"A moment for re-affirmation": Mass. bishops respond to Anglican primates' action

The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates and the Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts have issued the following statement to the diocesan community regarding this week's action by the primates of the Anglican Communion.

A moment for re-affirmation

The communiqué issued by primates of the Anglican Communion this week is part of the ongoing conversation within our Communion regarding matters of authority, scriptural interpretation and sexuality.  While articulating no new convictions, the communiqué includes recommendations which have come in terms unexpected and dismaying to many of us.  In the face of that distress, we, your bishops, wish to make the following affirmations.

First:  We re-affirm our commitment to the full inclusion of all Christian persons, including LGBTQ Christians, in the life of the church–its fellowship, its leadership and its sacramental life.  This commitment is firm in the Diocese of Massachusetts, where we have known the immeasurable grace brought to our life together by such full inclusion.  Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reaffirmed the commitment of the wider Episcopal Church to full inclusion in his statement to the primates earlier this week:

“Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.” 

[The presiding bishop’s statement, made after the primates’ communiqué, may be found here, and the statement he made during the meeting is included in Episcopal News Service's report here.]

The president of the House of Deputies, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, has also issued a clear statement of the mission and purpose of the Episcopal Church in response to the primates’ communiqué [available here].

Second:  We re-affirm our identity as Anglican Christians.  That identity, since its inception, has included two foundational principles:  the ecclesiological autonomy of the church in a given land, and a comprehensive inclusion of divergent theological viewpoints.  Our identity as Anglicans has never been a matter of credal or doctrinal subscription, nor of conciliar membership requirements.   

News media reports that the Episcopal Church has been “suspended from the Anglican Communion” reflect a misconception regarding our polity and identity.  Indeed, the surprise to many this week is that the primates have called for certain sanctions which they do not have the authority to impose.  We commend a full and very fine review of this question by the Very Rev. Andrew McGowan, Dean of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, as may be found here.

We look forward to clarification from the next meeting in April of the Anglican Consultative Council–whose very name suggests the autonomous affiliation around which our Communion is structured.  Meanwhile, we claim in its fullness our identity as Christians in the Anglican Communion.  Here in the Diocese of Massachusetts we rejoice in that identity, as manifest in mission partnerships and fruitful relationships with our sister and brother Anglicans in El Salvador, Honduras, Tanzania, Jerusalem and elsewhere around the Anglican world.

Third: We re-affirm our gratitude for our own primate, the Most Rev. Michael Curry.  The presiding bishop’s statements, both before and after the Canterbury communiqué, were strong and faithful and encouraging.  This morning Bishop Curry spoke of his hope and vision for our church and its calling:

“The truth is, it may be part of our vocation to help the Communion and to help many others to grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love that God has for all of us, and we can one day be a Church and a Communion where all of God’s children are fully welcomed, where this is truly a house of prayer for all people.”

We offer grateful prayers for our presiding bishop and his leadership of our church at this challenging time.

The reconciling beauty of Anglicanism at its birth was the conviction that unity of doctrine and theology is less central to Christ’s Gospel than unity of spirit.  Our voice and our prayer are lifted in support of maintaining this comprehensiveness.  We hope you will join us in praying not only for unity, but equally for justice, integrity, grace and mutual respect throughout the Anglican Communion.

The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris, Bishop Suffragan