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GC2012: Traditional Episcopal Church Bishops Blast Gay Blessings

GC2012: Traditional Episcopal Church Bishops Blast Gay Blessings

Michael Heidt in Indianapolis
July 11, 2012

A group of traditionally minded bishops have released a statement condemning the Episcopal Church's authorization of a provisional rite for same-sex blessings. Taking the form of a Minority Report, the statement blasts the Episcopal Church for abandoning the Faith and Morals of the Church as they have stood for 2000 years.

The Report was introduced by the Rt. Rev. Michael Smith, Bishop of North Dakota, who addressed the House of Bishops on the penultimate day of the Episcopal Church's 77th General Convention in Indianapolis.

Speaking for a conservative group of Episcopal Church bishops known as the Communion Partners, and for traditional minded Episcopalians in general, Smith explained the ethos behind the Minority Report. On the one hand, the conservatives represented by Smith view the actions of the Episcopal Church as an egregious departure from evangelical faith, but on the other, they feel bound to "resist the temptation to leave" that church for the sake of "catholic order":

"We find ourselves between the proverbial 'rock and a hard place'. We struggle to hold together the evangelical faith of the Church, from which we see this Convention as departing, and the catholic order of the Church, which causes us, for the sake of the unity for which Jesus prayed, to resist the temptation to leave this fellowship."

In light of this tension, the traditionalist bishops have expressed their dissent from the Episcopal Church's ratification of resolution A049 and its commitment to introduce same-sex blessing rites into the church. They clearly state that this is contrary to Scripture and the teaching enshrined in the Book of Common Prayer. Accordingly, the first of the Statement's seven sections is grounded in Scripture, stating:

"Our commitment to the biblical witness includes its teaching on sexuality. We believe that the Scriptures clearly teach that God's vision for sexual intimacy is that it be exercised only within the context of marriage between a man and a woman."

The second section focuses on the Prayer Book. This unambiguously teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman, "that God established marriage in creation;" that our Lord "adorned this manner of life" during his earthly ministry; and that marriage points beyond itself to the "mystery of the union of Christ and his Church."

However, the bishops believe that this is contradicted by the newly authorized same-sex blessing rite. Though not described as marriage, the bishops believe it is, in all but name. This is because the rite contains key elements of the marriage ceremony, such as vows and the exchange of rings. As such, it "subverts the teaching of the Book of Common Prayer." More than this, it places the Episcopal Church outside of the "mainstream of Christian faith and practice, and creates further distance between this Church and the Anglican Communion along with other Christian churches."

Section four sums up. The dissent outlined in the Indianapolis Statement is grounded "in the historic biblical and theological witness upon which those teachings rest; and in the wider context of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church and our conviction that no part of the Church is free on its own to alter basic Christian teaching."

The final three sections of the Statement express gratitude that same-sex blessings, or marriages, are not obligatory, declare respect for gay and lesbian persons and express a firm desire to remain within the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal church itself. "(We) will do all in our power," the bishops write, "to 'maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace'" (Ephesians 4:3). The Statement then concludes with an invitation for likeminded bishops to join the twelve existing signers, "We invite all bishops who share these commitments to join us in this Statement, as we seek to affirm our loyalty to our beloved Church even as we dissent from this action."

What are we to make of this? In the first instance, traditionally minded Anglicans should applaud the bishops' bold stance. They have affirmed orthodox Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality in the face of the majority opinion of their colleagues. They have done so clearly and in accordance with the title deeds of the Church, arguing from Scripture, the Prayer Book, and the universal Apostolic tradition of the church catholic.

In the context of six of the signing bishops being currently under investigation for disloyalty to the Episcopal Church under an anonymous Title IV disciplinary complaint, the Indianapolis Statement is undoubtedly brave. It may well also act to serve as a rallying point for conservative, or even moderate bishops who feel that the Episcopal Church has gone too far down the labyrinthine road of the pansexualist agenda. Let's hope so; it would send a powerful message of hope to Anglican Christians in North America who want nothing more than to believe and practice the Faith that has been revealed by God and held by the faithful everywhere, at all times and in all places.

Let's also be very clear that the dissenting minority who signed on to the Indianapolis Statement are just that, a minority, and a small one at that. It seems unlikely at best that the Episcopal Church will change its transgenderist trajectory, despite the most cogent arguments from Scripture, the Prayer Book and Apostolic Tradition. That boat has sailed. Likewise, precedent argues that the Statement Bishops will receive no meaningful support from the so-called Instruments of Communion, namely the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates of the Anglican Communion and the Anglican Consultative Council.

These things will not ride to the rescue of traditional Episcopalians, as evidenced by the failure of the Windsor Report, the Dar es Salaam Communique, and now the Anglican Covenant itself. To put it bluntly, there is no mythical 7th Cavalry to ride to the rescue of beleaguered traditionalists in the Episcopal Church.

At present, as with the ordination of women in the 1970s, there is a "conscience clause" written into A049, the resolution which introduced gay-marriage into the Episcopal Church; bishops who do not want to make use of gay-marriage rites do not have to do so. With that in mind, the Indianapolis Statement Bishops must ask themselves how long it will be before that clause, as it was with the ordination of women, is removed. On that day, if it comes, may they have the courage of their convictions to leave a church that has ceased to be Christian in all but name.


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