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ECUSA: The "Lone Ranger" or Lonely Prophet?

Episcopal Church: the “lone ranger” or lonely prophet?

by David E. Sumner, Ph.D.

How ironic that the ecumenical officer of the Episcopal Church wrote a column condoning an action that has done more to damage the ecumenical relations of the Episcopal Church than any other in its history.

The suspension of cooperation with the Episcopal Church by the Russian Orthodox Church, the postponement of dialogue by other Orthodox bodies, and the replacement of the presiding bishop on the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission all reveal our deteriorating relations with other Christians.

Add to that the suspension of relations with the Episcopal Church by Anglican bishops and provinces worldwide. Church leaders such as the presiding bishop who have accused George Bush of being the “lone ranger” in foreign policy have themselves formed a small band of “lone rangers” in acting unilaterally against the other 67 million members of the Anglican Communion and 1.3 billion Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians. Our 2.3 million members represent one-tenth of one percent of the world’s 2.1 billion Christians.

Has God told us something new? In discussing those difficult biblical passages that condemn homosexual behavior, Bishop Epting assumes—like so many—that these passages form the only reason for opposing the ordination of homosexuals.

Tradition is the neglected “leg” of the Anglican three-legged stool of scripture, tradition, and reason. The reason that gay rights advocates don’t talk about tradition in this debate is that they would definitely lose this argument. Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, which represent 64 percent of the world’s 2.1 billion Christians, reject homosexual behavior as inconsistent with both scripture and tradition.

Neither of these two faith traditions are fundamentalist—a term many Episcopalians use to describe Christians denominations that interpret scripture literally. The Roman Catholic catechism says, “The manner of interpreting scripture is ultimately subject to the judgment of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God.” (p. 39)

In The Orthodox Church, Orthodox bishop Timothy Ware writes, “It is from the Church that the Bible ultimately derives its authority for it was the Church which originally decided which books form a part of Holy Scripture; and it is the Church alone which can interpret Holy Scripture with authority.”

Yet both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches arrive at the same conclusion about homosexuality as the fundamentalist churches.

“The Orthodox Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality, firmly grounded in Holy Scripture, 2000 years of church tradition and canon law, holds that marriage consists in the conjugal union of a man and a woman, and that authentic marriage is blessed by God as a sacrament of the Church,” wrote the Standing Committee of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas in an Aug. 23 statement issued three weeks after our General Convention. Their statement, signed by nine archbishops, went on to say, “The Orthodox Church cannot and will not bless same-sex unions. Whereas marriage between a man and a woman is a sacred institution ordained by God, homosexual union is not.”

The Roman Catholic catechism says of homosexuals: “They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.” Yet, the Catechism continues, “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedoms…by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.” (p. 626)

Bishop Epting and other Episcopalians who defend the consecration of Gene Robinson have replaced “scripture, tradition and reason” with “experience, reason, and General Convention.” While they may argue that scripture doesn’t mean what it seems to mean, they can’t argue that scripture or tradition supports the ordination of homosexuals.

Those who do not recognize the weight of tradition nor the continuing consensus of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches are naïve, I believe. When I hear you say, “God is doing a new thing, ” you remind me of the Mormons and other sects who have argued throughout history for their “new revelations.” The rest of Christendom is unconvinced and isn’t yielding.

David E. Sumner holds a master’s degree in church history from the University of the South, is a Ball State University journalism professor and member of Trinity Church, Anderson, Indiana, in the Diocese of Indianapolis.

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