Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Bishop of Western North Carolina responds to the Canterbury primates communique

As much as the Primates’ actions hurt, in the long run they are part of God’s resetting of the Body.

I have been thinking and praying about the actions of the Anglican Primates who met last week in Canterbury. If you haven’t been on Facebook or Episcopal News Service or the New York Times, the heads of the 38 provinces that make up the Anglican Communion voted that the Episcopal Church “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee” and “will not take part in any decision making on any issue pertaining to doctrine or polity.” It’s hard to say what the effect of these actions will be on our participation, because the Primates actually do not have the authority to enact these proposals.

However, it’s clear that many of our global brothers and sisters deeply disagree with the Episcopal Church’s move to open marriage to same sex couples. This is not a surprise. My hope is that we not make more nor less of this. Given the radical difference in context (in some countries being gay is illegal), it’s not surprising that the bishops in the Global South have taken this position. On the other hand, being part of the Anglican Communion is our heritage and part of our identity. For me, part of the joy of being an Episcopalian is being connected to a world-wide communion of common prayer, liturgy, and mission. The Primates’ actions hurt, but I have no desire to dismiss them as if they don’t matter.

We know two things. One, we the Episcopal Church have crossed the river by opening marriage to all persons. We may change the liturgies and we might tinker with the stipulations, but we won’t change our minds. We are who we are and they are who they are.

And two, this conflict is a call to move closer to our brothers and sisters and not further away. I thought of a passage from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation:

“As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them. There are two things which men [and women] can do about the pain of disunion with other[s]….They can love or they can hate.”

As much as the Primates’ actions hurt, in the long run they are part of God’s resetting of the Body. May we have the courage to endure what Merton calls “the pain of reunion” by avoiding either a flight or fight mentality and instead stay connected, confident that the love of the Lord Jesus is wide enough for all of us.


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