SEPTEMBER 10, 2018 ---
LETTER TO THIS EDITOR
It is Monday, 10 September. As everyone keeps a wary eye on Hurricane Florence churning out in the Atlantic and presently headed for the Carolinas, we are still dealing with another storm in Carolina, an exceedingly long-lasting and disruptive one, the Episcopal Church schism. Next month will mark six years of this tumult. It must seem never-ending to many people.
Today we have another great letter to this editor. Recently, Steve Skardon posted on scepiscopalians a long and thoughtful response to Penn Hagood's letter to St. Philip's Church, Charleston. Find Skardon's letter here . If you have not read Skardon's letter, you should. Hagood, the senior warden, had written a four-page, detailed letter to the parish last July in response to Bishop Adams's conversations of reconciliation. It is mostly a rehashing of her diocesan leaders' talking points for rejecting reconciliation. It is worth a read. Find it here .
Now we have a second long and thoughtful response to Hagood. It comes from Wayne Helmly, a communicant of St. Stephen's, of Ansonboro, Charleston:
September 9, 2018
Dear Ms. Hagood:
I read the letter that you recently wrote to the congregants of St. Philip's with great sadness, and it's weighed on my heart for several days.
Respectfully, I offer here another perspective. I am not writing to argue, rather to let you know that I do not believe that The Episcopal Church is the Antichrist, as some of you portray us to be. And that characterization is hurtful.
First, Let us acknowledge the "elephant in the room" that your letter seems to ignore: The attempted schism started because of the inclusion of LGBT Christians in positions of leadership in The Episcopal Church. Period. Full Stop.
Over the past several years, I've had opportunities to speak with many Episcopalians in South Carolina who admitted that they were initially willing to listen to the concerns of former Bishop Lawrence and his followers that acceptance of the LGBT community in church leadership was incompatible with Scripture and Christian teaching. After all, he was our bishop, our spiritual leader.
But then some of those undecided fence sitters started taking a closer look. Some found that this characterization of scripture often lacked the power of Christ's Greatest Commandment: "to love [our] neighbors as [ourselves]."
From the beginning, former Bishop Lawrence proclaimed that The Episcopal Church's inclusion of the LGBT community in leadership presented "a false gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity."
The suggestion that "indiscriminate inclusivity" was antithetical to Christ's teaching did not ring true for some of us. Scriptural accounts of the life of Jesus demonstrate that no one practiced "indiscriminate inclusivity" more than He! Just ask the lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, that ragtag group of imperfect disciples, and a host of others.
Some of us thought of the story of the Ethopian eunuch in the Book of Acts. By any account, the eunuch was a sexual minority, unmistakably kin to transgender people. Deuteronomy strictly forbade eunuchs from the temple. Yet Jesus went out of his way to say that some eunuchs are born that way and some ar made that way (see Matthew 19:12). Furthermore, he did not condemn or banish them, adding that he was well aware that some would struggle to accept this teaching. Perhaps the apostle Philip remembered this when he made the Ethopian eunuch the first Gentile convert to Christianity (see Acts 8).
Besides, the undecideds and fence sitters noticed that "indiscriminate inclusivity" was sometimes present in The Diocese of South Carolina. For example, despite Jesus' clear teaching in scripture on divorce and remarriage, the diocese allows it, even among priests and deacons.
Even with clear scriptural admonitions to the contrary, members of The Diocese of South Carolina eat shellfish and pork, some men grow their hair a little long and women are allowed to cut their hair, no church leaders have been ousted for mixing fabrics in their attire, and one certainly does not see very many selling everything and giving the proceeds to the poor.
While rejoicing in the generous pastoral acceptance of those who fall short in these areas (and who doesn't?), some of us began to wonder if the war on the LGBT community was not a bit hypocritical. And was what seemed to be the cherry-picking of scripture to justify prejudices, especially towards our transgender siblings, really "loving our neighbors as ourselves?"
We also asked: Why was the LGBT community singled out like this? Didn't St. Paul say that there was neither "male or female," but that we are all "one in Christ," that God showed no partiality and that we had all sinned and fallen short? And because of this no one was righteous and there was no degree of sin?
And what about grace? Were we not all sinners in need of forgiveness and God's grace? Do not the first three chapters of Romans warn about the hypocritical self-righteousness of those who pass judgment on some considered unworthy, in that case the Gentiles? And where would most Episcopalians be now if Gentiles were still excluded from he faith, as they were in early Christianity?
In light of this, it appeared to some of us that there is clearly precedent for the Christian community, in light of Christ's Greatest Commandment, to evolve on who/what is accepted. So some Episcopalians in South Carolina came to the conclusion that to be "indiscriminately inclusive" of the LGBT community is one way to love our neighbor as ourselves.
You seem to suggest in your letter that The Episcopal Church is not Biblical. But today at St. Stephen's, Charleston, we heard in the Epistle lesson,
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itslef, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:13-17).
Our rector reminded us in his sermon that those "works" of ours must minister not just to the materially poor, as important as that is, but also to the "poor in spirit" that Jesus talks about in the book of Matthew.
Many of us view ministry to the LGBT community and other marginalized people as a way to feed the "poor in spirit," a means to spiritually nourish those who have been marginalized by the Church.
So, Ms. Hogood, I believe you mischaracterize us when you say that we do not beleive that Scripture has authority. To the contrary, just like you and many other Christians, we are striving towards better living into Biblical teachings everyday. And part of that, for many of us, is the practicing of "indiscriminate inclusivity" of the LGBT community.
Despite some of us feeling that we are unfairly maligned, most Episcopalians do not hold animus towards you. Please remember that former Bishop Lawrence and the former diocesan Standing Committee first sued The Episcopal Church; it was not the other way round. No one from The Episcopal Church came after you or your buildings.
In fact, some of us feel that you came after US. From some of our perspectives, first, foremost, and always millions of dollars were spent in an attempt to exclude LGBT Christians from living into what we believe are God-given ministries and vocations. That exclusion was not acceptable then, nor is it now, nor will it ever be again. Thanks be to God, those days are gone.
In closing, please know that I pray daily about this whole painful ordeal. I do believe that The Episcopal Church is big enough for all of us, including the LGBT community, and those, like St. Philip's, who choose to leave. I hope and pray that St. Philip's and all of your sister parishes can get back to the furtherance of God's kingdom very soon.
I do not believe that The Episcopal Church is your enemy. Like you, we are Christian people trying to live into Scripture, our baptismal vows, the Creeds, the Book of Common Prayer, and the inspiration of The Holy Spirit by striving to love our neighbors as ourselves.
By the way, St. Stephen's is hosting a Community Interfaith PRIDE service next Sunday at 5 pm. All are welcome!
Thank you for reading this.
Many thanks to Helmly for contributing this wonderful letter.
Hagood's hefty letter has prompted some thoughtful responses. What do you think, for or against the Hagood missive? Send me your thoughts via the email address above. We need to hear from you. Your words count just as much as anyone's.