Of “bonds of affection” and misplaced anxiety

If you are one of those who glance at 7WD but who are not Episco-geeks, go have a look at this news article about the election this past weekend of the Rev’d Mary Douglas Glasspool as one of two new bishops suffragan in the Diocese of Los Angeles. OK, now that we’re all caught up, I have a bit of a rant to share with you, dear reader.

Mary Glasspool’s election has energized progressives around the Anglican Communion as it has outraged conservatives. Sadly, as in the case of Gene Robinson, many people will work themselves into a tizzy over someone who will serve in a distant realm. What effect will Mary Glasspool have on, say, South Carolina? Not much, unless you’re looking for trouble. And that’s just what’s happening.

Within minutes of her election, Canon Kendall Harmon had issued this statment:

This decision represents an intransigent embrace of a pattern of life Christians throughout history and the world have rejected as against biblical teaching. It will add further to the Episcopal Church’s incoherent witness and chaotic common life, and it will continue to do damage to the Anglican Communion and her relationship with our ecumenical partners.

Of course, this is exactly the argument that fear-mongers make in response to any wider embrace the church is practicing. People said the same thing when the Euro-American church began to ordain people of color and to advocate an end to the slave trade. Racial discrimination was seen as biblical and orthodox. More recently, they’re still being made by some people about women’s ordination. Doesn’t anyone see the pattern? “We don’t want ___ in our club. We’ve always managed without them, so why start now?” Such an attitude is not hard to comprehend, but it is sadly misguided. And it runs counter to the Gospels, the teachings of St. Paul, and indeed the witness of the entire Hebrew Scriptures.

Sure, I could use proof texts to argue against, say, same-sex relationships. But then I’d be opening a whole can of worms in my ethical life. If you’re going to yell at gay people, shouldn’t you be yelling all the more at wealthy people who pull up to church in fancy cars? Oops. They pay the salary. Better not yell at them.

If you’re going to scream about same-sex relationships, shouldn’t you be screaming about divorce? Oops. Several key leaders in the conservative Anglican movement are — guess what — divorced. So loud conservatives choose to make a nuanced exception for that one. And then when you start poking around, you quickly see that the whole motivation for opposing the inclusion of lesbian and gay people is based on fear. People are always afraid of the unknown. It’s human nature. But it’s not the nature of Jesus Christ, who again and again said “be not afraid” while he was holding out a hand to the most marginalized people of his society.

For years, I’ve been urging patience in the US in our relations with the Anglican Communion. Often Americans are too quick to act unilaterally and too slow to listen. At times, our posture in Anglican Communion conversations has been patronizing or neo-colonial. But I think we learned something in the last few years about listening. Certainly, the Lambeth Conference was a watershed event. Now I think more leaders in the Episcopal Church understand our place in the Anglican Communion. I hope more and more people understand the value of our communion with a global Anglican Communion.

Around the Communion, the walls of fear are breaking down. I’ve personally spoken with bishops in two different provinces in Africa who until recently did not ordain women at all. And yet these bishops are now looking forward to enjoying the company of women in their houses of bishops. Experience and grace have transcended fear.

Now we’re told that we have to deny the possibility that God might call lesbian or gay people has bishops. Why? Because it’s not settled yet. Because some don’t like it. Because it could hurt relationships overseas. Nonsense!

We should not expect people in other cultures to share all of our values and beliefs regarding human sexuality. We should be generous in allowing differing cultural contexts. And we should ask the same of our sisters and brothers in other cultures. We should be able to focus on what unites us.

This past week, the parish I serve hosted Bishop John Zawo of the Diocese of Ezo (Sudan). Bishop John offered an inspiring sermon about being prepared to receive Jesus Christ last week, and then he came to our coffee hour and told us about life in his diocese. He was bracingly honest about the brutality of life, but also powerfully inspiring about the vitality of faith in Ezo.

On Monday, he was our guest at home. I spent lots of time sharing conversation with him. I know that he does not share my views or beliefs on the church’s inclusion of GLBT persons. At one point, I asked him what he would say to those who want to separate themselves from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. I’m paraphrasing, but he said something like this: “Jesus commanded us to be one. We Anglicans are brothers and sisters in Christ. There can be no separation. We need fellowship from one another.”

Embedded in that statement is a sense that we are living through a tough time, but that we must stay together if we hope to be reconciled. As one west African bishop said to me last summer at the Lambeth Conference, “We are family. When families quarrel, they must come together and be reconciled.” I’ve heard similar things from lay people in several countries in Asia and Africa.

The only people who are sowing “incoherent witness and chaotic common life” are schismatic bishops and manipulative Americans. There is no crisis in the pews of the Anglican Communion. The crisis is lived out in business-class airplane seats and episcopal palaces. I will not speculate what the motives are. But I grieve the way we are harming Christ’s body, the church, by our incessant squabbles about second- or third-order matters.

And what of our chief spiritual leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury? He has remained steadfastly silent while several provinces of the Anglican Communion have supported the death penalty for same-sex activity. And yet he was able to muster an almost instantaneous response to the election of Mary Glasspool. Here I’d like to quote his statement in its entirety with some responses to each of his three paragraphs.

The election of Mary Glasspool by the Diocese of Los Angeles as suffragan bishop elect raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole.

Well, yes. We need to ask ourselves how long we will tolerate the agenda of our Anglican Communion being set by anxiety- and fear-driven people. Sadly, most of those eager to dwell on schism are, ironically, bishops. The same people who have taken vows to guard the unity of the church seem intent in driving it apart.

The process of selection however is only part complete. The election has to be confirmed, or could be rejected, by diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees. That decision will have very important implications.

Yes, this decision will have important ramifications. Will the Episcopal Church act in a prophetic manner, giving voice to the millions of gay and lesbian Anglicans living in oppression throughout the world? Will some reactionary Anglicans use this as the latest excuse to go their own way? Will bishops and Standing Committees of the Episcopal Church follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and the canonical process of our church? (Please note: I am not in a position to say with certainty that Glasspool is called by the Holy Spirit; that is for the electing convention and those with a vote to exercise; though I do trust the process in L.A.)

The bishops of the Communion have collectively acknowledged that a period of gracious restraint in respect of actions which are contrary to the mind of the Communion is necessary if our bonds of mutual affection are to hold.

This would hold some water if anyone other than the Episcopal Church had paid a wit of attention to the Windsor Report since it was issued. Since 2003, we’ve consecrated no more gay bishops. As a Church, we’ve authorized no public rites for same-sex blessings. Meanwhile, boundary incursions by Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, the Southern Cone, and now even US Anglican dioceses continue unabated. While ECUSA was graciously restraining, Peter Akinola and his friends have been flying all over the world to conferences, holding media briefings, forming new jurisdictions, and utterly ignoring the Windsor Report and the Lambeth Conference resolutions.

Speaking of which, I’m beginning to wonder if anyone has actually read the oft-cited Lambeth 1.10. It calls for the Anglican Communion to listen to the experience of gay and lesbian persons. To my knowledge, no openly gay or lesbian person has ever addressed a Lambeth Conference, a Primates Meeting, or the Anglican Consultative Council. [CORRECTION: See the comments, below, where Solange de Santis reports that one GLBT person addressed the ACC. My general point remains.] When the Archbishop of Canterbury threw a bone toward the listening process in Anaheim, it was done almost in secret. But meetings with Archbishop Bob Duncan are held in the light of day. What does that say?

Lambeth 1.10 also says that we are “condemn irrational fear of homosexuals”. Interesting, that. Where have the primates of Uganda and Nigeria (among others) been while their nations consider criminalizing the mere discussion of homosexuality? Where has the Archbishop of Canterbury been while major leaders in his Communion flout the teachings of the Lambeth Conference? He is quick to criticize the Episcopal Church in the USA or in Canada, but utterly silent on the horrific behavior of other provinces — behavior that has murderous consequences.

I was reminded of an interesting thing today. In the genealogy of Jesus Christ, we are told that Jesus is in the line of David, through Bathsheba. Remember that story? Not exactly what we’d call family values. And yet God can bring about the Incarnation through the line of humans with the worst behavior. Even if I believed that Glasspool is wrong to engage in a lesbian relationship, doesn’t it seem strange to say that God’s grace can’t possibly flow through her? Isn’t one of the key messages of the scriptures that God’s grace is available to all?

What I find especially sad is that this same Archbishop of Canterbury, before his elevation to that role, said some very different things. He said this: “I concluded that an active sexual relationship between two people of the same sex might therefore reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage, if and only if it had about it the same character of absolute covenanted faithfulness.” Get that?! Rowan Williams said that God’s love could be reflected in an active sexual relationship between two men or two women — comparable with marriage. (!)

So why the change? Because presumably he views his new role as binding him to take a new position. That’s sad. Any time that fear overtakes hope, we are disregarding the Gospel’s life-giving message. For the Anglican Communion, it’s time to move on. It’s time to focus on the mission of the church, without worrying about a few people who are afraid.

After conversing with lay people, deacons, priests, and bishops from throughout the Anglican Communion, I’m convinced that only a tiny number of noisy people want schism. Most of us simply want to delight in our fellowship as sisters and brothers in Christ, united in the bonds of affection of the Anglican Communion.

Let’s be anxious about living the Gospel, not about pleasing a few people who are intent on spreading an epidemic of fear.

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18 Responses

  1. Susan Russell says:

    Bravo! I’ve linke and “tweeted.” AMEN!

  2. Judy Stark says:

    Well said, Scott. I’m reminded of Barbara Harris’s comment in her sermon at the Integrity Eucharist at convention:

    “Since we don’t have any say in who gets see-lected as bishops in some other provinces of the communion, why should those in other provinces be able to dictate who can or cannot be ee-lected by the laity and clergy whom they will lead in this branch of Christ’s holy and catholic church?”

    Which is the greater threat to the Kingdom of God: a gay suffragan in California, or the slaughter of gay people in Uganda? (But which is the greater threat to those invested in power and control?)

  3. Robin Bugbee says:

    Dear Scott.
    Once again I find myself in full agreement with your expressed position on these issues. And once again I must also state that given the reality that this diocese is being held captive by the freely expressed narrow views of our current leadership, I find the discussion of issues outside of this state pretty sad. Although I certainly would not wish any of the clergy in this diocese to put their livelihood in danger by openly confronting your Bishop on her lack of leadership on these important issues, it is nonetheless true that she continues her tenure here because it is comfortable for her to do so. If more of us were willing to speak up and point out that the bishop (sorry I mean Emperor) has no clothes, she might be encouraged to move on before she reaches age 72. I have no tolerance for bigotry of any kind. We are taught to love our neighbors. Not just the neighbors we love. It is that simple. Thanks so much for providing witness and leadership in a state that so badly needs it.

  4. leon d berg says:

    I was so impressed with this post, that I felt impressed to share it by email tonight with the “First Presidency” of Community of Christ denomination in Independence MO. As I have followed both the ordinations of LGBT Bishops in the Episcopal church and the current debates going on in Community of Christ about ordaining LGBT non-celibates to priesthood office of any label (and believe me for a small denomination we have several titles to be ordained to), I see a similar journey these two faith communities are on. Of course the Anglican group far outnumbers the Community of Christ in size and scope, but both are world wide communities with the same “fears” that Scott writes about. God bless Father Gunn. (now am I correct that is his correct title?)

  5. Solange says:

    Hey Scott,

    Just one little correction. Actually, an openly gay person has addressed a meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council – in 2005, in Nottingham. I was there. It was Peter Elliott, dean of the Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia. His presentation was quite moving. The ENS story: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_63066_ENG_HTM.htm

  6. Scott Gunn says:

    Solange, thanks for your correction. I’ve made note of that in the text. As I say there, my general point remains. It’s the bishops who are lagging behind on this one, and they’ve not heard from any GLBT folks as far as I know.


  7. Well done, indeed! I’m proud as always to read your even pen.

    Curious to me, though, how such uproar would happen in the A.C. about ordianing such a person as suffragen is against “Biblical” teaching.

    In fact, NONE of my translations here say anything at all, Zero, Nada, Zilch, about lesbianism. Canterbury might want to consult his King James more closely before he speaks.

    This priest, so touched by the love of God and her diocese, has less to defend herself against “Biblical Teaching” than myownself last night with that wonderful dinner of fried oysters, and then country style steak with milk gravy.

    What does such a double-abonimation get the preach, beyond per’aps a Tums or two?

    Go in peace and pray for me, a sinner!
    – JLM

  8. James Mackay says:

    There is a time not long ago that neither of the women who were elected bishops suffragan for the Diocese of Los Angeles would have been elected. Canon Glasspool’s sexual orientation is getting all the press. However, that Canon Jardine Bruce has been treated in 1009 for “The Big C” — as it was often called when I was growing up in the 1960s/1970s — and was still elected cannot be dismissed as substantial cultural growth in my 49 years on this planet. It has not been that long ago that there was often a stigma with cancer patients and survivors.

    No, what is truly remarkable in all of this is that the Diocese of Los Angeles gathered in convention elected two persons who were qualified and did not succomb Ye Olde Fear of Cooties — be they from gender, from disease, from sexual orientation, from ageism, or from classism.

    What a wonderful Advent gift for the Church!

  9. Jessica Gates says:

    I have shared this on FB. I am always full of thanks that our diocese has your voice in it. I think you truly reflect what many of us are thinking, you just articulate it SO MUCH BETTER! Thanks Scott.

  10. Marshall Rice says:

    Right on, Scott. Thank you!

  11. Thank you for an excellent article, Scott.

    I find it incredible that in the self-proclaimed Fount Of All Anglicanism (the C of E) many folks (not all!) are still wetting themselves over whether a woman priest can be consecrated to the episcopate. Brothers (and it is mostly brothers!), it’s over! It’s a done deal!

    And now we are making progress on the issue of committed, partnered gays and lesbians. It’s about time, though there is still a long way to go.

    We understand that many Churches in the Anglican Communion are not prepared to go there yet. Okay. We can live with that (although gays in Uganda can’t). “If you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.” We are happy to be in communion with any who are willing to be in communion with us. But please do not dump your garbage in our back yard.

    Ecumenical relations? Rowan, don’t you understand that the Christian churches with the vast majority of members (i.e. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox) are opposed to the consecration of a married bishop? But they don’t usually say anything to you, because they don’t think your consecration is valid anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

    I nominate Rowan Williams for the 2009 Bishop John Henry Hopkins Award.

  12. Kirk Smith says:

    Another excellent and insightful piece. I am going to reprint it in my weekly “E-pistle” to the Diocese of Arizona.

  13. Suem says:

    Cowering in fear, hiding cowardice behind grand words. I am afraid, as a Brit, our leaders have lost their integrity in my eyes. The TEC has truly grown up, shame on those who hide behind lies, hypocrisy and cant.

  14. Stuart Scarborough says:

    Very well written.

    I must add that I have know Mary Glasspool personally for about 10 years and she has been very influential to me and to many in this MD Diocese. She is an extremely talented and spiritually gifted person.

    God’s grace flows abundantly through her.

  15. Patricia Robinson says:

    Thanks. I’m grateful for your courage in speaking out and I’m proud of my church! I only wish that my late friend Bill Landram (deacon for many years and then finally priest) were still here to read your article. Advent is about hope, and you have given me that.

  16. Frances L says:

    Regarding the hierarchy of TEC: Immaturity knows no bounds.

  1. December 7, 2009

    […] For a close up view, and a very thoughtful analysis of the issues surrounding Rev Mary Douglas Glasspool’s election read my friend Scott Gunn’s blog here […]

  2. December 7, 2009

    commentary on the Los Angeles election…

    Savi Hensman has written A bishop Anglicans can live with. Riazat Butt has written Election of lesbian bishop divides Anglican community. Paul Vallely has written Rowan Williams cannot now prevent an Anglican schism. Scott Gunn has written Of “bonds of…