As a woman Moderator of a very Twenty-first Century church, Metropolitan Community Churches, I felt enormous compassion and solidarity with Presiding Bishop (Primate) Kathleen Jefferts Schori as she recently traveled to Tanzania in her historic role as the first and only woman to serve as the leader of a member church of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
She knew what she was facing, and that made it only a little easier, I am sure.
Bishop Jefferts Schori is a person of enormous faith and spiritual maturity who, though a relative newcomer to church office and politics, is wise and well-grounded. As a woman who leads a church that ordained an openly gay bishop and that seeks to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people at all levels, she is the bearer of what scandalizes the Anglican Communion. This combination of “offenses” puts her on center stage for all the world to see. Some of the primates at the conference in Tanzania refused to take communion with her, or to acknowledge her presence. But I do not think she can be ignored.
Today, as fellow shepherds and bishops of Metropolitan Community Churches, we call to account our colleagues for their poor example as bishops and shepherds. Refusing to take communion with fellow bishops brings our calling and profession into disrepute and is a poor witness for our Christian faith. Likewise, the treatment of duly elected gay bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, as well as the deafening silence which appears to sanction the homophobic and potentially lethal anti-gay legislation in Nigeria promoted by Archbishop Peter Akinola, betray the model of the Good Shepherd described by Jesus in the Gospel of John, Chapter 10, and add to that sense of professional and spiritual disrepute.
As Elders (a small house of bishops in our own right) in Metropolitan Community Churches, we rejoice at the courage of the Episcopal Church in the US in persevering in doing what is right, i.e., acknowledging and living into the full equality of men and women, and the full inclusion of LGBT people.
Let us say unequivocally that gay people are not an “issue”; rather, we are real people, God’s children, created in God’s image. We cannot be “compromised” off the table, especially when that table doesn’t belong to us, or to any church, but to the Jesus Christ, who we say is sovereign over that table, who lived and died and rose that it might be an open table of grace and mercy for all. This is the joy and hope we affirm every day within Metropolitan Community Churches.
We urge the Episcopal Church to say “No” to those who would want to intimidate them into turning back the clock on inclusion. Unity that thrives on exclusion, or which accommodates suffering and oppression, is not unity; it is deadly conformity. It does not serve the cause of Christ, which is to liberate and unite. To unite without liberating is to betray the Christ of history, who is moving so powerfully in our time to open the Church to all.
We affirm the words of our friend and colleague, the Rt. Reverend Steven Charleston, Bishop and Dean of The Episcopal Divinity School: “We will not change our devotion to doing what we believe is right. We will not delay justice for the sake of making our lives easier. We will not deny a truth that we are certain is from God. We will not play politics with human lives.”
Today, as the spiritual and pastoral leaders of Metropolitan Community:
We urge… the Anglican Communion to be true to itself, continuing to cling both to the tradition of apostolic succession and its own history of willing engagement with and adaptation to contemporary culture, while continuing to embrace and re-interpret its cherished traditions. This is the genius and appeal of Anglicanism, which we, too, celebrate. Those who propose an Anglicanism that never changes, or that looks backward, are truly “un-Anglican” at the core.
We urge… the Anglican Communion to engage in rigorous, faithful, public conversation and education, and even debate, about sexuality, scripture, tradition and science, in ways that can overcome the kind of fundamentalism that has infected some churches, particularly those with colonial roots. There must be an acknowledgment of the oppressive legacy of that colonial fundamentalism, which is still evident in unhealed sexism and homophobia. Creating safe spaces across cultures and churches for dialogue about these issues is a paramount spiritual responsibility. This important work must precede any calls for compromise of any kind. It cannot be avoided. It is the failure to do this work, and not women primates or gay bishops, that threatens to divide the church.
We urge… all people of faith to understand that Africans are of many diverse opinions about many issues, including women in ministry and homosexuality. One only has to look at the inclusive ministry and writing of human rights hero Archbishop Desmond Tutu to see the range of views.
We urge… the Episcopal Church in the US to stand firm and not to compromise or cede its authority to make decisions about ministry and leadership. Stand in your integrity, even as you are willing to have mutual, respectful dialogue and conversation about differences.
We urge… the Anglican Communion and their primates to focus their energy on the true crises facing our world: war, poverty, HIV/AIDS, violence of all kinds, and the desperate need for interfaith dialogue and understanding. It is a scandal in the Twenty-first Century for the church of Jesus Christ to have its focus diluted by anything else.
We urge… the Anglican Primate of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, to repudiate his support for the most vicious, lethal homophobic legislation ever proposed anywhere, which is soon to be signed into law. If enacted, these laws will exacerbate an already hostile environment for gay people and their families in Nigeria, and will lead to more suffering and death. These laws are unchristian and not worthy of the support of any faith community, especially by leaders within the Anglican Communion.
We urge… the Anglican Communion to work with their constituencies for the inclusion of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in hate crimes legislation and to support the freedom of assembly for LGBT people in all countries, basic human rights protections afforded all people ascribing to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
We urge… all member churches within the Anglican Communion to break their silence and speak boldly in support of their friends, family members, and congregants who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Stand firmly with us against anything less that the unconditional grace, mercy, and love of Jesus the Christ, which is extended to all people.
We further urge… all people of faith, including the people of Metropolitan Community Churches, to faithfully remember in their prayers the Anglican Communion, and the Episcopal Church in the USA, and their Presiding Bishop, Kathleen Jefferts Schori. Pray for her health and safety, and for her voice in this critical time. Pray for Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and the leaders of Anglican Churches the world over. Pray for all who have assumed the mantle of Christ, that we may truly follow in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd.