The American Anglican Council's conference, "A Place to Stand," ended on Thursday with one bishop describing his resistance of the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop, and with 2,700 people pledging other forms of future resistance.
Bishop Stephen Jecko of the Diocese of Florida announced Thursday that he will reschedule his successor's consecration rather than allow what he described as a media circus. Jecko has been in conflict with Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold on whether Griswold should preside at the consecration.
Griswold had planned to consecrate Samuel John Howard in Florida—generally a conservative diocese—only one day before consecrating Gene Robinson (the Episcopal Church's first openly gay man to be elected a bishop) in New Hampshire.
Griswold sees those back-to-back consecrations as symbolic of his pastoral care for the entire Episcopal Church, across theological differences. Jecko said Griswold's actions belie any claim to such comprehensive pastoral care.
Jecko read aloud from a letter to Griswold, telling conference participants that it was his third request that Griswold not attend the consecration. The service was scheduled to occur at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Jacksonville. But Bishop Victor Galeone of the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine withdrew that welcome because of Griswold's media remarks about the supposed limited knowledge of Scripture's authors regarding the nature of homosexuality.
Jecko's letter did not specify a new date for the consecration.
Jecko, who read the letter from a laptop computer, stressed that his wording could change slightly when he circulated it via the Internet and print.
Jecko's voice was steady but pointed. "Your self-perception as a reconciler to the entire Episcopal Church is compromised and no longer tenable," he wrote to Griswold.
Jecko wrote that Griswold must live with the consequences of his support for Robinson's consecration and for blessing same-sex couples.
"The authority of the Scriptures, not merely their interpretation, is the issue for Christians," Jecko wrote.
Jecko said he asks a question of all potential clergy under his care—"Do you look good on wood?"—to convey the high costs (sometimes including martyrdom) of Christian discipleship.
Regarding his own answer to that question, Jecko deadpanned, "I have a feeling I'm about to find out."
Griswold did not respond immediately to Jecko's letter, though he did offer a general statement on the AAC conference.
"Baptism establishes an indissoluble bond between those who are baptized and the Risen Christ," Griswold worte. "So too baptism binds us together in such a way that we cannot say to one another 'I have no need of you.'
"It therefore concerns me deeply when Christians use inflammatory rhetoric when speaking of one another or issue ultimatums. In such a climate, mutual pursuit of ways to build up rather than tear down is made more difficult, and the vast deposit of faith upon which we all agree is obscured."
"Can this church be birthed?"
During a closing ceremony filled with dramatic speeches, AAC president and executive director David Anderson further explained why the group declined Griswold's plans to send four observers to the conference.
Anderson, like Jecko, read his letter aloud. Anderson's letter explained that the conference would welcome any observers who would, like all other participants except for news media, sign the AAC's founding document, also called "A Place to Stand."
"In a way we still left the door open," Anderson said. "Is there no one on Executive Council [the church's board of directors] who could in good conscience sign such a basic statement of Christian faith? Is there no one at church headquarters?"
Participants roared with cheers and laughter at Anderson's point.
Anderson repeatedly used the phrase "I have a vision" about a church that places top priority on the Great Commission, that respects the consciences of those who oppose ordaining women as priests (but also recognizes ordained women), and that does not compel congregations to use only the most recent Book of Common Prayer.
"Can this church be birthed?" he asked. "In one sense it is here, right now, in this building."
Anderson repeated a workshop's earlier advice that congregations learn the legal history of their property, prepare for possible legal battles over property, and "build in disincentives" to discourage hostile takeovers by their bishops.
"Don't ask, Can we do this? Ask, How can we do this?" he said. "You are standing at the fulcrum of history. Press forward. Press hard. Maximum leverage occurs just before the stick breaks."
Anderson added, amid cheers, "This is your hour. This is your destiny. This is your church. We are the legitimate Episcopal Church of our fathers and mothers."
Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh guided participants through affirming each point of the conference's public statement, "A Place to Stand: A Call to Action."
In affirming the seven-point document, participants:
- Proclaimed the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as their life's highest calling.
- Repudiated General Convention's approval of Gene Robinson, a noncelibate gay man, as a bishop and of blessing same-sex couples.
- Repented of their part in the Episcopal Church's sins.
- Called on Episcopal leaders to "repent of and reverse the unbiblical and schismatic actions of the General Convention."
- Affirmed the 1998 Lambeth Conference's teaching on sexuality and marriage, which said that homosexual behavior is incompatible with Scripture.
- Pledged to "redirect our financial resources, to the fullest extent possible, toward biblically orthodox mission and ministry."
- Appealed to the primates of the Anglican Communion to discipline those bishops "who, by their actions, have departed from biblical faith and order"; guide the realignment of Anglicanism; encourage orthodox bishops who help besieged congregations outside of their borders; and "support isolated and beleaguered parishes [congregations] and individuals in their life and witness as faithful Anglican Christians."
In a question-and-answer style similar to the Episcopal Church's baptismal covenant, Duncan repeatedly asked participants, "Do you so affirm?"
"I do," participants said in a collective voice that echoed in the rafters of the Wyndham Anatole hotel's Trinity Hall.
Bishop Benjamin Kwashi of the Diocese of Jos, Nigeria, donned an oversized white cowboy hat before offering some closing thoughts to the conference.
The hat, Kwashi joked, indicated that he was a Texas millionaire. "My currency is not dollars," he said. "My currency is the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Kwashi called on conference participants to invest the gospel in their children and grandchildren and to make their churches "accessible to the lowest of the low."
And before delivering a passionate, tearful benediction of several minutes, he offered a challenge: "Will you be humble enough to come and study in Africa? Will you send an ordinand to spend a year with an African bishop?"
Douglas LeBlanc is an associate editor for Christianity Today.
Copyright © 2003 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Watch next week for CT's dispatches from the conference of Anglican primates, when the church leaders will decide whether or not to discipline the Episcopal Church USA.
See also LeBlanc's earlier dispatches from the conference: "Conservative Episcopalians Challenge Church Politics as Usual" and "Reimagining Anglican Bonds of Affection."
See also today's Christian History Corner: "When Denominations Divide | The two-century-old 'Unitarian controversy' suggests a grim prognosis for the current crisis in the Episcopal Church."
The Classical Anglican Net News weblog offers many links to mainstream news sources, denominational press pieces, and other Anglican blogs.
Other recent stories on the conference include:
Conservatives rip Episcopal leaders | Dallas gathering urges sanctions, asks world body to stop gay bishop (The Dallas Morning News)
Episcopal conservatives stake claim | A group asks the world's Anglican archbishops to discipline the church for approving a gay bishop. (Los Angles Times)
Church group rips U.S. leaders | Conservative Episcopalians yesterday wrapped up a three-day meeting with a declaration accusing their governing body in the United States of unbiblical actions on homosexuality that have divided the church. (The Washington Times)
Anglican Council repudiates gay issues | Conservative Episcopalians Thursday appealed to the leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion to "intervene in the Episcopal Church" over the American church's approval of an openly gay bishop. (Houston Chronicle)
2,600 oppose church stance | Declaring that they are ready to cut their ties to the national church, conservative Episcopalians called on leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion on Thursday to discipline leaders of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. who supported the election of a gay bishop. (Star-Telegram, Fort Worth/Dallas)
Episcopal group asks rebuke over gay bishop | More than 2,700 conservative Episcopalians, including dozens from Alabama, stood Thursday to affirm a document calling for disciplining U.S. bishops who voted to approve an openly gay bishop. (The Birmingham News, Alabama)
Conservative Episcopals ask for 'realignment' of church | The conservative wing of the U.S. Episcopal Church denounced national church leaders and their stance on homosexuality Thursday and asked for a "realignment" to recognize conservatives as the authentic face of Anglicans in the USA. (USA Today)
Repent, Episcopal conferees tell liberals | Almost 2,500 conservative Episcopalians affirmed a proclamation Thursday demanding that their church repent and reverse its recent decisions in support of an openly gay bishop and same-sex unions (Chicago Tribune)