GENERAL CONVENTION 2003


REFLECTIONS on the SACRED CHARACTER OF COMMUNION

29th July, 2003
The Most Rev. Frank Griswold
Presiding Bishop of the EpiscopalChurch
of the United States of America
Episcopal Church Center, 815 Second Avenue
New York, New York, 10017, USA

My Dear Frank,

Thank you for the letter you have written to the Primates regarding the
upcoming General Convention of ECUSA. I join you in your desire to maintain unity within our larger Anglican Communion, and in this light I particularly appreciate your willingness to engage those among us who have expressed their grave concern about possible actions the Convention may take on the matter of sexuality. Please accept my response now in the spirit in which you have welcomed our continued contact with you.

Your own sense that "communion" is a profound "gift from God" is one that I share. All of us among the Primates, I am sure, together rejoice in that gift and renew our commitment to work for its protection and cherishing. Indeed, it is just the sacred character of communion, one in which all of us are, as you say, still growing, that presses me to honest reflection on your letter.
In my opinion, you seem not yet to have taken the full measure of the destructive potential General Convention's affirmation of a new teaching and order with respect to homosexuality will have for the communion God has granted us, nor do you seem to acknowledge sufficiently that the divine gift itself comes as something with a defined nature for whose integrity we are responsible, individually and collectively.

The "obligatory" aspect of Christian Communion, which properly binds us all as you emphasize, is not at all a humanly vague and permissive reality that awaits a shape from God, but is one given with a discipline and a set of constraints for life that are in general well-known. St. Paul himself describes this communion as one that is founded on "one faith", that stands firm against the instabilities of being "tossed to and fro and [being] carried about with every wind of doctrine", and that supports and expresses the life of a "new nature", visible in a host of actions that include holy forms of sexual behavior (cf. Ephesians 4:5, 14, 22-24; 5:3ff.). The "bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3) to which we are called, along with all the humbling and Christ-like traits that go with it, finds its strength in a willingness to live within the constraints of this faith and practice.Ü This has always been the understanding of the Church Catholic, it represents the way that the Scriptures themselves have exercised their formative power upon our lives, and it defines "the way we have learned Christ" (Ephesians 4:20) across centuries, continents and cultures.

New Hampshire's actions in electing an openly gay bishop, living in a sexual partnership outside of Christian marriage, is a clear rejection of this discipline that communion grants us, as would be any deliberate and public affirmation of that partnership and others like it.Ü It is not sufficient to claim that communion can exist somehow to the side of such actions, neither informing their outcome nor being affected by them.Ü Rather, it is a sacred obligation of Christian leaders, especially those whose vocation is directly committed to maintaining the "foundation of the apostles and prophets" upon which the Church is built (Eph. 2:20) to nourish the discipline and constraints that make for communion in Christ. We are called, most of all as bishops whose responsibility inherently embraces the whole church and not just one small part of it, to maintain the "bonds" of peace even through the holding of one another -- including the people of New Hampshire to mutual accountability in the Lord. Communion not only does not forbid this, it requires it!

You must not think me unsympathetic with the difficult and often confusing role you and ECUSA have in responding faithfully to the pressures of American culture. Nothing is more clear to foreigners like myself than the wanton sexual disorder that characterizes so much of life in the United States, and that churches must respond to with both pastoral sensitivity and clarity. These are not easy things to do, and I am well aware that each of us faces unique cultural challenges that deserve our most acute discernment, patience, and courage.

I do not wish to interfere with the prudential responses that you and others must carefully and faithfully adopt in the face of these challenges. Part of the gift of communion, however, is that the fullness of the Scriptures can be heard more clearly through the application of the wider cultural gifts of our membership, not for the purpose of freeing us from each other, but for the
sake of our mutual subjection to the truth.

Thus, it is out of our commitment to communion that my colleagues and I are calling ECUSA to a focused reflection upon the Scriptural constraints that must mark our teaching about sexuality. We wish to be instruments in your ability to be freed from cultural limitations, rather than be enslaved to them. After all, part of the grace of communion is that we each welcome from one another the clarifying and liberating light of the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

I hope you can appreciate that American actions, including those of ECUSA, are, in our day, intrinsically imperial in their effect (not only in their perception), much like your country's foreign policy. This is due in part to the dominating cultural role your nation plays within the world. Within the Christian context especially I trust that we can understand without defensiveness that this imperial characteristic must be tempered by the humility of a disciplined global consultation. In the present age, this too represents a necessary aspect of "communion!"

I am sorry if you feel that such concerns as these, which I share with many of our brother Primates, derive from "anger" or "fear". For you to impute such reactive emotions to our private and public statements is presumptive and seriously misconstrues the import of our purposes. I write to you out of a deep commitment to the very communion we have been given by God and that still we hold in common. And I ask you as a loving brother in the Lord to work and lead in its continued life, without disruption or impairment. Embracing this hope, my colleagues and I have called upon the Faithful in our several Provinces across our beloved communion to pray daily that the Holy Spirit of God will continue to lead you, your fellow bishops and the Deputies at General Convention into the way of truth.

I am forwarding this response to the Primates, and I humbly invite you to
share it with your fellow bishops.

Sincerely in our Lord,

The Most Rev. Drexel Wellington Gomez
ARCHBISHOP OF THE WEST INDIES

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