Dear friends -
The following from Spong to Lee (of Va) was passed on to me and herewith I pass it on to you. When Bp Lee's letter is made available, and I believe it will, I will disseminate that as well.
The Diocese of Newark
THE RIGHT REVEREND JOHN S. SPONG, D.D .
December 12, 1997
The Rt. Rev. Peter John Lee
78 Daisy Street
Rosettenville 2197 South Africa
Dear Bishop Peter:
Thank you for your open letter to me responding to my correspondence with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Let me first clear up the fact that the Statement of Koinonia was signed by 73 bishops at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 1994. It is my understanding that additional bishops have signed that since that time, but I did not include their names, and at least five of the dioceses in the United States have adopted that statement as the statement of their own diocesan convention or synod.
I regret that you found my paper insensitive or offensive based upon my naming attitudes toward homosexual people to be ignorant. I would challenge you to rethink that judgment. I have not said that the people of the Third World are ignorant. I have said that this attitude toward homosexuality is ignorant.
You say in your letter that you sit on the theological commission of the CPSA where you have spent many hours weighing the exegetical and theological complexities and the widely varying scientific and psychological understandings of homosexuality. You further say that you have received testimony from homosexual clergy and lay people, and you have tried to engage the people of your church in a serious and sensitive debate. You conclude we do not yet agree, but our debate is not uninformed.
My dear brother, if what the southern hemisphere bishops have put together in the Kuala Lampur Statement represents the sum of your exegetical and theological thinking, then I must tell you that it is uninformed. It is highly prejudiced. It is without merit. That has nothing to do with race; that has to do with some objective standards.
You suggest in other places in your letter that the simple reality is that there is not theological, scientific or ethical consensus, and that the Anglican Communion needs to seek one sensitively. The Kuala Lampur Statement assumes that homosexuality is evil, that it is a statement of human depravity, and it has based its conclusions upon what it regards as clear theological, biblical, ethical data. That is simply unworthy. If I were to accept your premise that we are still trying to determine theological, scientific and ethical consensus, I would at least insist that the Church be open to those that it might historically victimize, during the time we wait for the consensus to develop. That is not what the Kuala Lampur Statement suggests.
Perhaps the best way for me to help you understand what I am saying is to ask you to translate homosexuality into a different category. Within a hundred years ago people were convinced, including Christian people, that African black human beings were, in fact, mentally, intellectually and evolutionarily inferior human beings, and therefore they could justify various systems from slavery to segregation to apartheid. When the challenge to that mentality began to take place, those who held that prejudiced position constantly talked about how the Church was being divided by those who were disturbing the status quo.
Would you really suggest that the people who agitated for a different view of reality regarding Afro-American people should have been silenced by quotations from scripture and tradition that continue to undergird the prejudiced patterns of the past? I do not believe so.
What I am saying is that there is a consensus in the scientific world today that challenges the negativity toward gay and lesbian people which is articulated so deeply in the Kuala Lampur Statement that it is embarrassing to the cause of Christ.
I also raise deep questions about your analysis of the American Church. The American Church obviously has divisions within it, but so does every church in Christendom, and I would not suggest to you that they are debilitating divisions, despite what your letter seems to indicate. A group of very conservative American bishops joined together with some figures from the Third World and endorsed the Kuala Lampur Statement. That is no approaching Lambeth in sensitivity and due humility. It is that same group that tried to place on trial the assistant bishop of this diocese for ordaining a gay person to the priesthood. That is not approaching this issue with sensitivity and due humiliation. I am not the slightest bit interested in whether my position is superior or inferior. I am only concerned with whether it is true or not true.
I also hope you will reread my white paper. Your suggestion that I am coming to try to dominate Lambeth is simply not so. My deepest hope is that we will prevent Lambeth from making a serious mistake and adding to the burden and negativity that gay and lesbian people have felt from organized Christianity for almost all of our 2,000 years. If you read my paper again, you will discover that my purpose is to balance the negativity of the Kuala Lampur Statement, and to name it for what it is. If you want to interpret that as saying that the northern hemisphere is somehow superior to the southern hemisphere, then you are free to do that, but what I am trying to communicate is that the Kuala Lampur Statement reflects an appalling ignorance, an appalling use of Holy Scripture and an appalling prejudice against gay and lesbian people that is an embarrassment to the Christian faith. I would be less than honest if I did not bring that to the attention of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I regard collegiality as an idol used by prejudiced people to prevent truth from challenging their prejudices.
Please, if you think that the American Church is in some sort of crisis, talk with one or two other people besides those you clearly must be talking to. The same bishops that are today talking about homosexuality were yesterday condemning the ordination of women, and the day before yesterday were favoring segregation. No member on the liberal side of the aisle in the United States has tried to excommunicate the conservatives. That movement has totally been from the conservative side toward the liberals.
I wish you well.
[signed] John S. Spong
copies to The Primates of the Anglican Communion
Other interested parties.
Episcopal House. 31 Mulberry Street, Newark, New Jersey 07102. (973) 622-4305
[Bp Peter John Lee is bishop of the Diocese of Christ the King in South Africa]
>This appears also at > http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/lee2spng.html with direct links to all other documents which Bishop Lee mentions.
> The Diocese of Christ the King
> The Rt. Rev. Peter John Lee
> 78 Daisy Street
> Rosettenville 2197
> South Africa
> > An Open Letter to Bishop John S. Spong
> > from Peter John Lee, Bishop of Christ the King,
> > Church of the Province of Southern Africa
> > Dear Bishop John,
> You are no doubt aware that your letter of November 12 1997 addressed
> to the Primates of the Anglican Communion, the response of the
> Archbishop of Canterbury dated November 24, and your further response
> of November 27th are being widely circulated in the Communion.
> Your 'Message on the Subject of Homosexuality' has also reached us, as
> has your 'Statement of Koinonia'. Unfortunately the latter document is
> undated, so that although it is addressed 'to the whole church', the
> immediate context in which it was issued is unclear.
> You have written out of your personal concern, as a diocesan bishop; I
> am responding from a similar concern and position. I support you in
> your stated commitment that we should find and do what is right, but I
> am bothered about your way of doing it.
> Your references to the whole church and to collegiality encourage me
> to put some concerns on the table and make a personal plea to you.
> You may not realise how offensive your papers will be to a wide circle
> of Christian leadership outside your own setting in the 'First World';
> many of your episcopal colleagues had hoped that we would not be
> meeting this kind of attitude at the Lambeth Conference.
> Firstly you brand anyone who differs from your own viewpoint as
> 'ignorant', 'out of touch with the knowledge revolution',
> 'uninformed'; according to you, 'the overwhelming scientific data
> available today in the western [sic] world has simply not penetrated
> the(ir) minds'.
> Have you any idea how that sounds outside the so-called 'west'? Is
> there not some inconsistency in claiming to oppose racism, and then
> holding in contempt much of the Christian opinion of the southern
> hemisphere? You will inevitably be heard in the Two-Thirds World as
> patronising and racist.
> I do not understand how this sweeping dismissal of those who do not
> share your viewpoints squares with wanting 'to continue the mutual
> respect for our differences that is certainly part of the meaning of
> collegiality', as your Statement of Koinonia puts it.
> I sit on the theological commission of the CPSA where we have spent
> many hours weighing the exegetical and theological complexities and
> the widely varying scientific and psychological understandings of
> homosexuality; we have also received testimony from homosexual clergy
> and lay people, and tried to engage the people of our church in a
> serious and sensitive debate. We do not yet agree, but our debate is
> not uninformed.
> I find that bishops in Africa, Asia, India, Pakistan, the West Indies,
> South America, Australia and New Zealand are also informed in these
> areas; they have read the literature, listened to the debates, and
> formed careful theological and pastoral views which defy your
> characterisation of them as unread and theologically incompetent.
> The simple reality is that there is no theological, scientific or
> ethical consensus, and the Anglican Communion needs to seek one
> sensitively and without dismissing each other before the debate is
> joined. I am glad to see your recognition of this lack of consensus in
> the Statement.
> In fact there is also no consensus in the homosexual community, either
> on some of the issues which you claim to be so clear, or on what that
> community is asking of the church. If that could be clarified, we
> would be better able to find our way towards understanding.
> Secondly, you demean the South-t0-South process in the Communion by
> dismissing Kuala Lumpur as 'signed by certain bishops of SE Asia.' You
> know better than that. The South-to-South process is a vital means of
> liberation and empowerment for a vast part of the Communion which has
> often felt itself oppressed by the academic and resources dominance of
> the 'west'. It is a process properly created by the structures of the
> Anglican Communion and carefully constituted by democratic and
> consultative procedures. The two conference held so far were attended
> by a wide variety of southern hemisphere leadership, duly appointed by
> their respective provinces.
> Whether or not one agrees with every statement emerging from the
> process, trying to sideline it as some of the media have done is not
> only to oppress our people but to hold democracy in the Communion in
> contempt. Statements from South-to-South events are likely to
> represent quite fairly the views of much of the leadership of the
> southern hemisphere provinces. This has consequences for collegiality
> in the Communion.
> Thirdly, you strike a sadly discordant note in the Episcopal Church.
> Many of us have enjoyed rich and deep relationships with individuals,
> parishes and diocese all over your Church. We have received American
> generosity but have worked at creating relationships of mutuality and
> non-dependency. Many of our American friends have been sensitive to
> the feeling that their part of our church has thrown its weight about
> in the past, not least at previous Lambeth conferences. They have
> worked hard to overcome these perceptions and ensure that they are not
> reinforced in the future.
> We have picked up a definite message that the Episcopal Church wants
> to approach this Lambeth with sensitivity and due humility. It is,
> after all, a relatively small church with a top-heavy leadership which
> translates into a disproportionate presence at Lambeth. That ode not
> matter if the role of the majority churches is recognised and the
> Episcopal representation behaves with the sensitivity we have come to
> expect of its bishops.
> By contrast, your correspondence suggests that a few of your may be
> coming with an attitude of superiority and a will to dominate. Please
> let us not go that way, for it will surely set you against the greater
> part of the Communion and make it harder for your serious concerns to
> be heard.
> I am one who was invited to Dallas but for various reasons has not
> signed the conference statement. With many others, I was distressed to
> hear of the apparent imminence of schism in the Episcopal Church, and
> more so, of the deep hurts and the low levels of trust and
> communication which appear to prevail at leadership level. You say
> that those whom you critisise are 'threatening the Church'; but schism
> usually takes two.
> Those of us who were in Desmond Tutu's episcopal team in Southern
> Africa during the final demise of apartheid, and who had to handle a
> whole array of divisive issues (including the ordination of women),
> learnt that we simply had to go on holding on to each other in
> Christian love and talk to each other even when we differed
> profoundly. We disagreed in a framework of commitment to the Body of
> Christ, where we would watch each other's backs whatever we though of
> each other's theology.
> This has something to do with what they call orthopraxy. It is trying
> to live it right, even when we do not yet see what believing it right
> may look like on a particular issue. One thinks of Desmond's recent
> apology in the process of reconciliation n South Africa, 'lest in the
> process of being right we came across as self-righteous'.
> To an outsider it seems that in spite of the everyday faithfulness of
> many Episcopal members and congregations, something like this is
> missing among the leadership. We hear that dialogue over key issues
> has been discontinued, that some of the actions of General Convention
> were morally suspect, and that various groups are excommunicating each
> other with allegations of hatred, heresy or ignorance. This perception
> which has been shared with us does not sit easily with the affirmation
> of continuing dialogue in your Statement in Koinonia; indeed, from
> outside it is not easy to discern koinonia at all.
> The Dallas bishops are accused of interfering in the internal affairs
> of the Episcopal Church; yet your tensions are placing strain on the
> whole family. You were happy for the Anglican Communion to intervene
> in Rwanda when our common witness was affected; why is it strange that
> we should be concerned about a house divided, when those divisions
> spell danger for us all?
> Here then is my plea.
> After Dallas some of us tried quietly to see if there were ways in
> which the allegedly clogged channels of communication in the Episcopal
> Church could somehow be reopened, preferably by statesmanlike figures
> of your own, but if necessary with mediating ministry from senior and
> trusted figures in the Communion. Obviously these suggestions are best
> pursued diplomatically in private, but it seems that they now have to
> be addressed in the open.
> Clearly there is a fine line between prophecy and interference, and I
> seek your forgiveness if I have crossed it. I plead collegiality.
> I have no further place in this process but to appeal to you and your
> 'liberal' colleagues (I use quote marks because the appellation calls
> for debate) to meet with theological conservatives in the Episcopal
> Church and talk to each other seriously. It would be good to do this
> now, with an eye to the good of the church at large, before you export
> your crisis to the rest of us. You can hardly call for 'room for
> dialogue' if there is no such room in your own jurisdiction.
> It would be hugely helpful if you could clear the ground and rebuild
> some bridges among yourselves before Lambeth beings. Surely we need a
> wider process too, but there does seem to be an immediate urgency at
> home in the US, which weighs heavily on the hears of those who love
> With the assurance of our concern and prayers
> Peter John Lee
> 9 December 1997
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