The Bishop Candidates: The Very Reverend John B. Burwell–Part 3: Same Sex Blessings and the Way Forward

In his answer to the third question from the Search Committee, Fr. Burwell begins by citing the catholic nature of the Anglican Communion, “where the actions of some can and do affect the lives of all.” On whether the blessing of a same-sex union could be sanctioned, he writes: “At present, the Mind of the Communion is against such an action as reflected in Lambeth 1.10, the Windsor Report, Dar Es Salaam and all recent Anglican Communion gatherings.”

There’s a problem with that last sentence: it’s not true. The “Mind of the Communion” is not against such actions. The “Mind of the Communion” is confused, at best. As a matter of fact, in some parts of the Communion, same-sex unions are already being blessed. Fr. Burwell cites “Lambeth 1.10, the Windsor Report, Dar Es Salaam and all recent Anglican Communion gatherings” as proof of the unity of the Communion’s Mind.

While the 1998 Lambeth Conference passed Resolution 1.10, stating that homosexual activity is “incompatible with scripture” it also passed Human Sexuality, a theological inquiry into human sexuality and the Church’s teaching. That report concluded: “We have prayed, studied and discussed these issues, and we are unable to reach a common mind on the scriptural, theological, historical, and scientific questions that are raised. There is much that we do not understand.”

The Windsor Report stated: “We remind all in the Communion that Lambeth Resolution 1.10 calls for an ongoing process of listening and discernment, and that Christians of good will need to be prepared to engage honestly and frankly with each other on issues relating to human sexuality. It is vital that the Communion establish processes and structures to facilitate ongoing discussion. One of the deepest realities that the Communion faces is continuing difference on the presenting issue of ministry by and to persons who openly engage in sexually active homosexual relationships. Whilst this report criticises those who have propagated change without sufficient regard to the common life of the Communion, it has to be recognised that debate on this issue cannot be closed whilst sincerely but radically different positions continue to be held across the Communion. The later sections of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 cannot be ignored any more than the first section, as the primates have noted. Moreover, any demonising of homosexual persons, or their ill treatment, is totally against Christian charity and basic principles of pastoral care. We urge provinces to be pro-active in support of the call of Lambeth Resolution 64 (1988) for them to “‘reassess, in the light of … study and because of our concern for human rights, its care for and attitude toward persons of homosexual orientation.’”

Fr. Burwell’s reference to Dar Es Salaam, is to a 2007 gathering of Anglican Primates in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. The report that emerged from that gathering, while deeply critical of the U.S. and Canadian churches, also noted: “The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke for us all when he said that it is through liturgy that we express what we believe, and that there is no theological consensus about same sex unions.” It would seem that “no theological consensus” is the best way to describe “the Mind of the Communion” on human sexuality.

Next, Burwell confuses blessings of same-sex unions with marriage, when he writes: “We must find other and better ways to be pastoral and to love to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters without tinkering with the sanctity of Holy Matrimony.” The question, of course, was about blessing same sex unions, not gay marriage. Maybe this why one reason the Anglican Communion cannot be of one mind: we can’t even get basic the hermeneutics right.

As to moving past our current difficulties, Fr. Burwell states: “If we make a firm commitment to devote the resources of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina to missional efforts we will, as a result, focus on the important (Matthew 28:16f) and be less inclined to be seduced by what is known as the tyranny of the urgent. That is how we move forward and move past our divisions.” On that, John Burwell and I could not agree more.

Reading John Burwell’s obfuscations and confusion in answering the Committee’s question is disturbing. But not as disturbing as reading what John Burwell really thinks. In fact, the real question for John Burwell is this: What do you believe about the Episcopal Church? And did you mislead the Search Committee when you told them that you “support, without question, remaining in The Episcopal Church?”

On a 2006 blog post, Burwell was quoted as saying:

I have to keep reminding myself that this is not my battle. This battle belongs to the Lord. He will win it. We prayed for clarity, and boy-oh-boy, we got it. By voting the way this House has decided to vote today on so many resolutions, they have indeed clarified themselves. The other House, the House of bishops concurs. We really do have two religions trying to exist under one roof. We are a house divided against itself. Jesus is quite clear about the ramifications of such a design.

A January 7 2007 Courier and Post article had this to say about Fr. Burwell:

John Burwell, rector at Holy Cross Church on Sullivan’s Island, said the Episcopal Church is now “under judgment.” “We have erred and strayed from his ways like lost sheep,” he said in a September interview. “We have done ourselves in, and as a consequence, the church is under judgment. Schism is caused by sin. … We are two churches under one roof. It’s like oil and water — it’s just not going to work. Unfortunately, it appears that there will be a realignment.”

Two religions trying to exist under one roof? Oil and water? Does that sound like someone who supports, without question, remaining in the Episcopal Church?

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