Washington convention models reconciliation for church

February 10, 2004

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington entered a partnership with the Church of the Province of Southern Africa at its annual convention at the Washington National Cathedral, January 31-February 1.

The diocese also reviewed a new church planting and mission development strategy, and passed a bipartisan resolution creating a forum in which parishioners who disagree with General Convention's recent decisions on the role of gays and lesbians in the church can express their dissent.

In the words of the resolution formalizing the partnership, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane and Bishop John Bryson Chane, pledged that the province and diocese would work together in "responding to the challenges of theological education, HIV/AIDS, women's issues…social justice [and] racial reconciliation."

The diocese is particularly eager to "advocate on CPSA's behalf with decision makers in the United States government," said Lu Stanton León, who co-chaired the diocese Southern Africa Partnership Task Force.

High level meetings

While in Washington, Ndungane was accompanied by Bishop David Beetge, bishop of the diocese of the Highveld, the Rev. Canon Colin Jones, CSPA's HIV/AIDS coordinator, and Nema Aluku, HIV/AIDS program officer for the Council of Anglican Primates in African. Escorted by Chane and Maureen Shea, director of the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations, the group had a series of high level meetings with Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security advisor, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, Ambassador Randall Tobias, the Bush administration's global AIDS coordinator, and Charles R. Snyder, acting assistant secretary of state for Africa.

They also met with James Wolfesohn, president of the World Bank; Abdoulaye Bio Tchane, director of the African department of the International Monetary Fund; and a number of Congressional leaders including Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Reps. John Lewis (D-GA) and Amo Houghton (R-NY).

Ndungane said he hopes to focus Western attention on "the whole question of poverty-public good-the whole question of health and of course the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We would want to make a case that the faith-based communities have a unique role in the whole question of delivering services to the poor."

Creative complementarity

In his sermon during the convention Eucharist, Ndungane urged the Anglican Communion to adopt an ethic of "creative complementarity."

"Our job is to recognize that we belong to God, and we belong together--more than that, we need each other, if the body is to work well," he said. "It may be hard for the eye to appreciate the hearing function, or for the ear to comprehend sight, but the body needs both. Each part must respect the rest. God wants us to be united in diversity. He created us that way, and he will help us to develop an ethic of together-in-difference. It is an ethic that the world around us desperately needs."

Chane also touched on the tension within the Anglican Communion in his convention address, saying: "For any of us to focus on fostering disunity within our branch of the Anglican Communion by using a theological hammer as the tool of choice at the expense of our own pastoral, Episcopal domestic and global mission imperatives is, in itself, a tragedy that claims the original sin of a divided and broken humanity above the promise of our unity in the Body of Christ."

A start at reconciliation

Ndungane's plea for "an ethic of together in difference" struck a chord with convention delegates. In an almost unanimous vote, delegates passed a resolution inviting "those troubled by actions of General Convention-if they desire-to register their concerns in writing with the Task Force set up by the Bishop of Washington to address the divisions underscored by the General Convention actions, with the understanding that such registered concerns could become publicly reported as appropriate."

The resolution was depicted by its chief sponsor David Bickel, president of the Washington chapter of the American Anglican Council, as a means of allowing those who objected to the action of General Convention to remain within the church. It was also embraced by the Rev. Michael W. Hopkins, past president of Integrity, as a sign of compassion and evidence that those who differ strongly on this issue could remain in communion.

Only two of the more than 250 delegates voted against the resolution. When passage was announced, the crowd in the Cathedral broke into sustained applause.

Bishop Beetge requested a copy of the resolution to present to the commission formed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to deal with church governance issues arising from the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire and the blessing of same-sex unions in the diocese of New Westminster in Canada. The bishop is a member of that commission.