June 16, 2003|
The Rt. Rev. Herbert Thompson, Jr.
Dear Bishop Thompson,
Thank you for your pastoral letter concerning the upcoming General Convention especially concerning the election of The Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor for the Diocese of New Hampshire. I appreciate your words of wisdom and your challenge to us to be courageously united in our faith as our church engages God's mission and seeks his will.
Note: Bishop Thompson's letter can be found at http://www.episcopal-dso.org/pages/nhelect.htm
Your words give hope to the ship of souls at a time when the waters are raging with rumors of division and malicious torrents buffet every side. I am one who is discouraged at this time concerning the future of our expression of the Anglican Church, especially in the context of the wider Anglican Communion. I believe that the decision to give consent to the election of Canon Robinson not only threatens our unity in the Episcopal Church USA but also will strain the whole Communion. If consent is given, my prayer will be that the rest of the Communion will be gracious to the Episcopal Church and not consider us excommunicate.
This leads me to my only concern regarding your letter. You write, "The principal challenge before us now is 'How will we maintain the unity of the Church in the face of this divisive issue?'" I agree. However, the Church must face the fact that it is currently living in a state of disunity, and her members are divided over the issue of tolerance. I believe the question is this, "Will our Church pursue tolerance at the expense of Unity?" By tolerance I mean, will we bless an act of willful sin and forego unity with each other and the wider Communion and ultimately Christianity on the whole?
The action of General Convention to give consent to the election of Canon Robinson will wash away the truth and authority of the Scriptures through its baptism of sin. In so doing, the General Convention will be severing the Body of Christ. It was Michael Ramsey who pointed out that when the unity of the church in Corinth was threatened, St. Paul first confronted the prideful sin of the Corinthians with the death of Christ which is the "power and the wisdom of God." Secondly, he showed that the "Corinthians are Christians only in dependence on the one universal family" and that "by their place in the historic Church which exists before them, they will die to pride." Finally, St. Paul taught the Corinthians about mutual dependence in the one Body, and here Ramsey quotes that passage of scripture which our Presiding Bishop uses so often "no one part of the body may say to another, 'I have no need of you."
My firm belief is that the Bishops of the Church may be instruments of the Holy Spirit in maintaining unity if they resist the temptation to jump to the last part of St. Paul's argument and deal with the first two. With all due respect, Bishop, I believe that the bishops, as defenders and guardians need first to use the Gospel to confront our sin of pride and deal with our dependence on Christ's one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Then the Holy Spirit, through the gifts he imparts, will course through the veins of the one Body giving us life in unity.
I would like to further address the issue of tolerance, because tolerance has played a major role in maintaining the unity of our church in the face of other divisive issues which you point out in your letter: the admission of Gentiles, the puritan movement, slavery, civil rights, liturgical revision, and women's ordination. Tolerance is virtuous but never do the scriptures say that the church should tolerate sin. In fact judgment is given against the church in Thyatira in Revelation 2:20 concerning being tolerant of Jezebel's actions of fornication. Nowhere in scripture is there a precedent for tolerating sin.
Robert A.J. Gagnon in his book "The Bible and Homosexual Practice," which I highly regard as the definitive biblical scholarship on the subject, writes "Toleration of immoral practices was a vice, not a virtue." He states that we do better to "lift up one of the virtues that Paul cites as fruits of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22-23: 'love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith/faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.' Unlike the word tolerance, none of these virtues implies any reduction of moral resolve against sinful behavior." Finally, Gagnon wastes no time in saying that "the failure of the church to help the homosexual make the transition out of homosexual practice and into sexual wholeness will make the church an accomplice to the very form of behavior that God finds detestable. The church will become an enabler of the practicing homosexual's loss of spiritual transformation and, possibly, salvation."
If the General Convention consents to the election of Canon Robinson, we will suffer greatly. The Episcopal Church will in short pursue tolerance of sin and give up unity. The Church rather than being prophetic like St. Paul, will instead give up her mission "to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." So doing, the Episcopal Church will lose her identity as a church; this will leave faithful Christians looking for a faithful expression of the true Body of Christ.
My prayer, Bishop, is that the General Convention will make the only decision that is in accordance with the will of God expressed through the Holy Scriptures, the voice of the Church catholic, and the mission of the Church and withhold consent for the election of Canon Robinson. May you and our delegation be led by the Holy Spirit in Convention. Know that you are supported by my prayers.