To read the Very Rev. Ward B. Ewing’s letter to the students and faculty of the General Theological Seminary in New York City, click on the continue reading tab.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
The outcome of the recent primates meeting in Tanzania has been a source of considerable concern among many members of the Seminary community including me. I refer you to the website of the Episcopal News Service for details. All of the news is not alarming; excellent progress was made by the primates in a number of important areas including ways to improve theological education Communion-wide, methods for achieving Millennium Development Goals, and the decision to pursue an international study of approaches to scriptural interpretation.
As I’m sure you know, however, it was the primates’ evaluation of our Church’s response to the Windsor Report and the resulting series of demands they have made on our House of Bishops that has caused what can only be called a firestorm of reaction throughout the Episcopal Church. To summarize: last summer in response to the Windsor Report our General Convention passed a resolution which, though it may have lacked absolute specificity, was quite clearly a moratorium on future openly gay or lesbian bishops in the Episcopal Church. Also in response to Windsor, the Convention refrained from taking up discussions on the blessing of same-sex relationships, which had been high on the agenda of previous Conventions. Saying these measures showed a “lack of clarity” and represented an “ambiguous stance,” the primates have called upon our House of Bishops to make an “unequivocal common covenant” to refrain from authorizing blessings and to withhold consent specifically from any anyone who has been elected to the episcopacy and is living in a same-sex relationship.
The consequences specified for non-compliance and a firm deadline of September 30, 2007 have made it quite clear that we have received an ultimatum. However we feel about these demands, which the primates insisted our Presiding Bishop bring back to us, we must commend the dignity, and grace with which she represented our Church. Her composure and patience were admirable.
A forum on the primates meeting is being organized here at GTS and will take place in the near future. I urge you to attend. The documents from the Primates Meeting are complex, and as a seminary we are committed to studying them and contributing to the wider conversations about the tensions being experienced in the Communion. In addition, I have asked faculty members with expertise in the areas related to these recent events to make themselves available to the media to respond to questions. We are issuing a press release with details on this.
As many of you know in 1994, four years before I became Dean, General became the first Episcopal seminary to allow same sex couples to live together on campus. This was not an easy decision and the negative reaction following it was significant. That decision has enabled General to become a far more inclusive community. In addition to our resident students and faculty members, committed same-sex relationships are found among our trustees, our alumni/ae, and our staff. As Bishop Mark Sisk said in a powerful statement this week, “They are we.” I want you to know I consider these gay and lesbian relationships just as godly, grace-filled, and worthy of blessing as those of heterosexual couples, and I will never abandon or compromise this belief for the sake of political expediency or the maintenance of temporal ecclesiastical structures.
I know the primates’ demands are of deep concern to those who will be graduating from GTS and who will be ordained in the Episcopal Church. I have a deep personal conviction that all people, including gay and lesbian persons, should have equal access to all orders of ordained ministry including the episcopate. I find the primates’ demands deeply troubling in this regard.
Many question whether the House of Bishops by itself is able to provide the assurances demanded by the primates without violating our Church’s polity, that includes the laity, priests, and deacons. I share this concern.
I sincerely hope that in addressing the primates’ concerns our Church will be able to maintain its status as a full member of the Anglican Communion. General Seminary over the years has been enriched by embracing the fullness of the many diverse Anglican traditions and cultures. We have welcomed students and visiting professors from all parts of the Anglican world, including the Global South. Our graduates and faculty members minister throughout the Anglican Communion. We intend to continue in this tradition of a comprehensive Anglican vision. In ministering to the poor and suffering of our world and in growing in insight and hope, these relationships are of critical importance.
However, this must be done without compromising our Church’s progress toward full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in all areas of our life together. I have frequently been frustrated by the churches in general and the Episcopal Church in particular when we have been fearful to take a strong stand for justice; today I am humbly proud of our Church’s stance. As one of the Anglican Communion’s most inclusive churches, we have a prophetic voice and a witness to our sisters and brothers worldwide. As much as we need to be in communion with Anglicans around the world, they also need our voice. It is important to find a way to maintain our worldwide relationships, for both sides.