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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Friday, August 15, 2003

"May you live in interesting times."

The above is a traditional Chinese curse, which seems to fit the state of the Anglican Communion at the present.

Other friends in the blogiverse have been posting, not only their personal views on the issues from our General Convention, but messages from various ecclesial authorities; so I thought to join the party. Below is a pastoral letter from the Rt. Rev. Edward Stuart Little II, 7th Bishop of the Diocese of Northern Indiana. This was sent to all parishes, clergy and seminarians in the diocese.


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I begin this pastoral letter with a word of thanks. You have supported, encouraged, and prayed for the General Convention deputies and me in a superbly faithful way these past few weeks. During the most difficult moments in Minneapolis, I was awed by the privilege of being the beneficiary of so much prayer. How blessed I am to be your bishop!

The 74th General Convention may well have been the most public moment our church has experienced in many a decade. While Convention dealt with a myriad of resolutions – from a sweeping revision of the canons on the ordination process to an exciting new vision for mission and evangelism called the 20/20 Movement – sexuality dominated the gathering from first to last. Foremost in everyone’s mind was the question, Should we give consent to the ordination and consecration of an openly gay, partnered man as Bishop Coadjutor of New Hampshire? A parallel issue concerned liturgy. Should General Convention ask the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to draw up a rite for blessing same-sex unions? As you know from press reports, the answer to the first question was Yes. The House of Deputies easily, and the bishops with jurisdiction more narrowly, gave consent to Canon Robinson’s consecration. The second question produced a more complex response. General Convention passed a resolution that specifically did not call for the drafting of a rite; it did, however, “recognize that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions” (Resolution C051s). These words open themselves to a variety of interpretations, since it is unclear whether Convention simply recognizes the reality that liturgies are already being celebrated – or encourages them.

What does this mean for us in the Diocese of Northern Indiana? During the debate on Canon Robinson’s confirmation, I urged a No vote. To do otherwise, I believed then and believe now, would violate the unmistakable teaching of the Scriptures. Conscience allowed me no other stand. When Canon Robinson’s confirmation was announced, I stood with eighteen other bishops to disassociate ourselves from the decision. I believed then and believe now that this action represents a departure from the historic faith and order of the Church. But my speech on the floor of the House of Bishops included these words: “I am absolutely committed to Jesus Christ, absolutely committed to the Episcopal Church, absolutely committed to this House [of Bishops], absolutely committed to you, my brothers and sisters.” My convictions are set in the context of community. Just as nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39), so nothing will separate me from this church which I love so deeply. I continue as a loyal member of the Episcopal Church and the happy bishop of this wonderful diocese. You and I are bound together, beloved friends. Even when we disagree on painful theological issues, Jesus has called us together.

The policies of this diocese remain unchanged. Candidates for ordination are expected to conform their lives to the scriptural standard that limits sexual intimacy to the setting of Holy Matrimony. Nor will I authorize the blessing of same-sex unions in the Diocese of Northern Indiana. These policies arise not from arbitrary assertions, but from the moral consensus which the Christian Church has maintained for two thousand years. We are not free, I believe, to tamper with the Word that God has revealed and the Church has taken to itself.

I understand that my words come as a comfort to some and a source of pain to others. In the past few weeks, I have received dozens of e-mails and letters representing a wide range of perspectives. Many argue their case with passion and deep conviction. Please know that I am grateful for these letters and for the trust that they imply. You have felt comfortable opening your heart to me, and that reminds me of how important it is for us to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). We are united indissolubly in baptism, to one another and to Jesus.

Because many gay and lesbian members of the Diocese of Northern Indiana have made a special point of reaching out to me, I speak a word directly to them: Jesus has brought us together in one church. It is no accident that you are members of the body of Christ in this diocese at this time. In 1976 General Convention passed a resolution which says, “Homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance and pastoral care of the church.” I take those words quite literally. You are my brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all recipients of the grace that invites us to know, love, and follow Jesus. I especially treasure the way that you have engaged my heart, challenged me to look into your faces, and called me to costly discipleship. You and I differ on a painful issue that directly affects your lives; but I pray that we can together commit ourselves to mutual love and discover new and unexpected ways of sharing our lives in Christ.

What of the future? Complex days lie ahead for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has invited the primates of the 38 provinces of the Communion to gather with him at Lambeth Palace in London on October 15-16. There they will take counsel in light of the Episcopal Church’s actions at General Convention. From this vantage, I cannot forecast what actions the primates may take or how those actions will impact the Episcopal Church. But whatever happens, I do know this: Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20). In that promise, there is no room for fear. To put it specifically, you and I have nothing to fear. Jesus will never abandon his church. He will help us to find a way forward as brothers and sisters. The best days of the Diocese of Northern Indiana are in the future, not the past. We will continue to celebrate our core values – a passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a heart for the lost, a willingness to do whatever it takes, and a commitment to one another – with joy and ever-deepening commitment. We will reach out to the unchurched with a Gospel that transforms lives, makes men and women whole, and brings hope to a hopeless world. Jesus has called us together.

With all blessings I am

Yours in Christ,

Edward S. Little


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