On the Primates Meeting: A Letter from the House of Deputies President

Posted Jan 15, 2016

[House of Deputies] The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, sent the following letter to deputies and alternate deputies concerning the actions taken by the Primates Meeting to impose consequences on the church for its actions on same-sex marriage.

January 15, 2016

Dear Deputies and Alternate Deputies:

Many of you have received the news that the meeting of Anglican primates that has just concluded in Canterbury has voted to issue what it calls “consequences” to the Episcopal Church for our full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in our common life.

This news may be painful for some of us, particularly for LGBT people who have been excluded too often and for too long by families, churches, schools, and other institutions mired in homophobia. It may also be hurtful or unsettling to those of us who value our mission relationships with Anglicans across the Communion.

I want to assure you that nothing about what the primates have said will change the actions of General Convention that have, over the past four decades, moved us toward full inclusion and equal marriage. And regardless of the primates’ vote, we Episcopalians will continue working with Anglicans across the globe to feed the hungry, care for the sick, educate children, and heal the world. Nothing that happens at a primates’ meeting will change our love for one another or our commitment to serving God together. I commend to you Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s powerful statement on just this theme.

The practical consequences of the primates’ action will be that, for three years, Episcopalians will not be invited to serve on certain committees, or will be excluded from voting while they are there. However, the primates do not have authority over the Anglican Consultative Council, the worldwide body of bishops, clergy and lay people that facilitates the cooperative work of the churches of the Anglican Communion. I serve as a representative to that body, along with Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut, a four-time deputy before his election as bishop, and six-time Deputy Rosalie Simmonds Ballentine of the Virgin Islands, and I am planning to travel to Zambia for our scheduled meeting in April and to participate fully.

The people most likely to suffer from this news are faithful LGBTI Anglicans and their allies, especially in Africa. I count many of them as my friends and colleagues, and today I am especially praying that this new message of exclusion does not fuel more hatred and homophobia and make them even more vulnerable to violence and discrimination than they already are. In their communiqué, the primates: “condemned homophobic prejudice and violence” and “reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.” I was heartened to read these words, but mindful that I have read a similar statement from a previous primates meeting. I hope that this time, the primates mean what they have said.

Please join me in renewing our commitment to General Convention Resolution A051 which calls us to use resources developed by African Anglicans working to curb anti-gay and anti-transgender violence and discrimination; to build relationships with and learn from African Anglican scholars whose biblical interpretations affirm the dignity and humanity of LGBTI people; and “to pray for the safety of our LGBTI sisters and brothers, their families and communities, and for the scholars and activists who tirelessly work on their behalf.”

Three times in the last five years, I have traveled to Africa to study and pray with Anglican Africans and African LGBTI activists. These consultations, held in South Africa in 2011, Kenya in 2013, and Ghana in 2015, have given me the gift of friends and colleagues across Anglican Africa who are deeply committed to our communion, to the dignity and inclusion of LGBTI people in the church, and to justice for all of God’s people. Today, as we adjust to the news that our stand for God’s all-inclusive love will have some consequences, I am mindful of the statement that my colleagues and I released at the end of our time together in Ghana a few months ago. In it, we pledged “to make safe the road from Jericho to Jerusalem that is walked by everyone who strives for just and fair societies and full inclusion in the Body of Christ.” Today we are walking the road from Jericho to Jerusalem together, and we are doing so in the company of Christ.


Gay Clark Jennings


Comments (37)

  1. Richard Lindberg says:

    This is why I left the Episcopal Church. The Bishops and other clergy continue to thumb their collective noses at God. They will not heed the admonitions of the rest of the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is an arrogant, stiff-necked body. In my mind it is no longer a church for it has abandoned God. It rejects the Lordship of Christ over its actions. It rejects Scripture in favor of its own choices. It is in the same rebellion against God as was Israel as recorded in Kings, Chronicles and the OT prophets.

    1. Tom Downs says:

      But why do you care? Perhaps you have never really left. There is room in the Episcopal Church for even such a sinner as you.

    2. William Flint says:

      I am glad that for most Christians in the world, they have grown out of institutional-ism and become part of the Jesus Movement. The scripture, especially the gospel, commands us to love each other as God so loves us. Kind of hard to love with so much hate in one’s heart: Don’t you think?

    3. Rainer says:

      What a shocking statement. I am rk and I love the Anglican Communion because I understood it to be inclussive as Jesus was inclussive. Do I now have to make the circle smaller and just love the Episcopalians? I do want to be inclusive!!! And that is what Jesus has called us to be. Fiducit.

    4. Denny Olmsted says:

      I understand your concern and your frustration. You are right that the Episcopal Church has chosen to ignore the admonitions of God regarding homosexuality as expressed in the Pentateuch, but then the Episcopal Church also renounces slavery and the unjust treatment of women that were so characteristic of the Old Testament in favor of the all-inclusive love preached by Christ. True Christians believe that God created all of us in His (Her) image, not just heterosexual males. We are all God’s children and we all belong in Christ’s church. Our vocation, our higher calling as Bishop Curry so aptly expressed it, is to continue to reach out to people everywhere to further the Jesus movement. Won’t you please reconsider and join us as we do so.

  2. The Rev. David Fulford says:

    God loves all people, even those who choose to close their minds and their hearts. The Episcopal church has not rejected the Lordship of Jesus Christ, but rather just the opposite by being open to all people who come to Christ with a faithful heart. The fundamental criteria for being a Christian is the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and accepting Him as your Lord and Savior. It is up to God to judge each and everyone of us, but it is up to us to spread the Gospel Jesus gave us. I say open the doors and let all of God’s children in, not just the ones some of us think are acceptable.

    1. Ivan Garcia says:

      Is you church’s concept faithful to the catholic and apostolic history/traditions of the Anglican Communion or are they man-woman made to satisfy each others whimsical appetites and caprices?

      1. Tom Downs says:

        I believe it is the former, but listening to the tone of your question I would encourage you to consider your own motives in asking it.

      2. David Veal says:

        History and Tradition teach us that it is vastly more important that we respond faithfully to the Spirit of God in our own time, than that we slavishly follow the letter of history and tradition.

        1. Doug Desper says:

          The point of contention, David, isn’t some dusty old habits called “tradition”. It is a wrangling over the very plain word of Scripture on this thing called “Marriage”. By the time of Jesus humanity had tried it all and called such creations a bond or relationship. Polygamy, marital slavery, and all other manner of human meddling had been applied to the original design in Genesis 2: “one man – one woman”.

          So, fast forward to Jesus Christ. If there was something to change would He have not signaled it? Would He have not been prophetic? It had all been tried and had been found wanting, so when asked, He said this about bonds and marriage:

          Jesus in Matthew 19:4,5 quoting directly from Genesis 2.

          The point of contention is what basis does a Christian make decisions. Do we start with human experience or with the plain word of Christ applied to our experience?

          I have wearied with the mixing of a dozen arguments, usually pulling at sensibilities, while ignoring this one fact. Jesus Christ spoke plainly on marriage. In the rear view mirror of His time He had seen humanity try all manner of human bonding, but He returned us…HIS CHURCH… back to Genesis 2. The point of contention is about the authority of this Church. It is about how General Convention had the power — but NOT the authority by Christ — to change HIS TEACHING on marriage. His teaching, in fact, was entirely omitted from the so-called Marriage “Study”.

          So, this isn’t about persecuting gays. It’s not about our walk as the descendants of black slaves. It’s not about being male. Or female.

          It’s about the authority recognized in this Church. Until a few General Conventions ago there was no question about marriage. In fact every Prayer Book and Catechism sides with the traditionalists on this. That’s because we used to — USED TO — live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. “HAVE YOU NOT READ…?” (Why, yes, Lord, but we have several editorial revisions to insert…).

          If any bishop, scholar, or otherwise daring person wishes to tell Our Lord that His teaching on Marriage is a dusty old tradition worth our meddling, then step forward now and say so publicly. Stop the diversion catch-phrases of “welcoming”, “persecution”, and all other manner of distraction. Tackle the point of contention: The Lord’s Authority.

          That’s what this is about, David.

          1. Evan Anderson says:

            I’m still listening, still praying for The Church, the whole, Anglican communion, God bless us all.

          2. Marc Kivel says:

            If Christ has an issue with some of his followers taking a more radically inclusive approach to the Gospel then I’ll simply throw myself on His mercy at Judgment knowing it will all work out.

  3. Selena Smith says:

    In the President of the House of Deputies letter there is much to affirm inclusion. I wonder how The Episcopal Church can include those 100,000 plus who used to be members and have left (“dones” or ACNA members or etc.) by what TEC has done or not done? Some articles and comments I have read suggest that TEC will now know the exclusion which LGBT people have felt, or the exclusion which conservatives have felt in being “excommunicated,” although TEC is still part of the Anglican Communion I don’t know what TEC will experience and if that will be similar. How instructive are pain, hurt, exclusion, abandonment? If I look at Jesus, then I see self-sacrificing love for all others (very inclusive) in the middle of pain, hurt, exclusion, and abandonment on the cross. Maybe more of that kind of love is what we in TEC have yet to learn and can learn and practice.

    1. Marc Kivel says:

      It’s one thing to be excluded and another to be exclusive, Selena. The Dones are done for a variety of personal reasons and it’s not my place to gainsay them. They should know that if in the future they feel they need a community of faith “we’ll leave the light on for ’em” as the ad goes.

      For the folks who have left due to High Church or Low Church ritual, minorities in positions of national church authority, womens’ ordination, the 79 Prayer Book, the 82 Hymnal, allowing out Gays and Lesbians to serve as clergy, the election of Gene Robinson, etc. I say that I can understand how you feel, I’ve actually always understood your positions, I simply do not agree with you and find that there are sufficient legitimate arguments countering yours that much of what we dispute may charitably be described as adiaphora. I don’t think any of it promotes or denigrates Christ’s Gospel and is of supreme indifference to true followers of Christ, as opposed to those who practice ecclesiolatry who feel that each and every “deviation” from what they hold to be normative is at best schismatic but more like heretical.

      We cannot, of course, rule out that those of us in TEC may in fact be mistaken – God alone knows. But that is the point: God alone knows what God’s justice AND mercy ultimately are…I simply don’t see that justice AND mercy ultimately reflected in the mirror of the Primates conclave or their directions to the other instruments of unity within the fractured Anglican Communion. Thoughts?

    2. Sophie Fields says:

      Nobody is asking them to leave TEC…nobody is kicking them out…sorry, I am not joining our pity party.

  4. Yohannon says:

    Funny, I thought only god can judge… the rest of us should unconditionally love and forgive.

    Or maybe I’m thinking of a different Bible and Christ?

  5. David Dixon says:

    What a shame! I predict that in three, or six, years the Anglican Church in America, ACA, will have full membership in the Anglican Communion, and the Episcopal Church only observer status. All because our leadership encouraged the culture wars to tear our church apart. Full status for ACA will certainly affect our attendance and finances. What must Samuel Seabury be thinking?

    1. Marc Kivel says:

      Well, you may be right. And perhaps if we no longer have to deal with internecine warfare we can focus on becoming closer with others, perhaps a full member of the Porvoo Communion, drawing closer with the Old Catholics worldwide and ELCA and Moravians domestically, serving as a co-developer of a worldwide federation of communions conforming to the Chicago Quadrilateral, and redirecting our focus toward broad coalitions radically responding to the needs of the world with the Gospel in action and word.

      1. Doug Desper says:

        Mark, we need to avoid the distracting issues and stick with the point of contention: biblical authority and the disobedience of this Province to Jesus’ teaching on marriage.

        The revisionists who currently make up the power base have little problem with altering Church doctrine and practice to fit misplaced notions of “making things right for our time”. That’s where the problem is. It’s not about how others aren’t in mission and we are. It’s not about how much more compassionate liberals are than others. It’s not about the Gospel in action through social justice. It’s not about the race card pulled in Canterbury where being a descendant of slaves (150 years later) counts as an achievement or special place of understanding. It’s not about how others feel unwelcome unless they get what they demand.
        All of the usual talking points passed out and repeated are not the matter at hand.

        It’s about whether Jesus is Lord of this Church and whether or not we obey His plain word. A lot of people — more than on this news site — are really bothered about how Jesus’ teaching on Marriage was erased by loud and demanding voices who equated their feelings to be the same as a Gospel imperative.

        1. David Dixon says:

          Doug I want to agree 100%, and add to your point.

          In 1971 I visited Virginia theological Seminary. MLK had been shot maybe four years earlier, and a rose colored understanding of the Episcopal Church and the civil rights movement was every where. It was an accepted truth that being an Episcopal priest was instant certification of a man as a leader to a more perfect world. They would all be a Bishop Tutu, without a guerrilla experience or prison. Christ was at best incidental to this glorious future; the important requirement was good intentions. So here we are 44 years later staring at the fruit of that understanding of vocation.

  6. Alice Smith says:

    Rev. Jennings it would be refreshing if you would use some Biblical references when you state your position. We are, after all, Christians. I haven’t seen a passage of Scripture used by the Epsicopal church in responses like this in as long as I can remember. It is very difficult to take responses like this seriously when we focus so much on hurt feelings instead of Biblical truths.

    1. Marc Kivel says:

      Perhaps, Alice, less Bibliolatry and more Gospel love would be a tonic for so many turning away from Christ because of the purists in the Church?

      1. Alice Smith says:

        Are you a Christian?

  7. Jeremy Bates says:

    Samuel Seabury is doubtless recalling that to be ordained bishop, he had to leave England and go up to Scotland.

    1. David Dixon says:

      I don’t recall the Scott’s being notoriously on one side or the other of this issue.

      My point was that with great faith, love of Church, and sacrifice Seabury ‘fathered’ the Episcopal church. Again, I predict that in less than ten years his church will be a mere shadow of its present diminished self, and I am very sad.

  8. Marc Kivel says:

    Laurel, I’m sure at least some of the folks at ACNA if not the Reform Episcopal Church would completely agree with you and I hope you find your god there…..praying for ya!

  9. Don Nicholson says:

    When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem for the census they knocked at the door of the inn and the innkeeper said “There’s no room for you.” We Episcopalians have just met the innkeeper. But Mary and Joseph made do and survived and so will we. And the time will surely come when Jesus’s true voice will be heard and light will dawn

  10. Tom Gaudet says:

    Although painful for everyone involved, it is so exciting to see the fire of the Spirit making a mess in the Anglican Communion and TEC. Crosses being carried, know-it-alls choosing to draw boundaries and close doors, while loving spirits are willing to open the doors and dissolve boundaries. Make no mistake, the Spirit will carry the day. It seems the Lord could not have provided a better opportunity for all to empty themselves of ego and all its trappings. Contemplative discernment and silence are called for here on all sides. I pray that everyone in the Anglican Communion and TEC will be blessed with the grace of listening and responding in love and mercy, without judgment, but in true love of neighbor…which is always a lifetime endeavor of growth. It’s time to remind ourselves that we are made in the image and likeness of God; God is certainly not made in our image, as much as many of us would just love that! And let’s not forget that God’s ways are not always our own. Just when you think you got God all figured out, think again! Peace and blessings to all!

  11. Frederick Bainhauer III says:

    Crossing the Tiber is also an option. The Ordinate is there. There is also enough room in America for two Anglican jurisdictions. Seminaries could be shared. In Pennsylvania the UCC and ELCA share many parishes.

  12. William Burgess says:

    Really? In what century do you live? I pray that you find deliverance from your 19th century thoughts. I think you must fail to see the true teachings of Christ. He loved us all, regardless of who we were, are and how we choose to live our lives. It is very simple to me. No politics involved. Go back to simple faith. He loved us. He died for us.

  13. stephen barden says:

    I would like to know if anyone can point me to the procedures in the Anglican Communion for changing a doctrine like marriage. If, as I read Point 5 in the Primates report implies, these procedures were not followed, then shouldn’t the next course of action be to repair the rift by complying with those procedures? And if the procedures were followed, or do not exist, shouldn’t that be asserted as a basis for disregarding the Primates Report entirely?

    The Diocese seems to have little problem putting the “Mission status” on parishes that fail to meet their financial obligations to the Diocese. It seems to me that there are far more similarities to that with respect to the Primates report than there are differences. And if we conscience the imposition of Mission status on parishes struggling in these economic times, why is there resistance to take heed of the Primates’ action?

  14. William A. Flint, PhD says:

    The older I grow, the wiser I get. What happened at Canterbury was simply a power play, both by the Global South and the ACNA (which is a part of the same). The United Methodist also feel the stress of dealing with the Global South in their society. The Church is not equally yoked together. While some are drinking milk, others are eating meat, and the Apostle Paul speaks extensively to that situation.
    I am humbled at the stance TEC has taken. It has taken the Holy Spirit over 2,000 years to bring the full acceptance of all God’s children into one body, most definitively, the Body of Christ. There are many spiritual babies still in the world. I am glad God has given us a few spiritual adults to care for them.
    I have spent my life studying the Scriptures, the history of the church and sacred theology to learn this lesson: God is God and God can save whom He wants. God is not like us in mind, body or spirit. We should be humbled to be allowed to be a part of His Body of Christ. Judgment belongs to Him and to Him alone. Thanks Be To God.
    I like you, have sinned and do sin every day. However, I trust in Jesus to be Lord and that may well be the difference in the Global South including ACNA and TEC. (You think?)

  15. Selena Smith says:

    “We’ll leave the light on for ’em” from an overnight accommodation ad sounds more like sarcasm and therefore a gainsay upon folks who consider themselves “done.”

    And I don’t think that who leads and how one leads, and whom and how one loves are “adiaphora” (things that do not matter that much or are not of substance and can vary) if one looks at how Christ led and whom he called to lead, and how he loved. And “every deviation” from what they hold as normative sounds strange since TEC in missionary endeavors taught well about what comprises marriage according to Scripture (normative). So since TEC changed the marriage canon in 2015, the rest of the Communion should step up and get up to speed to where TEC is now regarding marriage compared to where TEC was 40-50 years ago? Then why be in a Communion if there is only one part of the Communion whom all the rest should simply follow like in the Roman Catholic Church for example where there is a Pope. TEC becoming the Anglican Communion’s Pope? Not even the Archbishop of Canterbury would claim to have that role.
    Besides God’s justice and mercy, the discussion is also about Scripture, authority and power from God and their place in our Church structure’s life and our individual lives.

  16. I think it a good idea to address this by backing up — maybe 3 years is not so bad — and review where others confirmed in Anglican Christianity are regarding the ordination of women.
    Surely all know that closeted homosexuals have been ordained, in tha Anglican as well as Roman and probably Greek and Coptic, Southern Baptist and many homosexual tabooing Independent Mega and Mini Christian churches. Once we sort out that God is sexless, we may move forward together.
    And it might be helpful to admit that Americans err toward unilateralism via cultural imprint of exceptionalism and, to be honest, heirs to the English mantle of imperialism wedded the genesis of the world’s Anglican bodies whose Primates recently convened.

  17. Donna Madison says:

    There is scripture regarding marriage, but there is no scripture condemning homosexuality. The concept of “homosexuality” and “heterosexually” did not exit until the 19th century. Certainly, there were same-sex relationships, but the concept that a percentage of the population, biologically attracted from birth only to persons of their same gender, was simply unknown. Remember, in those days people believed that mental illness was demon possession just as they believed the earth was flat. Today, we do recognize the existence of homosexuality, and the view that it is a “choice” was laid to rest by the scientific community some 40 years ago. Accordingly, we have to accept the facts. 1) Homosexuality occurs in nature, particularly among mammals. 2) If homosexuality is not a choice, then God made it. 3) If it was a big deal to Jesus, he never mentioned it outright, and it cannot be gleaned from his comments on marriage. 4) Conversely, Jesus was quite clear on divorce, as was Paul on the role of women and slaves; yet, today, we believe that inclusion extends to divorced people and women, and we are no longer tolerant of slavery. Jesus’ words and actions denounced all the prejudices that existed in his time, and I have no doubt that he would denounce today’s prejudices and continue hanging out with the “outcasts”. BTW, I am a 63 year-old resident of a very red state, and I am proud of my Church for its continued efforts to understand and apply the teachings of Jesus Christ, despite public opinion.

    1. stephen barden esq. says:

      1. I’m not sure arguments grounded in animal behavior have much place in a discussion of the moral, liturgical and theological positions and struggles of an historical religion.

      2. Even assuming “God made it” that doesn’t necessarily mean that acting on homosexual (inclination?) is correct. God made some rather inclined toward addictive behavior, most people think that that’s just that person’s cross to bear. The same is also frequently said about people born with developmental defects.

      3. Jesus didn’t say a lot of things. There were many writings about Jesus and the Disciples that were excluded from the canon at Nicea. Even including all of them, leaves many gaps of things unsaid. What is Jesus’ position on currency manipulation? Global Climate Change? Genetically Modified Organisms? In Vitro Fertilization? Keeping embryos frozen for decades? Bluffing in foreign policy to avert greater calamity? Intellectual property?

      4. While the Bible and many of the Church Fathers were quite pro-slavery, correct me if I’m wrong but is there any passage that compels a person to keep slaves? If not, then slavery is a permissive activity rather than a required one.

      For my part, I believe that any human’s understanding of the nature of God is flawed. I do believe that it is not possible to both believe in a good God and believe that the Covenant between God and Israel is a dead letter. While I cannot, myself claim to be a child of Israel, I’m not sure the so-called “Old Testament” can be so cavalierly dismissed.

      Much of the pain and angst over these issues could have be averted if the Episcopal Church had complied with the standards for changing liturgy and theology starting with Hooker and enshrined in the canon law.

  18. Stewart David Wigdor says:

    The Cathedral is the most Romantic of places and celebrates the meeting of all Faiths to know the Son of God.
    A lover can take you from the world you know to a place of beauty and splendor beyond your imagination.
    A lover can show you the world you think is real, is an illusion for you to find your God and enter Divine Heaven.
    A lover can make love to you in the world til love is all the reality you live in.
    The lover of God is the hope of all of us.

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