The truth shall set you free

I have resisted writing about the latest goings-on in the Angst-lican Communion. For one thing, I share Jim Naughton’s sense that all this institutional melodrama may not matter that much. Plenty of other bloggers have had plenty to say. I’ve (finally) decided to add my voice to the din after reading Canon Kenneth Kearon’s latest missive. The odor (or odour, if you prefer) of hypocrisy got to be too much.

Before I get to that, a recap for my readers who are not church news junkies. Just before the Day of Pentecost, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued a “Pentecost Letter to the Anglican Communion” saying that the Episcopal Church was going to be asked to back off a couple of committees that no one had ever heard of — because we went ahead ordained Bishop Mary Glasspool. Our own Presiding Bishop offered some words about that, pointing that that ecclesiastical bullying is as much revisionism (and fresh colonialism) as anything that’s happened in the US. It was a veritable primatial smackdown!

Then comes today’s latest nastygram, from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s enforcer. Canon Kearon has written a letter kicking the Americans off the committees (whose names I can’t be bothered to look up, and whose function matters little, but keep reading anyway). Let’s start with the observation Kearon displays a shocking ignorance of what’s going on. He mentions that he has “written to the Primate of the Southern Cone, whose interventions in other provinces are referred to in the Windsor Continuation Group Report asking him for clarification as to the current state of his interventions into other provinces”. Thirty seconds on Google might have taken Kearon to this page, which shows that the “Diocese of San Joaquin” is affiliated with the Province of the Southern Cone. California being in the US, that means that this represents an active incursion into the Episcopal Church by a foreign prelate.

What I find even more shocking is a blatant hypocrisy of this whole process. The Archbishop of Canterbury was careful to use the word “formally” in his letter. In other words, if a House of Bishops somewhere passes a resolution, it counts. If you just do it quietly (in the closet), it’s fine — as long as you whisper. So the Church of England can bully the rest of us, while its leaders — including members of its General Synod and bishops — ignore what’s happening in their own church.

Throughout England, thousands of same-sex couples have come to their local parish church for a blessing upon their relationship. This is especially true in London. No figures are kept, because these blessings are usually “off the books” — the way one might bless a dog or a new car without putting it in the service register. There’s a big difference, of course. For many of these ceremonies, hundreds of people fill the church. After all, these are people receiving a blessing. Loving, faithful people. Receiving blessings. By the thousands. In churches. In Rowan’s back yard.

The Anglican Communion Office and others bully the Episcopal Church for reasons that are unclear. Maybe it’s latent anti-Americanism, and we are being punished for the many sins we’ve visited upon the world. Not that we don’t deserve to be smacked, but this is a wrong way to do it. (So it this.)

I’d feel better about all this if the same scrutiny that we Episcopalians are receiving applied also to Canadians (more gay stuff there!), Southern Cone (borders!), Nigeria-Uganda-Rwanda (borders!), and Australia (I’m looking at you, Sydney, for your fomenting of incursion, not to mention your wanton innovation in lay presidency). That would at least be consistent, though it would still be inadequate.

For all of this anti-Episcopal hand-wringing to have any moral credibility, we’d need to see some honesty in England. How about if the Church of England put some policies in place to cover what’s already happening? How about if some bishops publicly owned what they say privately to their clergy in same-sex relationships? How about if members of General Synod put some substantive motions on the floor, or at least asked more pointed questions?

If the Episcopal Church is going to face consequences for our understanding of a Gospel of inclusion, then shouldn’t others face the same consequences? How about discipline against the English clergy who perform same-sex blessings? What about their bishops, who wink and then look the other way? That’s not going to happen. Starting with Lambeth Palace staff and the Anglican Communion Office, it would be too costly.

Parishes across England, especially in London, would lose the services of their clergy. Dioceses would suddenly need new bishops. And frustrated lay people — thousands upon thousands of whom labor for a church they love, despite the message that their worth as persons is diminished because of their sexual orientation — would leave the church in increasing droves. Maybe they would petition the US for alternative oversight. As long as we’re wearing our dunce cap, I guess we have nothing to lose.

Maybe we Episcopalians should set up shop in England for people who want to be honest about who they are and what they do. “The truth shall set you free” is the motto of the Anglican Communion. Look at the compass rose, if you do’t believe me. Ironic, isn’t it? Perhaps it’s time to start living as if we believe that. Hyprocisy and closets enslave. Truth and the light of day sets us free. I’ll take truth, please.

I wonder if anyone in the Church of England is willing to take some risks and step into the light of day and speak the truth?

UPDATE: As the MadPriest rightly points out the comments (below), some people in the Church of England have stepped into the light of day and made some noise for justice. I did not mean to ignore their real contributions and, in some cases, painful sacrifice. However, my point remains that not enough people who are high in the ecclesiastical food chain have been willing to speak out, perhaps for fear of disappearing preferments. I’ve spoken with a few bishops who complain about “the situation” as if they were powerless to change things or even to speak out. Lots of senior clergy blame +Rowan for things, but seem unwilling to assume responsibility to work and to speak for change. The US got where we are (for better or worse) because of the sacrifices of many, high and low in the church hierarchy. I’d like to see less hand-wringing and more action from bishops and members of General Synod. That was my point.

Sorry, MadPriest, for my failure to acknowledge what you and others have done. And thank you.

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17 Responses

  1. Tom Stone says:

    Wouldn’t that be interesting to have an American Episcopal Church of England competing directly with Canterbury? I am not sure of how we would manage the language barrier:-)

  2. Bob Chapman says:

    @tom stone: Clearly we would need to adopt a TEC BCP in Latin for the language barrier. Then experts at Cambridge and Oxford could localize the Latin BCP for use among the natives in England.

  3. MadPriest says:

    I wonder if anyone in the Church of England is willing to take some risks and step into the light of day and speak the truth?

    Excuse me?

    I lost my job for doing just that. And I’m not alone.

  4. Eric Gregory says:

    I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising to me to hear the amount of vitriol coming from those with opinions in the Episcopal Church, yet it continues to be distressing.

    While I understand, on some levels, the desire to “follow the Spirit” and bless the consecration of yet another bishop in a sexual relationship outside of marriage after the “listening process” has completed, it is simply out of order. We cannot and should not be blessing things contrary to our Prayer Book and to Scripture itself.

    Additionally, comments like yours, Scott, regarding the ABC seem full of hate and cries of “unfair! unfair!” rather than reasoned or enlightened responses. Everything that I have read (from Rowan, his supporters and his detractors) indicates that he is doing the best he is able, with the limited (almost non-existent) powers he has as Primate of primates, to keep the Communion together – in the vision of unity that Our Lord and the Apostles desire(d). He is most certainly not attempting a coup d’etat or reaching for popish authority – in fact, the only thing he has done so far is to warn (and warn and warn and warn) that violations of the beliefs held by the rest of the Communion (which cause the sort of strife same-sex blessings and cross-border incursions currently are) have consequences. One of those necessary consequences is the removal of TEC representative from ecumenical discussions. TEC is acting on its own, apart from the collective discernment of the Spirit by the entire Communion (and indeed most of Christendom in general), and that action has consequences.

    Yet why does this concern you so? If TEC is truly following the Spirit (which is up to much doubt and discussion), why not bear the cross without the whining? WWJD, no? Won’t TEC be vindicated in the end?

    Finally, your vituperative railing against the CoE for hypocrisy, Kearon for imprecise wording, and the Southern Cone/Africa for continuing to violate a moratorium, while justified, only distracts from the point that TEC is still to blame for its recent violation. That is still fact, and pointing the finger at others saying “but they’re doing it, too!” reminds the reader of children attempting to justify (or simply co-incriminate) siblings and friends for their own mistakes. It’s adolescent… much like TEC’s decisions to walk apart. Both have consequences.

  5. Scott Gunn says:

    MadPriest, my apologies. I wrote too hastily — and I will update the post. What I should have written is that those who are high up in the ecclesiastical food chain need to step up, not leaving curates and pew-sitters to do the risk taking. I’ve heard many bishops complain about “the situation” as if they were passengers on a ship, rather than its leaders. I’ve heard senior clergy blame everything on Rowan, and then seem unwilling to assume responsibility to institute change. For us Americans, this all gets very frustrating. But in my frustration, I should not have looked past the sacrifices that you and others have made. It’s a pity that others higher up have not joined you. Blessings in your ministry!


  6. Scott Gunn says:

    Eric, you are right — if the Episcopal Church feels called to do something, we should be ready to accept whatever consequences may come to us. I do not mind sanctions, but I do mind unjust sanctions. It’s one thing to punish the US for what it’s done, but it’s another to do that while ignoring the same thing closer to one’s home in England.

    For the record, I also do not approve of double standards on the left. We cannot say that 2009-D025 failed to overturn the moratorium on openly GLBT bishops when we’ve just ordained Bishop Mary Glasspool. The moratorium is history, and we should admit that. See? I want consistency on the left and right.

    When we’re disagreeing on moral issues, we all do well to behave in a way that is morally consistent. Then we can focus on the issue(s) at hand.

    I am sorry that my comments seemed hateful in any way. I don’t hate Rowan — far from it. I just think he and some leaders around him are wrong on this one. As I’ve written before, I actually think he’s doing a good job as ABC, though I don’t agree with everything he’s done or said.

    Finally, only one side has chosen to walk apart thus far. Since 2005, the far right have literally excommunicated themselves from the Anglican Communion. No one asked them to do that. While they may (rightly?) blame the Episcopal Church for the present troubles, the far right must be willing to accept from responsibility for actions too, not just blame others.

    Thanks for your comment — and I hope you are having a good summer getting ready to enter YDS.


  7. Scott, I had to click off this and come back later, nothing to do with the travails of our churches.

    Here in England, we have a “diversity” agenda that might have engendered a far more equal society had it not been pushed with such vitriol by members of the last government. We’ve seen, for example, the Christian owner of a Bed’n’Breakfast arrested for turning away gay people while it’s legal for B&Bs for gay people to turn away heterosexuals, and a Christian couple who owned a B&B arrested for criticising the Burqa while Muslims and their fellow-travellers chip away at Christianity every day (to the horror of Muslim women who came here to escape Islamofascism). The message is clear: if you’re British, white and heterosexual, don’t think you have anything approaching rights. I’m sorry if that sounds incendiary, I really don’t intend it to be. I’m just trying to give an indication of the powder-keg that society lives in over here. I hope the American Episcopalian Church thinks carefully about prevaling situations, that it had nothing to do with creating, before it takes actions that can have no other effect than to up the temperature.

  8. Bob Chapman says:

    I once saw a cartoon involving the Ten Commandments. As we know, they take up two tablets.

    The cartoon went on to show the hundreds of tablets for the enabling legislation for the Ten Commandments, and the thousands of tablets for the administrative regulations.

    The Devil is in the details.

    The Ten Commandments is our constitution (with the Summary of the Law being the preamble). Everything else after that are enabling legislation and administrative regulation.

    So what does it mean not to do work on the Sabbath?

    Let’s move to today and the Current Unpleasantness. The Ten Commandments (and its preamble) are still there. But, the enabling legislation and regulations haven’t caught up.

    Whilst homosexuals have existed for a long time, it has only been defined since the 1800s. This is exactly the same as saying the Laws of Thermodynamics have existed since some moment soon after the big bang, but their definition only happened starting in the 1800s.

    Not that there is homosexuality in the Bible. There is. It is accepted “as is.” Remember that being homosexual has nothing to do with having sexual relations with another person. It has nothing to do with rape, which is actually a power relationship.

    Jonathan’s heart being knit to David’s heart is very telling. David saying Jonathan’s love was better than the love of women completes the discussion. We do not know if the two engaged in sexual relations, but the “knitting of hearts” meets the definition we have today. Not any working definition in use then.

    It just is. It wasn’t directly commented upon, yes or no. Saul’s negativity against David was more about usurping the family control and power.

    (Saying Jonathan and David was in a same gender relationship is only controversial to those who think same gender relationships must include or imply sexual relationships. When you know sexual relations are not necessary, you can see the text for what it is.)

    The Church Universal has been dealing with homosexuality in a serious way for only a very short time when compared to the long history of the Church. Lumping Sodom in with homosexuality is not dealing with it seriously. One is rape; the other is love.

    Today we are only left with at this time are the Ten Commandments. These contain a clear statement about bearing false witness against your neighbor.

    If unity means to bear false witness to the Africans and Southern Cone, then we as a Communion have failed. We break our constitution.

    There probably is a more nuanced way of handling this issue. Consider the economy (intentional word choice) of how the Orthodox handle divorce and remarriage. The only way to that way of handling an issue means to stop lying about what is happening. Own it. Deal with it.

    And remember we are saved by grace and not by law.

  9. Eric Gregory says:


    If we had any exegesis to work with your interpretations of the relationship between Jonathan and David, I’d be interested. My research shows that this is a VERY unfaithful representation of the text and the language used (in Hebrew or the Greek Septuagint) – there’s not evidence of homosexual activity being anything aside from immoral and “to be avoided” in either the New or Old Testaments. It’s also a bit confusing for you to suggest that their relationship was sexual (e.g. with the label “homosexual”) whilst also suggesting that it need not be. I don’t think anyone on the right (no matter how far) of this issue would suggest that same-gender relationships are not both enriching/enlivening but also (here’s a stretch for some) even more important than a marriage relationship. Even the ancient Greeks, who allowed for the practice of homosexuality and, indeed, pederasty, understood that the highest form of relationship was non-sexual, same-sex intimacy. Any sexual activity, for them, corrupted a relationship. Except, and here’s the key, for life-long heterosexual marriage. That relationship is unique amongst all other sexual relationships that one could have for its ability to foster family and raise children. As Christians, I believe we are called to the highest moral excellence (though we will fail, as we well know) which means that we are called to non-sexual, same-sex intimacy. Some of us are called to marriage (between a man and a woman for the Greek reasons on top of God’s ordination of that sacrament throughout Scripture), and the rest of us are called to celibacy. Especially those in positions of church leadership where they ought to be above reproach, saying, as St. Paul did: “Follow me as I follow Jesus.” Does grace suggest that we do not strive for excellence and perfection? By no means (paraphrased: Romans 6:1).

    I do appreciate your explication of what the Ten Commandments and the Summary of the Law offer us though – I’ll be thinking more of that.

  10. Bob Chapman says:

    The exegesis is not new. Since it must be new to you, I would start here. This book is still in print, should you want to buy it. loved david&source=bl&ots=8M_NV3Mr3q&sig=7Y9gTR23Oaoz6hVVG-TdKQh5zzE&hl=en&ei=N6YOTI2aEM-fnwfIopW7DQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false

    It isn’t up to us who gets the gift of celibacy. It is up to God the Holy Spirit. To say all gays and lesbians are given this gift is exactly the same as the Pentecostal that claims everyone who is baptized in the Spirit will have the gift of tongues.

    I would invite you to examine the Orthodox Church point of view on divorce. Then ask if the principle of economy has further application to other issues.

    (The OCA and Greek Orthodox differ only in procedure. But both allow remarriage.)

  11. Bob Chapman says:

    Keeping things separate here. Homosexual versus Gay.

    There are those who write style guides that suggest using “gay” instead of “homosexual.” One reason is that “homosexual” implies sexual relations; “gay” does not. Also, “gay” is less pejorative than “homosexual.”

    I don’t know what people these experts consult.

    “Gay” is just as much a pejorative in elementary and secondary schools as “queer” and “homosexual” ever was.

    Don’t get me started on those who think that anyone who identifies “gay,” “queer,” “homosexual,” “fag,” “nelly,” “effeminate,” or whatever term you like is automatically having more sex than the normal man could handle. I think the term “no one is ugly at 2:00 am” started in straight bars.

    If it helps you to see beyond your connotation of the word “homosexual” means by using “gay” in what I wrote, go ahead. It is about attraction and the knitting together of hearts. Sex happens, but not for every one, every time.

    And, by the way, bisexual does not mean a person is having sex with a male and female.

  12. Eric Gregory says:


    I haven’t read that book before, and I may look into it further. It’s a bit odd to me that there’s nothing I can find in a quick Google search where academics are studying the issue exegetically. Tom Horner seems incredibly biased on this issue (from the little I glanced at the introduction) and he doesn’t seem to have any other works. Additionally, there are no negative comments on Amazon or elsewhere – which indicates to me (since I imagine that I’m not the first “traditionalist” to be uncomfortable with exegesis in regards to sexual intimacy between individuals of the same sex), that this is a gay-/queer-only book; meaning that those who don’t agree don’t really read this material. Perhaps YDS will have it on the shelves this summer so I can take a look…

    In regards to the connotations of homosexuality, I have no issue with love happening between two people of the same gender – again, that is a high ideal among the ancients, and one which Jesus himself clearly took part in. What troubles me is a lack of concern for proper inclusion (or exclusion) of sexual intimacy in your overview. The Scriptures (from the hardness of Leviticus to Romans and Corinthians), it’s pretty evident to me that sexual activity of ANY kind outside of the marriage bed is immoral and should be abstained from by Christians. “Homosexuality” as we currently define it was foreign to both OT and NT peoples, so it didn’t get much space in the letters. It’s not the way human love was intended to be expressed between members of the same sex – it is to be reserved for the marriage bed (man woman) alone. Leaders in the Church even more so.

    It’s hard to see otherwise in the Scriptures and traditions.

  13. Bob Chapman says:

    Leviticus has only two verses that probably apply to this issue. For Paul, same gender relations was mostly written about as a matter of worship.

    Interestingly enough, I’ve read more than one commentator that has drawn the same conclusion from Leviticus. It all appears to what we mistakenly call “temple prostitution” today. It is about worshiping a fertility god versus the God of Israel. That is covered by the Ten Commandments.

    “‘Homosexuality’ as we currently define it was foreign to both OT and NT peoples, so it didn’t get much space in the letters.” The term “homosexual” was not defined until the 1800s, true. But, to say homosexuals and lesbians weren’t known to people in Biblical times would not be true.

    It is not fair or accurate to connect same gender sexual relations as part of worship in fertility cults with homosexuality.

    With regards to exegesis of these passages, have you considered a good commentary? My Jerome Commentary (from 1968) discusses the Romans 1 verses with regards to idolatry for the same gender sexual relations. While the commentator uses the words “homosexuality” and “lesbian” in discussing Romans 1.24-28 (see 53:26 on page 297 in Jerome), I would hope 40 years after this book was published our collective knowledge would suggest different words than “homosexuality” and “lesbian” would be more accurate.

  14. Eric Gregory says:

    I only brought up Leviticus because it is near the beginning of the Bible – I have no issue tossing out those claims that run right next to suggestions of how best to sell one’s daughter into slavery. It is Romans 1, 1 Corinthians and other epistles whose arguments and veracity I cannot escape.

    I have yet to see any commentary that posits Romans 1 in a light amenable to same-sex physical/sexual intimacy. Again, I’m right with you on the same-sex intimate relationships (when non-sexual), but it seems to be the very act of male-male and female-female genital interaction that is “an abomination” and explicitly referenced as outside of the human ideal to which God gave humanity over to

    I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding about the purpose and place of sexual expression for humans when we suggest that it can happen between men or between women when the Scriptures appear to be very firmly advocating the opposite of that.

  15. Bob Chapman says:

    How do you justify removing those Christian scriptural passages from the general context of worship of false gods?

    The problem is the Church Universal has not dealt with “homosexuality” as such yet. It has dealt with “homosexuality” as the result of false worship or as rape.

  16. MadPriest says:

    “I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding about the purpose” of the Bible going on here. It’s only a book, written by people. The only words of God in it are the words of Jesus and if we were to accept that every word attributed to Jesus in all four gospels is genuine we would not find any condemnation of same sex love. In fact, the general tone of all the words of God in the gospels put together would lead any logical person, new to the text, to the conclusion that Jesus would more than likely be in favour of any expression of love as long as nobody was being abused or oppressed by it.

    To be honest, if we believe that all the Bible, even all the N.T. is the word of God, then we might as well accept that God hates fags. Because any claim for the inerrancy of scripture is completely arbitrary, as is deciding God hates fags. Therefore, those of us who do not idolise the Bible should not be drawn into textual arguments.

  1. June 8, 2010

    […] Here’s a comment that I posted on Scott Gunn’s blog after reading his interpretation of recent Anglo-piscopal issues: I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising to me to hear the amount of vitriol coming from those with opinions in the Episcopal Church, yet it continues to be distressing. While I understand, on some levels, the desire to “follow the Spirit” and bless the consecration of yet another bishop in a sexual relationship outside of marriage after the “listening process” has completed, it is simply out of order. We cannot and should not be blessing things contrary to our Prayer Book and to Scripture itself. […]