We all are thinking about the future, and the place of “traditionalists” in the Episcopal Church. While we are tolerated, it is not yet clear what is being tolerated: we as individuals or the view we represent. I am assuming that the church has made its decision for the foreseeable future. Why would the church allow a bishop or a diocese to hold a contrary view? Can it accept reasons for such a minority stance as valid and if so, why? I know well that arguments have limited sway, but having them ready is worthwhile nonetheless.

1. The doctrinal argument

While this decision has been taken, it remains a minority report if one considers the Communion as a whole, and yet more of a minority for the worldwide Church. It also represents a serious doctrinal innovation (though this is not always admitted). As such, it ought to have a period of reception, of testing. In other words, the decision retains a kind of larger historical provisionality. This argument might readily be restated as ecumenical.

2. The Communion argument

This has obviously been a subject of intense conflict, but at the very least we can say that the innovation has impaired our relations with other Anglicans around the world. The Presiding Bishop has stated his desire to remain as fully within Communion life as possible. Providing space for the Communion Partners, the group of bishops who uphold the Windsor moratoria, to retain a robust existence (a) shows good will to the Communion, and (b) acts as a kind of bridge to the Communion.

3. The Anglican identity argument

For most of the past 30 years, leaders in TEC have described their tradition in terms of comprehensiveness, tolerance for ambiguity, pluriformity. The Righter result stated that a bishop could not be tried for anything other than “core doctrine.” Now the shoe is on the other foot. Is there some moral obligation to consistency?


4. The utilitarian argument

Traditional dioceses attract younger clergy who are interested in church planting, evangelism, doctrine, etc. These are things the Episcopal Church is very interested in. Such clergy are concerned whether a place remains for them in TEC, and we are a stronger church if we assure them there will be.

5. The spirituality argument

A traditional view on the marriage issue tends to go with traditional views on theology in general. So, making space also helps to preserve older strains of our tradition in stronger form: Anglo-Catholic, evangelical.

6. The diversity argument

Some of the groups of Episcopalians most troubled by the change in marriage doctrine are the following: Hispanics, Native Americans, African immigrants, West Indians, etc. If we want to be diverse, in fact as well as claim, we should make room.

7. The conscience argument

If we claim that parishioners have a right to be married in their own parish (as opposed to in a church accessible to them), then we effectively eliminate the ability of parish priests to exercise their consciences in performing these rites. Such an attack on priestly conscience seems un-Anglican.

I once read that the rabbis gave multiple reasons when they lacked a checkmate argument! Similarly, I doubt any one of these arguments will suffice, but as a “cumulative argument,” they might find some traction.

About The Author

The Rt. Rev. Dr. George Sumner, ordained priest in Tanzania in 1981, is the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas. He has served in cross-cultural ministry in Navajoland and has a doctorate in theology from Yale. Bishop Sumner is married to Stephanie Hodgkins.

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