Ecumenism in a time of controversy

Bishop Christopher Epting is the chief ecumenical officer of the Episcopal Church. In a recent post on his blog, he talks about how the recent actions of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention have effected the conversations the denomination has with other denominations:

“While it is no secret that I support the full inclusion of faithful gay and lesbian Christians in the life of the Church, let there be no mistake about the costly nature of such decisions in the life of The Episcopal Church and beyond.

I write this post from Cairo, Egypt where I am attending the annual meeting of the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. This is a body which reports to the Anglican Consultative Council and monitors the activity and progress of the various Provinces of the Anglican Communion in matters ecumenical.

Since our General Convention decisions of 2003, these have been difficult meetings for The Episcopal Church’s representatives as well as our colleagues from the Anglican Church in Canada. Despite warm personal relations with our Church of England, Asian, African, South and West Indian colleagues, we are roundly criticised as Episcopalians for putting major stumbling blocks in the way of Anglican ecumenical relations.

Often cited are the writings of Bishop Spong, the confirmation of the Bishop of New Hamshire by General Convention 2003, and some bishops’ permission for the blessing of same sex unions in their dioceses despite the lack of an official liturgical rite in our church for such an event.

We were received by Pope Shenouda of the Coptic Orthodox Church here in Egypt one morning and subjected to nearly an hour of lecturing by His Holiness on the sins of the Anglican Communion and especially The Episcopal Church. This venerable monk and leader of his ancient church noted all the concerns I have mentioned above. He has actually read at least one of Bishop Spong’s books. And, is not impressed!

It would, of course, have been possible to take exception to much of Pope Shenouda’s hermeneutics, but ‘state occasions’ like this are hardly the place for that. Particularly in a country where Christians are in the huge minority and undergo scrutiny and often severe criticism from their Muslim neighbors. We heard him out, acknowledged the difficulties we face, and asked for his prayers.

What would have been possible, however, had not the official dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox Churches been suspended over our actions, would have been to engage these issues together in a serious dialogue where our perspectives could be given a fair hearing rather than caricatured by the press or by voices from within our own church who wish the world to think that we are teaching some kind of ‘new faith.’

This is why I believe the Lambeth Conference must happen. No matter who is, or is not, invited and who chooses to come or not to come. Those of us who will be there must sit together, face to face, in the context of prayer, and both share and listen to one another deeply.

Only in this way can the wounds in our particular expression of the Body of Christ begin to be healed and a contribution perhaps made, by Anglicans, for healing the very Body of Christ of which we are a part.”

From here.

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