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ACTIVIST NJ LAYMAN AND SCHOLAR RESIGNS KEY EPISCOPAL POSTS

ACTIVIST NJ LAYMAN AND SCHOLAR RESIGNS KEY EPISCOPAL POSTS

Feast of St. Andrew, 2003

The Rt. Rev. George E. Councell

Bishop of New Jersey
808 West State Street
Trenton, N.J. 08618-5398

Dear Bishop Councell:

It is with the deepest sense of pain and regret that I must resign as a
member of the Cathedral Chapter and bring to a conclusion my service as
the Senior Warden of St. Andrew’s, New Providence. Over the past few
months since the 74th General Convention I have prayed and sought to
discern God’s guidance as I have come to these difficult decisions.

I still remember the excitement that filled the Cathedral last May when
you were elected the Eleventh Bishop of New Jersey, and I believe that
it was indeed your sincere desire to be the Bishop of all Episcopalians
in this Diocese. However, your actions since General Convention, I
believe, make this vital objective impossible.

Your letter of August 15th to the Diocese, and your decision to
participate in the consecration of Gene Robinson only two weeks after
your own consecration, make clear that you are decisively and actively
committed to one side of a complex theological debate now dividing both
the Episcopal Church and the entire Anglican Communion. As someone on
the other side of that theological divide, I find that your actions now
make it tragically impossible for you to fulfill your express wish to
“worship and serve our Lord in communion with those who disagree,
within the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion.”

We need to be absolutely clear what this debate is and is not about.
The difference between us is not ultimately about either homosexuality
or about the inclusiveness of the Church. Nor is this even a
disagreement about the interpretation of Scripture. I have yet to see
any serious effort to justify either the blessing of same sex unions or
the consecration of a divorced and actively homosexual bishop from
Scripture. You certainly offered no Scriptural justifications in your
own letter to the Diocese, referring instead only to your belief in
“the process” that led to these decisions. What lies at the heart of
the current controversy is a much deeper and more profound disagreement
about the nature of Scriptural authority, and of Scripture itself, in
the contemporary world.

The unique genius of the Anglican witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ
has always been intricately tied to the ability of Anglicans to
understand Scripture in the light of both tradition and reason. In
steering a middle course between extreme Protestant assertions on the
one hand, and equally unacceptable claims extending Roman authority, on
the other, Anglican theologians not only bridged the great divide in
Western Christianity opened by the Reformation, but also managed to
reconnect the Western Christian heritage with that of the Eastern
Church. These accomplishments have placed Anglicans at the center of
important global efforts to reunify the Church as a whole – efforts now
gravely imperiled by the radical actions of ECUSA.

The tragedy of the current situation is that the leadership of a small
but important province of the Anglican Communion, completely convinced
of its own moral righteousness, seeks to unilaterally recast the
classical triad of Anglicanism, thereby elevating human reason,
informed principally by ever-shifting and culturally determined values,
to the status of primary vehicle through which the will of God is to be
discerned. Scripture and tradition, meanwhile, are to be relegated to
the role of interpretive lenses – lenses that anyone is free to employ
or ignore as circumstance dictates. Fortunately, the historical
transformation of Anglicanism into a worldwide communion has made it
impossible any longer for a single province, including the original
province itself, to define Anglicanism unilaterally. In fact, the
global realignment provoked by the current crisis is almost certainly
part of the necessary and historic evolution of Anglicanism on the
verge of its fifth century. Out of the current crisis will surely
emerge a revived and stronger Communion, one more capable of guarding
the authentic faith and doctrine of the Church in the new millennium
than the present arrangement is able to afford. The decision of at
least 20 Primates, representing over 50 million Anglicans worldwide,
that a state of impaired communion now exists with you and allied
bishops of ECUSA is itself a tragic though ultimately necessary step in
this process of realignment and evolution.

One of the great accomplishments of Anglican Christianity has been its
capacity to hold together multiple understandings and diverse
experiences in a dynamic tension that simultaneously remains firmly
rooted within the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy. But that
wonderful informative tension is clearly not infinitely elastic, as the
current leadership of ECUSA has demonstrated by moving decisively
beyond fundamental and widely recognized boundaries of Christian
doctrine and faith. Despite the historical failure of ECUSA in this
respect, I remain hopeful that the current crisis will ultimately serve
to renew the capacity of Anglicanism globally to hold together diverse
understandings and experiences within the framework of authentic and
recognizably Christian doctrine. As for the future of ECUSA itself, I
am much less hopeful. It is already becoming difficult for many to
feel themselves part of a church articulating and acting unilaterally
upon culturally inspired understandings of Christian doctrine and
morality that the vast majority of identifiable Christians, across both
time and space, would not recognize as genuinely Christian.
Unfortunately, the self-assured righteousness of current ECUSA
leadership in pressing ahead aggressively with its own post-modern
interpretations of Christianity -- even in the face of overwhelming
opposition within and beyond the Anglican Communion -- while
breathtaking in its arrogance and audacity, offers little comfort or
reassurance for those of us in doubt.

Anglican realignment is now upon us, whether we want it or not. The
time for difficult decisions is approaching. In many parts of the
Episcopal Church there is substantial resistance to the position and
actions that you and other leaders have taken. Even as hopelessly
impractical and ultimately doomed arrangements for “alternative”
episcopal oversight are explored, lawyers on both sides are evaluating
legal options and refining their strategies. Clearly a great and
completely disheartening fight looms over the considerable material
patrimony of the historic Episcopal Church. I doubt anyone is under
the illusion that this process will be resolved either soon or
amicably. In the meantime, those of us who cannot accept the direction
in which you and your fellow bishops are leading the Episcopal Church
must find our own places in the realignment process. There are various
options, both within and outside the framework of ECUSA, and we must
each seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we attempt to discern
God’s will. Although I, like over 50 million fellow Anglicans around
the world, now find that communion with you is impaired under the
present circumstances, please know that I will continue to pray for
you, for your ministry, for this Diocese, and for the Church

Sincerely,

Christopher S. Taylor

A LETTER TO THE VESTRY

Dear friends,

As most of you know, over the past several months I have been
struggling with the decisions reached by ECUSA at the 74th General
Convention in August. This period of prayer and reflection has
recently led me to some very painful decisions, which I now need to
share with all of you. As you will see from the attached letter I have
sent to Bishop Councell, I have decided to wind up my service as Senior
Warden effective at our annual meeting in January. This decision has
nothing to do with issues at St. Andrew’s, but rather with the
direction in which the national church is moving. There is, I suppose,
a certain tragic irony for us in this parish in having all worked so
hard over the past year to bring St. Andrew’s to the much healthier
place it is now in, only to have the national church implode around us.
As I know you’re all aware, I love this parish deeply and I only wish
it were possible for me to shut out the issues now engulfing the larger
church. However, as we all know, St. Andrew’s is part of a wider
church, and I cannot ignore what is happening in that arena.

As I explain in my letter to Bishop Councell, I do not believe that the
great struggle now dividing ECUSA, and the worldwide Anglican
Communion, is fundamentally a debate about homosexuality.
Unfortunately, I think it’s about a much more profound issue: the
nature and meaning of Scriptural authority for Christians in the 21st
century. I also think that the current struggle is about what it means
to be part of a worldwide communion of over 70 million people on six
continents. Having said this from the outset, I still think it’s
necessary for me to state as plainly and as completely as possible what
my own views of homosexuality are, since many people are convinced that
this really is the central issue.

First, I firmly believe that gay people are as fully human and created
in the image of God as every other person is. I also believe that they
are no more or less sinful than the rest of us.

Furthermore, no one is beyond the redemptive love of Jesus Christ,
including gay people. I also believe that gay people belong in the
Church. The Church should embrace all people, including gay people.

It certainly has no business excluding anyone, especially people who
have been marginalized in the way gay people historically have been.
This fact is made clear to us by the earthly ministry of our Lord, who
repeatedly explained that the Good News of the Gospel message is for
ALL people. As Christians we certainly have NO business judging others
-- that is God’s business, not ours.

I also believe that homosexuality is NOT a “lifestyle choice.” I
believe that it is a fundamental sexual orientation that is either
genetic or established very early in life by environmental factors (or
a combination of both). In this way I feel that homosexuality is like
virtually all other human sexual orientations in that it is not self-
selected.

Unfortunately, as Christians, I also believe that Scripture teaches us
that not all human sexual orientations or desires are beautiful or
acceptable in the sight of God. I believe that other equally basic and
primal sexual urges, orientations, and acts are also rejected by God.
Among these are: lust, incest, consensual sado-masochism, beastiality,
pedophila, heterosexual sodomy, bi-sexuality, any non-marital
intercourse, and masturbation. These forms of human sexual experience
are, like many other basic non-sexual human desires, orientations,
drives, and actions, not pleasing to God. They are instead only signs
of the brokenness of the world and of the human condition.

It is, therefore, not possible for the Church to bless what God does
not accept. In fact, I deeply believe that the ONLY model of human
sexual union that God accepts is loving and consensual intercourse
between one man and one woman within the estate of holy matrimony. And
that is the ONLY form of human sexual union that I believe the Church
is permitted to bless. Most certainly the Church may not bless before
the altar of God that which Scripture specifically and repeatedly tells
us is not acceptable in the sight of God.

I am convinced that those who support the blessing of same-sex unions
are genuinely motivated by sincere commitment to a fundamental and
central tenant of Christianity: the inclusiveness and universality of
the Church. That is what makes this whole thing so deeply painful.
Unfortunately, however, their desire to be inclusive has led to a
terrible distortion and disfiguring of the entire concept of Christian
inclusiveness. There is, and never will be, I would argue, a more
radical document of human liberation, redemption, and salvation than
the Christian New Testament.

And central to the Good News of the Gospel is a powerful, inescapable,
and unrelenting message of self-denial and self-renunciation of MANY
basic and fundamental human orientations and drives, including sexual
ones. The Christian message is a deeply mystical message. It is a
message of reunion with God through the struggle to overcome ourselves
and live up to the extremely high standard which Jesus set for us. We
are not called to a new life by “validating” our own broken selves,
driven as they are by all sorts of basic orientations, desires, and
urges, but rather we are called to transcend our limited selves and
live in the image of the God who created us all.

The most powerful agent of idolatry always has been and always will be
human desire. Like sexuality, most desires are basic and integral to
our very being. God calls us back to unity with him, but at a price.
That price has never been easy, but it has always been the same: let go
of all loves, desires, and drives except the love of God: “You shall
love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and
with all your strength, and with all your mind”.

Like sexual desires, greed too is basic to the human condition. Greedy
people belong in the Church too, but not so that we may bless their
greed, but so that they can hear the Gospel message and hopefully be
liberated from the greed that imprisons them. Jesus accepts ALL of us,
broken as we are, but he most certainly does not allow ANY of us to
remain, broken as we are. He calls us ALL to a new and better life in
him.

To bless at the altar of God that which Scripture consistently and
repeatedly tells us is unacceptable in the sight of God requires that
one holds a view of Scripture and its authority that is fundamentally
and profoundly different from that held by the vast majority of
Christians, living or dead, at all times and in all places. And this
brings me full circle to my original assertion that this whole debate
now enveloping the Church is not about homosexuality, per se, but about
fundamentally different understandings of Scripture and its authority
in our lives.

I am convinced that we are now on the verge of a great global
realignment of Anglican Christianity. My long-term view is very
hopeful in this regard. I am convinced that in a decade the Anglican
Communion will look very different than it does today, but that it will
also be very much stronger than it is today. My short-term view of the
future of the Episcopal Church, USA is not so sanguine. I am greatly
pained by what I see as a very long and disheartening struggle within
ECUSA over the historical patrimony of this church. Anglican
realignment will leave none of us untouched in the end, and ultimately
we must find our own place in that realignment. Accordingly, I have
begun exploring options, both within and beyond the framework of ECUSA.
I cannot in good conscience, therefore, continue to serve as the Senior
Warden in a church I may no longer be part of a year from now.

During this process of discerning God’s guidance and will for me in the
process of realignment, I fully expect to continue to worship with you
at St. Andrew’s. Although I believe that I must now bear witness to
the historic faith and doctrine of the Church by abstaining from
partaking of the elements during the Eucharist, please know that during
the ministering of the elements I will be praying with you for our
Church and for our Diocese.

I have assured our interim Vicar that it is my full intention to make
the process of transition to a new Senior Warden in January as easy as
possible. I have absolutely no desire to hurt this parish or anyone in
it. After the transition I will continue to offer my advice and
whatever information the Vestry needs, for as long as that help is
needed. Please know also that it has been an enormous personal
privilege for me to work with all of you over the past several years to
revitalize this parish. If I ultimately do end up leaving St.
Andrew’s, I will continue to hold in my heart a great deal of love for
this place and all the people who make it what it is.

Faithfully yours in Christ,

-Chris

Dr. Christopher Taylor is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and
Director of the Middle East Studies Program at Drew University in
Madison, N.J. He is a specialist in Islamic Studies. He is a cradle
Episcopalian. Dr. Taylor has served actively on the Vestry of St.
Andrew's Episcopal Church in New Providence. He has also served on the
Cathedral Chapter in the Diocese of New Jersey. He is currently
working with other concerned Anglicans in north-central New Jersey to
establish a local lay-led discussion and prayer group that will offer
support and an opportunity for ECUSA layity who cannot accept recent
theological innovations in the national Church to explore together the
options orthodox Anglicans have in the aftermath of the 74th General
Convention. He has not formally left ECUSA.

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