The Right Rev. Herbert Thompson Jr., bishop of the Diocese of Southern Ohio, wrote this letter - dated June 13, 2003 - to diocese clergy and members regarding the unity of the church.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ Jesus:
The Diocese of New Hampshire has elected the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor, which has prompted significant reaction across the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. As you know, the General Convention of our Church gathers next month in Minneapolis where we will have the canonical responsibility to confirm or not to confirm Canon Robinson's election.
Faithful Christians, reflecting opposing viewpoints, will speak to issues of human sexuality, justice, tolerance, and moral choice during the confirmation hearing. In the end, the General Convention, whatever it decides, will make a decision that will be painfully disappointing to many members of our Church.
We have been a fractured Church before. The first generation of Christians were divided over whether or not to admit Gentiles into the Church. The Church in England struggled with the separatist puritan movement. In our own nation's history, the Episcopal Church has been divided over issues of slavery, civil rights, liturgical revision, and women's ordination. Even today, some within the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion have yet to resolve whether or not it is permissible for women to be ordained. Whenever the Church is distracted by division, God's people suffer and the Church's mission in the world is weakened.
As a Bishop, I am mindful of the vow I took at my own ordination to the episcopate: "Will you guard the faith, unity and discipline of the Church?" (Book of Common Prayer, p. 518). Every Bishop in our Church, irrespective of their theological and political views, has answered, "I will, for the love of God."
For the love of God, and with love for this wonderful Church of ours, I remind you that in this vow unity stands between faith and discipline. As Episcopalians we value both the faith delivered to the saints and the discipline of this Church. But faith and discipline mean little without the unity that binds us together in the love of our common Lord.
The principal challenge before us now is "How will we maintain the unity of the Church in the face of this divisive issue?" There will be no victory if we break communion with one another. Sadly, there are voices within our Church and from other parts of the Anglican Communion, already crying out for division.
Disunity and threats of disunity are contrary to the will of God. At every baptism we proclaim, "There is one Body and one Spirit; There is one hope in God's call to us; One Lord; One Faith; One Baptism; One God and Father of all" (Book of Common Prayer, p.299). Unity is at the very core of our Christian identity and our precious unity cannot be undermined by either side in our debates. In Eucharistic Prayer A we pray that we will serve God in "unity, constancy and peace... (Book of Common Prayer, p.363). Now is the time for us to live that prayer. We must remain one in Christ's service before, during and after the General Convention. Whenever Christians debate controversial matters, the issue is not one of winning or losing, rather, how may we best honor God and engage God's mission. And whenever God's Church is fractured, the Church and the world lose.
The genius of Anglicanism always has been the gracious ability to hold conflicting views at the same time. We are a Church that has room for people with whom we disagree. We are a Church that values unity over uniformity. Our history has taught us that when we loose this identity we do so at great peril.
I call upon all Episcopalians, as well as our sisters and brothers throughout the Anglican Communion, to a time of prayerful reflection, honest discussion, humble repentance, and mutual respect. No matter the final decision reached at the General Convention, I further call upon all members of this Church to pledge their continued support for the one body that is the Episcopal Church. I will express my own views regarding the confirmation of Bishop-elect Robinson. More importantly, I will call upon members of the House of Bishops to affirm their commitment to continue to serve Jesus Christ as one body, regardless of the decision we make in Minneapolis.
The words of the spiritual remind us that our vocation is to be God's "one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth." In the days before, during and after the General Convention, our unity and love will be tested. Please join me in praying that God's Holy Spirit will unite us in love, direct us in God's ways, and lead us forward in mission.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Right Reverend Herbert Thompson, Jr. Bishop of Southern Ohio
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