First published in The Church of England Newspaper.A former American Secretary of State has written an open letter to the Episcopal Church urging its liberal and conservative members to declare a cease fire in the war over homosexuality.
Writing in the Spring issue of the Virginia Theological Seminary magazine, James A. Baker III urged Episcopalians to “agree to disagree” on the “contentious issues of sexuality.”
Mr. Baker served as Chief of Staff to President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1985 and as Secretary of the Treasury from 1985 to 1988 during President Reagan’s second term. Mr. Baker served as Secretary of State from 1989 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush and has been a lifelong member of St Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas.
Mr. Baker stated that he claimed “no expertise” in the polity of the Episcopal Church, and began with the assumption the church was “tolerant of differing opinions” and permitted “great latitude for decision making” at the parish and diocesan levels. Most lay Episcopalians were tired of the conflict, he said, and looked forward to the day when the church would “no longer frequent the national news” because of its divisions over human sexuality.
“Some issues can be so vigorously contested that resolution is unreachable, at least for a while,” he said, adding that “to try to force resolution prematurely—so that one side is victorious and the other is defeated—yields no resolution at all. That is a recipe for continuing conflict and increasing anger.”
The Episcopal Church had reached the point that “for the foreseeable future,” the disputes over gay bishops and blessings would not be resolved. “Squabbling over church assets is the wrong way to resolve this impasse,” he said, noting that the “predictable result of continuing the battle will be public conflict without end.”
Baker’s plan would be to allow congregations to “agree to disagree, with each side expressing respect for the good faith of the other.” Each parish would be allowed to decide by a majority of votes by its members the “position it would take on these issues of sexuality.”
“Bishops in exercising oversight of the parishes in their dioceses on issues of sexuality would do so in keeping with that particular parish’s most recent vote,” he said.
To get to this point, Mr. Baker asked the bishops of the church to exercise “gracious restraint” until legislative safeguards could be put into effect that would protect those holding divergent views.
The former Secretary of State conceded that “those on the extreme sides of the debate” would not agree with this approach, but “now is not the time to allow these issues of sexuality to further splinter the church.”
Unless a truce is arranged, the church would continue hemorrhaging members, he said. “We can allow the gales of acrimony to blow us into further disarray. Or, we can accept this difficult challenge, harness those same winds, and chart a unified direction for the church that we all love, no matter which side of the debate we take,” Mr. Baker said.
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