WHY DIALOGUE CANNOT RESOLVE THE SEXUALITY ISSUE IN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH AND THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION
Note: I wrote this essay in 1998 just prior to the Lambeth Conference and it was published in a booklet titled The Handwriting on the Wall: A Plea to the Anglican Communion (Latimer Press) The booklet was distributed to the many Global South bishops who were being presented a “compromise” plan on homosexual practice, which they later rejected in Resolution I.10.
It is noteworthy that the Archbishop of Canterbury referred to in this essay was George Carey, who in 1997 was trying to find a “middle way” between conservatives and radicals. Realizing the impossibility of compromise at Lambeth 1998, he supported the passage of a clear doctrinal teaching in Resolution I.10 on Human Sexuality. He failed to follow up on doctrinal clarity with Communion discipline of the Episcopal radicals, as did his successor Rowan Williams, promoter of the “Windsor Process,” as I have documented in my book The Global Anglican Communion, essay 4: “The Decline and Fall (and Rising Again) of the Anglican Communion.”
While some of the issues presented here are dated, the main issue is quite relevant to the argument being made by the Archbishop of Canterbury that the Lambeth Conference in 2020 should accept a diversity of views on sexuality in the name of “walking together” and “good disagreement,” which are merely gussied-up terms for “Continuing the Dialogue.”
In the feature essay of the volume, “The Handwriting on the Wall,” which I also wrote, I quoted this anecdote and comment:
After a certain vote in the General Convention that went the way of the moral innovators, someone turned to Bishop William Frey and said: “Well, Bill, I guess the handwriting is on the wall!” “Yes,” Bishop Frey replied, “and it says the same thing it said the first time.” The original handwriting was addressed to a complacent ruling class which had duped its people with idolatry. It read, Mene, Mene, Tekel Parsin: “God has numbered your days and brought it to an end” (Daniel 5:26-28). Is it possible that these are God’s words to the Episcopal Church today?
Twenty years on, is it possible that the handwriting is speaking to the Lambeth Establishment?
There was a young lady from Niger,
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger.
They returned from a ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.
The 20th century is strewn with examples of totalitarian tigers who used dialogue as a means to gain power, and of feckless compromisers who thought they could go for a ride, only to bring destruction on themselves and their people. The century has also given us a few glorious examples of leaders who understood that in matters of essential principle, standing fast is the only faithful response.
Who can forget the image of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in 1938, standing in the window of 10 Downing Street, waving a piece of paper which, he told a hopeful British public, would bring “peace for our time”?
The infamous Munich agreement with Adolf Hitler resolved that “consultation shall be the method adopted” for all disputes in Europe. In fact, the agreement emboldened Hitler to invade Czechoslovakia, cost the British half a year’s war preparation, led to Chamberlain’s resignation in disgrace, and brought to center stage Winston Churchill, the one leader who had preached bull-doggedly throughout the 1930’s against those who cried peace, peace, when there was no peace.
In the waning decades of the century, God has treated us to the example of two saints who stood steadfastly against two evil systems that have devoured untold millions of the children of earth: legalized abortion and Communism. Mother Teresa caressed the outcasts of Calcutta even as she faced down the President of the United States for “killing babies” by abortion. Emerging from the crucible of Communism in 1978, Pope John Paul II dealt the death-blow to that “progressive” worldview that had substituted materialism for the truth of God. Summoned by a desperate Fidel Castro, the last Communist true believer, the Pope stated at his first public Mass: “No ideology can replace His infinite wisdom and power.” Does anyone doubt that there will be Christians worshiping in Cuba long after the last Revolutionary is dead and buried?
The warning against false compromise is firmly rooted in the biblical understanding of God’s exclusive character and covenant. The “sin of Jeroboam,” repeatedly denounced in the Books of Kings, refers to the decision by King Jeroboam I to build “alternative” sanctuaries to the Jerusalem Temple within the northern kingdom. This decision seemed sensible, since every nation had its own shrines. The problem was that God had expressly commanded one and only one site for his name to be worshiped (Deuteronomy 12:5). Jeroboam’s policy led to rampant idolatry in his kingdom and its ultimate destruction by Assyria, the rod of Yahweh’s anger. As the prophet Isaiah saw it, God’s call to “reason together” with Israel began not with negotiations about his holy will, but with their repentance from idolatry (Isaiah 1:18-20).
The Lord Jesus repeated the lesson of the Old Testament when he stated that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:24-25). His divine Person and death on the Cross became a “stone of stumbling” to the compromisers of his day, those Jews and Greeks who wanted him as a good teacher but not as Savior and Lord. In like manner, St. Paul rejected a “separate but equal” plan for Jewish Christians to eat apart from Gentile Christians, calling it hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-14). Paul saw behind this plan a spiritual failure to accept the full implications of the Gospel of free grace in Christ. To compromise on this issue was to compromise the Gospel itself.
To compromise on essentials is a temptation with disastrous consequences. This lesson, attested in Scripture and history, is directly applicable to the sexuality debate in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. For the leaders of the Church to make room for a morality that blesses relationships and acts that God has expressly forbidden is courting the tiger. We need our Churchill, our Mother Teresa or John Paul to stand up and say No and to show us the more excellent way to freedom, peace, and love.
The essay that follows builds on my conclusion in “The Handwriting on the Wall” that the promotion of homosexuality as an alternative Christian lifestyle is an essential matter that contradicts Scripture, dishonors marriage, and introduces a pagan spirituality into the Church. From this conclusion I will go on to argue that any attempt to dialogue on this issue, if it implies negotiating a compromise, is contrary to the classical Anglican way, will not bring peace to the Church, will undermine the Church’s witness, and involves a fatal failure of Christian imagination.
Why Dialogue on Essentials Is Against the Anglican Way
Anglicans have always claimed that their faith is both catholic and Protestant: catholic in its historic continuity with the Church of the apostles, Protestant in placing the Church under the authority of the Bible and not over it or beside it. This classic view of Anglicanism can be characterized by two catch phrases: essentials and adiaphora, and via media.
Essentials and Adiaphora
The “three-legged stool” of Anglican authority – Scripture, tradition, and reason – depends on the distinction between essentials and adiaphora (adiaphora is a Greek word meaning “indifferent” or non-essential matters). The distinction hinges on the purpose of God’s revelation, which is salvation in Jesus Christ. Essential things are necessary to our eternal salvation, and they do not change. Indifferent matters, e.g., particular forms of church government or particular liturgies, may be important and are even necessary in some form, but they vary considerably from time to time and place to place.
Essentials are those core beliefs and actions clearly taught in the Bible. Richard Hooker, the premier Anglican theologian, argued that since Scripture’s main goal is to announce this salvation,
what Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit [i.e., belief] and obedience is due; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after these the voice of the Church succeedeth. (Laws V.8.2; italics added).
Church tradition may develop the teachings of Scripture, but it cannot contradict them. Reason, rightly used, may confirm biblical truth or investigate areas of God’s work not directly related to salvation.
The idea of “center and periphery” in Christian beliefs and practices only works if the center holds. The center cannot be a moving target. The Prayer Book defines this center in terms of three “rules” of faith, life, and prayer, summed up in the Creeds, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. God’s design “from the beginning” that two sexes become one flesh is part of the core teaching of the Church, clearly and consistently taught in Scripture (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:6-9). This design undergirds its doctrine, discipline, and liturgy of Holy Matrimony and the authentic identity of men and women as sexual beings.
The essentials/adiaphora distinction is constitutive of the Anglican Communion. Each member church has pledged to uphold the “substance of the Faith,” i.e. the essentials, as it has received them. Anglican churches cannot rewrite the essentials to their liking any more than the Church as a whole can rewrite the Bible. The Lambeth Quadrilateral is a statement of essentials offered to the wider Church of Christ as a permanent basis of unity. Churches may vary in all sorts of ways, the Quadrilateral says, but in essential respects, they are all one and the same. And the first of these essentials is the authority of Scripture.
The hallmark of the Anglican via media (middle way) is: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” The idea of a middle way of faith does not mean lukewarmness or political compromise, though both of these distortions can be found in Anglican Church history. Rather, it points to that balance of reason and obedience, liberty and law, that characterizes the children of God (Galatians 5:1).
The idea of Anglicanism as a “golden mean” makes no sense without the distinction between essentials and adiaphora. It is impossible for a church that holds no fixed doctrine to be moderate. Such a church simply is whatever it is at that moment in history, “doing its own thing.” When Protestant Anglicans claimed for their mother church that “the mean, thy praise and glory is” (George Herbert), they did so on the assumption she stood for something, that the Church had an indelible identity and integrity worth living and dying for.
St. Paul foresaw the danger that the openness of love might be used “as an occasion for the flesh,” that Gospel liberty might become a rationalization for libertinism (Galatians 5:13-24). And it has. In our day, Joseph Fletcher, Episcopal priest and father of “situation ethics,” defended abortion and euthanasia, practices universally condemned by Christian tradition, as an expression of the via media. And now gay-rights advocates are claiming to be mediating between fundamentalist conservatives and radical libertines in calling for “faithful monogamous” relationships between same-sex couples.
The Anglican Way Compromised
At the recent installation of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, Muslim and Jewish guests presented him with a copy of the Koran and the Hebrew Scriptures as “sacred writings from our faith traditions.” In authentic interfaith dialogues, it is agreed that dialogue may begin from different starting points based in the dissimilarity of each faith. But an interfaith approach to issues internal to one faith is a contradiction in terms. Only if one admits that there are two different religions in Anglicanism can one dialogue as we do with Muslims and Jews. To do that is to admit that we are divided over essentials.
Recently, Professor Rowan Greer of Yale University criticized as “negative” the American Anglican Council’s statement of essentials, “A Place to Stand, A Call to Mission.” Professor Greer apparently thinks all confessions are negative and questions whether any authoritative formulary at all is possible. “Perhaps what Anglicans of all stripes ought to have in common” he concludes, “is a willingness to place infallibility where it belongs, in God and His Christ.” Professor Greer hovers skeptically above the fray of doctrinal debates, leaving all to God. His position can be termed postmodern, concluding that since there are no firm foundations, it is best not to get too serious about any of them.
Postmodernism is wrong in its denial of essentials. It is also deceptive, since it usually imports its own hidden set of essentials. Many revisionist Episcopalians will conclude from Professor Greer’s shrug of the shoulders that since whatever is, is right, they may push their agenda through the councils of the Church. Without the sword of God’s Word and Spirit expressed in explicit and shared standards of faith and action, the Church becomes a political battlefield, where might makes right and whoever has the votes determines what God’s will is for the present time.
Adiaphora without essentials is like a sandwich without a filling, and a church with no stable, biblical center offers no middle way. One can be truly open-minded to dialogue on some matters only when one is absolutely committed to others. The issue to be decided in the present case is whether or not the church’s traditional teaching on sexual morality is an essential part of the Gospel. I am convinced that traditional sexual norms are essential and that revision of those norms leads inevitably to denial of other essential Christian beliefs and practices. Therefore I conclude that the Anglican Communion needs not a dialogue but a contemporary statement of biblical principle. The Kuala Lumpur Statement fits the bill with simplicity and clarity.
Why Dialogue on Sexuality Will Not Bring Peace
The desire to avoid conflict is understandable, especially when that conflict might lead to a visible break in the Church. The question, however, is how best to maintain unity: by compromise or by upholding and enforcing norms. Just as compromise about doctrinal essentials is incoherent, so also political compromise between parties who are divided over essentials cannot succeed. A house divided will eventually end up serving one master or the other – or falling to pieces. The recent history of attempts at dialogue on essentials bears this out.
The Eames Commission
The most widely known case of compromise in the Anglican Communion has been the acceptance of the ordination of women in some Provinces and its continued rejection in others. The 1988 Lambeth Conference urged its Provinces to respect the decisions of other Provinces on this issue. It also mandated a study commission, later known as the Eames Commission after its chairman Archbishop Robert Eames of Ireland, to produce a report, which it did in the early 1990’s.
The Eames Report focused its concern on how “Anglicans can continue to live together” and chose the theme of koinonia or “communion” as the solution to the problem of resolving serious differences. Certain implications flowed from this focus:
- The Report acknowledged that differences over women’s ordination led to “restricted” or “impaired” communion and that impaired communion meant an impoverishment of the Church and its mission.
- It called for a “reception period” to evaluate the innovation of women’s ordination “until a consensus of opinion one way or another has been achieved.”
- It described inconsistent practices on ordination as an “anomaly in preference to schism.”
- It rejected the idea of parallel jurisdictions for those who favor or oppose women’s ordination, arguing that each Province should decide uniformly by voting in synods.
- It denied the ecumenical damage – e.g., Pope John Paul’s warning that “the Catholic Church, like the Orthodox Church is firmly opposed to this development” – by arguing that the wider church is just beginning to formulate its tradition on this matter.
For all its practical wisdom, the Eames Report is seriously flawed in its avoidance of the question of whether the Church holds any essentials and whether women’s ordination is one of them. There are many in the Church who believe the question of women’s ordination to be adiaphora, neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture but part of a “rule” of church order which is instrumental and not fundamental to salvation. There are others who believe that women’s ordination is forbidden because it confuses or undermines the headship of Christ and men; or that is required because it is a necessary part of the equal freedom of Christians to exercise their gifts and calling.
Because the Eames Commission failed to grapple with question of essentials, it gives no guidance as to whether every issue can be treated as an anomaly that can impair but not break the communion of the Church. What if some province of the Communion elected to revise the Creeds or to allow polygamy or to worship God as Mother – notions, I might add, that are percolating in today’s progressive circles? Would these innovations trigger a similar “reception process”? The Eames Commission offers no principle on which to distinguish between these options and women’s ordination.
The Eames Report uses high-sounding language of koinonia and “open process,” but by leaving decisions to national synods, it actually politicizes the issue. The actual experience of “dialogue” in the Episcopal Church is a case in point. I do not know of one genuinely open dialogue in our Church since women’s ordination was passed in 1976 on the question of whether or not it is of God (the “Gamaliel principle” from Acts 5:38-39). The idea that, at the end of the day, the Episcopal Church might decide to undo its decision has never been allowed at national levels. When some Episcopal Church leaders say “the Church has made up its mind,” they mean, “we’ve got the votes to get our way.”
The 1997 General Convention revised its canons so as to bar opponents of women’s ordination from leadership. This action stands as a testimony to the failure of the Eames principle of reception. When push comes to shove, the Episcopal Church does not consider itself bound by the Eames principle. Expect the same reaction if the Kuala Lumpur statement is approved. And the reason is simple: American revisionists are not truly pluralists. They have their own essentials based on what they call “justice love,” and they are willing to go to the wall for these essentials.
“Continuing the Dialogue” in the Episcopal Church
Having failed to discipline sexual dissidents like Bishops Spong and Righter in the late 1980’s, Episcopal Church leaders resorted to a “sexuality dialogue,” which was conducted from 1991-1994. Inevitably, the dialogue had to be framed from one point of view or another, and the resulting study materials reflected the views of revisionist leaders. Parishioners were encouraged to identify their homophobic prejudices and to read the Bible as an archaic document that can be followed only in its most general mandate to love and respect all persons.
The outcome of the sexuality dialogue was schizophrenic. While reaffirming the traditional teaching that “the normative context of sexual intimacy is lifelong heterosexual, monogamous marriage,” the 1994 General Convention accepted such homosexual activity as “discontinuous” and not contrary to its teaching. Hearkening to this uncertain trumpet, sexual liberals continued openly ordaining non-celibate homosexuals and, after the Righter Trial in 1996, went one step further in officiating at public same-sex “blessings.”
The so-called dialogue in the Episcopal Church could not continue because it never began. Even its official conveners have decided to let it die. When we Americans hear the Archbishop of Canterbury calling for something very similar, we are suspicious and even alarmed. To be sure, a commission truly representative of the whole Anglican Communion might come at the question from a very different point of view. But what is the point of such a dialogue since revisionists have already announced that they will not abide by any decisions they do not like and that they will not desist from their practices in the meantime.
The Moratorium Appeal (1997)
As sexuality issues loomed once again prior to the 1997 General Convention, several Episcopal scholars proposed “An Appeal for a Moratorium on Altering the Church’s Teaching Regarding Homosexuality and for the Protection of Private Conscience.” Their Appeal would have upheld the classical norms as the Church’s official teaching, allowed for private dissent, and opened up a twenty-one year period of dialogue on the subject.
The proposal, while an innovative idea, was a total failure politically. The reasons are instructive. Traditionalists felt that it permitted acts that are wrong at all times. Revisionists considered the idea of putting their agenda back “in the closet” to be an offense against homosexuals. The still-born Moratorium proposal stands witness to the inevitable failure to resolve matters of essential principle, however clever the solution.
Bishop Spong’s Manifesto to the Anglican Archbishops
The Archbishops of the Anglican Communion were treated to a wake-up call from Bishop John Spong in November 1997. Vexed by the Kuala Lumpur and Dallas Statements, Bishop Spong decided to serve up his own views and to do so full-strength. The resulting exchange between Bishop Spong and the Archbishop of Canterbury should serve as a warning about the impossibility of genuine dialogue.
For all his bravado, the secret of the Bishop of Newark’s success over the past twenty years stems from his conviction that there are essentials and the historic Christian faith has gotten those essentials dead wrong. It is no accident that he has written books attacking or questioning the “literal” Bible, the Fatherhood of God and deity of Jesus Christ, the integrity of the Virgin Mary and St. Paul, and basic moral prohibitions such as sex outside marriage and euthanasia. Can one imagine another figure in church history who begged harder to be defrocked for heresy? But what he got instead was a twelve-year term on the House of Bishops’ Theology Committee!
Bishop Spong is convinced that truth trumps unity. “To be closed to new revelations and new truth,” he says, “is to come dangerously close to what the New Testament calls the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit.” This closure to new revelation is, of course, exactly what the closing of the biblical canon meant. This was the Church’s answer to the gnostics’ and Montanists’ claims to further truth. Deny this closure and you have Bishop Charles Bennison’s principle that “since the Church wrote Holy Scripture, the Church can rewrite it.”
Given his convictions, Bishop Spong understands dialogue to be only a transitional stage to “the wave of the future,” a new consensus in which the Anglican Communion will apologize to homosexuals for their former oppression and will welcome them into ordained ministry and full sacramental marriage. This new consensus will have no place for traditionalists since “the integrity of the Gospel is at risk unless we confront this killing prejudice in our midst and root it out of the body of Christ” (emphasis added).
The Archbishop of Canterbury was obviously taken aback by this fusillade from the Bishop of Newark. We Anglicans in the United States have heard it all before, and we know that Bishop Spong will mount his bully pulpit either in the councils of the Church or in the press. What we want to make clear to our international colleagues is that Bishop Spong is not an anomaly. He has not said or done anything blatantly that other Episcopal church leaders have not said or done more covertly. They may feel uneasy about his tactics, but they agree with him at heart when he says:
Church unity is important to me, but it is not an ultimate value. Truth and justice are. A Church unified by racism, [male] chauvinism or homophobia cannot be the Body of Christ. Our task as God’s Church is to discern truth and to proclaim justice, and if that disturbs the unity of the Church, so be it.
Bishop Spong is correct: differences over essentials must lead to a breach of communion. Patristics scholar Jeffrey Steenson has commented that “what is noteworthy in the doctrinal controversies of early Christianity is the willingness to break communion for the sake of truth.” Where Bishop Spong errs is in substituting his own secular essentials for the truth of the biblical Gospel. In so doing he puts himself out of communion with the apostolic church.
The bishops of the Anglican Communion have a choice: they can expose the falsity of the new sexual morality, or they can coat it over with the veneer of koinonia and collegiality. If they choose the latter course, they will disfellowship many conscientious Episcopalians in the process.
Why Dialogue on Sexuality Will Undermine the Church’s Witness
Jesus likened his kingdom to a house, saying: “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock” (Matthew 7:24). He went on to portray what happens to a church that does not hear and do his words: “the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:25).
The early Christians understood the God-given connection between commitment to apostolic doctrine, peace within the church, and effective witness to those outside. On the Day of Pentecost, “those who received Peter’s word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:41-42). The Church cannot feed its own members if it is uncertain about what the essential Gospel is, as Jesus well knew when he said: “if your eye is not single, your whole body will be full of darkness.” And if the Church does not know the truth, it cannot be a light to the nations: “If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:23).
The progress of the Decade of Evangelism in the Anglican Communion has demonstrated the truth of our Lord’s words. The Church has been growing, in some cases dramatically, in those Provinces that uphold clear biblical principles of faith and morals. In those Provinces that have been engaged in disputes and doubts over essentials, there has been no growth and even loss of members. Of course, one can cite various factors that contribute to church growth or decline, but the main reason is that commitment to biblical truth is the necessary foundation for the spark of the Holy Spirit to come and empower the church.
I would not deny that in some urban Episcopal parishes where homosexuality is espoused, there has been modest church growth. What I would question is whether these new members have embraced a saving gospel or a “cleverly devised myth” (2 Peter 1:16). And for every pro-gay convert to the Church, there are many others who ask themselves whether their church has lost its way. David Aikman, a veteran journalist for Time magazine, recently wrote:
In my spiritual journey the Lord has used Anglicans and Episcopalians to lead me to faith, disciple me and bring me ever closer to the Lord. It is therefore with acute pain that I see much of the leadership of the Episcopal Church … trying to lead the church down a pathway that is obviously at variance with biblical Christian teaching.
Many of us can no longer advise our children or friends when they move to a new community simply to look up and attend a local Episcopal parish, because we have no idea whether it will feed them the essentials of the faith or maybe even lead them astray.
The problem is not just ours in the West. The Third World churches have warned that “we live in a global village and must be more aware that we way we act in one part of the world can radically affect the mission and witness of the Church in another.” One African archbishop mentioned that Muslims were quoting Bishop Spong to show the superiority of Islamic law to Christian morality.
If the Anglican Communion were to enter into an official sexuality dialogue while allowing some Provinces openly to ordain and marry homosexuals, it would do serious harm to its ecumenical witness, which is one of its great strengths as a worldwide body. It is likely that some Provinces would refuse to participate out of conscience, which would further undermine the unity of the Communion.
What is the Anglican Communion going to look like in the future? Like the vibrant Bible-centered churches of the Third World or like the tired strife-torn churches of the West? I dearly hope the Lambeth Conference will listen humbly to the voices from the South and not let the sexuality agenda deflect the Communion from the Great Commission to take the Gospel to all nations.
Why the Call for Dialogue Involves a Failure of Imagination
Let me return to my opening analogies to pre-World War II Britain and to Communist Cuba. Because many British leaders were terrified by the threat of war, they fantasized a moderate Hitler and a peace-loving Germany despite all evidence to the contrary. By contrast, Churchill imagined the consequences of a world ruled by Nazis, and he imagined the bloody steps that Britain must take to deter this rule. Similarly, Pope John Paul has a vision based on long experience that when people are granted freedom to worship God, they will seek other freedoms as well, and Communism will collapse.
“Where there is no vision,” Scripture says, “the people perish.” I am convinced that the impulse to have a sexuality dialogue involves a fateful failure of imagination. Let me put it another way. Those who want dialogue have a moral responsibility to describe in some conceivable way how it could actually produce a solution that would preserve the Anglican Communion and make theological sense. It is not enough to wish for a resolution; one must give a vision for what that resolution would look like.
I cannot see a way forward that does not lead us back to biblical essentials. Archbishop George Carey is correct when he states: “I do not find any justification, from the Bible or the entire Christian tradition, for sexual activity outside marriage.” That being the case, I simply cannot imagine a church in which Bishop Spong and I have an equal share. If I had the authority, I would seek his removal from office for rejecting the clear teaching of the Bible, and I am sure he would seek to root me out as well as a biblical “literalist.”
The only realistic compromise – the road not taken by the Eames Commission – is the political compromise of providing parallel jurisdictions. If some Provinces follow the light of Bishop Spong’s truth, why should I be forced to leave my Anglican heritage simply because I live within the boundaries of those Provinces? Why should I be divided from fellow Anglicans who uphold biblical norms and have to leave for a non-Anglican church in my own country. (Of course, a scheme of parallel jurisdictions would also have to allow congregations of Spongites in Singapore to commune with Newark.)
I do not favor the idea of parallel jurisdictions as the best way forward, as it would be harmful to our witness and temporary in nature. Since I believe the classic faith is very clear on sexual norms, I would hate to see the Anglican Communion, with its wonderful diversity of races and cultures united in a common Gospel mission, torn apart by a tiny band of sexual radicals in the West. But this is the hard choice, like it or not, that the radicals are forcing on the Communion.
To affirm classic norms will take courage and will lead to conflict. This is unavoidable. Indeed Scripture assures us that conflict will come, both from outside the Church and also within it. In standing firm, however, the Anglican Communion will offer comfort to Christ’s own flock, even to those homosexuals who have been misled, or who wonder how they should live, or who have courageously sought healing and change. It will also offer hope to a decadent West, where family breakdown is threatening social chaos, and it will serve as an example to developing nations that Christian faith and morals can serve as a foundation for social stability, economic progress, and political freedom.
Finally, the Christian imagination and conscience are eschatologically shaped. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body”(2 Corinthians 5:10). This eschatological responsibility is particularly heavy for clergy: “Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account” (Hebrews 13:17).
I was ordained under the traditional Anglican rite, in which the Bishop asks: “Will you be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word?” How can I stand before the judgment seat of Christ, having compromised what I know to be an essential truth of the Gospel? Needless to say, I and many clergy like me would leave the ministry of the Episcopal Church rather than to do what we know to be wrong.
Bishops of the Anglican Communion have an even greater accountability to God over this portion of his flock. I hope and pray that they will find the courage and imagination to be obedient to the heavenly vision of those “who follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Revelation 14:4).