By Clint Wilson
Recognizing the continuing theological diversity of this Church, and in the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee, in regard to same-sex marriage and the blessing of same-sex unions, and out of respect for the deeply held beliefs across the range of opinion, we, members of the 186th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Tennessee, respectfully request that as you, the Bishop and Deputies of the 79th General Convention, prayerfully consider the reauthorization of “Liturgical Resources I” for the next Triennium, you take in account the exclusion, competing convictions, and loss of community experienced by members of this Diocese under the current terms of authorization for the texts.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing from a German prison during World War II, used the phrase “polyphony of life” as a defiant cry against the narrow ideology surrounding him. Bonhoeffer believed the Church could be the Church by singing the same song in its polyphonic character and community, trusting in a unity rooted in Christ that was complex, diverse, and costly. Only a textured and hard-won unity reflects the song Christ cried out on the cross, the song sung by angels and archangels, the song also sung by Burundian Anglicans and American Episcopalians.
This is how we are trying to sing in the Diocese of Tennessee. In one sense, our resolution (above) sings out the reality that we no longer know what to do, but we know this: we will respect the authority of our bishop and will not seek to go around him, for to do so means we cease to be Episcopal.
We decided to acknowledge the “exclusion, competing convictions, and loss of community” experienced by Christians across the theological spectrum in our diocese, and to admonish General Convention to keep all of us in mind as it discerns further legislation. The resolution says we are committed to honoring our bishop and his theologically principled push for humble unity.
On the General Resolutions Committee, we were of one mind that we must model a better way and refuse to fracture along the same fault lines of surrounding institutions, both ecclesial and secular. The Episcopal Church is rooted in a big-tent ecclesiology. We must cherish and protect this with a fierce commitment and a true inclusivity, one that places all the baptized together under the cross, where we see each other as fellow pilgrims, where we sing the same song. We will model a better way.
We also wanted to recognize that the current canonical arrangement does not make everyone happy, and we trust that we have at this point arrived at our real work. As Wendell Berry writes in his essay “Poetry and Marriage: The Use of Old Forms”:
It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
In his lecture “Why the Episcopal Church Needs World Anglicanism,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry recalled these words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “We shall either learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or we will perish together as fools.” Curry added, “The choices are chaos … or community.”
Following the lead of Bishop Curry, we in the Diocese of Tennessee have sought to choose community. We hope and pray to be a diocese that learns to listen before we legislate — because as King noted, legislating without changing hearts can lead to “arms that are together, but hearts that are apart.”
We must learn to live together and sing together. We are the church that must live now as we will live in the “life of the world to come,” determined by the eschatological reality that we are and will ultimately be a people “gathered from every tongue, tribe and nation, before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9). We must become who we are, the body of Christ. God willing, we will not perish as fools, unless it is for the foolishness of the cross. In the polyphony of life, our rhythm may sometimes falter, our tense suspensions take too long to resolve. But we will still sing the same song — the song of Christ, in whom “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).
This essay appears in the Palm Sunday 2018 issue of The Living Church.