Thoughts on the “Dear Gay Anglicans” letter, Part III

“Job” 
1905, 
Painting shows human suffering stripped bare
By Sir William Orpen
(source

“Our lives are long enough to learn what we need to learn, but not long enough to change anything. That is our flaw. Each age must learn everything afresh. Such waste! Such waste – making all the mistakes once and again, each generation making the same mistakes, fumbling in ignorance and darkness. This oak was already old when I was born. Now I am old and soon to die, and this tree grows strong still. We are small creatures. Our lives are not long, but long enough to learn.”

Stephen Lawhead [1]

In Part II, I noted that, between Pieter Valk’s focus on African provinces as the main source of opposition, and Archbishop Beach’s initial reaction to the Dear Gay Anglicans letter as “benign,” a segment of the ACNA’s laity is left feeling somewhat shaken, unseen, and unconsidered. It is for this reason that, as a layperson, I wish to respectfully give voice to those among this portion of the laity. To do so, I spoke with a variety of members from different areas who were at one time members of the Episcopal Church and are now members of the ACNA.

NOTE: It must be noted that I do not present the following as a homogeneous representation of all former members of TEC, now ACNA. The statements and descriptions which follow are my attempt to represent the sampling of members with whom I have spoken. What follows does not represent any parish, but are the opinions of individual members of the province.

Who are we?

We are “the children of the divorce,” former members of the Episcopal Church (TEC) who have joined the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Some of us left TEC to join newly formed congregations; others stayed with their baptismal church (TEC) hoping to bring change from within, only to face defeat. Many of us experienced not only the pain of losing our church, but also the pain of losing friends and family. Despite the prevailing myth that those who left were pure and righteous, some were not. Some church splits weren’t done openly; some weren’t financially ethical, honest, or legal – because of such dishonesty, some stayed in TEC churches, though left in financial ruins. Regardless, entire support systems were ripped away, replaced by animosity and judgement. Some lost their entire community. Some left altogether and never returned to the Anglican faith. 

Some never returned to church – period.

Many of us have experienced assaults upon our personhood from every direction. Newspaper articles covering congregational splits animated angry and sometimes unstable individuals to harass church members. Some of us know what it is like to have our church playgrounds vandalized, or to have strangers hiding in the bushes outside our churches, hurling epithets at churchgoers that should not be repeated in print. 

We have experienced sustained attacks upon our character as Christians. We were consistently – and contradictorily – referred to as “citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah” and “apostates,” as well as “homophobes” and “bigots.” These labels didn’t come from the world – they came from the church and from the people with whom we once shared a pew. 

What many of us, displaced and dejected, experienced was a spiritual trauma which few other Christians can comprehend. For many of us, our trust in the church, in our spiritual leaders, and in our fellow Christians was shattered.

Ultimately, our individual journeys led us to the ACNA, a province which promised to be a sanctuary for orthodox Episcopalians. 

But, once trust is broken, it is not easily rebuilt.

Why we matter.

Not only have we poured our time, energy, and hearts into our churches, but many of us are the founding members who followed our priests and bishops away from the Episcopal Church because we trusted our spiritual leaders. Some of our Episcopal Churches hosted African missionaries who helped pave the way for a new Anglican province to be established in the United States. To our leaders- we have put our trust in you and in the ACNA.

We have the real life experiences which enable us to know when a duck is a duck. We remember the language used in the past that sowed seeds of division and created distrust. As such, we believe that any “in your face” undermining of the guidance issued by the College of Bishops is never benign, but can have long-term consequences. 

And once trust is broken, it is not easily rebuilt.

What we hear. What we see.

When we see the words “gay Christian” replaced by “gay Anglican” – an Anglican is a Christian – we see an act of rebellion against the pastoral guidance of our College of Bishops who have been given the authority of the apostles through apostolic succession.

Such acts of rebellion cause us to re-live the trauma of the past, and cause us to re-grieve the loss of the Episcopal Church, our fellowship communities, and our friendships. This pain has only been compounded by some of the online discussions resulting from the letter, with opponents sometimes being unjustly characterized as “homophobic.” That is not who we are. It was not true in TEC and it is not true now. 

When we see the words “gay Anglican,” we see an attempt to re-enslave those who have been liberated by Jesus Christ from their dead self, which has already been buried with Christ. Rather than promote the reality of our newly created selves, it appears to be an effort to cling to our corpses.

We recognize that our churches are filled with broken people. We refute any suggestion that marriage or friendship or any other relationship established in this world will remove the loneliness within us. But our God knows our pain, and our hope is in Christ, with whom we will be reunited and receive crowns of glory.

When we witness opposition to the Dear Gay Anglicans letter reframed as, “This idea that arguing for a pastoral presence with gay people in the church is the exact same thing as marrying them is absurd,” we experience Déjà vu. We already lived through this type of dishonest, reframing of dissent, and the twisting of statements, in TEC. 

When we are assured by the proponents of the Dear Gay Anglicans letter that we have nothing to worry about, we experience Déjà vu. How many times did we hear that in the TEC? Too numerous to count. We do not place blind faith in any mortal, but in our Living God – in Him alone. 

When we see that the author of the Dear Gay Anglicans letter is publicly (on Facebook) categorizing “bishops and priests” as “DEFINITELY unsafe,” appearingly on the basis of support or disapproval of the language used in the letter, we see (1) ourselves, yet again, being falsely labeled, (2) the apostolic authority of the College of Bishops being unrecognized, and (3) a province in tumult. Will the ACNA also become labeled as TEC and cease to attract orthodox Christians? We pray not.

With the realization that the divisive rhetoric prevalent in TEC has now entered the ACNA, we are left with the effects of re-traumatization. Already struggling with trust issues from our spiritual experiences, we wonder, will we – orthodox Christians – become unwelcome in the ACNA, too? The truth is that we have already had one province forsake us. Will the ACNA forsake orthodox Anglicans too? We admit to these concerns and commit ourselves to prayer for our beloved province. 

Once trust is broken, it is not easily rebuilt.

Our hope.

In Job 4 and 5, “Eliphaz speaks lofty platitudes but never connects with Job’s pain. Through these platitudes, he ends up increasing Job’s sufferings.” [2] In Job 5:4, Eliphaz said, the fool’s “children are far from safety; they are crushed in the gate, and there is no one to deliver them.” Here, Eliphaz unintentionally caused Job even more pain. “When Eliphaz spoke of the fool’s children being unsafe, crushed in  the gate with none to deliver them, Job must have been picturing his  own dear children as they were killed in that violent windstorm— they were all unsafe, crushed beneath the house with none to  deliver.” [3]

We hope that our pain matters and that our church seeks to facilitate methods of communication which don’t unnecessarily inflict trauma, but are respectful of all its members on issues of human identity. We are committed to the church’s efforts to provide healthy spiritual spaces for all members. 

It is our hope that, in sharing our thoughts and experiences, those who have come to the ACNA from non-Anglican denominations can gain an understanding of the importance of language and the hardships which can befall a province when language is used to wound and divide, and when too much trust is afforded those whose motivations are known only by God.

As many Americans struggle to find work in the midst of a pandemic, struggle with sick loved ones from whom they are separated, and mourn the loss of the weekly, in person celebration of the Eucharist – which has been especially difficult on the laity – we are grieved over the distraction from community work, prayer, and Scriptural immersion that the Dear Gay Anglicans letter has abruptly caused. We hope that our province is able to move forward with wisdom in the spirit of love and fellowship for the safeguarding of the faith.

Let us conclude with a prayer for the Unity of the Church.

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Citations:
[1] The Northumbria Community. (2015). Daily Prayer. In Celtic Daily Prayer (Kindle ed., p. 6152). London: HarperCollins.

[2] Palmer, W. (2018). FIRST CYCLE OF SPEECHES. In Books of the Bible Study Questions: Job (PDF ed., pp. 7). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. Retrieved at: https://communication.cph.org/hubfs/_books/2018/Books%20of%20the%20Bible%20Study%20Questions/581802_601%20Job%20201802161021.pdf?hsCtaTracking=8fb7d7e9-9fe1-4bc3-a417-2a869ba0e8f4%7Cb469ef11-ab3a-422d-af34-f55ee0b3052c

[3] Ibid. 2

6 thoughts on “Thoughts on the “Dear Gay Anglicans” letter, Part III Leave a comment

  1. Thank you for this. I sat with my mother as she watched these things unfold last week. My father was an Episcopal priest who was “dismissed” by the TEC bishop when our diocese left. Her response was, “They already took my church home once, I don’t think I could stand it again”
    I will share your words with her. I wept as I read them.
    Thank you.

  2. I’m new to the ACNA, and to be honest, I’ve struggled with reconciling my views on orthodox sexuality and how to discuss matters. Leaving that aside for the time being, I didn’t consider these points when the DGA letter went public, and I’m sorry for also dismissing them so flippantly. Thank you for sharing this, and I won’t forget these words any time soon. I love the tradition, as it has helped bring my family closer to the Lord and into a wonderful community, and I am thankful for a rector who is committed to walking this out.

Leave a Reply to gerald mcdermott Cancel reply