Cover letter from Doug LeBlanc
I take a special joy in sending along this letter from the rector and vestry of Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge.
I spent several important years as a member of Holy Spirit before moving away from Baton Rouge in 1989. I met my wife there, and we were married during the regular Sunday Eucharist on Oct. 2, 1988.
Holy Spirit is one of the most missions-minded congregations in the Episcopal Church. I've lost count of how many times its rector, D. Joseph Rhodes, has led missionary trips to Honduras, Madagascar, and other nations.
Holy Spirit is included in the index of Excellent Protestant Congregations: The Guide to Best Places and Practices by Paul Wilkes (Westminster John Knox, 2001; http://people.uncw.edu/wilkesp/churchstudy/index.html
This letter is not yet on Holy Spirit's neglected website http://www.episcopalian.org/HSpirBLA/CHS.html, but I can vouch that the original came from Fr. Joe.
Fr. Joe and the vestry are responding to "A Word to the Church" http://www.ecusa.anglican.org/3577_41633_ENG_HTM.htm, which Presiding Bishop Griswold distributed on June 23.
July 4, 2004
The Most Reverend Frank Griswold
Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
815 Second Avenue
New York, New York 10017
Dear Bishop Griswold:
We, the vestry of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, are most distressed by the misapplication of Holy Scripture and the grievous distortions of the Gospel contained in your pastoral letter of June 23 to the Episcopal Church. In this obliquely worded and palliative attempt to justify your consecration of a noncelibate homosexual as bishop and the resulting inevitable fracture between the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion, you have indulged in specious reasoning that is truly stunning in its arrogance.
You are correct when you say in your letter that this is "not an easy time in the life of the church, as we live with questions that yield no easy answers," which presumably is an indirect way of referring to the controversy over the role of noncelibate homosexuals in church leadership. The answer to this question, however, is clearly stated in God's Word and, furthermore, has been supported through hundreds of years of church tradition and reasoning by the great saints of the faith: Noncelibate homosexuality is sin and not acceptable in a church leader.
As you say, ecclesial divisions and polarities are indeed "the order of the day" but you fail to mention your own part in fomenting the resulting "anxiety, confusion, fear, and anger." If you had not chosen to flout the authority of Scripture and church teaching, to stubbornly ignore the pleas of your fellow primates of the Anglican Communion, the present division in the church could have been avoided. You write that, because the church is "called into being not by us, but by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit," it is "never ours." True, it is God's church, but it is doubtful that you actually believe this. If you did, you never would have had the temerity to wrest authority from God and revise His Word to your own liking.
Your section on love is truly eloquent. The radical love of Christ within us does indeed open us to constant surprise, give us the ability to discern Christ in others, and demand that we relinquish our plans, views, and expectations in favor of God's. Any Christian who worships and serves God in spirit and in truth can attest to this. However, you fail to mention an important dimension of love: While Christ requires us to love others as he loves us, we are not to condone their sin but help them overcome it. Jesus ministered his love and healing in radical and life-changing ways, but never did he accept sin. We are to emulate Christ by loving the sinner but rejecting the sin. Our church is now not only openly condoning sin, but celebrating it by placing an unrepentant sinner in a position of authority.
This is especially grievous when the person's role makes him or her a model for the church, as bishops are meant to be. As Romans 3:23 says, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Mercifully, God loves us even in our sin, but full fellowship with him requires us to confess our sins and repent of them. We see no repentance within the leadership of the Episcopal Church, but instead a selfish insistence on a road that can only lead the church farther and farther from God (see 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world.)
Your use of the story of Peter's rooftop vision as an analogy to reinforce your own perspective on the church's acceptance of noncelibate homosexuals is a false and blatantly self-serving application of Scripture. God showed Peter that simply being Gentiles did not preclude people from the church, that God loved them as much as he loved the Jews. But sinful Gentiles were expected to repent, to renew their minds, to change their lives, just as today those who desire intimate relationship with God are called to radical new lives of repentance in accordance with God's Word. Your implied analogy with noncelibate homosexuals fails because deliberate and continuing noncelibacy is a state of sin and is contrary to God's Word.
Bishop Griswold, we too hope and pray for healing and reconciliation in a broken and divided world. But reconciliation in the Episcopal Church cannot happen if you as presiding bishop continue to bless sin, because we and other orthodox Episcopal churches will not seek unity at any cost. We continue to remain faithful to Scripture and church tradition, and we continue to pray for the repentance of our church's leadership.
You remain in our prayers,
The Rector and Vestry of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit
Copy: The Right Reverend Charles E. Jenkins
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