Address to the Special Convention
October 2, 2003
St. Paul's Church, Summerville, S.C.
I was ordained 43 years ago. In all those years I have been to two special diocesan conventions. Both were for the election of a bishop. One can ask the question, since we are not electing a bishop, why are we here?
Bishop Skilton and I, along with a sizeable number of other bishops believe that the General Convention in Minneapolis, in two actions, changed the Episcopal Church by violating its constitution and violating the historic teaching of the church covering human sexuality by approving the consecration of the Bishop-elect of New Hampshire who is living in a same-sex relationship, and by approving C051 which acknowledges local option for the blessing of same sex relationships, making them acceptable in some dioceses and forbidden in others. I voted against this resolution and have no intention of allowing such blessings in the diocese. Instead of the traditional teaching that new life in Christ for all of us comes from our repentance at the foot of the cross, we simply voted to change the standards so that what was once an expression of our fallen nature, is now, by us, declared to be normative and acceptable.
It has been said of the debate and reflection in the House of Bishops, that we were respectful and prayerful. We indeed were. We are personal friends and friends in Christ who have worked with each other for years. (14 for me). Therefore the assumption is made that the decision must be acceptable simply because the debate was respectful. Let me quote Psalm 50, verse 21: "these things you have done, and I have kept still, and you thought that I am like you." If this atmosphere gave such a message, let me apologize and repent. We said over and over again that the Church would never be the same again after these votes because we were making a decision (1) contrary to Holy Scripture, (2) contrary to the almost two thousand year tradition of the Church, (3) contrary to the 1998 position of the Lambeth Conference, (4) contrary to the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury, (5) contrary to the request of the Brazil meeting of the Primates in the Spring, and finally, (6) contrary to the requests of the Anglican Consultative Council. The message in return was this is just like other difficult issues we have faced (the ordination of women, Prayer Book revision, racism) the sense of division will pass.
While we are waiting for this to pass, let me describe some of the fallout in the American Church and beyond which indicates that this is not that kind of issue.
These reactions, not including the gathering in Plano, Texas, next week, should indicate that this is not just another crisis around issues that time will cure.
As Bishop of South Carolina, I have the solemn responsibility to connect us to the whole Communion, to be responsible for the unity of the Church, to proclaim the Gospel and to teach. Why have I taken the position I have taken? The few remarks I wish to make only touch the subject. They should not suggest that as a diocese we do not have much reflection to do together. They will reveal, however, what I understand the teaching of the scripture and the church to be, and I believe why the reaction has been so strong around the Communion.
Part of the surprise of those who favor the actions of General Convention is related to the cultural air we all breathe, which is filled with the philosophies of relativism and individualism. It is this context which has allowed us to end up with positions where a priest will be in good standing in one diocese and subject to presentment in another. We have our truth and you have yours, why can't it continue that way?
David B. Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian in an article "Christ and Nothing" wrote, "We live in an age whose chief moral value has been determined, by overwhelming consensus, to be the absolute liberty of personal volition, the power of each of us to choose what he or she believes, wants, needs, or must possess; our culturally most persuasive models of human freedom are unambiguously voluntarism and, in a rather debased or degraded way, Promethean; the will we believe is sovereign because unpremised, free because spontaneous, and this is the highest good.
"Hence liberties that permit one to purchase lavender bed clothes, to gaze fervently at pornography, to become a Unitarian, to market popular celebrations of brutal violence, or to destroy one's unborn child are all equally intrinsically 'good' because all are expressions of an inalienable freedom of choice.
"And so at the end of modernity, each of us who is true to the times, stands not facing God, or the Gods, or the Good beyond beings, but an abyss over which presides the empty inviolable authority of the individual will, whose impulses and discussions are their own moral index".
Richard B. Hays in The Moral Vision of the New Testament reminds us that the teaching of the New Testament envisions a church whose most urgent pastoral task is the formation of communities that embody the surprising hope of a new creation. In this community is an understanding of discipleship which is sustained so that it is the bearer of a distinct and peculiar vocation within the world. While human sexuality appears to be the most pressing issue before us today, we ignore to our peril the demanding issues around violence, money, divorce, etc. which have implications on a potentially greater scale.
The Bible has little discussion of homosexual behavior. There are perhaps half a dozen references to it in the whole Bible. The Sodom and Gomorrah narrative in Genesis is not one of them. Leviticus18:22, 20:13, which is an unambiguous legal prohibition, is the basis for the universal rejection of homosexual activity in Judaism.
According to Richard Hays the early Church did, in fact, adopt the Old Testament teaching on matters of sexuality, including homosexual acts. Those passages are I Cor. 6: 9-11, I Tim 1:12, Acts 15:28. You know those passages and can read them if you wish.
The most critical text on the subject is Romans 1: 18-32. Here the rejection of homosexual acts is in an explicitly theological context. Romans 1 makes several crucial teachings in this passage. They are:
Then the startling conclusion to Romans Chapter 2: "Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others. For in passing judgment on another, you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things." This is the ultimate understanding of the inclusively of the Gospel. We all stand in the same position before God. Our debate is not whether gay and lesbians are welcome in the church or not. If they are not, no one is. The debate is around the question of a new creation. Are we not all called to humble ourselves before the one who is humbled himself and let his grace make us anew?
All people stand equally condemned under the judgment of a righteous God. The gospel levels all of us before a holy God.
Richard B. Hays remind us of three things:
As a Bishop with jurisdiction, I voted against the consecration of the Bishop-elect of New Hampshire because he is living in a same-sex relationship, he is un-repentant, and whether he realizes it or not he is publicly placing his desires over the welfare of the Church Catholic. It is not personal. I too stand under God's judgment as St. Paul warns in Romans 2. I ask the Diocese of South Carolina assembled in the special convention to likewise reject this election.
The General Convention had endorsed a new religion - one of affirmation rather than a new creation through repentance. A new anthropology - human sexuality, heterosexual or homosexual - is asserted as our core identity, rather than our common humanity in Christ. A new understanding of Christian marriage is proposed, differing from a covenant relationship between male and female signifying the mystical union betwixt Christ and the Church and instead to a committed relationship defined by those who make it. We are in fundamental disagreement in the American Church. I have appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury and his fellow Primates for a resolution of this impasse. What is our teaching? Who is the Church? I ask the Diocese of South Carolina assembled in this special convention to join me in this request to the Archbishops and Primates.
Bishop Skilton and I stand on a gospel of salvation, not affirmation. It excludes no one. It does not play favorites. We have talked at each other for years and arrived at a church profoundly divided. We are a party to the problem, but we repent and seek a new day.
Originally posted but not written by
The Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon
Diocese of South Carolina
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