Last week, a group of leaders in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) released an open letter to gay Anglicans. It followed on the heels of the ACNA’s recent “pastoral statement” on human sexuality, which I wrote about last month, where the ACNA College of Bishops stated that gay people must not only stop using the term “gay Christian” but must also stop using the term “same-sex attracted Christian” and, instead, only refer to themselves as “Christians who experience same-sex attraction.”
It was an unhelpful statement to say the least. Most gay people I know were dismayed by its disregard for their needs and its almost Orwellian efforts to control their language.
In response, the “Dear Gay Anglicans” open letter (see screenshots at the end of this article) was a good faith effort to repair some of the damage caused by the ACNA statement by reaching out to gay people in the Anglican church. The letter affirmed traditional sexual ethics but didn’t dwell there. Instead, it focused on confessing the sins of the Anglican church toward gay people, and it committed to taking “practical steps to become churches where gay Anglicans can share all of their story, find community, and seek support.”
But the letter had barely been out for a day before the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh shut it down.
“Many of our bishops, and rightly so, feel this is an attempt to undermine our roles as guardians of the Faith and teachers of the doctrine of the Church,” said ACNA archbishop Foley Beach. Anglican Church of Nigeria bishop Henry Ndukuba said, “The deadly ‘virus’ of homosexuality has infiltrated ACNA.” “A Gay is a Gay,” he also said, comparing the concept of a gay Christian to the concept of a “Christian murderer” or a “Christian terrorist,” among other comparisons.
Archbishop Foley seemed to get defensive, suggesting that the signatories of “Dear Gay Anglicans” didn’t appreciate all the hard work he had put into the ACNA’s statement. “We literally spent over a year wrestling with this in response to questions and concerns we have been receiving from all over the province,” he said, insisting that the statement is an “excellent document” and that the open letter was an “in your face” challenge.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh asked for the letter’s removal within hours of its release online, and in a remarkable display of submission to the diocese—which speaks to the good faith of those involved in this letter—Pieter Valk acquiesced and removed it from the website, preventing any further signatories.
Just what exactly did the “Dear Gay Anglicans” letter say to elicit all this drama?
Many are seeking to frame it as some kind of homosexual coup of ACNA authority. It’s important to understand that it’s anything but. In fact, most of the letter affirms the ACNA’s pastoral statement on human sexuality, repeatedly thanking the College of Bishops for its thoughtfulness and care. Further, the opening paragraph explicitly affirms traditional sexual ethics, and the rest of the letter almost entirely consists of re-emphasizing points in the ACNA’s pastoral statement.
So the question is, what’s the big deal?
The issue boils down to this one section right here:
“We recognize the various arguments for and against using the phrases same-sex attraction and gay Christian. In the words of the Provincial Statement, ‘neither of the identifying phrases is ideal,’ universally understood, or free of baggage. While spirit-filled Christians disagree about the wisest language for sexual minorities to use to describe themselves, we echo the Provincial Statement’s respect for ‘those within our ACNA family who may disagree with our conclusions and yet remain true to the biblical witness.’ We commit to supporting gay/same-sex attracted Anglicans as they discern before God, in Scripture, and with trusted friends and family the best ways to testify faithfully to God’s goodness in that part of their story. Nor do either of these phrases affect our identity in Christ. As the ACNA Catechism states, faith in Christ signaled by baptism is all that is required to be securely in Christ and to have one’s identity in Christ (ACNA Catechism, Q12 & 14).
We commit to take practical steps to become churches where gay Anglicans can share all of their story, find community, and seek support.”
That’s it. That’s the debate that will apparently tear the Anglican Church of North America asunder—a group of Anglicans daring to say that they will support gay and/or same-sex attracted people as they discern “the best ways to testify faithfully to God’s goodness” in their lives; a group of Anglicans choosing “not to quarrel about words” (2 Tim. 2:14) and, instead, support gay and/or same-sex attracted people regardless of the language they use.
Yes, the argument boils down to the fact that a group of Anglicans happen to be okay with sexual minorities who call themselves gay and/or same-sex attracted.
For Archbishop Foley, the mere fact that the letter was addressed to “gay Anglicans” at all was a step too far: “Replacing ‘gay Christian’ with ‘gay Anglican’ is pretty much in your face,” Foley said, insinuating that the signatories were intentionally trying to stir up trouble. One can’t help but wonder how Foley would address a letter to gay people in the Anglican church in the first place. Does Foley believe they don’t exist? Would he rather say, “Dear Anglicans who experience same-sex attraction”?
The point of the letter was to reach gay identified Anglicans. Addressing the letter to “Anglicans who experience same-sex attraction” would be pointless. Are gay people such a bogeyman to the ACNA that people can’t even write letters to them without facing discipline?
Ironically, Foley breaks his own rule: “Let’s remember that we have a large number of same-sex attracted individuals who have come to the ACNA specifically because of our stand for Biblical morality.” Take a look at that sentence again. Foley says that the ACNA has a large number of “same-sex attracted individuals,” but the ACNA believes that gay people shouldn’t call themselves “same-sex attracted.” To do so is to identify with sinful attractions, or so the pastoral statement reads.
But even Foley himself can’t follow his own prescriptions. Unless perhaps it’s okay to call yourself a “same-sex attracted individual” as long as you don’t call yourself a “same-sex attracted Christian.” Honestly, there’s no end in sight to how ridiculous and convoluted these expectations will get.
The greatest irony of all is that the ACNA pastoral statement actually states explicitly that they seek to “respect those within our ACNA family who may disagree with our conclusions [regarding language] and yet remain true to the biblical witness regarding Christian marriage.”
Those are the words of the ACNA College of Bishops. But when push came to shove and they actually had a chance to express the respect they claim to have for those within their ACNA family who disagree with their conclusions about language, they instead shut down the conversation and claimed they were being attacked.
But there was no attack here. The signatories of “Dear Gay Anglicans” acted in good faith upon the promise of mutual respect offered by the College of Bishops. That respect was nowhere to be seen in reactions to the letter.
If anything, all the drama in the past week over “Dear Gay Anglicans” getting banned from the ACNA has made one thing clear: the ACNA is afraid of gay people. So afraid, that they can’t even allow letters to be written to gay people. So afraid, that they can’t even stomach the idea of acknowledging the existence of gay-identified people in the ACNA. So afraid, that they can’t even make good on their promise to respect those whose language might differ from their own.
“Some think this is going to break the ACNA apart,” Foley said. If it does, let’s be clear on the cause. It won’t be the existence of gay people in the ACNA that tears the church apart. It will be homophobia, plain and simple.
Full text of the letter: