Letter from the Rector (Geoff Chapman) of St Stephen's, Sewickley, PA
June 30, 2003
Many of you have heard the headlines from the past month trumpeting the election of Gene Robinson as the new diocesan Bishop of New Hampshire.
Gene Robinson some years ago left his marriage to give himself to homosexuality, and is now openly living in a gay relationship. This election is one of several recent incidents in the United States, in Canada and in England that have pushed the gay agenda to the forefront of the Anglican Communion. These events and their implications are summarized in the recent article from World Magazine, quoted in full below. His consecration, if it happens, would be the first official act of our General Convention approving this lifestyle as acceptable Christian behavior. Bishop Duncan has called his election a grievous wound to the body of Christ.
The events have prompted questions and concerns from many of you over the last weeks. I write to you about the issue prior to my leaving on vacation because I want you to be well informed and praying. I also want to assure you that the Vestry, the Staff and I share your anxiety.
The Episcopal Church, our parent denomination, has long been confused about issues of Biblical authority and sexual ethics. Their confusion is closely linked to that of our culture, and to that of the other mainline Protestant denominations. In response at St Stephen's we have for decades tried to do two things: hold up God's standards for behavior as they are revealed in the Bible, and hold up God's Gospel for people when we fall short of those standards. We want to do them both, and we want to do them well.
Scripture speaks of marriage as a lifelong covenanted partnership between a man and a woman under the hand of God. This design for marriage has been affirmed by virtually every culture in the history of the world, because it is God's own design, given in our creation. This partnership is the place set apart by God for the blessing of sexual intimacy and fulfillment. Any sexual activity outside of marriage falls short of scriptural standards, and become s a destructive force of great power.
This is true whether that activity is homosexual or heterosexual. When Christian leaders advocate, model or bless such behavior, they depart from the core values of our faith, and they abandon people to their own passions and sins. What bothers me most about liberal permissiveness towards the gay community is that our modern toleration effectively denies the gospel to gays. In the name of a twisted love, no forgiveness is offered (because they say no sin has been committed), and the power of Christ to transform us is denied (because it is not needed, and so not sought). Whatever e lse it is, this is not love - at least it is not God's love.
The sexuality debates thus call into question the very heart of our faith.
At issue is the nature of marriage, God's intention for the gift of human sexuality, God's standards for human behavior, the authority of the Bible, and the nature of the Gospel. When individuals get confused about these matters - as all of us have done - it is something we can respond to with prayer, concern, and Christ-anchored ministry. But when the highest council of our Church (General Convention), after decades of discussion, debate and prayer over th e issue, permits or affirms such behavior, they are, in so doing, seeking to change the central values of the Christian faith. Their action would call i nto question the fundamental health of the church body. We have now arrived at the edge of that very precipice.
St Stephen's has worked with others for decades to find solutions to this theological and spiritual crisis. Over the years we helped to launch a new seminary (Trinity in Ambridge) and new mission agencies that could be Gospel vehicles at home and abroad. We have worked to plant gospel churches, raise up and encourage godly leadership, and strengthen and rebuild this diocese around a biblical faith, We have helped to develop lobbying groups inside our denomination (The American Anglican Council and Episcopalians United) and new and Gospel anchored jurisdictions outside it (the Anglican Mission in America). We have partnered with men and women of like faith to pursue every opportunity for change inside the Episcopal Church, and we have helped to petition the 38 Archbishops of our international Anglican Communion,
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ing the sexual revolution. I have been proud that St Stephen's has been a place where people of any sexual experience or orientation are received with the welcoming love of Christ, an d then led step by step into his forgiving, freeing and transforming power. This Gospel ministry is what we are all about.
Yet as we come to General Convention in the summer of 2003 it seems as though our national leadership bodies are determined to affirm a way of life that God proscribes, a way of life that has been among the most destructive ever known.
Should General Convention approve Gene Robinson's rise to the Episcopacy, they will in so doing stamp their approval on the lifestyle he has so openly advocated. It is a watershed moment for us in our Communion, one that must be resisted with prayer and testimony and political action. If our efforts fail, I and many others believe that a fundamental line will have been crossed. In that case, I will work in council with your Vestry and others within this diocese, in partnership with many in the Episcopal Church and with our overseas partner Archbishops to help launch a process of realignment in our Communion that will reaffirm the Biblical faith and mission that have been our passion. Many voices will call for such a realignment or more, and I believe that the Holy Spirit has been preparing such a movement across the historic Protestant denominations. Meanwhile, I will travel to General Convention to work with the American Anglican Council and with NOEL for some days at the end of July bec ause I know the Holy Spirit is also calling us to continue this resistance. But my guess even while we work for something different - is that the events in New Hampshire signal the beginning of the end for the Episcopal Church even while they may prove to be the birth pains of something far greater and more hopeful.
We will arrange a Sunday morning briefing for our congregation prior to and after General Convention, and we ask your prayers over the coming months.
Roemer (wife?) will attend as an Alternate Delegate from our Diocese with our Bishop and other Delegates, and I will go to support and help their good work.
Always for the Gospel,