Sunday, March 9, 2008

An Open Letter to the House of Bishops ...

... meeting at Camp Allen.


Dear Colleagues in Christ,

Prayers ascend for your work on behalf of the whole church at Camp Allen this week. I am presuming to write this afternoon to reflect briefly on the "faith based reconciliation" aspect of your work together -- a process I am very familiar with as both Brian Cox and Joanne O'Donnell are diocesan colleagues of mine here in Los Angeles.

I am deeply convinced of the efficacy of the work of and believe giving the whole House of Bishops the shared experience and vocabulary of this reconciliation process is a great gift to the church and to the communion. I also want to "enter into the record" the long history which Integrity & CTB leadership have with participating in the kind of process you have undertaken at Camp Allen.

I write because I want to make sure that the hard work that has been done by scores of committed progressive leaders over this last decade+ toward reconciliation with the conservative minority in the Episcopal Church is recognized. And I write because I want to reiterate the commitment my predecessor, Michael Hopkins made in 2002 in his "Message to the Church:"

We are absolutely committed to this Church and we are absolutely committed to the Continuance of as broad a diversity—including theological—as is possible for us to maintain together. This commitment is, in part, a commitment to continued messiness and frustration … Liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists, must learn to live together in this Church or there will be no Church in which for us to live. But learning to live together must mean “mutual deference” not moratoriums or some insistence that we all convert to being “moderates.”

Below are the reflections on Faith Based Reconciliation I posted to my blog yesterday -- offered as a witness to the hopes of our past and in commitment to the opportunities for reconciliation in our future.

All best blessings,
(The Reverend) Susan Russell
President, Integrity USA



The reports this afternoon from Camp Allen are that the bishops of the Episcopal Church spent the day engaged in exercises focused on faith based reconciliation.Good for them.Brian Cox and Joanne O'Donnell are able facilitators and the process they brought to Camp Allen is one that has been practiced for many years in many different contexts ... including a 2003 "National Reconciliation Conversation" subtitled "Conflict in the Episcopal Church" held at St. James Episcopal Church here in the Diocese of Los Angeles.

Leadership of both the American Anglican Council and Integrity/Claiming the Blessing were invited to a four day opportunity to work together to explore the faith based reconciliation process ahead of the upcoming General Convention.

We showed up. They didn't.

And yet it was a helpful exercise for those of us who came. The blog I wrote in response to that gathering was called "Longing to Hope Again" ... and reading the ENS release today, I was struck that the bishops gathered at Camp Allen in 2008 were being asked the same question we were asked in that parish hall in 2003: How have I given and received offense?

Here's what I wrote about that very question in 2003 ...


For me, the most powerful exercise of the conference was the opportunity for a representative of each constituency – progressive, moderate and conservative – to offer a list of both the hurts we have received and those we have inflicted in the course of this now decades long conflict. Speaking for “the progressive side,” I offered the following:

We have been hurt by:

  • the assumption that we’re driven by a non-faith” agenda – by having our desire to fully include GLBT persons in the Body of Christ dismissed as “purely political.”

  • the constant questioning of our salvation and by the threat of judgment, the lack of trust that we mean what we say – by accusations of “hidden agendas” and threats of “future coercion” which attack our integrity and block conversation

  • the dishonoring of our relationships by defining them in terms of sexual acts. Andrew Sullivan has written, “We’d never talk about heterosexual marriage primarily in terms of vaginal intercourse or merely sexual needs; it would slight the depth and variety of heterosexual relationships.” It hurts that our relationships do not receive the same level of respect.

  • name calling: Sodomite. Pervert. Morally Corrupt. By being lumped with pedophiles and prostitutes – by those who speak the words and those who do not speak out against the hate mongers.

  • having the truth of our experience as GLBT Christians denied as valid – having our sexual orientation become more important than our theological orientation.

  • hearing again and again that our presence in the church will cause others to leave – by having the truth of our experience held hostage by threats of schism -- having the burden of unity placed on the shoulders of our silence.

We have caused hurt by:

  • the times we have participated in “then show them the door thinking as a means to resolve our differences with conservatives.

  • stereotyping those with biblical hermeneutics which differ from ours as fundamentalists – by dismissing them as ignorant.

  • not acknowledging the very real pain being experienced by those who see the church changing in ways that they find incompatible with their understanding of scripture.

  • not always remembering what it is like to be in a minority and by not acting with sensitivity in those places where we have become the majority.

  • proclaiming a Gospel of God’s inclusive love and yet only tolerating those with conservative political and theological perspectives.

Not a complete list. Not a definitive process. But a beginning. An effort. A baby step forward on the journey toward reconciliation. At least I hope so. It isn’t about changing minds or ignoring differences or tabling resolutions. It’s about engaging in the hard work of both encountering and understanding “ the other” – and coming to see each other as equally beloved of God, equally entitled to respect, equally longing to hope.


A lot of water under the bridge across the Anglican divide since I wrote that in May 2003 ... but the same longing for hope that drew us to show up at St. James dwells, I believe, in the hearts and minds and ministries of the bishops who showed up at Camp Allen for this meeting of the House of Bishops ... and who will show up in Canterbury for the Lambeth Conference of Bishops.

And may the God of hope continue to fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that we will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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