Texas-sized coverage of ECUSA

christchurch_planoS.C. Gwynne of Texas Monthly has turned in a tour de force article about the current struggles of the Episcopal Church, marred only by a liturgically informed but sneering headline (“Peace be with you. And also with you. Unless you’re gay”).

Gwynne’s article soon enough finds that, even among the most outspoken conservative Episcopalians in Texas, the sentiments aren’t as rough-hewn as in the headline. Gwynne writes this of Bishops James Stanton (Dallas) and Jack Iker (Fort Worth) and of the Rev. Canon David H. Roseberry of Christ Church, Plano (pictured):

It is a common misconception that conservatives like Iker, Stanton, and Roseberry want to exclude gays from the church altogether. This is not what they say, and there is no evidence that it is true. (They are even agreeable to being part of a church that ordains homosexuals, as they have proven for more than two decades.) Their position is that Scripture holds homosexual acts to be unnatural, ungodly, and therefore sinful. The foundation of that belief — necessarily — is that homosexuality is a behavioral choice. Like any behavioral choice, it can be resisted. Like any temptation to sin, it needs to be resisted.

Gwynne writes of Stanton’s cordial but strained pastoral relationship with an openly gay priest. He perfectly captures Episcopalians’ love of ambiguity in these remarks by the Rev. Fred Barber, whom he describes as a conservative rector of a liberal parish, Trinity Church in Fort Worth:

“I am ready to stay ambiguous here,” he says. “I told the congregation in a sermon that if I had been a delegate at General Convention, I would not have voted for Gene Robinson’s consecration. I got applause. Three days later a gay congregation member stood and said how she valued being here. She got applause too. That is ambiguity. I may have lost some parishioners because I said I would not perform same-sex blessings. But I have also said that I have gay people here, and they will continue to be welcome.”

Gwynne overstates conservative bishops’ likelihood to lead their dioceses out of the Episcopal Church. No bishop enjoys clear support in every congregation, and a strict property law functions, even at the congregational level, as a powerful golden handcuff. But Gwynne clearly has talked to many Episcopalians across the theological spectrum, and he writes about them without condescension.

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  • Ken

    Actually a really good article. Both sides had their say; “conservative” was used a whole lot more in the first part and I was beginning to suspect there weren’t any liberals in the tale at all. Gwynne leaned a little heavily on the word “homosexuality”, which is actually a rather vague and pliable concept conflating attraction, sexual acts, and lifestyle.

    Compare this article to the following from the Dallas Morning News Religion section of last Saturday:

    Gay bishop hasn’t caused schism
    Despite dissent, the Episcopal Church remains whole


    The differences in the two articles speak for themselves.

  • http://davidmorrison.typepad.com/sed_contra/ David Morrison

    Not to proselytize, but as someone who has lived with a degree of Same Sex Attraction and orthodox Christian faith for years now, I am really grateful to belong to a Church which can differentiate between the acts which are sins and the people who are nonetheless parts of the Body of Christ.

    That understanding is what I have found missing from so many in this piece. It is missing from the side which believes it wrong or worse to even ask men and women living with SSA to live according to the Gospel and it is missing from those who appear to suspect that even living with the any SSA at is to be lost.

  • Marion R.

    Praise be to God, in the eyes of the Good Shepherd, each man and woman is distinct from the sins each commits. This is a fact. This fact is essential to the Gospel. To teach otherwise is not to teach the truth. To teach otherwise is not to teach orthodoxy.

    Thus, in its orthodoxy, the Church strives to see all sinners saved from their sins. To identify– rather than distinguish– a particular type of sinner with their particular type of sins is to exclude them from the Church’s remit.

    That is, orthodox Christianity is universally inclusive: all can and must be separated from their sin.

    It is not the Gospel-bearing Church that condemns any person to identification with their sins. Rather, it is the New Gnosticism which makes second hand citizens out of men and women who engage in homosexual acts. It is the New Gnosticism that excludes.

  • http:titusonenine.classicalanglican.net Kendall Harmon

    No question it is one of the better articles out there. But I do beg to differ on the number of problems.

    Todd Granger has important comments here:


    As a theologian, I must say his missing many of the real theological issues involved is not defensible.

    But the biggest weakness in the article is the huge gaping hole of what he does not say: the way in which, in some situations, orthodox Anglicans in ECUSA are being harangued and treated unfairly.

    To say “Nor do conservatives show any signs of conciliation” is to show an unhelpful one sidedness and to miss the larger picture of the story.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    A comment on the writer, for better or for worse. I believe he is the brother of an evangelical (or he was in the early 1990s) ECUSA priest in Colorado.

    A major ghost in the whole Anglican story is the role of the third world. Kendall, how did the author deal with that issue?


  • http:titusonenine.classicalanglican.net Kendall Harmon

    My comments are up, I disagree pretty strongly with Doug’s evaluation:


  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    To answer your question, Terry, the ghost of the broader Anglican Communion is not a ghost in Gwynne’s reporting.

    Here are the paragraphs in which Gwynne mentions the bigger picture:

    The problem extends well beyond the borders of the United States. The larger, and starker, truth of the American rebellion is that while the bishops of Dallas and Fort Worth, whose dioceses have joined the Network, are in the minority of American Episcopal leaders opposed to having a gay bishop, they are in the overwhelming majority in the rest of the Anglican world. Of the Anglican Church’s 38 provinces around the globe, 21 have already declared themselves in “impaired” or “broken” communion with the American church. Archbishop Peter Akinola, of Nigeria, whose 17.5 million members dwarf the 2.3 million members of the Episcopal Church in America, roundly condemned the General Convention’s vote and called it “a Satanic attack.” And even in the relatively more liberal United States, 42 percent of the bishops voted against Robinson. If joining the Network means a falling out of communion with the Episcopal Church, it means a strengthening of ties with the rest of the world.

    . . . [Bishop John Shelby] Spong had ordained a gay priest in late 1989 and had deliberately publicized it. The church’s bishops voted to censure him–but by a tepid majority of 80-76. Attitudes in the church were changing; liberals were gaining ground. Gay ordinations continued in the diocese of Newark, and in 1996 conservatives in the church decided to take a stand by trying Righter on two charges stemming from his 1990 ordination of an avowedly gay deacon, both of which involved a violation of ordination laws. The result was a decision by the bishops in the trial court that sent shock waves through the Anglican world. They ruled that the church had no “core doctrine” on sexuality that prohibited the ordination of a gay priest. Just how far to the left of the rest of the Anglican world this put the American church became clear in 1998, at the Anglican Church’s Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade meeting of church leaders in England. Bishops voted 562-70 for a resolution declaring that while gays were “loved by God,” homosexual activity was “incompatible with Scripture” and advising against the ordination of non-celibate gays. Most of the 70 dissenters, of course, came from the increasingly isolated American church.

    . . . In March, at a meeting in Navasota, Episcopal bishops tried to do just that. The plan they approved allowed for what is commonly known as “alternative oversight” for those conservative parishes that were no longer on speaking terms with their liberal bishops. The key issue for conservatives was whether bishops had ultimate veto power over a congregation in selecting a bishop from a different diocese. The bishops said yes, which caused conservatives in the Network and elsewhere to condemn the decision.

    If that system does not work — and from the dismal response of conservative church members it may not — then the church will have to put its hopes of avoiding a split on the so-called Eames Commission, appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the wake of the Robinson vote to figure out how the liberal American church can remain part of a generally conservative world communion. The commission, headed by the archbishop of Ireland, is expected to deliver its report this year. Regardless of what it says, the Archbishop of Canterbury has no actual authority over the American church. He can’t make American presiding bishop Griswold — or any bishop, for that matter — do anything. It is unlikely that he would take the extreme step of saying that the Episcopal Church was no longer the expression of Anglicanism in America, though that is precisely what some conservatives are hoping for. The effect of that would be a real split, isolating the liberal American church in a world of conservative evangelicals.