Love must prevail

Proposed covenant unworkable if it abandons justice for all
October 15, 2007

The contentious relationship between the Episcopal Church based in the United States 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."

"God is love" is a fact of life some of us learned in Sunday school. We also learned that covenants, creeds, doctrines and traditions may pass away, but love endures. How, then, can a church with a responsibility of promoting love and justice adopt a policy of discrimination that prohibits homosexual people from being elected and consecrated as bishops? There is no evidence that such people cannot "love and be loved in return." If love is the boss principle of life, arbitrary and capricious acts of discrimination against all sorts and conditions of people, including male and female people, heterosexual and homosexual people, is unjust and should cease and desist.

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.

It is a shocking experience to see a religious institution like the Anglican Communion refuse to support gay couples and lesbian couples who wish to marry and homosexual people who wish to make a sacrificial offering of their leadership skills to serve the church as priests and bishops. It is regrettable that the church rejects such people, as if they were engaged in a demonized activity.

There is no evidence that one's sexual orientation limits one's capacity to lead and 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 should experience "equal protection of the laws" as declared in our Constitution, the Episcopal Church may have no alternative but to withdraw from a communion that may proclaim, by covenant, that homosexual people are not worthy of being ordained church leaders. It would be arrogant and unkind to expect the U.S.A. branch of the Anglican Communion to become a second-class associate member without decision-making status if it does not wish to conform to a proposed communion covenant denying gay and lesbian people the privilege of serving the church as bishops.

A two-tier organization of voting members and associate members, preliminarily proposed by the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, would be an invitation to the Episcopal Church and other branches of the Anglican Communion to participate in their own oppression because they believe in love, justice and equality for all people. And they would be invited to do this unseemly thing simply because they wish to embrace women as well as gay and lesbian people in all aspects of church life. To accept this proposal is to facilitate the implementation of a double evil -- the evil of seeking to oppress people who are different and the evil of accepting oppression without resistance.

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 love and 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 expect a different outcome if it permits itself to be governed by a covenant of the Anglican Communion that discriminates against gay and lesbian people? I do not think so! For this reason, I believe that the archbishop has mentioned a proposal that will not work.

Finally, we know that a diversified population consisting of all kinds of people has a better chance of surviving and adapting to a changing world than one that is homogenous. If we believe the kingdom of God "shall have no end" (as we say in the Nicene Creed), it is because we fully embrace all sorts and conditions of people –
black, brown and white people, affluent and poor people, young and old people, male and female people, gay and lesbian people.

I am convinced this is the right thing to do because love and justice are durable and inclusive. This should be the ultimate test of the efficacy of public policy in church and society.

Now may be the time when the Episcopal Church may have to suffer the redemption of its friends in the Anglican Communion elsewhere in the world by showing forth love for all sorts and conditions of people and by refusing to compromise in an unjust way on this human rights matter. While the past may be prologue to the present, the present does not determine the future. Only that which is loving and just will endure.