Divided by the Creeds?

The words are ancient, yet affirmed by all who join the Episcopal Church.

The bishop asks them: "Do you believe in God the Father?" New members reply: "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth."

The bishop asks: "Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?" They reply: "I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary."

There are more doctrinal questions where those came from. This covenant is based on the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.), which is affirmed at Anglican altars everywhere.

This is good, according to one network of progressive Episcopalians, because the way to avoid a global Anglican schism will be to focus on creeds, rather than trying to agree on what the Bible teaches about sex.

The bottom line, argues the Claiming the Blessing coalition, is that "there is no universal 'plain truth of Scripture' in our tradition, save that interpreted for us by the universal creeds. To claim differently is ... to propose a change in the fundamental nature of Anglicanism."

But what if postmodern believers can't agree on what the ancient creeds teach?

The Claiming the Blessing document is backed by groups such as the Episcopal Women's Caucus and Integrity, the caucus for gay, lesbian and bisexual Episcopalians. It was released after the election of a noncelibate homosexual as bishop of New Hampshire.

While Bishop V. Gene Robinson has continued to dominate news reports, many Anglicans are trying to move on and debate more fundamental issues, said the Rev. Susan Russell, director of Claiming the Blessing and president of Integrity.

"Believe me, I would much rather be having deep conversations about peoples' theological orientations than their sexual orientations," she said. "But anything that is about sex is, well, sexy and that's going to get attention. ... Those issues are so polarizing. What we need to find is some unity."

The Claiming the Blessing document is crucial precisely for this reason, said journalist Douglas LeBlanc, writing in the Episcopal Life newspaper. It has candidly underlined the "clash of worldviews that is ultimately at the foundation of our church's arguments about sex. To the letter's question about whether the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds are our common confession, I must answer: I sure hope so."

But creeds only provide unity if people agree on what the words mean. LeBlanc asked, for example, if Claiming the Blessing's leaders believe the creeds are literally "statements of theological reality?