The Bishop of California
The way our church has gone about engaging the relief of global suffering has been by way of mutual engagement with our Communion partners, often through companion diocese relationships. This work has brought many of us, bishops, priests, deacons, and lay people, much closer to the vast ocean of suffering on the earth. Our hearts have been broken.
I think it is in this light, the light of a renewed sense of mission in the world, that we gained a new clarity about who we are, what our priorities are, and how we might respond to the demands of the Communiqué from Tanzania.
And let me be clear; I'm not suggesting that this is the first time such profound, heartbreaking connections have been made. The Episcopal Church has been deeply committed to the Mission of God throughout its history. The first missionary from the Episcopal Church to go to another country (surnamed Andrus!) went to Liberia in 1821, and missionary efforts have been continuous since then.
Rather, what has changed is the world. Mission is now conceived as being done within "communions of communions," that is, we recognize Christ in the many places the Church has grown, and we recognize, with St. Paul, that Christ has gone before us, inspiring humanity to stretch towards God in divers times and places. So, now we participate in the Mission of God in the context of globalization, mutuality, communion, and the Body of Christ, the World.
There were about a dozen Episcopal Church bishops at the TEAM Conference in South Africa, and I flew straight from that meeting to the pre-House of Bishops meeting of the Bishops Working for a Just Society. Thus, I and others, including our Presiding Bishop, had been baptized into the reality of the problems being addressed by the Millennium Development Goals before we arrived at Camp Allen.
The rhetoric of some critics of the Episcopal Church have said that we have let ourselves be distracted by the issues of human sexuality as the earth is being crushed under the burdens of poverty, war, and disease. At last the bishops of the Episcopal Church answered that false argument by saying, as I see it, that God's divine energy for justice empowers us to seek the same for gay and lesbian people, for women, for children, for all the poor of the earth, and for the earth itself. We have realized it is not an either/or equation, nor based on sacrifice, but on the overflow of compassion originating in God.
So, from that stance, we rejected the truly distracting things – demands that would hamper our polity, enmesh us in endless disputes, and truncate the ability of the Church to act, not as a free agent, but as the fully constituent member of the Communion we are and hope to be.
Let me also say that rhetorical flourishes that claim that our actions by resolution at Camp Allen will prevent us from doing the MDG work with our companion partners that we are doing and desire to do. If, for instance, the Anglican Churches in Nigeria and Uganda refused our partnering mission work, let me assure you that there is more than enough for us to do in South Africa alone, the epicenter of the AIDS/HIV pandemic. We are welcomed there, and the human need is beyond description.
As an example, in Mozambique, which is in the Province of Southern Africa, where four of our Pilgrims for Peace live, since we left there has been extensive flooding, and yesterday excessive heat caused munitions to explode, all through the day and into the night, killing eighty. And in Burundi, on top of genocide, AIDS/HIV and malaria, the people are facing the devastating effects of climate change in the form of an extended drought.
So, the bishops of the Episcopal Church acted against a backdrop of a deep and abiding, and newly understood commitment to the Mission of God, a global mission which we are enacting through companion diocese partnerships, using the lenses of the Millennium Development Goals. I think we can be justly grateful for our Church, and my sister and brother bishops; they have moved us in the direction of justice and truth.