The Rev. Prof. Stephen Noll
Sometimes what you don’t say speaks more tellingly than what you do. One famous case is that of the dog that didn’t bark in the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze.” The dog did not bark because the crime was an inside job and the malefactor was known to him. Some such case applies to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church in their latest Statement from New Orleans.
I will not rehearse the details of that Statement, as everyone under the sun has already done so. What I want to do is to pose three questions which the bishops chose not to address but for which I think there are obvious unspoken answers.
Question 1: Do you accept Resolution 1.10 on Human Sexuality of the 1998 Lambeth Conference as the standard of teaching of the Anglican Communion?
The heart of the present crisis is not a matter of process but of truth. By a large majority, the bishops at Lambeth 1998 stated that “homosexual practice is contrary to Scripture” (doctrinal) and “cannot be advised” (discipline). The logic connecting the doctrinal and disciplnary elements of this Resolution takes us back to Christian essentials: 1) the Church’s authority is founded on obedience to Scripture as the Word of God written (Article XX) and as the rule and ultimate standard of faith (Lambeth Quadrilateral); 2) the matter of human sexuality is a central concern of Christian doctrine (anthropology) which cannot be dismissed as “adiaphora”; 3) the witness of Scripture is unanimous that God intends the union of man and woman in marriage, and no other combinations (Lambeth Resolution 66 ); 4) therefore the Church cannot “advise” or accept a practice directly contrary to this rule and standard.
Doctrine is the foundation of action. Conversely, just as a tree is known by its fruits, so disobedience is a sign of false belief. The House of Bishops’ Statement makes NO mention of Lambeth 1.10 or its doctrinal authority despite the fact that this Resolution has been cited repeatedly in the Windsor Report and various Primates’ Communiqués. Indeed the Communiqué from Dar es Salaam is quite explicit about this matter:
11. What has been quite clear throughout this period is that the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 is the standard of teaching which is presupposed in the Windsor Report and from which the primates have worked. This restates the traditional teaching of the Christian Church that “in view of the teaching of Scripture, [the Conference] upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage”, and applies this to several areas which are discussed further below. The Primates have reaffirmed this teaching in all their recent meetings, and indicated how a change in the formal teaching of any one Province would indicate a departure from the standard upheld by the Communion as a whole.
So what is the answer to the question Do you accept Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference as the standard of teaching of the Anglican Communion? Surely the answer is NO, we do not accept Resolution 1.10, nor will we be ruled by the majority of the bishops assembled at Lambeth.
This brings us to a second unanswered question:
Question 2: Will you continue to ordain priests who are practicing homosexuals?
The Episcopal House of Bishops has been commended in some press reports for “drawing back” from ordaining any more homosexual bishops until at least 2009. What are we to make of this concession? Is it a sign of reassessment of what is required for a bishop to be a “wholesome example to the flock of Christ”? In order to think that such a reassessment is in mind, the moratorium would have to be extended to the ordination of priests and deacons as well, unless one swallows the rather absurd idea that homosexual practice is acceptable for certain offices but not for others. But this is neither mentioned nor contemplated. Indeed, the current Episcopal canons are rather explicit that no candidates for ordination are to be barred on grounds of “sexual orientation,” now interpreted to include sexual practice. And it is really hard to imagine that Episcopal leaders intend to set up a glass ceiling to prevent homosexual priests from becoming bishops.
So then, why did Resolution B033, reaffirmed by the House of Bishops’ Statement, offer to restrain dioceses on the election of another gay bishop? Clearly, it is a temporary accommodation to the hot-button election of Gene Robinson in 2003. Robinson’s election has had the potential to cut both ways in the debate over homosexuality. On the one hand, it has “incarnated” the aims of activists by giving the world a walking, talking embodiment of a gay bishop, whose photo and comments are shot round the world on the internet. Hence, church leaders and even ordinary people in the Anglican Communion react to Gene Robinson in a way they did not react to formal resolutions or other under-the-radar-screen acts within The Episcopal Church.
The other side of Robinson’s notoriety is that attempts to get The Episcopal Church to “repent” have focussed exclusively on the gay bishop question. Sometimes, it seems some Anglican bishops are asking for a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to the effect “so long as we don’t have to meet and break bread with a gay bishop, we don’t care what else goes on in your church.” Clearly such a blinkered position is willfully obtuse. The real problem is not Gene Robinson. It is the Episcopal officials who elected, confirmed and consecrated him as bishop. It is the majority of bishops who teach the flock that God’s exclusive design for human sexuality in marriage is optional or wrong and that Scripture is either mistaken on this subject or can be twisted to say something it manifestly does not say.
The problem is not just at the level of public relations. For ordinary people, it is the priest who is the main point of contact with the wider church, who models the holiness of Christ. So to truly gauge a change in the temperature of the Episcopal Church, one has to answer the question: so, what about exercising restraint on the ordination of gay priests leading an openly unrepentant life? And the answer to this second question is also a resounding NO: we shall continue to recruit, educate and ordain homosexual clergy for The Episcopal Church and acclaim “They are worthy!”
This brings us to the third unaddressed question.
Question 3: Will you stop suing parishes and deposing clergy that seek to realign with other Anglican Provinces?
The Primates’ Communiqué from Dar es Salaam was explicit in calling for a cessation of lawsuits against those who have felt conscientiously compelled to withdraw from a diocese of The Episcopal Church. One of the early tests of this call was in Florida, where the Panel of Reference and the Archbishop of Canterbury both called for the Diocese of Florida and The Episcopal Church to drop its suit against Church of the Redeemer, Jacksonville. The Bishop of Florida, no doubt backed to the hilt by the national church, openly rejected these requests and expelled the Rector and people from the church they had built (they now worship at a messianic Jewish church).
For many conscientious Lambeth 1.10 Anglicans in North America, this persecution is where the radicalism of The Episcopal Church and the inaction of the worldwide Communion bites. They are thrust out of their churches, their clergy are deposed and they are even threatened with personal lawsuits. The fact that such actions are taken by clergy and congregations who have been accepted into fellowship with other Anglican Provinces makes no difference to the Episcopal hierarchs. They are quite prepared to treat these Provinces with the same high-handedness that they do their own former clergy and people. In fact, they whine that these “incursions” are the real source of the problem.
The attitude of the bishops of The Episcopal Church toward shepherds and sheep of Christ’s own flock is indicative of a spiritual problem that goes beyond the particular issues at hand. The willingness to pursue by legal action fellow Christians is contrary to Christ’s own counsel and a violation of Christian charity and koinonia. It smacks more of Animal Farm than the Church of Jesus Christ.
So the answer to the third question is also clearly NO, we shall continuing suing and deposing our opponents so long as it is in our self-interest and regardless of what the rest of the Communion says.
Why are these three non-answers important? Can’t we just stick to the question of whether the House of Bishops satisfied the letter of the Primates’ Communiqué (as parsed by Lambeth officialdom)? The answer is No, because the cancer of heresy has spread throughout The Episcopal Church to the point that it cannot really be recognized as a living Body. This ecclesiastical rigor mortis explains why those Anglicans who have departed are not willing to be included in any pastoral scheme that forces them back into The Episcopal Church. The problem is not limited to specific benchmarks; the problem is the entire culture which has grown up over the past 30 years: a culture of disregard for Scripture and tradition, of accommodation to the secular trends and of illiberality toward fellow believers. This culture has infiltrated every level of the church, albeit more so in some dioceses than others.
It is the judgement of many conscientious Anglicans in North America that, as the Presiding Bishop herself said, there will be no turning back of the clock in The Episcopal Church. Indeed, there will be no turning back, period. If the letter of the House of Bishops’ response is a dog that didn’t bark, the non-answers to these questions scream loud and clear: ““No, No, and No! You can come with us (via “the listening process”), but we won’t go where the saints have trod and where the wider Communion wants us to go. We have chosen to walk apart.”
5 October 2007