Bishop Ihloff's Letter Ý [My critique]
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,
I write to you August 8th, the last day of General Convention, and ask that you share this letter with your congregations. Bishop Rabb joins me in the sentiments. Your Bishops are pleased to report that many important issues have been discussed and many ministries strengthened as a result of our work here, which has been far more inclusive than the few matters which have received attention in the press would suggest. Moreover, despite obvious disagreement over the confirmation of the Bishop of New Hampshire, the vast majority of Bishops and Deputies to Convention are working harmoniously together, and there have been many moving moments here in Minneapolis, moments which evidence the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit. Your Deputies and Bishops look forward to several opportunities this fall to address people in different parts of our Diocese on the work of our General Convention.
In the meantime, I realize that some of you are upset and others confused about the confirmation of The Rev. Eugene Robinson. It has long been the policy of the Standing Committee and Bishops of Maryland to not "second guess" what has been decided upon in another diocese so long as all the appropriate procedures are followed. Clearly they were in New Hampshire, where the candidate is well known and has had a most effective ministry. What has been newsworthy, and upsetting to some Episcopalians, is that Bishop-Elect Robinson has been honest about his being gay and living faithfully with a male partner for the past seventeen years. This raises issues of sexual morality over which our Church has been struggling for years.
On my return (Bishop Rabb will head immediately for vacation), I will set dates and places in the very near future where I will address the subject, "Homosexuality and Biblical Morality". As a member of the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops, which recently published "A Gift of Sexuality: A Theological Perspective" (copies of which are available from my office), I have been grappling with these issues personally and professionally. I have also been invited to address the clergy of the Diocese of South East Florida, following a statement I made on the floor of the House of Bishops.
I believe ALL Holy Scripture is written for our learning. There are no throw away passages from the Bible. Rather, we are to "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" Scripture to be informed persons of faith. Having said this, it is equally important to insist that Scripture demands our best intellectual efforts. Snippets should never be used as proof texts; all scripture must be read in its full context. Scripture study demands that we first understand what the passage meant in Biblical times. Only then can we begin to see how it applies today. The eight passages which condemn homosexual practice come in very different contexts, but they were all written in a time when it was assumed that all persons were heterosexual from birth. Therefore if anyone commits homosexual acts, he/she is going against nature and is sinning. Some Christians still hold that point of view. However, increasingly we talk about homosexuality as an orientation (something unthinkable in the ancient world). We hear from people who maintain they have been homosexual from birth. How does scripture apply to these people? How about gay men and lesbians who are in committed, lifelong relationships? There are many such couples in our churches. To what degree do they conform to the morality Jesus teaches in the New Testament? The answers are not so clear as some presume. It is just such matters I will address with you in the coming days. Furthermore, our Church maintains that there is space for people of widely differing views on this subject.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, our Presiding Bishop, and the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops even before General Convention issued statements that matters of homosexuality are NOT Church dividing issues! Your Bishops look forward to continuing our dialogue and ask you all to be compassionate with others who do not hold your views. Ours is a wonderfully inclusive Church. Much evidence of that has been given over this past two weeks.