By George Sumner

Dear Stephen,

Greetings in Christ. We know one another as old timers in the academic world of Episcopal/Anglican North America. And as a friend of East African Anglicanism, I have appreciated your fruitful ministry in Uganda. I read your recent piece on Contending Anglican, which is critical of me and others (also run on Anglican Ink and linked at the American Anglican Council’s weekly newsletter). I have no complaint with theological debate, but in the spirit of Paul’s exhortation to “speak the truth in love,” I offer this response, to correct several inaccuracies, and to clarify a point.

  1. I was indeed a member, on the traditional side, on the Episcopal Church’s theological taskforce on marriage 2009-11. The position on the theological and ethical issues regarding same-sex marriage laid out by us traditionalists then is the same one I hold now. You can see this from the pastoral letter sent to my diocese just before General Convention.
  2. With respect to resolution B012, I voted against it, as I had said I would, because I could not vote to reauthorize rites of same-sex marriage. Since it was a voice vote, you will have to take my word on this. As to the resolution, I have cited its flaws. But I have also noted, in a spirit of charity, that it was a sincere effort to preserve a space for traditionalists in the Episcopal Church, since we are a relatively powerless minority voice. (And, in fairness, the simultaneous decision by General Convention not to change the prayer book is worthy of note.)
  3. As to the visit of Bishop Gene Robinson to parishes in Dallas, obviously these are two of the three congregations no longer under my spiritual oversight.
  4. It is hard for a leader in a Church with an errant teaching to know what to do. Your contention then that impaired communion is hard to figure out is true: both the communion and the impaired sides are real.
  5. In this regard I should clarify a quotation of mine about full communion that you cite. My point was simply this: amid disagreements, I remain in full eucharistic fellowship with my colleagues in the Episcopal Church, as have my fellow Communion Partner bishops.
  6. Because of these complexities, I have never disparaged those who felt conscience-bound to join the Anglican Church of North America. But such was not my decision, for I believe there is a calling to continue to witness within the Church in which I was ordained. At the Great Assize, I in my fallibility will plead not my judgment on this ecclesial question, but rather the atoning blood of Jesus. (I also believe that the day may come when an ecumenical conversation between Communion Partners and ACNA will be in order, so lines of communication are worth preserving.)
  7. As to the picture of Neville Chamberlain used with your piece, I would advise avoiding the over the top comparison to the rise of the Nazis, especially in the overheated political climate of America today.
  8. In accord with the thinking of my old friend Ephraim Radner, I would prefer to point out how the prophet Jeremiah remained in solidarity with his countrymen and women against whom he witnessed, even to the point of deportation. (But I am no prophet, nor have I so suffered, to be sure.)
  9. The welfare of Bill Love, our fellow Communion Partner bishop and our brother in Christ, engages our prayer and effort.


Bishop George Sumner

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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5 Responses

  1. Christopher SEITZ

    The position of the CP bishops on B012 has been hard to decipher. Because of the positive take on it one can see in places, it would be easy to assume that B012 was considered a good way forward. TLC itself seemed to be proud of it as an accomplishment. My own consistent query has been how it might be thought durable, and how it impacts the definition of the episcopal office — something +Albany makes clear is a bridge too far for his sense of his vocation. The consents process in TEC is decisive, and so it is hard to view B012 as anything but a bit of noblesse oblige from those now in power — something Susan Russell among others has made very clear. If this is so then the Jeremiah analogy is fitting for different reasons: there is nothing to do but accept the judgment of God and an unavoidable punishment. There are no present time schemes to embrace. Those who have been sent into exile have had the judgment meted out and so Jeremiah can pray for them and see hopefulness in a seventy year working out of two full generations of God’s cleansing judgment. Jeremiah did not seek to avoid that, but he did not claim it was anything other than that. His sleep was pleasant to him, only in the sense that a future would open up because God is merciful through long time. He would not share it. He would proclaim a judgment swallowing him up alongside his people. Such is the vocation God gave him, to which he was obedient.

  2. Christopher SEITZ

    Not to belabour the point but it strikes me again how Jeremiah forms such a poor example for the issues facing TEC or the Anglican Communion. The false prophets said all would be well. Dire judgement and inescapable punishment for all was too dark a message and they rejected it. Those judged and exiled were bad figs, but they were good figs, spared and with a hopeful future. Kings were blinded and Jeremiah was persecuted. His temptation was not to flee but to be silent, tired of such a terrible message to proclaim, and he complained mightily about having to speak it, and of having no alternative. TEC is not a Babylonian external force Jeremiah insists has come as an agent of judgment, but is itself the locus of conflict and break-up and dissolution and judgment. He strikes me as a very bad analogy, unless one feels compelled to proclaim a judgment of God without any escape — a terrible burden to be given and to have to share.

  3. Lars Nowen

    I would welcome a thoughtful explanation from CP Bishops as to what they understand ‘koinonia’ to mean with respect to their fellow bishops… What does it mean for Dr. Sumner to receive communion alongside, for example, Bishop Andrew Dietsche who seems to be quite happy with the radical abortion legislation recently passed? I do not for one moment think these are simple matters. ACNA has to deal with koinonia issues also, in its own way, but it seems to me that the eucharistic and financial fellowship observed between Bishops like Sumner and Bishops like Dietsche seems to make koinonia devoid of actual meaning.

    • Christopher SEITZ

      I agree with your concern here. One can wonder what it means for the Roman Catholic Church not to have disciplined Governor Cuomo, to choose a recent example, by refusing to allow him the sacrament. What was intimated was that privately he was being asked to consider his own conscience on the matter. Whether that is true or not, and whether he ought to be sanctioned, historically sacramental churches have had recourse to some serious reflection on this matter. At present, in the ‘good disagreement’ climate, the danger is real that eucharistic sharing is something like the last man standing when all else has gone awry. Surely that cannot be a proper stance, even as you say, these are not simple matters. Is eucharistic koinonia simply always a given, a final sign that no matter how riven, there is communion somewhere and someplace. I too would welcome further clarification.


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