By Kirk Petersen
The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which split from the Episcopal Church (TEC) more than a decade ago in part because of disagreement over human sexuality, now finds itself embroiled anew in a related conflict.
Pieter Valk, a celibate gay man in Nashville who aspires to ordination as an ACNA deacon, created deargayanglicans.com as a vehicle for responding to a pastoral letter on “sexuality and identity” released by the ACNA College of Bishops in January. Valk posted a letter cosigned by an ACNA bishop and more than a dozen priests — and then quickly took it down as controversy erupted.
“I might have made that a little more difficult,” Valk told TLC, referring to his hopes of ordination. “I hope not.”
ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach responded to the Dear Gay Anglicans letter, saying the issue is serious enough “that I am writing this at 1:15 a.m.”
“Many of our bishops, and rightly so, feel this is an attempt to undermine our roles as guardians of the Faith and teachers of the doctrine of the Church. Some individuals have expressed that we are now TEC 2.0. Some think this is going to break the ACNA apart,” Beach wrote.
Beach’s letter is addressed to the clergy in an ACNA diocese, and it’s not clear whether it was meant for public distribution. As of this writing Beach’s letter cannot be found on any ACNA website, and appears to have been published first on two sites that are often critical of the Episcopal Church: Virtue Online and Anglican Ink, both of which are well-connected in the ACNA world.
Beach wrote that he had heard protests from three provinces of the Anglican Communion within a day of Valk’s letter. “In many of our partner provinces, the practice of homosexuality is against the law, and to make matters more difficult, they usually don’t understand the nuances of the word ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual attraction’ — they just hear the practice of same-sex immorality.”
He did not identify the provinces, but Valk said on his Twitter account that the complaints came from African provinces.
The exchange of letters underscores the stark differences between ACNA and TEC regarding human sexuality. The Episcopal Church has officially welcomed gay and lesbian bishops and priests, and the only remaining bishop who refused to allow same-sex marriage rites in his diocese resigned during a disciplinary process. There is a group called Communion Partners — some members of which have ties to TLC — which seeks to stay in “communion across difference” with TEC, while maintaining traditional views on sexuality.
In the ACNA, homosexual acts are universally considered sinful. However, the church consistently teaches that gay people are also children of God, and differentiates between sexual actions and sexual attractions.
The College of Bishops’ 3,700-word letter on sexuality and identity was the product of a year of study and debate among bishops and other Anglicans. It focuses on the language the church uses to discuss the issue. Much of it is a discussion of whether it is preferable to refer to “gay Christians” or “same-sex attracted Christians,” concluding that both are problematic and have cultural baggage. “As reflected in this statement, we commend the usage of ‘Christians who experience same-sex attraction.'”
Valk’s letter affirmed ACNA’s “continued commitment to a traditional sexual ethic,” and he said he was careful to be respectful. “When I read the provincial statement, it invites further discussion and conversation,” he said. “So that’s what we’ve done.”
Valk’s letter was initially co-signed by more than a dozen priests and one ACNA bishop, and more clergy signed on before Valk took it down at the request of the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, interim bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, which has jurisdiction in Nashville. The bishop who signed the letter is the Rt. Rev. Dr. Grant LeMarquand, a professor at Trinity School of Ministry who recently served as interim bishop of ACNA’s Diocese of the Great Lakes. TLC was unable to reach spokespersons for Beach and Minns, and LeMarquand said by email that he did not want to discuss the letter and had taken his name off of it.
“We commit to take practical steps to become churches where gay Anglicans can share all of their story, find community, and seek support,” Valk’s letter said. “We affirm the Provincial Statement’s call to lead conversation about God’s love and wisdom for same-sex attracted people across the lifespan so children and teenagers feel safe to share early with parents and pastors.”
“While it says they are not undermining our Pastoral Statement, they actually are,” Beach wrote. “Replacing ‘gay Christian’ with ‘gay Anglican’ is pretty much in your face.”
Beach also instructed clergy who had signed the letter to explain why. “Some of our clergy signed onto this letter, and I do not want you to ostracize them or condemn them. They have signed this in good faith, and you and I need to listen to them. You do not have to agree, but as Christians, we need to learn again how to discuss issues with those we disagree with — and then be able to continue to love and care for them. However, if you are one of the clergy who signed on to this, I expect you to send me an email explaining why you signed a letter and beginning a private, non-punitive, conversation with me about your concerns.”