The Convention’s two houses may be where sexuality issues are legislatively decided, but voters will come to those halls informed by discussions that are happening this week all over downtown Minneapolis.
For the American Anglican Council, whose members identify as “mainstream” Episcopalians, “Unconventional Breaks” daily at 4pm at Central Evangelical Lutheran Church, located near the Minneapolis Convention Center, are meant to provide a learning environment in the midst of controversy. The authority of Scripture is a main theme of discussions there.
The Rev. Canon David Anderson, AAC president, told The Daily his organization is “not leaving” the church even though General Convention measures on consent to an openly gay bishop and proposed rites to bless same-gender unions are bringing Episcopalians on all sides of these issues to confrontation. But whether those resolutions would be considered “teachable moments,” in the long or short term, is up for debate, depending on who you ask.
“What the liberals are saying is: ‘We’ve learned a lot today about human life, psychiatric issues, and therefore we really know more than they know and therefore we know that (homosexuality) is okay now and (conservatives) don’t understand that,” Anderson said. “That premise is based upon Holy Scripture being non-authoritative. If Scripture is God-breathed then it is still applicable today. If it is simply the ramblings of people back then, then, yes, modern science may have a real update on what they wrote.”
The Rev. Susan Russell, executive director of Claiming the Blessing, a group dedicated to achieving ratification of a formal blessing of same-gender unions, has a different view. “I said when I was ordained that I believed the Holy Scriptures contain all things necessary for salvation. I do not believe everything contained in the Bible is necessary for salvation.”
“We are all selective literalists,” said Russell, who is based in Southern California, where there is a large gay and lesbian population. Same-sex blessings should be formalized, she said, as a tool to bring more people into the fold and provide them pastoral care. “If you take any one verse out of context you do so at our own peril. Holy Scripture is not a psychology manual or a sexuality textbook. It’s a faith manual. It is the history of a faith community, of God’s presence in our lives,” she said.
If a controversial sexuality measure passes, Convention may be over for some people, who may leave the church, Anderson said. “There will be angry people in churches holding the newspaper asking their rector: ‘What are you going to do about this?’”
However, conversations with convention participants reveal that most people believe great numbers will not leave the church, at least in the short term, and it will continue on in all its diversity.
“I think it’s no coincidence that we’re back in Minneapolis, the site of the 1976 approval of the ordination of women, and that was the last supposed great schism that was going to split the church,” said Russell. “I remember those debates and the fear and the predictions that a third of the people would leave the Church as a result. But about one percent left. I’m sure that grieved the heart of God. But I also know that has strengthened the Church to have women more fully included…Thirty years from now we will see (gay union liturgies and openly gay clergy) as another step towards full inclusion.”
“I am not going anywhere,” said Michael Hopkins, president of Integrity, a pro-gay and lesbian group of Episcopalians. “The truth is that the mainstream of Anglicanism is extraordinarily wide. That is the glory of our church. No matter what happens at this convention I will remain not only in the church but serving it. I will not attempt to get my way by threatening to leave. And I still ask those on all sides of the debate to take such threats off the table.”
“We are not leaving either,” said Anderson. “What we are saying is the action of approving either of those resolutions is schismatic from the Anglican Communion. What is unclear is how the primates of the communion respond to this kind of schismatic action. Will this cause a diminution or estrangement or the end of participation of the Episcopal Church in the global communion? I don’t know.”
So far dialogue has been largely amicable, indicating that through God’s grace friendships can still be forged and Episcopalians can remain hopeful in our future together — despite the vast differences.
Anderson said he has many gay and lesbian friends that he keeps in touch with. “I love them,” he said. “They know my point of view and I know theirs but we don’t sit down and hash it out. The Church is a family and there are times in families when things get awkward but you try and hold the family together.”
Sarah Tippit Johnson is a correspondent for Reuters and a member of St. Timothy’s Church in the Diocese of San Diego.