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Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Point of No Return for the Episcopal Church in the USA

Charles Willie, past Vice-President of the House of Deputies of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and honorary trustee of Episcopal Divinity School, wrote this reflection following the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Dr. Willie asked EDS to share this reflection with its distribution lists. This reflection may be reprinted in its entirety, including author information. Please contact Nancy Davidge at for additional information.

A Point of No Return for the Episcopal Church in the USA

By Charles V. Willie, PhD

The contentious relationship between the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America and the worldwide Anglican Communion is appropriately called a “civil war over homosexuality” by The New York Times. I, also, think it is an event of “civil stress” about love and justice. In 1966, Joseph Fletcher, an Episcopal priest on the faculty of the Episcopal Theological School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, wrote a book titled Situation Ethics in which he declared that “love is the boss principle of life” and “justice is love distributed”.

While other institutional systems in society like government, the economy, and education identify principles other than love that are central to their mission, certainly love is the foundational principle of religion – all religions. It is our religious responsibility in society to remind other institutions to do what they are called to do in loving and just ways.

Thus, it is a shocking experience to see a religious institution like the Anglican Communion demonize gay couples and lesbian couples who wish to marry and homosexual people who wish to make a sacrificial offering of their leadership skills to the church as priests or bishops. There is no evidence that one’s sexual orientation limits one’s capacity to love others. So, why is the church so upset about women and homosexual people serving as church leaders?

If a group like the Anglican Communion is unwilling to accept the proposition that “all . . . are created equal” as stated in our Declaration of Independence” and that all institutions should “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed”, the Episcopal Church in the United States may have no alternative but to withdraw from a Communion that proclaims homosexual people are not worthy of being church leaders. It is an inappropriate proposal to suggest that the Episcopal Church in the USA may be willing to remain as an associate member of the Anglican Communion without decision-making status if it does not wish to conform to a covenant which may deny gay people the privilege of serving as bishops.

In 1789, the United States established a democratic nation state governed by a Constitution that did not resolve the undemocratic issue of slavery. Two-thirds of a century later we paid dearly for this miscarriage of justice with a civil war that resulted in more that 600,000 deaths and lingering mistrust to this day between some civil districts in the South and North. Can the Episcopal Church in the USA expect a different outcome if it permits itself to be governed by a covenant of the Anglican Communion that discriminates against gay people? I do not think so! For this reason, I believe that the Archbishop has mentioned a proposal that will not work.

Now may be the time when the Episcopal Church in the United States may have to suffer the redemption of its friends elsewhere in the world by showing forth its love for all sorts and conditions of people and by refusing to compromise on this human rights matter.

Dr. Charles V. Willie is an educator and sociologist and is a past Vice-President of the House of Deputies of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the USA. He delivered the ordination sermon when the first eleven women were ordained as priests in this church in Philadelphia, PA, July 1974. He is an honorary trustee of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

© Dr. Charles V. Willie, 2006

Nancy Davidge
Director of Communications
Episcopal Divinity School
99 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone: 617.682.1502
Cell phone: 617.901.4200
Fax: 617-864-5385

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