Unexpected Serendipities from Australia

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 3 October 2007 0 Comments
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I have been reading your books and weekly Internet essays for a long time. I even had the chance to meet you when you lectured in Houston, and I attended other lectures you gave here, all of which have enriched me. Here is what lies heavy on my heart now: It occurs to me that the Episcopal Church has not heretofore established a rule (I do not know if "rule" is the correct term) that gays and lesbians can't marry one another, or a rule that would prevent a gay or lesbian person from becoming a priest or bishop. Otherwise, why are certain bishops trying to get these rules carved in stone in an either/or way? It also occurs to me that those who favor these rules are the ones who are breaking away from those who do not favor them and/or who have blessed the marriages and appointed the bishop. What comes to mind is the cause of the first schism in the Church, between Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. That came about when one side, the Romans, acted without following established practice, which was that all decisions must be made by unanimous consent of the bishops. The debate at that time was about whether the Holy Spirit came from the Father or from the Father and the Son (the filioque clause). Rome, not Constantinople, caused this schism, at least according to what my Orthodox friends told me when my wife and I took the pilgrimage to Russia in 1988 to celebrate the millennium of Christianity in Russia. It's ironic that the ones who do not wish to break away from the others are the ones being blamed (and cursed, I assume) for creating the threat of schism in out time. I guess they are doing this so they can claim the properties owned by the Church and be in the position to force the departure of the "dissenters." In view of this, I urge the ones who do not favor the new rules not to take a defensive attitude in this affair, but, instead, continue to open their doors, minds, and hearts to those who do, with the hope that all will realize that it is Christ's Church. Before I end this message, I want to ask a question about the deadline. Who gave any bishop the authority to set a deadline on another bishop for the settlement of any issue that confronts the Church? To me, this is another example of the anarchy mindset that has befallen our government and now our Church. Thank you for your efforts in support of those who others want to marginalize.


Thank you for your letter. You have analyzed the situation in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion exactly right. The facts are that there has never been a canonical prohibition against gay marriages or gay ordination made by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in its entire history. There is no other authority in this Church that can do so according to our Canons or laws.

The idea that an unelected advisory body called "the Primates" who represent no one other than themselves has any authority over any part of this Church borders on absurdity. The Anglican Church is hierarchical, but only up to the national level. It is in fact a communion of national churches. The authority in every national body is the Synod or National gathering of the representatives of that national body.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who is not elected by anyone but is rather an appointee of the British Prime Minister and the Queen, has authority only in the Church of England. He is the symbolic leader of the Anglican Communion, but not a figure within any part of that Communion outside of England, and that includes Wales and Scotland!

There is much positioning in the Anglican Church today. I regard it as much ado about nothing. I believe my church will weather this storm by doing nothing other than continuing to bear witness to the fact that God's love is not limited.

John Shelby Spong




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