Wednesday, January 20, 2016

An Open Letter

An open letter to those concerned about the impact of the decisions reached at the recent meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion at Canterbury England.

So, let’s talk amongst ourselves.  What does the statement of the Primates call on us to do?  Aside from our response to their statement, there is more for us to do as members of Integrity, as members of The Episcopal Church, and as followers of Jesus Christ.

The Primates issued their statement with its “consequences” outlined therein.  As you are aware, we, Integrity USA, responded with what was, for all practical purposes, a somewhat “political” response/portion of the discussion.  Yet we have a more important discussion:  the pastoral implications and needs for ourselves and others.

What will we do to provide pastoral support to each other and to our sisters and brothers in less hospitable provinces of the Anglican Communion?

We will continue to "Love one another as I have loved you."

We will continue to "Forgive your enemies and those who hate you."

We will continue to "Forgive 70 times 7."

Why will we do these things?  These are the words Jesus spoke to His followers.  Jesus calls us over this tumult.

Jesus calls us to forgive those who hurt us, those who hate us and seek to injure us whether in body or mind or soul.  If we claim any authenticity as followers of Jesus we must confess that forgiveness is central to our identity as Christians.  These are some of the things we must do if we are to be Jesus people in a Jesus movement.

This calling is now even more important to us as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people as the result of the release of the statement by the Primates. Their words are painful to all LGBTQ people everywhere who know ourselves as beloved children of God. Their words are also painful to The Episcopal Church which has taken the risk of the Gospel in the full inclusion of all God’s children in the sacramental life of the church.

This is not the first time the Primates have inflicted pain on LGBTQ people and The Episcopal Church. I doubt it will be their last attempt. And yet, we will persevere.  We have been to the foot of the cross before and we will be there again.  That is where we find the strength to endure being there. It is where we find redemption, release and healing and the ability to forgive.

We will find forgiveness – 70 times 7. Such is the cost of discipleship.

We will find healing for our broken hearts, for there is a balm in Gilead.

We will find hope for our weary spirits. Such is the promise of the resurrection.  And, like the first disciples, we will find the courage to open the eyes of our hearts to see the fullness of love in the empty tomb.

More importantly, we will share that hope and continue to be a beacon of the unconditional love of God in Christ to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers in the very provinces where these Primates continue to oppress and persecute them.

The decades of discussion, debate, and attempts to exclude, have given both The Episcopal Church and its LGBTQ members a level of spiritual maturity that allows us to be clear about where we are, who we are, and whose we are.

Our own Primate, the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry has and I suspect will continue to remind us that we are Jesus people and part of a Jesus movement.  The President of our House of Deputies, the Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, has been clear that we will continue to be part of the Anglican Communion and will fulfill our responsibilities on the Anglican Consultative Council, the more legislative of the instruments of communion.  Integrity USA is in full support of the work and the statements of the two individuals who are the presiding officers and the chief pastors of The Episcopal Church.

So, we have and will continue to endure the cost of discipleship that comes with following what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do.  We can take no other stance if we claim to follow Jesus.  It is a price we have paid and are willing to continue to pay.

The struggle continues. We do not struggle alone.

Bruce Garner
Integrity USA

Friday, January 15, 2016

Integrity Response to the 2016 Anglican Primate Meeting

The Episcopal Church (TEC) is and has been an integral part of the Anglican Communion from beginning of the communion.  Throughout our history we have gathered, debated, and made decisions on what we have believed and have faith in as being the work of the Holy Spirit among us, as being true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Integrity USA has been part of The Episcopal Church for over 40 years and we have also been participants in the gatherings, debates and decisions reached by The Episcopal Church over those 40 years.  In fact, we have worked to initiate the discussions that have led to many decisions made that affected lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) members of our church and our society.  In the early days, our members and supporters put themselves at considerable personal risk to engage in discussions around human sexuality.

We believe in the work of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot do otherwise if we are to be true to the Gospel, particularly the account provided to us by John: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." John 16: 12-13a

The work of the Holy Spirit did not cease with its coming on the Day of Pentecost.  Rather, the work continued and continues, as many will testify from personal experiences.  God continues to work and speak in our world today.  We believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, continues to guide us into all truth even as history continues to unfold before us.

The statement from the 2016 Primates meeting is not seen by Integrity USA as bringing the good news of Jesus Christ.  Our own Primate, the Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry, has called on us as TEC to be part of the “Jesus movement” and to be “Jesus people.”  Jesus’ ministry was one of building relationships, right relationships.  He was not guided or restricted by any human precept that might divide the children of God.  He was not one to make distinctions unless it was to shine the light of justice on a situation.  It was clear that He abhorred relationships that were based on coercion, abuse or exploitation.  Unfortunately, we see glimpses of such in the statement of the Primates and the actions proposed.

To be as clear as possible in our response to that statement, we offer our response to each of the paragraphs of the Primates’ statement below:

1. We gathered as Anglican Primates to pray and consider how we may preserve our unity in Christ given the ongoing deep differences that exist among us concerning our understanding of marriage.

Response:  The “understanding” of marriage has changed significantly over history.  What was initially an exchange of property, i.e., the woman, has moved closer to being the formalization of a loving, caring, committed and monogamous relationship between a man and a woman.  We find it interesting to note that the only references made by Jesus to marriage were in the context of discussions about divorce and adultery.  TEC’s understanding of marriage has not changed; rather it has broadened to include loving, caring, committed and monogamous relationships between couples of the same gender.

2. Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage. Possible developments in other Provinces could further exacerbate this situation.

Response:  TEC has engaged in lengthy study, prayer and discussion about marriage at both the faith and teaching level and at the personal relationship level.  Marriage is not a definition to be taught but a relationship to be lived out in faith the partners have in each other and the faith they have in the God of their creation.  We put into canon law what we believe and practice before God.

3. All of us acknowledge that these developments have caused further deep pain throughout our Communion.

Response:  Opening the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all has almost always caused similar developments in the history of the church.  Even in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter was greeted by dissension when God made it clear to him through a dream that all foods were clean and that he should not call anything profane that God had made.  James the brother of Jesus was also met with dissension when he declared that it was not necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised to become followers of Jesus.  He ended centuries of tradition with a single decision.  We have been engaged in the discussions of marriage for decades.

4. The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.

Response:  A truly critical view of the teaching of Scripture is that marriage was not just between a man and a woman but could also be between a man and as many women as he chose to have as his wives.  Again, Acts tells us that the only men who were restricted to one wife were bishops and deacons.  It seems disingenuous to cite something that has not always been true and that is still not true in some provinces of the Anglican Communion. The most important issue seems to be that of faithful, lifelong union and we still uphold that value.

5. In keeping with the consistent position of previous Primates’ meetings such unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity is considered by many of us as a departure from the mutual accountability and interdependence implied through being in relationship with each other in the Anglican Communion.

Response:  This seems only a recent view of our relationships.  Books of Common Prayer, Canons, liturgical materials, etc. have been revised and utilized throughout our common history by the provinces as they found the need to do so.  None of the provinces have sought the approval or even input from their sister provinces on such matters.

6. Such actions further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us. This results in significant distance between us and places huge strains on the functioning of the Instruments of Communion and the ways in which we express our historic and ongoing relationships.

Response:  Yet this has only become the case with regard to issues of gender and human sexuality. Otherwise, we have all given each other considerable leeway in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ as was best for us in our respective situations.

7. It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.

Response: Whatever distance has been created between provinces will not be lessened by excluding any other provinces from full participation in the life of the Anglican Communion.  We do not learn from each other when we are apart from each other, regardless of the mechanism.  We do not allow room for the Holy Spirit to speak collectively to us when we exclude each other.

8. We have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a Task Group to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.

Response:  We fully support the appointment of such a Task Group.  However, that Task Group must also address the injustices, torture, imprisonment and killing of LGBTQ people taking place in several provinces of the Anglican Communion.  It must also include forthright discussions about human trafficking, a scourge on all of society.  It must also include discussions about hunger, poverty, illness and all that impacts the lives of God’s children.  Our Scriptural tradition clearly focuses far more attention on our responsibilities to others and the human condition than it does on any issue of human sexuality.  

If we believe the faith we seek to practice, we have no basis for abusing, exploiting or coercing any child of God into a particular way of living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Each of us has been created by Love for love, by God for love.  Jesus Christ came that all might be saved.  His was a ministry to the excluded, the marginalized, the outcasts, the poor, the neglected and all whom the powers of His day would ignore.  Whom shall we follow?  Jesus Christ or those who would seek power at the expense of other children of God.  We follow Jesus as Jesus people in a Jesus movement.

Bruce Garner
Integrity USA