JACKSON, Tenn. – Aug. 11, 2003 – Editor's Note: The following letter was drafted by the leadership of Union University in response to the recent decision by the Episcopal Church to elect an openly homosexual bishop. The letter has been sent to leaders and lay persons throughout the evangelical community. Individuals wishing to affix their name as a signatory may do so by contacting the office of university relations at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first week in August 2003 will be remembered as a pivotal moment in the direction of Christianity in America. On August 5, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the USA voted 62-45 to confirm the Reverend Gene Robinson to be the first openly practicing homosexual as the Bishop of New Hampshire. The leadership of Union University has resolved not to let this moment pass without expressing deep regret over this decision to condone behavior clearly in opposition to Holy Scripture, while at the same time calling Christians everywhere to unite in seeking God's guidance for wisdom, courage, and grace.
These are times that try the soul of Christ's church. For nearly two millennia, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ worldwide has faithfully rejected the practice of homosexual behavior. Christians have done so because they understood that the New Testament knows nothing of the blessing of gay unions much less the ordination of persons to church ministry who indulge such sexual desires. From the earliest recorded history of the post-apostolic church, Second Century Fathers such as Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Athenagoras led the people of God in an explicit repudiation of what the Apostle Paul called "dishonorable passions" and "shameless acts" (Rom. 1:26-27).
Gene Robinson's supporters hailed his election as a major advance. "It's a great day for the church," exclaimed the Rev. Sandye Wilson of the Minnesota Diocese in The New York Times. "This is a church which has finally understood that men and women created in the vision of God can be the guardians of the faith - and be gay or lesbian." This past Tuesday, a majority of Episcopalian leaders evidently shared Wilson's enthusiasm.
A few bellwethers firmly disagreed. Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, appearing before the media with like-minded colleagues, offered a grim assessment of the recent events. "This body [the House of Bishops] willfully confirming the election of a person sexually active outside of holy matrimony has departed from the historic faith and order of the Church of Jesus Christ," and has, as a result, "divided itself from millions of Anglicans throughout the world. . . . May God have mercy on his church."
Like Bishop Duncan, we too pray for mercy. We renounce any unjust reprisal or harm against homosexual persons that would violate the common rights enjoyed by all Americans. We do, however, reject the notion of special rights for such persons whether they be attempts to make gay men bishops or same sex couples legally married. God saw fit to make marriage the oldest institution in his earthly creation, and decreed that its sacredness be a covenant relationship between one man and one woman.
The call to live lives of both love and courage is indeed a difficult art. But if ever there was a moment for followers of the Lord Jesus to take a stand, that time is now. We commit ourselves afresh to our great God and to His Holy Word and pray that he will strengthen the conviction of his people and revive the church for whom Christ died. With faithful believers through the ages we pray for the Church to not only be one and universal, but also holy and apostolic. Union University pledges to help encourage, exhort, and cooperate with like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ at this significant moment in the life of the church worldwide.
David S. Dockery
Additional Representative Signatories from across the University: