governing bodies and activities of the Anglican Communion for three years appears to many a punitive, disciplinary measure designed to pressure the Episcopal Church to retreat from its support of marriage equality by extending marriage rites to same-sex couples.

A number of parishioners have expressed their disappointment and distress to me, and have asked me to offer my perspective. Let me begin by assuring you that I share your feelings of sadness, and perhaps even anger, that the primates have taken this approach to resolving differing views around human sexuality. It does not seem to cohere with what St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, that "the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' [...] If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it." I believe that every member of the Anglican Communion will suffer and be diminished by the primates' choice of a punitive response to the experience of the Body of Christ's fragmentation.

I have no doubt that many people on the opposite side of the issue from me are acting out a sense of real integrity, regarding biblical and historical understandings of marriage. However, we as a Church have to exercise great caution that we do not coerce or bully those who would disagree with us into compliance. It was regrettable that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, chose to apologize to gay and lesbian Christians for hurt caused by the Church only moments after the primates had stigmatized them by disciplining the Episcopal Church for its longstanding commitment to the inclusion of queer people in the full sacramental life of the Church. The primates' failure, moreover, to discipline those Anglican provinces that have failed to observe the Anglican Communion's policy against homophobia and oppression by supporting legislation to persecute or even execute queer people in their countries likewise bespeaks a poor and inconsistent respect for theological difference.

The great gift of the Anglican Communion is that it is not a confessional church and that each province enjoys the autonomy to live out its Anglican identity in its distinctive context. Recent moves from primates, especially those from the Global South, to reframe Anglican polity along a more authoritarian model is deeply distressing. Anglicanism has never had a centralized international structure, such as a curia or magisterium, to enforce doctrinal compliance. The Anglican Communion is not a political and administrative bureaucracy, but rather a family or network of national and regional churches with common spiritual roots. Our longstanding relationships through shared worship, service, and fellowship have made us what we are, not legislated compliance on litmus-test issues. Although the primates' gesture of exclusion is deeply painful to many, it will in no way make the Episcopal Church any less legitimately Anglican. Tomorrow, we will gather to worship God in the Anglican heritage, as we have always done. And we will continue to be the face of the Anglican Communion in the South Loop of Chicago.

Epiphany peace and blessings,
Fr. Ethan+

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