Compromises and Clarifications: A Letter to Stephen Noll

George Sumner.jpeg
George Sumner

Dear Stephen,

Greetings in Christ. We know one another as old timers in the academic world of Episcopal/Anglican North America. And as a friend of East African Anglicanism, I have appreciated your fruitful ministry in Uganda. I read your recent piece on Contending Anglican, which is critical of me and others (also run on Anglican Ink and linked at the American Anglican Council’s weekly newsletter). I have no complaint with theological debate, but in the spirit of Paul’s exhortation to “speak the truth in love,” I offer this response, to correct several inaccuracies, and to clarify a point.

  1. I was indeed a member, on the traditional side, on the Episcopal Church’s theological taskforce on marriage 2009-11. The position on the theological and ethical issues regarding same-sex marriage laid out by us traditionalists then is the same one I hold now. You can see this from the pastoral letter sent to my diocese just before General Convention.
  2. With respect to resolution B012, I voted against it, as I had said I would, because I could not vote to reauthorize rites of same-sex marriage. Since it was a voice vote, you will have to take my word on this. As to the resolution, I have cited its flaws. But I have also noted, in a spirit of charity, that it was a sincere effort to preserve a space for traditionalists in the Episcopal Church, since we are a relatively powerless minority voice. (And, in fairness, the simultaneous decision by General Convention not to change the prayer book is worthy of note.)
  3. As to the visit of Bishop Gene Robinson to parishes in Dallas, obviously these are two of the three congregations no longer under my spiritual oversight.
  4. It is hard for a leader in a Church with an errant teaching to know what to do. Your contention then that impaired communion is hard to figure out is true: both the communion and the impaired sides are real.
  5. In this regard I should clarify a quotation of mine about full communion that you cite. My point was simply this: amid disagreements, I remain in full eucharistic fellowship with my colleagues in the Episcopal Church, as have my fellow Communion Partner bishops.
  6. Because of these complexities, I have never disparaged those who felt conscience-bound to join the Anglican Church of North America. But such was not my decision, for I believe there is a calling to continue to witness within the Church in which I was ordained. At the Great Assize, I in my fallibility will plead not my judgment on this ecclesial question, but rather the atoning blood of Jesus. (I also believe that the day may come when an ecumenical conversation between Communion Partners and ACNA will be in order, so lines of communication are worth preserving.)
  7. As to the picture of Neville Chamberlain used with your piece, I would advise avoiding the over the top comparison to the rise of the Nazis, especially in the overheated political climate of America today.
  8. In accord with the thinking of my old friend Ephraim Radner, I would prefer to point out how the prophet Jeremiah remained in solidarity with his countrymen and women against whom he witnessed, even to the point of deportation. (But I am no prophet, nor have I so suffered, to be sure.)
  9. The welfare of Bill Love, our fellow Communion Partner bishop and our brother in Christ, engages our prayer and effort.


Bishop George Sumner

Reprinted with permission from Covenant