Our gathering in Minneapolis has been my fifth consecutive General Convention as a reporter—the merest blink of an eye to convention veterans, but enough time to offer some perspective on where we have been and where we are going.
Professor Timothy Sedgwick observed in the early 1990s that many Episcopalians were experiencing cognitive dissonance about sexual morality—a feeling of disconnection between the church's teachings and its practices. He said this conflict must, in time, be resolved for the good of the church. To his everlasting credit, Sedgwick called on liberal Episcopalians, even then, to be gracious in the victory he expected would eventually be theirs.
Just as the 1976 convention in Minneapolis was the decisive moment in our church's discussion of ordaining women as priests, this convention marks the turning point in our discussion about blessing same-sex couples.
I give thanks for many of you on the left. You have shared meals, your homes, and soul-to-soul conversations with me. One of the richest gifts we can give each other is to risk discovering the person behind the activist's confrontational posture. To the many Episcopalians who embody liberalism's generosity at its best: thank you.
I hope that my offering some final thoughts on this General Convention and our subsequent life together will not be too severe a test of your generosity.
I ask five favors of you:
Give us time. I do not honestly know what this General Convention means for our future together. I know most of us want to remain faithful Anglicans. Nineteen of our shepherds have asked sympathetic primates to provide their godly guidance. We want their guidance to be marked more by wisdom than by speed, but we expect to hear from them. We cannot say within a matter of days or weeks just how we will remain Anglicans. If you're certain that God has led General Convention to vote as it has, please also trust that he will help us respond in ways that do not sacrifice our theological convictions.
Let people go with your blessings. Some Episcopalians will feel the need to leave, and right away. They may choose to become Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, or Southern Baptists. So what? They are neither traitors to Anglicanism nor weak in Christian faith. They are adults in search of the communion that best nurtures their theology and piety. Such were some of you if you were not born into the Episcopal Church. Some of these people may have welcomed you into your new life as an Episcopalian. Try to show a similar grace as they leave.
Show us your inclusivity. I'll confess to believing that redemption, not God's all-inclusive love, was the point of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. I think the gospel of inclusivity does not make honest sense of Jesus' hard sayings about the afterlife, or about the legalists and hypocrites of his time. (Need we remind ourselves that all theological perspectives have their share of legalists and hypocrites?) Still, if you believe what you say about welcoming the Other, consider how often we are your Other.
Give the motives bashing a rest. When you declare that fear, hatred, intolerance, or a lust for power drive conservative Episcopalians, you are not helping us become more inclusive. I do not ask you to vanquish all such thoughts about us. We all think unkind things. I do ask you to consider whether such broad statements about our spiritual lives are worthy of inclusion in your sermons and publications.
Acknowledge our clashing worldviews. There will always be enough conservative Episcopalians for this church to argue about sex until the Second Advent, if it is so inclined. The next time you're sitting through another marathon open hearing about blessing same-sex unions, listen for what people are saying between the lines. Ponder what you hear about God, the state of this world, heaven and hell, and how we reach either place. And if that sentence sounds too literalist to you, I rest my case.
I'm not sure I can say this too many times, friends: thank you. Thank you for those times when you've shown patience with our reluctance to walk in the same direction with you. Thank you for when you've acknowledged our concerns about the holiness of God and the authority of Scripture. Thank you for recognizing that evangelical faith is a stream flowing into the glorious river of Anglicanism.
Thank you, above all, for the painful gift of clarity about where you want this church to move. If most conservatives are unable to accompany you, please know that you will always have a place in our hearts.
Douglas LeBlanc is an associate editor of Christianity Today.
Copyright © 2003 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
See LeBlanc's earlier dispatches from the General Convention:
Bishops Sanction 'Resources,' Not Rites | Having confirmed gay bishop, Episcopal leaders turn to discussing same-sex unions. (Aug. 7, 2003)
Darkness in the Afternoon | Openly homosexual Episcopal priest cleared of misconduct, confirmed as bishop (Aug. 6, 2003)
The Bitter Harvest of Sexual Ideology | No one wanted the Gene Robinson bishopric debate to take this sad turn (Aug. 5, 2003)
Deputies Slice into the Gordian Knot | The Episcopal Church's House of Deputies approves Gene Robinson as New Hampshire Bishop. The House of Bishops will vote today. (Aug. 4, 2003)
Praise the Lord and Pass the Condoms | Southern Hemisphere primates warned that approving Gene Robinson would place the church outside most of the world's 72 million Anglicans. "You'll get over it," responded about 60 percent of the House of Deputies. (Aug. 4, 2003)
Gene Robinson Takes Questions in a Church called Gethsemane | Speaks on reparative therapy, potential schism, and whether he really "/left" his wife for his male lover. (Aug. 4, 2003)
What in the World Is God Doing? | For Episcopalians, the night may be darkest before the dawn. (Aug. 4, 2003)
Integrity Doles Out God's Not-So Inclusive Love | The Integrity Eucharist has become a triennial sort of mass pity party. (Aug. 1, 2003)
Gay Rites Would Not Bless Ecumenism | Could also impair Anglican work overseas. (Aug. 1, 2003)
Gene and Me | My history with the openly gay man elected bishop of Rochester. (July 31, 2003)
More coverage of the General Convention is available from the ECUSA website, which has streaming video. Conservative and orthodox perspectives are available from Classical Anglican Net News, the American Anglican Council's A Place to Stand, and David Virtue's Virtuosity.