An Open Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury

February 6, 2007

An Open Letter to His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury

Prior to the Meeting of the Primates in Tanzania

February 6, 2007

Your Grace,

I write to you not as a part of any organization or group, but on my own accord as a member of the Episcopal Church and of the Anglican Communion.  As a gay man in this great church, I am slowly realizing the mistakes we in the gay and lesbian community have made in our efforts to bring our unique perspective on the Gospel message to our brothers and sisters in Christ within this church.  Perhaps in an effort to assimilate into heterosexual society, we have been overly prepared to make apologetic arguments based on similarities with our straight counterparts.  We seem to have placed our trust in the established leaders and processes of the church, hoping that if our arguments are strong enough that our case will be heard with a sympathetic ear.  Of course history has never, to my knowledge, shown that the oppressed have made much progress by placing hope in the powers of the institutions that oppress them.  We cannot make progress with apologetic arguments, attempting to assimilate into institutions held by primarily heterosexual males who have never experienced our oppression.  Isn’t that why the high priests rejected the message of Jesus, a fellow Jew?  I need not remind Your Grace that the fear of change is a powerful resistance to the prophetic voice, as it was for Caiphus.  “What will it do to our institutions?”  “What will it do to our own positions?”  “How will we be remembered as leaders?”  These must have been difficult questions for the Sanhedrin as they conspired against Jesus.  Questions with answers that Jesus apparently felt were worthy of martyrdom.

Some argue that the “nature or nurture” discussion has an impact on our fate.  I say to them that being “gay” or “lesbian” in the U.S. is a social construct.  Sexual attraction is not something we choose, but claiming our identity as “gay” or “lesbian,” is.  Just because our identity is a social construct does not de-value it.  Gender roles are social constructs.  There are, I hope, few that would say that the gender roles of women in the patriarchal society of the Old Testament (or even the New Testament) should be held up in today’s society—although, as Your Grace knows well, exactly which gender roles are appropriate today is still a heated topic in the Communion, depending on the cultural context of the discussion.  Just as racism is a social construct with very real consequences, gathering its existence from the brokenness of humanity, those suffering from the oppression of racism must claim their identity and move forward shining light into the blindness of their oppressors that they may see, and in so doing freeing themselves from the chains of oppression.  So too we gay and lesbians, as a distinct people of God, must claim our identity and move forward, letting our own light shine with the light of the Gospel that we might be free in Christ Jesus, even as we struggle to loosen the blindfolds within our own church that others might see.

What has been lost in the discussion in the Communion is how our identity is directly tied to the debates we are having.  It seems to me that discussions about whether or not to have gay and lesbian bishops and whether or not to have gay and lesbian marriages, have been removed from the point at hand—what it means to gay and lesbian people.

We need gay bishops because of the significance of having prominent, Christian leaders who can speak out about our lives.  They can rid us of the closet.  They can prevent oppression.  When a young man is attacked because he is gay and left for dead, strung up on a fence in Wyoming by his murderers, would his attackers have known better had they seen an active gay Christian, preaching and teaching the Gospel?  When a young teenager stands in the bathroom of her parents’ house, contemplating suicide because she knows that she is the only one in the world that feels the way she does, might she feel different if she had a role model providing a healthy Christian model of living, who also happened to be a lesbian?  When an aging gay couple must face life or death decisions and have only each other for family but are denied the same decisions as a heterosexual couple in the hospital, with the state, and in the church because they were not able to get married and so now prepare for death as single people, they face an unnecessary and terrible agony. The list goes on.  If the church in any way judges our lives differently, the church participates in the violence that is perpetrated against us.  If the church sends our culture a message that it is ok to discriminate against gay and lesbian people—whether through the rites of the church or in its theology—then it also tells the straight people in our culture that it is ok to perpetuate violence, agony, and suffering upon us.  Love and discrimination simply are not compatible.  Our culture has learned that.  Separate is not equal.

Though I have already said that appealing to a position of power from a position of oppression has historically been fruitless, I still write in the spirit of God’s eternal hope for the hopeless.  Will Your Grace be an instrument of hope for ALL of us?  Will Your Grace help create a Communion in which difference does not diminish under a central authority, but thrives because it is cherished and celebrated as the diversity of God’s full creation?

As the Focus of Unity for our Communion, I beg Your Grace not to appeal to irrelevant procedural issues which may or may not have been followed, nor to the red herring of possible communication difficulties in other parts of the church.  Rather, I beg you, to consider those of us within your care as the Focus of Unity who are marginalized, who deserve God’s love, who are part of this great diverse Creation, and who need to hear what we have not heard directly yet:  namely that God loves us, that God does not endorse violence against us, and that the way to prevent that violence is through Jesus Christ as our liberator and savior.  Can the Anglican Communion be a place where all of the Body of Christ is welcome?

Yours in Christ,

Jeffrey J. Martinhauk

Please sign the Petition to the Archbishop here.


30 Responses to “An Open Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury”

  1. Todd Hebb Says:


  2. Barbi Click Says:

    Speak on, my brother, speak on.

  3. Chris Miller Says:

    Your energy and passion inspiers me. Thank you for say what has need to be said for so very long

  4. […] got marked by the system as spam.  I found it today while sorting through all the activity on my Open Letter to the Archbishop and the associated Petition to His […]

  5. Susan Says:

    Well done …

  6. Laurence Says:

    A terrific initiative ! Truly inspired.
    thank you

  7. […] Towards Justice is carrying an open letter to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Your Grace, I write to you not as a part of any organization or group, but on my own accord as a […]

  8. Mike Says:


    Thanks for putting words to so many feelings we all share. God Bless.

  9. Carl Eric Johnson Says:

    Excellent, Jeff. Thank you for speaking for all of us. God bless you.

  10. "Dutch" Says:

    Well articulated, moving, and directly to the point. I fully concur.

  11. Jeffery, absolutely eloquent. Your letter says it all. I pray the Archbishop of Canterbury hears your voice.

  12. Roger Olien Says:

    Jeff, Well done. I hope he listens. In any event, I am still troubled by the sway the ABC, an English civil servant, seeks to exercise over TEC.

  13. Dennis Says:

    well said.

  14. Jeff Says:

    Thanks, all.

    Interesting, some conservative commentators in other places around the ‘net are still so stuck in their heterosexism that they don’t get the first paragraph.

    Just to make myself clear: we have been making apologies for our liberation theology based on our experience of God, as if the fact that our experience of God as a different people needed to be rationalized against the heterosexual experience. That is a non-starter for us, and is bound to take us nowhere.

    Rather, we need to work on promoting the fact that different cultural (and subcultural) experiences of God are bound to lead to different interpretations of Scripture.

    This is called, by some, reader-response criticism. Since many in the communion cannot even agree with the more traditional historical-critical criticism, this is a long stretch for them.

    But my basis is in liberation theology and my own experience of God, as shared by my community. That does not negate the heterosexual experience of God. God is big enough for all of us.

    It only means that we have to learn to live with each other through those different experiences.

    I am willing to do that. But as I’ve said in another post today, having the “other” ask me to give up a part of my identity because they don’t understand my experience of God isn’t a good starting point for the discussion. The first part is understanding, and I don’t hear much in the way of understanding from the “other side.”


  15. Richard Says:

    Thank you for speaking up for millions of God’s children. It’s the right thing to do.

  16. obadiahslope Says:

    I wonder if your idea that”different cultural (and subcultural) experiences of God are bound to lead to different interpretations of Scripture” relates to +NTWs “indifferntationism”. I suspect it might.
    It seems to me that to make this updated “broad church latitudiarian” approach THE basis of the conmmunion going forward is to impose your ideas on the rest of us. I know that is precisely what you wish to avoid – there is a lot of irony here.

    Another response which I do not want to poise as snarky is to ask the question – w’here can we find examples of the TEC left acting to give the “other” side space?’ Or to put it as a worked example “Would you vote for an other-wise qualified anti-WO bishop?” if you were a member of a standing committee voting on consent.
    Bill Carroll and other TEC lefties are happy to say they would not – which i think is the product of a sincere commitment to a social-justice linkeded theology. What is your view?

  17. Jeff Says:


    I’m not familiar with +NTW nor with the term you put here.

    I do think the appropriate conversation for the Communion going forward is about how to resolve differences, not about how to invest authority.

    I believe the conversation with the TEC is slightly different. The TEC resides within the U.S. While the U.S. has many sub-cultures, we are the American church. The conversation at the Communion level is about how to resolve differences between cultures of different countries.

    The conversation in TEC is about how to deal with those who prefer not to engage in the conversation between culture and religion, or who would prefer to have religion dictate to culture. That is quite different and has much to do with my other post today– it is quite difficult for me to be in conversation with “the other” who asks me to give something up when the “other” has neither my experience nor the willingness to understand or discuss my experience that is required for mutual conversation.

    I have never asked the conservative parishes in TEC to give anything up; only to stop requiring me to give up my own identity. Dioceses, however, are a different story as they have ecclesial power.

    My own opinion is that parishes that want to stay and be non-welcoming to gays and lesbians should be welcome to stay. Those that want to leave should be allowed to leave (I personally think that their property should go with them). But dioceses and bishops who cannot serve all the baptized with dignity in our culture should resign given the statement of our province in this cultural context that it is our mission to do just that.


  18. Gordon Says:

    Great job! Thank you for taking this on. I appreciate you.

  19. […] 8th, 2007 Just a reminder to read my Open Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury and Sign the […]

  20. GW Says:


    I’ve posted a link to your letter on a UK Lesbian Messageboard – it might help a little. I hope so.
    Good luck and kindest regards,

    Apologies for anon post 😉


  21. Thanks, Jeff, for what you have written. I have forwarded it to various contacts in the UK.

    Recently I’ve been reading Michael Paul Gallagher’s Dive Deeper, which he sub-titles, ‘The Human Poetry of Faith’. In one Chapter he quotes Cardinal Newman: ‘The heart is commonly reached, not through reason, but through the imagination’.

    Gallagher goes on to observe: ‘The majority of people around us who have abandoned regular contact with the Church have not done so because of some intellectual argument against faith. They have drifted away because their imagination was left untouched and their hopes unawoken by their experience of Church. They leave less in anger than in disappointment with hollow words that claim to speak of the holy. … The language of the churches seems stuck in an older mode and unable to speak imaginatively to the desires of now.“

    Gallagher is Prof. of Fundamental Theoplogy at the Gregorian and I thought his words, written in 2001, particualrly appropriate for now.

    Let’s hope the Petition fires the Archbishop’s imagination! After all, he is a poet.

  22. Jeff Says:

    Amen! Your talk of imagination reminds of of this quote by Thomas Friedman, in “The World is Flat.” He speaks of the events of 11/9 – the fall of the Berlin Wall, and 9/11, the fall of the Twin Towers:

    “There are two ways to flatten the world. One is to use your imagination to bring everything up to the same level, and the other is to use your imagination to bring down everything to the same level. Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in progressive and free societies have to set an example. We have to be the best global citizens we can be. We cannot retreat. We have to be sure we get the best of our imaginations, and that we don’t let our imaginations get the best of us. Religions are the smelters and founders of imagination. The more any religion’s imagination- be it Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Mulsim, Buddist- the more any religion’s imagination is shaped in an isolated bubble or in a dark cave the more its imagination is likely to sail off in dangerous directions. People who are connected to the world and exposed to different cultures and perspectives are far more likely to develop the imagination of 11/9, of freedom. People who are feeling disconnected, for whom personal freedom and fulfillment are a utopian fancy, are more likely to develop an imagination of 9/11- of destruction.”

    I would say that we are advocating a different perspective, what Friedman would say is that of 11/9. Those who cannot see it this way are acting in the isolated religious bubble of Friedman’s 9/11 imagination. Dark and destructive, this imagination let’s has gone wild, scared of anything it does not understand.

    Yes, let’s do hope the Archbishop gets a new perspective on his imagination!!


  23. Jeff Says:

    Thank you Grandmere, John, GW, and all for the support!


  24. Dear Jeff,

    I welcome your initiative and have been glad to support it by signing the petition. I have posted an entry today in my own blog to highlight the issues you raise (the link is here: .

    Good luck for the future ..

    Best regards,

  25. obadiahslope Says:

    I apologise, I assumed a context to my statement that I should have made clear. To explain (but not bore you by repeating my argument), +NTW means the Bishop of Durham, NT Wright, and “doctrinal indifferentism” is what he accuses TEC of.
    For the original reference see

  26. Jeff Says:


    Can’t read the whole thing right now, but my initial response is that the bishop doesn’t understand the difference between indifferentism and contextualization.

    Indifferentism doesn’t care, and contextualization cares very much.


  27. […] 9th, 2007 I’ve been watching around the blogosphere as my Open Letter to the Archbishop and its corresponding Petition continue to draw attention, by both friend and […]

  28. […] a side note, I am sending off the Petition and Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury tonight so that it will reach him before the Primate meeting in Tanzania, which begins on […]

  29. j r cole Says:

    Primates…Let’s see…does that mean apes or monkeys?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: