Heard Around the World: An Open Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury

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Dear Most Reverend Sir,

I greet you in the loving name of our Courageous Lord and Reigning Savior, Jesus Christ. I hail from the Diocese of West Missouri of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. I write you this letter in response to your recent comments regarding marriage equality and its place in the Anglican Church (of which, as you know, the Episcopal Church is a part). More specifically, I write this letter in response to your comments regarding the effect that the American Church’s stance on marriage equality has had on Christians in Africa.

In your recent LBC radio interview, a woman inquired as to why the issue of marriage equality wasn’t being left up to the “consciences” of individual clergy the same way that remarriage after divorce was a few decades ago. In response you made a statement that I want to use as the thesis of this letter. You said “what we say here is heard around the world.” Most Reverend Sir, there are some who will lambaste this comment as egocentric at best, or the dying vestige of a Church struggling to identify itself after the death of the British empire at worst. As a scholar of precolonial West African history, I could use this as the locus of my argument against your comments, but I will not.

Instead, I’ll actually agree with you, but from a different angle. I don’t believe that the majority of the world is waiting with baited breath to see what riveting spirituality is coming from Lambeth. Rome? Maybe. Lambeth? Probably not. Before becoming an Episcopalian, I couldn’t have even told you where Lambeth was.

But I do believe that when a group of people choose to act on courageous love and death-defying faith, that is heard around the world. I’m too much of a student of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American Civil Rights Movement to think and believe otherwise. When Dr. King arrived in Montgomery, Alabama to organize the bus boycott, he was fully aware that his presence would cause hardship for those African Americans who lived there and throughout the South. But he still showed up. He still organized. He still marched. If he had let hardship and the “shadow of death” deter him, Most Reverend Sir, there’s a good chance that I, an African American, would still live in a nation where segregation is the law of the land. Dr. King, dared to love courageously.

I understand that being British, your cultural and spiritual ties to Dr. King don’t run as deeply as mine, so I’ll appeal to a common courageous lover that both you and I have an affinity for – Jesus Christ. He too arrived with a message that wasn’t very popular. “Love God,” he said, “and love your neighbor.” He went around Roman occupied Judea and dared to preach and teach about another kingdom where love and justice, not oppression and inequality, ruled the day. It was a message and a ministry that ultimately got he and his apostles killed. Yet, when faced with the reality of the pain of the cross, our Lord said “thy will be done.”

It seems to me, Most Reverend Sir, that your most recent comments essentially blaming the American Church for the death of African Christians are couched in cowardice, not Christian courage. Rather than looking to our Lord as an exemplar of courage, it seems to me that you have chosen to allow terrorists to dictate the practice and ministry of the Church. If they can dictate this then what is next? Shall we go back to men only in Holy Orders because to ordain women would upset some sacrosanct cultural paradigm? Is the Church not supposed to be the group of people found guilty of “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) for the sake of the Gospel?

Perhaps the most telling part of your interview was where you stated that you had “hesitations” about whether marriage equality and scripture could coexist in the Church of England. Herein lies the crux of the whole argument. As with most well-meaning Christians, you appeal to scripture and the traditions of the Church when they suit your cause, but depart from them when you deem it necessary. For example, you hesitate when it comes to affirming marriage equality, but affirm female bishops within the Church of England, though the plain letter of scripture suggests in 1 Timothy 2:12 that women shouldn’t teach in Church nor hold authority over a man. Funny thing, that scripture.

Most Reverend Sir, I do believe you to be a pious and good Christian whose conscience is truly vexed by this situation. But, I also believe that in the face of evil and injustice, you have chosen to respond from a place of fear rather than faith. In a time where the world is starved for prophetic and loving actions, you have chosen to take the light of the Church and hide it under a basket. Might I suggest, Most Reverend Sir, another way forward.

I had a professor in seminary who told me that “real ministry leads ultimately to the cross.” Might I suggest that the way forward is through the cross. That thing that you wear around your neck isn’t a “good idea” or some ancient, twisted “marketing-strategy-gone-wrong.” It’s our calling. It’s our destiny. There is no Easter without Good Friday; no resurrection without death. Maybe years of “Christendom” and imperialistic Christianity have diluted this message. Maybe that’s the reason so many in our world today can so easily walk away from the faith – it promised them everything without asking them for anything in return. Faith that asks for nothing in return is not faith, but a phantasm or a fantasy. That, as I’m sure you know is not the faith of the martyrs; that is not the faith of our Lord. I believe that it is through courage that the Church shall be reborn. It will be because women and men were willing to lose their lives, not preserve their lives, for the Gospel’s sake that we will experience the resurrection that is going to accompany this protracted Calvary voyage. Was it not St. Ignatius who reported to have said while he was a waiting by is own martyrdom “My birth is imminent. Forgive me, brethren. Do not prevent me from coming to life”? The time has come for the Church to come to life.

What Jesus’ interaction with the cross teaches me is that courageous love is possible, and even necessary, in the face of such vehement hatred and evil. Moreover, his triumphant victory over the death of the cross teaches me that ultimately it is courageous love that wins in the end. I’m sorry that we live in a world where evil is still present, where we must choose daily to persevere against such evil, and where too often lives are lost at the hands of such evil; but, the lesson of the cross is this – evil may win the day, but the victory belongs to God.

If you are truly grief-stricken over the possibility that affirming marriage equality in England will bode negatively for Christians in Africa, I encourage you to look at this through the eyes of courage, not cowardice. Look injustice square in the face and dare to preach courageous love until “Justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Declare to Pharaoh “let my people go,” and if he rebuttals with “more bricks without straw,” still choose justice. Stand up for the least, the lost, and left out and let the God of the Oppressed, the same one who subjugated mighty Pharaoh, fight the battle.

But, if you are still unconvinced that marriage equality has a place in the Church [of England], then say that. Own the truth of your struggle without scapegoating and blaming others. Say that scripture teaches that marriage is between “a man and a woman” and, in addition to pointing out how you’re wrong, I will thank God that you have no canonical authority here.

It is true that we live in a community, Most Reverend Sir, and we are called to care for one another; and it precisely because we live in community that we are called to walk in courageous love. You stood by the graves of hundreds of martyrs who you say were killed because marriage equality is being embraced in America. You mentioned how that image has seared its way into your soul. I’m so deeply sorry that you have had that experience, but clergy throughout the world stand by while the souls of faithful LGBTQ Christians continue to be martyred by a Church who continues to pay only lip service to justice and mercy, a Church who keeps saying “wait” and “listen” and “discern” and with each passing day slips further and further past the point of irrelevancy. At some point the Church has to choose to be courageous or it shall cease to be the Church at all.

What we say here is heard around the world. We can either speak a word of fear or a word of faith. Frankly, Most Reverend Sir, the world has had enough fear. Choose faith.

Signed,
The Reverend Marcus Halley, a servant of Jesus Christ.

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49 thoughts on “Heard Around the World: An Open Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury

  1. Marcus,
    This is an astoundingly courageous and well crafted letter. It takes a person of deep conviction to marshal those words and release them…not only to their intended recipient, but to the “world at large.” Thank you for this…not simply because I agree with you…but even more for its honesty and integrity. With tears of gratitude and love as a brother, Fred Mann

  2. I have just come across your blog for the first time and at some point I will be going into your archives. I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your message to the Archbishop and how full of the spirit you seem to be. I find these days that many priests don’t mention Jesus Christ as often as you would expect them to. I’m not on Twitter and I don’t see another way to follow you but since we’re both on WordPress, I can probably figure it out. My blog, The Moral Universe, is about the eroding of civil rights in this country. God bless you from another servant of Jesus Christ.

    1. Cynthia, what you point out regarding priests not mentioning Jesus Christ as often as one would expect is unfortunate. For me, Jesus is the crux (pun intended) of everything I do. It is “in him that [I] live, move, and have [my] being.” My relationship to God through Christ is the impetus of the prophetic ministry that God has called me to. Pax +

  3. I am all for equality, but Katherine Jefferts Schori does not believe in Jesus as God and is basically doing everything she can to undermine the doctrine of the church. Mind you I am a progressive democrat, but I really think she uses the ‘gay’ issues as a front, because our church is being torn apart by a hate filled agenda by her administration and it breaks my heart.

    1. I agree that is unfortunate that the Church is being torn down by any issue whatsoever, particularly because Christ’s desire for us is to be “one” as “he and the Creator are one.” This is my daily prayer – teach us to be one. Pax +

  4. If I had heard words such as yours so many years ago when I decided to stop attending Catholic Mass, I would have stopped dead in my tracks to reconsider. Thank you for your passion, your eloquence and your courage in speaking out against injustice. In our small-ish western town (Bozeman, Montana), we are debating a non-discrimination ordinance that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT persons. The most vociferous voices are from fundamentalist Christians who seek to use their exercise of “religious freedom” as a reason to discriminate. They have forgotten about Jesus’ staunch support of the less privileged and those who were ostracized by conventional society. Thank you for reminding me of that.

    1. Jesus’ call to love is the essence of the entire Bible. We forget that too often. It grieves my heart when the faith that I hold so dear is used to sanction hate or ignorance in any form. Pax +

    1. I tweeted it to him earlier. Not sure if he checks his own tweets, but it’s right there waiting for him. 🙂 Pax +

      1. Electronic communication is so ephemeral. This calls for a real letter, on nice paper, with a real signature in blue ink. Hand addressed on the envelope.

  5. Thanks for this fine piece, Fr. Marcus. Now, if the ABC will only read it. He still doesn’t get it.

  6. Thanks for you measured tone and insightful wisdom, I hope the Archbishop reads it and it makes him think. Injustice can never be defeated by giving in to greater injustice, Christians have always been persecuted and often martyred for standing on the side of justice, as Jesus taught us.

  7. Wow!! Thank you for your courage and witness! I performed my first “legal” same sex marriage on Sunday – what a beautiful it is! Time for the ABC to stop hiding behind the cross or using it as a shield and not as a proclamation of life and love.

  8. As an Anglican, this eloquent letter addresses the Anglican Church’s and Archbishop of Canterbury’s fence-sitting and accommodations, in order not to offend the $ crowd and the growing evangelical wing (Read: Homophobic) of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Thank you Rev. Marcus Halley.

  9. A message to you from an Anglican priest in Australia – I am proud to be your brother in Christ. Thank you for your eloquent and passionate stand for justice and love, the heart of the Gospel of Jesus.

  10. The Bible is not the Word of God. Jesus is the Word of God. the Bible is an editorial review. The End of Time has already occurred for followers of the Word that is Jesus. It happen on Good Friday and Eternity began on Resurrection Day! Basically if you understand these two facts you are in a good position to refute the bullshit that is counterfeit evangelical American “christianity” and see the anorexia that is consumerist deism that passes for its opposite in much of the mainline Protestant Church!

    1. I had a New Testament Professor who told me “Jesus is the Word of God, the Bible is just Commentary.” Sounds similar. Pax +

  11. From the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: Jesus Christ is the Living and Abiding Word of God, read in scripture, poured out in baptism, eaten and drunk in the Holy Communion. Write/right on, Fr. Marcus.

  12. Wonderful letter – and Archbishop Justin is silent on too many issues, to be honest. It takes the Anglican province of South Africa, and it’s Cape Town Cathedral Dean, Micheal Weeder to condemn Uganda Archbishop Stanley Ntigali over the ‘wicked’ treatment of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo over his continuing ministry amongst the embattled LGBT community there… But why should it need the courageous stand of Cape Town’s Dean in taking another Anglican province to task? It should be Archbishop Justin condemning the Ugandan church for its unchristian and un Christ-like actions…

    1. This quote from Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail is one of my favorites:

      “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

      Pax +

  13. Thank you, Father Marcus, for your willingness to “believe out loud”. I am a cradle Episcopalian and a very proud mother of three sons, two who happened to be born gay. Your voice is greatly appreciated and I will hold you in my heart – along with Bishop Gene Robinson, Bishop Michael Curry, and my parish clergy who’s wisdom and bravery helped inform and support our family in the most fundamental way. Peace and blessings to you!

  14. Marcus, what a blessing you are to the Church. Thank you for sharing your passion. I hope to visit with you one day when you “drop by” All Saints in Gastonia. Blessings!

    1. Father Gary! Hello. I plan to one day really soon, even if it’s not on a Sunday. I’ll shoot you an e-mail. Pax +

  15. As a rather new Episcopalian, (convert from Roman Catholicism), I think that the fact that we are even have a public discussion about this issue is a blessing! The openness of the Episcopal Church is like a breath of fresh air. We take Isaiah seriously: “come let us reason together.” Let us continue to talk and to pray and to reason about those things we say out loud. I pray in love for all who are struggling with this issue.

    1. That’s what drew me into the Episcopalian fold from my Baptist background – Theology as a communal activity. Welcome! Pax +

  16. Hello Father Marcus,

    I am not a Christian, and I do serve a Buddhist Community that is based in Kansas City, MO but is world wide in its scope. We are also striving to deliver a similar message of love and acceptance as well. Many of our members throughout the world come from various Christian Backgrounds, and I assure you their voices and my voice harmonizes in unison with yours.

    Your thoughtful letter avoids the pitfalls of our modern age, by falling into a world of opposites that only poses us against one another. I pray for an open dialog with the Arch-Bishop, as my dearly departed Irish mother was a member of the Anglican Faith for her entire life and she shared your sentiment of openness and acceptance,. Thank your for your courageousness.

    Ven. Dr. Wonji Dharma

  17. Thank you. This is a really clear and important counter argument to the ABCs emotive stuff about standing by graves of persecuted Christians and suggesting, without any real evidence, that such killings are directly related to the work for justice for lgbti people in church and society. He also conveniently ignores how much hatred and homophobia has been imported into Africa from the West, not least by recent incursions by conservative evangelical Christians.

    1. Ian, you bring up an interesting point. The way Christianity brought homophobia to Africa (and not just Evangelicals. Colonialism + Christianity has taken it’s tole too) has been very damaging. This is a larger conversation that needs to be had. Thank you for raising it. Pax +

  18. Reblogged this on brandrewmuses and commented:
    It find us on our way to victory when I hear a fellow Christian dare to stand for marriage equity within any denomination. When will christians be Christian?

  19. What a wonderful testimony. I am cradle Anglican – in Canada – and it is wonderful that through the internet we can connect. I instinctively recoiled from the archbishop’s words but until reading your blog hadn’t put my inchoate thoughts into a proper expression. Thank you for expressing with such loving restraint what so many must be feeling.

    1. I instantly recoiled as well. I’m just happy my words came out a lot more coherently than they were in my head. Pax +

  20. FINALLY! Someone who gets the essence of what Christ is! Christ is the Lord! In the new Testament He gave us a “new commandment” that replaces and encompasses all the old…. Love one another. If you love others, including yourself, you find it almost impossible to kill, steal, covet, lie, be less than honorable, etc. He also told us not to judge others. I take that as another commandment. How and why should I judge others for their differences, when I’m different as well. God made all, that has to include homosexual as well as homophobe. He made us what we are, who are we to know His plans? To me, faith is not only the belief in my God, but my desire to follow his teachings as well. I’m not perfect at it, but I try. In that frame of mind…. how can I help but lose all respect for someone who tells me I must ostracize, hate or otherwise denigrate someone else for any reason? How can I respect any group of individuals that treats others as less than themselves? That is not love.
    Peace to you and God bless your courage.

  21. Father Marcus, very well written letter, thank you for your thoughts.

    I confess I am not Anglican nor am I familiar with the conversations your faith community have been having regarding marriage equality, however I am a member of the body of Christ so an interested party none the less. I appreciate your call to courage but I question your motive and the ultimate decision for the approval of same sex marriage. It seems your motive is maintain the church’s relevance within society and you are very worried it will die. I cringed when I read this as a Christian. I do not think our measuring stick as the church is the culture but God (known through his word) and the final day when the work we do will be tested by fire (1 Cor 3). I agree with you America is no longer wed to the culture as it was in Christendom, and I rejoice! Finally we have a church that can look like a church and not a country club. Why would you want to continue to wed the church to cultural norms such as same sex marriage that are not supported, in fact warned against in God’s word? We do not find our hope of survival in cultural relevancy, but in Jesus’s words “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.” Did not Martin Luther King go against the culture, not with it? You speak of the courage of Martyrs, they were the ones who stood against the cultural/political pressures to offer sacrifices to pagan Gods. Embrace the sufferings and persecution you will endure for standing by God’s word, for you enter into the suffering of Christ himself.
    I understand I will be painted as a hate monger because of these words, someone devoid of love. So I’ll save re-post and state that God is who he says he is in Exodus 34:6-7, perfectly loving and just. The balance was struck at the cross. We cannot forget his commands and just accept love, nor can we become pharisaic and cold and trust completely in the law. We are witness to both, especially you as a pastor. Essentially, where are your epistemological and theological moorings? Reason/Experience/Culture? Or faithful exegesis of God’s word interwoven (not augmented) by the common grace of experience/reason/culture?
    I would say accept any member of the LGBT community with loving arms, but be real about their brokenness they, yes, may have even been born with. I was a born luster, that doesn’t make it kosher. They are no less beloved by God or any less made in his image. None of us are, no matter what. But love drove God to the cross to pay for sins, not look the other way. May we find a peace that surpasses all understanding at the foot of the cross where we honestly give to him what we deserve and receive from him what only he could earn.
    Again, I am not familiar with your church’s specific situation, but as a brother and member of the body I hope for a swift and faithful resolution. Thank you for your post and your honesty, your courage is a gift from God.
    David

    1. David,

      This is a much larger conversation. I’m not in favor of a church being wed to culture; rather, I am in favor of a Church that helps prepare the world for the coming of God’s reign. What has happened over the past few centuries is that often it is culture, not the Church, that leads the way to liberation. The Church sanctioned slavery, anti-semitism, and other ills and it was society (read “culture”) that led the way against these social ills. When White Clergyman wrote Dr. King a letter asking that he cease his activity in Birmingham, he responded with his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” where he essentially shamed the Church into being what it was supposed to be – an institution the furthers the cause of love (The Greatest Commandment) and justice in the world.

      My journey to my theology on the inclusion of ALL people (LGBTQ persons included) has come as a result of faithful exegesis, prayer, discernment, and MOST importantly, conversations with LGBTQ persons. Often, the Church has spoken about LGBTQ persons like we aren’t able to speak for themselves and then projects a narrative onto us that isn’t necessarily true. I am also clear that everyone isn’t where I am. All I can do is articulate what is made very clear for me.

      Thanks for your comments. Pax +

  22. A profound commentary on the essence of our call to sacrificial love. Come Holy Spirit enlighten my heart to authentic service..

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