An open letter to the clergy of the Diocese of Maine
January 20, 2016
Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
I’m sure you are all aware of the recent meeting of the Primates in Canterbury, England, and the expressed desire of a majority of the Primates that The Episcopal Church be excluded from certain meetings and decisions for three years. I did not write a statement at the time because I felt that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s short video said all that needed to be said. I write now in response to inquiries I have received.
There are questions in many quarters about whether or not this decision of the Primates is within their authority. (See links below.) My own view is that the Primates have exceeded their authority. But it may be that the Anglican Consultative Council, meeting in April, will agree with the Primates that our church needs to take a time out. The Episcopal Church will participate fully in that meeting, and I am content to wait and see what happens.
What I’d like to talk with you about for a few moments is vocation. It is my view that, since the Fires of Smithfield, it has been the vocation of the Anglican Church to ask, “Who belongs at the table?” The answer, imperfectly and sometimes painfully wrought, has always been everyone. Protestant and Catholic, High Church, Low Church, and Broad Church, people of all races and colors, men and women alike – all belong at the table.
In this country, we’ve continued in that vocation. We’ve asked the questions of race and culture and, more recently, of human sexuality. And we have determined through more than forty years of conversation and reflection that gays and lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons all belong at the table. Members of The Episcopal Church in Maine have been leaders in that conversation. Our position is a scriptural one: All who are baptized into Christ are full members of the body. In Christ all are one. (Galatians 3:27-28) And in Christ, all have the right to the sacraments of the church and all are expected to live Christ-like lives. For me, the issue of marriage equality has never been about civil rights or equality, but about baptismal rights and responsibilities. As Desmond Tutu is fond of saying, “All means all.”
I grew up during the Civil Rights era, and one of things I learned from that time is that advancing rights, moving ahead of social, civil norms and religious norms, has a cost. People may not like what you’re doing. They may hold you accountable to unjust laws. Part of the vocation of seeking baptismal equality is peacefully holding firm in the midst of rancor, rejection and punishment. I believe we are being asked to exercise this part of our vocation.
I want to be clear that nothing has changed in either The Episcopal Church or the Diocese of Maine. LGBT persons are full members of the body of Christ and full members of The Episcopal Church. We will uphold marriage equality here and throughout The Episcopal Church. We will continue to work with our Anglican Communion partners in mission and ministry. We will offer our gifts, even if, in some quarters, our gifts are rejected. And we will engage one and all in peaceful conversation about the issues of the day, loving even our enemies. It may be that their hearts – and ours – will be moved.
This comes to you with my thanksgiving for your ministries and for all you do in your communities. God bless your work. In this season of light, may Christ be manifest in you, that your lives may be a light to the world.
The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane
Bishop of Maine