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Theologians offer response to Windsor Report request
Paper cites 40-year consideration of same-gender relationships

ENS062105-2
6/21/2005
[Episcopal News Service, Nottingham]  Answering a request of the Anglican Communion's international Lambeth Commission, the Episcopal Church has today released a paper titled "To Set Our Hope on Christ: A Response to the Invitation of Windsor Report  Paragraph 135."

Published in booklet form and online [www.anglicanlistening.org], the paper has been prepared by a group of seven theologians and one historian at the request of Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold. Booklets may be ordered through Episcopal Books & Resources [www.episcopalbookstore.org]. 

In his foreword to the 130-page text, Griswold writes: "The Episcopal Church in the United States welcomes the request made in paragraph 135 of the Windsor Report: 'We particularly request a contribution from the Episcopal Church (USA) which explains, from within the sources of authority that we as Anglicans have received in scripture, the apostolic tradition and reasoned reflection, how a person living in a same gender union may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ.'

"The Episcopal Church has been seeking to answer this question for nearly 40 years, and at the same time has been addressing a more fundamental question, namely: how can the holiness and faithfulness to which God calls us all be made manifest in human intimacy?"

The foreword continues: "Though we have not reached a common mind we have come to a place in our discussion such that the clergy and people of a diocese have been able, after prayer and much discernment, to call a man living in a same sex relationship to be their bishop. As well, a majority of the representatives of the wider church -- bishops, clergy and lay persons -- have felt guided by the Holy Spirit, a gain in light of prayer and discernment to consent to the election and consecration."

The paper was offered earlier today in Nottingham, England, to the international Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) as part of a presentation made by the Episcopal Church as invited by the ACC.

"As this paper is an explanation of how this action could have been taken by faithful people it makes the positive case," the Presiding Bishop states in the foreword. "It does not attempt to give all sides of an argument or to model a debate" or "to replicate or summarize the conversations that have taken place in the church over nearly 40 years. The Appendix does that."

The theologians who prepared the paper are:

  • The Rev. Dr. Michael Battle of the Virginia Theological Seminary;
  • The Rev. Dr. Katherine Grieb of the Virginia Theological Seminary;
  • The Rev. Dr. Jay Johnson of the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley;
  • The Rev. Dr. Mark McIntosh of Loyola University Chicago;
  • The Rt. Rev. Catherine Roskam, Bishop Suffragan of New York;
  • Dr. Timothy Sedgwick of the Virginia Theological Seminary; and
  • Dr. Kathryn Tanner of the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Dr. Pamela W. Darling, a historian of General Convention legislation and Episcopal Church ministry, prepared the Appendix "which delineates the formal contents of the debate over these last four decades," the Presiding Bishop said.

The paper is divided into five parts:

  • Introduction;
  • Holiness, God's Blessing and Same-Sex Affection;
  • Contested Traditions, Common Life: The Episcopal Church's Historical Witness to Unity-in-Difference;
  • Eligibility for Ordination; and
  • Walking Together by Grace.

Part II cites a "growing awareness of holiness in same-sex relationships" which "has caused the Episcopal Church to face some difficult questions we did not always want to face. Might Christ the Lord, unfolding the mystery of his redeeming work, be opening our eyes to behold a dimension of his work that we had not understood? In other words, might what we had thought to be a crucial and defining division within the human family -- between those of same-sex desire and those of heterosexual desire -- be in fact a biological or cultural difference or cultural difference (as between male and female, slave or free) that has been overtaken by our common Baptism into his crucified and risen Body? Many have begun to answer 'yes' to those questions (page. 25)."

The paper makes a case for "the universal call to holiness of life in human relationships," stating: "The Episcopal Church has called all in relationships of sexual intimacy to the standard of life-long commitment 'characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication' and the 'holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God' (Resolution D039, 73rd General Convention of the Episcopal Church). The experience of holiness in some same-sex unions has called for and deepened our sense of how these life-long unions of fidelity can be seen to manifest God's love" (page 26).

Two theologians, Margaret R. Miles and Bishop Frederick H. Borsch, have offered early comment on the paper.

Miles -- who is Emerita Professor of Historical Theology from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley – is former Bussey Professor of Theology, Harvard Divinity School; former dean of the Graduate Theological Union, and 1999 president of the American Academy of Religion. Borsch – who is Professor of New Testament and Anglican Studies at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia – is retired Bishop of Los Angeles, former Professor of New Testament and Dean of the Chapel at Princeton University, former dean of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, and a past elected member of the Anglican Consultative Council.

Writes Miles: "In the context of 16th century religious conflict and violence, Anglican theologian Richard Hooker described the genius of Anglicanism as its willingness to ask its members only that they participate faithfully in the sacramental life of the community. In our own time, differences of conviction regarding homosexuality and the ordination of lesbian and gay Christians are again pressing Anglicans to reexamine the basis of communion and community.

"'To Set Our Hope on Christ' provides a rich and concrete account of what it means to live by faith. It describes the process by which the Episcopal Church has moved, in prayerful and thoughtful commitment to following Christ, from thinking of the Body of Christ as a community of 'mere like-mindedness' to envisioning a 'diverse and complex catholicity.' Urging that decision relating to sexual matters occur in the context of pastoral rather than ideological concerns, the document proposes that unity of participation and mission 'need not require uniformity of belief in all matters.'

"'To Set Our Hope on Christ' is a record of the thoughtful and prayerful deliberations -- theological, scriptural and experiential -- of Christians committed to seeking the mind of Christ. It is a powerful and moving statement."

Writes Borsch: "Not everyone, of course, will agree, just as Christians in the past have disagreed on certain matters involving both theology and faithful Christian living, as, for example, remarriage after divorce. But the Episcopal Church's response to the Anglican Consultative Council offers a gracious and well-reasoned biblical, theological and ethical case for the full discipleship and place in the Church of celibate Christians of same-sex orientation and those who are committed, alongside heterosexual disciples, to leading life in faithful relationships while seeking to follow the Lord Jesus.

"The report also sets the matter in the context of the lengthy discussions in the councils of the Episcopal Church."